By Bassey Ubong
Can any act of the government be considered to be useless or worthless? The answer may be negative if all government policies and actions are subjected to close scrutiny without tinted glasses as cover for the eyes. Something positive can come from something negative if the numerous angles to policies and actions are reviewed. If something positive comes out of the womb of something negative we can extend a hand to the philosophical concept of “ex nihilo nihil fit”, which means nothing can come out of nothing.
To squeeze positive out of negative came to me as I sat helpless in my village of Oboyo Ikot Ita with a telephone in my palm. I expected to get loads of things done, but I found the gadget as helpless as the owner for actions other than telephone and text message interactions.
In advanced countries, to leave home without a handset has become unthinkable for the sets, and in particular ones powered by android, which controls modern life. Where barcodes are in effective use, the mobile phone opens digital doors, buys eatables and drinkables, gives access to transport facilities, pays medical bills, and other things the world knew cash did few years back. And given the quantum of information people require with respect to banking, insurance, health, and related issues, the smart phone relieves the brain of the burden of being the repository of much personal information.
After I voted, I attempted to make calls, interact on WhatsApp platforms, read mails, recharge the phone and buy data, and transfer a tiny amount to someone in desperate need, while I waited for freedom to leave my village to Uyo. I found myself unable to execute any of those ‘normal’ acts, because I operate in Nigeria, and in particular, in the ‘cashless’ regime of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
I looked at the power indicator of the mobile phone in the first instance. It told me the phone would soon power off given the battery level. Sixty three years after independence, I doubt if any typical village in Nigeria can boast of six hours of constant public power supply a day. Where I live at the outskirts of Uyo, three hours a week of electricity gives cause for celebration. Government, based on the critical duty of electricity supply to ordinary citizens, scores close to zero percent at most locations in Nigeria. Like telecommunication, a sizeable electricity supply in this country would generate socio-economic development in geometric proportions. But who bothers when the high and mighty have enough from private and public sources?
We hear at the Ewet Housing Estate, Uyo, residents have a minimum of 20 hours of electricity a day, despite their capacity to provide themselves with self-generated electricity.
Given the convenience, and as a result of aggressive advertisement by banks, recharges are far easier through direct purchase by use of bank accounts. This applies to data and funds transfers through banks. But no thanks to the ‘cashless’ (the trending language on every lip) I had to sit and pray for sleep.
For two days the network had gone AWOL in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. Folks guessed the infrastructure had collapsed due to unexpected traffic, one sure case of the cart before the horse. Before the Central Bank rolled out what it may have thought would be its star outing, the issue of networks for digital transfers should have been settled.
What lesson can be learned in the context of this post? Majority of Nigerians have felt intense pain in one form or the other during the relentless, but precipitous drive towards a cashless regime in Nigeria. But close examination can reveal a few good fallouts.
One, in my opinion, relates to the need for Nigerians to appreciate the concept of government and governance, because we appear to have failed to appreciate these to this moment. We took things for granted, while in truth, it takes tons of energy to get a system to work as expected.
Poor the services provided by public utilities are, some Nigerians have to apply much of their beings to keep these services on. How many of us are aware that some public servants use their salaries to sustain minimum services under their watch?
The Nigeria Police has over the years earned an unsavoury image, but how many of us take a look at the ‘patrol’ vehicles, the state of the uniforms the personnel use in inclement weather, stationery available in the stations, and related essentials? Imagine Policemen with AK 47s held together with masking tape of which the cartridge contains two bullets in pursuit of robbers with semi automatic military type rifles! Imagine the ‘men’ in a pick-up truck with patched tyres in pursuit of robbers in a 2022 SUV!!
When I am privileged to go abroad and see facilities commissioned decades or centuries back which continue to work without flaws, and I return to see equivalent facilities become dysfunctional in years, I feel baffled. Take the Eiffel Tower in Paris commissioned in 1889, which means 134 years ago. It hosts tourists about 15 hours a day and 365 days a year.
I made a comment some weeks back about the bypass commissioned at Uyo in November 2022. A road I chose to describe as “a study in architectural aesthetics” given the excellent work the local contractor has done, the water fountains and streets lights work by default just three months after the official hand over by the contractor. The government has given no thought to a running contract to maintain the road. Such maintenance contract would in fact benefit the politicians. Sooner than later the masterpiece will fall into disrepair and remain till contract for full rehabilitation worth billions of Naira becomes due. Maintenance of public facilities has to be seen as a duty of governments in Nigeria.
For the moment Nigerians should appreciate governments which deliver or delivered.
For instance during the six years of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Nigeria’s Chief Executive Officer, total number of days of scarcity of premium motor spirit (petrol or gasoline) were countable on the fingers of just one hand. President Olusegun Obasanjo brought us mobile telecommunications and revolutionised public and private sector operations as well as individual lives. Thank God this service concentrates in the private sector, without which it would have gone the way of Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL).
Permit us to repeat for emphasis, how many Nigerians give a thought to the thousands of men and women behind the public and private outfits which provide services we take for granted? Before the current general situation, if a bank runs out of a stable network, do we think of the personnel who work 20 or more hours a day to restore the service? I had been one of the citizens who put in countless hours without extra pay or allowance to ensure expected services experience smooth delivery.
One can think of personnel who provide cable television, flights, telephone, hospitals, schools, among others. They brave and overcome government bottlenecks to provide people the services which make life worth living.
In essence, current stand still foisted on the nation by one agency through its fancy project should make all of us appreciate administrations which demonstrate good governance as well as private manufacturers and service providers who do their work as expected. In fact we should pray for good health and wellbeing to enable them sustain their good work.
For those who want to continue to rob and, or disrupt, the Almighty should endow them with discernment. Where they remain adamant, we can share with them an old Irish prayer about enemies for they are:
May those who love us, love us; And those who don’t love us. May God turn their hearts; And if He doesn’t turn their hearts, May He turn their ankles, So we’ll know them by their limping. Amen.
Dr Ubong, an educational administrator, writer and literary critic, lives in Uyo.