By Francis Ewherido
Yesterday was Good Friday, but I will not dwell on its import because it will distract us from focusing on our destination. Tomorrow is Easter. Tomorrow, we shall commemorate the anniversary of the risen Lord. Easter means victory over death and the triumph of good over evil; it means light after darkness, calm after storm, dawn after dark, a crown of glory after a crown of thorns and reward after pain and perseverance. Nigerians have been observing Ash Wednesday (where we are reminded with ashes on our forehead that we are dust; from dust we came and to dust we shall return) and Good Friday before I was born and I am now in my 50s. Nigeria did celebrate “Easter” in the past, but it is now distant memory. When is Nigeria going to enjoy “Easter” again?
In the last one week, over 50 people were killed in one swoop in Zamfara, another 20 or thereabout were killed in Kaduna, the Jukuns and the Tivs are at one another’s throat in Taraba. Reports say suspected rampaging herdsmen killed five indigenes of the University town of Abraka in Delta Central. They also struck in Ondo State and Enugu State. Like Uwheru, also in Delta Central of Delta State, armed herdsmen have become an army of occupation. Indigenes have become hostages in their ancestral homes. They pay ‘passage’ and protection fees before they venture out of town into their ancestral farmlands. Where is the protection guaranteed for Nigerian citizens in the constitution? When are these Nigerians and indeed Nigeria going to have its Easter (victory) over this lawlessness?
In the last week and over a period of two months, some Nigerians have lost their lives via bullets from guns of uniformed men: police and customs to be very specific. Uniforms have become a symbol of oppression and illegality in Nigeria. Many Nigerians feel a sense of helplessness once they leave their homes. We are helpless against uniformed people, both armed and unarmed. Customs recently collected N25,000 from a friend of mine on Sagamu-Benin road. He cleared his vehicle through Apapa Port. Everything was official, so he paid the appropriate import duty. So what was his “crime?” “You no know the kind expensive motor when you put for road?” The customs people asked him. It is now a crime for a private sector person, who has worked very hard for his money, to drive an expensive car.
Somebody asked and I am asking: I can understand armed customs men at our international borders, but what are customs men with guns doing on inner country roads? When are we going to have our “Easter” when we solve our problems by uprooting the tree instead of trimming the branches? When are we going to have our “Easter” when the presence of uniformed men will engender trust and peace of mind, instead of anxiety and trepidation?
In the 60s, before the military struck and unitarised Nigeria, we practiced regionalism and all the regions prospered. They controlled their resources and used them to enhance the lives of their people. Now every state goes cap in hand to Abuja every month to collect money from the federation account to meet its needs, including the basic needs. Except Lagos, every other state is doomed without this money. Yet Zamfara, one of the poorest and most backward states in Nigeria, sits on trillion naira worth of gold. Instead of this natural resource to be used for the people, it has become an agent of death; a curse like oil in the Niger Delta. Without disruption of its economic activities, Benue State alone can provide West Africa its need in yams, yet it struggles to pay workers’ salaries and provide basic infrastructure for its people. When are we going to devolve powers to the federating units and enjoy “Easter” again? When will the healthy competition among federating units that improved the lives of the ordinary people in the 60s return?
Nigerians without prepaid meters currently pay outrageous electricity bills for being kept in darkness. When are we going to enjoy constant power supply? When are we going to stop being billed for darkness and pay for only the power we consume? After battling for months and getting a pre-paid meter at home, my DISCO, Eko Electricity Distribution Company, has shifted attention to my office. This month, I got a bill of N50,000. Since when did Dangote Refinery relocate their operations to my tiny office to warrant this crazy bill? Now I am going to begin another needless battle for what is taken for granted in climes where normal human beings live. When are we going to have our “Easter” when we get our dues without going through the eye of a needle?
I was one of the lucky ones who graduated in the 80s before the great slide into ignominy of our educational standards started in the 90s. School boy errors of today’s university graduates have become routine jokes in the social media, but these are people who are supposed to take over political and economic positions at some point. Establishing quality private schools will not solve our educational problems because the bulk of our people cannot send their children there, especially now that Nigeria is now the global poverty capital. When are we going to celebrate “Easter” in our educational sector?
Our health sector has not fared better. When are we going to celebrate “Easter” in our health sector? The story is the same across all sectors of our national life. We face a clear and present danger. I go out every day and see the way we live our lives – in homes, offices, religious places, schools, hospitals, airports and on the road – and I know we are in big trouble. Governments – federal, state and local government – have a major role to play, but our problems have spiraled out of control. There has been a monumental failure of leadership across board and over time, no doubt, but all hands must be on deck or we are… At the end, there is scarcely any anus without some sh*t, so pointing of fingers at others alone is pointless; we are all partly responsible for the mess. Clean your own little corner. The essence of man in life is to solve problems and make life easier for humanity. It is a way of life and we must all imbibe it.
Nigeria’s “Easter” is still on the way. Yet this night, like many other Nigerians, I am going to stay awake to send family members, friends and well-wishers happy Easter messages. I might just start straightaway by wishing you a happy Easter (no need adding “in advance.” The universal Easter is here).