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Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Tolu Ogunlesi: Waiting for our fairy ship to dock (1)

You’ve probably heard of the Failed States Index, an annual ranking released by the intriguingly-named “Fund for Peace” and published by Foreign Policy magazine.

The Failed States Index classifies countries on the basis of 12 “indicators”:

Demographic Pressures, Refugees & Internally Displaced Persons, Group Grievances, Human Flight, Uneven Development, Economic Decline, Delegetimization of the State, Public Services, Human Rights, Security Apparatus, Factionalised Elites, and External Intervention, and assigns a ranking, where Position ‘1’ is a most severe case of state failure (now held by Somalia for the sixth year running).

Nigeria has gone from Number 54 when the Index was launched in 2005, to a consistent Top 20 position since 2007. This year, we are sharing space in that section with such distinguished honorees as Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, Niger – and, quite interestingly, Kenya. (Benin Republic is 78, Ghana 110, South Africa, 113).

The instinctive official Nigerian response is to dismiss such reports as inaccurate, unfair, and not reflective of the ongoing transformation agenda, while many “Africanists” are likely to label the not-very-kind-on-Africa Index as yet another outplaying of a misguided, unrepentant Imperialist Complex.

Me, I’m not that dismissive. As a Nigerian living in Nigeria, I know that from what I see all around me, Nigeria, if it’s not already a failed state, isn’t very far from being one.

And I don’t even need a report compiled from all the way in Washington to convince me of that. From going days without electricity (in 2013!), to being forced to pay Power Holding Company of Nigeria bills, to existing at the mercy of telecoms companies that make sure every call is a dropped call, to banks posting soaring profits from acting like leeches, to the stories of mothers regularly dying during childbirth even in urban areas, to the endless accounts of random acts of kidnapping and murder, to driving around at night expecting to be accosted by armed robbers, to a situation where Boko Haram had effectively replaced the government in much of North-Eastern Nigeria – everywhere around me is evidence of a state that has given up on its people.

In September 2009, presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, wrote a column piece titled, “Portrait of a Country as a Failed State”. It’s such a brilliant article that my writing this piece feels a bit like reinventing the wheel; there is nothing I will probably say that Abati didn’t eloquently say in that article of his.

Let me share one long quote from that 2009 piece:

“How about the lack of regular electricity and the high cost of diesel which has driven companies across the border or forced them to shut down, like the textile factories, resulting in job losses and greater social hardship? No end in sight to the Niger Delta crisis, with governments only managing to dance round the issues. Across the country, armed robbers, kidnappers, rapists and ritualists are on the prowl. Ten years ago, we wrote on the bad state of Nigerian roads. The Federal Road Safety Corps used to complain about the urgent need to revamp the roads in order to reduce carnage; last week, the FRSC said precisely the same thing, and yet in 10 years, close to a trillion naira has been spent on road audit, construction and maintenance. The roads are still bad. We are confronted with corporeal changelessness and worsening uncertainty.”

This was written four years ago, when Goodluck Jonathan was still a Vice-President.

Even though Abati now appears to have changed his mind about Nigeria being a failed state, that piece might as well have been written this morning. The “armed robbers, kidnappers, rapists and ritualists” are still as active as ever. (They have even gone more brazen in recent months as typified in the killing of over 30 pupils in Government Secondary School, Mamudo, Potiskum, Yobe State over the weekend.) Occasionally, they get caught; more often than not, they don’t.

The “Niger Delta crisis” seems to have calmed down – but we know the truth is different. The bombings and blown-up pipelines have given way to mind-boggling levels of oil theft, costing Nigeria as much as $7bn in lost revenues annually. And yet for this theft, there’s an additional tax to be paid – in the form of the billions of naira in security contracts awarded to ex-militants to guard the pipelines.

For all the “macro” progress in the reform process, electricity has not improved (for more on this topic, see my article from two weeks ago titled, Let there be light!). Days go by, and all I can hear is the sound of generators; the serenity that comes with noiseless PHCN electricity is to be treated, when encountered, as the guilty pleasure that it is.

Last week, I saw an advert in the papers; the Ogun State Government welcoming Mr. President to “flag off” the reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. I should have been excited, but all I could think to myself was, “We’ve been here before.”

After suffering almost total neglect throughout the eight years of the Obasanjo administration (especially puzzling because much of it ran through the then President’s home state; according to the law of self-interest, that road should have received more interest than most other Nigerian roads), the Yar’Adua government finally managed to concession it. For four years, the road lay in limbo – workmen doing little more than assembling and dismantling themselves from spot to spot – the perfect metaphor for the state of Nigerian infrastructure.

I think that the starting point for real change in Nigeria is acknowledging how bad things actually are; admitting that we’re indeed a failed state. We can’t be defending ourselves by quoting the amount of Foreign Direct Investment that is coming into the country. Those funds are flowing in spite of, and not because of, our circumstances. What shall it profit a nation trumpeting growing FDI figures when local industries are daily collapsing under the weight of needless operating costs? When proclaiming that more money comes into Nigeria as Diasporan remittances than anywhere else in Africa, are we remembering to ask the obvious question: Why do we have so many Nigerians abroad who refuse to return home in the first place?

If wishes were horses, Nigeria would be the greatest country in the world. Our embassies would be besieged by Spanish, Portuguese and Greek emigrants seeking a better life; and there would be a Nigerian Visa Lottery through which a magnanimous Nigerian government would issue a limited number of residency permits to jobless American citizens every year.

Thirty years ago, Chinua Achebe nicely summed up that penchant for governing-by-bombast as “the cargo-cult mentality that anthropologists sometimes speak about – a belief by backward people that someday, without any exertion whatsoever on their part, a fairy ship will dock in their harbour laden with every goody they have always dreamt of possessing.”

Our fairy ship is still on the high seas. We can see it, we know it’s coming, because Nigerian faith is the evidence of things that do not exist, and never might.

The failing is no doubt one that implicates us all in some way or the other. But I happen to tend towards the Achebe argument that it’s “simply and squarely a failure of leadership.”

If there’s one lesson we’ve learnt, it’s that Nigerians are especially gifted at rising or falling to the level of the leadership they’re offered. When slacking is the name of the game right there at the top, it filters down across the entire system. Put a “sit-up” leader in place, and, the inevitable grumbling notwithstanding, most of us manage to sit-up. Replace that sit-up leader with a slacker, and we again adapt effortlessly.

Who knew that one day it’d become second-nature for Nigerian drivers to wear seatbelts? Now, it’s mostly instinctive. In those early days of the law, it was not unusual to see drivers hurriedly retrieve their belts when approaching a police checkpoint.

And then, as human conditioning goes, it started to become a habit.

One of our biggest tragedies as a people is that most of the time we’re not even getting a chance to get used to the helpful and productive habits that will rewrite the story of our dysfunction.

Those who should be laying out the framework for reconditioning our minds are too busy over-celebrating underachievements, too busy building castles on the ground for themselves, and in the air for the people whose lives they’re supposed to be transforming; too busy assuring the world that our fairy ship, having missed the scheduled 2000 and 2010 arrivals, will now surely arrive in 2020.
via: Nasril el-Rufai on facebook

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