Drumbeats of deprivation and agitation
To say that the quality of life of the average Nigerian is low is to state the obvious. Whether one talks of education, medical service delivery, security or the economy, every aspect of our life in this country is in downward motion. The extent of poverty experienced by our people is simply unacceptable. This country has more than enough resources to make life livable. If there is so much discomfort, we must interrogate those who manage the affairs of our country. Why is it that government—federal, state and local—has failed Nigerians?
Every year, we witness the ritual of budget presentation to the National Assembly by the President. The executive arm of government requires the consent of those who represent the people at the legislative arm of government before money can be spent. The 2017 budget was presented to the National Assembly in the twilight of the year 2016. It was passed by the National Assembly on May 14, 2017, more than five months into the year, close to six months after it was presented. For a country that should be in a hurry to exit Destitution Avenue, this is simply unacceptable. It is another instance of failure of governance. Failure of governance is when government fails to serve the people.
Nigerians should be worried about the way the budgetary process runs in this country. In the period when the budget is yet to be passed, how is government carrying out its functions? Who is accountable to whom when it comes to how money is spent? Does this reflect a country that really wishes to put an end to corruption? But while there was delay in passing the budget, there is an early bird approach to the politics of 2019. The budget was not passed. But politicians were positioning themselves for the 2019 presidential elections.
Now deprivation has turned into agitation. In the absence of a budget, the economic conditions in which we live continue to bite. Nigerians are hungry and angry. In their anger, they turn against each other in the social media, using unprintable language, threats and violence to seek out their differences. Young Igbo insult the Yoruba, young Yoruba insult the Igbo, the north and the south have suddenly realised that they cannot live together. In all this, instead of facing their common enemy, politicians who abuse their offices and steal the wealth of the land, thus depriving us of decent living, young Nigerians tear each other apart in a society where civil discourse has become an unwanted alien.
We have said it before that we live in clear and present danger. We said it when herdsmen went on the rampage and arms were being brought into Nigeria by “ghost importers”. Now we should ask ourselves: is there a correlation between illegal importation of arms into Nigeria and the drumbeats and dance steps of war we are currently witnessing?
We in Nigeria once made a mistake—a grave one for that matter—going to war when we could have resolved our differences peacefully. The scar of the war remains. To avoid another war is an obligation we all must assume. To avoid going to war is not cowardice. It is to have the courage to subdue our ego and negotiate. To go to war when we could and ought to have avoided it is not courageous but reckless. To assume the obligation of avoiding a war, we must refrain from revisionist accounts of the 1967-70 war.
A sober reading of history and a sober reflection too, show clearly that blame for that war goes to both sides of the war. In fact, there is enough blame to share. Blame for that war goes especially to the unprincipled politicians of the era who resorted to ethnic rivalry for selfish purposes instead of nation building. It goes in equal measure to the young military officers on both Federal and Biafran sides who mistook their military training for omniscience in matters of state. It is a well-known fact that the class of military officers that survived that war imposed on this country the present constitution with its many landmines. They and the forces they represent see no need for constitutional amendment.
We have also said in the past that Nigerians not only hunger for food, they hunger for good leadership. In fact, failure to satisfy the hunger for good leadership occasions and aggravates hunger for food. If every square centimeter of a land is fertile and the inhabitants of the land are hungry then one should inquire as to the kind of leaders they have. If indeed we had good leaders, veritable statesmen and not ethnic warlords, our children would not be tearing each other apart in cyberspace.
Some people do not want to hear of restructuring. However, for how long shall we fail to see the urgent need for far-reaching constitutional reforms in this country? The current arrangement is not serving Nigerians. The relationship between the government and the citizen places the citizen at gross disadvantage and the politician at undue advantage. Our young people are the worst hit. They are unemployed, hungry and angry. They are venting the anger on one another while we their elders are silent. Could it be that some of us their elders are stocking the embers of violent disintegration?
In 1966, hate speech and propaganda preceded the needless and senseless war in this country. In 1994, hate speech preceded the Rwandan genocide. Would it not be wise to learn from past mistakes, ours and others? This is the time to stand back from the brink. Let those who sincerely love Nigeria read and act!
• Okogie is Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos.