Wednesday, March 18, 2009
If there ever was an inspiring slogan, it has to be the one that was constructed by the team assembled by the irrepressible Dr. Dora Akunyili, the present Minister of Information who made a credible name for herself in her popular campaign against fake and sub-standard drugs while in the drivers seat of the National Agency For Food And Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC). This new initiative at branding the nation by the Yar-Adua administration was heralded with such pomp and peagentry, chopping up some few hours off of airtime on national television. Although the rhetoric is rebranding Nigeria, the exercise in it's very conception reeks of an attempt in futility.
This in itself does not signify an attempt to demean the significance of this new project, rather, in the consciousness of the average Nigerian, there really are things that need to be done that would fundamentally engender development and progress of the contemporary Nigerian society, are these things being done? In the speech read on his behalf by the Vice President, President Yar Adua was quoted thus, "If we as a nation must meet the MDGs, we must readily put in place a positive perception of Nigeria". It was surprising to witness yesterday that for an event which is being marketed to the over 140 Million peoples of Nigeria as the step that would lead us to our own developmental eldorado, the President and CEO of the Nigerian project was conspiciously absent. Not only was his esteemed presence missing, neither the Senate President nor the Speaker of the House deemed it neccessary to grace such a momentous occassion as the official "rebranding Nigeria" ceremony.
The read speech of Mr. President left so much to be desired, his absence from the ceremony was far from encouraging, and the good image which the Information Minister had garnered over the years is at the risk of being tarnished by the very forces which she so willingly intend to please by her image laundering attempts. The powers that be are very well comfortable with the status quo and until this decadent structure of the state is reformed, nothing much should be expected from the people as they have been giving their best all these years and cannot be expected to do more than the scope that the restraining Nigerian state had foisted on them.
Much as most of the nation had been forced to watch the wanton abuse of political office and power, much as security of lives and property had been threatened by an insecure state, much as injustices left unattended to for years had been left to fester into full blown internecine violence, much as education and infrastructure had been deliberately allowed to depreciate and dilapidate, the Nigerian people had remained unwavering, tenacious, resolute in their belief that "one day, e go better". The average Nigerian is confident, she will choose to be industrious in the face of challenges and he will work his socks off to fend for his family with a belief that it can be done. So, for the fact that the President feels the need to embark on a campaign for Nigerians to, "once more have confidence in themselves and in Nigeria" seem rather ambiguous and more like a cosmetic reason for a project that should hold so much hope.
It was interesting to hear the speech touch on the image that the nation is viewed by the international community, but what happens when the world sees Nigeria on CNN and BBC as one good and great nation, and elections are still witnessed to be replete with irregularities with questionable decisions from the Judicial processes? When a vast number of the people are without adequate electricity supply that perpetually cast the nation as a dark spot on the globe when viewed from outer space satellite images? This is a country where official transparency is shadowed in official oath taking ceremonies and accountability is being truncated by the sabotaging efforts of the anti "Freedom Of Information Bill" advocates. No element of window dressing ever keeps the cracks invisible from the naked eye, the practical thing to do is to replace a louver.
Listening to the Vice President speak, one must've wondered what was going on through his mind when he reeled out some beautifully constructed vocabs, consolidating the impression that Nigerians are indeed a great people. Even the original owners of the English language would be green with envy when they listen to the words as penned by the presidential speech writer. Hear, "The campaign signifies a renewed dawn to our collective interests to reorient, and embrace positive values of accountability, selfless service, diligence, transparency, abiding pride in our country which will not only drive the maximization of our creative and productive energy, but also diagnose a shared and progressive interest". I guess if the above were to be intepreted in the average Nigerian Pidgin English to the rural dweller in Biri'Nafada in Gombe state, or the peasant cassava farmer in Ugboha, Edo State, or to the average motor boy in Ago-Iwoye, Ogun state or the market woman in Mbaise, Imo state, they would express similar sentiments. Sentiments that they see the government as a good initiator of programmes, but a bad implementer of them.
Sorry for sounding harsh, but fifty years of a common history, fifty years of aborted programmes (laudable as some might have been), fifty years of failed promises, fifty years of misrule and corruption and inefficiency and ineptitude on the part of the state, fifty years of directionlessness and a wanton disregard for the yearnings and aspirations of the people are enough to cause one to at this point take any highfalutin rhetoric from a government that has been a part of the rot for the last two years of our history without meaningful significant change in the socio, political economic life of the nation, with a pinch of salt.
The Seven Point Agenda remains just that, an agenda, and the Vision 20 20 20 might just as well remain a vision in the light of the subsisting economic crisis which is defying the intellectual capacities of those saddled with the enormous task of managing the economy for the millions of hard working Nigerians who are at risk of experiencing the effects of delayed and brittle economic policies. The MDGs of which the President is so fond of mentioning (maybe due to it's technical sounding nature in speeches) is hardly being met by Nigeria, as we are neither on the road to achieving any nor are we making meaningful efforts towards achieving them except for the basic education goal which if not for a culture of education in the some parts of the country would have been mired in its non-accomplishment as there are as yet remains that big push required to engender a universal education policy that would benefit all parts of the nation.
While not apportioning blames, while identifying with the fact that even this writer is not trying to be "holier than thou", we must begin to address certain realities. Have we not discovered ourselves? The president said it is not about celebrating our failings, but about recognizing them and challenging ourselves and rising above it. Fine, agreed and accepted, lets do that now. The state is the problem in Nigeria, the state and all it's agents have been hijacked by thugs and charlatans in the garb of leadership. When a nation is being ruled by rogues whose political language is violent and well met with the violence evidenced in our electoral and political process, what does one expect governance to be?
Remember Mr. President that upon assumption of duties on that fateful May day in 2007, your speech was inspiring in its rhetoric of "rule of law" and a "zero tolerance for corruption". Two years down the line, how would your administration be assessed based on these two criteria alone?
Now the challenge is to the state and not to the Nigerian people. The way we speak, our utterances and our actions, as Dr. Akunyili mentioned, are just a reflection of the ripple effects of communication dissemination as emanating from the state being dispensed to the polity. The state takes the lead in any attempt at national development and the onus should not be on the people.
If the people see murderers and rapists go unpunished, if the people see that corruption is celebrated and flaunted by the state and her many networks of patron-client relationships, if the people see that justice is being transformed into a commodity that is subject to market forces, if the people see their taps without water and their roads riddled with death traps, if the people continue to power their subsistence existence on fuel powered generators, if the people cannot have the basic necessities of a life that is expected of such an endowed nation in the 21st century , then ten thousand branding or rebranding attempts would continue to meet with the failures earlier experienced by prior half hearted attempts at cosmetic surgery on the nations image. The "Heart of Nigeria Project" is a recent sad reminder of the cost of such failures with it's over 1 Billion Naira expenditure.
But must we continue to embark on such white elephant projects, rather than lining the pockets of a few individuals, such sum might have been invested in creating cottage industries, or awarding PHD grants or other educational/academic research, among the many other positive things that would have had a more positive impact on the nation, but we all know that even with it's been classified a monumental failure, no one would be held accountable why such a project was allowed to fail.
Like we mentioned earlier, we are good people, great nation? Potentially maybe, yes. We have the potentials to be great, but whether we attain greatness would depend on the goodness of our governance and the actions of the leadership of this nation at this critical point in our collective history and not on some official ceremony that does not hold much of a significance as to attract the presence of the heads of the three arms of government.