What’s the reason for government? What happens when any government anywhere fails in its responsibility? And on a continuing basis? How does that society or country function? How do citizens of a place where there appears to be a failure in governance relate to those entrusted with the responsibility of governing? What if the failure could be as a result of incompetence or state capture or any other reason for that matter? The questions are legion and the answers are not as straightforward as we are minded to assume.
In simple terms, a country or a state [terms we will use interchangeably] exists because of, and for, the people or citizens. In classical terms, people of a given jurisdiction voluntarily award some of their powers to a select group of persons who are charged with providing leadership, formulating a set of rules and laws for the protection of the population and the promotion of their welfare, among other things.
Overtime governments appear to have set out for power grab and then intruded into virtually every aspect of the lives of citizens. Governments have gone beyond setting the rules and regulations to establishing schools and hospitals and the like. You could say there were reasons for how governments have evolved over the centuries.
In Nigeria’s first republic, and indeed before it, government’s presence in the lives of the people in some respects was limited. Schools were mostly owned and run by Missions- Christianity and Islam. The same for hospitals. The influence of these religious bodies was pervasive. And Nigeria was the better for it.
But all these changed with the advent of the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War  and the end of the war in 1970. The military regime that emerged in the aftermaths of the war seized mission schools in the guise of fostering national unity. From schools every other aspect of society became affected and infected. The Command and Control structure of the military did not conduce for any kind of autonomy for the states. First to go were the regions- Northern, Eastern, Western and the Midwestern.
So for more than 50 years, government has become a permanent fixture in our lives. Government now provides potable water or is supposed to do so. It provides electricity or better still, it is expected to do so. Government is into aviation including owning and operating commercial airlines, building airports, providing rail tracks and rail services, constructing roads and establishing mass transit transport businesses and any other things you can ever imagine.
To be sure, many of the tasks our government took upon itself had been poorly delivered by the same government. Our educational system is in a shambles. Our hospitals have remained ‘mere consulting clinics’ many decades after former military dictator, the late Gen. Sani Abacha used that phrase to justify a military coup. Many government hospitals have become places to go to die, including the National Hospital, Abuja. Compared to when religious organizations were in charge, the quality of education has deteriorated. And this is across board, from primary to secondary and to tertiary. Rot is the name of the game.
Only the political and governance structures appear to have thrived especially since 1999. And it has not been for good. People go into government not to serve. The deterioration is so bad that the story of former Vice President, the late Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, who came off government poorer than when entered [1979-1983], appears to be in our distant past. There was corruption in government in the past. But the truth is that those who indulged in corrupt practices in the first republic and during the military regime for that matter would be canonized as saints in today’s Nigeria. Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzegwu, who was alleged to be the leader of the 1966 military coup described the thieves of the first republic as ’10 percenters’. Our thieves now do not have the patience to settle for percentages. It’s everything or nothing. Mostly everything.
The tragedy is that those who stole us blind have turned around to tell us that the day of reckoning is here. And we the victims of their serial rape will settle the bill. Somehow they wrap the demand notice in attractive colours.
‘Weta isi were isi’ is Igbo. I cannot readily find an English language equivalent for it. So I will offer what I already know to be a poor explanation. It means that when the devil offers something that looks attractive, rest assured that you will pay a heavy price in return. That’s where we are with our political and government leaders. The story about town is that Nigeria is broke and broken at the national and sub national levels.
They started with steep tax on petrol which they tagged subsidy removal. It was their first salvo on the war on the poor and the vulnerable. The claim of petrol subsidy had been controversial. What was certain was that Nigeria’s successive administrations and their collaborators ran down our four refineries, chose to export crude oil for offshore refining and then import the petroleum products for domestic consumption. The process was senseless, opaque and riddled with corruption. The deal was the monopoly of the NNPC Limited. It was take-it-or-leave-it. The transactions were never audited. If they were, the findings were not in the public domain. Just before the so-called subsidy was removed, Nigerians were told that we were consuming over 70 million litres of petrol everyday. It was a lie and even the purveyors, NNPC, knew they were lying.
For as long as it lasted, Nigerians were being made to pay for deliberate institutional inefficiency, corruption and trans-border smuggling of petrol. A government fails in its duty and it then turns around to punish hapless citizens. Subsidy removal would suggest that market forces, with minimal government interference, would moderate product prices. But no. NNPC which is supposedly a private company was quick to issue a template of prices in the wake of the subsidy removal. NNPC is a player and a regulator in that market.
Then the war on the poor moved to the education sector. The extant regime said it will offer access to loans for qualifying students. There was muted celebration. Then it followed quickly by saying that it will introduce tuition fees in tertiary institutions. Tertiary education has not been completely free of charge anyway. The students loan programme was supposed to provide succour for indigent students. But a closer scrutiny of the offer showed that it was a combination of a Greek gift and a poisoned chalice. The qualifying criteria are worse than the International Monetary Fund [IMF’s] conditionality for accessing its facility ahead of the introduction of Nigeria’s Structural Adjustment Programme [SAP] in mid-1980s. No student will make the cut and no Nigerian would stand as guarantor for any prospective beneficiary as prescribed in the published document.
So the students loan scheme is dead even before arrival. The announcement that disbursement will commence in three months is just that: announcement. The May 29 declaration of the five priorities- impartiality, war on terror, economic growth, a place in the sun for women and youth and credit culture- of the administration of the President, Bola Tinubu confirmed that direct human capital development does not rank high. Another war on the poor and vulnerable because the elite can, and will, take care of themselves and their own.
The current statistics for the neglected is dismal. Literacy rate in Nigeria is less than 60%; out of school children is above 20 million; health insurance is virtually non existent; infant and maternal mortality is unacceptably high; estimates are that we have about 25,000 licenced physicians for over 200 million people [the data is worse in the North]; low life expectancy of about 57 years; grinding poverty making Nigeria poverty capital of the world; 133 million dimensionally poor citizens; and a country where less than 5% can afford to spend $10-a-day. The reality is that the government is becoming increasingly irrelevant to majority of Nigerians. It does nothing for the majority- not security, not safety net, not electricity, not potable water, not quality education, not motorable roads, not affordable health care and not credible and transparent elections. Our government now exists only for itself. But for how long?
AUTHOR: UGO ONUOHA
Articles published in our Graffiti section are strictly the opinion of the writers and do not represent the views of Ripples Nigeria or its editorial stand.
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