Column Opinion

When A Country Fails Its Citizens

By Zainab Suleiman Okino

“You are on your own” is a popular Nigerian street lingo for individuals taking responsibility for the consequences of their unpalatable actions. It is however deeper than the literary meaning.

It can be an expression of abandonment, a tragedy of failure; failure of parents to take responsibility for those under their care, failure of citizens to perform their civic roles, and failure of government to perform their constitutional roles of providing security and welfare; in fact, ‘you are on your own’ in this context is a tragedy of the failure of leadership. For thousands of Nigerians, especially living in Ukraine, they’d probably wish they did not carry the Nigerian passport, because when it mattered most, and their host country was under attack, their country of origin could not rescue them.

No one, including those in charge of our foreign affairs, could say they didn’t see the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine coming. While other countries were making frantic efforts to evacuate their nationals, the Nigeria government waited till the situation got out of hand, as Nigerians were left in the cold in Ukraine.

 Reports of dehumanizing treatment, even racial discrimination and xenophobia meted out to blacks and Nigerians who are being denied access in trains and cross border entry to Poland and Hungary, the nearest safe havens, was rife. Well, after the initial suffering, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama appeared to have woken from slumber, as the Nigeria government now coordinates with our ambassadors in Ukraine, Romania, Poland, Hungary.  Already preparations are on to evacuate willing Nigerians back home. But do you really blame those who don’t treat us well, when we don’t treat ourselves right? Compared with the number of Nigerians in Ukraine, especially for studies, have you ever seen one Ukrainian in any Nigerian university? 

In a country where complaints are perceived as criticisms of the government or from opposition—as if criticism is an offence— outside the country, a slack on the part of the Nigeria government can determine how the country is perceived by the international community. With reference to Nigerian students there, questions have also arisen about the sheer number of Nigerians studying medicine there.

 Ukraine with a population of 44.13 million as at 2020 according to the World Bank is just about a fifth of Nigeria’s population of over 200 million people. How is it that our people are even scattered all over the world seeking for greener pastures? The answer lies in the near unworkability of Nigeria and its almost irredeemable status. The exodus to Ukraine to study Medicine is a validation of the country’s seriousness with human science. It is also relatively cheap compared to other Western European countries like the United Kingdom or North American countries like US or Canada. 

Nigeria is a country where dreams die at infancy. Many of us ended up in the wrong professions and unable to give those professions our best because of lack of interest and passion for the job we are doing. The local environment simply makes it impossible for people to fulfil their dreams. Many who wanted to study medicine ended up with single honour degrees because of admission problems. 

 Stories abound of how people sit for JAMB over and over, and even among those who have graduated just for them to study medicine. Universities are not admitting students for Medicine because they cannot go beyond their carrying capacities and do not have the required human resources and medical equipment for practical training, yet our hospitals are in crying need of medical doctors. The story is told of a Nigerian student who was studying medicine in Sudan until that county’s civil unrest and coup sent him packing, only to get another another admission to Ukraine for the same course. And now this. 

Once you feel abandoned by your country, the question of patriotism will not even arise. Chances are that those who school abroad might not even come back home to practice. Why should they, when those back home are daily moving abroad because of the harsh labour and economic reality. Youth unemployment in Nigeria is put at over 53% and every year new graduates join the unemployment market, yet there are no concerted efforts by government to create the enabling environment for industry to thrive. 

Sending one’s wards/children abroad is beyond being rich. For the Nigerian government, education is not a priority. We give more priority to politics rather than social services like education, health care and infrastructure. For conducting election that will ultimately usher in corrupt politicians into office, government provides money to INEC for elections. The lawmakers do not have to engage in any strike action before they get what is due to them; they appropriate the funds and ensure theirs gets to them, yet teachers who must have taught them at different levels of their education are neglected. 

Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are right now on strike as they have been at different times in the last 22 years or so. It is said that ASUU has had 17 strike actions between 1999 and 2022. Therefore, when parents do struggle to send their children abroad especially for courses that are reserved for the rich and not the indigent here, parents seek for convenient opportunities abroad to help guide their children realise their aspirations, without breaking the banks. 

To think that those who escaped abroad are now caught in the middle of Ukraine-Russia war without an early help is to wish you were never born a Nigerian. However, before we even have the effrontery to complain about ill-treatment abroad, do our lives matter at home? A tweet by @miss-debeham told the story of how they were denied entry at Poland border even though her friend has hypothermia: “The racism today! My friend fainted from too much cold today and we had to wake her up with water while I kept her warm. I went to tell one of the officials at the gate and they said I should call an ambulance (knowing it meant us going back into Ukraine). We couldn’t risk that as we wanted to enter quick and leave Ukraine…she was weak…I was pissed off because she was showing signs of hypothermia, while another tweeted @Damilare_arah thus “they are not allowing any black people in; only Ukrainians.”

Being on your own in Nigeria and let down abroad is a bad advertisement for the Nigerian government, and not what journalists write about Nigeria as they always claim. Already, back home, government has abdicated their responsibilities in the provision of basic amenities like electricity, water, health care, basic infrastructure and has failed woefully in securing lives and property. 

For the Nigerian students in Ukraine and those at home who are out of school due to ASUU strike action, for thousands on fuel queues, there is no fitting definition of a country failing its citizens than this.

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