Nigeria Needs A Win in 2015.
The year 2014 has drawn to a very quick end, as it seems, and in these early days of the New Year, post-mortem reports from different sources -credible and, well, not quite so much- of performances in all sectors in 2014 will begin to crop up. We are not here to examine stats; we lived the year, we watched the news and read the papers. We know the score.
To say it has not been Nigeria’s best year yet is an understatement worthy of a Ministry of Information press release. We’ve taken enough hits as a nation to panic over the fact that we’re drawing close to a tipping point. We’ve become a matter of international concern and schadenfreude while the vast majority of Nigerians maintain their blissful oblivion.
The truth of the matter is that Nigeria as a nation, as an entity, has been losing for many years. It has been a steady decline over the years, but 2014 seemed to be a year of exceptional hard knocks. We sunk to all-time lows, and majority of the population had only a sigh and a ‘God dey’ to spare before carrying on with daily life. 2014 was a year of trouble, strife, and a two-year-old war that we collectively and tacitly decided to ignore, because it made us uneasy. We had hollow wins that ultimately meant nothing to the random man on the street (talk about largest African economy as if Mr X’s account balance became any larger) and major, substantial losses, some resulting in the wiping out of entire villages containing fellow citizens. The government failed us and looked us in the eye with no remorse, asking us to be grateful and taking our support for granted. They published trumpet pieces about new roads, ‘renovated’ airports and rebased economies while families in slums had to move to a single bedroom, unable to afford the luxury of renting two.
Politicians and government officials continued the business of impunity as usual, and they sent bumbling sycophantic squires to clean up whatever spills came before the population. Boko Haram asserted their strength over the North-east regions, and over 250 schoolgirls were abducted in the dead of the night. Until today, their whereabouts have been unknown and after our momentary outrage, they have been more or less written off as a collateral damage of a political tussle. Bombs were dropped as though they were raindrops and while they killed us in thousands, we responded by becoming immune and uncaring. The famous Nigerian amnesia kicked in just in time to cope.
And then, there was the looting. Ministers spent ear-numbing sums on jets and bullet-proof automobiles. Obscene amounts of money grew feet and escaped from the national treasury in the dead of the night, with the paper trail in hot pursuit. Those who asked questions were waved away, and when they proved to be persistent, were relieved of the position to ask such insubordinate questions.
Just in case there are still people among our number who have never taken a minute to examine the level of plundering Nigeria undergoes on a daily basis, let us employ the analogy of the man who pays his salary into his account monthly and his account manager greedily and steadily siphons away the bulk of that sum. This is a crude representation of the situation. A country as land-rich, resource-rich, population rich with the added bonus of being oil-rich has over 60% of its people under the global poverty line. We have so little to show for our wealth, like a king who cannot feed himself.
And so, we find ourselves now, at the start of 2015, at the end of six years of the incumbent government, at the exact same spot where we find ourselves at the end of every government. The cracks have been papered over, the building has been smeared with glossy paint, but the house is still rotting from within. We have no fully-functional sector; our failure is immune to categories. We have lost in power, education, finance, economy, health, security, tourism, transportation. We have severely divided ourselves along the lines of tribe, religion and political allegiance, and we have forgotten that we are fellow countrymen with a common interest to thrive. For those who choose to be honest with themselves and open their eyes, our problems stretch before us like the vastest of evil forests. Every corner you turn to, a wasted opportunity stares bleakly back at you. Between the epic muck-up of the acutely dangerous Boko Haram situation and the corruption-as-usual motto of the incumbent administration, it is a great wonder how we can all still carry on as usual.
This looming presidential election is personally viewed as the incumbent’s to lose, with General Muhammadu Buhari being the major opposition. The odds are stacked against GMB, with the older generation who witnessed his first rule maintaining strong reservations, and large groups of the population firmly holding on to ethnic and socio-economic sentiments; the President is a southerner who has neither a military nor elite background. Though GMB is viewed as the disciplinarian with a near-zero tolerance for disorder, he is alleged by his opposition to be a religious fundamentalist who will only end up polarizing the nation. GEJ has as his strongest recommendation, the seemingly good fortune of being a Christian southerner with policies that please all benefiting parties. His first term has, however, shown him to be indecisive, with a flagrant disregard for public perception. Neither candidate has, up till now, less than two months to the election, provided a detailed roadmap of their plans for the nation in these perilous times. GMB has a manifesto published, but its detail is in question. Camp GEJ points you to the continuation of his achievements in his first term, somehow unable to see the irony of said pointing. But, regardless of which one of these not-so-perfect candidates assumes power come February, we need to begin to wake up and make the demands we are allowed to, by right, from the government.
Somehow, we are making the same mistakes we have always made, getting caught up in trash-talking and peripheral matters, immersing our interest in rhyme and rhetoric, instead of asking the important questions. The questions of what plans either candidate has for the country, what steps will they take to pull us back from the mouth of the abyss. The questions of how they plan to slay the level 2015 Dragon of Power, how they plan to retire our generators for good. The questions of how they can guarantee the safety of our children, how they intend to gainfully employ our citizens and protect our currency. The questions of affordable healthcare for all, how secure our government funds are. These only barely skim the surface, and yet, instead of asking them, we are focusing on pointless matters like photo-ops and thoughtless comments from thoughtless government aides.
The role of the media in the elections of any serious country is a pivotal one, but the Nigerian media is one seemingly governed by highest-bidder laws. We have young men and women who have sold themselves, their votes and the future legacy of their children for brown envelopes and bags of rice. People who have the power of the pen, who can influence and educate, decide instead to create bias and fabricate evidence. The media, both old and new, have shown themselves to be mostly uninterested in long-term, far-reaching consequences and only concerned with account balances. I read yesterday, on a social media platform, where a young man openly confessed to being for sale to the highest bidding political and I may have been the only one who did not find it amusing. If this is the mind-set the coming generation has, then our troubles have no end in sight.
This is the time for the media, old and new (for they each have their favoured demographic), to discard bias born of either ethnicity, religion or cash gifts, and to dedicate themselves to the task of providing the electorate all the information they need to know before showing up at a voting centre. It is time to expose the skeletons and debunk the unfounded rumours. It is time to measure each candidate on the worth of their merit and end the useless and obstructive mud-slinging, this time-wasting habit we have of getting carried away by everything under the sun except for what is actually important. It is time to find integrity long-buried, dust it, don it and act for the greater good.
We need to stop waving off what could be our sweet reality as idealism, and stop short-changing ourselves as a population. We have to accept that we deserve better than what we are given. We need to win, because given enough hits, even the strongest tree in the forest can be felled, and we are very far from strong. Here we stand, at the crossroads of the 2015 general elections, battered, bruised and tired of losing. The more attuned of us know that this year is as important as a year can get. The Naira is in a free-fall, corruption continues to be our disease of choice, we are held to ransom by insurgents and ethno-political tensions have not been this prominent since the sixties. How imperative it is that we make hard and solid decisions this year cannot be over-stressed. This is, ideally, the opportunity to hit the reset button and salvage what we can, while we can.