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Tell-tale signs of underdevelopment

Tell-tale signs of underdevelopment
January 15
06:20 2017
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We were stuck in traffic along Lagos-Ibadan road. Then we started hearing a familiar wailing — a police van had decided to announce its importance by blaring its siren at full volume. The van was snaking its way through the thick traffic, harassing motorists out of the way — as usual. I was curious. I wanted to know the identity of the VIP that was terrorising us this afternoon. What I saw when the van overtook us was quite amusing: the VIPs were actually rams. It was Eid-el-Kabir. The rams, sitting majestically at the back, deserved VIP treatment in their final days. And who could do it better than the police, who spend most of their working hours protecting VIPs?

When I saw the rams, I turned to my driver and said: “Didn’t I tell you this is an animal kingdom?” He laughed in conspiracy. We spent the next 30 minutes discussing the animalistic behavioural patterns among Nigerians. That discussion inspired today’s discourse. I will list some of the tell-tale signs that prove we are grossly behind, caused largely by Nigeria’s human and economic underdevelopment. We are a society that is evidently below what is widely considered to be acceptable in a normal human community in the 21st century. I must warn that I believe these tell-tale signs are mere symptoms. I discuss the root problems in the context of our underdevelopment.

Use of siren by VIPs. In a civilised society, siren is reserved for emergency services. If you hear a siren sound in such societies, it is either from an ambulance or a police van. It is to alert other road users that there is an emergency and they should be given the right of way. A life is most likely at stake. If there is no emergency, the siren stays quiet. What is the origin of use of siren by VIPs in Nigeria? I keep suspecting it started during the military era and it is part of the baggage that we inherited. The root cause of the continued misuse of the siren, I would think, is this pompous posture by government officials that they are not in the same category as the rest of us.

Tin-god leaders. David Cameron, then British prime minister, was campaigning ahead of the 2015 general election. He visited a hospital with a camera crew to showcase the success of the National Health Service (NHS). As he was talking to a patient, the doctor came out and started protesting. “You are invading my space,” the doctor said. Cameron quietly left. If that happens in Nigeria, his security aides will first brutalise you before you are arrested and dismissed from service for “disrespecting constituted authority” (apologies to Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo state). Our leaders think that they are gods. In civilised societies, they see themselves as servants.

Driving against traffic. A European, who came to Lagos a few years ago, observed motorists driving against “one way” (as we put it here) and concluded: “Anywhere people drive against traffic, there is a fundamental problem in such a society.” I would say not just fundamental but mental. The root cause is that law enforcement is weak and road users do not have value for their own lives and the lives of others. Law enforcement is weak not because the agencies don’t know what to do, but they also stand to benefit by extorting from offenders. Whatever the case may be, driving against one way is not what you expect in a sane human society — except in emergencies.

Open defecation. The natural state of man, before civilisation kicked in, was very similar to the lives of lower animals today: they could urinate and defecate anywhere. Goats don’t build toilets or hide their shame when passing waste. Human beings have learnt to build and use toilets. So when you see a human being passing waste by the roadside, then it is not fit to be called a civilised society yet. The animalistic instinct has refused to leave the community. You would say it is because the government did not build decent, functional public toilets, but then you are only agreeing with me: a civilised government would know that people need public toilets.

Open drain. In all the civilised societies that I have visited, drains are covered. Why would a normal human society leave the drains open — exposing people to putrefying smells, sickening eyesore, threat of diseases and even danger of physical harm? We’ve been rolling malaria back and forth for decades, spending billions of dollars and ending up with more malaria patients every year. Malaria is vectored by mosquitoes, and mosquitoes are bred in stagnant water and open drains. A normal human society will target elimination of mosquitoes, not distribution of nets, as the ultimate antidote to malaria. But remember I said a “normal” society.

Rotten roofs. I remember when I was growing up in the village, my grandfather used to change the roof of the house from time to time. He also repainted the house at least once in two years, particularly at Christmas. As the economy entered rough weather, it was no longer priority. These days when I am in an aircraft and it is about to land, I look down to see the condition of roofs. Many old houses have “rotten” roofs (and, well, faded painting). This has nothing to do with civilisation — it is just that aesthetics is not a priority for a hungry person. In fact, I would suggest that the condition of roofs and painting can tell you the economic wellbeing of home owners.

No queuing. One of the things that distinguish the human race from other animals is the ability to organise society intelligently — with law and order. Any society where the culture of queuing is virtually absent, where people think survival is always for the fittest, is very similar to an animal kingdom. Animals don’t queue, as we all know. In Nigeria, you will see three people scrambling to enter a bus that still has 10 vacant seats. You will also see dozens of people on the queue and some guy will just walk straight to the front as if others are idiots. I do not know the root cause of this, but I guess there may also be a cultural angle to it.

Stomach infrastructure. Any society where voters need to be induced with rice and bread is patently backward. We give excuses for the inducement, like saying the voters are impoverished and hungry, and would rather eat their tomorrow today. The leaders they elected into office soon begin to distance themselves from the people. In fact, the leaders use their official cars and siren to chase the people off road. They implement oppressive policies that deprive the masses of their livelihoods, thereby worsening their poverty. The ultimate sign of underdevelopment, though, is that after four years of misrule, the people collect rice again and vote for their oppressors again.

Conclusion. I have by no means exhausted the list of the tell-tale signs of an underdeveloped society that manifest daily in Nigeria. As I was listing them, I guess you too were compiling your own catalogue. I prefer to see all these signs as the symptoms of deep-rooted problems. In any society where these things are prevalent, there are fundamental problems. Many will argue that our inability to address political and economic problems is responsible for these chronic symptoms, while some will say, rather, that these are the problems responsible for our underdevelopment. It is not an argument that will end today, but it is a conversation worth having all the same.

Most of these issues are around governance and leadership. If the country becomes developed, civilisation will come as part of the package. We can stop the misuse of siren. Mr. Babatunde Fashola, as governor of Lagos state, successfully did it. He didn’t die. His successor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, has not been using siren and it has not affected his performance. We can build decent and sufficient public toilets, can’t we? We can re-orientate Nigerians to embrace civilisation, can’t we? We did not develop a culture of using seat belts until 15 years ago. Today, we do it with ease. It proves that we are just one step from civilisation — with a little push. Good news.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

SAINT OR SINNER?

These are my condensed thoughts on the corporate governance code (not law, as generally believed) for churches, over which Mr. Jim Obaze was fired as the CEO of FRC. One, it is in the best interest of church leaders to submit themselves to transparency and accountability. Too much power is temptation in itself. Thumbs up for Pastor EA Adeboye for implementing a new leadership structure at RCCG. My own pastor, Rev. Sam Adeyemi, started devolving power at Daystar Christian Centre in 2014. Two, I think it is too much for government to want to determine who church leaders can’t appoint as successors. No. These are spiritual matters. #MyTwoCents.

BOKO BOMBERS

Now that the Nigerian military has done a good job of ending Boko Haram’s insurgency — meaning the militants no longer hold any part of our territory — the next, and I would say the most deadly, frontline is the “asymmetrical” warfare which terrorism thrives on. Dislodging them from holding territory may end up looking the easiest part: suicide bombing is the most difficult to tame. This is the time for intelligence agencies to step up their game (and stop prosecuting APC’s political fights). Citizens must be properly enlightened on how to spot strangers and strange movements in their neighbourhoods, and where to promptly report to. Proactive.

MEDICINE AFTER DEATHS

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said 204 people were killed in the southern Kaduna clashes. This is way below the 808 casualty figure given by the Catholic Church. What really saddens me is that the clashes between Fulani herdsmen and locals went on for months and threw up hundreds of dead bodies before the Nigerian state began to perform its primary duty: securing the lives and property of Nigerians. If your country cannot offer you basic protection, what else should you expect? The military has launched Operation Scorpion to tackle the killings — after the sting of death had sent hapless Nigerians to their graves. Depressing.

ALL HAIL ADEBANWI!

Our own Wale Adebanwi has been appointed to the prestigious Rhodes Professorship in Race Relations at the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, University of Oxford. He is the first black African scholar to be appointed to the endowed chair since it was created some 60 years ago. Adebanwi, who is currently a professor at the University of California, US, has two PhDs — one in political science from the University of Ibadan and the other in social anthropology from the University of Cambridge. And, if I may show off a bit, he was my classmate at the University of Lagos in our undergraduate days. I am so proud of him. Congratulations!

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