Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Nigeria of Our Making (II)

Please read the preceding part - The Nigeria of Our Making (I) - here.

Our civil service provides a haven for the intellectual dregs among our graduates as the best of them will not want to touch the public service with a long pole. Even so, recruitment into the civil service is founded on high-level favouritism. Ironically, these not too savvy individuals are expected to run our polity and economy with little or no cerebral capability for generating ideas. Most of them can hardly administrate on a nuclear level yet we expect them to frugally manage resources and a complex, multi-billion naira economy like ours. It is satirical. In addition, our public buildings offices are filthy and cramped with ramshackle furniture and facilities; one wonders how the occupants work in such conditions. This might explain why most of the office personnel are always unruly and irritable (especially secretaries/front-desk officers). Moreover, it is only in our civil service a “tip” must compulsorily precede a service to be rendered; otherwise your file will eternally gather dust in the in-tray.

This mind frame of instant gratification has undermined the dignity of hard work and moral excellence. This is evident in the newly-found occupation of a lot of young Nigerians – the advance fee fraud, which in local parlance is called yahoo yahoo. Cyber cafes are overcrowded with able-bodied youths who spend a greater part of their time surfing the cyberspace looking for unsuspecting, greedy and gullible individuals to prey. If only these layabouts could divert their mental prowess to doing something honourable and more profitable….

Looking into security issues brings to the forefront our security agencies especially the police. The police force has remained a hydra which has persistently reared its ugly monstrous heads. It seems the force has a knack for attracting the most uncultured, aggressive and otiose individuals from the society. At any of their numerous check points (or more appropriately put, toll gates), they scrutinise vehicle particulars with fault-finding intensity in order to extort and not necessarily to correct. Moreover, one will be asking for trouble by conversing with a police officer in English. The situation does not differ for almost every rank within the police force. Besides, it all seems a systemic sleaze virus runs through the force. However, the blame lies not only with these individuals. A peep into the working and living conditions of a typical police station or barrack respectively, will make one understand why it is impossible for the Ethiopian to change his skin or a leopard, its spots. It cannot be more succinctly put.

This is the mire the political/ruling class has dragged the Nigerian sectors into while it perches on firm, comfortable grounds. It is in their voracious interest that it remains so. Otherwise, on their trips to industrialised countries abroad, why would they not yearn to imitate even a mirage of what obtains there? Or are they void of ideas? I think so, with particular reference to their usual election campaign briefs. In the 21st century, most of our politicians still employ the tactics of construction of roads, provision of pipe-borne water, etc to crusade, when real issues are being debated on campaign platforms in developed regions. What a shame! When they wish to feed their unquenchable desires for material wealth, quest for power or cover their despicable acts, they divide the masses on ethnic, socio-cultural and religious lines, while the evidences of their corrupt practices have no ethnic or religious boundary. This muddle has disenfranchised a lot of Nigerians. Many are nonchalant and totally disinterested in governance. A colleague once highlighted the irresponsibility of the Nigerian government: My friend provides his own power using a generator (which many Nigerians can identify with) due to a blackout situation that has come to stay. He bores the ground to supply his own water. He pays through his nose to send his children to private schools since our public schools are nothing but shambles. He arranges private security both for his house and within his neighbourhood. These are the essentials a responsible government should provide. If it fails to, why should any of its citizens hold it credible?

Paradoxically, our leaders are from among us – they are not imported. As a people, we only get the kind of leaders we warrant. We celebrate vanity, materialism and mediocrity rejecting integrity, values and astuteness. This explains why a confirmed villain public officer will parade himself as a heroic icon among the people he steals from. What manner of people are we? We desperately take advantage of ourselves at any level of power occupation irrespective of how diminutive it is (e.g. from the gate keeper to the treasury keeper). We live in a society where we care less for one another, why should our so-called leaders care about us? The other day I passed by a completely burnt car. I queried: How would a car incinerate to that extent while other vehicles passed by? All the poor driver would get were faces of bewilderment from passers-by instead of a couple of fire extinguishers to save him from his misfortune. In any case, how many vehicle owners have these extinguishers? Even at that, most are expired. I once read an article where the writer questioned the knowledge of Nigerian vehicle owners about their tyre pressure, fuel tank capacity, etc. We commute ourselves on death traps (called roads) and in rickety, perilous commercial transport vehicles that are not even suitable to convey animals. Our transportation system is degenerated to the extent that motorcycles popularly known as okadas have taken over our roads with high-handed recklessness. Accident victims are in a better position to elaborate. Are we progressing or evolving two or three cycles of development backward? Our elites may seem to live in apathy but they cannot deny and are not safe from the anxiety and impending uprising around them. It is just a matter of time.

