A recent international poll rated Nigerians as the happiest people on earth. Although no reasons were adduced for the findings, but I suspect it has to do with the Nigerians’wicked sense of humour.
Nigerians can poke fun at anything. Nigerians are loquacious; both men and women and children have opinions about everything and they are not afraid to voice it out. But they are fair minded. Just ask Clemens Westerhof. He is the self-styled ‘Dutchgerian,’ who used to coach the senior national football team. I believe that Westerhof is the only Western man truly loved by Nigerians. And I think that it has to do with his ability to rumble and tumble with Nigerians, on their level, mind you.
Nigerians complain loudly that ‘pocket is dry’ but every evening you will find them in their favorite ‘pepper soup’ spots consuming gigantic ‘isi ewu’ (got head, yuk!) pepper soups which they wash down with half a dozen or more ‘odeku’ (giant bottle of Guiness stout). Of course, such spots are where everything goes. Well plastered with the potent Irish brew, Nigerians noisily discuss every subject under the sun and above it. The spots are also where you hear the latest rumours, innuendoes, gossips and, of course, jokes.
The Nigerian national football, nicknamed the Super Eagle, is rated by FIFA as the best in Africa (Ok, pre CAF2008). But their abysmal performance at the opening stages of the African Nations Cup 2008 edition drew the ire of football loving Nigerians. Not really bemused by the fact that their star-studded national team cannot soar, they promptly nicknamed them the ‘Flying Chickens.’ Some dubbed them the ‘Super Fowls.’
But Nigerians have never found anything funny about the abysmal performance of their rulers. About the only ruler Nigerians have rated above mediocrity was General Murtala. His rule sadly lasted only 200 days. But Nigerians still look back at those 200 days as pure magic. Nigerians are very industrious, energetic and very enterprising. All that they pray and hope for are just sober-minded leaders to provide them with the necessary infrastructures – road, rail, air and seaports, telecommunication and above all, security, to enable them compete with the best in the world. Supremely confident of themselves, Nigerians know, given the right environment, that they attain greater heights. After all, they will tell you the real father of the digital superhighway (Internet to you and I) is a Nigerian by the name of Phillip Emeagwali (Google him up if you are in doubt).
In ‘Nigeria: the curse of reluctant leaders,’ I bemoaned the dearth of visionary leaders that have bedeviled the Nigerian state since independence in 1960. That piece was written about five years ago during the REIGN of President Obasanjo and, sadly, it is still same sorry lamentation. The advent of President Umaru Yar’Adua is beginning to look like another ‘business as usual,’ syndrome afflicting the nation.
Eight months into his presidency Nigeria are still wondering if indeed there is a man at the helm of affairs of their potentially powerful nation. The trouble with the Yar’ Adua’s presidency is that there seems to be no movement at all in any sphere of governmental activity one chooses to examine. Campaigning for the Presidency last year, President Yar’Adua vowed to declare a state of emergency in seven critical areas viz: Energy, Security, Wealth Creation, Education, Land Reform , Mass Transit, Niger Delta. Close to nine months in office, the President has not deliver on his vow. Electricity generation and distribution is Nigeria is worse than it has ever been.
Security is another area where the government is signally failing the people. The spate of killing in Nigeria is intolerably high. Gun totting robbers now operate with apparent immunity; they are no longer simply satisfied with looting and raping their victims, they now appear to enjoy some macabre satisfaction in snuffing the very lives out of them. Eleven human lives were wasted in the South Western town of Ilesa recently when armed robbers struck at a local bank. Life in Nigeria has become so cheap that reports of many people losing their lives in armed robbery no longer make the headlines in Nigerian papers.
Staggering numbers of Nigerians are also losing their lives on the roads which, to all intent and purposes, have become death traps. Among them are some very prominent Nigerians, including the former aide-de-camp to President Olusegun Obasanjo.
President Yar’Adua and his aides are making noises about making Nigeria join the list of top twenty economies in the world by 2020. At the risk of being call a killjoy, I cannot imagine how this would come about unless the President has some magical wand he’s going to wave to make it happen. There’s a saying that: “If you failed to plan; you have planned to fail.” Given the pedestrian rate at which President Yar’Adua administration is moving, the Vision 2020 project might turn out to become Hallucination 2020.
My pessimism is borne out of the fact all the rulers of Nigeria have also made the same noises and they always have bombastic slogans that are totally bereft of concrete plans to actualize them. We only have to remember General Obasanjo’s “Operation Feed the Nation,’ which turns out to be utter failure. Critics later, rightly dubbed it, ‘Operation Fool the Nation,’ or ‘Operation Finish the Naira.’ Naira is Nigeria’s currency. President Shagari will not be caught napping either: He came out swinging with the so-called ‘Green Revolution.’ Nigerians didn’t see any tangible results of the so-called ‘Revolution’ which gulped large chunk of the national income and made many political jobbers stupendously rich.
Whichever way we look at it, the only constant we can glean from a study of the political economies of the countries we today call advanced is that the leaders set out purposefully and consciously to grow their countries out of under-development. They had plans and blueprints and they assembled the right people to implement them. Sloganeering can be useful to mobilize the people, but without concrete plans to carry them though, they soon evaporate as all vaporware do.
It is not only in domestic affairs that President Yar’Adua is to be found lacking; his foreign policy is also a sad reflection of his comatose domestic policies. Nigeria, by virtue of her large population, has regional, continental as well as international pretensions. And having sunk some 62 billion dollars in fighting apartheid and promoting peace on the African continent over the years, Nigerians expect their country to be the champion of Africa and rightly so.
Whatever one might find odious or, even toxic, about former President Obasanjo, he’s a man who recognizes the rightful place of Nigeria in Africa. He looms larger than life on the African continent. With his flamboyant agbada and swashbuckling style, Obasanjo managed to restore some dignity and credibility to Nigeria’s international image, which has been battened down considerably under the rules of otiose military adventurists. Together with his friend, President Kuffuor of Ghana, President Obasanjo brought peace and stability to both Liberia and Sierra Leone and, in effect, to the West African sub-region. The BBC, that mouthpiece of British imperialism would later try to credit the achievement to Tony Blair!
Sadly, under President Yar’Adua, Nigeria’s foreign has lost both purpose and direction; it is actually moribund. This probably confirms the saying that a nation’s foreign policy is a reflection of its domestic policy. The country has always pride itself on having Africa as the centerpiece of her foreign policy. Two of the greatest challenges facing the African continent today are the problems in Darfur and the election rigmaroles in Kenya which has resulted in the once promising nation reverting to primordial tribal violence. And in these two cases, Nigeria has not taken a position, much less a leadership role. Nigeria, the pretender to the title of the “Champion of Africa was conspicuous by her silence. It is left to the African Union to start dispatching envoys to the embattled country.
President Obasanjo would, a t least, have tried to do something about Kenya.
Given President Yar’Adua’s penchant for saying little and doing nothing, Nigerian’s are increasingly asking themselves if they are not having another Shagari at the helm of their national affairs. President Shehu Shagari was another gentleman who sleep-walked throughout his stay at the helm of the Nigerian presidency. He will best be remembered as the Nigerian leader who expelled West Africans (many Ghanaians included) in the 1990s. Many Nigerians actually danced when his immensely corrupt do-nothing regime was terminated in 1993.
True to form, Nigerians have started labeling their president. When he began, he was derisively known as ‘Baba go-slow.’ Today, they have promoted him to ‘Baba standstill.’