Guest post from Obi Igbokwe:
On October 1, 1960, Nigeria became an independent country within the Commonwealth of Nations. This historic event brought hope to millions of Nigerians, who had long suffered under the heavy foot of slavery and colonialism. It was a defining moment in our history as Nigerians freed themselves from the shackles of their colonial masters. But 49 years later, most Nigerians are still not free as the average man on the street is still shackled by the manacles of political ineptitude and the chains of socio-economic failures.
The life of Nigerians is typified by being surrounded by plenty of water but not a drop to drink as many are trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty in the midst of bountiful resources that most countries in the world can only dream of. Nearly fifty years later, the average Nigerian still languishes in his own land and millions have placed self imposed exiles on themselves as they move to other countries to find greener pastures.
We must no longer tolerate the shameful condition that our dear country has been reduced to. This is not the country that Nigerian nationalists, who fought to liberate it from the clutches of British rule, envisioned. They fought tooth and nail to gain our independence and bring together Nigerians of all stripes and from all corners of the country. At the heart of their fight was a desire to build a country where every Nigerian could prosper and not be dominated over by a minority whose only interest was to fleece the country dry.
One of the Nigeria’s greatest sons, Herbert Macaulay wrote that the dimensions of the colonial masters looking after the interests of Nigerians were “algebraically equal to the length, breadth and depth of the white man's pocket." Regrettably, that attitude still applies today but replace the white man with Nigerian politicians.
It is very doubtful that Herbert Macaulay would have foreseen the day that Nigerians would be denied the basic rights of life - education, healthcare, personal security, the right to elect, and not select , their leaders and the pursuit of happiness - by fellow Nigerians. It is obvious to all that our leaders have failed to deliver time and time again on any of these as more than 100 million Nigerians still live in penury.
But we refuse to believe that Nigeria is broken and cannot be fixed. We refuse to believe that this country cannot be one of great and boundless opportunities. We refuse to believe that this cannot be a country where justice is no longer a privilege but is guaranteed to very single Nigerian. We refuse to believe that every Nigerian cannot benefit from the limitless riches the country has to offer.
We must however make that pledge to rebuild this good country, and we must do it together. Like the great John F Kennedy once said, “United, there is little we cannot do in a host of shared accomplishments. Divided, there is little we can do as we dare not meet powerful challenges that will easily split us apart.” This will not be a one man job or a one day job, it is an every man every day job.
This country can achieve the potential it has long promised. And the only way we can do this is by working together, struggling together, fighting injustice together, believing in one another and knowing that one day this country of ours will be free of all the fetters that have held us down.
For the Nigerians who believe that we can be better than we are and are willing to make the sacrifice to improve our country, join us. For those, who are hell bent on destroying the country just to line their pockets, we shall fight you to the very end. We will fight, not with violence but with the might of a united people determined to no longer submit to the excesses of corruption and moral decay that have engulfed our country.
For those who laugh at us and call us dreamers, we say Martin Luther King once had a dream, and that dream is now sitting on the most powerful seat in the world as you read this.
We are well aware that we will face challenges that will task us to the limit, test every ounce of our resolve and scare the life out of us. But we also know that it is normal to be afraid and we shall not give in to fear which paralyses the needed hard work to convert this country’s stagnation into progress.
It would be fatal for us not to recognise the urgency of the moment as the time to fight the injustice and inequality long suffered by our brethren is not tomorrow, next week or even next year. That time is now upon us.
The time has come to do away with all the traditions and customs that debase our women and hinder the growth of our children. And to put to rest all forms of tribalism, nepotism, cronyism and religious intolerance.
The time has come for Nigeria to reclaim the vision of our forefathers when they fought for the independence of the country.
The time has come for urgent reformation of a nation where the phrase “Giant of Africa” is no longer met with laughter and raised eyebrows but one that other nations respectfully bestow on our nation.
The time has come to fulfill the words in our national anthem “Great lofty heights attain, to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.” But if Nigeria is to attain those lofty heights we must fight the battles of eradicating poverty, political and social injustice with the same gusto as those for fought for the independence of our nation. For a society where many are poor and only a few handful benefits off its lands cannot call itself free.
The time has come for Nigeria to take its position amongst the Commonwealth of Nations, not as a failed state struggling to meet the expectations of all around it but standing shoulder to shoulder with the leading nations of the world.
Now is not the time to rest on laurels when millions of Nigerians, and indeed millions of Africans and the rest of the world, are depending on us to deliver on the promises of democracy.
Now is not the time to give in to shouts of “You dey blow too much grammar” or “We do this the Nigerian way” when we should be doing things the right way.
Now is the time to deliver our nation from the slippery slope of violence due to armed robbery, political thuggery, corruption and intolerance to a solid foundation of law and order.
Now is the time to make peace, justice and personal security a reality for all Nigerians.
Now is the time to abolish all forms of human poverty in our country and ensure its people’s economic prosperity.
Now is the time to stand up and fight for all that we believe in, to not only safeguard our future but that of our children, and their children, and their children’s children.
