Charles OfojiTuesday, September 28, 2010
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Cologne, Germany



inister of Information and Communications, Prof Dora Akunyili is one Nigerian I, like many Nigerians, had admiration for during her NAFDAC days. Sadly, I lived to witness the moral decompose of this great Nigerian icon. I guess her undoing was when she accepted the offer of those who wanted to tear down her pedigree to become the Information Minister of the government of the late President Musa Yar'Adua. She could have elected to walk the alleyway of honour as Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala did when she was given a strange portfolio different from her calling and passion. Then, I had curiously wondered why a pharmacist, who had had nothing to do with the media, was chosen to be the propaganda machine of an unsellable regime. But at least, I now know that it was a calculated attempt by those who felt threatened by her rising profile to destroy her politically.

Dora did herself no favour by embracing the path of self destruction and infamy. She had the unenviable job of being the talking-head of a regime most Nigerians considered illegitimate and which had nothing to offer; she was to promote and defend the actions of the government come rain or shine. And we all recall her ignominious role in the Ekiti elections that was massively rigged by the PDP, her membership of Yar'Adua kitchen Cabinet that hijacked a whole Nation, and the part she played when they lied to Nigerians that a President who was smuggled out for medical treatment abroad, was going to perform the lesser hajj in Saudi Arabia.

I have also closely watched how she has been struggling with the Re-branding task, notwithstanding the truth that you can never rebrand a bad product. She and those who gave her the task should have known that it is better to produce something new. And lately, I was quite miffed watching the Minister say on television that she is so proud of Nigeria as it is today. Of course, why would she not be proud? After all, as a member of the Kitchen Cabinet that accounted to nobody when this country was held hostage by a cabal, she must have gotten a big chunk of flesh out of the cattle called Nigeria.

Often, I ask myself where these people masquerading to be our officials come from. Did they evolve in Abuja? Or do they come from a village somewhere in Nigeria just like me? If they do, aren't there people in their village who battle every morning to squeeze out a cup of water to brush the mouth? Aren't there people in their village who do not have a roof over their head? Aren't there people in their village who wake up everyday and have no idea where the next warm meal would come from? Aren't there people in their village who eat meat only on Easter and Christmas Days and when they go to weddings and burials as uninvited guests? Aren't people in their village who still stare at cars as strange objects? Aren't women and girls in their village who still go about with bare breasts simply because they could not afford clothes, talk less of bras?

Nevertheless, Prof Dora Akunyili and the government she represents want us to be proud and happy to be Nigerians. They want us to rejoice that a country that has offered us almost nothing is 50. A country that has failed to provide the basic things of life to its people - things that could have differentiated us from animals. Not even things as simple as water, electricity, roads, health care and basic education. Today, parents are paying up to two million Naira a term for the secondary education of their children. I once told a friend of mine that if Nigeria were a father, he would be an alcoholic - an irresponsible father who offers his children nothing in return for the love they have for him.

It is heartbreaking that we are celebrating Nigeria at 50 instead of mourning and soberly reflecting on how we all got it wrong. Instead of celebrating, we ought to have put heads on the table on how to put Nigeria on the narrow road of recovery. This is the core glitch I see in Nigeria. What worries me is not that we have failed as a country, rather the fact that we have not started the rebuilding, which can only happen with the right foundation being laid. Nigeria is to me a country of clowns with President Goodluck Jonathan as the Chief Clown.

If we want to move forward, we have to start from the scratch. Unfortunately we pretend that there is a foundation. Until, the basic things and the enabling infrastructure, human capacity to be produced through a good education system and free and fair elections have being achieved, no meaningful development can take place. If we were not clowns, how in hell could we believe that a banana republic like Nigeria would become one of the most developed 20 Economies in 2020. As if the rest of the world, especially those ahead of us, would stand still and watch us overtake them.

