By Kenechi Okenyi


The western world is currently engulfed in a bitter racial and inequality conflict which has seen millions of people file out on the streets to hold protests. This was, no doubt, sparked by the gruesome murder of George Floyd in the hands of heartless officers of the Minneapolis police department weeks ago. The protests have again uncovered the ugliness of the conflict and conquest that began 400 years ago. However, it not only showed a people tired of being killed, dehumanized, disenfranchised because of their skin colour but a people who have reached the yielding point and would do all within their power to set themselves free.


In Nigeria, the situation is not different, except for the fact that the people perpetrating these inequality atrocities have the same skin colour, speak the same language, eat the same food and are most times within the same economic status as the people they are oppressing. The issue of police brutality has been amplified in recent years, especially with the end SARS campaign, but they have frequently been dismissed with the wave of the hand by those who have been elected to act.


The Nigerian security agents over the years have regularly been seen with their hands dripping with the blood of innocent Nigerians – be it members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB; protesting Shiite members; citizens protesting against ills of the society or taxi and okada operators who refused to path with their hard-earned money. In most of the cases, no one has been prosecuted while the cries of the bereaved family members in most cases were swept under the carpet.


Do the lives of Nigerians matter in Nigeria?


As Nigerians and the rest of the world struggle to bounce back from the pangs of the coronavirus pandemic which has wrecked the world’s economy and killed over 400,000 people– with other nation setting aside funds that will speed up the recovery of business and cushion the effect of the losses incurred during months of lockdown, Nigerian government stuck to its guns and approved 27 billion naira for the renovation of National Assembly Complex in its revised budget. This comes weeks after the federal government complained about the weakness of the health sector, which lacked essential medical equipment like ventilators and ICU beds. Those who expected the government to give more priority to that sector were, however, disappointed as it carried on like nothing happened because it feels the lives of the average Nigerian do not matter.


The Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has gone cap-in-hand to all nations to borrow billions of dollars, monies that are being misused to fulfil egoistic fantasies of an overfed minority. The National Assembly has over the years proven to be one of the biggest albatrosses to Nigeria’s development, with its insatiability for being given the most significant chunk of the nation’s funds, the current NASS has however shown the highest level of insincerity and insensitivity to the development of the country and likewise the plights of the ordinary Nigerian. It has continued to pay lips service to reforms that will improve the lives of the common man but approve self-serving requests like the purchase of exotic vehicles worth billions of naira for its members with ease.


While the Ahmed Lawan-led NASS, notorious for its anti-people policies got its initial N37bn budget for the renovation of the National Assembly complex reduced to N27.7bn – a mere 25.1 per cent, the Basic Health Care Provision Fund meant to cater for all the primary healthcare centres across the 774 local government areas was cut down by N44.4bn to N25.5bn, a 42.5 per cent reduction. Recall that the over 100 billion NASS budgeted for itself in the 2020 budget was not in any way reduced.


Nigerians thought that Nigerian leadership would learn some lessons post-COVID-19, but the reverse is the case. They have learnt nothing, maybe because the death toll from the virus was not high as predicted. That is why there is no plan to eschew the decades-old culture of financial recklessness and put the country on the path to development despite the structural gaps exposed by the pandemic.


Reverend Al Sharpton, the US civil rights activist while delivering a powerful message during the funeral service in honour of George Floyd asked white Americans to lift their knees off the necks of their black compatriots so that they can breathe, and same applies to ravenous political birds dotting the nation’s landscape. They need to lift their knees off the neck of the country so that ordinary citizens could breathe.


It is said that a people get the kind of leaders they deserve. Still, the suffering Nigerians do not deserve this legacy of impunity and wanton recklessness which has been taken to a new height by the All Progressive Congress-led Federal government. Nigerians need to breathe fresh air in the areas of ease of doing business, quality healthcare, increased government support for small and medium enterprises, and then quality education.


Nigerians can’t breathe because the executive and the legislature have become a wedge to the passage of fresh air to their lungs. Nigerian’s can’t breathe when police and soldiers kill people with relish, and no one punished. Niger Delta needs to breathe from decades of pollution which has resulted in little or no tangible economic equivalents.