Setting the tone for change

Setting the tone for change

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Hafsat Abiola-Costello

“The issue of sex-for-marks is very prevalent in Nigerian universities, which is the reason why most of the senators you see here, their female children are not in Nigeria because they do not want lecturers to ask them for sex in favour of marks.”

Every country has problems. Whereas others seem able to come together to solve theirs, we seem to direct our energy towards escaping ours. Consider the comment by Senator Akpabio, former governor of Akwa Ibom State, quoted above. The senator boldly states that so abhorrent is the harassment of female students in tertiary institutions that federal legislators send their daughters to foreign schools rather than risk their being subjected to inappropriate proposals from lecturers.

Why can’t the senators constitute a committee to see what could be done to arrest this issue instead? For that matter, why didn’t Senator Akpabio, Akwa Ibom’s former number one citizen, tackle the problem in state universities and polytechnics in his state if the issue concerned him?

It is not just our tertiary education that is affected by a paralysis in collective problem solving. Pretty much every aspect of our national life is in distress. Our public health system; our transport system; our security system; our economy. And in each sector, our response is pretty consistent. Public hospitals bad? The elite will fly out for medical care. Public transport no good? Well, we’ll drive private cars. Armed robbery on the rise? We’ll hire private security guards. No electricity? What if we get generators?

The problem is that not everyone can ‘escape’ our failing public services and in the end, even those who think they can, find that they can only postpone their day of reckoning with dysfunction. Perhaps the issue is that our leaders feel, for whatever reason, that they must deliver quick wins.

During the years Senator Akpabio served as Governor, I visited Akwa Ibom and saw, first-hand, that he was doing many things to improve the state. I remember seeing an impressive network of roads, which I was informed extended to rural areas; golf courses and, later, a stadium; five-star hotels and other modern buildings. The remarkable effort drew widespread praise.

However, an anecdote I heard illustrated the people’s concern that a facelift for the state was not farreaching enough. The people told the governor, a member of his team related, that they looked around and saw that he had indeed taken the state to another level. However, they cautioned, he had left them, the people, on the ground. They asked simply to be taken to the level to which he had taken their state.

Their evaluation of their governor’s performance struck me as deeply insightful about the limits of a development approach that is fixated on physical infrastructure. This

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