Trying To Comprehend The Incomprehensible

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Abba Mahmood

Occasionally one sits down quietly to reflect on issues in silence. Silence is required to understand the innermost meaning of any issue. Silence is the eye of the blind. Any time I am confronted with very difficult situation, I try to calm down and go over the whole thing in my mind alone and in silence. Last weekend, I took a long walk alone, and came back home feeling exhausted. I read the papers after taking rest and bath. Then I sat down quietly reflecting on personal, local, national and even global issues of the time. I was trying to comprehend what is increasingly becoming incomprehensible.

I remembered the good old days. Those were the days I look forward to evenings when our old women would tell us stories, stories full of wisdom, stories that made us to know our language better and more fluently, stories that taught us life experiences, proverbs, palace intrigues, art of speaking and humour. And I ended up pitying this young computer generation who are neither good English speakers or writers nor proficient in their local dialects obviously because they are not fortunate to get the benefit of the quality of the upbringing of my generation.

Growing up in Nigeria of the 1970s, our part of the country did not know any private schools. We had only public schools which were well equipped. And they were virtually free. The primary schools we attended had good teachers who were well motivated as salaries were promptly paid. Books were supplied both for writing and reading. All of us had uniforms and chairs and desks. And it was almost free. Even those of us who were admitted to federal schools, our state governments were paying our fees. Now there are schools everywhere but imparting neither education nor character as they do not have necessary equipment  or sufficiently qualified teachers.

There were fewer government workers then but there was efficiency and productivity.. Every Government Hospital had very efficient doctors and nurses with 24 hours ambulance service to convey serious cases of emergency. Every prescribed drug was promptly given in the hospital pharmacy. The workers were friendly and very dedicated to their jobs. Even an experienced nurse in those days would be far better than most of these so-called qualified Doctors of today. There is no private hospital of today that can compare with the government hospitals of those days in terms of cleanliness, good and prompt service delivery.

As school pupils, we were looking forward to Children’s Day in May and Independence Day on October 1st. This was when smartly dressed school children and members of military and paramilitary forces did the march past. It was a spectacle to behold. There was so much patriotism. Even when the Head of State undertook a tour, we lined up as pupils with the national flag to welcome him as he waved from an open vehicle. Today, even a local government chairman is afraid of the people, his so-called voters. When a lizard falls from the wall today, many of today’s VIPs will take to their heels for fear!

Yes there was corruption as we later learnt, but not of the scale that we have now. When the military overthrew the Shagari administration for instance, many governors were jailed for many years but what they were accused of was mostly enriching their parties with kickbacks from contracts worth only thousands of Naira. Again, when the Special Investigation Panel (SIP) set up to investigate the governors of the Gowon regime confronted former Kano governor Audu Bako for taking 10 percent bribe from contractors, Alhaji Bako answered: “what you mean is 10% was taken while 90% was used to work. A time will come when it will be the other way round – 90% will be stolen and 10% will be used to work!” What a prophecy!

Then I read that day about the altercation between the various agencies of the same government – that the EFCC invited some past senior SSS and NIA officers but they did not honour the invitation and when the EFCC attempted to search their homes it was resisted. This is not only a shame but a national disgrace. I am not holding brief for any of these agencies but for the intelligence agencies of a nation to be fighting openly is unheard of anywhere. Who is responsible for coordinating the activities of these agencies? Why is this fight being allowed in open public domain? And how come, no one has been called to order or made to account for this shame?

One can recall what happened during the late President Yar’Adua regime. Yar’Adua had sent a letter to the Senate nominating his ambassadors for confirmation. One of the nominees was not in good terms with a Senator from his state who happened to be in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. That Senator said that particular nominee would not be confirmed due to a so-called adverse security report on that particular nominee.

The then Senate President, the longest serving and most experienced Senate President in Nigeria’s history so far, Senator David Mark asked the nominee if he was ok for the Senator to reveal the report and the nominee said as far he was concerned he had no knowledge of any adverse report on him. At that stage, the then Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba stood up and said, every agency that may send any report is from the executive arm of government which are all under the President and that a presidential letter of nomination supersedes any agency report at that stage! That was how that nominee was confirmed. Is there no institutional memory?

There is progress everywhere as they say but nothing progressive about it yet. There are many universities churning out thousands of graduates annually but the quality of these graduates is nothing to be proud of. Nigerian certificates are not really regarded outside any more. There has to be a radical reform, reorientation and perhaps revolution to set these things right. And the older generation has to start teaching and mentoring the younger ones, so that the young will take over the old when the old are still alive to continue to give guidance. It is really a disgrace that the same names are recurring for the past thirty to forty years in almost all fields of human endeavour in Nigeria. In any case, how can the young get necessary experience when they are not given the chance to perform? History is on the side of the oppressed.