Change, Politics

A Litany of Bad Choices

If you had to choose between eating your cake and having it, what would you choose, and how would you make this choice? Would your choice be logical, emotional, a blend of the two, or a clean random pick? Whichever you choose, you would be aware that every choice has a consequence one way or the other. However, looking at the national development angle in Nigeria, it looks like we make weird choices and later wonder why things took a wrong turn. Whereas there are several factors behind our woes in Nigeria, one common denominator for our dysfunctional state is a litany of imprudent choices.

Sometime in 2008, I spent a few weeks in Idama, a small riverine community in Rivers State. Located near the famous Abonnema Town, Idama (as at then) was an oil-rich community that hosted production facilities operated by Chevron and Shell. I noticed that the community had a water borehole installation that hardly delivered any water, and electricity poles and lines that better served as discussion pedestals for birds. The worst of it all was seeing some poor people from the community, unable to fish in the adjoining polluted river, paddle their canoes to the oil platforms to beg the workers for food. What was wrong?

I learned that the community had been offered a choice between being connected to a gas turbine powering one of the oil facilities, or having a generator installed with monthly provision of a certain number of drums of diesel to fuel the generator. I guess you already know what “they” chose. Who made this choice? A bunch of “community leaders” who lived in Port Harcourt and other cities, made a choice for the largely “illiterate” persons who lived in Idama. The end result was that each month, the community would have electricity from the diesel generator for about three days, after which the leading conspirators would sell off the rest of the diesel, thereby throwing the community into darkness for the rest of the month. Since there was no electricity, the borehole system could not pump water, so the villagers had to draw water from wells. The lack of electricity also underpinned much of the underdevelopment in the “oil-rich” community.

Is such a foolish choice limited to Idama? Definitely not! I recently had an opportunity to discuss with a former External Relations Manager at Nigeria LNG, who had been instrumental in establishing the now craved constant electricity supply at Bonny Island in Rivers State. He recounted an interaction he had with some “community youths” at a hotel on the island. At that event, he unveiled a plan to provide the town with uninterrupted power supply. Whereas the representatives were happy at the prospect of getting electricity, they were incensed that they would be expected to pay for the service. For a country used to subsidies, the idea of paying for a service was almost deemed worthy of a fatwa, however, reason prevailed. Shell and Nigeria LNG ended up with an arrangement where the community pay for electricity (with a small subsidised portion) and the funds are pooled into an account managed by the community for covering the cost of routine maintenance and any repairs or replacements that would be required to keep the electrons flowing. This was a more sustainable arrangement that has seen Bonny Island enjoy what persons in developed countries enjoy – constant electricity.

“The choice to make good choices is the best choice you can choose. Fail to make that choice and on most choices you will lose.”

Ryan Lilly

The Idama experience where communities (or their unscrupulous leaders) would choose pernicious profiting over long-term benefits is replicated in many parts of Nigeria. It is the same mindset that makes some persons reject employment opportunities, and would rather agitate to be paid monies regularly for doing nothing. This is same as the government choosing immediate revenue collection over substantial efforts to grow the revenue pool in the long-term. It is also behind some community youths demanding “settlement” before a contractor is allowed to construct a road or replace a transformer in their own community. It is why a community would demand immediate “settlement” from an investor seeking to site a factory in their domain rather than negotiate job opportunities or some other benefits that would have long-term impact.

At the end of the day, we are responsible for the choices we make. We may try to deflect responsibility by claiming some other entities have kept us in the doldrums, but if we were to borrow some honesty, we would realise we are the ones in the mirror. Whether our culture of wrong choices is driven by corruption, ignorance, greed, religion and tradition, or plain foolishness, we can now imbibe Ryan’s charge and choose to make the choice to make good choices going forward.

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