If you don’t vote and you are of voting age, you are wrong. If you don’t participate in politics one way or the other, in a functional and meaningful way, you are not morally qualified to criticize the government. You cannot tell me you are part of the elite class, ensconced in your own little cocoon…your own world of social and economic safeties and you should not be bothered about who governs Nigeria or your state; who represents you in Abuja or your state’s House of Assembly; or who administers your local government. Nigeria has been so screwed in the past several years that it should no longer be business-as-usual for the professional politicians. Everybody needs to get in and help build, re-build and maintain our country.
These positions of mine were reinforced for me when I took my first trip to Igbeti, Oyo State, in the last week of December 2017. My trip started from Ibadan, through Oyo town, and to Ogbomosho. At Takie roundabout in Ogbomosho, I turned left to go towards Igbeti. As soon as I left the Ogbomosho metropolis, the contrast couldn’t have been starker. Less than 15 kilometers outside Ogbomosho, I began to feel as if I was in the boondocks of Somalia or the remote areas of Afghanistan.
For about the next 70 kilometers, I drove through probably 15 or 16 villages and small towns, most of which were one-house-deep from the major road and none of which had electricity. I could tell there was no electricity because I did not see a single electricity pole on either side of the highway. From Iluju to Ikoyi-Ile, Orile-Aipo, Ogede, Ilodo, Araromi, Olorunda to Ayepe, Kajola, Adafila, Elerukanfila, Arowosaye and to Olokoto, I did not see a single electricity pole. It was at Igbori that I saw electricity poles but most of them didn’t carry any lines. Where there were lines, they were either cut, dangling loosely or the villagers were using them for clotheslines...hanging wet clothes on them to dry. You could tell they knew the lines didn’t carry electricity and had no hope of carrying electricity anytime soon.
The absence of government was so palpable. If you live in Lekki or Asokoro and you go to Adafila on the Ogbomosho - Igbeti axis, you will become depressed seeing how fellow Nigerians live like they are still in the Stone Age. There are no drainages, no pipe-borne water, no schools within walking distance, no restaurants, no bars, and no electricity. Forget about the internet. Forget about phone network. Forget about medical center. Only at Elerukanfila did I see a lone water source with children and adults waiting in line to manually pump water. It reminded me of emergency intervention programs by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for displaced, disoriented, dirt-poor people of war-torn Kosovo, Burundi or South Sudan. Certainly, not what you’d expect in 2017 Oyo State or Nigeria. I had almost driven past the pump before it caught my eyes. I made a U-Turn, came back to it and as I started to take pictures, the villagers turned away. Some covered their faces. It was clear they didn’t want to be associated with that shame.
Yet, there were men and women walking around and interacting as if they had no care in the world; which, of course, meant there were be kids in the areas. And there were kids of all ages in the area when I drove through on December 27th and 28th, doing what kids all over the world do – playing or helping with the chores. Little did these kids know that unlike their counterparts in other parts of the world, the leaders of their own communities had consigned them to a future of servitude and penury even before they are old enough to have a say. Little did they know that they are starting life several years behind their age-mates in other parts of the world. In fact, kids in Ogbomosho…just a few kilometers away; kids in Oyo or Ibadan…have so much advantage over these poor souls. And it is solely because of the accident of birth. The communities I listed above are not in some out-of-the-way bush settlements. They are right smack on the most direct route any sane person would travel from Ogbomosho to Igbeti. Igbeti, by the way, is that town reportedly blessed with the largest deposit of marble stones in the whole world.
How does it not make you angry driving through this route and seeing people in such abject deprivation? How does it not make you feel shame if you are in a position to make life more meaningful for these people but you are negligent in your responsibilities? I asked some people in the area the last time they saw the governor or the deputy-governor (who is from the area) or any of the people they elected. They all looked at me like I spoke French.
Unless the child born in Ayepe wins the lottery or finds a huge amount of money on the street, it is going to be difficult for him/her to measure up to his/her age-mate born in Ibadan or Lagos. And this has nothing to do with each of the children’s innate potentials. It has everything to do with the opportunities laid at each of the children’s feet by the government of the same state. I drove past so many dilapidated structures that passed for schools. But when I got to Guguru, my heart sank. My conscience just wouldn’t let me drive past. I made a U-turn and returned to Olorunda Community Grammar School. I pulled into the grounds, parked my vehicle and walked through. Of course, there was no fence that I had to scale and there were no doors to keep me out. There were no windows either. When I walked into one of the classrooms, the rusty, flimsy, corrugated iron sheets roof was so perforated all over that I knew the students and teachers would be drenched during the rainy season. There was no laboratory and no library. (How could there have been?) Even if you were magnanimous enough to donate laboratory equipment and books to the school, where would they put it? There were no toilets! I will leave it to your imagination to figure out where the teachers and students used as toilets. There was no water…not even a well. Can you imagine students and teachers in that school during Nigeria’s hot season? I will mention the lack of medical aid center only because for several of the communities, I didn’t see any sign of a clinic. If a child convulses or faints in any of these schools, he/she will die easily?
I couldn’t hold back tears. I couldn’t hold back tears because I instinctively called back from memory some of the secondary schools that my own children attended in the U.S. If the editor publishes the pictures along with this piece, you will see for yourself what a secondary school in rural…(rural!) Georgia looks like. I picked the school that my children attended in Evans, Georgia because Evans is rural and will compare favorably with the area in Oyo State that is the subject of this piece. Due to the constraint of space, I won’t go into a detailed description of Greenbrier High School, Evans. Please google it yourself. Then compare what you see with the pictures of the secondary school in Guguru, which I am also sending to the editor with this piece. And by the way, Greenbrier is a public school. I didn’t have to pay for anything…not even the bus rides.
If you have a heart; if you are capable of shame, there is no way you will compare Olorunda Secondary School, Guguru, Oyo State, Nigeria to Greenbrier High School, Evans, Georgia, United States and you will not cry. The children on Guguru and its environs are likely to end up as hewers of wood and carriers of water for the children of Evans unless you and I do something about it. And one thing you can do about it that doesn’t cost money is to register to vote. If you have a little bit of disposable income, go and join a political party and help shape the future of our children. Once you join a party, you will discover that the nitwits and halfwits that have been deciding your future would withdraw and allow for intelligent discourses. For instance, why have a worthless secondary school in each of the communities above (some only four kilometers apart) when you can have two or three large, standard, effective schools - complete with laboratories, libraries, even teachers’ quarters (if you want), power generators and school buses - that would take kids from four or five communities to attend school and return them home after school? The school bus used to pick up my kids when we lived in Evans. Why not have one functional school at which teachers would be proud to work and from which students will graduate with a good chance of becoming somebody in life, as opposed to glorified chicken coops where school signs are better than the actual schools?
Although I have written about schools in some rural areas of Oyo State, I know they are microcosms of what education has become in Nigeria…even tertiary education. And you can find schools like those mentioned in every corner of the country, including Ibadan; including even my own local government area.
Friends, get involved. I am not asking you to join one party or the other. I am not asking you to vote for one candidate or another. But don’t place your hands helplessly akimbo. Doing so leaves the field of play…the room of decisions…to people who want to scare you out of politics so they can subjugate you. I want you to be sad enough…angry enough to do something. If this was the military era, you’d be hoping for a coup. But we are in the democracy era. You are the coup. Get involved.
By Abiodun Ladepo