Chima Ubani, Alao Aka Bashorun, Gani Fawehinmi and Beko Ramsome-Kuti are in my thoughts. They were heroes of the democratic struggles in Nigeria. They were selfless individuals who sacrificed personal comfort for the common good. They inspired me and we fought together for a democratic order – sadly, the foursome is today not with us. The civil rule the country has today is not the democracy they envisioned and fought for. Chima, Aka, Beko and Gani fought for a democracy that was to engender qualitative improvement in the lives of all Nigerians, not a few, not the criminally connected individuals or groups, not one religious or ethnic group. They struggled for a democracy that would guarantee Nigerians access to quality education, healthcare and good physical infrastructure. These heroes struggled for a country where every Nigerian would have legitimate means of livelihood. They fought for a country that would enhance the productive capacities of every Nigerian, both human and natural. They fought for a country where every Nigerian will live in dignity. These democracy icons struggled for a society of “producers” not of “consumers”! These compatriots struggled for a united Nigeria and a society where every vote would count. They struggled for a society where the will of the people, not Godfathers, is the basis of governance. That is the nature of the society they fought and sacrificed their lives for. These giants of our democratic struggle envisioned that democracy will lay the foundation for Nigeria’s progress and prosperity.
Today, the political space has been hijacked by elements best described as criminals, who terrorize the rest of society. They have hijacked key levels of the state, economy and society. As an example, in the social sphere, our religious bodies, especially the churches are not spared this rot. We have seen the emergence of Godless Churches that worship the “Nigerian God”. Churches that churn heavenly things as piety while being pre-occupied with worldly things. They encourage and condone the looting of our commonwealth by public officials, some of whom are made elders in these churches – the more public a official loots, the more prominent he or she becomes in these churches. Similarly, contractors who fail to complete projects (leading to the phenomenon of abandoned projects and the consequent continued underdevelopment of Nigeria) while having collected the funds from the treasury, occupy prominent places in these churches. Such churches have nothing in common with the teachings of Jesus. They are places of worship of the “Nigerian God”, to borrow from Elnathan John. Other religions in Nigeria are likely to have variance of these elements among themselves. These tendencies among religious bodies have corrosive effects on Nigerian moral values with adverse consequences on governance.
Nigeria is today a country where poverty, inequality, under- and unemployment are increasing. The majority of our youths and graduates are unemployed and unemployable, the latter because of the poor quality of education in the country.
There is a general acknowledgement of the decline of the Nigerian education system. The pass rate of WAEC attests to this point. But this decline is partly due to the neglect of the education sector by successive governments at all levels. As an illustration, two months ago I visited my Alma mater, Iluelogbo Grammar School, Iluelogbo (now Owologbo, which I attended between 1977 – 1983) in Isoko North Local Government Area, Delta State. To my surprise, I found the buildings dilapidated; the library and science laboratories closed; and some students sitting on the floor. During my time, as student of the school, the second republic’s administration of Governor Ambrose Alli, ensured that the school library was well equipped with books and all classrooms were well furnished. I and others, including the current Secretary to the Government of Delta State, Ovuozourie Samuel Macaulay and a current board member of the Niger Delta Development Corporation, Solomon Ogba, attended the school under those conditions. I was surprised to find my Alma mater in such a dire state. I am sure most schools, including higher education institutions, in the country are in such a dreadful state. Everywhere in the education sector, there is a general decline partly due to the neglect of the sector by public officials, most of whom were beneficiaries of better quality education in past years.
Why are the elites, both economic and political elites, neglecting and destroying, a system that they benefited from? Their predecessors, in my case, the second republic political leaders invested in my secondary school education. Why are current political leaders not investing in the education system today? How can our past education system be better than that of today and tomorrow? Any society that progresses should ensure that its today and tomorrow is better than its past. That today’s political elite is not investing in the education sector destroys our tomorrow. Sending their children to study overseas might have immediate personal benefit, but in the long turn if the education system is not fixed, it might be shortsighted for the elite and society. This is because tomorrow, it is those that attend the poor education system today that will be in charge of key state institutions as well as key positions in the social and private sector.. The likely results will include further erosion of morality, poor institutions that will be unable to provide public goods and protect citizens and their properties; and a private sector that is unable to compete globally.
Insecurity, including the emergence of religious and ethnic militias, is currently on the rise because of poor governance. Our people are dying because of poor governance. At the same time, highly political connected individuals are getting richer. With the slightest illness they go abroad for medical treatment and send their children to schools in Europe and North America. Ghana and South Africa have been added to their list of countries where they send their wards to school.
The political and economic elites however, have become victims of the rot they created in the country (not God’s wish), and if unaddressed will destroy them. Insecurity in the country has claimed the lives of some of them. Some others have been victims of kidnapping. Especially in the South East and most parts of the North, the elites cannot go back to their home towns and villages because of fear of being kidnapped and because of the general insecurity, including armed robbery. As a consequence, they are holed up in major cities such as Abuja and Lagos. What this means: insecurity has stripped the elites of freedom of movement in their own country.
