On Saturday, 29/7/23, my friend and classmate at UI, Mr AA Falade, an insurance guru of no mean repute sent me a copy of ‘The University IKONOMIST, Vol5, No1’ a publication of Association of Economic Students, UI Chapter. It was published in 1978/79 when I was in Year 2 and the PRO of the Association and Chairman of the Editorial Board. At that time, I was also the Commissioner for Information & Propaganda at Ziks Hall as well as the Editor of the ZikMag.
He then referred me to an article I wrote in that publication ‘Issues of the moment, My frank Views (The IKONOMICS,5(1) 26-28)) and asked: ‘Ikonic Ik, what has changed between 1978/79 when you wrote your iconic article and the present day’? Later that same day, another of my UI classmates, Stan Ukeje, sent me the same article and remarked: ‘Problems identified in 1978/79 are still plaguing Nigeria in 2023, 44 years later’! He asked me to compare the 44-year-old article with my present interventions. He went further to accuse me of being Jeremiahic in my writings (Jeremiah is known as the ‘weeping prophet’).
I started my ‘media activism’ in 1978. My objective has always been to provide a framework for comparing the past and the present by documenting ‘history on the go’, to take a picture of today and keep it for tomorrow. That article which, I wrote in my Second Year at the University is among my earliest public interventions. By the way ‘Issues of the moment’ became the title for my collection of poems written between 1978 and 1990. So, I looked at the article again and decided to share it with Nigerians of today so that they can partake in the challenge thrown by two of my UI classmates. The readers’ task is simple: just to compare and contrast how things were in Nigeria in 1979 as documented by a 21-year-old Year 2 Nigerian undergraduate with how things are today. The original article follows.
The aim of this piece is to have a critical look at some of the pressing socio-economic problems of present-day Nigeria. It is also aimed at making it known to those in authority that they have not been able to solve these problems because in many cases, they do not know (or pretend not to know?) the actual causes of these problems and resultantly they approach them from the wrong perspective.
Inflation may be defined as a high and persistent rise in the price level. It has been estimated that prices rose by between 5% and 88% in Nigeria from 1963 to 1972 and that the annual rate of inflation by 1975 was above 35%. Many factors have been advanced as the causes of inflation in Nigeria – the aftermath of the civil war, the unfortunate Udoji awards, the oil boom (or doom?) and imported inflation. Government efforts to cure this sickness have yielded no dividends. The now dormant Price Control Board was set up but how can one control the price of commodities when he has no effective control over the supply of the same commodities? Government policies have been that of “one-step-forward-three-steps-back- wards. How can the same government which wants to reduce price levels turn around and double the price of fuel, triple school fees, and raise taxes, water rates and air transport fares? The traders who have goods to sell try to cover some of these increasing costs by charging higher prices. The civil servants, pensioners and the unemployed are those who bear the brunt of the situation.
Public corporations and inefficiency
These are government-owned corporations established for the purpose of providing essential services to the people because allowing private entrepreneurs to provide these services might keep them beyond the reach of the common man. Some of these public corporations in Nigeria are NEPA, the Water Corporation P&T. In some areas, you are lucky if you have an hour of uninterrupted power supply. Many parcels get lost in transit while at times letters become faster than telegrams. Water shortage is almost a constant in many parts of this country. What baffles me however is that this water scarcity and power failure do not always affect some areas of the various towns (the GRAs). Furthermore, these corporations are monopolies. Surely, NEPA would not have been messing around if there was an alternative power supplier because even the wife of the General Manager would have switched to the second alternative. If NEPA had to pay for damages through the courts, sanity should have been returned to the corporation. So far as these corporations are monopolies and salary is independent of performance inefficiency will stay with them
Bribery is now a norm in the Nigerian society. Many people, especially those who have, are now of the opinion that nothing can work properly in this country without bribes while some are even bold enough to argue that it is un-Nigerian to reject bribes or to expect something without it. Personally, I am convinced that the act of giving or taking bribes is not an inborn “quality”. Many people resort to offering bribes as a result of their bitter experiences in our society. Thus a person whose forms have “disappeared” three times in the passport office learns bitterly from others that if he gives N200 to somebody somewhere, he could have his passport delivered to him within one week. Most of those who offer bribes at the slightest opportunity are those who have excess “bread” (some of them through foul means) and as such throw the “thing” around anyhow.
