Friday, July 30, 2021 12:02 am
By Chris Anyokwu
One of the aliases of Nigeria in recent memory is “good people, great nation”. Of course, you can always expect our power-holders/wielders to seek to create alternate realities, a multiverse of phantom bliss for their hapless and beleaguered populace through the awesome propaganda machine at their disposal. Ours is what the Igbo call “ọ mara mma na paint, ọ jọrọ njọ na engine”/ outwardly beautiful but inwardly decadent. That’s the permanent state of our body politic. Beyond the glitz and glitter of temporal power, beyond the alluring siren’s song about the gigantic infrastructure projects going on in our country – for instance, the road-and-rail infrastructure, the ongoing airport renovation work, the rollicking anthem of the weekly federal executive council approval of humongous appropriations for one project after another – the vast majority of our people are hungry. In fact, Nigerians are famished; they are starving, almost to death!
The last time we checked, it was not clear how many states of the federation have begun implementing the new minimum wages for workers. By law, the new national minimum wages is ₦30,000 and, a few months back, it was reported in the media that the Trade Union Congress (TUC) president Quadri Olaleye said that sixteen states were yet to start implementing the new wage structure. Furthermore, owing in large part to the Covid-19 pandemic with its accompanying socio-economic hardships, many companies and factories have had to downsize their workforce, shedding a large chunk of “hands” thus swelling the burgeoning ranks of the unemployed, the underemployed and the jobless. On some occasions when government at the national level pretends to provide jobs for our teeming armies of unemployed youth, the whole shenanigan usually blows up in the faces of its officials, as the modus operandi for recruitment is flawed ab initio, mired as it is in ethnic politics.
Consider, for instance, the following government’s agencies: the NDLEA recruitment exercise, Civil Defence recruitment exercise, Nigeria police and Nigerian Navy recruitment exercise, among others. The shortlisted candidates’ lists for the 2020/2021 period show signs of ethnic favouritism and marginalization in equal measure (see Google.com). By the same token, it is important to also highlight the egregious drawback of the constitutional principle of Federal Character which, at inception, was well-intentioned, but at present has only succeeded in freezing up our march towards modernity and progress. How does one explain a situation whereby the most educationally backward among us are the ones being rewarded with admission to Unity Schools, Federal universities, etc. while more qualified candidates from the southern parts of the country are denied admission into these institutions of learning? This established culture of skewed reward system has in the main spawned an unhelpful and retrograde attitude of despondency, of crippling insouciance among our youth. Hardly would you find a young boy or girl burning the midnight oil for an examination. They all want to cut corners – go and enrol at “special centres”, parents also “settle” examination officials through what they call “sorting”, “inducement”, “mobilisation”, etc.
The culture of the glamorisation and equalisation of mediocrity now defines us as a people, thereby spreading like a poisonous pall across disciplinary and professional frontiers. No one is spared. Thus, whilst primary schools churn out sub-standard and half-baked pupils for secondary school admission, secondary schools in turn produce very poor, intellectually challenged “students” for our tertiary institutions of learning. At university, you realise that the freshmen are almost set in their ways, making tutelage and mentoring an uphill task. They say you don’t teach an old monkey new tricks. In this connection, therefore, you cannot “blood” these semi-vacant minds and reconfigure them for the pursuit of the culture of excellence, hard work and integrity, when all they have known is the liberalisation of nascence and mediocrity. Small wonder, then, you hear the popular cry: “Nigerian graduates are unemployable!” To make matters worse, universities tend to prepare our graduates for blue-collar jobs, the traditional 9am to 5pm kind of work. They expect to draw salaries at the end of every month. Now these kind of jobs are not available any more. Although we hear people tout technical education, vocational training, skills acquisition centres, and so forth, it is doubtful if the products of these centres are able to self-employ in order to shrink the ever-widening and exploding labour market.
