Arts, Monuments and Our Future (III) by Newton Jibunoh


FADE Weekly Column

The third part in our Arts, Monuments, and Our Future series

In the last two parts of this series, we have looked at the travails of our ancient arts, as well as our pitiable attempts to maintain and manage the monuments that were handed down to us, or built by ourselves. I have chosen arts and monuments to portray this national malaise because these objects can be seen and are easily relatable. Nigerians are artistic in nature. Just listen to us talk, gesticulate, sing and dance. In central Lagos today as well as in Badagry, you will find vestiges of Brazilian and Portuguese Architecture. In the north, you will find the influence of Islamic or Arabian architecture. Do we have a Nigerian architecture? I do not know. But we do have Nigerian Art. Can we incorporate these in our architectural designs? Perhaps. It is important to leave our marks and history in our designs and the things we build; these will be our footprints. For a little more money, we can easily leave indelible forms in our iconic buildings and bridges. Today, the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge in Lagos is a must shoot scene in every Nollywood movie, simply because of its design; a cable bridge, the first in Nigeria. We missed making such a statement with the Third Mainland Bridge, arguably the longest bridge in Africa. Shall we fail this time with the second Niger Bridge at Onitsha? You bet.

Holding on to what a people have and building new ones are great testaments of a civilized people. If we cannot do this, then, what kind of future are we going to have? It is said that there is no difference between the person that cannot read and the one that refuses to read. Both will remain ignorant. If we just build to replace, we have no future and no history to tell. The state of the power sector illustrates this very well. If we didn’t have the foreign investment in the telecommunication sector in 2000, we would still be battling with Nitel, its 200,000 land lines, and naught-nine-naught today.

Why are we like this? The answers are starring us in the face; corruption, poor education, near zero patriotism, little or no manpower development, poor judiciary and accountability, stunted vision.

Corruption in the minds of many denotes fund embezzlement. Even our present Federal Government operates on that premise. Corruption is far worse than that. Corruption is in nepotism, tribalism, justice denied, poor wages, projects implementation, billing, service provision, etc. When we employ the wrong candidate for a job, which is corruption.

During my primary school days, one of the subjects we were taught from primary five to primary six was civics. This core subject teaches one about nationality, citizenship, responsibility of a good citizen, responsibility of the state to you, law agencies and cooperation with the law, taxation, and patriotism. I understand that civics was replaced with social studies or something of dubious name and contents. What do they teach our children now? And how about Nigerian History? What truth is told to our students about our journey from independence, apart from names of governors and presidents? When you give the wrong education, you end up with poorly prepared work force.

In spite of the colossal amounts spent on education, there has been more or less an assault on our education system from various fronts; from government ministers who think that the South is unnecessarily preoccupied with paper qualification, to poorly paid lecturers, and ill-equipped universities. The Federal Government with their unity schools in every state has also been in the business of establishing tertiary institutions in all 36 states of the federation. Though it is true that school enrollment figures are on the rise, building more schools and universities is not always the solution. One can expand the existing universities and faculties to accommodate upwards of 30,000 to 50,000 graduations per university per session. The real problem is that the government still sees education as a social service. Education cannot be a social service. If a country has to develop, it must invest in the development of citizens from youth. We are not doing that. In real values, the budget allocation to education has not kept pace with technological growth and the requirements of the education sector in 21st century. The FG has to realize they do not have the resources to continue this way, and must look at allowing the universities especially, to charge commercial fees adjusted with the level of subsidies they get from the government.

The Nigerian perception and attitude to public service work is that of ‘Government work no be my Papa work’. What this means is that the employees are not committed to producing results that they can be proud of; there is no zeal for excellence. A concoction of poorly educated workforce lacking the drive for excellence is a recipe for abject failure. And that is what we have. Our public servants do not understand that the only difference between public service and the private sector lies on the fact that the former is funded by tax-prayers and the later by private financing from investing individuals that founded each company. Beyond these differences in their genesis, they both need to have good corporate governance, operate profitably to remain viable, develop human resources, provide values to the macroeconomy, and take care of their employees. In other words, even social services are not meant to lose money or be wasteful. If we understand this, we just might be able to reverse our current destructive course.