The elites underestimated the impacts poor governance will have on their lives – they mistakenly thought that money is everything. Because they have access to medical treatments abroad, they thought that the poor health system in the country will not affect them. Because they could send their children to school overseas, the political elite neglect the Nigerian education system. That they could buy generators for electricity, public officials did not develop the power sector. And because the elites could afford to sink boreholes in their homes, they failed to build the required water facilities in the country. Furthermore, because the political, administrative and economic elites could hire private security guards, they failed to equip the police to become a force that can prevent and combat crime. And because the political elites thought themselves above the law, they destroyed the judicial system. And because they can afford SUVs, the elites refuse to develop our public transport and the road and rail networks.
As noted above, the Nigerian elites have become victims of their own creation – poor governance. In their shortsightedness, they forget that not all illnesses will give them sufficient notice to secure visas and flight tickets before they strike. Heart attacks do not give anyone the privilege to acquire visas and flight tickets before it hits you. The result is that some among the Nigerian elites have died unnecessary deaths. Save for the dysfunctional healthcare system, such people will have been attended to in local healthcare facilities and would have been saved. That the Nigerian elite do not realise this reflects their narrow mindedness. Their recourse to foreign hospitals also shows their lack of self-worth and awareness. There is no society where an elite with self-respect resorts to overseas medical care as the first port of call. An elite with a sense of the self will ensure that its national healthcare is able to cater for their needs.
This is one area that the new black elites in South Africa have done really well. As a result, no one among the South African political and economic elites go overseas for medical treatment. The well publicized President Nelson’s treatments in South African hospitals attest to this fact. No ex-Nigerian leader will have opted to be treated at home! Some will argue that South Africa inherited its good healthcare facilities from the apartheid era. The point though is that the ANC government since 1994 has not only expanded but also improved the healthcare facilities it inherited. To buttress this point, I want to recount a personal experience. Last week, I went to Germiston Hospital in Johannesburg, which I used to visit regularly because my wife worked there in the past. Going back there last week, I saw that the hospital has been expanded – with new structures and facilities. I doubt if there has been any such major expansion of any hospital in Nigeria since 1999! Today, South Africa has become a medical Mecca for the Nigerian elites. The excellent South African health sector is a product of political and economic elites that recognize that a good national health system is essential for their own survival and for the general populace.
What the Nigerian elites failed to realise is that there are certain goods that have to be provided for society at large because of their nature. These include roads – roads cannot be provided for individuals. The Nigerian elites and ordinary citizens use the same roads, even if the former drive their SUVs. Unfortunately because of our poor roads, the elites are equally adversely affected. Some prominent Nigerians have died from road accidents, using SUVs notwithstanding and others have been seriously injured from road accidents.
Of course, the elites have resorted to air travel. Unfortunately for them, the Nigerian aviation sector is one of the worst in the world. Not all members of the elite can afford private jets. As a result, some political and economic leaders use commercial airlines. All Nigerians know the problems with the aviation sector; including poor safety records, delays of flights, and so on. Majority of passengers who tragically lost their lives in the Dana Air that crashed last year as an example could be classified as members of the elites. Also, flights’ delays not only affect the poor, but also the elites – ministers and governors; former ministers and governors; senior servants and ex-civil servants; CEOs and other senior officials of private companies. In these flight delays, a trip of one hour is delayed for three or more hours, which adversely affects both professional and personal times. Therefore if problems facing the Nigerian aviation sector are solved the elites have more to benefit than any other group of Nigerians.
One of the consequences of the usage of generators as a source of power is environmental pollution and the resultant climate change that threatens our collective well-being. The Nigerian elites breathe the same air as every Nigerian. They are therefore equally affected by environmental pollution and climate change. The recent flooding in some parts of Nigeria, which was partly due to climate change, did not spare the properties of the elites in the affected areas. That the political and economic leaders do not realise this reflects their narrow-mindedness and poor leadership.
The elites have also been victims of the absence of the Rule of Law. Prosecution of political enemies is common in Nigeria. In this context, some among the political and economic elites have suffered from the arbitrariness with regard to the Rule of Law that is pervasive in the country.
In light of the above, even if the economic and political elites “don’t give a damn” about the Nigerian people, they should give a damn about themselves by expanding and improving the country’s social and physical infrastructure. They should fix the health sector, education system, roads, the railways, and the aviation sector; and ensure that the security forces are well staffed and equipped. Instead of spending money on condolences’ adverts and spending billions on overseas’ medical care yearly, the economic and political elites should invest the necessary resources on our national health sector. Instead of having elaborate burial ceremonies, the elites should immortalize their loved ones who passed away by making investments in the education sector, including through scholars, sponsorship of research, establishing chairs, and so on. These they should do for self-preservation or what is generally known as enlightened self-interest.
If they do these things and establish inclusive political and economic institutions it will be a demonstration of purposeful and visionary leaderships. Unless they do this, the political and economic leaders will be consumed by the rot they have created in the country. In effect, good governance and improved social and physical infrastructure as well as inclusive political and economic institutions are not only needed by the Nigerian people but by the elites. If these are done, we will be moving closer to the democracy that Chima, Gani, Aka and Beko envisioned and fought for.
• Dr Edigheji is Executive Director of the newly established think-tank, Centre for Africa’s Progress and Prosperity (CAPP), based in Abuja, Nigeria. You can follow him on twitter @omanoE Omanoee@gmail.com