By Yemi Adamolekun
It’s not surprising that it is difficult to get Nigerians sufficiently angry on an issue that there’s enough momentum for advocacy and action until the issues are resolved. The Freedom of Information Act took 12 years.
Our return to democracy before the 1993 botched elections took 10 years; after the annulment, we waited another six years. The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill has seen several iterations over the last 10 years and finally got passed by the House of Representatives in March. The Senate has yet to pass it.
But can you really blame us? On Sunday, some of us head to churches and mosques on Friday, where we cry onto God to show us mercy; make a way for us in the midst of the madness and ask him to give our leaders caring hearts. With lots of prayers and songs of praise and thanksgiving, we fortify ourselves for the week ahead, though some make several visits during the week for additional strength.
On Monday, we hear that the Federal Government can’t pay salaries. This starts a discussion about the economy – our dependence on oil; the Orosanye Committee report on our bloated bureaucracy that would probably never get implemented; the dependence on the centre in a nation that’s federal in name but not in nature or function etc.
On Tuesday, the Academic Staff Union of Universities starts an indefinite strike stating its frustrations with the Federal Government as it continues to renege on a 2009 agreement to improve the condition of service of its members as well as salvage what is left of the education sector and increase funding to the university system.
Note that the university lecturers are on strike this time to ENFORCE an agreement, not to get one. This means the government had already agreed to their demands, now the students are at home because the government has suddenly decided it can’t pay, or won’t pay, depending on who you listen to.
On Wednesday, there’s a big jamboree on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway as the N167bn contract to repair the road is “launched”. We now think it’s necessary to launch contract awards? This can only be a further testament of our wastefulness. The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was inaugurated in 1978 and in the 35 years since then, no major work has been done on it.
The new contract expands the road by two lanes between Lagos and Sagamu and from Sagamu to Ibadan, the existing lanes are only resurfaced. Is this the best we can do in 2013? What about high-speed train lines in the middle with stops at the various religious camps so people don’t have to drive? The busiest expressway in West Africa will still be four lanes in some parts when Abuja has roads with six lanes. A very cruel joke!
On Thursday, our senators vote against local government autonomy but vote to recognise married women under 18, even if it’s only in the context of renouncing their citizenship. They also vote to add to their obscene allowances with life pensions for senior officials. On Friday, we play host to Sudan’s President who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity while the House of Representatives begins what will probably be a song and dance investigation into the illegal Malabu oil deal.
On Saturday, we huddle around our BBM and SMS broadcasts, telephones, social media platforms, bukas, bars, living rooms and dining tables talking about the week that was and all the stories we heard from Abuja – looting, corruption, impunity and more. We moan and groan and wonder what we’ve done to deserve such leaders. On Sunday, we go and thank God for seeing us through another week that was obviously weak and the cycle continues.
Is it little wonder then that Nigerians bury their heads in the sand, playing the ostrich and hoping all these problems will go away? In between the daily distractions, if you live in any of the major cities, you spend uncountable hours in traffic – the economic loss unimaginable.
Usually, the traffic is simply due to bad roads and poor traffic management. And regardless of where you live, we all worry about the same problems notably, light, water, school fees, high rent, medical bills; and for the 71.5 per cent of Nigerians that live under N300 a day, how to eat daily.
A part of wishing these problems will go away is also because we feel helpless. Where does one start? Which issue does one take on? How does one push for change? Who do you talk to? What can you do? What do you do? Would anyone listen? Does anyone care? Is it worth it? Can you really make a difference? Is the “system” not too rotten? Is there hope?
So, choosing to be an advocate means you are dealing with all of the daily challenges of living in Nigeria and the doubts, yet you make time to read and research; write articles; protest when necessary; give talks to educate and raise awareness and in some cases, use the law, as faulty as the legal system might be, to push for social justice. If you are still wondering why advocacy is hard work and why change usually takes a long time, there you have it!
Unfortunately, the system will not change itself. It needs people within and outside it to keep reminding us of the ideal and pushing for the ideal. We can see how other countries function – we have visited; we read about them; we see them on TV.
The citizens of those working countries don’t have two heads. They are just clear that they deserve the best life has to offer and they work to provide it for themselves. They are challenged to innovate to make complex systems simple and increase access.
But in Nigeria, we seem to take pride in making simple things complex. It is not normal that an electronic billboard has a 13kva generator installed next to it; it’s not normal that most street lights in state capitals are powered by generators; it’s not normal that we have university graduates who can’t write an error-free 250-word essay; it’s not normal that any part of any type of road can easily become a market; it’s not normal that dysfunction has become the new norm and we celebrate it daily.
Despite the overwhelming challenges, there are little and big things that citizens can do to drive and support change. The simplest one is the purpose to do what’s right. We would notice marked improvements in our lives if we just made an effort every day to do the right thing. As hard as that might be in very challenging situations, it works and it helps.
Another way is to give – of your time and resources. There are hundreds of credible charities doing great work. There are those focused on abused women and children; those providing free legal services; orphanages; those that support education for the less privileged; those focused on advocacy and governance, etc.
The list is endless. What issues bother you? Look for organisations working to improve things in that sector and support them financially. Another way is to work through communities, associations and groupings you belong to put pressure on your local government to provide services; religious bodies can wield immense influence if and when they choose to use it; alumni associations of educational institutions, etc.
Finally, for those who are so inclined, engage the system and join a political party – work on policy and programmes or run for elective office. A word of caution though – go in with others of like mind. To be a lone voice crying in the wilderness will be a very lonely journey.
No matter how small, do something. Don’t let analysis paralysis get the best of you. We all deserve better.
•Ms. Adamolekun is the Coordinator of Enough is Enough, Nigeria.