Archive for September, 2013


Nigeria: My Utopian Dream?

To say Nigeria is a complex nation is putting it mildly. Whenever you have a country made up with people with divergent cultures, religion and views, there is always bound to be some form of conflicts and disagreement especially if the tolerance level of all its citizens isn’t exactly topnotch. The unity is often tested and decisions we take especially when it comes to elections usually depend on several factors. Most of the time, we seems to be more bothered about where the contestant comes from rather than on his ability to do the job. A Yoruba is more likely to vote for a Yoruba man or an Igbo man doing same for an Igbo contestant and this is done with total disregard of the consequences of voting a leader who is inept, inexperienced and one without a well thought out planned.

Therefore, a man who has no experience whatsoever or has no plan could win an election, not because he delivered a wonderful manifesto, not because he was able to convince the electorates that he was the best candidate available. He would win because he had the advantage of coming from a particular ethnic group who feel it is ‘’their turn’’. Hence, we are so comfortable voting mediocrity and ineptitude above common sense and competence, choosing a man or woman even if he has shown clearly with his actions in the past that he will be a disaster.

I watched with interest as the events leading up to United States Presidential election unfolded. I saw two men with great ideas go head to head in their quest to become President of arguably the greatest nation on earth. With every debate, the American people really understood what each of them stood for and were able to make informed choices and decide which path they wanted their countries to follow. It was not important to them that Barack Obama was from Chicago or that Mitt Romney was from Massachusetts. It did not matter to them if one of the contestants had a Kenyan father. All they wanted was a President they felt convinced could do a great job; a president who could feel their hearts beat and one who would work his socks off just to ensure that things got better regardless of the approach he decided to take. While the debates and campaigns were going on, you could see two men who were genuinely concerned about their country.

 In Nigeria, the story is not usually straight forward. Presidential candidates skillfully avoid presidential debates because they really have no clear agenda on how to make a nation or state forward. Their campaign rallies are stage managed where people are given hundreds or thousands of naira; some are given cups of rice, beans or various items. During the election campaign, an important aspect of the candidate’s speech is normally that his senatorial districts or an ethnic group has never held such position. You will not be surprised to find out that such people have no clear plan on how they intend to run the office if they are elected. We are persuaded to choose them simply because they come from a certain area. The zoning policy often never brings forward the best candidate. The man who is willing to die for this country never gets the chance to contest for two major reasons. He may not come from the geo-political zone to which that position has been zoned to. But most importantly, he is almost never chosen. The candidate who is allowed to contest is usually chosen from the elites and by the elites. When he gets into such positions, he is expected to keep fueling the bank accounts of these elites who have handed him the ticket to such office. Hence, funds which should have been spent on an entire nation ends up in the bank accounts of these political “godfathers”, “godsons” and their cohorts.

Unfortunately, the men who have clear ideas on how to move the nation forward may never get the chance to do so. This is because sometimes, the geo-political zones they come from may only be qualified to get such positions after about twenty years or more. In that time, he is likely to keep lobbying to ensure he remains relevant when that time comes. He becomes compromised, money changes hands and his ideals and belief are thrown out of the window. He soon understands that to get to that position, he must do what others do. He could be lucky to get a government appointment and he embezzles funds running into billions of naira which he intends to use to fuel his campaign when the time comes. Therefore, a man who only dreamt about changing his country could lose his way and become like one of them. The reality of the situation in our country means that the best man never gets the job.

We have also not helped matters really. I have come to realize that most citizens of my country are more interested in how colourful a man’s posters and billboards are. We are also more concerned about how much the man has and how much money he has to throw around during the campaign. Nobody really bother about how his policies, if he has any, will affect the lives of the citizens and children yet unborn. That is the problem we face. Have we ever sat down to look at the bigger picture and complete package? What does this man has in stock? Does he have a plan to improve the standard of education in the country? Will young graduates be able to compete for job positions with people from other countries by virtue of the quality of education they have received? Will poverty remain a regular and constant fixture in our environment if he becomes president or governor? Does he or she have a plan to tackle the issues of power supply in our country? And more importantly, does he have an idea about how to keep us safe? These are just few of the questions we fail to ask and we do not seem interested in getting the answers.

A frightening occurrence I have noticed is where politicians get people to register in a state in the months leading to the general election. Voter identification cards are then exchanged for stipends, usually not more than few thousands of naira and little refreshment. This offers the politicians an opportunity to manipulate elections in their favour. Armed with those cards and stolen ballot boxes, they get down working with their thugs and stuffing these stolen boxes. Unfortunately, all these are done with the aid of the electoral officers, the same body or individuals who are meant to be the fair umpire that ensures we have credible elections. Come to think of it, will any man or contestant hand over such money to voters just to win elections if he has no intention of embezzling funds when he gets there? Will he ordinarily part with such amount of money if he was not involved in an election process? He is only taking advantage of the unbelievable level of abject poverty in our society to get into office and when he gets into office, he will see to it that he gets richer than he was before the last election. He is expected to settle those big wigs who got him into office and also keep enough funds to repeat the process when he seeks re-election.

