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« Garbage Removal is President Obasanjo’s Job! | Main | Who is afraid of Solarin…eh sorry Soyinka, Fawehinmi, Achebe? »

December 30, 2005

It's a Poor Country: Isn't it?

by Chibuzo Onubogu (USA) --- This was the question I was asked when I was introduced as a Nigerian to a Brazilian that I had a chat with while attending a friend’s party. What began as a very honest and harmless exchange of hellos turned into one person being defensive and the other party trying his utmost best to apologize. Was I shocked? No! But I felt very awkward, betrayed and dumbfounded.

A Brazilian had described my beloved country as being poor. At that point, I had feeling in my gut that made me want to throw up in disgust, but should I blame him? No! I know exactly where the blame
lies. It’s not from the listing that has put Nigeria as one of the poorest countries in the world. It can’t be. That listing has nothing to do with greed, corruption, nepotism, tribalism, roguery, pilferage,
pen pushing robbery, official misconduct, maladministration, brigandage and outright stealing of funds by administration after administration that have misruled Nigeria since independence including the present band of thieves in power.

Nigeria did not fight for self rule, but in a certain sense it did, but no blood was shed. Nigerian independence was handed over to the people on a platter of crude oil, scores of many known mineral resources and a very vibrant agro-economy that could have been feeding the entire sub-Saharan Africa without sweat. No! These solid foundations were not enough; instead the country has gradually found itself continually riding that train into the group of chronically diseased countries without hope, remedy or redemption.

Nigeria is now purely a consumer nation with no manufacturing or industrial infrastructure, an unreliable and sick power supply system, a near non existent supply of water, an education system that has gone from one of the best to a laughing stock. I have a B.A. degree obtained from the University of Calabar in 1985 which I will not trade for anything. Today, degrees awarded by Nigerian Universities are seen being as worthless as the paper it’s printed on.
Nigerian streets are littered with able-bodied beggars who have resorted to a once dehumanized lifestyle as a means of livelihood. Armed robbery another byproduct of hunger poverty and hopelessness is rife and rampant with the majority of the robbers now being unemployed
graduates who in turn recruit undergraduates who see their future as bleak and doomed. Today, the infamous advanced fee fraud or 419 is what Nigeria is known for. No not for our fantastic feats in sports: Not for producing many of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, but for the art of cheating people out of their wealth and inheritance. You cannot travel anywhere in the world with a Nigerian passport without being watched like a hawk, with the watchers expecting you to do something criminal or dangerous just for the mere fact that you are a Nigerian. What happened to Cocoa production? Whither palm oil, groundnuts, and cotton. What became of columbite, bauxite, tin, gold, and manganese? Who killed rubber, soy, iroko,
mahogany, obeche? There is a long list of items and products like the ones I mentioned above which I learned in elementary and secondary school Geography where Nigeria was always at least one of the top 20
producers in the world. I am being very generous and conservative when I say top 20. In fact, damn it being conservative. Nigeria was number one in at least three of the items mentioned above. I remember columbite, cocoa and palm oil. Which ones do you remember? It’s like

Nigeria and its citizens have been in a trance hoodwinked by the criminals who have caused and are still causing a serious injury to a once promising nation. Giant of Africa has now become dwarf of Africa. Nigeria is now the 2nd poorest country in the world, and the 2nd most corrupt country in the world. We have arrived. Is this the potential that we supposedly had? Not really. Nigerians through their
corruption, greed, avarice and selfishness have wrought their wickedness on their own nation. I always compare what these cowardly crooks have done and continue to do to the equivalence of having a child, and anytime the child is hungry instead of feeding him/her you eat some of the food and throw the rest in the garbage. This is how Nigeria’s ruling class have masterminded their ultimate goal: making poverty endemic and pandemic. Poverty is now their best tool for oppression, intimidation, political assassinations, election fraud and malpractice. The people after being made poor can now go out and
participate in criminal activity without regard to their lives, and other people’s lives and safety.

Sadly enough, the tools of success were in place prior to independence and shortly after it. The current decay in infrastructure and the general dirty outlook of the country was not so during the colonial days. I remember in 1972 when I went to Lagos (the then proud capital of Nigeria) for the first, the images of very beautiful roads, clean street is still burned in my memory. I was only 9 years old the civil war had just ended. I loved Lagos. Trips to Taqua Bay, Tinubu Square, Bar Beach and Tafawa Balewa Square left an indelible mark in my memory. Even when I made my second trip to Lagos in 1977, The National Theater, and the National Stadium were colossal edifices which made me proud of being Nigerian. As a young child I did not know any other country but Nigeria, and I developed a deep love for it. Despite losing 3 of my older brothers during and after the civil war I still felt no remorse and loved being a Nigerian. That is why it pains me that the crooks, criminals and brigands have continued to pilfer, rob and pillage the country without check.

