Saturday, July 27, 2013

Nigeria and the irony of it all

By Adejoh Idoko Momoh.

The relationship between Nigerians and irony did not start recently as far back as the 1970’s, Gowon came up with the ‘No Victor, no Vanquished’ slogan after receiving the instrument of surrender from the Biafran Head of State following a Civil War that lasted 30 months. Apparently, the phrase was supposed to appease the Biafrans who at various times had accused Nigerians of genocide and Gowon himself of war crimes, make them feel like they really were not defeated and that the war only helped to re-unify the country.

In the 1980’s, a Nigerian more famous for his weed smoking, near naked dancing and mass marriages crooned the ‘suffering and smiling’ rant.  Years down the line, Nigerians would appreciate the prophecy contained in his lyrics, look past his promiscuity, recklessness and crown him King of Afro pop. Isn’t this in itself some form of irony for a society that prides itself as being moral driven?
If you are Nigerian and you still have reason to doubt our national love for irony, let me walk you through recent events that put our obsession in perspective.

Perhaps you remember the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill recommended by President Olusegun Obasanjo and first considered in the Senate in 2006?   Yes, the same one – or a variant of it- whose passage Senator David Mark has since adopted as personal crusade. The bill would among other things prohibit the union of persons of the same sex and public displays of affection. The irony here is that this bill is passed at a time when there are other bills that require urgent attention.

As example, there is the Aluu 4 Mob Justice Prohibition Bill sponsored by Okechukwu Ofilli in the wake of the Aluu 4 killings that seeks to classify gleefully watching or partaking in mob justice as a crime in Nigeria’s current criminal act, this bill that would potentially protect most Nigerians has not been debated upon. Also, the National Health Bill that would guarantee easy access to healthcare is sitting pretty on a shelf somewhere also not attended to. What our legislators would rather do is make it more conducive to marry child brides.

The Senate President himself is some form of irony; he would come on national television and passionately say crude oil theft in Nigeria is alarming, robbing the nation of much needed revenue and should be punished with the death penalty. Funny thing is corruption does as much harm even in the bureaucracy he presides upon, yet not once has he recommended the death penalty or expulsion for members who have corruption charges leveled against them. If you are still in doubt, let me say this plainly, this is the picture of a man who gets irony completely.

Not wanting to be left out, the Harvard/Massachusetts Institute of Technology trained Minister of Finance Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala outsourced in 2006 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration along with fellow handlers of our economy would delude us with tales, say our economy is one of the 6 fastest growing in the world and flaunt a Transformation Agenda while a record number of Nigerians are out of jobs, homeless and suffer from poverty and hunger.

As recent as the 25th June her colleague, the London School of Economics trained Minister of National Planning Dr Shamsudeen Usman, himself a very bright Nigerian who has at different times occupied the positions of Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria and Minister of Finance since 1999 revealed that Nigeria moved 8 steps upwards in global G.D.P rankings. We should ask ourselves what this means? Has it translated to a reduction in poverty among Nigerians, or an improvement in living standards? For all we Nigerians who remain silent amidst all these ironies, the joke would in the end be on us. Is it not funny that all these statistics are presented glowingly, yet Nigerians profit nothing from them?

In education, the picture is no better:
In spite of the fact that according to a 2013 Ministerial review put together by Thisday newspapers, education under her shows no signs of improvement, the bright eyed Minister Professor Ruqqayatu Rufa’i would talk of a needs assessment committee for universities set up by her administration and increased budgetary allocations under her watch.

The irony is that the reality on ground and therefore measurable by Nigerians is that an almost 11 million unschooled children population exists, a 0.0006% pass rate of 300 and above out of a possible 400 was recorded in the 2013 Universities and Tertiary Matriculation Examinations, 1.7million Nigerians applied this year for an inadequate 500,000 university slots, a record low female enrollment rate and an increasing school dropout rate persists.  

It is the same irony with health, power and the petroleum sectors. Consider that the JTF is even mandated by the government to locate and destroy illegal refineries built by poverty stricken Niger Deltans, the irony is that the same government would turn around to say Nigeria does not have the capacity to build refineries. Would it not be a better alternative if the expertise of these illegal refinery operators is exploited towards building numerous low or high capacity refineries across oil producing states?

At least twice in the last decade, Nigerians have been adjudged the happiest people on earth. While it is a wonder how happiness indeces are carried out, the thing is, an oil rich nation with the highest rate of oil theft worldwide who losses some $8bn annually to this theft has no business being happy. A country with about 80% arable land but still incurs an annual rice import bill of N23trillion, or a bill of N635billion and N100 billion for wheat and fish imports has no business being happy. 
A country with very large tomato belts but is the highest importer of tomato paste worldwide is no place to be happy. A country where you can simply go to retrieve a debt and see tyre wrapped around your neck, have strangers mercilessly beat you and set you ablaze is no place to be happy. Neither is a country where your young promising children or brothers go to bed in supposedly secure schools and get burnt to death at night a place to be happy in.

There are numerous reasons to be unhappy and the international community has taken notice, from xenophobia in South Africa to 48 Nigerians seating pretty on death row in Indonesia and the N750,000 bond Nigerians may have to pay before embarking on travels to the United kingdom, the sooner we end our dangerous infatuation with hope, contentment and irony, the better it would be for us.

Adejoh Momoh ( can be followed on twitter @adejoh