By Dele MomoduFellow Nigerians, please permit me to reveal my favourite segment on CNN. It is called Future Cities. If you have access to satellite television and stable electricity at home, you must endeavour to search for this exciting program. You will be awe-struck by the spectacular advances of man in a world where some countries like ours still live in the Stone Age. The one I watched a few days ago was the focus on the brand new airport being built in Abu Dhabi. It got me wondering why we can’t replicate such feats with our own oil money. Is it that we’ve resigned our miserable lives to fate in the fervent belief that we can’t do anything to change our outrageous situation? Have we accepted that we don’t deserve the good things of life that we see and take for granted when we travel abroad as we all love to do?
I have no doubt in my mind that we live the most squalid existence in Nigeria. Forget the fact that we parade some of the most expensive homes and drive the most exotic cars known to mankind. Please, ignore what seems to be the latest craze in this embattled country, the acquisition and the maddening proliferation of private jets. It is all shakara. Many of the owners don’t have the kind of money you imagine they’re worth. Most of them owe the air they breathe to their banks. On top of that, they have plundered our treasury dry through all manner of hanky-panky, subterfuge and even outright theft. It remains a miracle, courtesy of sedatives, how many of them can actually go to bed and catch a few hours nap.
Truth is we live in the most expensive ghettos on this planet earth. We are free to delude ourselves that ours is the ideal enjoyment, because we foolishly use the head of a cobra to scratch the body without realising the inherent danger in the poisonous snake. Or, how can you justify the madness of building a one billion naira mansion that has no passable road, power supply, chlorinated pipe-borne water, efficient security, and so on, except the owner provides all. Nigeria is probably the only country you can’t be sure if the equivalent of $2m dollars can buy you a place in your dream neighbourhood. It is also an oppressive and intimidating State where you can’t get a mortgage and car loan and pray to manage your life and live happily thereafter. You are thus consigned to a dustbin survival like a scavenger, and compelled to join the rat race as you must cough out the dough only in raw cash. The whiff of money is what has turned otherwise reasonable men into lunatics who go on rampage to grab anything in sight. They steal in arrears and in advance, and nothing is too big or small to pilfer unabashedly.
But a cash-and-carry economy can never take us to the promised land. No society has ever developed without a credit system. This has contributed immensely to the large-scale corruption in Nigeria. Any salary-earner who’s able to build sprawling mansions in rich estates and purchase outlandishly expensive cars without obtaining loans is likely to be a crook. This is one reason it is wrong and erroneous to restrict and ascribe corruption only to political office holders and civil servants. Corruption has become endemic in our clime because we live in a competitive environment where it is a crime to be poor and the attitude is that of every man for himself and God for us all.
We can’t go on like this or something cataclysmic will give one day soon. The tell-tale signs are already there. The world has become too small and shrinking and advancing, majestically, by the day. There’s so much to learn about, and from, those countries that are doing very well. Technology has made it easier to check facts and figures. A leader need not gallivant about before understanding the world we live in. Everything is available at the touch of a button. A President does not have to go on a merry-go-round while pretending to be in search of investors. True investors know where and where not to invest. Nothing is hidden these days because the masquerades of old have been stripped bare in the market place. You don’t have to travel to Germany to examine gas turbines. You have no business flying to Netherlands to see what windmills look like. There are too many power options these days that only an unserious nation would jubilate and celebrate 4,000 irregular megawatts after wasting trillions of Naira. No nation spends our kind of money without demanding nor getting results, and carry on as if nothing happened.
We can do much better than we are doing. We must begin by revamping our scandalous infrastructure. It takes our brazen and unrepentant boldface to continue to brag that we are the giant of Africa. Giants don’t live in filth and incurable sin. For donkey years, we’ve refused to make our airports visitor-friendly. Just imagine what welcomes you to Lagos, the New York of Africa, as you drive out of Murtala Mohammed International Airport, towards Mafoluku, Oshodi, Gbagada, Oworonsoki, or even the unpardonable squalor along the path of the famous Third Mainland Bridge. What’s the source of our shameless swagger when the Federal Government has failed to honour its simple obligations to the people of Nigeria after announcing stupendous budgets at its yearly ritual?
We probably have the worst network of roads in the world. Our leaders must save us from this unjustifiable ignominy by starting from somewhere. The Federal Government would endear itself to the people the day Nigerians can travel round their own country with minimum stress. A gloomy environment can only attract doom. Nigeria is a nation of perpetual bad news because the darkness that has descended on us can only breed evil spirits and demons. Many Nigerians are too frustrated not to consider or commit crime. I’m shocked that many of our leaders have not discovered the secret of what catapulted Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos to the top position amongst equals. His deliberate, determined and consistent beautification of Lagos did the trick.
The environment is always self-evident when conducive. It is the best form of advertisement a sensible government can proudly put on parade. No one would pray for a government that fails to tar a simple road between Port Harcourt and Yenogoa. No citizen would appreciate a country where you spend ten hours on a one hour journey. No inspiration can be derived from a polluted atmosphere. This is even easier to achieve than battling the anti-electricity syndicates and generator cartels. A lot of jobs would be created when various governments, from Federal down to Local Government, decide to clean up our messy environment.
Naturally, we must work on mass transit in all its ramifications. The cost, and timing, of doing business in Nigeria is excessively prohibitive. A country with our kind of population cannot continue to depend on prehistoric means of transportation. Nigerians are too stylish and widely-travelled not to see that the world left us behind some 50 years ago, if not more. The hullabaloo over the Okada ban, or restrictions, in Lagos would not have been necessary if our leaders had done the right things in the past.
Before our very eyes, our country nose-dived and became a pathetically backward nation where commuters had to risk their lives on motorbikes largely controlled by some dare-devils. A lot of the oil tankers constituting unbearable menace on our highways would be a thing of the past if we can transport our petroleum products by rail. Farm products would also be easier to distribute in same fashion. It is incredible how we’ve endured the excruciating process of distributing products all this while without demanding and insisting on what is desperately needed. We’ve been short-changed for too long by leaders who abandoned the railways and sentenced us to mass suicide on the roads.
Next we must fix our education. The state of our education has reached tragic dimensions and catastrophic proportions. Education is everything. It is the soul of a nation. We must find the political will to close down most of the mushroom institutions that breed nothing but glorified illiterates. Most of our graduates are not employable even if there are jobs. We must merge some of the higher institutions for better and effective management. We must re-accredit the private schools that are merely fleecing innocent students and their parents. A situation where Nigerian certificates have become virtually worthless cannot augur well for our future development and progress.
Serious attention should be paid to the welfare of teachers. Nigerian teachers are too pauperised to motivate their students. Our students can never respect people who look up to sales of hand-outs for personal survival. There is also the urgent need to scrutinise our curriculum and make them relevant to our needs. We must restore our technical schools speedily to upgrade the quality and performance of our artisans. The reading culture must be re-awakened by providing well-stocked libraries. We must invest in e-libraries and take advantage of the limitless access to information and knowledge provided. It is sad that politicians are busy playing terrible politics with the future of our youths. They don’t seem to care because they can afford to send their kids to the most expensive schools in the world. But do they really know what most of these kids do abroad? Someone should please enlighten them. Too much spoliation by unrestricted access to unlimited cash often turns many of these kids into social misfits. And the parents won’t even notice when things are going wrong because they are slaves of power and wealth and have been blinded by both.
Building a modern Nigeria is not an impossible mission. I have seen many poor nations transform genuinely from penury to prosperity. We have what it takes to do it. The main ingredients include determination, dedication and honesty of purpose. We shall develop on this thesis with copious examples from around the world.
•To be continued