FEATURE ARTICLE

Tuesday, October 22, 2019
abi1million@gmail.com

THE RISE AND FALL OF NIGERIA IN ONE GENERATION
"If anyone said I'd be fetching water in buckets to cook in this house," my mother mused, "I'd say, "Tell another lie."" But 'fetch water' she does because the government ceased supplying water twenty years ago. The same with electricity whose visitation prompts a scurrying around to plug cell phones, rechargeable lamps, deep freezer, and washing machine.

hanks to a complacent Housing Corporation, her once quiet, shrubbery-lined neighborhood now boasts a betting pool, two banks, three schools, and a private hospital. The cozy two-story family house across the street was purchased by a faceless moneybags who took off the roof and began adding floors. The currently five-story monstrosity, opens into a 2-lane neighborhood road, ill-designed to cater to high traffic. Thus, mother runs into a traffic jam if she leaves her home early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

In a bid to keep their sanity, the older neighbors formed an association which pays for the security guards at the gates at both ends of the crescent. The gates had been constructed about twenty-five years ago when the neighbors could no longer rely on the police force stationed ten minutes down the road, to come when attacked by armed robbers.

Beyond the neighborhood, evidence of decay and inefficiency pepper the landscape - institutions that have seen better days - University of Ibadan, University College Hospital, The Secretariat… And as the buildings decay, the quality of personnel deteriorates. She bemoans the poor treatment and elder abuse her late husband suffered before his exit at UCH. After his death, a nurse had glibly informed her, "You should be happy, after all, he lived to a ripe old age."

The good old days

In the early 1970s, my parents were amongst the first to take advantage of the university's generous package of a 99-year lease on a plot of land, housing allowance, and the support of a planned community administrated by the Ibadan Housing Corporation. They knew their neighbors, the authorities, and the lay of the land.

They were the educated elite. They'd gained independence from the colonialists and were full of grand ideas for their fledgling nation. This was the generation that converted white might into national pride. They nationalized the country's institutions, replaced white leadership with Nigerians, changed foreign names to indigenous ones, and created a national character.

As Premier of the Western Region, Obafemi Awolowo created the grand template for a modernized society - infrastructural development, education, roads, housing, civil service, industrial growth, healthcare, etc. Free education spurred the rise of an educated class. Free healthcare facilitated the reduction in infant and adult mortality. An expanding civil service and industrialization provided employment. By the early 1970s, the western region had a robust middle class and was on an upward trajectory. The oil boom of the 1970s multiplied the good times. Government led development efforts in all sectors throughout the country.

Unfortunately, after every boom, comes a bust. When the oil bust came in the early 1980s, Nigeria was ill-prepared for the reverberations. The landscape was littered with white elephant projects, rising unemployment, a crumbling government infrastructure, and a toxic mono-industry of oil.

As predators ascended to the upper echelons of power through politrickery, ballot stuffing, and other shenanigans, they began to make fools of the educated elite. The likes of Wole Soyinka, Tam David West, Bolaji Akinyemi and other academics were appointed to ministerial positions in order to legitimize the buffoons at the top. Then they were appointed only to be ridiculed and summarily dismissed when they'd satisfied political expediency.

By the time the International Monetary Fund hit Nigeria with currency adjustment and austerity measures in the mid-1980s, the government had abandoned its development agenda, Minister of Education had become a bounty for political supporters, and the ruling elite had declared war on the masses.

The Babangida years heralded unprecedented corruption, greed and moral depravity. Being a minister became synonymous with embezzler of public funds. Thus, the exodus began, of children born to the independence generation. They escaped abroad in search of the greatness their parents dreamt of.

Today

My mother's cronies patter about their mansions, waiting for the phone to ring heralding a child remembering to call home. They endure harassment at banks to prove they own the accounts to which large sums were deposited from foreign banks. They suffer abuse in the hands of maids, drivers, nurses, and sundry too inept and disinterested to care for the elderly. Then, they line up in the baking sun to prove they are still alive in order to receive pension they established.

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