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Former Minister of Information and National Orientation, Frank Nweke II, says mounting social, economic, and political challenges besetting Nigeria require immediate, quick, and sustainable interventions.

Delivering a lecture in Lagos on Thursday as part of activities marking Bishop Mike Okonkwo’s 71st birthday, the former minister said the problems required serious solutions so as to pull the country back from the brink.

The lecture, the 17th in the annual series, organised to mark the bishop’s birthday, was entitled: “The State of the Nation: Redefining Our Values.’’

Bishop Okonkwo is the Presiding Bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM).

Nweke II listed insecurity, unemployment, shrinking economy, poor quality education as a few of the challenges Nigeria is faced with and called on all stakeholders to brace up and think of solutions that could return Nigeria to its glorious days.

He said he narrowed his attention to four thematic issues as they had become worrisome to the average Nigerian as reflected in newspaper publications in the first seven months of the year and “to achieve a much broader expose on what is going on in our country today’’.

The former minister went on to list some of the newspaper and other publications that devoted space to the issues:

On Security: “Over 20,000 have been killed by Boko haram and famine-like condition exists in Northern Nigeria – (Unicef Research article 2016).

“1,000 Shiites killed by Nigerian Army in Zaria” (April 2016, Premium Times)

“80 killed over Biafra protests” (Vanguard Newspapers) “Boko Haram kills over 100 in Maiduguri” (New York times, January 2016) “Fulani herdsmen kill over 80 in Benue” (News24 Nigeria, July 2016) “Over 200 die of starvation, dehydration in the past four weeks in IDP Camps” – (UNICEF Report 2016) “Niger Delta Avengers are killing our Soldiers, We’ll crush them” -Army – (March 2016, Vanguard) “Shell shuts Trans Niger Pipeline as Avengers strikes again” –(July 2016, Vanguard) “One Killed, 2 Injured As Cultists Clash In Delta Beer Parlour,” – (July 2016, Vanguard) “FG commences talks with Niger Delta Avengers” – (July 2016, Punch) “Buhari’s minister accused of diverting military Funds” – (July 2016, Punch) “Suspected Fulani herdsmen hack pastor to Death” (– July 2016, Vanguard)

On Jobs: “Over 5,000 workers lose their jobs in the banking sector (May 2016, Nigerian Tribune)

“Over 10% unemployment rate in the country – (NBS 2016)

“80% of youths are unemployed” – (Punch Newspapers)

“Telecommunications sector sack en masse” – (June 2016, The Nation)

On Education: “Over 900,000 students are turned away from universities each year for lack of space” – (JAMB 2016)

“Ekiti varsity workers on strike over unpaid salaries” – (July 2016, Guardian)

“38.68% pass WAEC in 2015 –(WAEC)

On Economy: “Barely over 1000 Megawatts of power generated for a country of about 200 million people.”

“Germany in 2016 is paying its customers to use up power generated by their plants” – (Daily mail, May 2016)

“55% of Nigerian food imports used to be produced in Nigeria” (Independent researcher) “FG can’t fund NASS constituency projects” – (SGF)

“Nigeria spends $11billion to import 4 commodities annually – (LASG Wednesday, July 13 2016)

“$200bn Scam: EFCC seals off Abuja office of company that sold Lt. Buratai his Dubai properties”

“Avengers blow up another pipeline as FG considers action against militants” – (July 2016, Vanguard)

“MALNUTRITION: NEMA takes over feeding of 1.6m IDPs – (July 2016, Vanguard)

“NLC to Sani-Bello: Resign if you can’t pay salaries” – (July 2016, The Nation)

“Panel Discovers 3,916 Ghost Workers In Enugu State LG System” – (July 2016, Vanguard) “Economic Depression: FG Cautioned Over 10% Tax Increment”– (July 2016, Vanguard).

Nweke II went further to say that if the audience was to review Thursday’s papers, the headlines would be similar to those taken from newspapers in July and which he had highlighted earlier.

