'This is an example of a country that has fallen down; it has collapsed. This house has fallen' - Prof Chinua Achebe
A very offensive and utterly depressing scenario thrown up by the raging storm in North Africa is the unedifying sight of several Nigerian rulers thumbing their noses at the 'sit-tight' dictators in that region being consumed by their people's overflowing frustration and fury, while flaunting their 'democratic' credentials to underline their cock-sureness that such popular uprising will never happen here to threaten their own hold on power.
Watching these mostly deficient rulers calling with self-righteous air on leaders of these countries still hanging on to power despite mounting opposition against their regimes to respect their people's wishes for change and stand down can be very exasperating indeed.
Now, what can these Nigerians rulers show in character and leadership to embolden them to talk down on the embattled North African leaders most of whom have generously given their people quality life and enviable infrastructure that hapless, perennially shortchanged Nigerian citizens can only continue to day-dream about until a messiah emerges someday in these parts to clear the Augean stable? Indeed, it is quite in order to call for democratic rule in those countries, but Nigerian rulers (and former rulers) should hasten to disqualify themselves from joining the chorus.
The mere fact that Nigeria is stuck in a very iniquitous relay race that imposes on us (yes, they are mostly imposed through massive electoral fraud, not elected) every four years a gaggle of mostly treasury looters with another set far worse than their predecessors, or even recycling some clearly expired drugs that have done nothing in their entire public life to add any value to the lives of the citizenry should in no way embolden our rulers to suddenly forget that were there a reliable justice system in Nigeria, many of them should be rotting in jail for willfully turning a generously endowed country into Dante's Inferno!
Just imagine the amount of public funds reportedly (and un-reportedly) being stolen and squandered daily under various guises with utmost impunity by too many public officers and their accomplices, and the great transformation that would happen to public infrastructure and the lives of the citizenry if this organized banditry can at least be reduced by fifty percent!
Indeed, were the various anti-corruption and security agencies in Nigeria to do their work with conscience and diligence, Nigerian prisons would today be brimming with ex-public officers who had helped themselves from the public till. Recent studies have shown that due to this boundless plundering of the public treasury, about 99% of the country's resources are in the hands of just 1% of the population, and more than 85 per cent of Nigerians live below poverty level. How can any sane person explain this in a country earning plenty of money from oil exports?
Now, where is even the democracy we claim to have in Nigeria? Is it this severely discredited electoral system that has gradually degenerated from the culture of grossly manipulated elections to almost no elections at all, as we saw in the 2007, for instance? How many 'elected' officials have the courts sent packing since then? How many have rigged themselves back into power by perpetrating far worse electoral fraud during the rerun elections ordered by the courts? How many Nigerians can happily and proudly affirm that majority of the characters ruling them today are in office by reason of the votes cast for them on Election Day? Please, Nigeria should never dare to mention among decent people that it is practicing democracy!
We have, most unfortunately, been labouring under a more subtle (and therefore more insidious and enduring) 'sit-tightism' whereby we have been ruled by the same looters for several decades. What changes every 'election' year are their faces and names, but the same characters remain - several sides of the same evil box! This is much more frustrating because they have succeeded in giving it a 'democratic' hue! Imagine Nigeria's worst Headache, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), assaulting our ears with the oppressive declaration that (whether we like it or not), it would continue to rig itself back into power for the next 200 years. What do you call that?
From Tunisia to Egypt and now Libya, a deep yearning for mass-participation in the process of making and enthroning leaders has indeed successfully dismantled once formidable regimes and brought some others under considerable threat.
It is Libya's turn in the sun. Given the determination of the Allied Forces led by France, Britain and the United States to implement the 'No-Fly-Zone' imposed on Libya a few days ago by the United Nations (UN), it is becoming increasingly clear that the Libyan strongman, Col Muammar Gaddafi (who prefers the title, 'Brother Leader'), would eventually suffer the fate of his erstwhile colleagues like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Ben Ali of Tunisia. The UN Resolution also stipulates the adoption of other measures to save the people from dying from the growing offensive by pro-Gaddafi forces and the genocide that would have most certainly followed had Benghazi, the opposition's bastion, fallen to pro-Gaddafi forces. Allied forces had already carried out bombings aimed at crippling Gaddafi's ability to flout the 'No-Fly-Zone' resolution by the UN. Indeed, much of global attention drawn to somewhere else by the very devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan recently and immediately knocked Libya off the front pages across the world, has now returned to the North African country.
