West and North Africa
‘Nigerians shouldn’t celebrate govs doing boreholes, roads’
Christian Chukwudozie Udechukwu, a delegate representing Nigerians in the Diaspora at the National Conference in Abuja, fielded questions from newsmen on a number of issues, and urged that Nigeria needs to set a high social, political and economic benchmarks for growth.
HOW does the world perceive Nigeria and Nigerians, and why do we have a lot of Nigerians languishing in foreign prisons without much concern from the government?
THE question about the concerns of the government towards Nigerians abroad has been addressed by the committee. It is one of the recommendations that has been made under Citizens Diplomacy, which is essentially that Nigeria should increase the resource allocation to foreign missions abroad.
I understand the present allocation is under one per cent. But most countries of the world that we compete with have allocation as high as 10 per cent for their foreign missions because they understand that diplomacy is a tool by which they expand their economic frontiers, political influence and social impact on other nations and cultures of the world.
Now, what we are saying essentially is that with the increased allocations to our foreign missions and a deliberate government policy to support Nigerians who are or traveling overseas, very strongly; this citizen diplomacy issue is to ensure that Nigerians, who are traveling the world will travel with the same level of confidence and protection that other citizens of America, UK, Europe, Singapore and China enjoy all over the world.
Our citizens should be able to travel the world without fear and prejudice; pursue their dreams and aspirations to the end of the world as they seem fit. And they should be able to do so with the backing of the Federal Government, knowing that wherever any issue arises, whether they are in the right or wrong, they would be treated very fairly and equitably and get good justice. And that the force of the state will always be there to protect them; to ensure that their human rights are not violated. That is what the Citizens Diplomacy is about.
There have been many recent cases of Nigerians dying in South Africa, in Ghana, Dubai and other places and there is a lot of public concern about the fact that a lot of these cases not only have they not been properly revealed in official circles, but perhaps, there has not been evidence of government leading very strongly to ensure that justice prevails for the families that have been affected. And this is some of the issues in the Citizens Diplomacy.
Now, the other thing is that overseas, Nigeria is perceived as a great nation. We just rebased our economy after years and it has put us in a bold position as Africa’s No 1 position; as Africa’s No 1 destination for international investment, for culture, travels and tourism.
We are a great country, great people, visionary people, very enterprising and that’s why anywhere you go in the world, you will see a Nigerian. We are bold, we are daring; we are not easily intimidated. We want anything, we go for it and we work hard to get to it for good. It is not something for which we should be shy; it is something we should celebrate and encourage the best amongst us to alwys be at our forefronts.
We should always have our best people to represent us. We should always be a positive influence in the world. That’s what people expect of Nigeria.
What is your assessment of the ongoing conference?
I think the national confab has been very positive in the debate and discussions. It started with a lot of scepticism about whether the confab was going to go ahead, the legitimacy and all of that but so far, it has overcome a lot of those prejudices and scepticism and we see a lot of positive recommendations being made for the future and betterment of Nigeria.
What was the agenda of the Diaspora community at the point of invitation to the conference?
It was a very big laundry list of needs because Nigerians, who live abroad, are generally concerned about the way the political affairs – governance in Nigeria is being run, and the way the economy is being run.
A lot of the concerns were that we are benchmarking ourselves not against the best in the world but making gradual and steady progress. But in order to mobilise the population, we need to set extremely high goals for ourselves and begin to dream to achieve the impossible. That way, all hands will be on deck.
If the milestones are on a gradual basis, then you are only instead looking at the resources and the capabilities that are immediately within our means. But most of the countries that have made the most significant advancements in the world set impossible goals for themselves.
America set the goal of going to the moon when they didn’t have a space shuttle. South Korea set the goal of building ships when they didn’t have heavy duty industries. And so, the goal that the Nigerian Diaspora set for the National Conference in terms of their agenda for the delegates was a very long one.
However, in our discussions at the level of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Diaspora Matters, where issues concerning the Diaspora were discussed extensively, we narrowed down to four key issues: Diaspora Voting, Diaspora Commission, CitizenS Diplomacy and truly a Reform of the Political System to allow greater representation for Nigerians in the Diaspora.
However, these four items were narrowed down to three only. We pursued the right of vote because the Nigerian Constitution guarantees all Nigerians the right to vote and living abroad doesn’t mean we should be disenfranchised.
We also believe that the logic of Diaspora voting is very essential to the political development of Nigeria because it means that politicians are able to think deeper and harder about what they want to do because they are selling their agenda not just domestically, but also internationally.
So, it will no longer be a case of developing a manifesto and not knowing what is inside it. It will be a case of people developing manifestos, having commitment to those manifestos and trying to fulfil their promises in the life time of their administrations so that they can be reelected on the basis of what they have been able to achieve, which is not the current position for most governments.
On the issue of Diaspora voting, the electoral body, INEC, has consistently said it’s something it can’t do for now because of logistics problems. Where does that place your crave?
I think we only have to look at some of the countries in the world that are able to organise their own Diaspora voting, to see that truly, the argument by INEC that Diaspora Nigerians are not able to vote presently doesn’t stand on a very strong ideal.
It is on shaky grounds primarily because Diaspora voting relies on using our missions abroad. We have embassies all over the world and those will be our pooling booths. We have e-Passports. Those can be our voting cards. With biometric recognition, fingerprints and so on, it works.
So, the infrastructure is already there. It is not a case of extra-funding for INEC. No, it doesn’t require that. Most of these political parties have foreign country representatives all over the world. The APC has in America, Europe, Asia and all that. The same for the PDP.
These people (INEC officials) turn up at the embassies and verify that people, who are voting carry Nigerian passports, and that they are Nigerians living abroad whether they are in Benin Republic or Cameroun, they should be able to vote.
It is not like when Nigerians used to carry regular unverifiable travel documents. No, this e-Passport has a central data base. That’s why the Immigration Service is able to identify every Nigerian that is coming into Nigeria.
Now, if we take into account the way the Nigerian Immigration Service documents citizens, and the fact that we have foreign missions abroad, then the logic of Diaspora voting being expensive and inapplicable at the present doesn’t stand at all.
It cannot stand the test of proper scrutiny and I challenge Prof. Jega to the fact that if he really applies his mind and intellect to it, he should be able to deliver Diaspora voting in good time for Nigerians may be not to vote in 2015 but certainly to vote in 2019.
DO you subscribe to the belief that the conference has no business with some core infrastructural, administrative issues such as power, agriculture and the likes; that its mandate is purely to development some political roadmap for Nigeria’s peaceful co-existence?
I think you cannot talk about political development without talking about the holistic basis of our collective existence as a nation. It is important.
It is very much like in a family when things are not going the way they are supposed to, then you say the family should not discuss all the issues that concern them because you don’t know why the family is not functioning very well. It is when you hear the grievances of the members of the family or you hear their ideas on how the family was supposed to function that you can have peace and prosperity within the family.
This is what is going on at the National Conference. You cannot discuss political restructuring and development without looking at the socioeconomic fundamentals that underpin and connect our co-existence as a people.
That is why it is important to discuss transportation, science and technology, foreign affairs and diplomatic services, telecomms infrastructure, aviation and so on. It is important to discuss all these.
Unless you are satisfied; unless we are satisfied individually and collectively in terms of how we organise ourselves, our living and society – if we are not satisfied with these, our political systems will not work.
And we have set very high standards for ourselves, but then, have we been able to set high standards for our political leadership Nigerians should not be celebrating governors who are doing boreholes when we had urban water systems in 1960s. They should be building on that urban infrastructure so that you can turn the tap on in your homes and not have to build a water supply system in your home.
We shouldn’t be clapping for governors who are building roads; it is the fundamental things they are supposed to be doing. What is worthy of celebration is when we are benchmarking ourselves against the world in terms of our children, the schools they are going to; what is the class size; what is the quality of education they are getting; what is the ratio of students to teachers; what is the quality of facility that is available for them to stretch their imagination, even at kindergarten?
I am not saying primary or secondary school but at the kindergarten level. They should have materials that challenge the imagination of the child before he even gets into primary school.
And when he gets into primary, he should begin to see those things that he saw as a child manifest in his class and be part of his learning processes so that by the time he develops into secondary, he knows what his peers anywhere in the world know. That is the sort of benchmark that we should set for ourselves.
It should be the business of our governors and local government chairmen to ensure that this same standard applies everywhere so that every child is equipped. If every child is equipped, then your future as a parent is secured because the child is successful, and you won’t running about pensions.
This why these debates are important. We should be concerned about our governors and local government chairmen, ministers and so on being concerned about our health facilities. What is the level of nurses to the patients, the doctor-patients ratio, and the quality of primary care that is available?
I mean, most of you media people take pictures of primary care centres and they look like animal dens. It should be the concern of these people to ensure that the quality of health facility at that level is fit for humans, fit for the 21st Century.
It is not enough that you have headache and your doctor cannot diagnose until you get on a plane and travel to London or America just to be referred to a Nigerian specialist. Why shouldn’t we build more class hospitals that are 5-star-hotel quality?
It doesn’t have to be for the rich only because we now have health insurance scheme that people can buy into. If you buy into that, your insurance can cover you to go to those places and get treatment.
That is the sort of thing we are talking about. We need to set higher benchmark. If we don’t, then our leadership will be preoccupied with petty issues and so on that have no substance to our development as a people.
Was it not disappointing that the conference turned down the recommendation to have a national carrier?
The decision was borne out of frustration, and not out of any vision of what tomorrow’s carrier might be. It is borne out of the frustration with Nigeria’s old experience of the Nigerian Airways and Virgin Nigeria.
Nigerian Airways failed and failed woefully. It was the pride of Nigeria. Every Nigerian was proud to fly the Nigerian Airways. And when the airways collapsed, we had Virgin Nigeria, which was in alliance with public/private partnership. That also collapsed.
So, it seems to have built the frustration to a level where a lot of Nigerians feel that we are unable to manage a national carrier. It is not as if there is no recognition that we need one. Of course, we need one and that decision about a national carrier is something that is subject to review at some point. It is important, it is vital.
Nigerians pay a higher price for international travels than any other nation in Africa. Even when they travel to some distance of equivalent nature – it is six hours from Ghana to the UK, and it i s also six hours to Nigeria from the UK, but we pay much higher.
We pay 25 to 30 per cent higher than Ghanaians pay to travel. Why should that be the case? Sometimes, we pay 60 to 70, even 100 per cent more. Why should that be the case?
So, a national carrier is an airline that we are able to manage in terms of the pricing – to be fare and reasonable – that will force a down pressure on the international carriers flying our routes, to price themselves reasonably, of course, so far we acquire the same fleet.
We should have the same the airplane, as they have – and these planes are available in the open market for leasing, we lease the same, exact aircraft that these international airlines have and fly, and maintain them to the international standards.
We should recruit extremely competent cabin crew and pilots, and build some customer service infrastructure at various points of Nigeria Airways or any other airline representing the Nigerian national carrier will fly to, and all our bilateral agreements with the countries of the world, where Nigerian Airways used to fly or even where it didn’t fly and have an agreement with them. Those assets are still there for any airline that will be the national carrier to fit in.
Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines, which we all look up to, are national carriers, and not private carriers. But that is not to say that there is no room for private carriers, and we all have quite a few of them flying. Those who have the capacity to fly the international route should be licensed to do so.
But at the same time, Nigerians need to dialogue again and come to consensus on the need to create a national carrier that is efficient, functional, predictable in terms of price and quality and also has a high performance target that sets a benchmark to be among the best airlines in the world. That should be the goal.
The decision (of the National Conference) does not reflect the true intention of Nigerians. Nigerians want a national carrier but they are frustrated by experience, and they need vision and hope for the future in order to create an airline that will be based on the best possible standards in the world. That’s what we need.
Wonderful ideas coming from the conference. But we have had similar talk shops without any positive impact. So, what’s different here?
What makes the difference is the will and the attitude. It takes one man, it takes you in the media being persistent that this is a time for change. It has to come now; it doesn’t have to wait until tomorrow.
It is your drive, motivation, instinct, the attitude that you have to convince others to join that this is the kind of future that Nigeria should have and we should have it now. It cannot wait for tomorrow.
That is what galvanises every man, every woman, every politician, every professional in every field; it is what galvanises our leadership to move forward. Change doesn’t come because we wish it to; it comes because we apply ourselves to change. That means that anything that we want to see evidently changed in Nigeria, we have to push for it, and not just advocate it. We have to work for it.