By William Ikhianosimhe Orbih.
Pause or Perish! Fellow Nigerians, our country is in chaos. We are perishing. We need to pause to see that our dear country Nigeria is no longer working. This is certainly not saying that Nigeria is a failed state. Instead, it is asserting the fact that Nigeria is presently not working for most Nigerians.
It is no longer working for the ordinary Nigerian man or woman. It is not working for the young almajiri, armed with a begging bowl, while his mates across the globe are armed with pens and notebooks as they learn how to make the world a better place.
Nigeria is not working for the young graduate who cannot find employment or at least the means for a decent livelihood. Nigeria is not working for the sick Nigerian who lacks access to healthcare. We need to pause to see that while Nigeria might be working for a very few privileged Nigerians, this is not the case for the majority.
We need to pause and see that while there might have been a country in the past, right now, there is hardly something we can call a country. We need to pause to consider what it means to be the world’s poverty capital—that is, the country with the highest number of people living in abject poverty.
The world capital of the world used to be India—understandably so. India is the second-most populous country in the world. With over 1 billion people, 70 million people living in abject poverty is saddening and sickening, but not altogether surprising. By the way, 70 million people is just slightly over five percent of India’s population.
In 2017, however, Nigeria overtook India as the poverty capital of the world. 94.4 million is nearly half of Nigeria’s population. According to the 2017 statistics, this is the number of Nigerians who live in abject poverty. For these Nigerians and because of these Nigerians, we can assert that Nigeria is not working without mincing words.
Obafemi Awolowo once famously said that “Nigeria is not a nation; it is a mere geographical expression.” His argument is the fact that “there are no “Nigerians” in the same sense as there are “English” or “Welsh” or “French.” The word Nigeria is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria from those who do not.”
He was also talking about the lack of unity and social cohesion among the diverse groups of people, languages, tribes, and tongues that were forced together by Lugard’s 1914 amalgamation. He was talking about the fact that in place of patriotism or even commitment to the Nigerian project, what one often finds is tribal sentiment and the dedication to sectarian interest. He was, however, not talking about what this article is talking about, that is, the fact that Nigeria is no longer working because Nigeria is no longer working for most Nigerians.
The Nigeria of Obafemi’s time might have lacked social cohesion. It at least worked for the majority of Nigerians. Graduates could find jobs. Awolowo’s Western region had free education. Today’s Nigeria is not working for the overwhelming majority of Nigerians.
Of course, that Nigeria is still working for a few privileged Nigerians needs no reiteration or emphasis. These are Nigerians who can boast of three-square meals every day and do not have to worry about where their next meal will come from.
These are Nigerians who live in very decent accommodations in choice neighborhoods, owning the homes in which they live in. These are Nigerians who can afford decent education, abroad if necessary, and even the luxury of traveling the world on tourism or business.
These are Nigerians who have electricity and enough money to power generator sets to complement their county’s insufficient power supply. These are Nigerians who have the means to sink personal boreholes and the means to employ security personnel to secure their lives and properties.
For these few privileged Nigerians, there is always a way to get around the moribund system. For instance, there is a way to get a driver’s license without having to go to the Federal Road Safety Corp’s office in Zone 6, Wuse, Abuja.
However, for the majority of Nigerians, Nigeria has since stopped working. For the majority of Nigerians, three square meals a day is a luxury. The price of foodstuff is going up, while their income has remained static if not dwindling. Their take-home pay can barely take them home, talk less of seeing them through the month.
The minimum wage remains a slave’s wage—simply unrealistic. The giant of Africa no longer grows enough food crops to feed its teeming population. The days of the intimidating groundnut pyramids are long gone.
The discovery of oil in the late 60s and its pursuit led to the neglect of the Agricultural sector. Other previously thriving sectors were equally abandoned. Nigeria soon became a single sector economy, and its prosperity became totally dependent on the price of crude oil.
One of the major solutions of the government of the day to Nigeria’s hunger problem has been to ban the importation of many food crops to encourage local farmers. While this might prove a reasonable long-term policy, the problem is that it is mostly only a policy on paper, backed by incompetent and corrupt enforcers.
This is equally true of Nigeria’s housing sector and all other welfare sectors. Lack of planning and inadequate supervision has led to the collapse of virtually every facet of Nigeria’s welfare system. For many Nigerians, housing means finding very indecent accommodations in slums where they await the doomsday when government caterpillars will come and demolish the illegal structures.
Transportation means struggling to find a seat in a taxi and get to work on time. Going to school means crowding in poorly equipped universities or public secondary schools and being taught by poorly enumerated teachers.
The call to pause and reflect is to both the privileged few and the suffering majority. The privileged few must realize that it is not well until it becomes well for all others as well. It is not okay until it becomes okay for at least the overwhelming majority.
From a Christian point of view, it is not fine to have a fleet of cars when most of your neighbors must trek to work every day. It is not okay to have many gigantic houses when most Nigerians live in the slums and homes with leaking roofs. It is not normal to have an uncountable number of dresses and shoes while your neighbor has nothing to put on.
As Jesus tells us in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, it is immoral to feast sumptuously without care for the man at the gate contending with the dogs for scraps. On judgment day, Jesus would want to know how much we cared for the poor and needy, the sick and homeless, the naked and prisoners. This is what the parable of the final judgment in Matthew 25 teaches us.
Finally, as it is often said, “one day the poor will have nothing else to eat but the rich.” We saw a glimpse of this in the brief episode of the sudden discovery of palliatives in warehouses. Poor people pillaged these warehouses not just with hunger but with anger as well. The call on the majority of Nigeria, for whom the country no longer works, is to rise and take back their country from the few who have stolen it.
This is not a call to arms but a call on Nigerians to learn to demand accountability from their leaders. It is a call on all Nigerians to commit wholeheartedly to the Nigerian project by putting in the work necessary to have the country work again.
This Lent provides us with yet another opportunity to reexamine ourselves, and if necessary, start afresh. It offers us the glorious opportunity to pause or perish!
*First published in the Good Shepherd Newspaper
Disclaimer: “The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of William Ikhianosimhe Orbih and do not necessarily reflect those of The World Satellite. The World Satellite will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.”