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By Levine Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

[email protected]

Monday, August 25, 2008
Port Harcourt, Nigeria


Once again an already fragile national consciousness has been rattled, this time by the blunt remarks of some “right wing” politicians that describes this nation as “hopeless dean” habouring the lives of people with conspicuous affluence.

Our founding fathers, riding a wave of an ephemeral national consciousness that hungered for independence accepted a state of conquered, disparate peoples saddled with a dependent economic imperative that ensured the underdevelopment of its peoples. Without considering fully the ramifications of the location of power after independence they adopted a crippling and oppressive political colony that like colonial concentrated all power in the Aso rock and crippled the initiative of the mass of the people.

Further because this clique was, and still is dependent on the economy of primary production, the governments of Nigeria since independence have inadvertently maintained and advanced that same economic imperative with only lip service or minimal commitment to a true attempt at industrialization. Everything appears as if we have forgotten a key to unlock these economic potentials. When all is said and done, the economy of this country, its imports and exports are much the same as they were 200 years ago with only very slight differences the result of the fruits of other countries development that have trickled down to us. Serious consideration of the failure of the Nigerian state must question why after more than a century of being one of the world leaders in oil production we are not world leaders in the much more lucrative oil products business; why after more than forty years of aluminum smelting we are not leaders in aluminum and alloyed products; why we do not have a fully integrated metallurgical industry and machine building capability even though we have substantial deposits of iron ore and manganese; why we do not possess a chemical industry based on our big salt deposits and the blessing of an ocean?

There is nothing more unacceptable in life for that matter, than to continually fail on a perennial basis, and not because of a lack of talent or potential, but as a result of refusing to learn from past mistakes. How else can a country with a strong reputation for producing many of Africa’s premier sprinters and jumpers year in and year out be called the “most stagnant and failure prone federation around”? The answer is simple. Poor administration and supervision of the administrators .All it takes is the efficient utilization of resources, and tapping of the available expertise and knowledge of citizens craving to help. Simply, it is about organization.

On the political front, under the guise of a decentralization program that ostensibly mitigates the rigours of an unyielding gang-up, Nigerian communities are left on their own to seek funds from foreign organizations to finance schools, toilets and a clean water supply. And traditional leaders, guardians of a mode of production based on subsistence and slavery have begun to stray into the jurisdiction of the failed central governments by pursuing their own development assistance directly from multilateral donor agencies.

Thanks to the present regime. In the name of eradicating corruption, it seems to have successfully laid the ground for wider spread of the vice. For the majority of population, with their current income and purchasing power and with the critical state of unemployment, it has become nearly impossible for them to make ends meet. The hardest hit is the general masses of the poor, daily wage earners, people belonging to the fixed-income groups, the elderly and the retired professionals. While the overall cost of living has increased, on an average, by about 30 per cent or more, people will now be compelled to look for avenues for additional income through whichever means possible. With the absence of any regular sources for enhancing purchasing power/income, it is most likely that they will resort to earning through grafts and bribery, extortion, and all sorts of non-conventional and unethical means and avenues.

It is almost impossible to imagine, as we sit in a well-lit, fully functioning gas station on Main Street, USA, that a community blessed with oil riches under its soil could look as impoverished as Yenagoa for instance in the state of Bayelsa.

Bayelsa, as a replica of the Niger Delta region, is the site of one of Nigeria’s first oil wells;-Oloibiri, built in pre-independence 1956. Yet as in many communities in our oil rich Niger-Delta region, most people of Bayelsa live in mud huts. Some reside only a few feet away from the oil wells. But they lack electricity and indoor toilets. They have no hospitals, no running water, and no schools. And there is unemployment too. Oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil bring in foreign workers for even the most menial jobs.

