Yar’Adua and the underdevelopment of a nation


 Casmir Igbokwe

First published in SUNDAY PUNCH, March 7, 2010

Nigeria is blessed. We have abundant natural resources. We also have the human talents. Let’s not talk about the Wole Soyinkas, the Chinua Achebes, and the Philip Emeagwalis. These are accomplished Nigerians all right. But there are millions of others who are doing great jobs in different parts of the world. Many of them are unsung. They do their thing silently.

Last week, two young Nigerian twins were in the world media. The nine-year-old lads, Peter and Paula Imafidon, made history as the youngest kids to enter secondary school in the United Kingdom. I remember that in late 2008, SUNDAY PUNCH reported that these same kids became the youngest pupils in the UK to pass A/Level Mathematics. Then they were only seven. They were also reported to have passed Advanced Mathematics set for them by the University of Cambridge in 2009. And you know what; they attended the normal state primary school.

Let’s not talk about public schools in Nigeria because I don’t know how many parents still send their kids to such institutions. Private schools with high fees are the in-thing now.

My own children are in a private school in Lagos. As I was leaving house for the office on Friday morning, my wife was asking me for lesson fees for the three of them. Each pupil pays N5, 000 a month. I complained that I just paid N15, 000 for their lesson. That was when she told me that that money was for their private lesson teacher. The one she just asked for was for the lesson teacher in school.

I was livid. But what do you do when your child cries to you to pay her lesson fee so that she won’t be the odd one in school?  Even, teachers reportedly devote more time to such lessons than to their main school work.

Consequently, our kids grow up paying high for education and getting little in return. It was not this bad before. Some of us attended public schools without extra lessons, yet we came out in flying colours. Many of the scientists, literary icons, technocrats and political leaders we have in Nigeria attended public schools.

The rot in the school system is a parable of the systemic decay in almost all the facets of our national life. Instead of making progress like other nations, we are retrogressing. At 50, what we have to show the world are dilapidated infrastructure, dwindling electric power supply and inability to rule ourselves.

Sometimes, I imagine what could have happened if we had been prone to such natural disasters as tsunami and earthquake. In the past few weeks, Haiti, Chile and Taiwan have been struck by earthquake. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. Perhaps, Mother Nature knows that poor leadership is enough punishment for us. Inflicting us with such disasters will be overkill.

Look at this small matter about the sickness of President Umaru Yar’Adua. Ordinarily, the tension it has generated in the country should not have arisen. But we are so warped in our thinking that a simple matter that requires a simple solution now wears a complicated dress. The next thing is to try to undress that complication with phoney prayers.

What we need and demand is the truth and nothing but the truth. There is no need trying to cover pregnancy as the leadership of the National Assembly is doing at the moment. Senate President, David Mark, for instance, wants us to support the acting president and close our eyes to the problems arising from the secrecy surrounding Yar’Adua’s ill-health.

No doubt, Nigerians have given their full support to the acting president. That is why they can overlook the appointment of a person like Theophilus Danjuma as the Chairman of the recently-inaugurated Presidential Advisory Council. That man has been around the corridors of power for too long. He confessed recently to have made $500m as profit from the sale of oil blocks. It’s time for him to rest and leave the stage for others.

Unfortunately, that rest may not come for him and those in power if this Yar’Adua debacle is not tackled once and for all. Some people have been insulting our collective intelligence on account of the President’s illness. Even though nobody has seen him since he purportedly returned from Saudi Arabia, a certain cousin of his claimed he drank tea with him. Some say he eats well and exercises well. If he can do all this but still has not deemed it necessary to address Nigerians or even see the acting president, then it means he does not have any regard for his subjects.

Karl Maier in his book, This House Has Fallen, captures the problems of Nigeria vividly. He said, “Nigeria, like so many countries in Africa, is patently not a developing nation. It is underdeveloping. Its people are worse off now than they were at independence… In Nigeria the blame for its lost generation falls squarely on the shoulders of its people’s leaders – corrupt military dictators and their civilian accomplices – who over the past quarter of a century have humbled a once proud nation through outright incompetence and greed.”

We are a nation where those who say the truth are crucified. And blessed are those who tell lies and defraud the nation for they shall inherit the corridors of power. This is why a Dora Akunyili would be asked to shut up or resign for voicing her frustrations against secrecy and lies prevalent in high places. That is why certain elements would threaten to eliminate a Diezani Alison-Madueke for apparently having a contrary view to that of the ones Nigerians have come to regard as a cabal.

I’m still optimistic in spite of all these. If each of us play the roles expected of us, Nigeria will get better. As the father of Peter and Paula Imafidon reportedly said, the extraordinary achievement of his children was because of their being nurtured.

As he put it, “Every child (read Nigerian) is a genius. Once you identify the talent of a child and put them in the environment that will nurture that talent then the sky is the limit.”

From the ashes of this perfidy, Nigeria will emerge a greater nation. It is only a hope.



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