I look forward to seeing my country make hard changes. I hope that we do not listen to people who will come forward and tell us that their ethnic group, senatorial zone or local government area has never held certain position and hence it should be their turn to get the seat even if they do not have someone who is adequately qualified to hold it or someone who has an idea of what the position entail. I look forward to a time when people from Nigeria will vote for a candidate who has proven beyond all doubts that he can handle the pressure of leadership positions and still chart a course towards prosperity and progress; a leader who understands that crude oil should not be our only source of significant revenue generation. Can we have a leader who is sincerely and genuinely bothered about the level of stark unemployment in the country? Can we have a leader who can convince young individuals with his actions that the grass is not greener in foreign countries?

Finally, if we can get over this hatred religious groups have for each other, if we can as a matter of urgency get over the distrust ethnic groups have for each other, we can make giant strides. If we can look at the bigger picture and realize that our brother from our village, town or state is not necessary the best candidate and then admit it by voting for someone else who is better suited for the job and more qualified, nothing can stop us. If we can look beyond the cups of rice and beans we receive during campaigns from these corrupt politicians and the money we receive to sell our votes and ask questions and decide which direction we need to and must take, we will make progress. If we can get to a point where a Hausa man will vote for an Igbo man, an Ibo man vote for a Yoruba man or a Yoruba man vote for a Hausa man even when someone from their ethnic group is involved in that same election, our country will be better. A lot of people, like my friend Andrew, think all these happening are synonymous to utopia but I am hopeful. I am an idealist. Things would never change without effort. It starts with us. The time is now.

Uche H. Okafor

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I am not normally very observant, but who wouldn’t observe this. I had gone to the market with my friend to buy foodstuffs. We wanted to celebrate her 24th birthday the next day with African salad and “ugba” (Oil Bean). We decided to go to the big market at Nnewi in Anambra State. Her boyfriend had sent her some money from the UK to celebrate. When converted to our local currency, it turned to be quite a lot of money.

However, regardless of this, we had to do the obligatory “pricing”- bargaining on every single item we needed until both the buyer and seller were worn out. Funny thing is that a lot of what we bought was condiments, in the price range of fifty to one hundred naira, yet we would price to the nearest ten naira. At some point, I got tired and asked my friend to keep moving while I stayed back at one of the shops where we purchased some items and watched our bags. Apparently where I decided to pitch tent annoyed her neighbour, who bluntly told me I was blocking her goods from the view of passers-by. Pointing to a seat at the corner, she instructed that I move our bags to a different position and sit down. Slightly peeved, I moved the bags but refused to sit on her bench, choosing instead to sit on one belonging to the lady who had sold an item to me earlier, just as a show of defiance.

Few moments later, I had forgotten about it all and my mind was miles away. Then something happened. Some women across the road were trying to pass a message to the woman who had asked me to move. The market however was too noisy; hence she could not hear them. They were obviously agitated and frantically moving their goods but she unfortunately still did not understand or realize what was unfolding around her. Suddenly two hefty men- one pushing a wheel barrow came to her stall and seized  goods she left by the roadside. In retrospect, the women were trying to warn her to take her goods off the roadside and into her stall because that was the market regulation. The goods that were seized included a tray of ukpaka, among other condiments, the sum of which could have amounted to about one thousand naira. In the middle of that chaos, they put the goods into their wheel barrow, all the while shouting and were about to zoom off when the woman started struggling with them. She was not going to let them seize her goods without putting up some form of resistance.

To my surprise, these young boys pushed the woman to the floor and when she got up, pushed her a second time and zoomed off. She returned to her stall visibly angry and shaken, raining curses on them and threatening to call down whichever authorities. At that moment, I began to wonder. I had always thought that the less privileged and the young ones in our society and Ibo community specifically, were more respectful of their elders. I still think so. I just know now that the scramble for money can cause anything. Here is a woman old enough to be their mother. But more importantly, here is a woman whose profit for a month may not even be enough to purchase those items that were seized. I suddenly felt very ashamed of myself for bargaining to the last kobo. After all, the ten naira that I spent a minute trying to beat is worth much less than a minute of my service.

If, like me, you find that you are one of those who sometimes tries to beat the price of goods from traders who are much worse off than you  are, maybe next time you should reconsider and just leave that negligible fifty naira for the trader. It will go much farther in serving her family. If you would not leave it for compassionate reasons, leave it because you have a semblance of pride.

Enjoy your day.

 

 

MaryAnn E. Umeche.

Works at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, Anambra.