A Frothy Polity And The Real Issues

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The Nigerian public space is always warm with fresh issues. In a huge maelstrom of conflicting interests which often overlap, there’s never a boring moment in Nigeria’s diverse timeline. Barely 100days to the elections, the news tickertape rolls relentlessly with national issues and with enhanced news-gathering and dissemination capacities across media, Nigeria constantly presents her citizens with thematic talking points about her nationhood.

Trending is the issue of the President’s WAEC certificate which has simply refused to go away since 2014. Inspite of spirited efforts to clear the air, some Nigerians have insisted on sighting the certificate itself instead of conjectural evidence to its possession by the General. The reality of the matter is that President Buhari is now the C-in-C of the armed forces and can easily ask the Nigeria Army to make the said certificate available to INEC but has refused to do so and has equally refused to ask the Cambridge authorities to provide him a replacement in case of loss. Factually speaking, no amount of righteous indignation from the Presidency can wish away the present onus on the President to produce that certificate, at least in the court of public opinion. When former President Obama faced a similar situation concerning his place of birth and citizenship during his campaign, he released his original birth certificate and years later when doubts persisted among some groups known as ‘birthers’, he followed it up with the original long-form certificate of birth from Hawaii. His statement at the time is very useful as advice to President Muhammadu Buhari. Obama said, “We do not have time for this kind of silliness. I’ve been puzzled at the degree to which this (story) just kept on going. Normally I would not comment on something like this but the country has some enormous challenges out there that it will not be able to effectively meet if we’re distracted.”

The truth is that it may appear ‘silly’ to question a General’s WAEC certificate but it is up to that General to provide same and end the ‘silliness’.

Also heating up the polity and attempting to upset life in the nation’s capital is the Shi’a issue which, like Buhari’s WAEC certificate, has also refused to die. The Shi’a leader, Sheikh El-Zakzaky has been in detention since 2016 when soldiers stormed his home in Zaria killing over 350 people. His followers have mounted relentless protests to put pressure on the govt to free him in obedience to court orders but have recently been met with bullets. Unknown scores have been shot dead by soldiers with over 400 arrested in scenes of shocking violence on the streets of Abuja. The history of the radicalization of Boko Haram is still fresh in national memory, it would be foolhardy to push the Shi’a into a full-blown insurgency.

While grappling with the security challenge posed by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria in Abuja, the demons of insecurity gathered for an unholy feast in Kaduna, a geographically nodal state and North-western gateway to the nation’s capital. President Buhari was constrained to visit the state where he made threats of bringing the perpetrators of inter-ethnic violence to book. However, critics were quick to fault the President’s credibility on such matters citing the Shi’a example. It will be recalled that in his first and only presidential media chat, Buhari stated that his govt was waiting for the outcome of the Kaduna state enquiry into the massacre. Well, it’s been over 27 months since a 13-man Judicial Panel, led by Justice Mohammed Garba indicted and recommended the trial of army personnel who partook in the killings and criticised the security agencies for choosing brute force over basic intelligence in responding to civil unrest. Up till today, there’s been no word from the Nigerian govt who have rather kept custody of the IMN leader.

It needs no emphasis that perceived injustice breeds discontent and if unaddressed, often boils over to unrestrained barbarism as the emotions seek a vent. While brute force may quell hotheads quickly, it never guarantees peace. One way or the other, the roots of the Kaduna inter-ethnic crises lie in social injustice and unequal treatment which arouses deep mutual suspicions among the ethnic diversities in the state. Where successive govts do not go the extra mile in demonstrating inclusion, the soil will always be fertile for mischief makers. The Kaduna state govt must do more to get to the origins of the ethnic frictions and address deep-seated fears. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission may not be out of place.

However, apart from isolated issues which keep the polity heated, the strangeness (some say ‘uniqueness’) of the Nigerian political situation is that somehow, the real issues which ought to form the crux of conversations often get relegated to the background amidst the loud headlines of security and political issues. Education and health issues which most directly impact on the life of the citizen hardly trend as the subject of debates. A recent UNICEF report paints a bleak picture of basic education in Nigeria. “Primary school enrolment has increased in recent years, but net attendance is only about 70 per cent, but Nigeria still has 10.5 million out-of-school children – the world’s highest number. Sixty per cent of those children are in northern Nigeria,” it said. And of dire implications for the future, it says about 60 per cent of out-of-school children are girls.

These are frightening statistics in a country that hopes to compete favourably in a highly globalized 21st century. These figures are also clear indicators that Nigeria’s future is imperilled by a potential lack of manpower especially in what promises to be a challenging post-oil future. The lack of skills to survive the Artificial Intelligence-driven world also has adverse consequences on the country’s security evidenced by terrorism and other extremist behaviour.

The danger in these statistics is that there is no clear-cut holistic strategy by government to fight the scourge of illiteracy which jeopardizes all efforts in other sectors. If anything, budgetary allocations dip by percentage over the years. Education had a 7% allocation in the 2018 budget compared to a 9.9% in the 2014 budget. Apart from the school feeding program, it is difficult to perceive any integrated education plan in the most populous black nation in the world. The interventions seem tokenistic, haphazard and isolated with the attendant challenges of continuity as seen in the abandoned Almajiri school program initiated by the last administration. Greater emphasis must be paid on the deliberate development of the human capacity in Nigeria. It cannot be overemphasized that the development of any nation is firmly anchored on the education of its citizenry, especially its children.

For the most populous country in Nigeria, the challenges in the health sector are equally heart-breaking. With maternal mortality rates at 821 per 100,000 live births, Nigeria is still a long way to achieving the SDG goal of 70 per 100’000 live births by 2020. A survey by NOI Polls in July revealed that 8 out of ten doctors were seeking work opportunities abroad citing hostile working environment, poor reward system, the dearth of needed equipment and huge funding gaps among others.

Again, like in education, the worry is not the mere reality of those figures but the seeming lack of a conscious effort by the Federal Government to pay attention to the real issues of human development in a country where the elite seek all the best for their wards outside the country. Even the NHIS appears compromised. The power struggle there is shameful, mildly speaking. After three years, Nigerians expected to hear good news of many more millions of citizens added to the insurance cover but instead have been treated to a most nauseating effluxion of ugly stories whose blame can only be laid at the feet of a Presidency that has shown a pathetic leadership inertia in addressing grave allegations of corruption which is at the root of it the crisis.

While the provision of infrastructure is of course vital and praiseworthy, the neglect of the human development index in the last three years in retrogressive and it would be expected that measures on how to address this impoverishment of the Nigerian should form the core of the campaign issues going into 2019. Human capacity investment must begin to count beyond state welfare handouts of N5,000.

As the campaigns heat up, Nigerians must begin to demand more for themselves from their political leaders. The Nigerian state must be able to guarantee free and qualitative education for her citizens up to secondary school level while also providing the necessary health infrastructure to elongate average lifespan. Government must have a human face to execute its constitutional mandate of existing for the benefit and welfare of the citizen. (Iyke Obi Durumba)

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