Indeed, Libya needs democracy. The people must have a say in the determination of who rules them. Gaddafi needs to quit power to make room fresh ideas in Libya and allow freedom to hold and express opinions that run counter to official thinking which have been gradually stifled in the country since opposition to his continued stay IN office began to emerge.
But as I ponder the enviable state of development in Libya under Gaddafi's 'dictatorship' and compare it with the boundless decay in our 'democratic' Nigeria, and then observe the insufferably hypocritical reactions of our grossly deficient rulers to the Libyan crises, I am forced to wonder if what Nigeria direly needs now is not a Gaddafi who despite his authoritarian leadership style can effectively deploy the vast resources of Nigeria to enhance the quality of life of our people as he has successfully done in Libya?
Yes, for 42 years, he has ruled his country. He has no stomach for divergent views. Yet, the infrastructural development Libya has experienced despite suffering many years of economic blockade makes one wonder which is really to be preferred: A dictatorship that has been able to raise the quality of life or a so-called democracy whose only dividend is the replacement of mostly treasury looters with another band of treasury looters every four years - a 'feat' Professor Atahiru Jega, the current Chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), may yet again achieve for Nigeria at the cost of over 50 Billion Naira! Indeed, Nigeria remains a very bad advertisement for democracy!
As I write now, 1.2 Dinar (Libyan currency) exchanges for 1 US Dollar. Yet, one dollar is the equivalent 156 Naira! If Libya were to be Nigeria, 1.2 Dinar should be 1Naira.20 Kobo! Can you imagine that?
At N156 per one Dollar, you can now calculate how much Naira is required to buy just one Libyan Dinar!
In Libya, uninterrupted power supply is taken for granted; but in Nigeria, the people are still groping in darkness despite the mind-breaking revelation that the Olusegun Obasanjo regime had squandered $16 billion pretending to fix the power sector. The last time I checked (and that was this morning), no one has been arraigned in any court for that alleged monumental act of profligacy and economic sabotage.
The other day, a friend and I arrived at the Nigerian-Benin border about 9.00 PM. The Nigerian Immigration Offices (like the country that owns it) was enveloped by pitch darkness and the officer who stamped our passports had to do it with the aid of a very weak torchlight. But just a stone-throw from there, the Benin Republic Immigration offices glowed brilliantly with full power supply. Given that Nigeria has the resources to buy up the entire Benin, what then can anyone make out of this sickening situation? Nigeria appears to be the only country in Africa that is still stuck in the long-forgotten and excruciating past of very poor energy supply, where people in an urban city like Lagos can live for several weeks and months without a flicker of light in the bulbs adorning their living rooms.
The cost of doing business in Nigeria, due to intractable energy crises, has forced several industries to close shop here and relocate to our well-managed neigbours where they would not have to spend millions of naira to operate their power generating sets in order to remain in business. Consequently, many Nigerians have in the process lost their jobs to the citizens of those countries where the companies have relocated. Yet, products of those companies are shipped back to Nigeria where a huge market exists and sold to us as exorbitant prices.
In Libya, there is clean water rushing from every tap; but Nigeria is generously adorned with perennially dry taps. Any day any liquid manages to gush out from those taps, only the irredeemably insane would dare to taste it. Any sane person that tries it would deserve to be arrested and charged for attempting suicide.
The roads in Libya are as good as any you can find anywhere in the world; Libya's airline is world-class while Nigeria Airways is dead and buried; Libyan hospitals and schools can compare with the best anywhere in terms of the quality of services and infrastructure. But to obtain quality education, Nigerians are compelled to send their children to Ghana, Togo and even Benin Republic. There are even speculations now that very soon, Nigerians may start going to places like Liberia and Sierra Leone to get quality education.
