There are three simple but interesting failures that have dogged Nigeria as a country and these failures, ignored largely by the leadership who, because of their privileged positions that enable them to heftily take care of themselves and their families and, therefore, forget the rest of us to wallow in their failure, are at the centre of this country’s missteps since independence.
These failures were thrown some light on only recently by Chidi Odinkalu, a professor of law, legal advocate and human rights activist and former chairman of National Human Rights Commission. The failures are simple because, as Odinkalu put it on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day last week, they revolve around the task of counting.
It is that basic but, fundamentally, we have failed at counting the people that God put in this geographical space called Nigeria. This failure by government to properly account for its population is a great disservice to this country and its people, but even more gravely, a monumental management failure that clearly suggests that this country and its leadership do not care about its people.
Nigeria has conducted a number of population counts since independence in 1960, but every one of the countings that has been undertaken has been controversial. Nobody believes any agency of government that carries out a census because the real essence of carrying out the exercise, which is to have an accurate or very near accurate number of people for the purpose of planning, is often hijacked by politicians and vested interests, who for their selfish ends, do not allow a genuine outcome to emerge from the exercise.
We think that it is a shame and a travesty that Nigerian leaders do not care about the injustice that they are doing to present and future generations when they make planning impossible because they are not able to deliver a genuine census to the country. Across the world, most planning for the betterment of society is carried out effectively as a result of knowing the number of people to budget for, the number of people to plan healthcare, education, housing and other social infrastructure for. How does a government adequately cater to its people if it does not know how many they are, who they are, where they are? And for how long will it continue to pretend that all is well with a fictitious population number that has been manipulated and abused just because some people want to feel comfortable at the expense of others.
We feel ashamed that planning for a whole lot of things in this country is being carried out on the basis of huge guesstimates. Given that those who perpetuate this gross abuse of our collective existence as a country, in many cases have died and left the country unchanged, still wallowing in its unfortunate position in the comity of nations, does the government of the day not see that part of its failure is the fact that it does not know the number of the people it governs? Does the government of the day not consider it a big deal that beyond resources being scarce, that it has a responsibility to forge a united country where it really doesn’t matter where you are from and that we would all be at peace wherever we find ourselves in this country, existing without any special advantages obtained through the dubious process of population census manipulation carried out by people long gone to their ancestors; people who did not understand, and now do not share in the pain unleashed on the country by their actions?
The second failure to do with counting that our country and its leaders suffer from is the failure to count votes. True, desperate and selfish individuals, particularly of the Nigerian political class, seek to manipulate votes to perpetuate themselves in government. Even when they have outlived their usefulness, like some former governors who manipulate their way to the National Assembly, even when they had clearly demonstrated that they were blunders as governors, they hold the entire country hostage, acquire wealth, and live a life of opulence, while the country remains where it is.
Why are our leaders not keen to put a halt to the farce that is our voting system and voting methods? Why are we not working to eliminate a system that is clearly not doing us any good? Why should we not be looking at our electoral system and working assiduously to ensure that it is beyond manipulation and that the people at that helm of the body conducting the election are on top of everything; and that they are by no means compromised or that they would not become biased at some point during the conduct of the election?. Why is it that it is now difficult for electorates to get their PVCs after they had registered? Is it not part of the problem that being unsure of our true population numbers, and the distribution in the country, that our votes are, in truth, phony, and that they have been during every election that we have held?
It is truly bewildering that as we failed to count our population, failed to count our votes, we are also failing to count our money. We think that it is a big shame that as an oil producing country, the government does not truly know the quantity of crude oil that it produces. And that’s simply because we don’t know how to count. As oil is our largest money earner, it means we are not able to count our money because we really don’t know how much oil we have or that is pumped out of the earth and exported.
Is it any wonder then that we are poor in the midst of plenty? It is not only because of corruption that we are in this serious economic mess. Our leadership needs to wake up and choose selflessness over their penchant for selfishness using religion and tribalism as bait for the unsuspecting common man. We need to get back to basics – let us learn how to count our people properly; let us learn and begin to count our votes accurately and loyally; and let us learn and begin to count our money accurately. Any sincere government will get down to it and do everything possible to be true to these three areas of counting.