By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
As I walked leisurely into my street last Sunday afternoon, trying as much as possible not to think about the obviously enraged sun bathing me with its stinging golden rays, I would have been forgiven if I had thought I had missed my way and strayed into a very busy industrial area. But then, the place I had just gone was a yelling distance away from home, and so, there was just no way I could have missed my way.
I live in a very small street, secured at both ends by two gates manned by some nice Mallams, whose salaries are paid from the Security Levy I unhappily part with every month. As soon as I passed the gate, I was greeted by the tormenting din and clatter of several power generating sets locked in a clearly mad competition to out-roar each other. Every house contributed to the bedlam. Eardrums came under serious threat. Hypertensive cases became more complicated, drawing their victims closer to their graves. Sanity struggled to take leave of several other people, as the roaring noise from every house tore into the very hot Sunday afternoon with violent rage, piercing fierceness and tormenting loudness.
Very lethal thick, black fumes also oozed into the atmosphere, targeting the hearts and lungs of men, having successfully turned the area into one huge fatally saturated gas chamber. Why did everybody suddenly choose to set the machines roaring this afternoon? Maybe, this was what always happened every other afternoon, but because I was not always around in the afternoons, the whole thing now assailed my ears with menacing strangeness.
After sometime, I paused and listened, trying to make some form of meaning out of the whole chaos. What came into my mind was: Yes, this is a failed state! Like Prof Chinua Achebe once said: “This is an example of a country that has fallen down; it has collapsed. This house has fallen.”
My mind went to Countee Cullen, the African American poet, whose 1925 poem, Heritage, opened with a very significant question that had bugged his mind at time, “What is Africa To Me?” In the same vein, I could not help asking: What Is Government To Me? Or put differently, of what relevance is Government to me in a clearly ungoverned enclave like Nigeria ? If I provide for myself virtually everything Government is supposed to make available to me as a law abiding citizen, how then does Government justify its relevance, or even existence before me?
Take the issue of security that I mentioned earlier, for instance. One of the very basic functions of Government is to secure lives and property. But inNigeria , this has since ceased to be part of Government’s priority. In fact, it is doubtful if those in authority still remember that provision of adequate security is part of their responsibility towards the citizenry.
Government has since conceded defeat in this area and clearly demonstrated its inability to protect Nigerians. In other words, it has since relinquished the monopoly it ought to exercise over the instruments of violence and coercion, and Nigerians have become mere lame ducks before hoodlums and criminals who invade homes and offices, taking their time to steal and even sexually abuse the women with every fearlessness and fanfare. Robbers are no longer in a hurry because they know very well that nobody would dare disturb their operations, and that policemen would rather take to their heels at the sound of their rifles than attempt to repel them.
And so, because we are now “on our own,” we had to, like many other residents of other areas in Nigeria , engage the Mallams to man our gates? But as we all know, our protection is in the hands of God, because, these same Mallams would be the first to beat Ben Johnson’s track records at the first sound of the gun! And where is the Government in this picture? An absentee as usual!
Nigeria presents the best example of how a nation could be in the absence of any form of governance.
What then is Government to me? Darkness, Darkness and more Darkness everywhere? The clatter of generators I encountered last Sunday afternoon was a very sad reminder of the painful and oppressive fact that for several weeks now, power supply in my area has gone down to almost zero. When we could be considered lucky, power would be supplied for an hour or two, and that would be all, in a whole week! But the normal thing now is that week after week, no one sees the slightest hint of power supply, not minding that the agents of that useless body of sadists called NEPA/PHCN would keep sending their huge bills with religious zealousness.
We used to complain of irregular power supply, not knowing that that time was our finest hour. Now, total darkness has enveloped the whole place. I know how much I have spent for some weeks now on fuel to generate my own megawatts for my household. That automatically means that I am my own President and Energy Minster, no matter the idle, unproductive fellows pretending to occupy those offices inAbuja .
If then I am doing for myself what Government is supposed to be doing for me, it can only mean that as far as I am concerned, Government does not exist, having since lost its relevance, the basis for its existence. It might as well be scrapped. A tree that bears no fruits only emphasizes its crying irrelevance.
If anyone needs potable water in Nigeria today, such a one must provide it for himself. Reason? Government is on an interminable recess. In the eighties, one could just walk to any tap, even by the roadside, open it and drink clean water. Whoever tries that now, if at all any liquid gushes out from the tap, could be tried for attempting suicide. And I can guarantee that not even a very large-hearted judge like Justice Ogebe would agree to set him free!
Today, because Government only exists in name, people must sink boreholes in their compounds to provide potable water for themselves. Others must make do with the generous typhoid distributor they call “pure water” (or pure gutter). In fact, it has got to a stage that if my children ask me today the functions of Government, I wouldn’t know what to tell them, because I wouldn’t want to tell them lies. As far as I am concerned, the most inactive and unproductive institution in Nigeria today is the Government. And that is because, I do not want to say that it is useless. Well, Government is not exactly inactive. It has duly distinguished itself as that far-removed, very distantly located band of men and women who only exist to plunder and squander our commonwealth.
They only remember us during election time, not because they really need our votes to acquire power, but it makes them feel good to be able to say that we gave them our mandate – something they had already appropriated long before they came to us canvassing for our votes. They also come to us as occasional sources of irritation, demanding taxes or “more sacrifices” from us in the form of punitive policies like fuel price hikes. We equally encounter them when they run us out of the roads with their blaring sirens.
Today, in most places, if the road leading to one’s house goes bad, the people inhabiting that area would have to contribute money to fix it, or else, it would be there ruining their cars and giving all of them body aches. Public schools which are supposed to be maintained by the Government have since collapsed, so one has to cough out the very high fees charged by quality private schools if one desires that one’s child should get quality education.
Most Government hospitals have long become very smooth expressways to the grave, which only those who cannot afford any other alternatives still go to gamble with their lives. It is sad, so sad. It is most painful and overly frustrating. It is provocative.
And as I think about these things, I am compelled to ask myself again: What is Government to me? I would have compared it to a refuse dump, but I am reminded that refuse dumps serve some useful purpose as they provide manure for farmers to grow their crops. But as for Government in Nigeria , I cannot readily recall what it stands or exists for, or any form of use it presently is to the generality of Nigerian people, except that it has become a dispensable burden too heavy to bear, and a very easy route for a privileged few to gain entrance into the billionaire club. So sad really.