Levi Obijiofor, writing for the Guardian, reflects on Nigeria:
IF you ask President Olusegun Obasanjo to identify two of his major achievements in the past five years, chances are he would say, without blinking an eye, that he has successfully turned around Nigeria's image in the international community, as well as the living conditions of the people. It is a claim that would be heavily contested by just about anybody who is not a direct beneficiary of the federal government's financial generosity. Unfortunately not many Nigerians believe the economic conditions are much better now than they were before Obasanjo's emergence in the political scene in 1999.
In diplomatic offices in Lagos and Abuja, Nigerians are voting with their feet, subjecting themselves to all manner of indignities, in their desperate quest for visas to travel overseas. There must be something fundamentally wrong in a country in which a majority of the people are eager to leave in search of better life overseas. If the economic conditions have improved significantly, as Obasanjo and his ministers and special assistants would argue, why is the country experiencing an exodus of some of the best brains? The questions the federal government would have to address are: why are so many people, skilled and unskilled workers, professional and unprofessional workers, keen to leave the country? Why are so many Nigerians engaged in criminal activities? Are economic difficulties the catalyst for criminal activities? If so, is Nigeria the only country that is currently experiencing hard times?
Among the army of young boys, girls, middle aged men and women seeking exit visas from foreign embassies and high commission in Abuja and Lagos, there is the misleading belief that the worst conditions overseas must be better than an average condition at home. I have heard some people say in desperation that they wouldn't mind putting up tent under a bridge in a foreign country, if they were granted entry into such countries as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or anywhere outside Africa. Not only are these assumptions misleading, they also do not take into account the hazards of inclement wintry weather and the daily hassles of trying to survive in a foreign land, in which, unfortunately, many Nigerians are treated as second class citizens. Life overseas is simply not built on the epicurean philosophy - eat, drink and be merry. Life in a typical western country is built on hard work. As someone once joked, if the "white" man pays you one dollar, you can be sure he would extract from you more than a dollar's worth of work. In fact, nothing is free in the west. You must pay your bills - rent, electricity, telephone, water, rates (for home owners), refuse collection, etc - and promptly too.
The current situation at home would have been reversed if the political leaders had been committed to a genuine program of economic development. In Nigeria we have the natural resources to power the country to greatness but the country is cursed with bad leaders and incompetent managers. In Nigeria, we have political leaders who engage in long speeches rather than spend time working to provide the basic amenities to the people who voted them into office. Our political leaders are more interested in working out how to entrench themselves in political office, by fair or foul means. Rather than work to improve the living conditions of the people, our political leaders expect us to do things for them. They are the kings. We are the servants working in their palaces to keep them happy. The difference between Nigerian politicians and their counterparts in some African countries is that our political leaders talk about what they plan to do while their colleagues in other African countries talk about what they did for their people.
While Nigeria appears at the moment to be stuck to a dead end, like a ship marooned on a desolate island, lacking direction and effective leadership, economic problems cannot serve as an excuse for the state of anomie that has befallen the country. Nigeria is not the only country that is experiencing harsh economic times. It is the inability of our political leaders to commit to tackling our socioeconomic problems that creates the climate of insecurity and alienation, which also fosters criminal activities, such as the advance fee fraud (419 scam). Not too long ago, Ghanaians were the butt of popular jokes in Nigeria because they used to flock to Lagos to shop for the most basic of items such as soap, milk, salt, beverages, toothpicks, detergent, toothpaste and so on. Today Ghana is a model of democracy. It is also a model of a country that rose from the ashes of grinding economic hardships and has now overtaken other countries previously regarded as economic elephants in the continent. The adverse conditions that drove Ghanaians to Nigeria in the 1980s are now the reasons that are pushing Nigerians to Ghana and other relatively stable African and western countries.
Many Nigerians residing overseas would be happy and willing to return home if the conditions at home were just average, if insecurity of life and property has not become a major issue. The least we expect from our political leaders is an unwavering spirit of commitment to socioeconomic development of the country, a spirit guided by concrete ideas built into official policy. If the political leaders do not make efforts, if they are unwilling to make sacrifices, if they adopt half-hearted measures, the country will continue to move in circles. One of the ways to attract skilled professionals working overseas is to create an enabling environment, in terms of ensuring that life and property would be safe. A country in which the Justice Minister could be murdered and no one successfully prosecuted after three years is not a country that many ordinary people would be rushing to return to. If a federal minister could be assassinated in his home just like that, what guarantees are there that ordinary people would not be slaughtered like goats if they should return home to serve their fatherland? Patriotism is an ennobling battle cry but there is a point at which one must weigh ideals against reality.
Obasanjo can argue that he has used his innumerable foreign trips to change the way Nigerians are perceived and treated abroad. However, there is a difference between perception and the situation on the ground. Advance fee fraud masters continue to despatch their nasty letters to every street and office address in every corner of the world. This enduring criminal activity is the greatest challenge facing Nigeria's crime fighters and the international police organisation in the 21st century. Without a significant drop in the number of advance fee fraud cases, Obasanjo's efforts to improve the image of Nigeria would be in vain. Nigeria is now known in every nook and cranny of the world as the country that manufactures the "419" scam. The international community does not want to know that it is not every Nigerian that engages in this despicable act.
There are different ways to measure the effectiveness of Obasanjo's claims that his foreign trips have improved the way the international community perceives Nigeria. For example, has the nation witnessed a rise in the number of foreign investors casting their fishing nets in Nigerian business waters as a result of Obasanjo's foreign trips and meetings with world leaders? Has there been a significant drop in the number of advance fee fraud cases emanating from Nigeria? Has there been a reduction in the bureaucratic processes that Nigerian visa applicants are subjected to by foreign diplomatic missions in the country? Has there been an increase in the number of foreigners rushing to apply for Nigerian citizenship or residency? If the answers to these questions are not in the affirmative, Obasanjo's claims must be dismissed.