Dysfunctional social spaces, thieving rulers



A lingering memory from my early child in Ilorin is the shortage of potable water in many homes in the city. During the sixties, there was a standing pipe which served hundreds of families, in a depression where what was then Oyo Bypass (today’s Ibrahim Taiwo Road), meets the Emir’s Road. People will form long lines of buckets with regular outbreaks of fights as each one desperately attempts to get water for their family use. Often, those lines were kept for days, since water was not running each day.

The old Ilorin waterworks had been built during colonialism and had become inadequate for the expanding population of what was a provincial capital that was to become a state capital by 1967. I grew up learning to fetch water into the nights early in life and for the city the respite about water was only to come during the military administration of the late General George Innih. For the first time, water became more readily available in Ilorin, for a couple of years.

But populations have kept growing and so is the demand for water. A succession of military and civilian administrations has used this need for water to fleece the state of billions of naira. Water contracts have remained the ultimate bonanza in Kwara. Especially from 2003, the administrations have awarded all kinds of contracts that gave us a lot of food for thought but no water to drink.

All over Ilorin, there are pipes stored away in various corners of the city; the story that is popular in the city is that whenever there is the need to scam the community, contracts are awarded, the stored away pipes are brought out as if recently purchased and after a show of their “arrival” has been made, they are returned to their places of hiding until the next round of contracts. It is incredible that I came into consciousness finding inadequate water supply as one of the first social problems of life and in my fifth decade of life, that problem has persisted! This story of water illustrates a major aspect of the deepening levels of dysfunctional living in our social space today. What I said about Ilorin can be extrapolated into other urban settings in our country. There is a collapse of municipal governance and the depth of rot in the social space makes decent living almost impossible.

Those who rule us are merciless predators. They make a show of attempting to solve problems when in truth those problems are seen as an opportunity to fleece the community. As it was with water, so it is with the traffic situation, in a city like Ilorin again. We will have to go back to the Innih period still, for some of the most far-reaching efforts at opening up new roads within the city. But the roads might have been adequate to serve the needs of three decades ago, but because there is no sustained thinking in the governance structures about the use of road infrastructure or any organized study of patterns of purchases of vehicles in the society, logjams became a major aspect of daily existence.

One of the steps that Bukola Saraki took in ostensibly trying to solve the problem, was the construction of an overhead bridge. A local engineering firm was sure it could be constructed for N700 million, but Saraki expended N3.5 billion on the project. Unfortunately, it has done far more to worsen the traffic situation than solve it, apart from the incredible sum used to construct it, on flat land and not in the swamps of the Niger Delta! It is one of the worst nightmares of movement within the city of Ilorin now, attempting to get from the GRA where I reside to go into the traditional areas of the city, where my extended family resides, especially under Bukola Saraki’s bridge, by the post office.

And on Sunday mornings, the road around the old Midland Stores is completely clogged up, as a result of a weekly market in second-hand goods, from jeans trousers and T-shirts, shoes and sandals through to used bras and pants! Second-hand goods were popular and indicative of the relative poverty of the nineteen sixties. But with the oil boom of the seventies, the market almost disappeared and people tended to dress far more decently in new clothing. But the ages of SAP and neoliberal capitalism as well as a rapacious thieving elite of rulers who steal everything in sight, has seen the deepened immiseration of the Nigerian people. Second-hand goods are back in vogue; and in the sixties, people hid behind walls to make their choices, but today, I see young and old alike, openly haggling to choose those expressions of humiliation and poverty. And a frightening adjunct to this is the way that urban poverty is being expressed in the levels of begging in a place like Ilorin today.

Whenever I return home, it frightens me to see how elderly women beg all around the city. These are the old women that are the canon fodders of Bukola Saraki’s politics. They are the faithful supporters who have been dying in front of his house and campaign office in the past few years, unsung! Their daughters are part of a ring of clandestine prostitution while the sons are the thugs running after the jeeps of the political nomenclatural, at social events in the city.

Those who follow the social trends in Nigerian society today must be particularly worried about the new phenomenon which emerged after the 1999 transition to civil rule. We now have ex-governors who have become richer than the states they ruled for eight years. Pastor Tunde Bakare made the same allusion early this week. He even pointed out, especially in respect of the new APC party, that many of the so-called “progressives” within have not only looted their states but are in fact bandits!

Having been ensconced in the trappings of power for eight years, during which they mercilessly fleeced those states, especially using the dubious platform of Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP), to transfer state assets into their own private pockets using front companies and individuals, they often then work out unconscionable pensions for themselves out of power. Those states in their views have transformed into sole proprietorships that they own and can do as they please with. Puppets are installed as governors; they own all or most projects in their states and carry on as if all life depends on their whims and caprices. This is the nature of the dysfunctional social space in Nigeria today especially as it manifests in my home city, Ilorin and my state, Kwara; and the despair this is leaving in its wake, is threatening to consume the nation in the long run. In truth, dysfunctional social spaces cannot be sustained just as we cannot continue to sustain the level of thieving amongst the ruling elite in Nigeria. Something has to give in the long run!

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