The shape of things to come

Jamaican reggae superstar, James Chambers, otherwise known as Jimmy Cliff, is the only living musician to hold the order of merit, the highest honour that can be granted by the Jamaican government in the arts and sciences. He sang a song years ago titled synthetic world. The lyrics of that song are quite instructive and are related to the issue at stake today. He sang that “…your world is plastic and we can see through to the other side, your cities are made of wood; houses of paper but folks don’t hear a word of what you’re saying … friendships have become acids and it burns burns…”

Keen observers of the emerging social structure of our country would have noticed a trend which shows where we may be heading to as a society. It has been said that the downturn in the economic fortunes of nations often brings out the worst in its citizens, which is why the current economic recession in Europe, for instance, has led to the resurgence of right wing parties who have zero tolerance for immigrants or other minorities. Even in South Africa, there has been a rise in xenophobic crimes against other Africans who are accused of taking the jobs meant for South Africans. It’s not different in Nigeria as the emphasis has shifted to a hedonistic lifestyle which has radically altered our social structure with repercussions, I believe, for the future. As often as the case is, it starts from the economic front.

The Nigerian economy is a paradox; so much money is concentrated in the hands of the elite that constitute less than 1 per cent of the population while the rest are left to just get by. I had a discussion with a real estate developer recently trying to find out why estates and luxury apartments are springing up almost on a daily basis in Lagos. He gave me a wry grin and told me that the “free money” from the subsidy regime and the “pipeline contracts” is what is fuelling what I’ve rightly noticed. But beyond that, he also informed me that I will be seeing more hotels springing up in Lagos and Abuja in the next couple of months. I prodded him and wanted to know why he has not advised any of his clients to invest in research and development in the universities and polytechnics given the dire strait of the education sector today. His reply was simple: “Why would any of them want to invest in education when their children do not attend universities in the country?” That’s it!

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Never in our society has there been this wide gulf between the rich and poor which has led to a flagrant display of ostentation that would’ve be frowned upon ten years ago. It is now the norm to hold birthday parties, weddings and even party “caucus meetings” in Dubai, our newly found wonderland. What bothers me most in all these is the cultural dislocation that is emanating from a new cadre of young Nigerians in the society who go abroad to study and are torn between two worlds; in essence some of them are in limbo. I am particular about this cadre because in them we are seeing our future leaders if the structure of our economy and society is anything to go by.

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It is not hard to trace how we got here. Rewind back to 10 years or beyond, children of the rich and poor often attend the same university, and probably, primary and secondary schools. This healthy cohabitation, in most cases, does not breed jealousy or envy but rather leads to a situation of positive rivalry where children of the poor strive to be privileged in the future like their rich counterparts. But things started to change when some elitist schools started springing up. These schools, mainly in large cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Abuja, cost a fortune per year. Parents spend millions of Naira per ward just to ensure that their wards enjoy the comfort that these schools provide.

True to Nigeria’s ostentatious standard, these new schools have different classrooms and furniture. You’ll be forgiven if you describe them as “five star” in quality, facilities and ambience. Gone were the days when former Lagos State Governor, Alhaji Lateef Jakande could send his children to public schools. Suddenly we saw the emergence of students who now speak, or pretend to speak a different type of English. To cap it up, the school curriculum were gradually changed to conform to the new lifestyle that was emerging. What about feeding and other aspect of life? They are better fed at school, most are chauffeured to and from school, have laundry departments that cater for their laundry and in the process they lost touch with those from the “other side” of society; they even look at this “other side” with utter disdain.

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Get me right; I’m not among those glorifying poverty, no, I’m against excessive and unbridled flamboyance that are most of the times fuelled by looted funds or “easy money” from our porous system which should have been used for the common good of all, especially from the controversial subsidy regime.

Since our new class of students attend five star schools, it becomes demeaning for some of them to now attend public or even private universities in the country; the next port of call is the United Kingdom or the United States or other European countries. They spend dollars in the process, dollars generated from Nigeria. When they are done with universities there is often a job waiting for them in the banks, telecoms or oil sectors. We now operate an unwritten unique employment policy where preference is first given to holders of foreign degrees; graduates with “local” degrees are now left to scramble for the crumb that is if there are any left. Where the “locals” are lucky to be employed there is a different salary scale tilting favourably toward foreign degree holders.

Some, from the onset are groomed for political offices. Are you wondering why the crisis in Adamawa State between Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, the PDP Chairman and Governor Murtala Nyako is often very fierce? The answer is not far-fetched; both are campaigning for their sons to be the next governor of the state. Are you getting my drift?

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Assuming one of them succeeds and become the governor how will he treat those who have sweated and know the meaning of living in Nigeria? Go inquire from the lad who has spent eight years for a four year course and from him you’d understand what it means to suffer and to “enjoy” in Nigeria. They know what it means to be without electricity, to hunger, to hope against hope for school fee to be paid by a struggling father, mother, aunt or uncle. If they are female it becomes twice as tough as their bodies are there for the asking as they have to sometimes compromise their dignity to make headway in life.

But are the scions of the Tukurs, Nyakos and other top shots the best the system can throw up? Our system says they are. But how will they decide what’s best for the average Nigerian, how will they understand when ASUU, NASU SSANU, ASUP and other Nigerians are shouting themselves hoarse that the standard of education is falling? They won’t understand because they didn’t school here and there are no indication that their children would. Will they realize that 70 per cent of Nigerians live on less than a dollar per day? Would it not sound ludicrous to them? Would they understand what those in rural Nigeria face, those who have to travel miles before they can assess the nearest primary health center. I can go on and on.

Back to the question how did we get here and what created this class dilemma? It is our educational system. Most parents do not want their children to suffer the inadequacies of the Nigerian education. But it is the same elite class that impoverished and devastated that education system in the first place. Now they have left the education system to rot and decay as they seek for alternatives abroad.

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I have had cause to interact with some of the products from “abroad” and I find them so synthetic just like Jimmy Cliff sang. Their love for Nigeria is also synthetic because Nigeria only makes sense if it is connected to Europe, Dubai or the United States. Have you noticed that some events that are strictly Nigerian in nature are now held in New York, London or Amsterdam? They don’t see Nigeria as a nation to rescue but a place to plunder and exploit. They see it as a place to tap and enjoy because that was how they were raised. But those who rise genuinely and have witnessed a loved one die for just N2,000 or the relative of an accident victim that died because the doctors forgot to give him an anti-tetanus injection that cost just N150 can understand the life of privilege from the context of the life of the deprived. They are the ones we should strive to ensure rule Nigeria for they know what it means to be Nigerian.


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