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When Is Our Revolution? By Tunde Chris Odediran

February 14, 2011

If you are old enough to have lived in the Nigeria that worked, you have to be angry at the jungle it has become. I have seen Nigeria in its glory, and I am furiously expecting change. It is hardly contentious to state that the country was better at serving its people 30 years and more ago than the sad spectacle it has become today.

If you are old enough to have lived in the Nigeria that worked, you have to be angry at the jungle it has become. I have seen Nigeria in its glory, and I am furiously expecting change. It is hardly contentious to state that the country was better at serving its people 30 years and more ago than the sad spectacle it has become today.

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As a child born in the mid sixties in an industrial town in Nigeria, I do recall with fond memories that there was a lot of food in everybody's homes, the postman delivered letters on the streets and when hospitals dispensed drugs you never had to worry about counterfeits. In those days, teachers received salaries on time, school openings and closings were predictable and regular, families with modest means bought brand new cars, water flowed in the pipes to every home and there was hardly ever a worry about power outage.
 
In the public secondary school I attended, we had gardeners, cooks, matrons, laundrymen, a big school bus, lawn mowers and well maintained facilities. We even wore suits, caps, sweaters and looked sharp and crisp like British private school kids. Yet, it was just a public school in a regular town. Unlike today, the poor, the middle-class and the rich sent their kids to the same schools as there was nothing public education did not offer.
 
This was the Nigeria that I like to remember - the Nigeria that worked for all. Although people still complained, the standard of living was high and people were much happier. Indians, Sri Lankans, Ghanaians and other nationalities came to Nigeria in search of opportunities. When Nigerians travelled abroad, they eventually returned home. Economic emigration was not for Nigerians because our own nation was good enough.
 
The good times didn't last for long because we soon turned the blessing, oil, into a curse. It was exactly in 1982, during the Shehu Shagari era, when the word "austerity measures" crept into national vocabulary, that the first signs of decline appeared. In retrospect, the problem started long before then. The military, which had ruled Nigeria through the times of unexpected prosperity  in the 70s, inflicted gaping wounds on the nation.
 
Comprised mostly of high school graduates, the military rulers were simply bereft of ideas. They were at a loss about what to do with stupendous wealth which the discovery of oil had brought. It was in the midst of these good times that the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, boasted naively that Nigeria's problem was not money but how to spend it.
 
Against this pathetic backdrop, the implosion began. Nigeria embarked on dumb projects that added no value to national development. She began to spin like a needle on the vinyl, running so much on a single spot without making any progress. Economists called it development without growth. The military lavished money on FESTAC, All African Games and other frivolities that did little to improve the standard of the Nigerian life.
 
Udoji award, free money, was shared with  government workers in 1974, causing a mad rush to the urban areas. Farmers quickly disposed their cutlasses and hoes, in search of quick money in the cities. The promise of better life through association with the government produced overnight contractors. In the same breath, the groundnut pyramids of Kano, one of the proud farming heritages of independence, disappeared. The Cocoa House in Ibadan, turned into a mere symbolic edifice. Perhaps the most severe damage was the erosion of integrity, honesty, transparency in public life, probity and accountability. People stole what did not belong to them in public service and business, but nobody cared because there was still enough to go round.
 
When petroleum prices began to slide on the international market, adjustment became a difficult task for a now indisciplined nation. War Against Indiscipline was a necessary antidote from the Buhari-Idiagbon administration in the 80s. Unfortunately for Nigeria, that flicker of hope for renewal was quickly extinguished by a wasteful, deceptive and corrupt crop of officers led by Ibrahim Babangida, who cancelled that experiment with a wide grin of evil. Hopes that Nigeria can adopt corrective and healing measures were flattened under the boots of Babangida and his hand-picked brutal successor, Sani Abacha. These two ravaged the nation like locusts, stealing more than anyone before them while the people's conditions worsened.
 
Since then, things have spiraled out of control. In the chaotic environment, Nigerians who had opportunity left the country in droves in search of greener pastures. There are now more Nigerians living abroad than the population of some African countries.
 