Colonization, Segregation, Enslavement, and Apartheid were methods that the Europeans used to subjugate, maltreat and dehumanize Africans in the continent and in Diaspora. These were cruel and inhuman methods of treatments which need be belittled, but the Europeans left Nigeria 42 years ago. I know that current Western
Powers led by the United States try to topple governments in the developing world that they disagree with, especially nations with vast crude oil deposits and Nigeria happens to fall into that group.
It is still my contention that Nigeria still has the manpower, the brains, and the natural resources to develop the very basic needs of the people. Yet, today many people want to blame the west for all our
problems. The Western World cannot stop the building of good roads, water and power supply. They cannot stop provision of good education, healthcare and housing. One thing I know for sure is that the average
Nigerian is not lazy, and would not want a welfare state. I believe that the Nigerian that has not been led into quick and easy acquisition of wealth still will rather be provided with good paying job. This Nigerian will want this good job, and will want to have adequate supply of electricity, and needs to get steady supply potable water. This Nigerian will like to drive on a good road if he\she has a car, will like his/her children to have a good education. This Nigerian would like affordable housing. This Nigerian
will like appropriate and properly and duly elected representatives to speak for him/her. This Nigerian wants to elect and not select leaders who have the interest of the people at heart. This Nigerian would love to go sleep at night and not worry if he is going to get attacked by robbers. I have lived in the United States for the past 17 years. Though I am a US citizen, I am still a Nigerian at heart. Crimes are committed in the United States on higher degree than there will ever be in Nigeria. For some reason people are more afraid of crimes being committed on them in Nigeria than in the US. For example, you can take your family on a driving trip from lets say from New York City to Washington DC, (which is about250 miles) leave your house any hour of the day without fear of an accident or getting attacked by armed robbers and safely get there in 3 to 6 hours depending on your speed or if you have small children. Comparatively speaking, a family trip that starts in Enugu and terminates in Lagos which is of equal or less distance will only be done during the day and you will be doing it with fear at certain points of your journey. You will want to make sure you get to Lagos before it gets too dark.
During the journey you will not only be afraid of armed robbers, but you will be leery of the Police too. The journey may take you twice the amount of time. (You hear people arguing that Police in America
are racist, but I think they are in the minority). In Nigeria every policeman is a potential treat to civilian life and property. The other factor is the roads. Nigerian roads are death traps not so with
roads in the US. Comparing the United States and Nigeria is the proverbial apples and oranges comparison. They do not have equal power neither do they have equal strength, but I am willing to bet
anything on it that based on shear size and space, that Nigeria may have more natural resources than the US. Let us refer to the old world geography, US has coal, so does Nigeria. The US has crude oil, so does Nigeria. In this case Nigeria’s crude is the Brent kind, the highest quality crude. The US has cotton, so did Nigeria. The US has beef so does Nigeria. Here, once again my intention is not to compare the US and Nigeria, but remember the old saying “to whom much is given much is expected”. The expectations were once great on Nigeria. The Nigerian citizens and the rest of the world are waiting in anticipation for the potential to show signs of actualizing and materializing.

Another byproduct of the mess created in Nigeria is that Nigeria has millions in “exile” all over the western world and beyond. Conservatively speaking I know this for a fact, that no fewer than 80% of Nigerians I have spoken to no longer want to live in these foreign lands that they find themselves, but are forced to because to them there is no hope for “their stupid country”. Some people have gone to the extent of denying being Nigerians due to the shame and
insults that come with it. So many have died trying to escape from Nigeria; many more are trying to get out to anywhere else they can find to go. Countries grow through emigration and immigration not migration. One thing I have noticed is that the Nigerians in exile are gradually producing a generation of children that may not want to have anything to do with their parents’ country of birth. Many of these children due to no fault of their own cannot speak their parents’ native language or languages. These parents think it’s cool that their children can only speak English. Life in America and all these other foreign countries are good, but nothing is better than home. As the old saying goes “East, West, North, and South home is
still the best place to be .I will share with you three stories or instances of the exiled Nigerians and their disillusionment with Nigeria. Their disappointment comes with Nigeria’s hopeless and
rudderless direction, it sometimes makes them feel so apathetic to the point of loathing and despising that which they love so much. Here are the examples; these were actual situations I witnessed;
At a christening ceremony in New Jersey (USA) in the year 2001, a certain Nigerian made a statement which I particularly took offense to. He said and I quote “the best thing for Nigeria is someone to throw an atom bomb and wipe the entire country out including my relatives there” Harsh words! There, he was saying these brutal things with feeling of being lost and betrayed. Stranded in a country he doesn’t completely call home and not being able to go to his own and call it home. What a shame. I vehemently disagreed with the guy calling him names, and we argued about it. I told him how unpatriotic and mean spirited it was to speak such words about his birth country. Destroy his relatives too! Haba, my brother that is too much I said but, he stood to his gun feeling very unmoved about his stance.

On another occasion in Raleigh, North Carolina USA, a Nigerian, feeling so hurt about the demise of his beloved country wished that the white colonial masters never left. He went on to state instances of how things were when we were being colonized and how it turned out since the white people left. The man was willing to forego the lack of dignity that colonization was all about, the mere inhumanity of it,
just for things to work. Like good roads, good education, electricity and water. Once again I disagreed with this fellow, and it got to the point that we were not on speaking terms for a long time. The sad thing about it was that I had known him since my secondary school days in Nigeria. Another equally bad thing about it is that we both hail from the same hometown.

Another situation occurred in the same city of Raleigh, NC where another man called for the American invasion of Nigeria like they did Afghanistan and Iraq. For the Americans to come take over Nigeria and
rule it like a colony. It would not bother him one bit he said, just for things to work like jobs, electricity, water supply, good roads, good schools and affordable housing. People it seems are not asking
for too much, they are not asking to be president, governor or to own several cars, or several mansions. They just want the basics, water, electricity, jobs, roads, and education.

In other words the blame placed on the Western World for Nigeria’s continued problems is not a lie but it can be avoided. For example, Can the Nigerian ruling class and its cronies ask all the oil companies to shut their production until they meet the demands of
the Delta people?( where most of the oil come from). Would this be a far fetched demand? After all, the oil production does no good to the peoples of the areas where the oil is being drilled. Can the government stop raising the price of petrol? Nigeria still imports petrol and petroleum products despite having 4 refineries that I know of. Nigeria’s abundant liquefied natural gas is still being laid to waste. Nigeria is still the second poorest nation in the world in spite of its all resources. The issues raised above are two key issues that the government that truly cares for its people ought to tackle. Will they? The answer is an emphatic NO. The reason is that the “leaders” are benefiting more from the mismanagement of Nigeria and its resources than they ever will if things are done right. Until Nigerians demand for a real change in leadership then it will continue to be business as usual with one crooked group handing over
to the other.

I have heard too much noise made about sanitizing the polity. It’s just too much grammar without much action. I will tell you how to begin; First step is to bar anyone who attained the rank of major in the Nigerian Army or its equivalence in the Air Force and Navy from participating in any political endeavor. Let them remain military professionals. The retired ones should stay retired. I am not an advocate of non inclusion, but the only way to allow these military
people to participate in governance or civilian leadership, is for all their training manuals to get burnt or dropped in the ocean. Whatever they are being taught has nothing to do with civility. The entire culture of the Nigerian military needs to be revamped
and completely overhauled. I can speak on military culture not as an expert but as one who has participated in it. I spent 8 years in the US Navy, 5years of which was active duty, and 3 years being an inactive reserve. I went to boot camp in February of 1995 and was out of boot camp sometime in April. I don’t want to belabour you with my military service but I needed to make sure that people understand that
I walked the walk so I can talk the talk. I am delving into this area because I know that members of Nigerian military of yesterday and today are very unruly, untrained, and corrupt and morally bankrupt. Alas! How can they be trusted to lead? I remember an incident occurred when I was still an impressionable kid which left a lasting mark on the image I had and still do of the Nigerian Military. In 1980 while attending elementary school in Onitsha, I had occasion to stay with my cousin who was a sergeant in the Nigerian Army. I was just a 17 year old kid and I knew what place I was. A military barracks or Cantonment. All I did was go to school and come back. I never even went to their provision stores on base, or their mammy market. Pretty much, I went to school came back and stayed indoors until my cousin returned. One evening I was on my way back from school when I was confronted by one of the military guys, can’t remember his rank it might have been corporal or lance. He asked me
where I was going, I told him that I was coming from school and that I going to my cousin’s place in the barracks. The man grabbed me and started hitting me. He asked me to get off the base that I did not belong there. We were halfway to the gate when fortunately the RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major) whom I had met a couple of times earlier because he had come to see my cousin in his flat intervened. He asked the corporal what he was doing (I think the corporal had been drinking on duty) and he said he was escorting a suspected criminal off the base. The RSM told him that I was not a criminal and that he should refrain from hitting me He also informed the gate guards on duty to make sure that nobody touches me any further. He also told them that he aware of my staying in the barracks with my cousin. I don’t want to make this too much of a personal tale. This type of unruly behavior is not common with the NCOs only. The lack of discipline is very much embedded in the officer corps too. Because
of the very flawed system of man know man that most these galoots get in the military they think they are above the law. Many of them are children of those already serving, another chunk are relatives of some
sort. The rest join on the recommendation of all kinds of godfathers. I have no bitterness towards the Nigerian military it’s just that I don’t think that the doctrine being taught is relevant anymore. There is an urgent need for a change so that military folks
whether active or retired or whatever can adapt to being part of the civil society. The way Nigeria is being run today is a classic example. We have an ex military Head of State masquerading as a civilian president, still deeply entrenched in his military style behavior and too thick headed to adapt to civility. His tendencies have rather hindered than help democracy grow, but he is too rigid and too militarized to understand what he is supposed to do as a civilian.

In the US, retired Generals and their like have been and continue to strive for the presidency and other offices, because they are taught that there is a time to kill and a time to protect. The Nigerian military doctrine I believe is all about killing. I doubt if they have anything about protecting the people in there.

In Nigeria there have been numerous cases where military personnel will run afoul of the law and the police dare not touch them or it leads to mayhem. Instances are abound where military men have laid siege at a police barracks or stations just because the police arrested one of them or their children for a legally legitimate reason. In Lagos, all uniformed men get on buses and never pay a kobo, acting as if it is some sort of right, as if they never get paid like most other workers do. The Nigerian military need to start training more than soldiers. They need to diversify. The US military train both their officers and NCOs to be Artisans, leaders, workers,
technicians, farmers, salespeople, bankers, telecom and IT specialists so that at the end of their career they can join the civil society without much need for adjustment. While still serving in the US NAVY, stationed in San Diego California I witnessed something that may be hard to envision in a Nigerian situation. The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) which is an equivalent of Nigeria’s CID needed to make an arrest of a member of the US Marines stationed on this same base. This Marine had gone out and committed
all kinds of offences and the FBI had tracked him to this particular military base. What they did was they contacted the local police and told them of their intentions. The local police in turn informed the base military police; the three groups joined together and made the arrest on base. In all the time when I was growing up in Nigeria, I never heard of the police having any success in attempts at arresting military persons or even their dependants on base. There were always scuffles between these two uniformed groups.

There can never be a serious sanitizing of the polity that will not involve the restructuring and overhauling of the Nigerian police. Personally I believe that this is the most important event that can
reshape Nigeria’s history. The role that an effective police plays in a society cannot be oversimplified. If we had effective policing the excesses of the military will be kept in check. Aha! Where have I heard this before? Circa 1986; the man who said it was Alozie Ogugbuaja, the one time Police Public Relations officer in Lagos state. The man was almost killed by Babangida and his boys for making that statement. Luckily for him, the Sunday morning grenade under his
car would not explode. Would the deaths of Dele Giwa, Bola Ige, and Marshall Harry et al still be considered mysteries? The death of John F Kennedy, which till today is still seen as mystery has all kinds of
fingers pointing in different directions. Its then up to you to follow which direction you want to though as we all know the truth lies somewhere in between. That Kennedy’s death still spawns a lot of tales, fables, and conspiracies shows that some top official was
involved somehow. The Police are not 100% effective and efficient in developed countries. In Nigeria the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of the police cannot be calculated percentage wise. As a citizen if you lodge a complaint you never know how the case may turn out. In most cases the depth of ones pocket is the determinant of who gets justice. In the cases mentioned above the only reason the truth is not
coming out is that the murders can be traced directly to the person in power at the time it was done, be it Obasanjo or Babangida. A truly restructured Nigerian Police will make sure that the electorate will vote without hindrance. They are not forced to shoot and kill their own brothers and sisters for not voting for the party in power. An effective police will curtail the rampant occurrence of hard crimes especially, armed robbery, but more often than not the police are found to be involved in the robberies. All the hoopla and noise about foreign investors will never come to fruition unless adequate security is provided. The internal affairs of any nation can never be properly managed without effective policing. The Police if effectively restructured ands organized can arrest anyone who has committed any crime without fear or favor. In countries where policing is effective cases never really die completely that’s why in those countries criminals are apprehended 20, 30, or even 40-years after they thought they had beaten the crime.

