by Simon Kolawole
Nigeria is a study in shamelessness. Every election year is like a foretaste of Armageddon.
Some years ago — in 2004, I think — I started a series of articles which I titled “Made in Nigeria, Enjoyed Worldwide”. My intention was to celebrate good news coming out of Nigeria. I wrote on rising Nigerian brands, highlighting my dream and desire to see them go and conquer Africa and the rest of the world. I remember celebrating the likes of Globacom, Oando, Zenon and Dangote — even at the risk of being savaged by cynical readers who always think journalists are paid for everything they write. I was unmoved; my conscience was very clear.
I often interchanged the series with another, “Made in Nigeria, Only for Nigerians”, in which I highlighted some shameful things that are peculiar to us which we should never export. These are the things that make me less proud to be a Nigerian and dampen my enthusiasm about our stepping up into the comity of civilised nations. For instance, I often asked: how do you make sense of a country reputed as the sixth largest producer of crude oil which, rather than being a major exporter of petroleum products, is actually a leading importer? It is criminal.
The fiasco surrounding the postponement of the 2015 elections has sadly reminded me of these shameful things again, those things that are made in Nigeria and should be for Nigerians only. Even small nations like Benin and Togo will be laughing at our inability to organise the simplest things in life. No matter the way we look at it, the poll shift did not improve our prestige as a nation. No matter the excuses, no matter the plausibility of the reasons given for it, we just are not up to scratch as a nation. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
In the first place, the 2015 general election served us at least a four-year notice — that is if we are generous enough to think that it was only in 2011 that we knew we were going to hold another general election in 2015. Four years, I insist, is enough to plan for an election no matter how big a country is. Four years should be enough to print voter cards and distribute them. Four years should be enough to print ballot papers. Four years should be enough to test-run voting equipment. Four years should be enough to think through how security will be put in place for the elections. Let’s face it: your wife cannot give birth to a child today and you claim you did not buy baby clothing because it happened suddenly. Pregnancy gives at least a seven-month notice before delivery. On a good day, it is nine months.
As I write this, the 2019 elections have already served us notice. We have four years to prepare. But you know what? There is this terrible thing about us that in 2019, we would still be saying something happened to the ballot papers or card readers. We always advertise our shamelessness at every election.
In truth, the shift in the 2015 polls is yet another symptom of our chaos. There is so much inefficiency in every sector. Things that should run smoothly and automatically just have to be complicated because it is Nigeria! For instance, why do we have to physically go to centres created by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to collect our PVCs? Because our postal system is a shambles! In civilised countries, those things are posted to your house. But how many houses are even numbered in Nigeria? What does it take to number houses? Every election year, we print ballot papers abroad. I am yet to understand why. What is the job of the Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Plc? What printing machines do they have in South Africa that Nigeria cannot afford to buy? By the time we calculate the value of the contracts and the cost of the machines, what option makes more sense? People will say for security reasons, we should not print the ballot papers at home. So if you go to South Africa to print ballot papers, where does South Africa print its own? What is so special about us?
Nigeria is a study in shamelessness. Every election year is like a foretaste of Armageddon. In Ghana, just 45 minutes away by air, they do not impose curfew on election day. They do not close schools and offices. In fact, they conduct elections on weekdays! In Nigeria, we have to shut down the country. So if you were living in Nyanyan when you registered and you are now in Garki, you cannot vote except you go to Nyanyan. But then you cannot even move on election day! You’re automatically disenfranchised. Does it make sense? Why are we like this? How did we become this dysfunctional as a society? The major reason given for the shift in election dates is security. The military chiefs said they would be too busy. Again, we are advertising our shamelessness to the whole world. What is the business of soldiers with internal security? That is the job description of the police. If the police have become inefficient over the years, the solution is to give their job to the military! How many countries deploy soldiers for elections? Former President Olusegun Obasanjo started the nonsense in 2003 and now it has come to stay.
Day by day, we are paying the price of our inefficiency, our lack of foresight, our poor planning, our carelessness, our selfishness, our lack of critical thinking, our incompetence, our impotence. We keep paying the price for our past and present failures.
Take an example. Boko Haram recruited fighters, stockpiled arms, occupied territories and grew exponentially right under our nose. There is no local government in Nigeria without police presence. Where were they when Boko Haram was budding? Did Boko Haram drop from the sky or sprout from the ground? There are so many burdens we carry as a people today that we have, shamelessly, come to accept as part of our lives. We are not even ashamed to tell the world we are postponing elections because voter cards are not ready — an election you had four years to prepare for! We are not ashamed to say military cannot provide security! We keep opening our mouths and uttering smooth gibberish on how we are the largest black nation in the world, how we have the best doctors and best professors, yet we cannot organise a simple election that took us four years to prepare for! And we have been holding elections in Nigeria since 1922. What exactly is the problem with us?
I wish we could all see the damage we are doing to ourselves everyday. I wish we could see how we keep letting ourselves down every minute. The world is expecting big things from us. They stand at attention when the name Nigeria is mentioned. But we always manage to embarrass ourselves. Our excuses are utterly incredible. It is difficult to imagine that in the year 2015, we are still working very hard to show to the world that our level of thinking is not better than what used to obtain 200 years ago. Shamelessness. Incompetence. Impotence. Made in Nigeria. Only for Nigerians.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
It was a bit heartwarming to read the account of an escapee from Boko Haram camp last week. A woman named as Monica Sunday said she saw 24 of the girls at Sambisa forest in November last year, claiming that the homesick girls were being forced to cook for insurgents. She also seemed to confirm that the girls were not in one place, suggesting that they had been divided into groups and spread all over. It is a combination of good and bad news, really. If the military invades these camps, these girls could end up as collateral damage. Hazardous.
NIGER V NIGERIA
There seems to be a brewing crisis between Niger and Nigeria over the renewed onslaught on Boko Haram. With the heat on the insurgents, they are now crossing into Chad and Niger to attack villages and seek territories. A successful repelling of the insurgents by Niger soldiers in Bosso prompted the country’s defence minister, Mahamadou Karidjo, to poke fun at Nigeria, saying: “Our soldiers are not like Nigerians. They don’t run.” Much as this hurts me as a Nigerian, I would advise Niger not to celebrate too soon. Things could actually get tougher than just a battle for one town. Vigilance.
STEALING IS CORRUPTION
When President Jonathan was being quoted and derided on the social media as saying “stealing is not corruption”, I knew it was mischief. No rational human being, much less a president, could so brazenly justify stealing or corruption. Jonathan was trying to quote Justice Dahiru Musdapher but he himself clearly misunderstood what the judge meant. Musdapher said most cases being prosecuted by the anti-graft agencies are common stealing, not corruption, and should be handled by the police at lower courts. Whatever the case, stealing is corruption. On Thursday, Jonathan laboured to explain himself. Don’t copy if you can’t paste. Please.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is making efforts to douse tension ahead of the rescheduled general election because, according to an advisory it released on Friday, there are clear danger signals of violence — with scores of people killed in the last two months. According to the NHRC chairman, Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, the commission plans to get Jonathan and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, the two leading candidates, to hold a joint broadcast preaching non-violence to their supporters. Good thinking and good effort. But the candidates must also follow up with a similar message to their supporters in private. Vital.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Simon Kolawole
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.