Prayer for Nigeria’s democracy at 10

 Casmir Igbokwe

 Published Sunday May 31, 2009

Ara nwanyi Asaba is an Igbo phrase which means Asaba woman’s breast. A popular Nigerian actor, Chiwetalu Agu, kept on muttering these words sometime last week as I lowered my tired frame on a settee to watch Africa Magic channel on DSTV with my family. I had heard of this miraculous breast. But having forgotten what it’s all about, someone reminded me that it belonged to a woman in Asaba. The belief was that whoever sucked the thing would get instant solution to their problems. This had drawn a large crowd of dejected miracle seekers to Asaba.   

 It is this type of delusion that has shaped the response of Nigerians to the problems of existence. With 10 years of democracy producing little or no fruit for the citizens; and with a government that considers the interest of the people as secondary, many Nigerians have placed all their hopes in miracles and native doctors. Some constantly shout the word ‘revolution’, but do not know who will lead it or when it will start.

 Let’s bring down our blood pressure a little by first looking at what we have achieved in 10 years of uninterrupted democracy. The number one, as most commentators have noted, is a smooth transition from one civilian government to another. President Umaru Yar’Adua put it this way, “We have conducted three successive general elections and peacefully transferred power from one civilian administration to another. Given our historical antecedents, these represent a testimony that our people have clearly shown their preference for democratic governance and an abiding faith in its transformative power.”

 Besides, the Federal Government gloated over the recently awarded contracts for the construction and rehabilitation of 34 federal highways at the cost of N140bn. In his address to mark Democracy Day last Friday, Yar’Adua also noted that his government had completed 13 of the major highway works inherited from the previous administration.

 It created the Ministry of the Niger Delta to tackle the problems of development in that region. Apparently to show some sympathy over the suffering of the people of the region, the government offered amnesty to the so-called militants who have held the entire nation to ransom. Unfortunately, this has not worked as envisaged as the current war between federal troops and militants continues to claim casualties (collateral damage).

 The point here is that we advertise and gloat over what other serious nations take for granted. If I continue to count our so-called democratic blessings one by one, it will surprise even a chronic optimist how deep we have sunk as a nation.

 When it comes to the real indices of development, we are nowhere near the Promised Land. Our educational system, which should be the bedrock of the nation’s development, is in a shambles. UNESCO estimates that about 10 million Nigerian children are out of school. I guess the number is higher. As you read this, the Academic Staff Union of Universities is on a two-week warning strike. Teachers in the 104 Federal Government Colleges announced the commencement of an indefinite strike last Wednesday. The products of these incessant strikes and poorly-equipped schools graduate to become liabilities to the society.

 The state of our health care system is exemplified by the statistics that stared us in the face when we joined the rest of the world to mark the Safe Motherhood Day on May 26. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, one woman dies every 10 minutes due to complications of pregnancy. Maternal mortality in Nigeria is one of the highest in the world.

 Let’s not talk about roads, power and other infrastructural facilities. In spite of claims and promises of government officials, the general state of infrastructure in this country leaves much to be desired.

 I’m actually getting tired of writing about the same problems most of the time. What I am trying to learn now is to look at the comic side of our problems, have a good laugh and a good sleep to keep my blood pressure down.

 It is in this spirit that I invite you to share a laugh with me over the face-off between Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, and members of the House of Representatives. Last Tuesday, the Reps Committee on Foreign Affairs invited Maduekwe to a meeting over the sale of Nigeria’s embassy buildings in Washington DC. When the lawmakers wanted to know why the minister spent part of the proceeds without appropriation, Maduekwe fired back: “You are overstretching your oversight duties to a ridiculous extent; rather than legislators making laws for the good governance of the country, they keep summoning ministers every time.” On realising his ‘mistake’, Maduekwe offered to host the legislators to a dinner either in London, Moscow, his house or the committee chairman’s house.

 Perhaps, the Reps should seize the opportunity of the historic dinner to jaw-jaw on where to hold the next round of capacity-building workshops. They can also think of probing the Ministry of Water Resources or some other ministries that have not passed through their crucible. This will fetch some money. It may also silence those accusing them of passing only four executive bills last year and one (Appropriation Bill) this year. After all, their duties go beyond mere lawmaking.

 One way to measure the effects of misgovernment in this country is to visit major embassies in Nigeria. A colleague of mine who visited German embassy last week to collect her visa bemoaned what she experienced there. The Police at the embassy, she said, had to use tear gas to check the unruly behaviour of the crowd that had gathered to seek visa. In 2008, about 70, 000 Nigerians applied for the United States visa. The number will likely be higher this year.

 Rather than do something to halt the disturbing emigration from Nigeria, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party found it more convenient to accuse the US of plotting to destabilise Nigeria. They hinged their allegation on the fact that some pro-democracy groups are planning to meet with US President, Barack Obama, in Ghana in July. Is this not laughable?

 If not for people like Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos who have demonstrated how good leadership can change a bad situation, one would have completely lost hope in the redemption of Nigeria. My prayer is that a Fashola will emerge at all the levels of government in no distant future to shift the mouths of many Nigerians from the breasts of the Asaba woman to flutes that bring forth memorable melodies.

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