Lastly, the society at large is uninformed. Our public libraries (if they still exist) are now national museums for outdated references. The tenets of Civics and Social studies have disappeared from our schools curricula. Most of us do not have even a copy of the constitution (no matter how flawed it is) not to mention knowing what it reads. We bastardise everything (that works in other places) including time and we call it the “Nigerian factor.” At social events, special guests and dignitaries are not expected to be at the venues on time as this will belittle their status. Our religion lacks strength of character. Despite the overflow of religious outreaches we have in this country, it seems as if the principles of good morals and integrity are inversely related to the number of churches and mosques around us. We have totally redefined what religion is all about. Most Nigerians abroad do not want to touch Nigeria with a long pole. They talk as if they are not Nigerians in the first place. Moreover, when interacting with them, most can be easily interpreted to have escaped from a war-torn zone, a crisis or a modern day hell. This might not be far from the truth.

The foregoing forlornly paints a picture of chaos, gloom, crisis and hopelessness. Nonetheless, ours is not an irredeemable destiny. Nigeria – the sleeping giant – is the key not only to its renascent but also, that of the black man. A branded, prestigious and industrialised Nigeria is not “a pie in the sky.” From our chaos we can teach the world a new social order and excellence. Our seeming hopelessness is the only raw material needed to crusade for a rejuvenated, hope-full future. We can rise from the ashes of our past and present crises to build a nation where its people can hold their own, anywhere in the world. We can begin by asking ourselves: Where do we go from here? Thereafter, collective and committed action must be taken to create a Nigeria of our dream.
Please read the sequel - The Nigeria of Our Dream - here.

The Nigeria of Our Making (I)

“All organisms, including humans, are greatly influenced by the consequences produced by their own behaviour.” - B. F. Skinner (1904 - 1990)

The reality of what we as Nigerians have turned our country into is unfathomable and gruesome. Owing to our (in)action we have subtly and (in)deliberately defiled all principles of nation building, corporate sanity and existence. The inevitable result is a nation without conscience - a people with no moral compass and of diminutive or no character; a modern day jungle where humans who are a little higher than animals, dwell. In the words of Chinua Achebe, a house that has fallen!

I made a gradual halt as I approached the junction seeing the traffic light change from the green-go to a red-stop sign. The driver behind me blared his car horn with careless abandon.

“Mumu, kuro l’oju ona. Kosi LASTMA nbe.” he shouted, sticking his neck out of the car window. “Mumu” in very genteel translation means “simpleton”. The driver simply wanted me to beat the traffic lights since LASTMA officials (the Lagos State traffic law enforcement agents) were not in sight. I wondered if I stopped because of them in the first place. He was obviously angry at me for obstructing his way. Whilst he was demonstrating his rage, a danfo (commercial transport) driver zoomed past cursing me with all manners of hands and face gesticulations and not without abusive words. My offence? I did not disobey the traffic light. With all these occurrences around me, I had to stare at the lights for the umpteenth time to see if I was not being a nuisance, unduly. Nonetheless, the red light stayed the same.

The other day, I once corrected a lady who threw her trash out of the window of the commercial transport vehicle we boarded together. The look of disdain on her face and the accompanying response cease not to amaze me. “It doesn’t matter.” she said, “It won’t make Lagos dirtier than it is.” I wonder if avoiding throwing garbage indiscriminately is just a matter of making the environment less filthy or about doing the right thing!

These two seemingly mere experiences capture what the characteristic Nigerian attitude has degenerated to. A diametric contradiction of this is termed anomalous. In simple terms, doing what is right in the present day Nigeria is viewed to be odd. I have asked myself rhetorically and severally: How did we get here? In the following, I tried as much as possible to sum up the current Nigerian muddle, no matter how cynical and derogatory it reads, with an objective to pose a most pertinent question: Where do we go from here?

