Why Our Rich Nation Is Poor And Backward - by Rasheed Olokode

When I learnt that free nationwide Internet signal dissemination is possible in Nigeria courtesy of the ubiquitous GSM masts that now litter and fill our environments with harmful air for which minimal benefits the masses are forced to part with their blood, my heart bled profusely. 

Knowledge, as described in the adages of races, nations and languages, is a good possession. But, I doubt that this new knowledge is good at all. This realistic possibility that I learnt from a discussion with a visiting brother-in-law who, some few years ago, had fled abroad with his exceptional brilliance to ensure that his life airtime did not get wasted by the systemic failure that had retained the phrase, ‘Up NEPA’ as our second national anthem, long after the demise of the late NEPA (National Electric Power Authority) is, to me, a peculiar impossibility in my fatherland.

Yes, indeed. This good news is a bad reminder of our ill-fate as a nation. A nation plagued by accursed leadership. A leadership that turns every good thing of life into an expensive privilege that only those who “belong” can enjoy. A leadership made of people whose calling is the urge to acquire more and more, forever and ever.

Our leaders are not just the politicians for whom politics is a lucrative full-time career and business rather than a communal service and sacrifice. They are not just our Obas, the Emirs and the Igwes whose vantage birth and status are no longer a blessing to their subjects but to the self and the self alone. Theirs is now a cult that is inclusive of not just the richer-than-country capitalists but also the class of super-rich ‘saints’ amidst us whose jet-flying calling is a function of unrelenting mass demand for miracles in our desperate country.

In whatever guises or nomenclatures they parade themselves, self-oriented leaders have, for long, been the Achilles’ heel of Nigeria and Nigerians. Scan every sector or sphere of our existence, businessmen and women, dressed in varied deceitful epithets, are in charge.

They are the traders that have been trading away the right of the citizens to education. Their strategy, in this regard, is an indirect one that has its roots in the deliberate destruction of the public school system through the instrumentality of governmental policies weaved and executed by born proprietors in government. The people’s loss is the leaders’ gain in a country where proceeds of exorbitant school fees ultimately find their way into the bank accounts of former or serving public officials, outright capitalists and clerics. No school of note in contemporary Nigeria is owned outside this triangular clique.

The unbecoming turnaround of the motive of religion in education is one tragedy of progress reversal that we have ignored at our own peril. To travel in nostalgia into the beautiful days of yore when the primary motive of religious organisations that produced those world class missionary schools was not profit-making but the sincere and altruistic zeal to spread knowledge is to shed endless tears of regrets.

As a young boy from a Muslim family, my days in Shepherdhill High School, Baptist Academy, Obanikoro, Lagos, a Christian missionary school, still remain the timeless residents of my brain. Or, how can I ever forget those good old days when what mattered was not what my parents could afford to pay as school fees. When it mattered not what religious faith they cultivated. Or, what social class we belonged to.

No wonder. The line between Christianity and Islam thinned into invisibility for us, as pupils, particularly within the four walls of our school. And, with ease, I used to decide which after-school meeting to attend every Wednesday, just like most of my colleagues – the Muslim Student Society or Christian fellowships.

Tragically, the fate of millions of helpless Nigerian children, teenagers and youths hawking, begging or scavenging on the highways, which, indeed, is the making of our heavily commercialised educational system, suggests nothing to them. Such are variously disdained as unserious elements, dropouts, touts, miscreants or, at best, hustlers.

It is indeed time to reason. To open our inner eyes by closing our outer eyes that sees only the seeming and not the intrinsic. The inner eye that judges not by status as contradicted by our predilections to exclude the supposedly ‘anointed’ fraction of our populace and institutions from the simplest of logical scrutinies, a flagrant omission from the religions we inherited from other races never known for sacrificing logical reasoning on the altar of religious belonging.

With the inner eyes only can we see the zeal of those Nigerians of means who are ready to pay exorbitant and door-closing fees even in so-called missionary schools for what it really is. It is indeed an open perpetuation of societal poverty through conscious sustenance and widening of the gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and the haves-not. Pity! It is never their zeal to illuminate our collective future with the light of knowledge but to position their own bloods to take over the mantle of leadership and baton of oppression over their peers, deliberately handicapped as half-baked literates or outright ignoramuses.

Still, only with the inner eyes can we see the real victim of the horror committed by a 21-year-old who is supposedly the picture of the family, the schools and the society that combine to play the potter’s role in his budding life. The real victim of the murder involving a young university student who murdered his father at the Redemption Camp recently is not the slaughtered Senior Advocate of Nigeria or his immediate family which reportedly still sustained habitual privileges for their beloved murder suspect son while in police custody. The real victim is the Nigerian society. The Bible passes a clear, unambiguous but damning verdict on us, in this regard: “By their fruit, you shall know them” (Mathew 7:16). If the father-killing Tolani Ajayi is, indeed, a fruit that sprang from one of our best citadels of virtue and knowledge cultivation, then we are doomed as a nation.

Where lies our future hope when, today, we spend, per term or semester, enormous fortunes capable of redirecting the life fortune of a pauper, to actually nurture our potential future killers?

God forbid! A prayer indeed, which automatically magnetizes resounding echo of “Amen” from my teeming miracle-loving but dignity-hating compatriots.

On the whole, the tripartite connivance amongst political/traditional, business and religious leaders has, for long, been our albatross. Our united mistake of focussing exclusively on political tormentors has aggravated our collective woes, as manifest in the simultaneous death and flight of sincere and non-conniving businesses and industries from the Nigerian space and the nationwide skyrocketing growth of religious organisations, particularly churches.