I recently took a trip to Yenagoa as part of my visit to assessment the agitating Niger Delta zone—that may well fuel future world energy needs. Historically, the United States has gotten two-thirds of its oil from other countries. Most US oil imports come from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Mexico, and Canada. Increasingly, as the United States, China, and other nations expand their thirst for oil, and instability deepens in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa is becoming a more attractive source for crude. In each of these countries, a complex web of geo-political actors, from oil company executives and government officials to military agents, makes decisions that impact the lives in the communities that produce the oil that flows straight to consumers in the United States. The US National Intelligence Council estimates that Africa could supply 25% of US oil by 2015.Three countries potential could well play a role in meeting that goal. Each is at different stages of oil production. In Nigeria, oil exploration dates back to 1956. . In Oyigbo- Rivers State, where I spent much of my childhood, the potential of oil off its expansive coastline holds hope for the future.

The residents of these oil-producing areas lack jobs and basic social services. What they do have in abundance is environmental damage from decades of oil spills, compounded by the constant burning of gas flares necessary to extract the crude. Farmland is rendered useless while rivers and waterways, once well-populated with marine life, are now barren. One local chief explained that he received from Shell oil 150 Naira ($1.15) for each acre of land used by the company. I was astonished when he went on to say, ‘150 Naira, once every four years.’ With oil prices at historic highs, how could the compensation to communities long suffering the health impacts of oil spills and gas flares be such a pittance?

Military and security personnel blanket the area around the Niger Delta to protect oil interests. The communities are under siege. In Odi, a community adjacent to a well built in1958, villagers are demanding basic services like clean running water, electricity, and schools. The response from security agents has been severe. Our delegation watched in horror as one young man after another came forward to show fresh wounds from 5 days earlier. They told us that uniformed military men had grabbed 15 youths as they walked home from an adjacent village in the middle of the afternoon. The young men were beaten, tortured, and imprisoned, as a warning to others in the village. For almost a week, the youths languished in a prison miles away. Our family members were forced to walk for a day and a half to see them or bring them food in that decrepit prison. Our crime is a bid to Clamour for our basic rights.

As oil companies celebrate record profits and the price of oil hovers close to $65 per barrel, African communities ostensibly blessed with the curse of oil languish in squalor. In fact, with no useable farmland or waterways, appearing as if we are worse off than our grandparents was before the discovery of oil.

At a time like this, especially when a certain class of people has access to major items of consumables at half the costs or highly subsidized, it hurts. Although this arrangement has been there for ages, it hurts simply because some of the members of this privileged class now lecture around asking the common men to change their food habits and be innovative in filling their empty stomachs. The least respect they can show to the majority of the population is by saying nothing. Help if you can or remain silent. Not only consumables for daily consumption, this ‘privileged class’ also has its own exclusive schooling arrangements for their children. I do not begrudge the people belonging to this exclusive class but the point I am trying to make is that they should have more compassion for the rest of the population. They should display a little more humility.

They too happen to be our brothers and sisters, no matter what. In all sincerity, we should feel happy and proud of them. Months ago, I was indeed happy and proud of them but not any more. The divide between them and us seem to be growing by the day. But after all, this happens to be one nation, one country and one people. Let us remain that way, no matter what. This very class also has access to quality medical services when others are literally dying for lack of some very basic services simply because it is out of their reach. You see, I also have a particular distaste for people who have this eternal perception that ‘they are holier than thou’ and continually lecture standing on high moral grounds.

When your stomachs are empty, access to medical services is restricted, when your children are deprived of nutrition due to lack of protein caused by high costs of food items, when you are unable to pay tuition fees for your school-going children, when you have to walk miles on your daily chores due to lack of funds to pay for transport fares, all this talk of eradication of corruption on high moral grounds sound like cruel joke to the majority of the people. Tackling of corruption by this regime is absolutely untenable. It is now evident that the drive against corruption has all along been an exclusive affair between the powerful of today and the mighty of yesterday, a concern of the elitists, by the elitists and for the elitists. Is that very difficult to understand for luminaries now engaged in running the affairs of the government?

For more than 3 years, I served in the local offices of a number of international organisations in responsible positions with good salaries and remunerations. I finally retired in the year 2000 with a debilitating arthritic condition. I am already concerned as to how to cope with high costs of living. By Nigerian standard they say that I belong to the middle class and yet I have already begun to pass my days in heightened stress and strain. Even my family of four, inclusive of a household help, is not able to afford fish or meat more than twice a week at a time when I live in an apartment which I inherited as part of my ancestral property and do not have to pay rentals. So tight is the money supply situation that I now have to ask for remittance of funds once every now and then, for the first time, from a son and a brother who are working overseas to meet my family expenses. I do not know as to what I would have done otherwise.

