The Plague Lives In Your Neighbourhood
From the unbearable Lagos traffic to the poisonous airs of Onitsha, the irritating noise of generators in several neighbourhoods in Port Harcourt, the mountains of refuse on Aba streets, the millions of children sent into every available space in Kano and Kaduna to beg for alms from anyone and everyone who passes the street in a car or by foot to mothers who beg with children at their backs and several others on both hands in Oyo and Ekiti, it is almost impossible to imagine a day of social or environmental sanity and peace in any part of Nigeria.
Now to be clear, we are not talking about the noisome pestilence of criminals including the kidnappers who now operate as licensed franchises in most parts of the country. No, news of armed robbers locking down an entire street to rob five banks for hours in a row without “interruptions” from the security agencies does not shock many who have since grown numb to the endless absurdities that take place on a daily basis in the country.
The focus of this conversation shall also be steered away from the mind-boggling corruption that continues to expand in scope with each passing day even under the reign of a president who promised to “fight corruption to a standstill.” Corruption- many in Nigeria have come to accept- as an acceptable cost of doing business with Nigeria’s public and private sector officials.
But Corruption Is Not The Only Reason Nigeria Is Sinking
For clarity sake, let it be pointed out that corruption in government offices cannot be the only reason Nigeria has become a laughing stock in the global community. A February publication by the global anti-corruption watchdog- Transparency International (TI) pointed 13 European countries with equally very high incidences of corruption.
Greece, Italy, Spain, Malta, Croatia, Czech Republic are not amongst the cleanest nations on earth- corruption-wise. However, one can say with very high levels of certainty that almost every Nigerian today who is not in government or related (associated) to a senior government official will gladly trade their nationality for a chance to live, school, work or do business in any of those 13 European countries Transparency International labelled as corrupt.
Things Are Much Better In Other “Corrupt” Countries
In each of the 13 EU countries with high corruption perception index according to TI, the average per capita income is $32,000; it is less than $6, 000 in Nigeria. In these countries, you do not find their presidents jumping into the jet every time a toothache comes calling.
It would be rare to find an elite Italian politician who sends his children to British or American schools. However unsafe Spain becomes, you will never find their political leaders ferrying their children to America or Switzerland for safety the way senior government officials in Abuja and in the state capitals do.
How many Greek politicians hide looted funds in numbered accounts in Swiss banks? The bottom line is: even with high prevalence of corruption in several parts of Europe, the average citizens in those places still live comfortably. Their schools, health institutions and social services run smoothly no matter the underhand deals that happen in the capital cities. The citizens and the leaders keep faith in their country and would gladly give their lives in defence of their fatherland if the occasion so demands.
Things Are A Lot Better, Even For Several African Countries
Let it also be said that quality standard of living is not a privilege enjoyed exclusively by Europeans. From South Africa to Egypt, Rwanda and Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania, millions of Africans now take for granted- the endless opportunities that civilization affords us. In Kenya, the average life expectancy according to the World Bank is 67 years. In Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania and South Africa, it is 71, 67, 67, 63, 66 and 63 years respectfully. Sadly, the life expectancy in Nigeria today is 53 years. Question: why is a child born in Nigeria more likely to die 18 years earlier than his mate in Egypt?
A Very Dangerous Place to Live
On a visit to Nigeria in March 2018, the co-chair of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates announced the Nigeria is one of the worst places on earth to give birth to a child. He lamented that the country has the fourth highest rate of maternal mortality in the world behind Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad. Why is death ever closer to a Nigerian than it is to citizens of other countries of the world? In war-torn Afghanistan, life expectancy is 64 years, 70 years in Syria and 76 years in troubled Iran.
Without any iota of doubt, people live long in all the countries with high life expectancy figures because the social and economic environments in those countries support life and human existence. Sadly, on the evidence of what we see everyday in Nigeria, it takes a huge miracle to stay alive till the next day.
Here are three reasons Nigerians are dying young and fast in a world where many are living actively way into their 80s and 90s.
It is easy to understand why the roads in the country are death traps, the hospitals lack drugs and feeding for scores of millions of people is a herculean task: the mindset of the political leadership in the country is criminally skewed. Money meant for road construction are drawn out from the treasury and looted by almost everyone in the political value chain that by the time it gets to the contractor, he is left with no option but to pocket whatever is released to him as accruals from the famous national cake.
