The Debt Nigeria Owes Zik

Had he lived up to this Sunday, Nigeria’s first president Dr Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe would have clocked 110 years. It’s not likely there is any Nigerian alive today that is Zik’s age mate. The oldest person in the entire world is just a little older.

One of the strangest demonstrations of ingratitude and ineffectiveness of government I have witnessed has been the non-completion of Zik’s mausoleum, 18 years after he was buried at Inosi Onira in Onitsha. In another country where people go into government to work and not to steal, Zik’s mausoleum would have since become a tourist site bringing millions of dollars in revenue. His home in Nsukka – he lived in Onuiyi Haven from 1945 – would have also become a tourist’s delight.

Work has yet to begin on the second Niger bridge – about 5km from the place Zik was buried in Onitsha. For the past 40 years, the bridge has been mentioned only in politicians’ campaign speeches. Not even “a second Azikiwe” has fulfilled his promise to the nation’s founding father. How ungrateful could a nation be?

Nigeria will forever owe Zik a debt of gratitude. No tribute to the memory of this man – I regard him as the greatest Nigerian that has ever lived – would be too much on his birthday. I say so because I have benefitted from his wisdom in the course of interviewing him every year at this time from 1988 to 1994.

About 10 years ago, I learned of the last words of wisdom he uttered on his deathbed in 1996: he was said to have regretted choosing heroism rather than sainthood. As the end approached, Zik the Great must have seen life in its stark nakedness. He must have thought about loneliness in the grave and then recalled the words of the Preacher: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity…”

One more fact: Zik’s junior nationalist Obafemi Awolowo died on May 9; Herbert Macaulay (who handed the baton of nationalism to Zik) died on May 10; and Zik himself on May 11. Perhaps we should have national holidays from May 9 to 11 of every year.



Payable NEPA Bills


They are still called “NEPA” because they still dress in the same robes that gave NEPA its acronym: “never expect power always” or “no electric power anymore”. Nor have they cast off the name borrowed for their forerunner PHCN: “please hold candle Nigerians” or “problem has changed name”.

One year after the public utility company was “privatised” or handed over to “private investors”, the electricity situation has gone worse. Nigerians seem not to have baptised the new power companies that have inherited PHCN because their own acronyms are instructive enough: DISCO and GENCO.

Gencos and Discos may have pushed us to the wall with outrageous bills for a service not provided: the power companies last month increased their tariffs by more than 200 per cent! Now, this oppression of the poor and the impoverished of Nigeria has reached its crescendo. Since a large majority of consumers do not yet have access to electricity meters that would at least give them an idea of the power consumed in their homes, they have been left at the mercy of these Discos that merely allocate (not estimate) bills. When the bills for the month of October were distributed last week, everyone was stunned. My bill jumped from about N2, 200 to almost N7, 000. For perhaps a half of the period, however, there was no power supply and I had to spend much on fuel and maintenance of generators.

I need not remind anyone that the entire process of selling NEPA was a giant fraud perpetrated by Nigeria’s kleptocrats in power.  In the past 15 years, over $25billion has been embezzled under the pretext of investing in NEPA. The darkness persisted until they decided to sell the behemoth.

The eventual buyers of our commonweal were the same people that have kept Nigeria in bondage – former military leaders, politicians, government contractors and their fronts. In any case, they were the only people with enough money to pay; they were the only ones that could knock on a bank’s door and it would open.

To further prove to the poor and the unknown that they do not matter, there was talk of “loaning” money to the Discos and Gencos from public funds. Who could have opposed the decision anyway? The money – hundreds of billions – will soon be made available to the beneficiaries at little or no interest rates. It may even be forgotten in future.

I have learned that the problem is nationwide because the Discos and Gencos want to recoup their investments quickly. Has this effrontery not been prompted by the view that Nigerians are docile and can accept anything? Could anyone have done a similar thing in a country where people are conscious of their rights?

This is the time for all Nigerians that are suffering from deprivation and subjugation to speak with one voice. The residents of some parts of Abuja, I have heard, have asked the power companies to disconnect them as they would not be able to pay. It is the right step we all should take, for these people are callous. At a time most Nigerians are unable to find food to eat and assailed by all manner of bills and security problems, the suppliers of epileptic power have come with a sledgehammer.

An average family man has to pay exorbitant school fees to “international” schools that teach his kids nothing. He has to pay the water corporation. He has to pay for security. Food for the family is expensive. House rents keep climbing to the rooftops. He has to fuel his generator(s). And now he has to pay more for less power supply.

This milking of willing cows has got to stop, or else the cows would perish. I have little doubt that many of us won’t be able to pay the new NEPA bills. And it is only a matter of time before the bills are doubled again, yet we won’t get adequate or regular supply.

Privatisation has failed, like everything else in Nigeria. None of the public companies literally dashed to those with long legs is doing well today. Many have collapsed – and inflicted job losses on their employees.

The only venture worth investing in today is politics. Maybe the increase in tariffs is meant to raise money for the actual owners of the power companies that are contesting elections or sponsoring candidates.

Reduced revenues from crude oil, fallen value of the naira, oil theft, treasury looting, fat salaries paid to unproductive public “servants”, mass unemployment and mass poverty – all these are putting pressure on almost everyone. Even armed robbers are discovering that there is no money to steal anymore. I foresee a “stomach revolution”.

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