I am 33 year old from a highly diabetic-prone family combined with cervical sodalities and on regular medications for high blood pressure, etc. I remain in constant fear as to how my family would ever meet the high costs of medical treatment should there be a need for specialized medical attention on an emergency basis, in one of those high-profile hospitals. I am simply confused and lost and do not know what to say. I keep praying that I die a sudden death and spare my family the agonies and unprecedented miseries of meeting my hospitalization expenses should that become necessary.

The other day I had a heart-to-heart conversation with my wife about spiraling prices of essentials and the dire distress under which the low-income people in the categories like the domestic help, the drivers, the day labourers and their kind are passing their days. During our conversation, I revealed to her that our driver seems to be making money out of our quarterly servicing bills while she confided in me that the maid was regularly stealing from our kitchen – potatoes and onions and at times rice too. Although our first reaction was that of anger, we eventually decided to ignore the matter since they were doing so for mere survival. How would you describe it? Are we encouraging corruption? I do not have adequate cash flow to raise their salaries to a sustainable level.

There are still unfinished works to be completed in and around our apartment complex. There on the pavement as many as ten guards and construction workers reside. The other day, I was crossing their makeshift living area when six of them were having lunch. I noticed that all they were having was a bowl of rice each with some vegetable and salt, no fish, no meat, no pulses .I bowed my head in humility, patted on their shoulders and left the area. Afterwards, in the comforts of my humble home, I began to think of the matter as to how would I react if I came to know that these people are actively engaged in small-time corruption, both material and financial, just for the sake of survival. To be honest I don’t have the answer.

Admittedly, much of this state of affairs could be attributed to the rising prices of essentials globally but the present regime must also have to share a substantial burden of it all due to its massive mismanagement of the economy. No government worth its name can claim any success whatsoever if it fails to attend and care for the majority of its population, in this case the poor and the disadvantaged.

With the gap between the rich and the poor getting wider by the day, it is a fallacy as well a misnomer to even think of nurturing the idea of ‘eradicating corruption’. Let us face it: poverty is one of the major factors alongside political instability that are bound to give rise to corrupt practices, both material, financial and otherwise, particularly amongst those multitude of people I have talked about in the foregoing.

Obviously then, Nigeria today seems to have stood as a failed state that is unable to provide the conditions for the security and prosperity of the majority of its citizens. No amounts of euphemisms parading in platitudes such as our newfound democracy or 47th year of independent business can erase this indelible fact. Yet unlike a person born with a fatal congenital condition, we can return to the foundations of the state as a political entity and re-erect it on a sturdier plinth. The new comer industrialized countries like Japan, Singapore, South Korea and also Germany are examples of committed and dynamic social engineering that have catapulted relatively backward nations into prosperity.

In modern times, even when a country is possessed of huge reserves of petroleum, industrialization has been the vehicle of socio-economic development, and Nigerians must demand a viable industrialization program from our leaders. It must be one that is rooted in the development of an integrated metallurgical industry utilizing Nigerian minerals and expertise to create machine-building capability for the country. Only then can Nigerians achieve the increased value of labour that arises from true value added activity. The process of industrialization is no easy one. In Nigeria, as in other countries, it must include a land reform process to alienate land and commercialize all agriculture, and a total reform of the educational system to make it more responsive to the countries industrial needs. Finally an industrialization program will expose the limits of unitarism and show our state-house or Aso Rock-based autocrats totally incapable of real nation building.

Nigeria stands at the crossroads of history. To continue along our present path is to risk the catastrophic disintegration of our national unity. I have thus come to the conclusion that far from eradicating corruption this government’s interventions have given corruption a kind of legitimacy for the days to come. We must as a nation, start now, to arrest the 47 years of collective ineptitude and pursue a program of action that will provide to all our peoples the conditions for their security and prosperity.

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