Discourse in Nigeria suffers from the menace of street wisdom. Street wisdom refers to expressions and phrases commonly accepted without question because they seduce with their folk appeal. On questioning, such terms fall apart. They are now cliches or worn-out expressions.
Let us do away with them. I will mention a few of these issues that have become peeves. I hate that even our very informed revert to and repeat them. Come with me on this light-hearted take on serious problems.
The most common of these draws on the alleged wisdom of the ancients in our aphorisms. As a Lagos boy, the Yoruba saying oju l’oro wa intrigues. It translates literally to the truth is in our eyes. It means that physical interaction, eyeball-to-eyeball, is the best form of conversation. Many of our 350 ethnic groups have this saying in various forms.
“It is not a phone conversation. Let us meet to discuss in detail”. Dear reader, how often have you heard this statement? Please discard it in the age of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and even Skype. They allow the full functionality of sight and sound you experience in a physical meeting. It only lacks touch and smell.
Experience is that when eventually you hold these physical meetings, it turns out to be a Shakespearean parable “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. First, the substance of this oju l’oro wa takes all 30 minutes or less. However, getting to the meeting could take a trip by road or air, hours of commute, and so much stress.
Technology to the rescue
Technology has enabled man to bridge the distances and barriers that led to such aphorisms. There are savings in time and resources in its wake while yielding increased productivity. The only reason for oju l’oro wa in this age is physical bonding and not the heft and substance of the discourse or the associated examination of body language.
My maternal uncle, Dee John, laughs heartily but quizzically whenever I interrogate the saying, anaghi esi mgbagbu ghara ogu. It means that fear of death should not deter us from a fight! Really? I consider this call to courage misguided. It advocates nzogbu, nzogbu or struggle and power show for its sake.
Avoidance of death should be the reason to seek other options than war. Options include negotiation, détente, appeasement, bluff, and other tools in the armoury. Bravery without wisdom is folly.
Chinua Achebe captured it in Things Fall Apart, where Obierika, Okonkwo’s friend, spoke wisdom. “We often stand in the home of the coward to point to the ruins where a brave man used to live.”
People hailed the warrior for his bravery, but he is gone, and his family and clan lose.
The brave young men of the South-East listened to the wisdom of anaghi esi mgbagbu ghara ogu. The outcome has been denudation of their fatherland with economic suicide every Monday.
Then there are contemporary pieces of wisdom from the street. The most common concerns education quality or lack of it. Recently, a faux outrage about the supposed vast numbers of persons graduating with First Class Honours filled the media. The claim was so loud without any interrogation.
If you believe the story in most newspapers, there is a “rash of First-Class Honours” awarded by universities. Some go further to point at the private universities as the chief culprits. Private universities allegedly do so because they need to compensate students for the high fees!
There is no rash of First-Class Honours anywhere in Nigeria. We have the announcement effect and media adumbration of the seemingly high numbers. It arises from the increased number of institutions declaring their results. The output of First-Class graduates has remained at an average of under ten per cent of the graduating class. Cases where the numbers exceed this average are few. Every class result reflects a bell curve with the highest degree at the lower-left corner.
It was shocking to read a report in the “flagship” repeating this error. The reporter claimed there was “a growing army of First-Class graduates.” She could not bother with the rigour of analysis. Luckily and unintentionally, the reporter debunked the central plank of the story. She cited a source who broke down the results and showed that most universities recorded less than five per cent of the class with First Class Honours. Despite this, neither she nor her editor considered a change of direction. They chose to rehash the street wisdom.
My other beef concerns the statements of public officials in high offices. Often their words, even at significant events such as the convocation of universities, lack depth and rigour. A recent one struck me because I like the gentleman. This governor is an in-law to the Igbo nation.
The gentleman who has shown courage and wisdom in other matters claimed that the Nigerian university system produces graduates who lack practical application. I wondered if he realised that as he pointed, four fingers pointed right back at him as a product of the Nigerian university system. I also queried if he has been applying the prescription to the governance of the state that he superintends. What are the results of his practicality?
By the way, the states should create an enabling environment for applying theories. Has Mr Governor commissioned the state university with solving one of the challenges of his state? That is the way to generate practical knowledge. Let us discard the menace of street wisdom.
