I was reminded of the misgovernace of Nigeria, the giant of Africa, on a recent visit to Fez, Morocco. When I received a ticket for a flight to Casablanca, a distance of about 250 kilometres to Fez, I was a bit worried. Anxiously, I wrote to my hosts asking how to get to Fez from Casablanca. Obviously bemused, they wrote back informing me of the train services at the Casablanca airport.
With me on the Royal Air Maroc flight from Lagos to Casablanca were some Nigerians travelling to different parts of Europe and North America. Out of curiosity, I had enquired why they decided to fly to Morocco first instead of taking direct flights to their destinations. I got the same response. It was a longer route, no doubt, but the price was affordable. For a brief moment, I wondered why there was no Nigeria Airways. The train ride from Casablanca airport to Fez was smooth and pleasurable, right on time to the minute!
A week later, I was welcomed by the sweltering heat of the “old domestic” wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. My flight to Abuja which was to leave at 10am did not leave until 2pm. The departure lounge was brimming with passengers whose flights were supposed to have left much earlier. I paced up and down to see if I could find a passenger who was tired of sitting and wanted to give up his or her seat for a few minutes. I was lucky to find one two hours later. It was a great relief, considering that I had been on the road for more than 24 hours.
I said a silent prayer. Just as I took my seat, there was an announcement that three flights had arrived. The over 200 passengers crammed in the lounge rushed to the single exit, only to be stopped by the airline security. But some passengers still managed to find their way to the tarmac and waited as the planes refueled. The joke was that the airline had to pay cash at the tarmac before each plane could refuel. I was too tired to make sense of the situation. As I watched fellow passenger drift from one end of the lounge to the other with anger and frustration written on their faces, all I could think of was the level of underdevelopment in the country brought about by visionless leadership.
But another reality also dawned on me. It was not just the rape, abuse, and criminal neglect that Nigeria has suffered since independence that was troubling. I realized that our rulers have done more damage to our minds than they have done to the country. Because of the misgovernance of Nigeria, we have become a country of low expectations. After paying the equivalent of $200, excluding airport surcharges, for a 50-minute flight, we still are expected to scramble and shove one another to board our flights. We applaud and continue with a thankful cry of “hallelujah” each time a plane touches the ground at any of our domestic airports. We pray and give thanks for things that ordinarily should be part of our daily existence. We go to church to give testimony on how we fasted and prayed for PHCN not to disrupt our ubiquitous social gatherings.
The police whose job is to protect lives and maintain law and order have ceased to maintain law and order. Each time we come in contact with a policeman or woman we expect him or her to do the very opposite. Even in the midst of national insecurity, the greater percentage of our policemen are either keeping guard for ex-this or ex-that or accompanying madam to the market or hair salon. This is Nigeria and that’s what the police is expected to do.
Our elected representatives neither represent nor act as if they were elected by the people. Only recently, the House of Representatives “summoned” the governor of the Central Bank to explain the apex bank’s position on two issues that have generated intense public debate lately: Islamic banking and the N150, 000 maximum daily withdrawal. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi spoke for more than two hours on why the Central Bank embarked on both policies, his presentation intermittently disrupted by applause from lawmakers.
“Don’t you want to change Nigeria?” Sanusi asked rhetorically mid way into his presentation. “We have to change Nigeria”. Like school kids our lawmakers applauded. At the end of his presentation, the CBN governor was given a standing ovation and excused from taking questions. Who really expected anything different? It’s been twelve years since the country returned to democracy, yet our National Assembly still passes legislations based on voice vote. We are not expected to know who opposed or supported what legislation or how many people were in attendance when a bill was passed.
The media that is supposed to inform has ceased to inform. Nobody expects the media to raise questions about critical national issues or undertake investigative journalism. We read newspapers or listen to news on TV, not because we expect to be informed or educated, but more out of habit.
We see public service not as an opportunity to serve, but God’s blessing. So we expect public servant to make the best use of their God-given opportunity. It is not surprising therefore that public officers (elected officials and civil servants, including the military and police) are some of the wealthiest people in the country. Once you are in power, you and your family are expected to be above the law. That explains why the son of a second-term governor in one of the south-eastern states goes around with a convoy that will put the presidency to shame.
Our leaders so-called all have lives outside Nigeria. It is expected. Nigeria is just the place to make your money. You are expected to go outside to spend it. They have their doctors outside Nigeria; they have schools for their children outside the country; their wives, concubines, and girlfriends, shop in New York, London and Dubai. The only way to rehabilitate “ex-militants” is to send them to Turkey to learn welding. Learning how to weld in Nigeria is unacceptable.
We have entered the second half of the Nigerian century, yet we still struggle with the basic things of life; things that countries not as endowed as we are take for granted. Sometimes, I imagine where we would be as a nation, with our ingenuity, drive, and resourcefulness if our rulers just made the country a tad more livable.