Nigeria News

Nigeria: As We Are – Recurring Thoughts and Events in a Nation

THE news photographs of union members and some staff of NEPA, otherwise known as Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, announcing the “obituary” of Professor Barth Nnaji, an Enugu State man, but a great citizen of the world would have been funny if not a pathetic reflection on our collective sense of responsibility for the public good. The famous professor resigned as Nigeria’s Minister of Energy, a position in which he was very successfully applying his experience and skills to salvaging us from perpetual power shortage and the stranglehold of the diesel and generator marketers. Prof Nnaji and President Ebele Jonathan were succeeding where President Obasanjo and the late Chief Bola Ige, and many after, had failed. Parts of Nigeria that had got used to having no public light supply were now experiencing several days, at a time, of public power supply. Any President has the power to demand or accept the resignation of any of his ministers. President Jonathan exercised that right. Some opine that in a similar situation President Obasanjo would have told Prof Nnaji to pocket his resignation letter and get on with the work at hand. Those who celebrate Prof Nnaji’s resignation do not realise that they celebrate what may mark a major setback to a serious attempt to ensure we get regular power supply. I do not know Prof Nnaji but I admire his courage to do what he did. When a man in public office feels he is becoming an embarrassment to himself OR his boss, he should offer to leave the position. I have a very high expectation that this will not be the last we hear of this hardworking, very bright man who has been such a positive mark for Nigeria. Nnaji’s resignation should be an example to those who do anything to remain in office even in the face of humiliation and abject performance. Another typical example of our national recurrent theme of public regrets over our national failures was the after-effect of Nigeria’s flop at the London Olympics. Our nation of 160million people came away with no medal. Once Blessing Okagbare had a slight injury and could not perform to expectations in her events, our nation had nothing to cheer about. We must thank all the athletes for their efforts and for agreeing to represent Nigeria, a nation that has developed a reputation for not giving her sports representatives their dues or caring enough for them when they need help. Today, there are many Nigerian athletes competing for European nations, and even Canada, and USA, while it is now common to see several sportsmen with Nigerian names representing Britain. It is most appropriate that our President decided to give National Honours to our Paralympics gold medallists. We salute them for giving us something to cheer for. The results from having serious sports administrators and political commitment to sports development is evident in Jamaica, a nation with population less than Surulere and Yaba in Lagos State. Jamaica has had nationally organised school sports annually at elementary, secondary levels for about 100 years while the tertiary institutions compete with themselves and those of other West Indian countries. These events are taken very seriously and talents identified and supported. Virtually all Jamaicans Olympians are home grown. A visit to the University of Technology in Kingston shows you the activities of their great sportsmen who do not need to “decamp” to another nation, because they are well cared for. Can we not do the same in Nigeria? We have 160million people from where to harvest our athletes, footballers, cricketers, boxers, swimmers, etc. Why have we not been able to realise this potential? I think a major reason for our under performance is because we keep selecting the same people to run our activities. For some, remaining in the corridors of ministers and power bases in Abuja has become a way of life. We cannot, therefore, expect anything different. We need new ideas, and people to think out of the box and support our sports with appropriate funds. The jamboree for hangers on must come to an end. Others were winning medals when we were organising exhibition for tourism to Nigeria in London. Can we protect our tourists? We need to ask that question. I have seen on television and read in the media the admonition and the call for better performance by our President and his Minister for Sports. I am afraid to say that if we keep with the same menu for our national soup, we should not be surprised if the end result is still the same. We individually, and collectively, have to decide if we want to pull our weight or continue to underperform in the matters of nations. A man who continues to win my admiration in the way he has performed is our Foreign Minister, Ambassador Gbenga Ashiru. He called the South Africans to order when they misbehaved. He has told the Canadians they cannot continue to hold the passports of visa applicants for 45 days while they decide what to do. It is amazing that Canada, of all countries, is behaving in this shameful manner. Some of the Shengen Visa countries are no better. As Ambassador Ashiru advised the Canadian, they can cite the passport, make a copy and return the original to the owner rather than paralysing the movements of the visa applicants for 45days! Canada and some Shengen visa countries should apply common sense please! A common reason why those who should call the embassies to order are unable to do so, is that often they are slavishly pleading for visas for their own hangers-on from these same embassies! My late father, Chief Frank Sunmola Giwa-Osagie, the First Nigerian Head of Prison Services, who by the way, has nothing significant named after him by Federal or Lagos State or Edo State governments, used to say that his pension was just enough to pay the wages of his driver and his steward. This was after retiring from Federal Civil Service after 35 years service. In his time the age to retire was 55 years. In Nigerian universities at which I have been a full Professor since 1987, our mandatory retirement age has been 65 years until Mr. President signed a Bill to raise retirement age for academic staff to 70 years with “immediate effect” like in a military regime. I was 65 years six weeks before the retirement age was elevated to 70 years. Just this week my Pension Fund Managers informed me that my pension would be less than N200,000 per month after 34 years service, 25 years as a Full Professor. The promise or assumed agreement between the Federal Government and ASUU that Professors who retire after over 15 years as Professors before retirement would retire on their full pay, like Generals and the equivalent, has not been translated into reality. I have no doubt that in less than five years, my pension may not be enough to pay my driver and housekeeper. For those in public service, what greater incentive to corruption can there be than uncertain and inadequate pension at the end of many years of public service? So my experience so far with pension is no different from that of my father 40 years ago. The French say: “Plus Ca Change, plus C’est la meme chose” or: “The more there is change the more things are the same”. Perhaps those who control our country at state and Federal levels, and their advisers, can change Nigeria for good. As for me I continue to hope Nigeria will get its thinking and actions right one day, and the earlier the better.

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