When we go low, we go really low
By Simon Kolawole
On a visit to my mum years ago — this should be in 2009 — I saw an improvised battery-powered lamp on her table. It was mounted on wood, probably six-inch-long, with space for two AA batteries. There were several energy-saving bulbs mounted on the low-tech device. “What is this?” I asked her, bemused. She told me it was called “Oju ti NEPA” (“shame on NEPA”). It was a cheaper alternative to torchlight and generator in the face of stable blackouts. My first instinct was to laugh, which I did. And then I began to shake my head. Nigerians are so creative: they always make sense from nonsense. We can adapt to any situation. Push us to the wall and we will dig our way through.
But, then, is that not why Nigeria is like this? We perpetually live in mediocrity; we readily adjust to subhuman conditions; we easily throw up our hands in surrender; we gleefully describe rotting bananas as “ripening”. When the system throws lemon at us, we catch it. In 2003, an exasperated Chief Gani Fawehinmi, commenting on the fraudulent presidential election, said he could not believe how Nigerians enthusiastically refused to react. He was expecting resistance but saw people swiftly moving on with our lives. “PDP has just thrown excreta at Nigerians and they are using it like a pancake for their faces,” he told me. “I have never seen anything like this before.”
When we go low, we go really low. In a sane society where the government says it has spent over $60 billion on the power sector in two decades without results, the citizens would react strongly and demand accountability stoutly. They would storm the streets to ask for explanations and answers. In Nigeria, though, we would go and buy generators. All you need to do is buy your size — if it is “I better my neighbour” you can afford, save and go for it; if you are able to afford the diesel-powered generators, pick your choice; if you have enough resources to buy two generators so that they can run a relay race and exchange baton at regular intervals, kindly please yourself.
We go even lower. Since we are assured of regular power failure, some geniuses invented the siren to be mounted by the side of the meter. It will alert us as soon as public power is restored. I think I am the only one on my street who doesn’t have one. I don’t need it. By the time “NEPA brings to light”, the entire street buzzes with the sound of sirens as if an “executive governor” is passing by. So I do not really have to buy one. Thankfully, another set of geniuses invented the inverter, which makes life easier for me. I don’t have to jump up and down to switch to public power — it will automatically do that on my behalf. When we go low, we go really, really low.
What about security? The police used to tease us that if we don’t like them, we should hire a thug. It was meant to be a joke, I should think, but the thugs are fully in business now. It is practically unrealistic to expect the police to protect you, so you have to resort to self-help. Every house has a security guard, though he should be appropriately addressed as a gateman. We build tall fences to imprison and hopefully shield ourselves from attacks, yet we feel freer and safer in advanced societies where there are no fences, no gates and no private guards. Rather than hold the government to its primary responsibility of protecting lives and property, we go low, very low.
I was glad to hear Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, the governor of kidnapping-infested Ondo state, say the other day that only VIPs are safe in Nigeria. He made my day. The VIPs have convoys of armoured cars — surrounded by police, DSS, army and civil defence. That is the alternative to national security. I have never heard or read that a minister or a governor was kidnapped. God forbid! Kidnapping is for helpless mortals and careless immortals. Lowly Nigerians, lovely people, have devised their own way of “protection”: OPC and vigilantes. The high and mighty go for Israeli security guards. It is now about personal security in the midst of criminality everywhere.
The roads are filled with potholes, some as deep as boreholes, but not to worry: just buy the latest 4WDs from Japan and you need not worry about your shock absorbers and shaft, or whatever it is called. You can conveniently dive into the potholes, no matter how deep, and come out smiling and screaming: “You cannot catch me!” The number of Prado SUVs in town is a thing of pride to the Japanese carmakers and Nigerian importers. It is the choice of government officials and the powerfully rich Nigerians. Rather than repair or reconstruct the roads, we accumulate 4WDs to navigate the potholes expertly. When we go low, we go really, really, really low.
Because of the state of the roads and the stifling traffic this inevitably brings upon us, you would think that everybody would be equally affected. And if everybody is equally affected, then the government would be forced to act in the interest of everybody.
What sort of expectation is this? The powers that be, whether public or private, have a better solution: blast the siren! Deploy a motorcade! In civilised societies, only emergency services — the ambulance and the police — use the siren. In Nigeria, the siren is a status symbol. Last month, I saw an aide to the chief executive of a federal agency using police escort and siren. We keep going low, low, low.
When I was a kid, we used to mimic the tune of a siren with a song: “Ya fun, were ni” (“get out of the way, he is mad”). But let’s be fair to the big men: why should immortal beings like them get stuck in traffic? What is this world turning into? You are asking them to do “something” about the bad roads and the crippling traffic? Is that why we elected them into office? We elected them to become our lords and masters, not servants. In their wisdom, the smartest way to deal with bad roads and traffic is to blow the siren to the highest volume. The rich and the powerful even fly from Victoria Island to the airport to avoid traffic. That’s more like it, guys. Keep on shining!
The hospitals are in a mess? There are insufficient doctors, nurses and drugs? The equipment is not functioning or are grossly inadequate? There are no bed spaces? And so what? European and American hospitals have all these in abundance. So we choose to fly abroad for medical treatment, especially if we have a runny nose. That is the healing solution. The poor and the lowly will go to traditional doctors whose fees are more pocket-friendly. We would not protest and insist that the governor or commissioner or minister or president (whichever applies) should do something about the state of things at public hospitals. We would rather go low, low, low, low.
Water? What’s water? Since the government cannot give us potable water, we have decided to sink boreholes in our backyards. We go very low searching for water rather than holding the government responsible for it, as in other climes. If you can afford to sink a borehole, then you are “rich” — although the government that refused to provide you with water in the first place is now shamelessly considering asking you for “water mining tax”. If you have public water, you are not sure it would flow so you go low and get a reservoir. We are smart people. The poor resort to wells and streams, some of them kilometres into the bush, to sustain life. There is always a long, low way.
Education? You are out of your mind to insist that government should put at least primary and secondary schools in order. That is outrageously in Nigerian. There is a solution: send your children to private schools. If the private schools in the country do not meet your taste, send your children abroad. Nigerians are increasingly sending their wards to foreign primary schools. I said primary schools. It used to be only foreign universities. We have graduated from elementary schools. In any case, how many government officials allow their children to school in Nigeria? If it is broken, why fix it? The education system is bad? Therefore? How is that their problem?
When commercial planes started dropping from the skies at an alarming rate, those who should help put things right found another solution: private jets and chartered flights. Gone are the days when I would be on commercial flights and the pilot would say “Your Excellency” and “Honorable Minister” as part of the courtesies while briefing passengers on the journey. The last time I caught any governor (minus Peter Obi) or minister on a commercial flight was in 1914 or shortly before then. They no longer risk their lives. Life is too sweet. Moreover, why should they waste 10 hours at the airport waiting for their flights — like the rest of us? Please don’t get it twisted: the mandate we gave our leaders is for them to enjoy life to the fullest.
Simon Kolawole is a Journalist with the Cable.
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IDEDE Oseyande, a graduate of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, is an unrepentant believer in the Nigeria project.
His concern for the actualisation of a prosperous nation and the continent, in general, is reflected in his written works.
He currently runs an online advocacy platform (www.socialwatchdog.ng) where he engages the government and the people.
Among his published works are ‘What is Left of What is Right?’, ‘The Portrait of a Revolutionary Leader’ and ‘Warri No Dey Carry Last’.
He is a guest writer for several blogs and his Attitudinal and Behavioral Coaching classes has transformed many lives.