AS Nigerians greet themselves happy New Year today with guffaws, chances are that many of these greetings would be hollow and hackneyed. Many Nigerians will most likely be on a hangover of hunger, yawns and pangs. Everyone knows that for the larger section of the country, happiness is temporarily in abeyance. It is certainly not for nothing that the country is currently ranked as the global headquarters of poverty. From Lagos to Abuja, and Kaduna to Port Harcourt, hunger is a constant feature of life. The masses are hungry and angry, rendered almost hopeless and disconsolate by bad governance. Sadly, government officials at all levels appear to be insulated from the pains felt by the generality of the populace.
For instance, President Muhammadu Buhari recently revelled in the purported achievements of his administration in the outgone year. But contrary to his chest-thumping during a courtesy visit by residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the country has never had it so bad. Instructively, the FCT residents, led by the FCT Minister, relayed the truth to the president about the feelings of Nigerians regarding their safety and the economy. They spoke of despondency and the lack of definitive development. The administration’s campaign agenda was hinged on the economy, security and the fight against corruption, but five years on, it is hard to find any area of notable success. So far, the government has been bold and lyrical in rhetoric, but weak in positive action. To say the least, it has demonstrated scant regard for walking the talk, except in areas which concern the comfort of the political leadership whose stay in office is ostensibly for the purpose of taking care of the common people.
While, since 1999 when Nigeria returned to civil rule, the quality of life has plummeted gradually, things have now reached breaking point. The economic indicators are signalling decline on all fronts and all attempts to package hope in new wraps are not working. The education sector, according to the president, has been producing graduates often described as unemployable. But he has not stated what has been done to reverse the trend. In any case, in spite of the change mantra, corruption remains immutable: it is alive and well in the country, as indications from the Corruption Perception Index show clearly. The power sector, a critical engine of growth in civilised climes, has remained in a comatose state and sadly, there is only scant hope of an immediate relief in the foreseeable future. Ironically, the only thing that is not declining is the sense of entitlement of the political leadership and its goons and jobbers that masquerade as aides.
Sadly, governance across the states has also suffered from the same weaknesses that have hobbled the Federal Government. In many of the states, governors exhibit the same tendencies and perpetrate the same activities for which the Federal Government is rightly pilloried. Critics are seen as traitors and subjected to repression and, worse still, the state legislatures that should check the excesses of the executive are no more than errand boys of the state chief executives. The result is that members of the civil society have had to take on bad governance at multiple levels. In most of the states, local governments exist only in name: they cannot execute meaningful projects. Local government elections are either not organised at all, or blatantly rigged in the few instances when they are. The result is that the dividends of democracy have become unattainable in many local communities where potable water and good roads remain, for the long-suffering populace, mere pipe dreams.
As a new year dawns today, it is clear that the only thing that can alter the grim narrative is responsive and responsible governance. In other words, bringing about change is no rocket science: it is all about getting to work, fixing roads, building and equipping hospitals, providing electricity and so forth. In this regard, it is clear that the masses, in accordance with the maxim that freedom is never willingly given by the oppressor but must be demanded by the oppressed, will have to put public officials on their toes. They must insist on minimum standards in public office and explore all legal avenues to enforce them. In this regard, members of the organised labour, the human rights community, the academia and civil society groups must shelve the current lethargic approach to governance issues and forge a new paradigm through strident advocacy. It is time the people held their representatives to account so that the Happy New Year salutations will cease from being a vacuous, ritualistic monotone.