The revolution we need

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 27 Jul 2008

THE message was short and direct: ”When those in authority have pushed their people to the wall, what else do you expect? A revolution! Watch out!” This is one of the reactions to my piece last week. It came from an unknown group that calls itself the Nigerian Revolution Force. Though the group appears to be over-ambitious in its mission, there is no doubt that Nigerians are angry. They are bitter with our leaders, past and present. They are dejected by a life of squalor amid plenty. And they are confused as to how the nation will come out of this self-inflicted mess.

Today, you have to bear with me again as I present more disturbing facts of our life. The idea is not to spoil your day, but to critically engage you in thinking about the sinking boat called Nigeria and how to salvage it.

One of the topical issues in the country is the fleecing of our unemployed youths by some government agencies. A few days ago, we learnt that the authorities of the Nigerian Police Force made N2bn from job seekers. Each of the applicants bought a scratch card for N2,000 to enable them apply online. The Inspector-General of Police, Mike Okiro, reportedly said they embarked on the e-recruitment system to generate funds for the smooth operations of the force. Incidentally, Okiro did not just make money for his force; he also empowered the consultant who designed the system. According to reports, the consultant received N1.2bn while the police got N800m. Recall that scores of youths died recently during the recruitment exercise of the Nigerian Immigration Service. Have we learnt any lessons?

Just as Abia citizens are still mourning the loss of scores of people to what some have termed mystery fire after a prayer session in Isialangwa South, about 10 or more people perished last Thursday at Orile-Iganmu area of Lagos. A petrol tanker, which burst into flames, caused the tragedy. There were different accounts of what caused the accident. But it is either that the tanker fell into a ditch on the road or the driver was careless about the maintenance of his vehicle. Either way, we have not learnt any lessons.

Last week, I got a message from a potential student of the Lagos State University. He said he would write the post University Matriculation Examination for LASU on August 1. But by July 21, he had already seen the English and mathematics questions. ”Nigeria has truly degenerated,” the young man lamented.

The day I got this message, a relation of mine called from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. Her own message was simple. ”Could you help me to write something?” she asked. She mentioned the topic and said it would be 30 pages. That is a term paper. Even as I advised her to do some research and do it herself, she reminded me that most of her colleagues got people to write it for them. What this means is that these people, who might have entered the university through the efforts of mercenaries, will continue to hire people to do some of their assignments. They graduate with little or no knowledge of the subject they studied. Ultimately, they swell the ranks of job seekers and, perhaps, claim that a particular company rejected them because they refused to sleep with the managing director.

In the larger society, the problems are just too many. As someone who discusses Nigeria‘s problems at different forums, I‘m beginning to have constant headache now. Year in, year out, the same problems keep recurring. Most comments and editorials in the media this year are a repetition of the issues discussed in previous years: Niger Delta crises, cement and fertiliser scam, water and electricity problems, poor and dilapidated roads, railway and aviation contract fraud, election manipulations, pipeline and tanker fires, etc. They only have different pegs and headlines. What then do we do?

Some people have resigned to fate, hoping that there will be divine intervention someday. This is currently the thinking of members of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. They are currently on strike over welfare and salary issues. But since the Federal Government has not acceded to their request, they decided to embark on what they call prayer and fasting session. The prayer is for God to deal with their enemies and give them victory.

This only reminds me of a ”prayer for the salvation of Africa,” which was popular in the Catholic Church some years ago. It seems that that prayer has died naturally. I remember one morning in the early 90s, when we were saying our family prayers. My mother led the prayers that day. After about one hour of reciting the rosary and making other supplications, many of us were itching for an end to the prayers. It was then my mother started the prayer for the salvation of Africa. Now furious, my father shouted her down saying, ”My friend, salvage yourself first before salvaging Africa. Close this prayer!”

A few years ago, the Catholic Church produced another prayer called ”Prayer for Nigeria in distress.” Essentially, the prayer is for God to save this nation from anarchy and doom. That prayer seems to be going the way of African-salvation prayer, as I have not been hearing much of it these days.

In any case, our problems are man-made. And so, our salvation is in our hands. An adult who is in the habit of bed-wetting should not expect anybody but himself to wash his bedding.

We must all learn to change our value system. If the citizenry could behave themselves, then they can have the moral right to call their leaders to account. Some readers took me to task for not supporting a revolution in my piece last week. They contend that nothing short of a bloody revolution will sanitise the Nigerian system.

Revolution is prone to different interpretations. And how do you even rescue innocent people who may fall victim of a bloody insurrection? What we need is a peaceful revolution – a revolution that will change the mindset of our people from docility to action – citizen action.

Let me explain. At a recent meeting of my town union in Lagos, people complained bitterly about the current repair work on the Nnobi-Isuofia-Ekwulobia Road in Anambra State. The contractor handling the work, they alleged, abandoned the project at the Igbo-ukwu end of the road. From Isuofia down to Ekwulobia is still in a terrible state. The anger was largely directed at a prominent politician from the state, who is suspected to be handling the contract. The parent union had reportedly invited the legislator representing the area in the House of Representatives for explanations. The man did not honour the invitation. I understand they have sent another invitation to him.

Many towns in Igboland have unions. I believe other towns or villages in the other regions have similar groupings. Such groups should learn to confront their political leaders, and, perhaps, their relatives and those who work closely with them whenever they try to take people for a ride.

This should be the starting point. My fear is that this may not happen yet because some people are still profiting from the Nigerian crises. A country where a group of people, mainly students and market women, trooped to the streets ostensibly to protest the nullification of the election of a former governor Liyel Imoke may not be ready for this citizen action yet. But a time may come when the money we collect from politicians will be so worthless that it may not buy anything meaningful. That, perhaps, will be the time we will all be roused to action.

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