By Simon Kolawole
WE marked the World Water Day on March 22 with a damning statistic: over 60 million Nigerians do not have access to safe drinking water. In simpler English, they get their water from unhealthy sources, such as streams and ponds. I will deliberately leave out the stinking statistics on the 47 million still practising open defecation and the 120 million lacking decent toilets to answer the call of nature. When 60 million people drink unsafe water, the consequences for their health are obvious. That is why we keep experiencing regular outbreaks of diarrhoeal diseases, notably cholera. Guinea worm disease, typhoid and dysentery are products of drinking unsafe water.
This is to say nothing about the social costs: children having to trek miles every morning, loading heavy buckets on their heads, to fetch water for their parents. Some do the round twice or thrice before going to school. They get to school tired and disoriented — and we then begin to teach them chemistry and mathematics. This is wickedness. The next headline would be that 80 per cent of candidates in rural areas failed their WAEC/NECO papers. We cannot establish a link between water and education. Most grievously, we cannot establish a link between the well-being of a child and the development of Nigeria. We just think Nigeria is backward by some coincidence.
Days after the World Water Day, the Federal Executive Council, FEC for short, met and approved the building of an office for N35 billion, including N1.4 billion allocated to design. Yes, it is an office, not a factory. It is a 12-storey building for the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR). For sure, the funds will be released and the project will be completed within time. Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting anything untoward in the contract. Dr Ibe Kachikwu, the minister of state for petroleum, even said that this was the lowest cost. I am just trying to suggest that because the office is very important to the Nigerian elite and, automatically, the government, it will become a priority.
Let’s go back to water. I’ll tell you a story. I have told this story many times because it fascinates and saddens me. It also tells me how rigged the system is against ordinary Nigerians. There is a place called Birnin Ruwa in Zamfara state. Every year, they used to experience cholera deaths. The villagers would bathe, wash and drink from the same stream. At a particular time in the year, cholera would come calling. Then one politician, who was running for office, came and sank a borehole for them. According to my late friend, Mallam Imam Imam, who used to report for THISDAY from Zamfara, that borehole ended cholera in that village forever and ever. Life could be that simple!
In other news, shortly after the World Water Day and the approval of N1.4bn for the design of DPR’s “ultramodern office”, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) issued a statement demanding that the next Senate president or Speaker must be a Christian. That was front-page news. The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), the counterforce to CAN, swiftly scolded CAN. That was another front-page news. You would notice that neither CAN nor NSCIA said anything about unsafe water or DPR’s N35 billion office. Even if they mistakenly do so, it wouldn’t make the front page. That is how rigged the socio-political order is in our dearly beloved country!
I am not a Marxist but I am deeply intrigued by the thoughts that shape, or seek to explain the socio-political and economic philosophy. Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist philosopher and communist politician who died at 46 in 1937, propounded the theory of “cultural hegemony” in trying to explain the societal order in a capitalist society. He said the state and ruling capitalist class — called the ‘bourgeoisie’ — use cultural institutions to maintain power. They develop a “hegemonic culture” using ideology to propagate their own values and norms. These become the “common sense” values of all. The status quo is thus entrenched and maintained.
Let’s come back to Nigeria. If you are very attentive, you would notice that the powerful socio-political groups and mighty opinion leaders in the country hardly raise issues about infant mortality, maternal mortality, access to clean water, sanitation, quality education and other indices that affect the wellbeing of at least 160 million ordinary Nigerians. Google Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Arewa Consultative Forum, Northern Elders Forum, Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum, NSCIA, CAN, and Pan-Niger Delta Forum over issues such as “potable water” and “infant mortality” and you will hit a dead end. Those institutions exist to control our thoughts in a different direction.
Let’s go back to Gramsci. He talked about the ‘bourgeoisie’ maintaining hegemonic values and norms to keep their hold on power; I would replace the ‘bourgeoisie’ with the ‘Nigerian elite’. The average member of the Nigerian elite class sends his children to schools abroad, has a borehole in his house, is well protected by the police, flies to US or UK for medicals and has a generator to bridge the power gap. The children are guaranteed jobs at CBN, NNPC and the banks. It is just a phone call away. The governor, the minister, the DG and the MD are his friends. He himself could be the governor, the commissioner, the minister, the DG or the MD. It is their country, basically.
To maintain this societal order, they have their own ‘institutions’ that control our thoughts and shape public discourse. In their corner, they have a legion of professors, journalists, activists and elder statesmen who direct public discourse in a way that not only maintains the status quo but also diverts our attention from critical issues that matter to the ordinary Nigerians. They are so powerful and they always succeed in reproducing themselves among the ordinary Nigerians. Go on the social media. The patterns of debates are clearly influenced by this hegemonic ideology built on ethno-religious and regional sentiments, unconnected to the urgent existential needs of Nigerians.
Up north, the institutions and their intellectual branches focus more on how the region can retain political power and maintain a hold on decision-making in the country by controlling the bulk of ministries, departments and agencies via appointments and policies. They hardly devote their energies to combating the poverty that has rendered the region one of the most backward on the continent. Unfortunately, because the ordinary northerners have been brainwashed through the instruments of religion and politics to think that this current order serves them well, they are not interested in questioning how, or if, the status quo has made their lives better.
Northerners have ruled Nigeria for approximately 42 out of 58 years since independence. Are ordinary northerners the better for it? The answer is no. The system is completely rigged against them. The elite send their children to Western schools and persuade the talakawa to limit their children to Quranic education so that they will not be Westernised. And the people believe them. The north-east and north-west lead the way in infant mortality, water-borne diseases and illiteracy but the thought leaders make them believe that perpetually keeping northerners in political power is in their best interest. That is how hegemonic ideology works — through “common sense” values.
Down south, the hot topics developed for public engagement are ‘restructuring’, ‘resource control’, ‘fiscal federalism’ and ‘true federalism’ — while most of the state-owned schools and hospitals are an eyesore despite huge budgetary allocations. How many southern governors and commissioners can allow their children attend public schools? How many can allow their pregnant wives give birth at public hospitals? Yet, the thought controllers would rather talk about state police than question the mismanagement of resources by their governors. They perpetually paint northerners as the enemies of their progress, as if all the oil revenue goes to the north!
I recently saw the federation allocation figures for February 2019. Akwa Ibom got N17.2 billion, Bayelsa N13.2 billion, Delta N17.4 billion, Lagos N9.1 billion and Rivers N14.7 billion. By contrast, Sokoto got N4.05 billion, Taraba N3.6 billion, Yobe N4.07 billion and Zamfara N2.9 billion. You will hardly hear any of these southern hegemonic institutions and their intellectual agents question what Delta does with its N17.4 billion, or ask why Lagos, with its enormous internal revenue, has a debt overhang of N500 billion. Rather, the attention of the “elders” will be on the N4 billion collected by Yobe and how the north is “dragging” Nigeria backwards! That is how hegemonic ideology works.
They spend all their time attacking Lord Lugard, conveniently ignoring the poverty being brought upon the people through the mindless mismanagement happening in their backyards, right under their nose. I was involved in an argument with a professor a week ago. He said Nigerians do not have common aspirations and should, therefore, not be one country. I disagreed with him. I have been to most states of the federation. I always ask the ordinary people — taxi drivers, traders, artisans, Muslims, Christians, northerners, southerners — their desires. They list education, healthcare, roads, water, power and jobs. They want a peaceful and prosperous country. What else is aspiration?
Are we in a hopeless situation? I would not say so. We need a new class of thought leaders in the media, academia, civil society and polity to focus public discourse on the things that matter the most. We should stop heaping all of Nigeria’s woes on Lord Lugard. Why can’t we also spend some of our energies on demanding for water, education, healthcare, power and security — which most Nigerians apparently agree on? Inevitably, the rich and the poor will benefit. National productivity will increase. This will ensure social stability. The elite class needs to be far-sighted enough to connect its own interests with those of the ordinary people. We need a new hegemony.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
The abduction of 276 Chibok schoolgirls by Boko Haram five years ago said a lot about the Nigerian state and why we are where we are. One, the army lied that all the girls had been rescued a day after the kidnap. It turned out only 57 of them escaped — not that they were even rescued. Two, the government of President Jonathan treated it as a conspiracy hatched by the opposition party, APC, and reacted slowly. Three, the APC disgracefully politicised the tragedy to gain power. Most significantly, it became very clear to all that this country cannot really protect its citizens. We budget billions of dollars for “security” every year but insecurity still envelops up. Shame.
It is appalling that when a strong character like Ms Kadaria Ahmed rises up to fight for the peace and progress of her community, she gets blackmail and chauvinism in return. A bitter desperado has even accused her of converting to Christianity — just to endanger her life. She’s tougher than her traducers, though. She has succeeded in drawing global attention to Zamfara state, which bandits have been governing comfortably for years. The activities of the illegal miners (similar to the oil theft in the Niger Delta) have led to turf wars between armed gangs, just like in the Congo. I hope Zamfara shall soon be free. Kudos to Kadaria for her courage! Heroine.
Four years ago, on April 9, 2015 to be precise, Nigeria lost a committed nationalist. Oronto Natei Douglas (OND), known more for his activism in the Niger Delta than his role as special adviser to President Jonathan, was a thorn in the flesh of the oil companies whose unethical practices in the Niger Delta had gone unchallenged for decades. I first met Oronto in 1996. I was fascinated by his candour and simplicity, and our relationship became more like family than friends. His community of friends cut across the country. He kept telling me we needed to build a “strong Nigeria”, even though we sometimes disagreed on the methods. He truly, truly loved Nigeria. Patriot.
Anambra lawmakers, trying to cry more than the bereaved, have come up with an innovation that may change life and death forever: a bill to — promise me you won’t die from laughing — curtail funeral expenses! The law will also regulate weeping: you can now only mourn for one day instead of four. Would there now be a commissioner for burial affairs? What will be the punishment for spending and crying too much? I hope it is not a death sentence, because it would further raise burial budgets. If I may still make an input, I would suggest a clause in the law to ban serving jollof rice and goat meat at funerals. It will reduce attendance and further curtail expenses. DOA.