For tens of millions of our youth, hunger and poverty are obstacles to which they are too weak, and have no hope of crossing; of all human rights, the right to life is the most fundamental, followed by food; a country like ours that makes hunger seem like a fundamental human right, cannot have a bright future.
Nigeria was fifty seven on Sunday October 1 and all my thoughts were about her future; the future of her children to whom tomorrow should belong. I was to be jolted by news that Akwa Ibom, one of the 36 states, is to shut-down about 800 illegal schools. That is the level to which we have abandoned our children – driving them to illegal schools where they pay fees, because the legal public schools are worse! Once we abandon our children to the sharks of the private sector, the only conclusion is that the country has been well mismanaged.
Tragically, Section 18(3) of our constitution, which states that government should provide free, compulsory and universal primary education; free secondary and university education; and free adult literacy programme, are not justiciable. They are to be provided only “as and when practicable”. The annual constitutional amendment rituals do not concern themselves with such fundamentals; they are about palliatives.
Lanrewaju Adepoju, 77, is perhaps the best Yoruba traditional “Ewi” poet. For decades, he thrilled millions and was sometimes a torn in the flesh of dictatorship. Recently, I received a message; he is going blind and needs N7 Million to restore his sight in India. Apart from his tremendous contributions to culture, education and enlightenment, Adepoju is also a cultural ambassador. However, contrary to the constitution that the aged should not suffer moral or material neglect, millions of Adepojus are abandoned to their fate. He needs to go to India, the same country that until the 1970s, we were told had inferior education standards!
When I was a boy, I visited a relative at the Island Maternity, Lagos, who had just undergone a fibroid surgery. I was amazed that the large ward was only for patients of uterine fibroid. Today, the situation is far worse, as about 40 percent of our daughters and women suffer from fibroid and are abandoned to their fate. We lost one of our best writers, May Ellen Ezekiel to fibroid. Even a daughter of a former president suffered severely from it, yet, we do not invest to find a cure. Since, like Sickle Cell, it is primarily a Black disease, the urge of the White race to research into it is not as urgent as other diseases like HIV/AIDS.
In 1982, I journeyed to the North, and at an eatery, I left my food for some seconds to get water, and it disappeared! Then I saw half a dozen children struggling for the contents of my half eaten meal. I was told it was a costly mistake to leave your food for even a second as the hungry would assume you are full, and given the stiff competition, there was no room to ask if you have had your fill. I told myself that we have abandoned our children and other forces will harness them. Any reason why we should be alarmed that our country is wracked by violent crimes and quit orders? The main attraction of Boko Haram was not religion; the founders provided at least one meal daily for adherents. Hungry youth who have no hope of the future, simply flooded to the group.
It is the same logic that propels youth across the country to be thugs and canon fodders for politicians, some of who even provide them arms. For tens of millions of our youth, hunger and poverty are obstacles to which they are too weak, and have no hope of crossing; of all human rights, the right to life is the most fundamental, followed by food; a country like ours that makes hunger seem like a fundamental human right, cannot have a bright future. Yet our constitution provides in Section 16,2(C) that “The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring: that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.”
On Wednesday September 27, the amiable Edo State governor, His Excellency Godwin Obaseki visited the Benin Airport. There, he promised to come to the aid of the federal government to expand and up-grade the airport in order to boost economic activities in the state. If the Edo people were to have a say in governance, I am sure they will tell Obaseki that the airport should not be a priority when there are virtually no motor-able inter-state roads, especially from Auchi to Benin. In case he does not know, they will inform him that the road network from Okpella has collapsed and that those travelling to Benin after maneuvering to Auchi now make a detour to Iyaro (Iviabro) to Afuze on to Iruekpen through Sabongida Ora. If he were to argue that the collapsed highway is a federal not a state road, they can explain to him that the airport is also federal. In any case, the state roads are in a similar state, with the university town of Ekpoma virtually cut off when it rains. They can explain that economic activities will be better enhanced by repairing the town roads which will enable the people move farm produce rather than expending funds on an airport. They will let him know that it is better to invest on the roads which will benefit the vast majority than the airport used by a tiny few.
In the same vein, if the people have a say, they are likely to explain to my brother, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), the honourable minister of Power, Works and Housing that erecting tollgates on death traps called roads, cannot be a wise decision. They will remind him that his gamble in the Chevron Tollgate on the Lekki-Epe Expressway when he was the popular governor of Lagos State, has not paid off as the masses still refuse to pay the toll. It can also be whispered into his ears that the tollgate he erected at the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge remains an inconclusive battle as the people won the first round with Justice Seidu declaring it illegal.
They will remind him that there were tollgates across the country before they were destroyed by the Obasanjo administration because the toll was built into the very high fuel prices the citizens have to pay. Before the tollgates were removed they, like the oil wells, they were political patronage distributed to individuals who milked the people dry. If only the people have a say, they will explain that they do not want a return to the past. In April 2017, I travelled extensively in China by road through quite smooth highways; sometimes for four straight hours, without any tollgate. We can emulate good examples and not stick to a mindset. Happy 57th Independence.
Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General of African Workers is a Human Rights activist, journalist and author.