Sunday, July 26, 2009

In these troubled times

Anytime one domiciled within the Nigerian territories picks up any of the nations many dailies, he is immediately greeted with stories of other Nigerians from the other parts of the country, from the far flung reaches of the fringes of the Sahara to the coasts bounding the African continent with the two Atlantics. Once in a while, they might catch glimpses of stories from other continents, especially if it might have some connection with nationals. In a manner, the average citizen might seem helpless in the face of the many complexities and contradictions that the contemporary international system have foisted on a 21st century world. But more importantly, the things that will concern him the most are those things that have an immediate impact on his existence and livelihood. Within the context of today’s Nigeria, a great many issues have led to a feeling of solemn despondency by the at least 54.4% of the population living in relative poverty of $1.08 at the 2005 Purchasing Power Parity (PPP).

Almost on a daily basis, news stories and reports ranging from the criminal to the scandalous, and all the negative concepts and terms in between, continue to feed the dumbfounded throng of eager Nigerians, whose sole reward is to argue subjective opinions spiritedly after the daily dose of state ineptitude and inefficiency had been guzzled. The fact that most of these issues become ‘yesterdays news’ at the point of consumption plays little or no role in the gusto into which parties put into their individual analysis of issues, either in the hallowed halls of university faculties or in the many selling spaces of the various street side vendors strewn all over the nooks and crannies of Nigeria.

By now, even when the citizenry await the much talked about electoral reforms, and the Nigerian populace have come to question the electoral process, the only one means by which a Nigerian citizen can have a say in this complex grill of uneven integration that the Nigerian polity had become, other issues such as unending industrial actions, spurious developmental claims, disarticulated policies, private and public corruption, the sophistication of organized violence, and an ever rising crime rate exacerbate the tensions within the polity leading to one living in a state of perpetual insecurity. However, the incidence of wanton and institutionalized violence becomes salient in the sense of its questioning the monopoly of force that underlie the preservation of security, a principle which defines an effective state. On a regular basis, reports of brazen criminal operations assail our sensibilities. When it is not mobilized and armed religious centered groups meting out mayhem to hapless and innocent citizens, it is often times violent agitations for resource control by disadvantaged and marginalized ethnic groups, venting their spleen, albeit justifiably. We should not forget the popular militants from the Niger Delta, couching their competition with the state for the regions resources with genuine demands that obviates the need for asking the question, “What has the state been doing for the last 50 years?”

The avid follower of events since political independence would recall the concept of the ‘developmental state’ that heralded the proliferation of new states since the culmination of the Second World War. But while it can be argued that these brood of former colonies were merely reinforcements of the prevailing international political economy, and that their development have either been stymied or supported to grow, benefiting from catalysts provided by the political and economic power poles of the international system, consideration is given of the fact that there exist an embarrassment of endowments spread across the vastness of the landmass of Nigeria that it can well provide in abundance for the nearly 200 Million peoples that have been destined to live as one within her geographical confines, leaving considerable surplus that can well be invested in the millions more unborn Nigerians that would inhabit these lands long after our generation must have departed.

A flip through the nations dailies would indeed raise serious questions on the sustainability of the Nigerian project on the eve of her golden jubilee of sovereign existence. Judging from the reports being provided by the heroes of the contemporary struggle, the courageous newshound, who permeate the armour of the petite bourgeoisie to provide us common proletarians with much needed enlightenment, a projection into the next fifty years seem littered with pain, with the peoples perennially subjected to a vicious cycle of poverty.

It must be mentioned that the heart which one shows in actually purchasing a newspaper publication reflects the unrelenting spirit of the average Nigerian citizen who is not put off by the economic tailspin which the global financial meltdown had inflicted on an already dysfunctional domestic economy. Many have remained unrelenting, sacrificing at least 100 of our distressed Naira currency, to be in the know of the scheming and shenanigans of the political gladiators that bestride the political space. This token amount could well be the difference between ones status and position in the international classification of poverty. These ones actually contribute to the contemporary Nigerian debate, with their hope that it would yield to a genuine social contract that would bind the essence of our togetherness and genuine nationhood.

