Germany is Nigeria’s 37th state. And it is, all told, the only (Nigerian) state that really works. All that remains is for our lawmakers to review the Nigerian constitution and make it official. They should get cracking.
Several weeks ago, awoke to news that President Goodluck Jonathan’s wife, Patience, had disappeared from Nigeria. Nobody in Aso Rock bothered to inform Nigerians about the whereabouts of their “First Lady.” It later transpired that Mrs. Jonathan had sneaked away to a clinic in Wiesbaden, Germany. It was as if she’d merely left one room in the Presidential Villa to another.
In the end, it took enterprising online reporters to tell Nigerians that their president’s “missing” wife was in Germany, hospitalized. In response, the woman’s spokesman denied that she was ailing. No, he said, she had exhausted herself from clicking glasses, eating and chatting with some other African leaders’ wives she hosted in Abuja. She’d then traveled to Germany to take a well-deserved “moment’s rest.”
Nigerians would discover that Mrs. Jonathan’s moment is counted in weeks. As in, more than four weeks. In a bizarre twist, the woman whose exit was shrouded in secrecy came back to a staged carnival-grade welcome. After all, she was returning from Germany, Nigeria’s latest satellite.
Last week, Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State crashed a small CESSNA plane he was piloting as he attempted to land in Yola, Adamawa State. Initial reports said the governor had died. It turned out, thank God, that he was only injured. He was soon transferred to the National Hospital, Abuja. President Jonathan went to see him there. Afterwards, Mr. Jonathan pronounced the governor’s condition stable.
In fact, the president’s words bear quoting in detail, for they reveal something about the mindset of the man currently presiding over Nigeria. “We are quite happy that the governor is stable,” said Nigeria’s president. “I have seen him. Doctors are working very hard on him. I believe that God willing, he will come out of it. But he is still in hospital. Being a governor, people are worried. People want to know his state of health.”
A day or two after Mr. Jonathan spoke those words, Governor Suntai was airlifted to an undisclosed hospital in Germany.
The National Hospital, Abuja used to be Nigeria’s best hospital.
That was when Nigeria had only thirty-six states. Since Nigerian officials unofficially annexed Germany as their country’s 37th state, the torch of best hospital has been passed on. The best Nigerian hospital now is wait for it in Germany!
Last Sunday, several Nigerian newspapers reported the airlift of the injured Suntai to Nigeria’s outpost in Germany. A report in The Sun was quite revelatory. Governor Danbaba Danfulani Suntai, the paper reported, “has been flown to Germany for PROPER TREATMENT” (emphasis mine). The paper’s report continued: “The governor was on Friday taken to the National Hospital, Abuja, where Sunday Sun reliably gathered he was prepared for the longer journey to Germany for BETTER TREATMENT” (again, emphasis mine).
Nigeria has a class of people often identified as “stakeholders,” “political chieftains,” “prominent Nigerians.” They include current and past presidents, governors, ministers, commissioners, legislators, government-favored businessmen and women, local government chairmen, and party executives. They are routinely serenaded and garlanded at public events. Their hirelings often tell us that these officials are “icons.” They’re not just superb leaders, they are as they and their spokesmen tell us geniuses who have “totally transformed their states” and “redefined the art of governance.”
Those in this group love to collect national honors, however devalued. They treasure picking up such hollow prizes as “legislator of the year,” even when they hardly know how to spell the word bill, or “best performing governor,” even though their states look like advertisements for the Dark Ages, tiny portraits of hell on earth.
I won’t be surprised if Mr. Suntai had “won” a few awards for gubernatorial excellence. At any rate, he hardly shied from touting himself as an achiever. That’s open to debate. What’s incontestable is that the governor is a certified showman. Taraba State lacks the most basic of facilities. But that fact would not detain Mr. Suntai. A lover of jets, he acquired a pilot’s license to enable him to hop from place to place. If he ever wrote a political playbook, “enjoyment” would be underlined.
I could not help thinking about the state of Nigeria as I reflected on Suntai situation. Last week, three friends wrote or spoke to me about the ghastly condition of Nigerian roads. One, a businessman, described the harrowing experience of traveling by road from Port Harcourt to Enugu. “It’s unacceptable to see a highway so dilapidated,” he wrote in an email. He continued:
“Attention must be drawn to save lives that are being needlessly lost. I saw victims being pulled out from a fresh crash at the Aba/PH stretch. Right after Umuahia, you could only continue by driving on top of piles of chippings, two over-turned trucks on both sides were clear warning signs of the risk involved.” Another friend, a lawyer, detailed the sheer dread of driving from Lagos to Abuja to represent a client. The recent flood disaster, he said, had made the trip an even greater ordeal. The third friend, a banker, had traveled from Calabar to Anambra State. “I won’t make this trip again anytime soon,” he told me over the phone. “The road is so bad that it was like going through a war zone.”
Let’s be clear: Nigeria’s deplorable condition is, in large measure, a function of the individual and collective stupidity of the country’s top officials. Paradoxically, these wreckers-in-chief get airlifted to Germany (as well as such other locations as the US, the UK, India, Dubai and South Africa) for “proper” or “better” treatment. And the rest of us, whose lives they misshape, are left paying for them to get excellent treatment.
There were four passengers in Mr. Suntai’s plane when it crashed. According to press reports, they all sustained injuries. Yet, it’s only the governor who’s been airlifted to Germany. The luckless others are stuck in medical facilities near the crash site. Now, if the privileged men in Governor Suntai’s entourage don’t qualify to be treated in Nigeria’s 37th state, imagine, then, the grim fate of Taraba’s talakawa, peasants and civil servants.
Let us come round, then, to President Jonathan’s comments on Mr. Suntai’s condition. It’s amazing that the president described the seriously injured and reportedly comatose governor as “stable.” Was the president out to mislead? Perhaps the man who runs Nigeria can’t tell the difference between a stable patient and a stable one. Did the president set out to obfuscate in the manner of his wife’s spokesman who described an obviously sick “First Lady” as merely resting?
President Jonathan’s most curious statement about Mr. Suntai was this one: “Being a governor, people are worried. People want to know his state of health.” Here was Nigeria’s ruler telling us, in effect, that “ordinary” Nigerians don’t count. It’s only the privileged like governors and presidential spouses whose health woes stir presidential and public worry.
Is there any wonder that Mr. Jonathan sits pretty when “ordinary” Nigerians suffer? How come he rushed to Mr. Suntai’s bedside at the National Hospital, but fails to be roused when flood sweeps away homes, farmlands, and people in various parts of Nigeria? Since his wife’s return from Germany, has Mr. Jonathan spared a moment to think about ways of raising the standards of healthcare for “ordinary” Nigerians? Has his wife, treated in Germany (no doubt at public expense), sat her husband down to encourage him to attempt giving to Nigerians a semblance of the health system that all Germans enjoy?
Germany may be Nigeria’s 37th state. But it is reserved for the few among us who are governors or presidential spouses. For the rest of us, Germany is off-limits.
So, here’s a modest proposal. Nigerian rulers should have a two-pronged homework. First, they must figure out how Germany developed itself into an excellent society. Then they must apply the formula of German ingenuity to Nigeria. If they can’t or won’t then they have a choice. Either officially incorporate Germany into Nigeria, thus opening German borders to all Nigerians or cease their own junkets to enjoy the facilities of German medical marvels.