By Iorter Peter
Asking the right question is critically important. Think of how important it is for a police detective to ask the right question; what about a physician? For a researcher, every finding that follows a path to solving a problem begins with a question. For my colleagues, they understand how asking the right question will be a sure way to a scoop story. To avoid going down a lot of blind alleys, one simply need to ask the right question. For us as a country, what are the questions we should be asking now – what is the national question?
Rightly referred to as the ‘Giant of Africa’, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation. Its citizens have over time distinguished themselves in different fields of human endeavor. The country has produced Africa’s richest man – Alhaji Aliko Dangote, founder of Dangote Group, who was also ranked as the richest black man in the world by Forbes Magazine. Prof Wole Soyinka is considered as Africa’s most distinguished playwright; he became the first Africa to win the Nobel Prize for literature. Mr Olumide Aliu, became president of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) making him the first African to head the global body for aviation safety. These and many others have proudly placed Nigeria on the global map.
The country is copiously blessed with crude oil and gas deposits among other natural resources. Nigeria’s average crude oil production is currently estimated at 1.82 million barrel per day; ranking as one of the largest exporter of crude oil in the world. Despite all these, the country’s statistics on poverty levels hardly make for scintillating reading. It is paradoxical that the discovery of oil wealth in Nigeria has become a ‘curse’ instead of a blessing.
Why is our narrative so distinct from that of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)? History has it that, over 5,000 years ago, the inhabitants of what is now the UAE survived on merely fishing, hunting and herding sheep and goats. When oil was discovered in the region, it metamorphosed their harsh and difficult existence.
Today, the sagacious investment of oil wealth has transformed that desert region of old to an enviable metropolis. The United Arab Emirates now boasts of having one of the highest per capita incomes in the world; with an impressive infrastructure – superbly equipped modern hospitals, well-maintained multi-lane carriageways, efficient international seaports, world-class airports, leading hotels and beach resorts and air-conditioned shopping malls among other such-like developments.
It is somewhat difficult to understand why our oil wealth has not changed our economic fortunes. There is a growing deficit in infrastructure – pitiable health facilities, unstable electricity, and bad roads. The list is inexhaustible. With our huge oil resources, Nigerians have no business being poor. Yet, millions of Nigerians have continued to live in extreme poverty. Our graduates roam the streets searching for jobs that are not available. Several people die daily from treatable diseases not only as a result of the poor state of our hospitals, but also because of their inability to foot hospital bills. It is no exaggeration therefore to say that poverty kills in Nigeria. If things had fallen apart long ago in the years of Chinua Achebe, I wonder how we can describe the situation now.
It is worrisome how a handful of individuals will recklessly squander our collective oil wealth while many people find it difficult to eat a meal. How soon are we going to rewrite our history? Are we asking the right questions? How unfortunate it is that those who are positioned to make this change happen appear to be benefitting from the faulty system. I wouldn’t think that Nigerians have not been asking the right questions. We have been able to identify the fundamental issues that have continued to threaten our common existence. But my headache is why have we been unable to fix Nigeria right?
Many times one wonders the sincerity and commitment of our leaders to solving the Nigerian problem. Why was former President Jonathan unable to implement the report of the National Conference? Why did he convene a conference he knew he wasn’t ready to implement its report in the first instance? Is it not true to say it was a political twist? Oh, He thought he was coming back to Aso Rock to consider the report! On another note, Why can’t Nigerians be allowed to hold a referendum and decide on what they want for themselves?
There is an urgent need to identify the major elements that can shape the near future of our country. As a country, we must begin now to realize our guiding ethos. For me, the on-going debate for the restructuring of the country deserves speedy attention. At the moment, make no mistakes; many things are wrong with Nigeria.
–Iorter, an independent journalist, wrote from Abuja.