By Dele Sobowale
“The wind of change is blowing through the continent [Africa]. Whether we like it or not, the growth of national consciousness is a political fact.”-Harold Macmillan, British Prime Minister, 1956-62.
Macmillan’s government started the process of granting independence to British colonies in Africa – including Nigeria in 1960. With the benefit of hindsight, for Africans in general, independence has been a curse rather than the blessing our founding fathers told us it would be. I recollect reading in the DAILY TIMES early in 1960 the benefits which would accrue to us as Nigerians by one of our greatest sages – Chief Obafemi Awolowo. After listing our endowments of natural resources, vast arable land and immense human resources, Awo announced that in less than fifty years after independence Nigeria would have overtaken Britain as an economic power. History would record that Awo died on May 9, 1987, twenty seven years after independence and the poor old man must have observed how terribly wrong he was in 1960 about the ability of his fellow countrymen to grow. By 1987, the gap between the United Kingdom and Nigeria had widened; Nigeria which was financially independent in 1960 became a beggar nation kneeling before the Paris and London group of lenders for loans despite the added blessing of crude oil which was not available in great quantities in 1960.
Thus, if the real history of Nigeria were to be written, it would have to demonstrate how a middle income agrarian nation was steadily ruined by its political class – in mufti or uniform – since 1960 till today. Each time someone mentions our founding fathers – Ahmadu Bello, Awolowo and Azikiwe in reverent tones for bringing us independence, my attitude is, “they took us from those chastising us with whips and handed us to those chastising us with scorpions and snakes”. Without pretending to have all of British history under my belt, but I read a lot of it while researching for my BOOK OF QUOTATIONS. I challenge anybody to point to any public official in the entire history of Great Britain who was ever alleged to have embezzled the amount a US Court is now accusing Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke and her accomplices of stealing from Nigeria.
It is even possible that all the known thefts from the public purse in Britain for all time would not buy the famous yacht mentioned in the US charge sheet. But, the most frightening aspect of all these lies in the fact that she is not an exception to those who have held public office since 1960. There is probably nobody who went in poor and came out poor after just a year in high office – President, Governor, Senator or Minister. Our poor founding fathers went to Britain shouting “let my people go”, but they have done us a great disservice. We were better governed under the British and there is no end in sight to incompetent and corrupt rule. No single government, Federal, regional or state and no single Chief Executive of any political unit has brought the geographical entity closer to what the British left behind.
One measure of our gradual and inexorable descent into chaos is the number of public officials facing corruption charges. In 1960, the number could not have been up to a dozen. None of them was a Premier, Minister or Service Chief. Today, several dozen governors, ex-Ministers, Army, Air Force, Navy Officers, parliamentarians and heads of government agencies are facing charges. In Britain, there still could be less than a dozen minor officials facing charges for embezzlement. In Nigeria the number is close to four thousand and more are on the way.
In 1960 mere mention that an official was caught embezzling public funds was enough for the individual to be ostracized by society at large. Today, a paid crowd will go to the court premises asking that a heartless serial thief be released because it is “our money” he stole. With regard to crude oil, most of the morons making such statements forget that oil production is a joint venture between the Federal Government and the International Oil Companies, IOCs, without whose financial and technical contributions the oil would have remained in the ground because we are incapable of producing it on our own – even now.
Obviously, when our sages went to demand for our independence they were not wise enough to ask the most important question: who will govern Nigeria after independence and will they manage the affairs of government better than the British? In 2017, after 57 years of independence, the answer is so clear to all of us even a blind man can see it. Except for professional partisan liars, the overall impression is one of total failure. Go to all the Government Reserved Areas, GRA, left behind by the British and compare what you see today with what was there in 1960. Yet few of the colonial civil servants had university education. Most of them would grin with envy if told the first rate global universities – Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, MIT etc – our Nigerian leaders in the past and present have attended. They passed through universities but universities made no impact of them.
“What does corrupting time not diminish? Our grandparents brought forth feebler heirs, we are further degenerate, and soon will beget progeny more wicked”, said real sage Horace, 65-8 BC.
Even the best governed states today are poor examples of what governance should be in this millennium. Each time professional praise-singers mouth praises of Lagos State as the Centre of Excellence, my reaction is: it can only be because in the country of the blind, even half an eye makes you superior to others. And, in a nation governed by a lot of almost totally insane people the half-mad is a relief. The floods which ravaged Lagos have their origins in the numerous acts of omission by those in charge of various Ministries – Federal and States – several years ago. Predictably, they have resulted in demolitions of structures belonging to the poor and those not politically connected. Nobody with influence will suffer the consequences of his own contributions to the common woe. That is certain. One example will prove the point.
The highbrow structure which came down in Lekki about two years ago is still partly occupied. The rest have not been demolished. The flood ravaging Lagos in July affected VGC Estate more than any other place in the axis. No bull dozer has shown up there. Last week, it was Obalende and its environs which were hastily demolished. Nobody well connected lives there. So, they are expendable.
All those only serve as a preamble to the real cause for alarm in Nigeria today. The real danger lies in degraded political leadership. As we have demonstrated above, our political leadership was never the best. Even the “best” of them could only be regarded as fair by global standards. The only lasting legacies were the “free education” initiative of the old Western Region and the Audu Bako agricultural revolution which turned Kano, a semi-desert area, into Nigeria’s most self-sufficient state. Nobody can point to anything else. Of the two, “free education” is being demolished by the more wicked progeny of the Awoists. No governor in the South West today sends his kids to public schools. The rot in the schools did not occur by accident. It took years of deliberate neglect.
Education, free or otherwise, was destroyed when education no longer provided the surest means of ensuring a good life. Politics and crimes of all sorts are now the avenues to the good life. Politicians hire the thugs and arm them when needed; they discard the hoodlums when not required; and at the end of every election leave Nigeria with well-armed people with nothing legitimate to do. As the devil will always find work for idle hands, they employ the weapons provided by their political patrons to create havoc in society.
It was bad enough when the political parties were more disciplined. Today, neither the All Progressives Congress, APC, nor the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, can be called a political party in the globally recognized sense of the word. They have become just machines established for the purpose of seizing the national treasury in order that a few political leaders might steal all they can lay their hands on with impunity. Unfortunately for them and us, the thugs they armed in 2015 have become more deadly and from now on they will terrorise Nigerians including the political leaders. The party “stalwarts” of 2015 have discovered year-round employment in kidnapping. The journey to chaos has started with the party congresses of the APC – a group without a leader. That is the classic definition for a mob…..