Year of a peculiar mess

 By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 28 Dec 2008

MY cousin, Sunday, returned from Germany last week. It was not until Friday that he was able to travel to the village. The delay was because he could not easily get some papers required for him to use his new car, which has a tinted glass. He has also completed his new building in Lagos. To him, 2008 is a year of abundant blessings; a year to show that Obi is no longer a boy.

The end of every year is usually a time for stock taking. It is the period when my people down the River Niger troop home en masse to showcase their achievements for the year. It is also a period when those who have failed to achieve their targets construct new guiding slogans such as ”2009 is my year of abundant blessings; poverty is not my portion this year; this is my year of breakthrough and prosperity” and so on. There will be plenty of prayer sessions to cast out the miserable outgoing year and usher in the New Year.

For us a nation, it is also a time to look back and assess how far we have fared in some of the indices of development. The best way to do this is to give practical examples.

First, the economy. Dunlop Nigeria Plc, for instance, made a N2bn operating loss in the outgoing year. The company is even lucky that it is still standing. Other tyre manufacturers had since closed shop.

We have heard of some macro economic gains the country has made, the fat external reserves and all that. We also know that the nation reaped bountifully from oil prices that skyrocketed mid year. Today, oil prices have plummeted. The only oil whose prices may not fall as such is olive oil. The demand is high because Nigerians use it to cast out demons presumably clogging their wheel of progress. Even the capital market that had a capitalisation of about N12tn earlier in the year has lost almost half of that figure.

With companies making losses than profits, unemployment has remained high. It was reported last week that the Nigerian Customs Service had just started a recruitment exercise for new officers. It is to fill about 5,000 positions. But 700,000 persons applied for those positions! Recall that earlier in the year, the Nigerian Immigration Service did its recruitment. Scores of youths died while struggling to be part of the chosen ones. Even the Nigerian Police Force recruited. But applicants paid N2,000 each for a scratch card in order to apply online. The Police reportedly raked in N2bn from the exercise.

I have not seen how this money improved the lot of the police. Neither have I noticed any remarkable improvement in the area of security in the country. Daily, armed robbers terrorise innocent and hapless citizens, financial institutions and other business concerns. The situation is such that the police hierarchy, earlier in the year, reportedly endorsed the activities of a hunter called Ali Kwara to flush out robbers in such northern states as Bauchi, Katsina, and Kebbi.

How I wish a revolutionary in the mould of Ali Kwara will emerge to tackle the infrastructural decay in the country. Some Nigerians joined the former Minister of Transport, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, to weep for the state of our roads, especially the Sagamu-Ore-Benin Road. We thought our collective tears would change the poor condition of the roads as Alison-Madueke promised. Alas, nothing much has changed. Accidents and robbery incidents continue to take the precious lives of Nigerians on the bad portions of such roads.

It is not as if there was no budget for capital expenditure in 2008. In fact, the FG, according to media reports, still has at least N700bn as the unspent portion of the proposed N796.7bn for capital expenditure in the Appropriation Act. Perhaps, some civil servants somewhere are waiting for the year to end to corner the money as Christmas bonus.

That will not be a surprise because that was the major achievement of the Ministry of Health this year. Remember that the former Minister of Health, Prof. Adenike Grange, and the Minister of State for Health, Gabriel Aduku, resigned earlier in the year on account of allegations bordering on the sharing of N300m unspent budget of the ministry. To compound the teething problems of our health care system, My Pikin teething syrup sent many babies to their untimely deaths. President Umaru Yar‘Adua, who is in a position to change the situation, was himself incapacitated as he spent some weeks in a Saudi Arabian hospital to treat an undisclosed ailment.

Some other ailments almost crippled our education sector. The best way to bring the picture home is in the mass failure of students in this year‘s West African Secondary School Certificate Examination. Only 13 per cent passed the exam.

For our higher institutions, the statement credited to Yar‘Adua at the 36th convocation ceremony of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, last weekend, says it all. A permanent secretary, Dr. Goke Adegoroye, who read the speech on behalf of the President, alleged that some lecturers were in the habit of collecting money (between N250,000 and N500,000) from students to give them unmerited grades and even engage in illicit affairs with some female students. Though the Presidency has disowned Adegoroye, the allegations are not new.

Corruption is not only found in the universities, it permeates all the facets of the society. But the tragedy in our nation is not about corruption, but about our unwillingness to fight it. The bribery allegations against Siemens, for instance, were reported in the United States, Germany, Nigeria and many other countries. While the US and German governments fined the company, Nigeria was reported to have awarded more contracts to it. Even when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission instituted a probe into the scandal, the report of the investigation appears to be in limbo.

To complete the beatification of corruption in our land, the man generally seen as the anti-corruption czar, Nuhu Ribadu, was, on December 23, sacked from the Police. He had earlier been demoted from an Assistant Inspector-General to a Deputy Commissioner of Police.

In sports, in agriculture and in many other aspects of our national life, we have failed woefully. The more I reflect on the year 2008, the more I get angry. Hopefully, Yar‘Adua has promised some goodies in the coming year. Whether these promised goodies will come to fruition is another topic for another day.

My prayer is that my cousin Sunday will come back in December 2009 to meet many of his relations driving cars with tinted glasses. Until then, happy New Year!

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