Democracy can only thrive where and when the rule of law exists. By rule of law, I mean all citizens must be equal in the eyes of the law and everyone is entitled to obtaining justice as a right. It is only under such social justice that everyone must be held accountable for their actions. In such a land, you can sue and be sued to redress infractions of the law. So too must be entities, institutions, and anyone or any business that provides any service. If there is no accountability, there will be no excellence in service. Since the advent of the military into our politics, the slogan has always been to clean up the polity, or fight against corruption. The first step in doing this is to establish the rule of law.

I have indulged you, my readers, in this treatise so that we can see and appreciate how we do harm to our institutions, our monuments, infrastructure, our arts, and ultimately our history. Without history, we have no future. If we continue on the part of revisionism, we will have no future. We are not teaching our grand children right at the moment, and we have already misled our children. Being a story teller, I would like to end with one.

In the middle 90s, I took a trip to the Iponrin Telephone Exchange of Nitel, in Lagos, to inquire on the reason we in Costain (West Africa) Plc were having no dial tones on our over 10no landlines then. I was first given a tour of the installations where I was shown the telephone circuits for all areas served by the exchange. In the process, they showed to me the battery banks that were meant to power these circuits. The voltage meter on the monitoring console was reading zero. My guide then took me to their power room. Of course, there was no power from PHCN then, and the 500kva generator there was quiet. Why? There was no diesel to power the emergency generator. Why was this, I asked again. My guide then took me to his office and showed me his revenue report for the last month. The exchange generated N84m in that month, and remitted all to Abuja. So why would you not have diesel to power your generator? I asked incredulously. The poor director replied that every month he had to apply for money for things like that and it would take a while before he received the funds or a response of another kind. Whilst he is waiting, businesses are unable to run efficiently, and he is losing revenue which the same people in Abuja expect him to improve upon.

The story in the last paragraph illustrates the need for decentralization. This is true of our national discuss today. Happy, hopeful, future to us all. But know you this; we are the ones to make it happen.

Chasing our lost arts by Newton Jibunoh

Our Monuments of old are no more

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Long before the coming of the mini gods (or so they saw themselves) commonly known as colonial masters, our various kingdoms with their cities, towns, and villages had their places of reverence and sanctuaries of different forms. These forms took the shape of king palaces, homes of deities, shrines, city walls and defenses, and important streams. These were monuments for the people. But alas, monuments that lasted for centuries have now been left in ruins or cannibalized in the name of civilization. Such is true of the Benin Moat and City Wall. It seems we thrive at destroying all that we should hold dear.

I have often wondered when and where we lost it. It can’t be because we are black, our forefathers were just as black with even less outside knowledge but they preserved their cherished monuments. You see, by the time the colonialists departed our shores, they left us some monuments that they built with our money of course. Some of these included the Governor General’s house along Marina, the Race Course at Onikan, the Parliament House in Onikan, and the Independence Building also by the Race Course. There was also the Lord Lugard’s House in Kaduna.

Just like the decay of some of our traditional structures, most of these 20th century monuments are in various stages of dilapidation, or have been transformed into new creations that provide little resemblance to, or tell the story of their historical pasts. One such example is the present Tafewa Balewa Square at Onikan. It occupies the position of the old Race Course that offered horse racing, cricket games, and leisure centers. As TBS, the place is now a concrete jungle of ubiquitous shops. I am not sure Sir Tafewa Balewa would have approved or felt honoured to lend his name to such hideous transformation. Years ago, the place was privatized following years of government mismanagement. The place is now best used to host the Lagos trade fair, Eyo Festival and political rallies.

The independence building, a 25 storey structure was the first of its kind in Nigeria. It was both an administrative centre and a tourist sight for Lagos visitors. With the advent of military rule in Nigeria, it was eventually converted to the Ministry of Defense, who ran it aground until it was destroyed in a blazing inferno. It remains in its gutted state to date.