This emerging national debate, which if it must be said have been consistently and consciously shirked by the party going on in the Federal Capital Territory is proving to be like the proverbial light that cannot be hid. Unfortunately however, the appropriate mechanisms for engaging in such debates under the contemporary constituted order are rather preoccupied with more mundane things, as both the green and red sides of the divide are as yet enmeshed in their attempts to define and redefine protocol over a year after their respective committees were convened. Meanwhile, quite ominously, the continuous search for where ‘Satan’ is domiciled makes headline news. How else could have the Nigerian populace been aware of the fact that ‘sciances’ and exorcisms still exist in the upper echelon of both the national state and its sub national appendages?

The average Nigerian is indeed rewarded when he debates the hypocrisy of the assumedly religious politicians. For the same pages one confronts state and public officials, indicted of one deviant act or the other, gleefully posing for nude photographic shots within the deep recesses of fetish primitivism, are the same pages that these officials give thanks with pomp and pageantry in various religious institutions and denominations, thanking God probably for aiding them in their successful actions of primitive accumulation. Makes one to wonder which God is actually being worshipped.

It is no more news when gross incompetence is reported. What becomes news is the size and degree of appropriation. For that observer since independence, the brazenness of the late 20th century pale into insignificance when compared with the bizarre of the 21st century thus far. Some years ago, $12 Billion was lamented to high heavens and personal aggrandizement was redefined with platforms constructed for the storage of filthy lucre in some quarters. Those were the heady days of the ‘gap toothed general’ and the ‘dark goggled one’. However, little did we know that we were being primed for the incredulous when colossal sums were mentioned in a plethora of graft cases, from Halliburton to Siemens, to the unspecified monies of the power probes and the irony of the Rural Electrification scam where a hunter has paradoxically become the hunted, amongst countless of others.

Expectations that the emerging democratic order would bring with it the goods that the battered people badly needed continue to fizzle with the passage of time, and the Nigerian people who marched on into democracy and the new century with a hope borne of the fact that our collective experience as a nation would place the new political and ruling elite in good stead to recalibrate the trajectory of the nations political and socio-economic development have been disappointed to say the least. What has become of the sacrifices made in sweat and blood, the aftermath of the post June 12 pro democracy battles? Have they all been in vain? Where is transparency and accountability? What happened to the rule of law that we were all promised?

The story since the turn of the century have been founded on hollow growth and a haphazard and directionless policy regime, that does the common man no good. Governance has been abused and the system had been intentionally and consciously corrupted to maintain the access which some small fraction of the populace have to the paraphernalia of state. By incorporating segments of the economic, military, traditional and religious elites, this hybrid Polygarchy have let loose the fangs of the state on other sectors of the society, replicating itself at various sub state levels, for the sole purpose of self preservation. Protecting its networks of puns by promoting double standards, while meting selective justice for appeasement purposes, and for the benefit of the sycophantic cadre who see their role as official applause providers for state policies, good or bad. Under this reality therefore, it is hardly surprising that there is a morbid competition to accumulate bordering on the insane. With a false paradigm orientation entrenched by the discredited capitalistic notions copied from the colonial dispensation, capital accumulation had been turned on its head in its expression in Nigeria, and her economy is being sabotaged from within under a presumed logic of neo classical liberalism.

A computation of figures arrived at from some of the alleged misappropriations since 1999 would amount to all or most of the annual budget of many of the states in Sub Saharan Africa. With the political class consuming almost half of the nations budget each year, it is begging the question why the country has remained the way it is in an increasingly globalizing 21st century, disarticulated, disjointed, disillusioned and underdeveloped.

However, this piece is not meant for lamenting the subsisting state in Nigeria, as that job has become the favorite pastime of our political leaders, who when not lamenting our absence from the congregation of states that would form the core of the emerging international economic order (if not political as well), are either lamenting the snub given by the American head of states’ below par rating of the country’s efforts at governance, or lamenting their incapacity at providing a paltry 6000 Megawatts, power capacity that would not be able to scratch the surface of our drive towards being amongst one of the top 20 economies in about a decade from today. Even consistent failures at ensuring that the federal road networks are failure free are no longer news, not when the Lagos/Apapa federal roads he vein of the nations economy, are in a critical condition of disrepair.

Our leaders should know by now that tears and emotion laden tones do not make good roads, nor do they lead to development and economic prosperity. Even, their various throng of ‘abracadabra’ specialists would have told them so. One can recall a few years ago when a federal minister, fully fatigued in construction gear with a safety hat to match, along the Benin-Ore-Lagos Federal Highway, exhibited her enviable talents at ‘stagecraft’ in the glare of lights and cameras, but two years down the road, we are yet to see concrete action, and she was appropriately rewarded for that spectacle with another ministerial position and her continuous presence in the midst of the noveau aristocrats in their midweek backslappings and camera sessions.