What commentary does the president write about the country each time he travels to consult with his doctors in London or Germany? How does a nation that earns over a hundred million dollars everyday from the sale of one commodity (crude oil) habour close to one hundred million extremely poor people who cannot afford to buy themselves a decent plate of food in 24 hours?
How does a country with some of the richest men in Africa also be the abode of some of the most miserable persons in the face of the earth? Why is it easy to pay a former governor tens of millions of naira every month as entitlements while retired civil servants in the same state are allowed to starve to death? Is there any nation on earth with conscientious leaders who will allow university students stay at home for months because the government cannot meet the basic demands of the university lecturers?
As Chinua Achebe pointed in his 1983 book “The Trouble With Nigeria,” “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”
It is sad that close to 40 years after Achebe penned down one of his many immortal quotes, the menace of irresponsible leadership continues to plague the land.
Citizens Who Are Content With Their Chains
Does it make any sense that a young man whose parents have not been paid their salaries in 30 months or more would offer his services to rogue politicians on election day with the aim of rigging and perpetuating a political system that psychologically and economically imprisons the populace?
From Kogi to Abia, Benue to Osun and several other states in the country where governors refused to pay salaries after collecting hundreds of billions in federal allocations and internally generated revenue, it was sad to see many youths who still volunteered to kill and main for their political oppressors.
How about those who collected as little as N100 to see their votes to political parties that have nothing to offer them? Hasn’t Nigeria become a nation of unserious people? How does anyone rationalise the victory of some of the individuals who masterminded the current economic hardship in the country in the last general elections?
How does president, governor, senator, local council chairman who failed to deliver on his previous electoral promise return to his post after an election in which adults were believed to have voted? Now it is easy to claim that the politicians rigged their way back into office, that they employed intimidation and connived with corrupt officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission, security agents and whoever to manipulate the outcome of the polls but this is a nonsensical argument.
Was it not in this same Nigeria that Anambra voters in 2003 rejected the second term ambition of a certain Chinweoke Mbadinuju? Didn’t Imo Votes ask Ikedi Ohakim to park out of the government house in Owerri in 2011? Didn’t the people of Oyo denounce APC and their plots to remain in office this 2019? Didn’t Nigerians tell a president with all the powers of the office in 2015 that they have had enough?
How did a governor owing civil servants for close to 30 months win re-election in Kogi? How did Okezie Ikpeazu win a second term in Abia despite a woeful first term? How did a president under whose watch Nigeria became one of the most dangerous destinations on the planet with close to a hundred million extremely poor people win re-election in February? Have we become such an unserious nation that anyone who can mobilize thugs and bribe electoral officials is guaranteed victory in an election? I do not think so. The reality is that Nigerians have become numbed to pain and the will to fight back and resist political criminality is at its ebb.
Why on earth would the governor of Zamfara be motivated to develop the extensive mineral resources in his state when he is sure that he can sit back in Gusau and watch the calendar and then on the 15th day of the month send his finance officials to Abuja to come pick his state’s federal accounts allocation committee’s accruals?
Now remember, the Zamfara governor does not know where the money he picks from Abuja each month comes from. He may tell you it is “oil money” but you can bet your bottom kobo that the man does not know a thing about the economics of crude oil.
The Zamfara governor has gold buried very shallowly in the ground in his state, all he needs do is to dig a little and the billions will flow. But he cannot do this because the lazy men who run Nigeria insist that every mineral resource belongs to the federal government.
Zamfara is not the only state whose governor does nothing but collects billions each month from Abuja. Kano state does not hesitate to destroy bottles of beer in a public show of piety but would have no qualms sharing in the VAT paid by breweries and distilleries in Onitsha, Port Harcourt, Abeokuta and Lagos.
Why would any governor be motivated to attract investments into his land when he knows that the proceeds of his labour would be shared by states whose governors cannot take the initiative to step out of their domains to search for investments? If you want to understand why nations are poor, just carefully look at the way Nigeria is being run.
Now we return to the original question: why are Nigerians dying young?
The answer is blowing in the wind: they die because they have no money to fend for themselves; there are no health institutions where their ailments can be treated and very tragically- they spend their waking hours wondering what would happen to them in the next 24 hours. Would they be kidnapped? Would they fall prey to robbers? Will they come back in one piece if they leave their homes in the morning?
Do you still wonder why hypertension drugs are selling faster than sachet water in pharmaceutical shops? As Olusegun Obsanjo prayed on his inauguration as democratically elected president in 1999, may God help Nigeria.