By Ehi Braimah
MON, 28 SEPT, 2020-theGBJournal-Turn to your family members, friends, neighbours and colleagues and say congratulations! Yes, we have reasons to be joyful and thankful as we mark our 60th independence anniversary this week — the Federal Republic of Nigeria will be 60 years old on October 1. At least, we are alive to witness the auspicious occasion and tell the story at a time COVID-19 pandemic threatens our common humanity. Let us count our blessings and name them one by one.
So many things have been said and written about Nigeria – both good and bad – that we should reflect upon; we need to save our country from some high profile buccaneers. Understandably, every country in the world has its own fair share of problems although they come in different shapes and sizes. The story is not different in Nigeria even as the nation lays prostate mainly because of leadership challenges since 1960. With all the talents and good people that Nigeria is blessed with, we should not be where we are today. Are we going to remain like this forever?
Now is the time for this “sleeping giant” of Africa to wake up and smell the coffee. We have been on a merry go round for too long, busy chasing shadows; such scenario is popularly known as “motion without movement”. We must embark on a sincere soul searching so that we can tell ourselves the bitter and ugly truths about our condition, disappointments and missed opportunities. Some key issues have always kept Nigerians in the diaspora permanently away – they want to return home but they are not convinced they should do so. They complain about irregular electricity supply, poor infrastructure, security challenges, unstable political leadership and lack of access to skilled labour.
Growing up, the Nigerian condition was not as problematic as it is today. Life made sense and it was fulfilling. Electricity supply was regular and there was running water. From my recollection, no one sank boreholes. What was that? Three square meals, housing and clothing were affordable and our parents did not struggle to pay our school fees.
At the university, we paid N90 for a full year’s accommodation. Does it sound like a fairy tale? As an undergrad at the University of Benin, our meal ticket cost only fifty kobo. You do the maths for one month booklet of meal tickets – it costs N45 for one month. I remember too that the Nigerian Observer in Benin City paid me N105 for my first 10 articles when I was a student. At the time, a brand new KDK table fan cost N30 just to give you a sense of the value of what I was paid. You see, those were the good old days, the halcyon days. Do you think they will ever return? I would say yes, and please don’t give up on Nigeria. As I often tell my friends, we do not have another country to call our own, so we must make Nigeria work for us!
If you planned a trip to London on Nigeria Airways – we paraded some of the best and brightest pilots and an awesome fleet with the green-white-green livery – back in the day, you would pay about N165 for an economy class return ticket in 1988. Then in 1995, Lagos-New York-Lagos economy class ticket cost about N5,320. You could also travel from Lagos to Maiduguri and back in 1982 for N32 . This story sounds too good to be true, isn’t it? It was cool to be a Nigerian at the time because we had too much money and our problem, as the fable went, was how to spend it. That was what birthed the famous Jerome Udoji Awards where jumbo pay was recommended for civil servants.
You also did not have to wait too long to land a job as a young graduate – sometimes, recruitments were done on university campuses before graduation. The icing on the cake was that there was nothing like “tokunbo” cars; if you ever needed to buy a car, it was brand new, what we call “tear rubber”. A brand new Volkswagen Beetle car cost about N3,320; Peugeot 404 cost about N4,200; Peugeot 504 GL salon car cost about N5,500; Volkswagen Passat cost about N4,300, same price with Mitsubishi Gallant in 1983.
In 1975, General Yakubu Gowon, Head of State at the time, commissioned the N11.5 million Volkswagen plant in Lagos. Mind you, this is not a dream neither am I making up the story; it is a true story of the Nigerian condition 45 years ago. You could also exchange N75 for US$100; yes, the Naira was a very strong currency before it crashed badly, and it is refusing to recover and bounce back. Honestly, I do not know how long it will take for the Naira regain its lost glory. Today, one US dollar costs about N465 or more in the parallel market. It is a disgrace!
In an exclusive story for Naija Times last week, Joseph Afamhe reported that Nigeria’s debt burden had become deeply troubling. Because of revenue short falls, there is a deficit of N5.37 trillion – almost 50% of the 2020 national budget – that will be funded by “domestic and foreign borrowing”. In the report, Afamhe noted that the Debt Management Office (DMO) disclosed that the total debt stock rose to N32 trillion as at June 30. This figure, according to the report, is bigger than the economies of Senegal, Zambia and Uganda put together, just as it is about 350% of the 2021 federal government’s revenue projection. “The debt burden paints images of the country’s dark past and an uncertain future,” Afamhe stated in his report. “It is a legacy of historical failure to channel public resources to where they are needed for optimal performance,” he added.
So what changed? A lot has changed, but what became evident was that lack of visionary leadership over the years created a “community of vested interests” that held the country hostage – they have been feeding fat on the economy like leeches with every government in power. These people feed themselves from both sides of their mouths and they do not care whether the rest of us – and that include tax payers — are living or dying.
The key is access to any government in power, and when you are able to attain that status, you automatically become an influence peddler. If the economy is bleeding today, it is because we sowed bad economic seeds many years ago. This is not rocket science; just cast your mind to the millions of dollars being returned to Nigeria as stolen money — a selfish and despicable behaviour by those we put in charge of our public trust but they opted to violate it.
The flip side of this bad behaviour is that we have laws that are not enforced. Unbridled corruption thrives today because there are no consequences; it means stealing and looting and re-looting of our commonwealth will continue unabated. Now, what is the way out? It is for every Nigerian to recognise and understand that we have to solve our problems by ourselves. We have to DIY (do it yourself) it. By the way, we would continue to get the government we deserve if all we do is pretend as if everything is fine.
We have a huge problem on our hands and we need to come together and claim ownership of the situation and start building new values of engagement from the ground floor up. So many roads, according to a popular parable, leads to the market. In our private spaces, we can form formidable teams to engage on the critical issues of re-building Nigeria. When we think and behave differently, Nigeria will be the biggest beneficiary.
Take the Edo State elections as case study. Governor Godwin Obaseki won the election against all odds; my view is that his victory is good for our democracy because it proved that the people with their PVCs hold the power to determine their own fate. The will of the people must be allowed to prevail at every election. Some people don’t want the rest of us to do the right things or do things right because they prefer to rig the system for their selfish ends. We have good public policies in the country, but implementation of these policies is always frustrated by thieving elites who belong to the minority; they actually believe they “own” the rest of us but this story will change in due season. There is time for everything.
Along with some of my colleagues, the process is on to launch an organisation and a flagship project next year for the good of our country – we see it as a civic responsibility to work with key stakeholders to achieve a higher purpose for Nigeria. Let us think more about how we can solve our problems to transform society.
This is an excerpt from our Statement of Purpose: “Although Nigerians are generally expressing frustrations with the political leadership, we are fully persuaded that Nigerians themselves are also part of the problem – we must change the way we think and behave. Parents have a role to play in restoring family and societal values that have crashed so badly. We need all hands — both at home and abroad – to be on deck to drive the Nigerian project.”
About three years ago, I wrote an article titled “Making Nigeria a better place” and it was published in some print and online newspapers. The key message in the article is still relevant in today’s context. My family and friends know that I’m very passionate about working for Nigeria so that it can rise to its full potential and achieve its multi-trillion dollar status. Let us make Nigeria a better place; it is possible, let’s do it! God bless Nigeria.
Happy independence anniversary!
Braimah is a Past President of the Rotary Club of Lagos and Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng).