Nigeria: As it was in India?

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India has a population that it is seven times bigger than Nigeria yet the former which shares the same colonial ancestry with the latter appears to be a happy twin sister. This is because Nigeria has overtaken India as World Poverty Capital, World Open Defecation Capital, World Capital of under-five deaths and Third World Most Terrorized Country. While the speed with which Nigeria’s Dreamliner seems to fly ahead of India’s jet is amazing, there is much ado about government’s insensitivity about our warp image. Any nation that does not care about its perception in the eyes of the international community kills international relations and leaves it without a name. 

First, a 2018 report by the World Poverty Clock indicated that Nigeria has overtaken India as World Poverty Capital. After playing the ostrich, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) finally confirmed the obvious since the Buhari administration started steering the ship of the state in 2015. In its poverty and inequality report from September 2018 to October 2019, NBS disclosed that 40 percent of Nigerians live below its poverty line of N137,430 ($381.75) per year. This means that 82.9 million out of a population of about 200 million Nigerians are poor. In a country which United Nations estimates to have a population of 400 million people by 2050, these grim statistics portend a grave danger.

Second, in another unpleasant circumstance, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) disclosed that Nigeria is world’s number one open defecation country. With 47 million people still defecating openly, the country has overtaken India, which left the position earlier. This disclosure was made recently in Abuja by UNICEF Chief of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), Said Jurji, at a two-day workshop on Private Sector Engagement and Collaboration in WASH Forum organised by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources in collaboration with UNICEF and other partners.

Third, in a related development, Nigeria also recently beat India to clinch the World Capital for deaths of children under the age of five. In a report titled: “Levels and Trends in Child Mortality,” UNICEF disclosed that Nigeria recorded an estimated average of 858,000 under-five deaths in 2019 as against India, which ranked second with 824,000 deaths out of 5.2 million under-five deaths globally. In the 2020 mortality estimates released by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Nigeria recorded 209,000 neonatal deaths in 1990 – a 61,000 increase compared to 270,000 deaths in 2019. The reader would recall that in 2018, the Global Bank predicted that by 2021, Nigeria would overtake India as the world capital for deaths of children under the age of five. Unfortunately, the prediction was hatched.

Fourth, as if that is not enough, The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2018 ranked Nigeria as third most terrorized nation on a list of 138 countries of the world. According to the report, only Afghanistan and Iraq which ranked first and second in that order were ahead of Nigeria as countries that suffered most from terrorism. It also indicates that Nigeria remains the most terrorized country in Africa with huge economic and financial losses. It emphasized that deaths from terrorism in Nigeria rose to 2,040 in 2018, a 33 percent increase.

Public perception is critical to the survival of every society. The trouble with Africa is that most times, we prefer other people to abuse us than face anyone close to us confronting us with the truth. For instance, witches and wizards in a community may not have much trouble if people from other villages accuse them of witcraft. However, if any of their kith and kin dares to suggest that they are into anything diabolical, the council of elders would be convoked to settle the matter. In like manner, those in government have zero tolerance for opposing views but when international organisations like Transparency International and Global Terrorism Index or countries like US and UK come hard on government, the bulldog losses its biting force.    

The masses are supposed to be the mirror for the government to evaluate itself. Regrettably, where narcissism becomes the order of the day, audience analysis becomes a shattered microcosm. Since government exists because of the people, a quarterly self-appraisal is crucial. This is an effective feedback mechanism. Unfortunately, those in authority hate feedback. Little wonder, before our eyes, feedback is labelled as hate speech or fake news. Those who speak for authority or their vassals often prefer to behave like typical sycophants who block their lords from hearing public opinion. This is why they choose what news or information their paymasters watch or read and convince them that everyone is happy with them.

The issues raised in this piece touch on the economy, security and fight against corruption, the darling mantra of this government. These triplets are critical to changing a nation’s fortunes. The National Orientation Agency, Nigeria Television Authority, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, News Agency of Nigeria plus the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs are indispensable image-makers. The onus lies on them to demarket the nation’s current appalling image through jingles and messages aimed at re-branding our apparent poor perception abroad. Members of the diaspora community also have a crucial role to play in this regard.

The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy should invest in Nollywood and the Music Industry towards changing this perception. Until Nigeria establishes a screen, Hollywood and Bollywood would retain their positions as pacesetters while we follow. Like headgear, there is no hiding from public scrutiny. International organisations are always eager to pounce on big economies for data, analysis, relevance and financial gain. As long as we keep repainting an old vehicle, we would not travel far. A change of perception is only possible with a change of policies and massive investments in education, science and technology. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.     

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