He stressed that it was important and pertinent to observe that the headlines he listed might “seem fresh in time, but historically they are not’’.

The former minister also called the attention of those in the audience to books authored by departed and eminent Nigerians which showed that Nigeria had always been a nation on the brink.

He urged his listeners to read from the book “The Trouble With Nigeria’’ authored by Chinau Achebe wherein the wordsmith quoted the headline of the now defunct Weekly Star of 15 May 1983, on Page 38:

The Nigerian and Corruption:

Keeping the average Nigerian from being corrupt is like keeping a goat away from eating yam”

On page 39 of the book, Achebe wrote “As I write this in my hotel room in Kano (Monday 16 May 1983) I have two of the morning’s papers on my table, National Concord and Daily Times. The Concord carries a banner headline: FRAUD AT P and T, followed by a story with no less authority than that of the Federal Minister for Communications, Mr Audu Ogbeh, thatthe Federal Government is losing N50 million every month as salariesto non-existent workers”.

The author also referred to the editorial page of a Daily Times publication, headlined The Fake Importers, in his words “brings us another revelation, this time at the ports- a story of Nigerian importers who having applied for and obtained scarce foreign exchange from the Central bank ostensibly to pay for raw material overseas, leave the money in their banks abroad and ship to Lagos containers of mud and sand.”

He went further to state that: “These two stories – the payment of ghost workers at the Posts and Telegraphs and the importation of mud into Nigeria – are carried by two newspapers which I just happen to have bought this morning. If I had more papers or more days to choose from I could multiply such scandals and frauds against the nation a hundred-fold, nay a thousand!

The former minister explained that the “eminent writer of venerable memory, was so miffed by those revelations’’ that he wrote: “I dredged up the following punishment from the depths of my psyche: insert the importer’s head first into his mud, seal the container once more and ship it back to his overseas collaborators!”

He said the only thing Professor Chinua Achebe did not do was to recommend an equally appropriate punishment for the importer’s equally fantastically corrupt accomplices overseas!”

Nweke II noted that it had been 33 years since the headlines he picked at random were cast, but queried: “how different are they from what we have today, especially with respect to the matter of corruption in our country?’’

He enjoined members of the audience to also read another Nigerian author and obviously a keen observer of the polity, Ezeoba J.C Okoroafor, who as recently as November 2011, chose to capture Nigeria’s desperate situation, poetically when he wrote in his book “React, Reflect & SAVE NIGERIA’’

 “My People,

Gaunt looking, haggard and tired

Disconsolate faces, grisly and stirred

Pauperized merchants, traders deprived, displaced

Men and women maimed and disgraced

Rows of charred houses and cars

Tens of dozens of teenagers orphaned, scared

Bitter mind hovering aimlessly for shelter

Bereaved ones with heads drooping, scamper

Fallen walls reminding us of the mayhem

Burnt household utensils littering city’s hem

The forlorn cries of babies, haplessly backed,

Grim faced law-enforcements on duty

Soldiers and police touting guns, hoot

The titanic problem of resettlement, blot;

These and more are our lot

In Kaduna, Kano and Jos- Injustice

The hideous sharia and its compliance

The grief of armed men in alliance;

Where do these take place;

It’s in Nigeria, our palace,

In fact this is Nigeria:

A man can be beheaded in front of law

Trouble can rear up without warning

Road carnage now defecates our roads

People celebrate while others mourn

Where is the spirit of democracy?

Where is the breath of decency?

The apparition of war is risen

The spectre of violence is severe!

We must close this cul-de-sac”.

Nweke said the point for him was the similarity in the themes found in the headlines of newspapers today, and those of 33 years ago as well as concerns expressed by citizen Ezeoba and others like him, “if Nigerians cared to check, and the proximation of these concerns to what had been and what is today.

Author: Yemi Olarinre