The office clerk easily accepts the bribes because he finds it very difficult to keep the body and soul together with his meagre monthly salary. How can a person on a salary of N720 per annum reject a bribe of N1000 “cash down”? Some of these unfortunate civil servants are not too happy with the manner in which their colleagues in the private sector throw their money around. They must have their own share of the cake and so whenever the next trader comes to seek an import license, those in such an office give thanks to God because the golden opportunity is around. In any case, I am not exonerating them, damn them! But also damn the government for keeping some people on a salary of N720 per annum while also creating the conditions which allow some to make ten times such an amount in a matter of days.
Armed robbery is the most modern profession in Nigeria because it develops new techniques as soon as the old ones are discovered. The civil war gave great impetus to the development of this lucrative profession. During the war, many people mastered the act of human butchery and lost all regard for human lives. The increasing trend of armed robbery is also caused by the inequitable distribution of resources. Why should emergency businessmen have 3 flashy cars and housing estates while another fellow has no roof over his head and is not sure of the next meal? In any case, armed robbery is rampant today because of the paucity of policemen. The miserable looks of those who are already in the profession scare away potential policemen and even the few guys available are ill-equipped. How can a policeman with “cork and shoot” confront criminals with automatic weapons? There have also been instances when policemen connived with robbers and the citizens are no longer too eager to cooperate with the policemen because if you report a case to the police, they might turn around and arrest you.
Apart from consultations (which are in most cases fruitless), all other forms of expressing grievances by students are always termed “riots” whether it is carrying placards peacefully around the campus or chanting “fire for fire” along the streets. The official version is that the students are not disciplined (I have argued in another article that discipline is a subjective term), are not patriotic and that some of these riots, like “Ali must go”, are foreign-engineered. For those who want to face facts, the main cause of these ‘riots’ is the “I don’t care” attitude of those in authority towards students’ problems. They are always of the opinion that students are comfortable enough and as such should not complain. Consequently, any peaceful representation by. Students are treated with the ‘left hand’ while some irrational ones bluntly tell the students to do their worst.
Some people think that closing down (or closing up) schools, rusticating the so-called ring leaders, and banning student union activities. or the bullets will solve the problem. But I say No! What is needed is an accommodative attitude towards students. Riots will continue to dominate the history of Nigerian student unionism until the attitude that protests are evil and that students have nothing to complain about, is changed
Shortage of teachers
Teaching is one of the most essential services being rendered by man to man in the world. It is the primary school teachers who lay the foundation upon which a person can- with the refinement of the secondary school teachers and the guidance of university lecturers – become a doctor, engineer, permanent secretary or commissioner. But Nigerian teachers are notoriously ill-rewarded: poor and delayed salaries, lack of respect, poor promotion prospects and frustrating decrees and directives Those in the ministries enjoy their benefits to the full but do not care one bit if some teachers have not received their 1973 leave allowance in 1979. The result is that as frustration continues to mount, those teachers who are still young in body and spirit look for more gainful employment; the old ones regret their lives, and curse their fates while the impression is implanted into the young ones that teaching is not worthwhile when they see teachers wearing tattered trousers and shoes that resemble those of the Victorian era in this late 70s. All this culminates in the acute shortage of teachers in all our institutions of learning and this is becoming a serious national problem. Unless they realize the importance of teachers and make it an attractive profession by improving their lots, then I am afraid of the future. The path will be anything but smooth
This is where the 1979 article ends though I removed some parts because of space constraints. I know that you must have asked: ‘Are we cursed or are we the cause’? This was a question that Peter Obi asked Anambra People during his campaign for governor in 2003