Now is the time to finally recognise that we are all brothers and sisters. It is not wrong that we have different cultures, languages and dialects. Indeed, that diversification should be our strength as we embrace the model of a melting pot of cultures and ideas like other great nations before us have. It is wrong however to allow people use those differences between us to stoke up fear and hatred for their own personal gain. Until we stand up to them, we will never be able to redefine this nation in a way that will inspire other nations of the world.
Fellow Nigerians, the time has come to come together and begin the difficult journey of rebuilding our nation. To this end a plan has been proposed to hopefully spark the beginning of a socioeconomic revolution in Nigeria.
The plan is designed to address the following:
1. Transportation: A more efficient mass transport system allows for the movement of goods and people to all corners of the country. We can achieve this by engaging the private sector to assist in the building and maintenance of road and rail transports networks that reach every major city in the country, airports that facilitate the safe air travel, and the harnessing of the vast waterways we have for the movements of large cargoes to reduce the stress on the roads and railways.
Every Nigerian should be able to travel safely to all corners of country at the choosing of their own time and mode of transport.
2. Communications: Communication systems eliminate the physical distance between any two communities and allow for the speedy exchange of information. In today’s world of increasing globalisation, it is now a requirement for any business to be able to communicate effectively and quickly.
The telecommunications industry in Nigeria has taken off with a bang since the introduction of mobile phone services, but more work still needs to be done. We need to ensure that mobile phone services are within the reach of every Nigerian at affordable prices. We also need to take the Internet into every home, every office and every nook and cranny of the country. The Internet plays a big role in the world today and it is now considered the most efficient and cost effective way of reducing the knowledge and technology gap between developed and developing nations.
3. Energy: Every aspect of the economy is dependent on energy. The vital role it plays in today’s society cannot be understated. The provision of affordable energy and the constant supply of power to light up houses, offices and factories will be essential in getting the Nigerian economy back on track.
Nigeria has vast and under utilised reserves of oil, natural gas and coal. We will need to push through reforms in these industries and stop the outrageously wasteful practice of gas flaring immediately. We should look into building a couple of nuclear power plants for our electricity needs.
We should also be looking at depending less on oil and gas for our energy needs and looking more at renewable energy sources. The potential for solar, wind, geothermal, bio and hydro-energy sources in our country is enormous and is one that we should begin harnessing now, as carbon-based energy sources are not going to be around forever and place an enormous strain on our environment.
4. Healthcare: A healthy workforce is the engine of any economy. Failure to cater for the health needs of the country’s population only leads to a decrease in the production of goods and services as workers take more time off work than they need to.
Focusing on providing affordable primary health care services to every man, woman and child is the only way we will tackle the scourge of HIV, malaria and other infectious diseases that threaten our livelihood. It is only way we would really be able to bring down the alarming rates of maternal and infant mortality.
The building of large hospitals, while noble, is a bit counter productive at this moment as it averts much needed resources away from the building of primary healthcare centres who form the frontline in the battle for keeping our people healthy. We should revive and expand the late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti’s work in taking primary health care to every nook and cranny of Nigeria and ensuring that every council district in every local government area in every state has at least one primary health care center.
We should also exploit Internet and mobile technologies to build a national e-health network to achieve our objectives and enable the storing of the medical records of Nigerian in electronic format, so that these records are within the reach of registered healthcare providers at every hospital, every ward and every clinic at any time of the day in Nigeria as to ensure continuity of care and reduce deaths due to medical errors.
We must also put drinkable water either through pipes or boreholes within the reach of every single Nigerian child. Nigeria has one of the largest fresh water resources in the world. It is no longer excusable that children should die of diarrheal diseases because we failed to put clean water within walking distance of the child’s mother.
5. Education and Training: An educated workforce is a more efficient workforce. A better educated population also presents multiple opportunities for the economy to diversify beyond its traditional pillars. This was an approach followed by the Asian Tigers, who invested heavily in education to produce a workforce that could provide value-added services as income generators for economies that had little or no natural resources.
We will have to increase the budgetary allocation to education, and indeed healthcare as well, as both sectors are critical to our success as a nation. The provision of compulsory quality primary and secondary school education with a strong focus on the sciences and mathematics to ALL children is a matter of urgency if we are to take our true position amongst the league of leading nations.
We will also need to increase funding to our universities, which were neglected over the years, and task them to get more involved in research. We must also endeavour to build community colleges in every local government area whereby vocational and technical skills training could be provided for school leavers before they enter the workforce.
We must design and deliver a series of informal programmes that educate our people on religious and tribal tolerance, civil rights and civic duties, and a host of educational initiatives aimed at ridding our society of the social injustices that are carried out under the auspices of culture and tradition.
6. Agriculture & Natural Resources: With the global food prices on the rise and Nigeria being a net importer of food, the country will be better served by reviving its agriculture sector, which was also Nigeria’s chief export earner before the discovery of oil.
Nigeria, once an exporter of food crops, now has to import food to meet local demand. It is unacceptable, as a nation that fails that to feed its population is preparing the ground for civil unrest which can tear our society apart.
We will need to reform the agricultural industry as the availability of cheaper foods will also lead to an increase in the quality of life for Nigerians as more people will be able to afford to put more food on the table for their families.
