New Telegraph

Nigeria: A nation bursting at the seams

Where does one start from when one tries to consider the numerous problems besetting this our great nation – is it insecurity, unemployment, inflation or what? The list is almost endless. Virtually every day it is tales of woe from the length and breadth of the world’s most populous black nation! While most people of other nations are concerned with how to better their lives and leave the country healthier for their children; for their Nigerian counterparts just staying alive has now become their main preoccupation. Gone are the days when one could decide to drive from Lagos to Benin or Abuja or wherever to see friends or to conduct business because the roads are no longer safe.

I still remember vividly that my first trip to Abuja was by road in December 1989. The then Transcorp Hilton Hotel used to host an end of year lawn tennis tournament for which I was invited to attend. My then employers did not have enough money to fund the trip by air, so I opted to go by road because I was desperate to visit the hotel and Abuja, which I had heard so much about. And so I boarded a vehicle (I think it was a Peugeot 505 station wagon) in Lagos, which was to take me on my first visit to the Federal Capital Territory.

Unfortunately by the time we got to Auchi in Edo State, most of the passengers had disembarked and so the driver put me and the lone other passenger still going to Abuja in another vehicle going to the FCT. All through, I never once feared for my safety that I would be abducted because such was virtually unheard of. The only fear one harboured was the dexterity of the driver in ensuring we reached our destination in one piece because the roads were quite good.

Sadly, barely 32 years later, the narrative has changed massively because making such a journey for me is a no brainer – not with the high rate of highway robberies and kidnappings, coupled with the deplorable state of the roads! And this has been one of the major problems of this country – failure of those in power to ensure continuity in the maintenance of infrastructure, so that they do not become a problem for future governments due to their poor state.

In the three decades that I made my one and only road trip to Abuja, we have had five different governments and had those in charge of the affairs of the nation then ensured that even if they could not improve on what they met on ground, at least maintain them, then we definitely would not be in this mess in which trillions of none existing naira will be needed to bring them up to scratch. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was a Military Head of State, when he commissioned the nation’s first every dual carriage way – the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in August 1978. It took him exactly 18 months to construct the 127.6-kilometre-long road from scratch. Obasanjo was back in charge as a civilian President between 1999 and 2003 when the road was put up for renovation in 2000, and yet, 21 years and four governments later, work on the expressway is still ongoing.

According to the present All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration, the road will not be finished until December next year – after 22 years! And the story is the same for virtually all federal and state roads across the country – failure to maintain them has meant that they are no longer in good shape. However, our failure is not limited to infrastructure; it is the same thing in the area of the economy. Since the advent of the 4th Republic, with the return to civilian rule in 1999, things have just gone from bad to worse for the average Nigerian.

Despite repeated promises of improving the lot of the citizens they tried so hard to woo during elections, each successive government has left them worse off than when they took over. For instance in 1999, the exchange rate was N21.89 to the dollar at the official rate, while in the parallel market it hovered between N88–N90. Just 22 years later it has jumped to N380 at the official rate and N485 (as at Thursday)! Of course this has led to corresponding increases in the cost of goods and services across the board with Nigerians groaning as high inflation takes its toll on their standard of living.

Is it in the area of security? During the week on Tuesday precisely, the government decided to finally end the tenure of Mohammed Adamu as Inspector General of Police and in his place appointed 57-year-old Usman Alkali Baba, in acting capacity. Speaking during the handing over on Wednesday, the native of Yobe as expected said all the right things. He said Nigerians should expect an improvement in the security situation in the country. Baba said the police have tried their best in securing the country, “but it’s not enough”. “You will see improvement on where my predecessor has left.

I came in at a very challenging time. I know it. I recognise it and I will work on how to improve from where my predecessor has left,” he said. “I have been a member of the management team. We have tried to do our best, but it’s not enough. There is room for improvement. “Nigerians should expect improvement on the security situation. And Nigerians should also collaborate and cooperate with us. With all the inadequacies we have, we still require everybody to be part of policing in this country.” Baba said he will build a police force that will protect human rights, adding that he is mindful of the yearnings of Nigerians.

He acknowledged that his appointment comes at a time the country is experiencing security threats such as terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, secessionist agitation, and organised crimes. “Much as the challenge of leading the force to address these threats in the shortest possible time frame, restore security order, and return our beloved nation to the path of national unity may appear daunting, I am inspired by the fact that from my extensive years of service, I can confidently say that the Nigeria police is endowed with some of the finest, courageous and patriotic officers who, undoubtedly, shall support me to advance the internal security vision of Mr. President,” he said. Well said, unfortunately we have repeatedly heard such soothing words since 1999 only to have our expectations repeatedly dashed. Only time will tell if this time they will actually be true.

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