I thought President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan will bring hope to Nigerians until he presided over a FEC meeting that approved billions of tax payers' money to celebrate what, in my view, is a colossal failure in nationhood. If they were wise enough, as they pretend to be, that money would have gone a long way in putting the education sector back on track. Mr President, in all due respect, I challenge you to tell Nigerians what we are celebrating and how you hope to balance the deficit that will emanate from the unguided spending spree. I need not educate you that governance ought to be responsible.

Mr President, what are we really celebrating at 50? Is it the decaying infrastructure that was built by past governments that had lesser resources than the governments of later years?

Is it the fact that there is no electricity in a country that is 50?

Is it the fact that there is still the threat of malaria in a country that has the resources to eradicate the disease? Or are we waiting for the West, even at 50, to solve that problem for us?

Or should we roll out the drums and beat aloud that over 70% of Nigerians do not have a house to call their own due to the lack of a housing scheme by the government? For most Nigerians, who of course live in areas described as rural, home for them is a reeking mud house with some kind of thatched raffia roof. Even in the so called urban areas, decent and affordable accommodation continues to elude average Nigerians. Even Abuja that is supposed to be a modern city, there is no accommodation format for ordinary Nigerians, who are left at the mercy of ravenous landlords. Where did these our so called leaders study governance? Didn't they teach them that the provision of housing is one of the duties of government?

Are we celebrating that 75% of the workable force is unemployed?

Should we rejoice over the collapse of the education and health sector?

Are we glad that there is still no running water in a country that peddles itself as a giant in Africa? In the morning, if you drive through a normal neighborhood in Nigerian cities you will shudder at how Nigerians line up the streets to brush their mouths, due to lack of running water in their houses, over open drains that one could dub streams of malaria.

Are we celebrating that the economy is in dire straits due to many years of unprecedented corruption and brutal rule, with a battered Naira that is 153 to a dollar? Or that Nigeria's best brains left the country in flocks due to bad governance?

Should we be happy that a 1.5 litres bottle of water cost N100 (about 60 cents), when the same amount will buy four 1.5 litres bottles of better water in a rich country as Germany? Or that a hop from Abuja to Lagos by air costs about 100 Euro when on a good day you could get a last minute return ticket from Frankfurt to New York for almost the same amount. Are we pretending not to know that 19.90 Euro could airlift you on either Easyjet or Ryan Air from one European country to the other?

Must we be cheerful that an unemployed Nigerian is forced to buy a N1, 500 scratch card to buy an application form for employment into the NDLEA or any of the agencies of government that is run with the people's money? Instead of paying unemployment benefits to them, the country is wringing out from them money I don't even know how they got it. It baffles me how things work in my country. For goodness sake, where does the government expect an unemployed school leaver to get the scratch card money from? And what happens to the huge revenue such government agencies make from such irresponsible exercise? If you multiply 1,500 by roughly one million job seekers that averagely apply for such jobs, which would eventually be gotten by the kiths and kin of those in charge, then you will know the level of fraud and unaccountability that is going on unabated in this country. In Imo State, a governor who claims that he is representing the people pinched out N2, 000 Naira from over 10,000 jobless indigenes in a bogus mass employment drive that defies economic logic - the only aim was to polish the image of a spotlight-hungry governor. This is the apogee of irresponsible governance. Does this government expect these unemployed youths that are constantly ripped off to be happy that Nigeria is 50?

Is it the dreadful state of insecurity in the country? Whereby kidnappers, robbers and assassins operate with impunity. Just last Monday in notorious Aba, kidnappers hijacked a school bus conveying nursery and primary school pupils and drove them to a base in Etche in Rivers State, from where they demanded a twenty million Naira ransom. They must have crossed at least thirty police checkpoints before getting to their destination and none of the 20 Naira demanding police officers raised an eyebrow. This underlines the deplorable state of security of lives and property in a country that is joyous about 50 years of statehood.

Are we sentient of the reality that there is food insecurity in the country? About 90% of our arable land is not cultivated. The result is that, in spite of our dependency on imported food to feed the so many mouths around, Nigerians are hugely underfed. Last weekend, I consented to a friend's request to go to the famed Abacha Barracks in Abuja. He wanted us to try out some roasted fresh fish. We had a good time until towards the end of our stay when my disposition was blemished by what I saw. I gazed at Nigerian kids scavenging for scrubs; they will storm the table for remnants once a guest is done. Are these kids part of us? And do we expect them to join us in celebrating the achievements of Nigeria at 50?