Street wisdom states boldly that the Nigerian university system produces low-quality graduates. However, the practical instances debunk this assertion. Nigerian graduates have found favour in important world markets, from medical doctors and nurses through IT specialists. They are in demand in Dubai and other parts of the Middle East, the UK, the USA, and continental Europe.
A Nigerian start-up produced such high-quality personnel that Mark Zuckerberg came visiting. It makes you wonder if those coming to pick up our personnel do not know that the Nigerian university system trained them? It is time to do away with the menace of street wisdom and replace it with deep thinking and more precise articulation.
Nigeria’s Profligate Leaders And The Dangers Ahead
By Emeka Alex Duru*
A cartoon post on a friend’s social media Facebook Wall, the other day, made quite some sense. In it, an overtly overfed politician was lying comfortably on a couch atop four distraught and malnourished porters. With sweat gushing down their mangled faces, the outlandish office holder admonished the carriers to keep going that they were getting closer to their destination.
It did not matter to him that those he was sitting on were being crushed by the impacts of his weight. All that he was concerned with was having his fun, living on their blood! There can be no better definition of a vampire. That is the relationship between Nigerian profligate leaders and the suffering masses.
In the next few days, the year 2023 will be over and we will be ushering in 2024. That would mean 25 unbroken years of civilian administration in the country – a quarter of a century in democratic governance. Come to think of it; democracy presupposes wellness and enhanced standard of living for a people. But for the average Nigerian, it is a different matter. In place of hope offered by democracy – the government of the people, for the people and by the people, as defined by the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, the Nigerian people are presented with hardship; a case of the citizens asking for bread but being fed with stones.
There seems to be something inherently wicked with the Nigerian leaders. Long before now, Prof Chinua Achebe identified the malaise in his concise book, The Trouble With Nigeria, where he wrote: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to responsibility. To the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership”.
At each point in national life, this unwholesome attitude to service manifests. Office holders, who are supposed to hold the sacred mandate for the people in trust, appear to derive pleasure in seeing them suffer. Two incidences in the last few days, demonstrate this sheer callousness on the part of the leadership – the 2024 budget proposals and the piteous prodigality in Dubai.
Some items in the budget were simply outrageous. They include the plan by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to spend N15 billion to construct a new residence for the vice president. The planned construction of the new residence is coming despite the allocation of another N2.5 billion for the renovation of the current residence of the VP in the federal government’s supplementary budget recently passed by the National Assembly and signed by President Bola Tinubu. The only explanation for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister Nyesom Wike, for the needless engagement, was that the project needed to give the VP “a befitting residence”.
Apart from the allocation for the renovation of the VP’s residence in the FG’s supplementary budget, there is another N3 billion for the renovation of the VP’s residence in Lagos State. In the same supplementary budget, the government will be spending N8 billion on the two official residences of the president in Abuja and Lagos. The budget also contains billions allocated for the purchase of cars for the Villa and the Office of the First Lady. The grandiose expenditure is despite the bad state of the nation’s economy.
As if the dust raised by the unreasonable budget proposals is not enough, the President took an army of delegates to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Dubai, otherwise called COP28. Figures were quoted on the number of Nigerians at the summit, with some insisting that over 1,411 were in attendance. In response to the obvious public anger over the matter, Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, said only 422 were funded by the government.
Justifying the huge crowd at the event, the minister said the delegates from Nigeria included government officials, representatives from the private sector, civil society, the voluntary sector, state governments, media, multilateral institutions, representatives of marginalised communities, and many others.
“The Federal Government-funded delegation is made up of a total of 422 persons, as follows: National Council on Climate Change = 32; Federal Ministry of Environment = 34; All Ministries = 167; Presidency = 67; Office of the Vice President = 9; National Assembly = 40, and Federal Parastatals/Agencies = 73”, Idris stated.
He added that as the biggest economy and most populous country in Africa, with a substantial extractive economy and extensive vulnerability to climate change, Nigeria has a significant stake in climate action; hence its active and robust participation at COP was not unwarranted.