The moral and ethic collapse siege on our nation has permeated all facets of the Nigerian system – education, public service, polity, healthcare, governance, religion, corporation, etc.

The quality of our education at all levels has been adulterated both in content and delivery. Almost every house car garage has been converted to a “Montessori” and/or “international” primary/secondary school. Our residential streets and cul-de-sacs are blocked incessantly by these faux schools to facilitate preparation for inter-house sports and sundry purposes since all the school surroundings have been built up to maximise profits from the business called schooling. Unwittingly, the innocent pupils tend to imbibe in their subconscious that they can barricade streets at will for no just cause and at anytime, no matter whose ox is gored.

Admission into our tertiary institutions is characterised by inexplicable nepotism. This might unarguably explain the proliferation of universities by every religious sect, state and local government, against the backdrop of the urgent need to increase the students-intake capacity and number of our institutions of higher learning. Majority of the resulting mushroom ivory towers (if they are to be addressed as that) are void of the most essential facilities and touchstones. By most standards and infrastructure-wise, they are extolled high schools.

What more can be said of the quality of graduates that are being churned out in their tens of thousand, annually? Appalling: To say the least. I would not want to undertake the laborious exercise of listing the repulsive characteristics of our contemporary graduates. However, one that will not fail mentioning is the lack of good written and spoken English skills. Most of these individuals can hardly complete a sentence in English (either written or spoken) without wanton grammatical errors. This is made worse by the advent of GSM text and online chat messages (with their accompanied inept abbreviations) which make some graduates write official correspondences like love letters. Office executives can bear witness. Conversely, their fluency in pidgin English (which they deem chic and fashionable) is impeccable.

The Nigerian graduate is not left alone in this pickle. Several times with disdain I have watched and listened to Nigerians butcher the English language (with no absolute respect for its lexis and structure) during interviews on television and radio. Should they be blamed, if we once had a Speaker of the House of Assembly that could hardly communicate correctly in English? It leaves one to muse if this same language remains our lingua franca.

Our institutions parade a charade of disciplines and courses with archaic syllabi on their curricula that provide little or no job opportunities for their respective graduates in the real Nigerian labour market. One would wonder why such disciplines should continue to be listed. Even the so-called prestigious disciplines like Medicine are not as celebrated as before. Our medical personnel are the most poorly paid when compared with their counterparts in the developing regions. This has informed an unimaginable flight of these much-needed human resources. Although it is obvious the quality of our education is pitiable, however if only we know how much resources go into training medical pupils, we will not want to lose them easily despite their ill-training. A few unlucky ones who have still not been able to ply their trade abroad are either grudgingly working at our poorly equipped abattoir hospitals while others are into something completely different. I know a doctor-friend who is now a full time interior decorator as a matter of necessity! The consequence of this unfortunate morass will be played out in the near future as we have succeeded in creating a generational gap of these special-skill individuals. Only time will tell.

Most of our graduates are not just unemployed but majority are unemployable. Apart from the fact that they lack the requisite skills to perform on a job (which is no absolute fault of theirs), they have failed to imbibe the proper work ethics. The typical believes a certain certificate should earn much income irrespective of his/her productivity level. Hence, they scramble to get all sorts of certifications with little or no consideration for self-application, personal re-orientation and self-development.
Kudos goes to the Nigerian banks which are doing a great deal to salvage a number of these unskilled individuals out of the overcrowded unemployment camp. Albeit, one must not be hasty to commend our financial institutions most of which were adjudged to be finance kiosks pre-consolidation. The post-consolidation of these banks did not but come with the Nigerian definition of banking. Our banks today are still witlessly deposit-driven while they are ever-reluctant to take even the minimum of risks to empower the smallest scales of business, not to mention the lack of professionalism, etiquettes, and work ethics a lot of them still portray. They have mopped the public of funds in all possible ways (IPOs, POs, mutual, integrated and hybrid funds, etc). However, these benefactors (the customers) find it extremely difficult to be beneficiaries of the same funds. In addition, coquettish young girls labelled as marketers are unleashed in an aggressive manner onto the corporate world to source for funds to meet the insatiable quest of these banks for deposits. Our banks CEOs have proved without doubt that these accumulated funds are just mere show-off armaments in their egocentric corporate armoury. Nothing more!

Please read the concluding part - The Nigeria of Our Making (II) - here.