Are We Really The Giant Of Africa?

I have just returned from a vacation in South Africa that saw me traversing Johannesburg, Cape Town and the magical Sun City. South Africa is a First World country built by the whites but which has been maintained, improved and constantly renewed by the black ANC-controlled government since 1994. They were lucky to have had Nelson Mandela as the first post-apartheid black president and not Robert Mugabe or Olusegun Obasanjo. Mandela who once declared that “courageous people do not fear forgiving” laid a rock-solid nationalist foundation based on the principles of true democracy, predicated on free and fair elections, rule of law and justice. He insisted on spending only one term as a sacrifice for the growth of democracy and statecraft in the country he loves so much. That is why when the man (or to him, the boy) he groomed to succeed him got too close to Obasanjo and in the process picked up a few bad manners and wanted to remain in power and reckoning beyond his brief, he was humbled at his party’s convention and subsequently thrown out as the nation’s president. And everything was done according to the rule of law and due process.

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There are still crimes and hooliganism in the country. In fact, South Africa is renowned for its violent crimes, but the difference with Nigeria is that you could see the government spending sleepless nights trying to solve the problem. These days, there are installed cameras and CCTVs everywhere, especially in the crime-infested areas, to spot criminals. And, in more than 90% of cases, those who perpetrate crimes are apprehended. Robbers and assassins are taken into custody almost on a daily basis. In Nigeria, a serving minister of justice was assassinated seven years ago but, as I write, the authorities are not even looking for the criminals. Bola Ige is only one of numerous examples. There are also the cases of Sa’adatu Rimi, Marshal Harry, Aminosoari Dikibo and a host of others. Maybe, another difference between the reality of crime in Nigeria and South Africa is that the people that are supposed to be searching for and apprehending criminals are the same people that are perpetrating the crimes.

Another thing. There is no large water source in Johannesburg, so the city sources its water supply from a neighbouring country. In spite of that, all the taps gush with water with the kind of pressure that we in Nigeria can only imagine. There are no potholes at all on any of their roads, and, everywhere you go, there are ongoing new projects. Less than two years ago, the government decided to build a new rail line. By June this year, it will be completed and you see the efforts to complete it everywhere you go. They are constructing larger and more sophisticated stadia – bigger than the disposal one Obasanjo built in Abuja, but at even less the cost. They are constructing the stadia in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, and you see work going on day and night. There are no abandoned projects in South Africa and contractors are not owed.

And, as we all know, a black majority government has been in place for 15 years. Since then, the economy has grown exponentially so much so that the Rand, the local currency, has not only maintained its convertibility, it has even become stronger. Their priority in education is covetable. Less than two weeks ago, the results of their secondary school certificate exams were released and the entire country has been engrossed with the progress or otherwise that their leaders of tomorrow are making. Newspapers and TV stations are discussing the results on a daily basis. They are currently busy assessing the performance of their children in critical subjects like Mathematics and the sciences. As a Nigerian onlooker, I was both impressed and depressed. Impressed at the purposefulness of a fellow African country, and depressed that my country has not even enlisted in the global race for the future.

A few weeks ago, South Africa’s minister of health was ill and had to seek medical attention, but she dared not attend her regular private hospital much less travel to Germany or Saudi Arabia for treatment. In Nigeria, the president travels out on a regular basis to seek medical attention in hospitals in foreign countries without the slightest courtesy of even informing Nigerians. Meanwhile, all the public hospitals in Nigeria have now become places people only go to die. And why not? For almost one year last year, the nation had no minister of health.

In South Africa, every day you read the newspapers you see how the government is frantically responding to the global financial crisis. Nigeria is doing nothing because those in power are living under the self-delusion that Nigeria is “not affected by the crisis”. Meanwhile, the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) has all but collapsed.

But all that does not even begin to explain why I am sad at the moment. As our aircraft made to land at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, at the weekend, the entire city was without power supply. And as we drove to our hotel to spend the night before leaving for Abuja the following day, only the few houses that had generators had power supply. The whole of Lagos was in pitch darkness. But that’s only the beginning of the story.

When I called my friend who had also just returned from his own vacation from, of all places, Liberia to tell him my ordeal, he was even angrier than I was. Throughout the one week he spent in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, he said, there was no power outage, even though the country had just emerged from a devastating internecine war. He said on his way back, they flew across a few African countries including Ghana, and because it was at night, they saw the glow of light bulbs in all the countries they flew across until they got to Nigeria. As they landed in Lagos, the entire city, Nigeria’s commercial capital, was without electricity.

Nigeria is probably the only country in the world that is still in pitch darkness and getting worse. And this is after Obasanjo had spent $16 billion in eight years on the sector. And, as if that was not bad enough for me, another friend who had read my column two weeks ago – where I said, “Nigeria is regressing and sinking so fast that many of us may soon be spending vacation in backwater countries like Niger Republic” – called me. He told me that I was not even current enough. He and his family had just returned from a vacation in Niger Republic where they had peace and a hell of a good time. And he added, “There was no power outage throughout the period we were there.”

That also reminded me of Col. Dangiwa Umar’s brilliant letter to former President Obasanjo a few years ago. He told Obasanjo in the letter that he travelled by land to Niger Republic via Sokoto. He knew he had left Nigeria when the road suddenly became smooth without a hint of potholes. That, of course, was after Obasanjo had spent N350 billion “constructing roads”.

The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines delusions of grandeur as “the belief that you are much more important than you really are”. No, Nigeria is not the giant of Africa, unless we are suffering from a classical case of delusions of grandeur. But we have what it takes to become one in the shortest possible time. We are a relatively well-educated, sophisticated and confident people. We are indisputably the intellectual hub of Africa. But we have allowed crooks and rogues to take over our commonweal for far too long. And it is not the fault of those rogue leaders. It is our collective fault. They would not be in power, if it were not with our consent.

E A R S H O T
Ogbulafor, A Symbol Of Nigeria’s Irredeemable Political Class
If you needed any proof that Nigeria’s political class was too far gone and beyond redemption, you would find one in Chief Vincent Ogbulafor’s response to the enviable Ghanaian presidential election. All the PDP chairman saw was that the defeated candidate, who by the way was the candidate of the ruling party, accepted his defeat with equanimity and did not challenge it in court. He commended that good behaviour to the Nigerian opposition, and advised them to emulate Mr Nana Akuffo-Addo and avoid the courts.

I do not believe Ogbulafor is too harebrained and too obtuse not to know why the defeated Ghanaian candidate accepted the result with such grace. But I am also glad that no one bothered to waste his time responding to the PDP chairman’s statement.

But you know what? Like Ogbulafor, I also advise politicians not to waste their time going to court again. They should fight to protect and defend their votes by land, air and sea. Politicians from other parts should go to Lagos to rent the area boys. Like Lagos has shown, the rogue politicians who rig elections only understand the language of those boys. Any politician who is not ready to go the whole hog should not even bother to contest any election in the future. Anyone who believes Yar’Adua’s electoral reform promise certainly deserves to be rigged out over and over and over again. Yar’Adua will not destroy a system of which he has been the greatest beneficiary.