Sanitizing the polity involves rejecting politicians who have the penchant for embezzlement. People should make sure they never get elected again. They must watch that they never find their way back into positions where they are wont to steal again. How about the show of how insensitive and insolent our present selected president Obasanjo is, in his attempt to appoint a man who forged his certificate to head some government owned and controlled Education review board. What a shame! The case of Obasanjo and his Presidency is purely one of whom much was given and has ended up being the most atrocious thing Nigerians have ever done. Obasanjo, “to whom much is given much is expected” So much was given to you and the returns
have been the utmost disgusting form of disappointment.The emperor has no clothes on, but nobody dare tell him for fear of being marked for public ridicule and removal.

Two years after you became president, I met your daughter Iyabo at a function organized by a friend in Durham NC, USA. The guests present were ready to fry and roast her for being your daughter. Like a loyal
daughter she was defending you, acting like a little Chihuahua dog trying to prove its mettle. She was getting angry just like you talking about your sacrifices, but she was overmatched. Your negatives
were getting too much after just 2 yearsin office. I was the only one who thought maybe you still deserved a chance, but all that came to naught. You continued to wallow in stupidity and mediocrity, then there was the assassination of Bola Ige a man you called brother
and friend, your Attorney General, you did nothing. Then you had your landslide selection, the attempted coup in Anambra, and then a coup in Plateau. You continued on your slide down to the road of infamy and
dubiousness. Then you started your new witch hunting, eliminating those who no longer kowtowed to your emperor behavior. Most of these people realized how naked the emperor was and dared laugh at him. You then got religion and found corruption as your witch hunting tool and went after these people. Alas Mr. President, corruption cannot fight itself. You are corrupt so is your Vice and all those who surround
you. The entire Nigerian National assembly is corrupt. That puny little scallywag called Chris Uba is back in Anambra desecrating my state at your wishing. Why did you have to bring him bag Baba Sege? Now Bayelsa governor has become your whipping boy. Did you say or
do anything about James Ibori… the crook. So what or who exactly are you fighting? You can’t be fighting IBB, because I think you are either afraid of him or maybe he knows you too much. The whole thing with Abacha is a ruse since you are allowing his family to keep some of the money they stole. So tell me who is the war against?

There cannot be an effective fight against corruption as long you are involved in it so please stop fooling the people. When you are done with your second term, (that is if you will not try to stay longer) if you leave, the polity would have received a boost in its sanitizing effort. If Atiku succeeds you, it will continue to smell. If Babangida finds himself in there the smell will be even worse than it was when you were there. All the talk about the polity being corrupt would not have been so had Nigerians allowed their true saviors to stay in power just a bit longer. I have no sympathy for all those political cronies and hangers on whether dead or alive,who selfishly dealt a deadly blow to Nigeria’s chance at getting rid of
corruption by helping remove the Buhari/Idiagbon government. By all means they were harsh, but that was what Nigeria needed at the time. Instead a plague was unleshed on the people with the regimes of Babangida, Abacha, and now Obasanjo, three men with sadistic intentions that have no interest in making Nigeria great. For those of you who think that the short-lived government of Buhari/Idiagbon did not have an impact on the Nigerian psyche, take a trip back to memory lane if you were there, and tell me what you would rather have. If you love corruption, I know how you will lean. If you love dirty streets and discordance, I know who you will choose. What if you want Nigeria’s name to be dragged in the mud all over the world, your choice is clear. So Nigerians, whether you see it or not that was your chance to take a path towards nation building.

The Nigerian mess did not begin in one day. It has roots. It has history. Let’s stop all the talking and start real action. A country that posseses what Nigeria has cannot be in any terms called poor.

Chibuzo Onubogu writes from the USA

Posted by Administrator at December 30, 2005 01:38 PM


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