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When shall we smile again?



Reminiscences! At 65, waves of nostalgia sweep me back to the early ‘50s, while growing up in the idyllic, yet well-organised rural setting of Oboroke-Ihima village, then in Kabba Province (now in Kogi State), mindful of the vast and varied experiences between then and now. With regards to the strength and unity of the family unit; moral standards, cost of living, education and healthcare delivery as well as the persisting, querulous leadership question, the differences are profoundly clear!

Agreed, life is dynamic. No one expects or even respects a state of stagnancy but one’s fervent prayers are for events to evolve in a positive paradigm shift. But sadly, when it comes to the family unit, it is a far cry from the beautiful past. Back then, parents were there for their children; providing for their welfare and protecting them from the vagaries of freaky, weather conditions and the pangs of penury and hunger. But today, the parents have turned their back on their hapless children that have found solace in Boko Haram insurgency, kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, ritual murders and the blood-thirsty, vampire herders!

As for quality education it all began from the home front. Morality was the watchword, discipline was the key. Indeed, we were weaned on the milky nutrients of hard work, honesty and humility (the 3Hs). Others included the courage to do the right thing as well as care and compassion for the needy (the 3 Cs). Respect for elders and the communal bond of brotherhood that existed between and within the communities meant that one could be disciplined by uncles, aunts and such other more knowledgeable people, without fear or favour. Put simply, our parents did not spare the rod to spoil the child. No!

In fact, acts of crimes and criminality were not condoned, as those who erred were punished publicly by the traditional leadership institution headed by the village chiefs. Sometimes, such included ostracizing them, to serve as deterrence to others. In fact, such virtues were strengthened in the evenings, when we gathered at the feet of the elders under the moonlight. The noble aim was to drink from the fountains of knowledge through fascinating folklores, morally sound Eche-ane, Eche-ori and Eku-ochi festival songs after a hard day’s farm work.

Back then, we enjoyed cordial communal lifestyles; farming and eating part of the harvests together from calabash dishes on age-group basis. We were taught the rudiments of agriculture –both agronomy and animal husbandry- in addition to local food preservation and processing techniques. Hunting and fishing were added all in healthy competition and in sync with the dictates of Mother Nature. Not for us were the processed food and drugs, characterised by their hazardous chemical sweeteners and preservatives.

It is painful therefore, that looking back, governance has been largely parlous in lifting the quality of life of the average Nigerian, over the past 57 years. The glaring fact that our political leaders have found it one Herculean task to connect the long-suffering Nigerians to the tremendous benefits of our vast, rich, God-given natural resources of oil and gas, solid minerals, agricultural potentials is indeed a paradox. For me, the situation is inexcusable and unpardonable.

For instance, members of the younger generation find it difficult to believe me when I tell them that I paid school fees for only one year as a Form One student, throughout my entire educational experiences. That was at the high-quality Ochaja Secondary School, Ochaja back in 1966. From then on, several of my classmates and yours truly enjoyed free education, with one form of scholarship or the other! So, how would the mass of unemployed youth of 2018 feel to know that when graduating from the premier University of Ibadan in 1976 employers-from both the public and private sectors- came looking for employees!

They are equally dumbfounded to know that as at 1977 when I collected my first salary, it was equivalent to over a million Naira of today because the Naira was much stronger than the U.S. Dollar. Similarly, they find it incredible to hear me claim that my first car, a Toyota Panel van, obtained with the Kwara State revolving car loan scheme in 1979 cost three thousand, four hundred Naira (N3,400) which cannot buy a tyre now. How many of the younger ones could be that fortunate these days? Few, if any.

The leadership nexus with the people was so well structured that workers were well paid and as at when due. It was unimaginable to think of a future when state governors would collect funds from Federal Allocation, Paris Club refund and bail out, yet refuse to pay their staff. Yet, that is only a tip of the rot in the leadership institution bedeviling our dear nation. So, where do we go from here?

As reflected in one of my previous essays, it does not take rocket science to understand that the leadership equation is simple to solve. The more the political pilots use the instrument of governance to satisfy the yearnings, aspirations, ambitions and needs of their people, (instead of their selfish inclinations) the better it is for all the stakeholders. More revenue would be devolved to build a solid infrastructure. The economy would stabilise and enjoy sustainable growth. More employment opportunities would be created. Crime waves would reduce. The level of corruption would dip drastically. The polity would be more peaceful as the energy of the political actors would be channeled towards instituting good governance.

That is much in line with the philosophy of Aristotle (384-322 BC), the great Greek thinker who canvassed for ethics and politics as the cardinal objectives of the education of the citizens. They should be in search of the common good as goodness and intellectual development are implicitly determined. Unfortunately, this is at variance with the huge distractions of abrasive, self-decimating brick-bats, subterfuge and intrigues that now characterise Nigeria’s political space. This anomaly raises the burning questions:

When would our politicians decide on self immolation; to serve the state instead of the self? When would they stop seeing politics as a lucrative investment venture? When would they do away with being the highest paid legislators and ministers in the world, traceable to the obscenely high cost of accessing political power? And when would democratic governance throw up the brightest and the best amongst us, to benefit the masses instead of the politicians? My sincere prayer is that much of these would happen in my lifetime.

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