There was yet another hope in 1993, when billionaire businessman. Moshood Abiola, a friend of the corrupt military leadership, surprisingly won a national election. The rough and oppressive boots of Babangida and Abacha snuffed life out of a possible revival through the watershed election, as Nigerians became hostage to the worst dictatorship imaginable until their miraculous rescue on Abacha's debauchery bed.  What a relief that was!
 
Following Abacha's demise, an adulterated form of democracy through a dictated constitution was imposed by the military. In the ensuing drama, soldiers, with lots of stolen wealth and nothing to do, disguised as politicians and filled the hallowed legislative and executive chambers everywhere. Their acolytes, never-do-wells and life members of the AGIP (Any Government In Power) made up the rest of the ranks of the pseudo-reformatory democratic leadership.
 
Every effort at social engineering has ended in failure mainly because the hands that tend the patient are the same hands that infected them with the sickness. Look at the National Assembly, the state houses, the political parties, the parastatals and the corporate class. What we have in them are the same military officers and their cronies, running the nation openly or in hiding.
 
Good people are losing hope things will ever change. Children are either accepting the impossibility of change or looking for ways to escape. Everybody is trying to steal as much as they can  to reach a safety net. Very few Nigerians can honestly claim today that they live entirely on their legal income. If you need to collect a form from a government ministry, you will have to grease someone's palm with bribe. Abnormality has become a way of life. Those who point to these problems are often attacked and called names. They are now the abnormal!
 
No nation can be great with a pattern of behavior as Nigeria's. It is neither a curse nor prayer - it is reality and common sense. It is shameful to be a Nigerian today. Drug dealers, scammers and corrupt leaders are the toast of the society. A few years ago, an international scammer sat comfortably on the board of a top three bank. Corrupt leaders and their families flaunt ill-gotten wealth in front of their owners. Honest life is now tantamount to poverty and disrespect. The nation is in ruins and there is no builder. What hope is there if Nigeria continues to live like this? None - it is that simple.
 
Why do we expect cancer to heal itself? It is hopeless, illogical, senseless and impossible to expect the benefactors of the corrupt system to reverse the damage. It cannot happen; it will not happen. It is the reason why there is so much chaos in the party primaries. The fight is not for change, it is a fight for an opportunity to lay ugly hands on petro-dollar. Bola Tinubu is hurriedly filling available political positions with his family members and cronies because it benefits him, not his people. The ACN chairman, Bisi Akande, claims he knows more than you and I who should be our leader in a pathetic response to his party’s corrupt selection of candidates. Dimeji Bankole is buying off his political opponents because there is so much money at stake. General Olusegun Obasanjo has engaged the services of Mr. Fix-It, Tony Anenih, to quell a predicted bloodbath by a brutal Governor Gbenga Daniel, out-maneuvered in the PDP primaries. Babangida is buzzing to return because he still saw a lot of honey in the pot. Atiku won’t let go while there is still money to be had. All the old politicians have refused to retire and are now filling the political landscape with their children since a lot of money is available to be stolen with no resistance from the people. In Saraki Farms, also known as Kwara State, family is pitched against family because of the illegal proceeds of public office.
 
If ordinary Nigerians are not worried about the state of the multi-billion dollar political industry, the wheeling and dealing for public office, the corruption and the deception that has left one of the richest nations one with the lowest standards of living, we should shut up and put up. Nigeria has a big cancer and the disease needs aggressive solutions before it kills. We, the sufferers of the disease are the ones who will take action. The change that will revive the nation of Nigeria must come from the people. Those who feel the pain the most must bear their own cross. At this moment, we need many Nehemiahs to rebuild the gates that are in ruins.
 
Tunisians and Egyptians have shown us how to become a free people through revolution. They have shown us that courage, persistence and self-help are the ingredients of change. We are all over Facebook andTwitter, having access to all forms of technology that make revolution a piece of cake in this century. We have to take our nation back while revolution is still hot. Our situation is worse than those that caused revolutionary anger in Tunisia and Egypt. What are we waiting for? Let’s go, people.
 
If not now, when is our revolution? It is now or never!
 
Tunde Chris Odediran is the organizer of Citizens for Nigeria (citizensfornigeria.com), with base in the United States.
 

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