It did not matter to the minister that many of the delegates had no understanding of COP negotiation procedures or the complex climate negotiation processes. Everything here boils down to getting some jobs for the boys, wasting scarce resources on non-essential things when the people are suffering, and dropping into multi-dimensional poverty in droves.
Nigeria is currently going through acute unemployment and inflationary trends. The cost of living is extremely high. A bag of Rice, depending on make and location, goes for as high as N60,000.00. A litre of Premium Motor Spirit, otherwise called Petrol sells for between N600 and N750 and in some cases higher, in some parts of the country. The public schools are in shambles, with other infrastructural facilities in various stages of dilapidation.
The other day, the House of Representatives Committee on Health raised alarm on the imminent collapse of the sector due to the decline in manpower in the system. The committee, which was on a visit to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), disclosed that due to the relocation of doctors and nurses from the institution to various parts of the world, five wards comprising 150 beds have been shut down. LUTH is a cosmopolitan premier tertiary health institution and yet, experiencing this sordid exodus of personnel.
Before the LUTH incidence, 65 doctors had reportedly left Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTH), Ile-Ife, while about three wards had stopped admitting patients over inadequate manpower in the hospital. The situation elsewhere can better be imagined.
Despite the glaring danger on the horizon, the leaders do not seem perturbed. They rather put up the annoying carriage of King Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burnt. Such a gross act of insensitivity is often an invitation to anarchy. It is high time Nigeria’s leaders departed their profligate lifestyle and focused attention on attending to the needs of the poor masses. Failing to do so, may be catastrophic for all.
DURU is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos (08054103327, email@example.com)
Strategic Options For South East In The Next Five Years
By Chido Nwakanma*
If you are from Abia State, you are likely familiar with and love Ofe Ukazi. You eat it with or without achara. It is a delicacy common to the major subgroups in the state.
However, you will need help finding Ofe Ukazi on request in the hotels, restaurants, or fast-food joints in Umuahia, the state capital, or Aba, the commercial hub. To add insult to injury, the same outlets would most likely offer you Afang soup, the Ibibio version of the same soup. You will experience the same difficulty in Owerri if you seek Ofe Owerri. Ndigbo must embrace theirs to send a similar message to the world.
People must love their products, goods, and services as a starting point to get others to love them. I enjoy Afang. Where there is a choice, give me Ofe Ukazi. It is a cultural determination with economic implications.
The soft power of culture is a critical starting point for the analysis of the future of the South-East. Culture is the soft underbelly of any society. Culture trumps strategy. Culture is the carrier of values, attraction, and persuasion. It covers music, movies, art, food, and fashion.
It then extends to political values such as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. It covers a people’s internal and external relationships. Soft skills complement soft power. Soft skills enable individuals and groups to interact effectively and harmoniously with others. Experts call them interpersonal, people, and communication skills.
With the governor’s spearheading, a mix of soft and hard skills will be critical for the South-East and its people. A SWOT of our region shows.
Communication is critical, as is teamwork. Leaders and people of the South East must collaborate, share ideas, and resolve conflicts constructively. The recent South-East Economic and Security Summit in Owerri received plaudits because of evidence of teamwork by the governors.
Critical soft skills include problem-solving, adaptability, work ethic, and emotional intelligence. The South-East can claim good marks on these. Following the lead of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, here is a look at some of the critical issues for our region.
The strategic direction for the South-East of Nigeria in the next five years should focus on the following key areas:
Economic development: The South-East region has a rich economic heritage and a robust entrepreneurial spirit. However, challenges such as poor infrastructure, high unemployment, and insecurity plague the region. Insecurity and unemployment are intertwined. Solving the unemployment problem will drastically reduce insecurity. Investment in roads, bridges, and power infrastructure will contribute to job creation.
Agriculture: Agriculture is a significant economic sector in the Southeast, but it is largely underdeveloped. In the next five years, the region should focus on modernising its agricultural sector and making it more productive and efficient. Look into the many research institutes in our region. Do they have a game changer in root crops and cereals at Umudike or Amakama? Our farmers need improved inputs and better agricultural value chains. Our governors need to speak and act more on agriculture. It needs to be on the agenda as a Top Five item.