Agriculture is the biggest sector of the economy but yet past leaders have spent all their attention on the oil sector, to the detriment of developing an industrialised agro-based economy.
7. Environment: Damage to the environment has long term implications to the Nigerian economy as it can lead to a deterioration of health of the general population, a depletion of natural resources and an increased cost of doing business. It is much cheaper to put in preventive measures to protect the environment than to clean it up down the line. Protecting the environment is no longer a social issue but an economic one, and one that the Nigerian government will need to embrace fully.
We must put an immediately end to the sloppy practices of oil companies and their local accomplices, who in order to save a buck, are wrecking the environment of the Niger Delta, while recording multi-billion dollar profits at the end of the financial year.
8. Finance & Housing: Developing a strong financial sector which stimulates growth in the private sector through the availability of credit would be a priority, more so given the current global financial crisis.
While it might not possible to provide cheap housing for all Nigerians, we must develop a mortgage system that puts owning a home within the reach of most Nigerians.
We must also strengthen our tax system, as it would provide the necessary funding needed to improve education, healthcare, the enforcement of law and order, and other public services.
9. Enterprise & Innovation: Promoting micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) can lead to a reduction in poverty and unemployment, and lead to wealth creation for the owners of the businesses. All these have a direct effect on the economy, and it also useful in reducing the wealth gap between the haves and have-nots.
10. Legal & Security: The enforcement of contracts and adherence to the rule of law not only provides a suitable environment for doing business locally and fighting corruption, it can also lead to increased confidence amongst investors looking to plough their money into the Nigerian economy.
Increased internal security fosters external foreign investment and adds to the quality of life of the country’s citizens. Tackling the crisis in the Niger Delta region and the wave of violent crime across the country will go a long way in improving the quality of life for all Nigerians.
We will also need to strengthen our judiciary system and the police, which have been systematically weakened over the years so as not to challenge the nefarious activities of wayward politicians and military rulers. We must push through legal reforms to change acts and decrees (such as the Land Use Act) that have long put ordinary citizens at a disadvantage and introduce new laws (Child Labour Act, Spousal Abuse Act) that protect the most vulnerable in our society.
11. Trade: Improved trading opportunities in Nigeria’s non-oil sectors can be a major foreign currency earner for the country. Nigeria has a number of mineral and natural resources that have yet to be exploited due to the government’s focus on petroleum.
Also the country is blessed with cheap labour but high energy cost and poor infrastructure have discouraged the growth of a manufacturing base in the country. If an enabling environment where the overhead costs of operation can be brought down to within reason, along with the enforcement of laws in the country, protection of investors, and education reforms, Nigeria can develop a manufacturing base that can rival those in South East Asia.
12. Tourism: Tourism is a good foreign currency earner for any country as every tourist dollar spent has a multiplier effect on the local economy. Improving internal security and transportation and developing a strong financial system can aid efforts in improving the tourism sector in Nigeria.
The country has lots to offer from the diverse ethnic makeup of the country to different climatic conditions (hot humid weather in Lagos, cool temperate weather in Jos) and geographical features (Mangrove swamps in the south, arid savannah in the north). There is something for everybody.
Our plan was designed to achieve the following:
• Increased Efficiency in the Economy: Improvements in the transport, communications and the energy sector will bring about a reduction in the cost of production and distribution of goods and services. This will invariably lead to putting goods and services within the reach of more Nigerians.
• Better Quality of Life: Improvements in education, healthcare, agriculture and housing sectors will bring about an improvement in the quality of life of Nigerians. Also taking active measures to protect the environment, not only improves the quality of living in the country, it also prevents huge avoidable costs in cleaning the environment later in the future. Lastly improvements in security will make the people feel safe.
• Fight Poverty: Promoting and supporting enterprise, along with improvements in the financial sector and legal framework will foster the growth of micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) which have been shown to fight poverty, increase wealth creation and reduce unemployment.
• Increased Investments: Improvements in the infrastructure, along with those in finance, security, enforcement of laws and education should bring about an increase in both local and foreign investments. The presence of the right infrastructure makes it cheaper to produce goods and services, the enforcement of laws makes it easier to conduct business, and an improved educational system produces quality candidates from which companies can select their staff from.
• Increased Foreign Earnings: Improved trade and tourism will bring about an increase in much needed foreign earnings.
• Diversification: Opening up other sectors of the economy brings out diversification, making the country less reliant on a traditional base e.g. agriculture and oil. This is particularly significant for rural communities.
• A More Open Society: By creating a more open society via our education programs, we can put an end all forms of discriminations that hold our people back from being the best they can be. We can finally begin to see an end to barbaric practices such female genital mutilation. But most of all, an end to tribal politics. We should be able to elect our leaders based on their intelligence, character and integrity, and not because he or she is from a particular part of the country.
Indeed there is a lot of hard work to be done to rekindle that beacon of hope that Nigerians once felt when we gained our independence. And work hard we must, for this is no longer just the North’s country, or the South’s country, neither is it the East’s country nor the West’s country. This is our country. This is our Nigeria.
Alliance for a New and Better Nigeria
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Guest post from Obi Igbokwe: