By Muyiwa Adetiba
You don’t drop an egg and lament that it is broken’. Those were the words of the late Tanzanian President, Mr Julius Nyerere to me during an interview.
Although they were said in a different context, the words sometimes come to me when I think of the socio/economic situation of our country.
We all lament the state of insecurity in the country today. We should have seen it coming because we planted the seed, watered the soil, and nurtured the plant of insecurity that has now grown into a giant tree with roots and branches in every corner of the country. We were careless with the fragile shell containing vital issues that make for progress and security. We shouldn’t lament now that it is shattered. We dropped the egg.
I grew up in a country, or part of a country where some things were deemed more prestigious than wealth. Things like character, integrity, dignity, decency and lineage. Especially lineage because keeping a family name unsoiled was deemed important. A person with these qualities was called an ‘Omoluabi’. The English word ‘Gentleman’ approximates but doesn’t quite describe it. Omoluabi is more encompassing. It was what every Yoruba person wanted to be.
This person may or may not be wealthy. But they would be respected because there would always be an aura of respect around them. And they would be regarded higher than a wealthy but cantankerous person. Growing up, money was respected but was not deified. The route to wealth for my people was through hard work and diligent application of acquired skills. ‘Ise ni ogun ise.’ Meaning hard work is the medicine against poverty. Discipline was key. Accountability was key. Tolerance was key. Respect was largely earned on these platforms along with native intelligence, and not on wealth.
The Nigeria I grew up in was not rich. But it didn’t matter much because aspirations were low and therefore manageable. Nobody needed – or wanted – an account in the Cayman Islands or a house in the South of France for example. More importantly, jobs were available for those willing to work, shelter was available for everyone who was not discriminatory, food was available for anybody willing to till the land and theft of any kind was a scarce commodity. Thieves were limited to those who stole petty things. It is also important to state that they were ostracised if caught not withstanding their religion or tribe.
If we were introspective enough, we would know when rain started beating us. For me, it started when the military took over power. The coups and counter coups that led to the Civil War took their toll. They stretched the fragile rope that tried to bind us; they questioned the tenuous basis of our existence. They also supplied small arms that were not mopped up into the society. It is arguable if we ever executed any ‘Project Nigeria’ with deep sincerity or unity of purpose after the coups.
Then came the arbitrary dismissal of top Civil Servants which left hitherto powerful officers homeless and disoriented. This taught those who succeeded them the inescapable lesson that diligence and competence didn’t matter much to the new bosses and that they needed to make hay during the sunshine of their tenure. Especially when they saw how the khaki boys were taking care of themselves. Although the Military came as corrective, it actually worsened the situation it met. It probably didn’t know any better. Like Peter’s Principle, it had promoted itself above its level of competence. The Military of the fifties and sixties was not the profession the best brains in the country flocked to at the time. This showed when it found itself in governance. The swagger and brashness that accompanied their governance style probably hid a deep seated inferiority complex. Its early disdain for intellectuals and career professionals might have stemmed from this.
Besides, its command structure didn’t lend itself to a robust discussion of policies let alone dissent. The result was the enunciation of some policies and directives which were ill thought out. The result was that Military kings often danced naked in the public square without anybody daring to correct them. The end result was a building – the Nigerian building- without proper foundation.
In spite of the huge amount of oil money that flowed into the country from the 70s, critical infrastructures were neglected. Man power development was neglected. We refused, or were too incompetent to see the red flag when multi-nationals started leaving the country in droves.
The jobs were shrinking yet we were breeding like rabbits while living like barons. How, with the best of intentions, would a family rear ten or more children without a couple of them falling into bad ways? Our population moved from about 60 million at independence to about 200 million today without the requisite infrastructure and jobs to take care of the surging population.
It meant we deliberately bred children who were destined to be disadvantaged due to inadequate provisions for their future. We grew a youthful population which witnessed the profligate lifestyle of its parents, left it to fend for itself and we are surprised it has turned to crime. This is not an excuse for crime but if you were a hungry and jobless youth what would you do? Especially in a country where high crimes and misdemeanours are rife in public places; where accountability is low, hard work is scoffed at and money has become a god to be worshiped.
The Military committed many sins in government but the greatest sin to my mind is the loss of values it bequeathed to the country. Those things that make ‘an Omoluabi’ are all but gone. Everything we touch is compromised and corrupted.
Which is why we now have some professional doctors colluding with touts to compromise the integrity of our COVID 19 tests and endangering the same lives they swore an oath to save. The Military also lowered the entry bar into governance. Compare the quality of those running the country today to those who were at independence. Governance is now an all comers affair. Yet the country has the human and material resources to turn the country around in five years maximum if the system would allow it. Instead, we prefer to wallow in mediocrity and corruption.
When you are in a hole like we are, you should stop digging. We should stop borrowing. We are only encouraging a false lifestyle which would further increase insecurity. We need to reduce the cost of governance drastically and use the money for productive ventures. The low hanging fruits include agriculture and agro-allied industries.
We need to raise the bar and bring character, competence and accountability into governance. We need to have an enforceable population policy to stop irresponsible breeding. We need to stop the deification of money and reduce the gap between the very poor and the very rich. Otherwise we would continue to have hungry, angry youths who will not allow us walk the streets at noon or sleep at night.