In 1993, I met an America Professor of Economics who proudly announced to me that while he studied for his Masters Degree at the University College, Ibadan, (UCI) in 1958, he stayed at Kuti Hall. I wonder if he can advise any American child today to get near that same Kuti Hall he spoke so glowingly about, or encourage the child of his worst enemy to attend a Nigerian University. But while visiting Ghana the other day, I noticed that at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Americans, Britishers, Chinese and people from diverse nations of the world are proudly enrolled there as students.
One wonders how much Nigerians are spending looking for quality medical attention outside Nigeria, even in countries Nigeria can, under responsible leaders, fairly prosper better than, given the huge earnings that pour into the country from oil exports. Right now, the traffic to Indian hospitals is quite overwhelming.
Several Nigerian rulers may have sneered at Hosni Mubarak when he was being forced out power the other day, but for the quality hospitals he either built or maintained during his 'sit-tights' years, many of them or their relatives would have since been buried and forgotten. Countless children of Nigerian public officers are enrolled in Egyptians schools, built or maintained by the same ousted 'sit-tight' Egyptian leader, because they have lost confidence in Nigerian public schools and colleges devalued by years of wayward and bankrupt leadership.
There are hardly any reports of religion-inspired violent and mindless killings in Libya despite the country having a Christian minority population. In fact, so sick and fed-up with Nigeria's crying inability to manage its differences, Gaddafi had to once ask this country to dismember itself along ethno-religious lines, eliciting angry but insufferably hypocritical reactions from our largely failed leaders who instead of burying their faces in shame called him names. Senate President, David Mark, called him a madman! He may probably be, but most Nigerians at that time wondered publicly who was mad between the two men.
I am not aware that refineries in Libya have since packed up and that Libya is importing fuel from mostly refineries built with mostly stolen funds by their nationals in other countries. The vehicles one sees on the streets of Libya are not like the moving coffins that slug it out on the deathtraps we call roads here.
Even with Libya being a desert place, food was still cheap, and life more promising there , so much so, that, before the present crises, Nigerians utterly frustrated beyond measure by worsening conditions in their country and eager to escape from the hell our leaders have turned this place into were trouping to Libya in droves, and remaining there despite clear signs of being less-than welcome. Today, Nigerians are being subjected to unimaginable indignities in several countries where they have escaped to and become economic exiles, and sometimes humiliated and deported from all sorts of places including even a place like Sudan!
Yes, I like democracy, no doubt. But if it only exists as a mere slogan to enrich a few and circulate only miseries among the larger population (as is the case in Nigeria), I won't mind for now Gaddafi's 'dictatorship' which has improved the quality of life in Libya.
The common man on the streets of Nigeria bearing the excruciating pain of directionless leadership and mindless looting of the common wealth is only interested in who would provide his basic needs and give him hope to continue living again.
He would prefer a non-democratic Saudi Arabia where every ante-natal and post-natal medical care, including surgery and several other forms of medical treatment are free; where doctors don't suddenly go on strike due to very poor working conditions, leaving patients to die; where quality healthcare is so pronounced to the extent of attracting the patronage of Nigeria's late ruler, Umar Yar'Adua; where quality schools exist for the common man to send his children at affordable or even no costs at all.
To him debates on such issues as how long a particular person had ruled him or the system being operated are more of elite preoccupations, and may most of the time be borne out of less-than patriotic motives to acquire power, and so he feels less concerned. Leadership after all is defined by quality, selfless service and not its opposite. Where this is lacking, nothing else matters!
Indeed, democracy is good and desirable, especially, where it adds value to life. But those who have turned it into a religion seem to easily forget that Adolf Hitler was not a product of imposed leadership, but had emerged from one of the freest elections the world has ever witnessed.
So, if Libyans are tired of Gaddafi, and eventually succeed in pushing him out, he should hurry down to Nigeria where years of morally bankrupt and failed leadership seem to have enhanced his attraction.
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