Now when the nations educational sector lie prostrate, parties are being held by actors in the midst of the crisis, and more fundamental issues are trivialized with an emphasis on income. It is beyond the rationalizing of the authorities that education and a sound academic base provide the fulcrum on which growth in knowledge is firmed upon, and that for our educational institutions to rate at par with its contemporaries from other parts of the world, infrastructural development and better funding is required. While talks of accelerating the development efforts of the Niger Delta was ongoing, the subsisting regime chose to mark its two years in office with carnage in Gbaramatu, following this up with an offer of amnesty that few have subscribed to due to it’s disregard for the local oil bearing communities exploited these past fifty years and its lack of a sustainable post amnesty framework.

As if to rub the scale of its insensitivity to the Niger Delta in, the state had proposed, via the suspect Petroleum Industry Bill some unacceptable proposals that underlie the constant insinuations held by this most deprived of peoples that some individuals within the polity actually feel that the state exist at their behest. What can one say about a minister who has been in the corridors of the petroleum industry, and have not only amassed stupendous wealth as a result, but has also contributed to the rot over the last three decades making unguarded statements and utterances belying his comprehension of the immensity of a problem he cannot deny not being a major party to?

It is a sad testimony that when some elements should be called to account for their years of association with the development of underdevelopment in the country, statements that emanate from them are fraught with provocation and an air of imperial aloofness. Over $400 Billion have been frittered away by previous regimes and governments, according to the United Nations and the World Bank, many of the current officials of state were at various points active partakers of previous governments, but no one is asking for stewardships, much less prosecutions. Similar events are unfolding before our very eyes as the rate at which the nations surplus crude accounts and foreign reserves is being depleted, decreasing over 30% the last 12 months with no significant improvement in any of the ntions domestic developmental index, gives one cause for concern. At this rate, by the time of the 2011 elections, the nation might not have up to $10 Billion in her foreign reserves, while calls are already on for a second term for the present regime. At a point when reasonable rational heads of governments of more developed countries apologize for government failure and take responsibility for inefficiency, our African leaders continue to foist themselves on their hapless peoples, disregarding norms and harboring interests of self perpetuation in power irrespective of performance or otherwise.

Rather, this piece is for the Nigerian citizen who see through the crocodile tears and unguarded statements of state officials, and hold a firm belief in the bright and positive future of our nation without cosmetic attempts at (re)branding. This piece is for all those who daily flock the news stands, wanting to know, and still wanting to know more, for their belief that one day they will gather and comment on the positives that emanate from the system and reminisce on the dark days of the insane polity when the ‘lunatic minority’ held sway. This piece is for the brave news editor/reporter who despite threats, blackmail and a hostile working environment, where the freedom of information is stifled and harangued and mere reporting of the state of health of public officials could land one in the comfortable confines of State Security detention centres, continue to hold tenaciously to the principles of their profession. This piece is for all Nigerians who feel betrayed when the nation has to stand in line and beg the G8 and other High Income Countries for bread crumbs when the nation is fully capable of baking her own pies and teaching others the art of industry and productivity.

This piece is also for the African brethren domiciled in Africa. As our leaders have restated their determination to make those difficult choices that will enable them deal with the complex challenges facing Africa, and since they have recognized that the responsibility for peace and development rests squarely on their shoulders (paraphrasing President Umaru Yar Aduas recent G8 speech), it is only a hope that Africa can hope. That rhetoric begin to be backed up with action, and that genuine efforts be made by African leaders towards meeting the welfare and developmental needs of her peoples by genuinely working towards realizing the goals and targets of eradicating poverty and human suffering.

According to the United Nations Under Secretary General For Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang, writing in the 2008 Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) Report, all citizens of the world, especially the poor and the most vulnerable, have the right to expect that their leaders fulfill the commitments made towards achieving these set of developmental goals. The Nigerian citizen has a right to development, and it is not a privilege.

But a flip through the dailies imbues one with less cause for confidence. But to the good Nigerian citizen, and to the African who have gone through the trouble of flipping through the days dailies, this writer says courage. Trouble may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

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