Rephrasing Our Development Debate (2)

By Mfon Offiong

I believe that many Nigerians might have read this report with pity and flipped over to the next pages without giving it a deep thought. However, the story raises many salient questions. Though the morality of what the government did is an issue on its own, but can it be true according to Babangida Mohammed in the report, that 70 Almajiris live with him as their benefactor in his five-room apartment? If his family which might be large is discounted, that translates to 14persons per room. Is this not calamitous by any measure? Who are the parents of these 70 children? Does the government of Jigawa state know about these children and do they care about them?

What qualifies Babangida Mohammed to take care of these children who officially belong to the Nigerian state? What is his source(s) of livelihood or profile? Is he a businessman, farmer or civil servant? Is he receiving assistance from any government agency, NGO or good-spirited individuals to support them? Is he doing it as a Good Samaritan? Are the children taken care of from the proceeds of the alms they bring in? How long will they continue to beg? Will they ever go to school? Will they ever learn any skill, trade or vocation? What will be their orientation, mentality, and worldview? What will be the content of their character?

When they eventually turn 18, on what basis will they vote for a politician during election? What will political mobilizers and vote canvassers tell them? Will they not be used for campaigns as rented crowds and to rig elections, and be subsequently dumped thereby deepening their wounds? Will these not result in them becoming disenchanted with the system?

Considering their childhood experience where their abode was demolished by the government without giving a thought to their welfare, will these not corroborate whatever anyone might tell them to wit that the government is not interested in their wellbeing? Would they not become susceptible to being used by agents of destruction against the government and a society that care less for them?

Assuming they steer away from crime, violence and other anti-social activities, what will be their likely sources of livelihood as grown-ups? What does the Nigerian state anticipate from them when they become adults? How are they expected to contribute to the socio-economic growth of the nation? In general, what does the future hold for them and a nation that has millions of such people as its citizens? On the other hand, Mustapha in the report has two wives and 14 children.

Though his profile with regard to his age and job is not stated, assuming he is in his late 30s or early 40s, how are we sure that as time goes on, he will not marry two more wives and go ahead to add 11 children to the 14 he already has to make them 25 or even more? Will Mustapha have the capacity to take properare of them in terms of nurturing them very well and making them become educated, honourable and well integrated members of the society?

Apart from the instances above, there are lots of habits, lifestyles, practices and traditions held by a lot of Nigerian communities and cultures which are built on falsehoods ‘like a child getting sick if his mum sleeps with the dad’ – which is a pretext for marrying more wives – that have no scientific basis which they need to be educated and encouraged to change. Infact, it was widely reported in online and print media in March 2013 that in this day and age, about 40 indigenous Abuja communities still kill twins because they are regarded as evil. Not only that, babies are killed if their mothers die after their delivery because the children are seen as being the cause of their mothers death.

As if that is not enough, it was also revealed that babies that grow the upper teeth first are also killed because they are considered as bad omen. The question is, doesn’t the government know that they have a responsibility to protect any child born in this country? The Nigerian federal government has an institution (the police) that is ubiquitous, which can be found in every nook and corner of this country. They are in a good position to know these habits, beliefs and lifestyles that are inimical to human advancement and civilization.

In my opinion, they should have a data bank on these and where they occur to enable the government come up with education and enlightenment policies that will re-orientate the practitioners and place them on the path of civilization and advancement. That is also development; making the Nigerian person better, stronger and more advanced intellectually. It should be pursued with vigor and it should be measureable.

The other aspect is moral. At present Nigeria have more than 400 universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education which produces thousands of graduates every year. The state governments are falling over themselves to establish more universities while religious organizations, private individuals, philanthropists and businessmen alike are not left out. The establishment of new universities, private and public is a welcome development to address the challenge of access in tertiary education. However, the way the country is; does it reflect the injection of millions of graduates over the years? For it seems that the more we produce graduates, masters and doctorate degree holders and professors, the worse we become values wise. Morally and ethically, there is nothing to show the addition into the system of individuals who have been found worthy in character and learning. All these point to the fact that the products of our tertiary education system have not positively impacted the society they were released into but that the society has negatively impacted on them.

Or to put it differently, the university system has been producing individuals who have been found worthy in learning but not in character – intelligence and learning not guided by any moral code can be used for destructive and selfish ends – that seems to be what is manifesting in our country.

In the Nation Newspapers of Tuesday, April 16, 2013 Vol. 8, No. 2460, a front page story goes that, ‘CBN recovers N8.6bn for bank customers’. In the last two decades since the new generation banks phenomenon swept through the banking industry, banks have been employing just graduates, hardly much diploma holders and secondary school leavers if any. The middle and executive management cadres of banks boast of masters and doctorate degrees holders who have participated in numerous workshops, seminars and trainings. How could these people who are products of the university system in Nigeria and who have added to their first degrees, masters and doctorates from prestigious institutions inside and outside the shores of this land preside over such a monumental fraud directed at their customers – people that should trust them? This is just to indicate how morally decadent and ethically bankrupt we have become.

Values have taken a free fall in the Nigerian society. Corruption has been identified as the single most extreme challenge facing the Nigerian nation. This therefore means that the Nigerian person, educated and uneducated have not been developing morally despite the ubiquity of religious institutions which are supposed to impart values and the public displays of religious fervor in the country. As I am working on this write-up, before me is a headline in the Nation Newspapers of Wednesday, April 10, 2013 which reads “EFCC traces N1.1 bn pension cash to woman accountant’ with subtitle – police pension office official,six others to face trial today. News such as these is staples in Nigerian newspapers.

To be continued…

Mfon is a management consultant based in Abuja

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