Thus across the land is a vast ocean of unemployed graduates, ill-equipped products of vocational/skills acquisition centres, institutions and mono-and polytechnics. What’s worse, there are hardly credit facilities or soft loans provided for start-ups for those blessed with entrepreneurial acumen. Please note that these armies of unemployed youth are supposed to constitute our middle-class, the buffer-zone between the hoi polloi who make up the largest chunk of the informal sector and the upper-middle class and the upper-class proper. With the virtual disappearance of the middle-class, what you have is a huge gulf between the nation of the wretched and the propertied/leisured class comprising captains of industry, employers of labour (i.e., CEOs, MDs, EDs, Directors, Chairmen/women, etc), military top-brass, the hedonistic ruling elite, among others. In the private sector, it is all about contract staffing and casualisation. In commercial or business circles, like banks and insurance companies, it is sheer slavery. And this kind of slavery in corporate Nigeria or Nigeria Inc. assumes many sinuous and complex forms, not least sexual or worse. In government’s Ministries, Departments and Agencies(MDAs) there seems to be an embargo on employment, hence whenever government announces any form of recruitment exercise, people lose their lives trying to secure placement. Sadly, some of the poverty alleviation schemes like Trader Moni have only served to enrich those in charge, thus leaving the indigent citizens high and dry. According to the Global Terror Index (see Wikipedia) Nigeria occupies the second spot on the list of countries believed to be hot-beds of terrorists.
This is hardly surprising as most Nigerian youths, educated and illiterate, are out of work, idle and restive. This unsavoury state of affairs is what is fuelling insurgency, banditry, terrorism and sundry forms of criminality in the country. What’s more, the deleterious activities of these enemy nationals have made it almost impossible for our farmers to go to their farms. The logical consequence arising from this is food shortages, scarcities and mass hunger. Amid this scenario of food insecurity, the North-South resentment is not helping matters as northern business people recently threatened to stop bringing foodstuffs like onions, pepper, and tomatoes to the southern part of Nigeria. Besides, the free-fall of the exchange rate or value of the Naira has constituted a major source of economic hardship for Nigerians. For example, $100 equals ₦47,000, €100 = ₦57,000, 100 Scotland Pound Sterling equals ₦68,000, whereas ₦100 can only afford two dollops of fufu (cooked cassava dough), Nigerians’ staple food. A pack of sachet water popularly called pure water now costs ₦20. As of now, drinking water is out of the reach of millions of Nigerians. One would have thought that the warning signs given by Nigerian youth during the October 2020 EndSARS protests would have jolted the authorities into remedial action, but unfortunately, things have gone from bad to worse. The Socio-Economic Rights And Accountability Project (SERAP), a non-profit, non-partisan legal and advocacy organisation, has been in the forefront in the agitation for official transparency, accountability and respect for the socio-economic rights of Nigerians. It has consistently tackled government over issues of institutionalised and official graft and corruption and bad governance. Yet, it appears government officials cannot be bothered. It’s still business as usual. In fact, the deep-seated feelings of marginalisation among some sections of the country – the Igbo in particular has remained a sore thumb in our body politic. Again, the issue of parents selling their children for food is a most worrisome and tragic index of how bestial we have become as a people.
The uptick in prostitution, Yahoo-Yahoo scamming, “One Chance”, ritual killings, 419, human trafficking, and, of course, armed robbery are all caused and exacerbated by HUNGER. A hungry man is an angry man. Thus, a hungry people make an angry nation. Nigeria is now in the vice-grip of anger, of angst (i.e., anger and anxiety). Nigerians are now the hungriest people in the world. They now look back in anger at the road not taken; at the warning signs and signals not correctly read and consequently the wrong and ruinous choices made. As the saying goes, regrets come later in life. Nigerians now are in a situation of would have, could have, and should have. The democratisation and glorification of mediocrity coupled with the abhorrent corollary of carpeting merit are a major incentive to anger. The right people are cheated out of what they truly deserve and because of this, they tend to resort to all sorts of antisocial acts. The appalling vacuity of our policy-planners and government officials in relation to poverty alleviation is a serious cause for worry. Putting square pegs in round holes is a distinctly Nigerian habit, especially in official quarters. Going forward, it is suggested that government deliberately plan and implement youth-oriented programmes – in sport, agriculture, skills acquisition, technical education, etc. Greater or better funding of education at all levels cannot be overemphasised. An educated citizenry is an empowered nation and an empowered nation is a happy and great nation. We have touted job creation for too long.
Now is the time to get down to brass tacks. The most qualified should get the job as well. Since the Federal Character principle seems to have outlived its usefulness, it is suggested that government consider expunging it from our public life. Let a thousand flowers bloom and reach for the sun. And those in public office should live by example: let them be frugal, disciplined and patriotic. Indeed, all citizens of Nigeria must be given a sense of belonging, and, in this regard, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) must redouble its efforts in value reorientation of the masses. To my compatriots, regarding our current sorrows, I say: this too, shall pass…
Chris Anyokwu, PhD, writes from University of Lagos