Few days ago, the Minister of State for Aviation Hadi Sirika announced the reopening of the Abuja Airport on schedule after a 6 weeks closure to carry out rehabilitation work on the Airport’s lone runway, and the drums were rolled out.
There was such excitement and celebration of the ‘feat’ with hashtags and pictures galore on social media that you would quite frankly be forgiven if you had mistaken it to mean that Nigeria just successfully launched a space rocket, or put Nigerian legs on a little known planet at the fringes of the galaxy.
The internet was awash with government officials and their sycophants beating their chests, congratulatory messages flying about and talks of a ‘promise kept’ littering the space. One had to take a brief moment to think again. What exactly is this all about? That we, a country of 180 million people, the celebrated most populous black nation and the biggest economy in Africa, with all of our oil wealth and abundant human intellect, are celebrating what in other climes should be a routine activity … resurfacing an airport runway and doing it within set time.
It is the same mentality we express when we celebrate governors for constructing or rehabilitating short kilometers of roads, when government organizes elaborate events to commission refurbished classroom blocks in primary schools, when pages are taken in the newspaper by political job-seekers to celebrate leaders for signing a budget into law, when leaders giving account of stewardship mention paying workers’ salaries as achievements and the list goes on and on.
Have our expectations of government been so lowered by years of failure that we naturally do not expect them to succeed even at the most basic things, and when occasionally they do, we make such an issue out of it? The answer is obvious. It has. The bar has been so lowered that when a governor or minister or even the president does the things he/she should do routinely we are grateful to them and sing their praise to the high heavens.
Just a few days ago, Solomon Dalung the minister of sports posted a Facebook live video of himself interacting with ‘ordinary’ Nigerians at Kawo Motor Park in Kaduna and you should have seen the comments being posted. It ranged from the hilarious to the downright ridiculous. Comments of how humble he was, how he was such rare example of a good leader, how he was an epitome of the Change and how God will prosper Nigeria because of leaders like him. For the people there at the Kawo motor park, you could not miss the awe on their faces. Ministers are not seen by their likes, so Dalung’s presence albeit brief, and on a mission that is at best political sycophancy, was enough to numb the pains they felt about the state of their lives and they cheered and clapped.
The issue here is that when we the people set the bar so low and celebrate routine activities of our leaders as though they were groundbreaking or innovative, we run the risk of remaining where we are as a nation with our leaders taking us for a ride. This is why the rhetoric at election campaigns has remained the same…we will build roads, we will sink bore holes, we will build clinics and after they get into office they regale us with tales of the roads they’ve poured asphalt and bitumen on in the name of constructing and in four years’ time the next government is repairing that same road.
Of course this also encourages the situation where governors wait for the FAAC monthly allocation from Abuja which they collect and share and then wait for the next one. No smart thinking. No creative ideas. No long term plans. Nothing to really deepen the economy and improve quality of life of the people.
It must be said and we must let our leaders know this, that paying salaries, rehabilitating roads, cleaning gutters and repainting the walls of schools are not achievements. Indeed, rehabilitating a runway is no excuse to roll out the drums. In the first place, closing the airport of our capital city for 6 whole weeks is a tragedy on its own. We’ve seen examples of other climes who achieved same feat by working overnight and maintaining normal operations in the day. But that’s an aside. That we have only one runway in Abuja should be a cause for worry. Are there plans to construct another one anytime soon or do we wait for the next time when another minister will shut down the airport to repair the runway?
Perhaps when we are able to get the economy back on its feet, when we are able to cut down maternal and child mortality, when diseases such as Lassa fever and meningitis stop being annual guests, when we can proudly say with facts that we have moved a significant percentage of our people out of poverty, when our universities are referenced as centers of excellence for learning and research, when we are able to conduct a simple census without the entire country catching a fever, then we can beat our chests and paint the streets red.
Until then, we as a people must hold our leaders by a higher standard and end this pettiness of celebrating mediocrity.