On 15 Marina, about 200m from the Independence Building, is NECOM House, a 37 storey building that holds the international communication gateway for Nigeria and 13 other African countries. Built in the late 1970’s for and by Nitel, this tallest building in Africa was itself gutted by fire in 1983. My companies, Costain (West Africa) Plc and Dolphin Properties Limited renovated and managed it until it was privatized seven years ago. I understand it has been sold again.

The Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) station, first in Africa, was set up in Ibadan in 1959. By 1975, it was acquired by the newly owned Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), set up by the Federal Government. NTA today has not risen beyond the mouth piece of the Federal Government, and that has stifled growth, development, and innovation.

We did not inherit everything from the colonialists; we built quite a lot ourselves, including infrastructures and businesses that should have been iconic and viable in themselves. Looking at the management failures of TBS and Necom House, it should come as no surprise how our innovations ended up too. The National Theater, which was built to host the major performances of Festac 77 gradually deteriorated to the point where just one cinema hall out of 4 was serviceable. In 2006, it was listed for privatization.

In the early seventies, as part of the national economic development plans, the General Gowon Administration built six steel rolling mills in various parts of the country. These were meant to operate with steel billets from the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, then under construction by the Russians. Meanwhile, thousands of Nigerians had been given scholarships to study metallurgy, engineering, mining, geology, and the sciences in any university abroad that the students were admitted to. The Murtala Administration that came to power in 1976 sacked the so-called super-permanent secretaries (the drivers of this policy), suspended work on the Ajaokuta Steel Complex while placing it under a corruption probe, cancelled or delayed payments for some of the scholarships in progress. The nations steel industry to this day, did not recover from this derailment. The steel rolling mills are dead, and the steel complex is comatose. As for the trained graduates, most of them relocated to Europe and the US after years of inadequate or no employment.

Similar stories exist with the 3 paper mills that were also established in the country in the seventies. Even our main economic stay, Petroleum resources have not been spared of the gross mismanagement that is the hallmark of self-governance in Nigeria. The major reason, if not the only one, why the petroleum refineries do not produce to capacity or near capacity, is because of Turn Around Maintenance (TAM), or lack of it. At their ages, and they had reached that threshold long ago, the TAM for each refinery has to be done yearly or less. I know this because Costain Oil & Gas part of the Costain Group to which my company, Costain (West Africa) Plc belonged, had a rolling contract for decades maintaining refineries in the Middle-East. The planning and procurement for the next year’s TAM begins the day the current one ends. This is because the refinery cannot be shut down longer than 3 weeks. That is to say you cannot carry-out such operations on a wait-for-contract-award-basis, a feature of Nigerian management.

At independence, Nigeria inherited the standard gauge railway network with four major nodes in Lagos, Port-Harcourt, Sokoto and Maidugiri. With the modest growth in commerce, we did not add to this network in anyway until 2012-2016, that is, not counting what was done in preparation for Ajaokuta Steel Complex which was strictly to serve that complex. The effect was that the country relied, in the main, on road networks for the movement of goods and services. The roads were being constructed yearly, but with poor supervision, quality of the end product was always unreliable. A second problem was our inexplicable practice of abandoning an old road network once a new one is built. We are supposed to be building to add, not to replace! Third, as is the practice in all we do, the issue of maintenance of these roads is perhaps, from all intent and purposes, never seriously discussed. We tend to believe that they would last forever. And fourth, we are not proactive in planning for road expansion giving the population increase since independence and our reliance on road transportation. A second Onitsha Bridge over the River Niger is still a phantom, more than ten years after it was first discussed.

One more sector worthy of mention here is the power sector. I have written a lot on this sector so I will not dwell so much on it here. It goes without saying that the country can never reach its potential until we get our power supply and distribution right.

Regrettably, the picture we present to the World is that of poor innovators and poor managers of what is ours. Africans are known to be proud people of their heritage. How then did we become comfortable with these derogatory labels? Nigerians make up 25% of the black population in the World. Our failure is the failure of the black race. Shall we allow this to continue?