Tourism: We have several tourist attractions, such as the Ogbunike Caves, Oguta Lake, the Ngwo Pine Forest, and the Arochukwu Long Juju. There are more. The Azumini Blue Lake is one. Milliken Hill is another. Religious tourism exists in the region without state intervention to enhance and regulate facilities. People visit the Awhum Monastery and then contend with poor access. We can do better to modernise infrastructure. Ogun State built a ramp to access Olumo Rock, enhancing its attraction and increasing tourist numbers. It boosted the local economy.
In the next five years, the Southeast should focus on developing its tourism sector by investing in infrastructure, promoting its tourist attractions, and creating an environment that enables tourism businesses to thrive.
Security: Insecurity has plagued our region for years. In the next five years, the region should address the root causes of insecurity, such as poverty, unemployment, and political agitation. Jobs remain priority number one. We commend the governors for collaborating with the federal government to improve regional security.
Other focus areas include education and skills training, healthcare, environmental sustainability, and industrialisation.
Here is a SWOT analysis for the next five years in the South-East:
Young and vibrant population: The South East has young and energetic people, with a median age of 19.3 years. This is a significant asset, with a large labour pool and potential consumers.
Abundant natural resources: The South-East is rich in natural resources, including oil, gas, coal, and limestone. These resources provide the foundation for economic growth and development.
Entrepreneurial spirit: The people of the South East are known for their entrepreneurial spirit. This is evident in the large number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that operate in the region. Note that we must encourage the MSMEs of the South-East to scale. The Society of Igbo Professionals surveyed enterprises in the region in 2021/22. Finding any that employed up to 500 people was stretching. Scale is critical.
Infrastructure deficit: The South-East has a significant infrastructure deficit, particularly in transportation, power, and water supply. This has hampered economic growth and development in the region.
Enugu State has domesticated the law deregulating power. We encourage the government and investors in Enugu State to look towards alternative power mini-grids to serve communities. Demonstrable progress in power generation will unleash the competitive spirit in our people. Power will significantly improve incomes and livelihoods.
Security challenges: The Southeast has faced security challenges in recent years. This has created an unfavourable environment for businesses and investors. Stop the sit-at-home and similar schemes that drain our people’s energy, capacity, and goodwill.
Brain drain: The Southeast has experienced significant brain drain in recent years, as many young people have migrated to other parts of the country and the international market in search of better opportunities.
Economic diversification: The South East has the opportunity to diversify its economy. Promoting agriculture, ICT, manufacturing, and tourism are the pathways.
Industrialisation: Incentivising local businesses and attracting Diaspora and FDI funds will unlock greater industrialisation. The Governors Forum should look into the multiplicity of taxes and levies that confront regional companies. It is a disincentive.
Human capital development: The South East can invest in human capital development by providing quality education and healthcare to its citizens.
Technology: We can leverage technology by investing in infrastructure and promoting digital literacy.
Economic recession: The South-East is vulnerable to economic recession, as the governments are heavily dependent on Federal allocations, which depend on oil and gas. A global economic downturn could lead to a decline in oil prices, hurting the region’s economy.
Climate change: Climate change threatens the South-East. The environment remains threatening. Climate change could also lead to a decline in agricultural productivity. Erosion threatens our land. There should be a regional emergency to tackle it.
By focusing on these critical areas, the Southeast can position itself for sustainable economic development and improved quality of life for its people.
Culled from the Southeast Journal, 2nd Edition, December 2023, a publication of the South-East Governors Forum
How Many Emefieles Are On Trial, For What Offence?
By Ikeddy ISIGUZO
One of the many things Nigeria teaches you quietly is to excel in whatever you do. Sadly, this teaching tends to support criminals, and the like, who know that in organised crime – Nigeria is a scene of daily occurrences – you get many men and women to do the job.
You de-risk your operations by that method. You also ensure that the risk is well spread and that instead of shifting blame, when necessary, you can share the blame. Blame-sharing is better than blame-shifting.
Theories that suggest Nigerians, adults and toddlers alike, are responsible for the Nigeria we have are rooted in blame sharing. Everyone is in it.
When you read all that we are told about former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Godwin Emefiele, there is a sense of incredulity. If you flip it, you ponder about how porous Nigerian processes are.
