When a Nigerian falls sick, he has no disability insurance. And should he lose his job as a result of the sickness, the government provides no unemployment insurance. He gets no emergence help - no welfare payments, no food stamps, no housing assistance. If he dies, woe to his family! There is no social security system.
For the average Nigerian, a typical day involves leaving home before dawn, putting up about one to two hours of hard labor into getting transported to work. At work, he needs to cut unethical egunje deals because the paycheck is never enough to pay the bills. The way he comes is the way he returns - a strenuous journey in rickety vehicles takes him home, where, sadly, electricity is rationed, and clean water is a luxury.
The only thing he has to make him happy is his mobile phone - the useful toy that is touted as the major achievement of the Obasanjo administration. On this cell phone he spends most of his disposable income as he replaces phone card after phone card. It is a useful toy though, as it allows him to connect to family and friends easily without having to navigate the dangerous roads in even more dangerous automobiles. Yet, he pays far more in the maintenance of his phone than the regular phone user in the richest countries of the world for a far worse service.
Mind you, this is not the best case scenario. Not all Nigerians live like this. However, more than 80 per cent of them do. So, most Nigerians are rightly deemed poor by international standards, using simple statistics. The few who live above the poverty line see themselves as special, although what better life they enjoy are basic to citizens of most other nations.
Things were not so bad in those days. The standard of living was acceptable. As a child, I remember most people did not have so much, but had enough to be happy. If you were a primary school teacher, you could still feed your family and send your children to the university - and even drive a car! Meat was not a reserve of the privileged, and everybody could go to the movies at the Ajax, Odeon or the Rex cinemas.
But then the military came and stayed so long that its most disingenuous members found their way into the echelon. Aguiyi Ironsi, Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed and Olusegun Obasanjo The First were not so bad. As soon as the irredeemably destructive dictator Ibrahim Babangida wriggled his way to the top, Nigeria began the free fall.
There are striking similarities between the governmental abuse Nigerians have been subjected to and domestic abuse to which we are all familiar. The abuser uses power, intimidation, isolation, control, carrot and stick to get the abused to toe the line. Resultantly, the abused exhibits violence and other dangerous behavior. A definition of domestic abuse says, "psychological/emotional violence involves violence to the victim caused by acts, threats of acts, or coercive tactics, including but is not limited to, humiliating the victim, controlling what the victim can and cannot do, withholding information from the victim, deliberately doing something to make the victim feel diminished or embarrassed, isolating the victim from friends and family, and denying the victim access to money or other basic resources." Hey, doesn't that sound familiar?
The fact is that Nigerians have been suffering economic, social, psychological, religious and other abuses under successive administrations, as a result of which one can easily explain off the growing menace of crime, bribery, strife and so many other vices. The spate of scams, robbery, bribery, cultism, bunkering, thuggery and other vices associated with many Nigerians takes its roots from governmental abuse. After all, an abused child usually turns out troublesome.
But your Nigerian has not always been bad. For those old enough to remember the 1960s and 1970s, the nostalgia for the past should be overwhelming. Honest living once used to be the norm. If a person came home with stolen material, or lived above his expected means, the society would question him and put him under the radar. These days, who cares? The youthful Yahoo scammers have, in fact, become respected youngsters!
Who will save Nigerians from abuse and decadence? They have been so thoroughly raped and drained that they can hardly even see to what extent they have been punished by the mindless military-political class and a handful of civilian collaborators looking for crumbs. Yet, the abuse has little chance of abating!
IBB was like a tsunami. He rolled the high waves of destruction over all structures of the Nigerian society. Babangida brought destruction to education, the economy, social institutions, the judiciary and just about anything that makes any country great. In place of progress, he introduced high-level corruption, misappropriation, profligacy and servitude.
The phenomenon known as "IBB Boys" was introduced in the military and professional classes. If you do not subject yourself to the master called IBB, you cannot be successful. A kiss-ass society unfolded, even as malignant policies and programs were introduced to siphon public funds into private pockets. Remember DFRRI, NDE, Better Life, and the People's Bank? Where are they now? They have said bye-bye with our money. They died because they were offspring of servitude.
By the time the quack doctors - Babangida and his look-alike brothers, the Abacha and Abdulsalam regimes - finished their operation on Nigeria, what was left was a strange looking national face with wounds showing all over.
The Obasanjo administration has been working hard, but most of it is cosmetic surgery. It is a contentious argument how much Obasanjo has done. It has been paying debts after debt, most of which were incurred by our man, the super destroyer. It has been trying to revive national infrastructure and collective dreams. Nonetheless, the damage is far worse than the solutions. Obasanjo is only patching up - and it will be easy for another reckless administration (pray it would not be that of Babangida again) to rip open everything that has been patched for eight years.
This problem will not be patched. A serious problem deserves a serious solution. The hardship facing Nigerians today demands a careful surgery in expert hands. It's time to sincerely lay down the basic structures of the society. Of course, the surgeon cannot be the same one who did the damage. It is a demented thought to accept, as many have been saying, that Babangida will return to fix the problems he caused.
Nuhu Ribadu, the financial crimes czar, sums what is required to fix the battered nation: "The day we begin to install true leadership in office, most of our problems will be solved. And, so, as we approach 2007, we have to be vigilant. We have to reject people with questionable character seeking elective office. It is time to put them to shame. It is time to expose them, their agents and cronies. It is time to say no to their ill-gotten money." Good talk, Mr. Ribadu. But why has Babangida not answered any questions regarding his opulent living when we all know how much he stole and how lavishily he lives.
Should Nigeria be operated upon by Babangida again, it will suffer paralysis and certain death. It should not be so hard to figure that out. He has not at all been cured of the evils that define him.
Would you keep your daughter with a neighbor who once raped her? I don't think so. Then, why would you give your country to a leader who once raped and ravaged her? You shouldn't. And you should fight against it.
Tunde Odediran, former journalist with Guardian, Concord and Punch, edits againstbabangida.com.