The Burden of Social Transformation of Nigeria
By Ebuka Onyekwelu
The saying that leadership has failed Nigerians is a self-evident truth supported by litany of cases of unbridled conversion of public funds meant for public good, into private wealth for personal enjoyment. At all levels of leadership in Nigeria, the story remains the same. In civil service and government institutions, leaders exploit their privileged positions for their own personal welfare and to the detriment of the state. To better appreciate the depth of travesty of leadership in Nigeria, one has to appreciate that despite years of oil exploration which has earned billions of dollars for Nigeria in revenue, the country still suffer from deprivation of basic and critical amenities; an audacious evidence that the money which was supposed to serve public good has disappeared into people’s bank accounts. For example, in 2006 the former Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) Chairman Nuhu Ribadu told an audience during the Commission’s “Fix Nigeria Initiative”, that a total of two hundred and twenty billion US dollars – $220 billion, has been stolen by Nigerian leaders in 46 years; that is between 1960 and 2006. This amount as humongous as it is, The Guardian later reported was only a part of the five hundred billion US dollars – $500 billion, Official Development Assistance (ODA). The Guardian report however stressed that within the period, Nigeria has made about six hundred billion US dollars -$600 billion, from oil sales!
Based on the figure reported by Ribadu to have been stolen in 46 years, we can assume that Nigerian leaders divert about $4.7 billion dollars yearly. Then between 2006 and 2020, probably an additional $67 billion US dollars has been embezzled. Till date, Abacha’s loot baptized “assets” are still being discovered in hundreds of millions of dollars stashed in foreign banks, over twenty-two years after his sudden death while serving as Nigeria’s head of state.
As outrageous as these figures look, yet they are only a tip of the iceberg of the fate of public funds in Nigeria and its consequences on the country and her people. For better insight, the Singapore General Hospital is one of the best hospitals in the world. The country spent $127 million in today’s exchange rate against the Singaporean dollar to build the hospital and upon completion, spent another $63.5 million to acquire modern medical equipment. In all, $190.5 million gave Singapore one of the best hospitals in the world. What this means is that with $20 billion out of the stolen public funds according to EFCC, every state in Nigeria inclusive of the FCT would have had world class hospitals and be left with almost half of the money. But that is not the case. Instead, the National Hospital Abuja is in comatose, even the Aso Rock clinic was once reported to not have a drug as common as paracetamol, it is that bad. Nigerian leaders summarily could not give average hospitals for public use and could also not maintain even the Presidential villa hospital, such a shame! What is the result? Capital flight among other dire effects including thousands of death for curable illnesses. Nigerians who can afford it travel all over the world on medical tourism spending billions on medical treatments, thereby energizing other economies, every year. Then again, the Singapore Changi Airport is the best airport in the world. Singapore spent only $1.25 billion on the airport. Yet again, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is one of the best new universities in the world. The cost? Hong Kong spent only $480.3 million and the school has between a thousand and five thousand employees. But what do we have? Thousands of privileged Nigerians spend fortune on tuition in American and European universities in pursuit of quality education. When in reality, with $20 billion, a fraction of the stolen amount judiciously utilized, Nigeria would have had some of the best hospitals, best universities, and best airports in the world. These projects alone on maximum operation will have millions in direct and indirect employment across the 36 states of the federation. The import of this is that with the amount said to have been stolen in 46 years, Nigeria would have been in the league of advanced countries. When we add all the money generated from oil sales, it becomes comprehensively unthinkable to imagine that Nigeria is sadly still struggling with getting little things like constant power supply and good roads, right. Completely unthinkable! People in position of authority who pilfer public funds are not just destroying Nigeria, they are destroying Nigerians. The quality of life and conditions under which Nigerians live would have been honourable and absolutely incomparable to the day’s reality.
Interestingly, Nigerians are not victims but accomplices in an unconscionable deprivation, repression, economic and social subjugation to inhuman conditions, by their leaders. This Nigerians do by demanding and extorting money openly from public office seekers. Election in Nigeria is mere buying and selling. Vote goes to the highest bidder. Notwithstanding how repulsive and utterly incredulous, buying and selling of votes at polling booths on Election Day have been normalized. Politicians include buying votes in their election budget; this is how far vote buying has come in Nigeria. But then, it is a simple and excellent way voters help people who do not care about the society into public office. With a careful analysis and strategic planning, a contestant can decide how many voters he wants to win in each pooling unit to win an election; buy the votes, secure the votes and then win. When he gets into office, a natural consequence follows that he service his election expenses and personal ambition till the next election, without ever considering public good and the cycle continues. This is one of the major enablers of Nigeria’s cycle of leadership failure.
More so, Nigerians are not victims because of their expectation of their political leaders. If it is put to test, most Nigerians will prefer that a public office holder gives them in cash, the money meant for a project that will benefit the society from generation to generation. They will prefer they are given the money to spend as they wish, rather than the money be expended on project for public well being. There is an alarming level of personal corruption, rent-seeking behavior and misplacement of priority among Nigerians. Everybody seems to just want to extort money from government and government officials, putting up fictitious proposals and dubious claims for the sole purpose of swindling and treacherously obtaining by false pretenses. Public good is not one of the things most Nigerians set their minds on. Rather most times, public good is mentioned as a decoy to lay their hands on public money. Government is often conceived as an abstract entity that must be exploited. People are more interested in what government officials can do for them rather than what the official can do for the society with public trust and public funds under his watch. Recognition for chieftaincy titles are sold and bought. All manner of breathtaking sycophancy of scandalous aggregation which build a human shield against a public officer so that he does not account to anybody and people generally are not interested in this accountability. Even if accountability is demanded, the person demanding it is often a lone voice and then the human shield sycophants moves swiftly to unleash attack on him like the lion attacks the antelope and immediately silence him.
Therefore, no honest assessment of the Nigerian situation will leave the Nigerian people as mere victims of bad governance. They are accomplices, the straws with which the pillars of horrifying leadership is laid, yet, they are the ones with the scares of the pangs of bad leadership the most. It is preposterous how a people so rudely diminished by bad governance are the ones enabling it, but that exactly is the burden of social transformation of Nigeria. Nigerians cannot be different from their leadership, anyway. But perhaps, it is time to try new things. Maybe try voting for the right candidate and demand accountability from political leaders, instead of money for personal welfare. Just maybe speak truth to power, and price society’s interest higher and above personal gains. Nigerians should not expect to have the same results progressive societies have, retaining the same practices and attitudes that sustain political corruption and energize gross underdevelopment.
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