Emefiele stole N1.6 billion, the single charge read after it collapsed from 20 charges. It takes a saint to have all that money, means, and moments before him and he takes so little. He must be a rare Nigerian, selfless, not as greedy as we see around daily.
He has belatedly discovered that the said N1.6 billion cannot get him a N300 million surety. You can see the futility of seeing too little. Where was the big picture?
That must be why in a certain era in Onitsha, the boast was that one excelled in a chosen cause to the point of being Ozo. The Ozo was for the refined, the excellent, the community’s exemplars for good things.
Criminals have appropriated that wisdom for their industry. They steal so much that they have enough to secure justice wherever they are charged. While at it, they enjoy the best services available in our prisons, okay they are correctional centres.
Emefiele may not be in that league. He would make more discoveries during these dark days. The N1.6 billion, he allegedly stole, is not adequate to get him “a good lawyer”. Many lawyers would be disappointed by the size of the Emefiele brief.
He was charged with conferring economic advantage on a CBN female staff Sa’adatu Yaro and her company April 1616 Investments Limited through contracts for the supply of vehicles to CBN. The charge has been dropped.
Once charged with gun-running and financing terrorism, in court, it was alleged he was slugging one unlicensed pistol. A vivid image is the catapult we bore in those days, pretending that a sling made it more potent.
These are not to suggest that Emefiele stole more or less, nor that one unlicensed gun was not enough offence. The trials have strained our lawlessness in a year that series of judicial pronouncements, you can call them judgments, are without the ingredients that drill conclusions from interrogated evidence.
Judgments are issued mainly from contradictory indecisions. Judges’ indecisions are final.
There are no surprises here. As Emefiele emerges from a court clutching an order that has granted him momentary freedom, DSS is by the wings waiting to throw him back into another detention until a new charge is raised to keep him away from freedom
One would almost think that breaking the law was a mandate of DSS. The patriotic zeal they have invested in keeping Emefiele in detention is bewildering.
A fight that broke out at the Federal High Court, Lagos, between Ikoyi Correctional Centre officials and DSS over who should have Emefiele in custody was one of the scandalous high points of Emefiele’s detention since 9 June 2023. Has keeping Emefiele become a business?
Where are his friends? Where are his enemies? Where are those who allegedly gained economic advantage from him? Who watched while he stole? Did the security agencies know he was stealing? Who did they tell?
Could Emefiele have acted without President Muhammadu Buhari’s knowledge of the harsh Naira conversation policy that killed many businesses and possibly people? He could not have acted alone, simply impossible.
Emefiele deserves no pity. I don’t think he would be asking for any. He is not getting what he deserves. When Justice Nicholas Oweibo of the Federal High Court ruled he should be kept at the correctional centre, that’s what he deserved. Why did DSS fight to keep him?
Whatever happens to Emefiele is an important particle of our laws. If his class can mal-treat him, the masses, the unclassed, those whom the law often fails to protect, have no chance to get justice.
People are afraid to bail Emefiele because they do not want to be seen as the enemy of those holding him. Is that how justice works?
Let’s put Emefiele on trial, and jail him if he is guilty. We should stop wasting time on one Emefiele. More Emefieles need to be tried for Nigeria to strive. And their offenses? Breaking their brotherhood code with Emefiele.
OUR Bolt driver from last week is breathing a little better. Son was buried, and by 30 November he paid off the hire purchase agreement on his car. Thanks to those whose humaneness led them to pool together the resources that paid off the hire purchase. There are needs everywhere, and with social media, communal solutions are more possible.
ABIA State Governor Alexander Chioma Otti has by word of mouth changed the title of Local Government Chairmen to Mayor for the Transition Chairmen he has just appointed. There is illegality involved. Imagine the waste across the 17 LGAs changing signs, seals, insignias, stamps, office papers, folders, files, furniture, and cars for Mayors and Deputy Mayors to support the fantasy.
INCONSISTENT accounts of the Abuja-Lagos flight that landed in Asaba as Lagos indicate horrible things with our aviation. One account said the pilot told passengers to get ready for landing in Lagos. The two airports bear no resemblance whether on air or the ground. Did the navigational aids fail? How did the pilot (I almost called him driver) ‘mistake’ Asaba for Lagos?
Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues