We have a serious problem in our country. I am not being an alarmist and I am not trying to depress you. I am just making my case based on facts currently in the public domain.
Let me highlight a sampling of these facts.
The problem 148 million people live in Nigeria. Life expectancy at birth is 47 years. Healthy life expectancy is 41 years. 27 percent of children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition. One in five dies before the age of five. 47 percent of the population (70 million Nigerians) has no access to water from an improved source. 31 percent of the population above the age of 15 is illiterate. Skilled health personnel attend to only 35 percent of births in Nigeria. Total expenditure on health per capita is $50 and nine out of 10 Nigerians (133 million Nigerians) live on less than $2 a day.
These facts are even more pitiful when set in the context of a Nigeria that has earned over $1 Trillion from oil and gas earnings since production began in 1956. On top of this, Nigeria has received billions of dollars in aid and has borrowed billions of dollars to augment its national revenues.
How can a nation that has generated so much revenue remain so poor? How can a country that has been blessed with such natural resources remain so under-developed?
Various arguments can and have been put forward for the presently wretched state of our country. They range from corruption and poor leadership, to the impact of past military intervention in governance. Some say that no meaningful development can ever take place unless we address the generation, transmission and distribution of electric power.
Others blame the poor condition of our country on the absence of sufficient critical infrastructure, including roads, schools, and hospitals.
While the reasons cited above are legitimate articulations of why Nigeria remains a poor nation, they miss the central question, which is: why?
Why do we have corruption? Why don’t we have roads? Why don’t we have schools? Why don’t we have hospitals? Why don’t we have adequate power? Why is the country not working?
For as long as I can remember, there has always been a Federal Ministry of Education and corresponding Ministries of Education at State levels. During the entire course of my life, there has been a Federal Ministry of Health and corresponding Ministries of Health at the State level. Budgetary provisions have been made year in and year out for critical service delivery to Nigerians. What happened to these budgetary provisions? Did the monies earmarked for building new schools and upgrading existing ones go into private “1 pockets? Did monies assigned to maintaining and improving roads end up in bank accounts in Switzerland? If so, WHY?
The question of “why?” needs to be confronted honestly and without equivocation if we want to break free from our current state and move our country in the direction of sustained growth and development.
The question of “why?” is important because the opposite question – “why not?” is currently the question of choice for the “great and the good” in this country. Consider this: WHY misappropriate funds budgeted for building schools? WHY not? WHY inflate a contract to build an airport? WHY not? Couched differently, WHY do our leaders steal?
WHY not? WHY WOULD they not? WHY SHOULD they not? The answer staring is right in the face: because they can get away with it.
The question of “why not?” is based on a simple concept: getting away with it.
Who are you? What can you do? Do you know who I am? It’s the attitude and language within the circle of the untouchable; the cadre of intimates who cannot be sanctioned; the clique that feels no shame.
The word “impunity” derives from the Latin word impunitas. It means “without punishment”. No sanction for bad behavior. No punishment for misdeeds As a result, roads don’t get fixed, schools don’t get built, hospitals don’t get the supply of drugs and equipment they need to cater for the health of the citizenry and we are all collectively the poorer for it. This cycle of vicious mismanagement and corruption is now entrenched in our body politic and is what the author and critic Peter Maass refers to when he describes Nigeria as the “eighth circle of hell…a country near collapse, corroded from within, unable to govern amid ungovernable decay…in Nigeria there are no winners, just more and more losers”.
So we know what the problem is: underdevelopment and poverty. We know why the problem persists: a prevailing culture of impunity that eliminates sanction and shame for those responsible for dragging the country into its present condition. So how do we get out of this mess?
The Nigeria in which we live today is in urgent need of accountability. The thieving Nigerian bureaucrat or politician does not realize or recognize that Nigerian citizens – you and I – are the boss. They have no respect for us and no consideration for our needs.
Again, I’m forced to ask: why? Could it be that the current socio-political structure in Nigeria provides a cozy environment that encourages disdain for and neglect of the needs of its citizenry?
The best deterrence to impunity is accountability. A socio-political system in which there is no answerability or responsibility is a dysfunctional one that by implication will be unable to provide the objective conditions for growth and development. A system in which the culture of accountability and liability is non-existent – or, at best, is selectively administered – is a system in which the culture of impunity will prevail. And development does not and will never occur in a society in which impunity reigns.
The establishment of accountability, answerability, responsibility and liability will require a holistic and honest assessment of our polity. It will require a fundamental change in the attitude of our leaders and rulers. It will require the retooling of our value system so as to ensure that no one, no matter how highly placed, profits from impunity.