Everywhere around the world, governance is a pretty serious business. In civilized and developed climes, governance has walked past provision of social amenities. This is because, in advanced parts of the world like the United States of America and the United Kingdom where the democratic experiment is over hundred years, while maintaining public institutions is key, they are contending with freedom of speech and citizens’ rights. Conversely, in developing countries like Nigeria, we appear to be stuck in the era of celebrating the provision of basic social amenities as the so-called dividends of democracy.
What is germane to this discussion is that even providing the basic needs of the voting masses who continue to pay taxes has remained a mirage. These social amenities like improving the healthcare system, digital education, provision of potable water, uninterrupted electricity supply, ensuring peace and security for the citizenry as well as protecting rights and liberties especially of minority groups and vulnerable citizens remain crucial. The rot in public institutions buttresses the popular African wise saying: “A community goat dies of starvation.”
In the area of provision of a functional health care system, government has failed. Our primary Health Care Centres are mere abodes for rodents. This accounts for the high child and maternal mortality rate in the country. For example, infant mortality rate in 2020 is 59.181 deaths per 1000 live births. Sadly, rural women and children have no access to basic medical care. While Councilors and Local Government officials feast on the local allocation that comes in by sharing it with godfathers and cronies for a ticket of return, their bosses at the Parliament remain incommunicado. Due to the deficit in addressing these health needs, the rich and those in government fly abroad for medical tourism. The condemnation of the Federal Government by stakeholders in the health sector over the reduction of the 2020 health budget by 50 percent remains a bad omen for the sector. COVID-19 has now become a leveller which has condemned rich and poor alike to the same realities. On a normal situation in Nigeria, it is how much you have that determines the kind of health facility you can access.
The story is not any different in terms of citizen’s rights to qualitative education. Public schools remain in a shambolic state in most states across the country. They are also marred by incessant strikes, poor infrastructure and lack of digital technology. Fortunately or unfortunately, private schools are constantly mushrooming. Another serious clog in the wheel of progress in this sector is the disparity between a University Certificate and Diploma. Another factor is insistence on paper qualification over and above relevant acquired skills. The criteria for securing a job has now moved from School Certificate to Diploma, Diploma to Degree, First Degree to Masters, Masters to PhD – Even if you have a Doctorate Degree, most employers would insist it has to be from a foreign University; if it was acquired abroad, they would prefer it is from an Ivy League University. Thank God President Donald Trump is changing the narrative in the US where the future of jobs is put on skills not degrees. Apparently, the best insurance cover for high-quality education in Nigeria is, sponsor yourself.
In order to ensure that all countries meet up with the demands of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the UN has always called urged governments to further guarantee inclusive qualitative education for all. In its “Education for All, EFA, 2000-2015: Achievements and Challenges,” UNESCO recommended that developing countries should allocate 15 to 20 percent of their national budgets to education. The body also proposed that various countries should spend between 4 and 6 percent of their Gross National Product (GNP) on education. Unfortunately, only 6.7 percentage was allocated to education in the 2020 budget.
Although water is life and lack of it is inimical to a healthy livelihood, the government has not lived up to expectation in providing potable water for the masses. Aside from a few water installations in major cities, rural dwellers have to depend on harvesting rainwater or drinking from the same source (rivers) with animals. Those who can afford it have to dig wells or boreholes. Even the so-called “pure water” sales for 10 naira. This means that a father of six or seven may not afford to buy it daily for his family since a pack goes for 150 naira. For instance, if you need clean water in Nigeria, your pocket must travel to Adamawa and Jos for Faro and Swan respectively. How do you expect people to wash their hands with running water as part of measures to curb COVID-19 when accessing clean water is a big deal?
Those who have been to other civilized climes know that access to constant electricity is not a luxury. However, in Nigeria, the power supply is for big shots. Because the national grid is not operating optimally, the populace is entertained by an interruption in the power supply. Power outage is the norm rather than the exception. It would be recalled that the national grid collapsed over ten times in 2019 leading to a total blackout. The excitement of children when light is restored speaks to the point at issue. Even the baptism of NEPA to PHCN has not changed the character of darkness to light in the country. With generators from China, we are stuck with resorting to self-help if we must enjoy power.
Great countries of the world are in the era of giving a zero chance to insecurity and anything that disrupts public peace. This is because “social and economic development can only thrive in an atmosphere of peace.” The clause “The primary function of government is the protection of lives and property” appears to be the first cliché politicians in Nigeria memorize to hoodwink voters. Sadly, their lip service equals their action or lack of it. From Zamfara, Katsina, Borno to Taraba, Plateau, Benue, Kaduna (South), Adamawa among other worst-hit states, the result is unwholesome activities by insurgents, commercial kidnappers, armed-bandits and killer herdsmen. Someone painted the grim scenario as saying people now sleep on their beds only to wakeup up in the great beyond. As it is, taxpayers have to spend much to hire security guards or install CCTV cameras. Others have to result to self-help to secure their lives and property.
We cannot end this discussion without emphasizing that the cardinal objective of governance is the evolution from the provision of mere boreholes to ensuring freedom and safeguarding rights. Experts have made the point that if the infrastructure is the only thing there is to public service then Adolf Hitler would still be a great force to reckon with. This is because most buildings that are still standing the test of time in Germany were built by Hitler. It is the same with Muammar Gaddafi who built a modernized city-state in Libya but was accused of abusing human rights. Democracy entails protecting rights and liberties especially those of minority groups and the vulnerable.
If democracy is “Government of the people, by the people and for the people” as Abraham Lincoln puts it, those at the helm of affairs must remember their social contract with the people. Sadly, the relationship between the people and government is that of spousal battery. If the government insists on allowing the very people who pay for the high cost of governance to further pay for everything, when the time-bomb explodes, there might be no state. The French revolution is a case in point. God spare us doomsday. 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.