Mr President, are you aware that a mere toilet roll is beyond the reach of a typical Nigerian girl? Yet she is supposed to be a citizen of a country that is so rich. While self-imposed leaders are ballooning in ill-gotten wealth, mainstream Nigerians wallow in degrading and mortifying poverty.

Should we be glad that our government continues to allow foreign businessmen, who are mainly economic predators, to come here and exploit our own people? Or that the best contracts in this country are still being given to foreign firms? Once a Businessman friend of mine told me that if you want to get any contract in Nigeria, all you have to do is to bring a white man as a partner. I had laughed what he said off until when I made by own observations. If you think he is joking, go to the Transcorp Hilton hotel Abuja and see things for yourself - how foreigners, who do not have this country at heart, are lodged for months at Hilton at the expense of tax payers' money. The truth is that there are enough Nigerians with the intellectual and material capacity to do what these foreigners (including Arabs, Indians and people from Eastern European countries who could have been peasants in their countries) are invited to do, but they are chosen instead of Nigerians so as to help their collaborators siphon ill gotten wealth abroad. How could this happen in a country that claims to be independent?

Nigeria is simply a country of crazy people, who never want Nigerians to enjoy the gains from the resources God has given us. If you have once taken a Europe bound plane, you will see how foreigners, facilitated by dubious leaders, fly the business class with our money, while the owners of the wealth are cramped in the economy. Is this what we should celebrate?

Mr President, are you aware that there is no systematic means of inter and intra-city transportation in the country? In Abuja, for example where billions of Naira have been squandered under the veil of building a new federal capital, how much would it have cost the government to provide a railway network, metro and a working bus net. Still, after failing in its obligation to the people, the same government expects workers, some of them living as far as Nasarawa or Niger State, to turn up for work in time.

Are we actually celebrating that in a country like Nigeria, where corruption is like a pariah, none of those elected officers who looted the treasury has been made to account since Independence? Not even those involved in the recent Halliburton scandal, notwithstanding the fact that other countries have prosecuted and convicted their own citizens who took part in the bribing fiddle that happened in Nigeria. Should we congratulate Goodluck Jonathan on Independence Day for shielding those involved from facing the music?

Should Nigerians celebrate that since Independence, we have been ruled mostly by corrupt military dictators who wrecked the country? And they are still being recycled as leaders and messiahs in a country that has produced so much great minds, but who will never get the chance to lead in a country where those deserving honour are not honoured, rather criminals who ought to be sent to penitentiary get honours and national awards. Mr President, on Independence Day, glance over your shoulders while seated at the Eagle Square and tell me the caliber of Nigerians you see in the VIP.

What about the pollution in the Niger Delta that has gone on for years with the connivance of our so-called leaders? Didn't we see how a truly independent Nation reacts in the recent case of America versus British Petroleum? In fact what happened in the Gulf of Mexico was nothing compared to the criminally polluted waters of the Niger Delta.

Mr President, during the inglorious regime of Olusegun Obsanjo, Nigeria's most valuable companies and properties were shared among Obasanjo and his cronies under the guise of privatization. And till date, he and his cohorts have been allowed to get away with that, is that what you want us to gather on Independence Day to celebrate?

I can go on and on to prove that Nigeria is a narrative of failed dream and self destruction with no parallel in fiction and pathos. However, we could thank God for being merciful to us as a people. If not how else could one explain why we continue to survive on a fiber and why we are still a united country in spite of many years of disastrous leadership. So at 50 we can only thank God for continually preserving for us, as a people, a chance to start all over again. But, certainly, an elaborate celebration of 50 years of independence is either pretentious, deceitful or a delusion grandiose.

Charles Ofoji is an international lawyer and Journalist based in Cologne, Germany and the author of the bestseller, ILLEGAL IN BERLIN