JJ. Omojuwa: The Real Nigerian Tragedy

The National Assembly has added another N30bn to its budget. As expected, there has been no visible reaction from Nigerians. As it is often the case, we will take this like we have taken the hardest of punches from our leaders in times past and simply move on. We somehow expect that some day, some person will come fix Nigeria and everything will be all right. As much as that is desirable, we now know for a fact, if you have been paying attention, that it takes more than one man or woman leading the Executive arm of government to transform a system where hardly anything works.


No country can work without systems and institutions.
Nigeria can change, but things will remain the same if we are fortunate or get worse if the trend of bad choices continue except we, the people of Nigeria, stop expecting things to change just because we expect them to. The truth is, we have failed as citizens as much as our leaders have failed in their privileged positions as our representatives. We have a long way to go but that obvious fact is not as challenging a prospect as the fact that we are not even moving forward as it is. Just take a look at the conversations we have in Nigeria: Will they pass the budget? Is the President healthy enough to continue? Which region will the next President come from? School kids assaulting fellow students… Look at all these conversations, none of them reflects anything other than a country totally focused on anything but development. When are we going to start honing in on crucial conversations like restructuring our educational system to start meeting the demands of our present economic reality?

In a fast-changing world, we are still producing millions of graduates in courses that have little or nothing to contribute to the world in the nearest future while missing out on nurturing professionals and graduates that’d help the Nigerian economy meet the new challenges facing the world. We are tokenising coding, information and communication technology; we are not even talking about Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Analytics and the likes. Everything that has been happening in these spaces have been by individuals or small organisations looking to make sure Nigeria is not left behind. But we are already behind and will remain behind if the much-needed policies necessary for Nigeria to develop these essential skills are not put in place.

I was reading an article about how the new Vice Chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria is reversing the school’s ICT set-up that’s allowed students access tutors remotely, make payments easy and actually enjoy a truly modern school of distant learning. Here you have the new guy yanking off technology and basically plugging the school to the culture of paper, inefficiencies and archaic systems that have since left the students frustrated and angry. This speaks to the Nigeria where even when things work, we also find a way to make them stop working. In the midst of that, the students cannot even lead a reaction through a student union because that does not exist. So their voices have been shut down from the get go.

If the masses don’t speak out, they’d have to make do with the mess from their leaders. Here, even when you speak out, you have to deal with both the pro-government folks and the equally delusional anti-government folks who insist on living in election mode. Here, you are expected to stay chanting and praising the candidate you voted even months after the election. Like the reality of elections must prevail at all times. That is, the candidates, even after getting elected, must stay in a campaign mode while the average citizen stays in the partisan mode. Nonsense. No country moves forward in such an atmosphere.

What needs to change? For starters, our leaders have it too easy. It just does not make sense that at a time Nigerians are demanding that the National Assembly opens its books, they have not only refused to do that simplest of tasks, they have now gone ahead to add a whopping N30bn to their budget. That’d set up three world class hospitals in Nigeria that’d essentially keep some of the medical tourism spending within Nigeria instead of India. Properly invested in two Nigerian universities, it’d make them solid enough to attract students from across the continent at least, if not the world. But now, that extra N30billion will help fatten the accounts of already fat accounts of largely superfluous lawmakers instead of bettering our collective prospects as citizens of Nigeria.  We cannot always look up to organisations to always stand up for us because they will always be limited by their budgets, their own political biases and other challenges that at times require more of their attention than Nigeria’s immediate challenges.

We need to scream a lot more, we need to find a way to get out of the election mode and for once find a find a reason to speak as one voice. There are questions to be asked and answered with respect to the President’s health. No, it should not be about wishing the president could die like some heartless folks seem to suggest on social media, it is about wishing the president well but demanding that while he recuperates, everything that must be done must be set in place to ensure that the country does not suffer because the president is ill. I do not see why this should be such a difficult thing to agree on.

We will not have our questions heard let alone get answers if we are screaming at one another instead of at those we elected to better our collective lot. Wishing the president death is not the same as demanding that the president does the right thing while he gets better. How can we even have a conversation on development when we cannot even agree on the most basic of humane expectations?

Enough of obsessing over the most obvious, that we have a leadership problem. Nigeria’s primary challenge is that of followership. We have all seemingly decided that we’d find a way to succeed solo, while we hope that some people will take on the challenge of demanding better of those we elected. Our leaders are mostly bad because we have made it very convenient for them to be. There is a sense of impunity in the National Assembly even daring to add an extra kobo to its already insane budget but to add N30billion is the biggest pointer to the fact that they can clearly see they’d get away with anything. And so far, they have. They actually locked out journalists from plenary; that is daring and tragic at the same time. This really has got to be the height. The only thing more tragic than that is that it happened like it was normal. No outrage, no outcry.

We have come to get used to the most disastrous and unfortunate of acts from our leaders.

It is a shame. But it won’t always be like this if we at least speak with one voice, if not on all issues, at least on the most obvious where you’d expect  we should have little or no arguments. Whether Nigeria gets it right or not has stopped being about our leaders; we now know that we have a perennial leadership problem but that problem only persists because we the people have essentially incentivized bad leadership over the years. We are looking to 2019 for another form of change but nothing will change until we make demanding for the better and change itself our daily reality instead of some chant or obsession that happens every four years.

At the moment, we the people are the real Nigerian tragedy because in our inaction, the other tragedies and problems have been cultured and continue to thrive.

This piece is the end to the earlier piece, The Bitter Truth About Nigeria’s Future, published in the Punch Newspaper amongst other platforms a fortnight ago.