By Olukorede Yishau
It’s honour, its glory is long gone. The labour of its heroes past has given way to weeds – stubborn grass and all sorts that would have had no space when the machines were still at full blast churning out tyres. A portion of the empire has now transformed into a bank, resplendent in white facade. Dunlop, our Dunlop, why art thou forsaken us?
I remember Dunlop again two days ago when President Muhammadu Buhari swore-in 43 men and women as members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC). Some of these men and women are not new in the FEC. Even those who are new to the cabinet are not new to government. Most importantly, it is not lost on them that Nigerians will look up to them for things to change, I mean for things to truly change!
Dunlop, for me, has become a metaphor of all that is wrong with our country. If a giant can fall, dwarfs stand no chance.
One area many are looking for change is in the manufacturing sector, where Dunlop used to be a king before closing shops when running cost among others clogged its bloodstream. I am yet to see any country that is great without a strong manufacturing sector. I am also yet to see a country with a strong currency without a thriving manufacturing sector. I am still searching for a great nation which celebrates epileptic power supply and glorifies mediocrity.
Our manufacturing sector is dead and waiting to be buried. If you are in doubt, take a trip to the once-thriving textile industries in Kano and other parts of the North. If you reside in the Southwest, Lagos offers you a glimpse of the evil that has befallen the textile and other industries. With our fashion sense and love for parties, this is one industry that should be contributing greatly to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). No sight better captures our sad reality than the now-abandoned premises of Dunlop on Oba Akran Road, Ikeja. The textile factories in Aswani, Kano and other parts of the North are now relics. Many factories have become churches.
I cry each time I have cause to pass through a once-bubbling industry that has now become a church auditorium. Sadly, we have many of them all over Lagos. I am also yet to see any great nation that prides itself as an exporter of cocoa, timber and rubber. The export of these items cannot yield us much because we export them raw — no value-added. What makes chocolate the toast of all is the value that has been added. Raw cocoa smells, and only by adding value to it can it appeal to the mass of the people. Rubber only makes sense when it has been turned to plastic and other products. The furniture we import from abroad is made with the wood from Isehin, Isaga-Orile and other remote places in Nigeria. We simply ship our almighty oil abroad. What is wrong with refining and supplying other nations?
Our health sector makes me cry. Our primary, secondary and tertiary health institutions were world-class. The University College Hospital (UCH) was first among equals globally. Its facilities were top-notch and its members of staff could raise their heads high anywhere in the world. No thanks to brain drain, UCH and others are now shadows of their old selves. The brain drain that hit the health sector in the ‘80s started the declining standard in our teaching hospitals. We are yet to come out of the brain drain. As you read this, many doctors are on their way to Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia because of the poor state of medical practice in the country. Even those who are not leaving are not committed. Many a doctor in government-owned hospitals runs private clinics and dedicates attention to their private practice than their primary employer. I find it difficult to blame doctors for seeking better lives abroad. The government is responsible for infrastructure decay, poor power supply and lack of equipment, which have made working at home a bad idea.
The poor state of the economy has made unemployment our close friend. We have paid lip service to diversifying the economy. Our almighty oil contributes about 85 per cent of our oil revenue, but its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product, which is less than 10 per cent, is abysmally low. Other sectors must contribute to the GDP if we intend going anywhere. If there is anything that has also contributed to more to our problem, it is corruption.
The Buhari administration has made the fight against this monster a major issue. But, we need to go beyond that. There is a need to strengthen the anti-graft agencies for effective prosecution. As noted by this paper two days ago: “Most prosecutors carry a workload that, because of its excessive size or complexity, interferes with quality prosecution and attention to detail. It is not unusual to see prosecuting counsel shuttling from one court to another. In some instances, cases have been adjourned or stalled due to the absence of a prosecutor.”
One grey area, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must address, is the state of our foreign missions. A report in this paper on Wednesday notes: “Many of the 110 Nigerian missions and embassies abroad are still a national embarrassment despite promises of reforms and rationalisation. They are still groaning under financial difficulties. “Some of them have reportedly not paid salaries for months and owe huge debts. As part of its cost-saving measures, the Federal Government ordered the closure of three of Nigeria’s foreign missions and down-sized one. The closed missions were in Sri Lanka, the Czech Republic and the Republic of Serbia. The one in Ukraine was downsized. Nigerian embassies and consulates do not render their duties to Nigerians abroad. To procure a common passport when one is in dire need is a problem.”
It will be a great disservice if I leave out electricity as part of the major problems that must be addressed in this dispensation. For me, it is the main problem. Addressing it will resolve so many of our challenges. Democracy’s attempt to fix the electricity challenge has been a major flop. Since licences were given to Ikeja Electric, Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) and nine others, they have shown that they lack what is needed to make a success of the sector. It has been garbage in, garbage out. Consumers regularly express their displeasure through blockades of electricity distribution companies’ offices over poor service delivery occasioned by erratic billing and epileptic power supply. Consumers, consumer advocacy groups, regulators and legislators have shouted themselves hoarse. The courts are having hectic schedules with cases filed by short-changed consumers. For me, the investors rushed into the deal thinking it would be all rosy like the situation when GSM licences were issued.
Many parts of the country are in darkness. Not a few have called for the withdrawal of licences of DisCos. This is one area we should be running. Instead, we are yet to start crawling, not to talk of walking and far away from running. I sense that selfish interests have been sold as national interests. The good of one is sold as the good of all.
My final take: I see the constitution of the cabinet as another opportunity for us to get things right. I am more than convinced that Nigeria cannot remain like this. Our pace is too slow. Slow and steady do not always win the race. We must run now because we are lagging in every area of human endeavour. Let us do a marathon and even if this means many slow runners falling by the wayside, so be it. Things must change. The implication of things remaining the way they are is grave. Certainly.