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100 Million Dollars' Laptops: Another Misplaced Priority
From Niyi Adebisi

E-mail address: moderator@concernednigerians.com

NIGERIA, the African giant with lofty problems, is taking another pacesetting step in the naturally wealthy continent that is predominantly inhabited by impoverished blacks. Unlike many other laudable pacesetting steps of this giant of Africa, like the West African peace keeping ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States {ECOWAS} Monitoring Group) which spearheaded the prevailing truce in the erstwhile war torn Liberia, the current controversial computer project of Nigeria is a puzzling task that leaves every logical mind wondering if our leaders really know the needs of the community they are ruling over. 

Nigeria, despite the enviable numerous natural and human resources, still remains one of the few countries with such enormous potentials for success, but with little achievements, on the globe. Despite the long list of natural resources that the nature endowed this African nation with, including petroleum products that have consistently recorded many mouth watering and record-breaking prices in the global market for close to half a decade now, Nigeria still, disheartening, remains one of the few nations on the globe whose citizens are languishing in abject poverty and lack of basic amenities in the midst of abundance.  

The bane of our predicaments as a people had always been gross ineptitude in macro and micro economic management of our abundant resources by our leaders resulting from high level corruption that had become a second nature of an average Nigerian leader by acts of omission, commission, or combined.  

The macro and micro economic reforms that the administration of President Obasanjo seemed to be injecting into our system looked very promising at a glance. An in-depth analysis of the achievements and shortcomings of these reforms over the last seven years however engenders a few questions that deserve answers. One of these mind boggling questions is concerning the well published controversial laptops' project that the Obasanjo's team is getting involved in.

Our leaders travel all over the world but fail to emulate positive attributes of the leaders of the foreign nations they visit. Instead, they tend to copy negative or useless ideas of their hosts as applicable to our own unique community. Our leaders have been to various nations like Japan which, by nature, have far less number of money fetching resources than Nigeria and, yet, are far more developed than Nigeria. Even our West African neighbor, Ghana, has recently proved that something must be wrong with the way the Nigerian leaders perceive and assimilate what they experience in developed nations that they visit during their numerous, and apparently wasteful, globetrotting. Ghana has shown our leaders that uninterrupted electric power supply, as it is obtainable in the so called developed nations like the United States of America, Japan, Norway and so forth, is not an unattainable task in the continent of Africa. Ironically, a small country like Liberia, that incidentally is currently heavily dependent on Nigeria, is another example of the nations within the African continent that keep on reminding Nigerians that our leaders are not really grasping the basic principle of the needs of Nigerians.   

During my last visit to Nigeria in May 2006, seven years after President Obasanjo had presided over the affairs of Nigeria for the second time, my family nearly became part of the statistics of numerous lives that are lost every year on the death tracks that our leaders provide us with as 'roads'. Two third of my time was virtually spent in various Lagos holdups due to various reasons - ranging from neglected and poorly maintained road conditions to the undisciplined driving attitudes of the commercial vehicle drivers, abetted by deliberate neglect of these disruptive driving behaviors by the corrupt law enforcement agents. The Nigerian Police and other related agencies, instead of being part of the solution, decided to become part of the problems by mounting money extorting checkpoints at strategic locations where they were least likely to encounter armed robbers. The law abiding citizens that were supposed to be protected by these agents ended up being the victims of the circumstances that were beyond their control because they would either have to part with some money at these numerous 'checkpoints' or risk the chance of being killed as 'suspected armed robbers'. The only reliable thing about the electric power supply was the fact that an average Nigerian had learnt to live without this basic amenity. Easily accessible potable water was another thing that was considered a mirage by an average Nigerian. The University Teaching Hospital we visited after our motor vehicle accident did not have more than six wooden couches in its Emergency Room to serve millions of people in its catchment area. Even patients with potentially serious injuries had to be contented with portions of the dirty Emergency Room's floor as their assigned 'beds'. I visited my High School Alma Mater. The sorry picture of the neglected, maintenance-deprived falling buildings depicted just a tip of the iceberg about the decadent nature of the education sector of this so called giant of Africa, my motherland. Many of the 'functional' buildings of this otherwise glorious school did not even have functional electric wiring, let alone functional electric power supply. And of-course, the school's library was crying for basic textbooks, and dreaming of having the cheapest desktop computer with power supply was just like hoping for the impossibility. I presumed that our leaders simply saw no use for electric power supply in the Nigerian classrooms, though a laptop for each pupil would not be a bad idea as far as they could cogitate. 

The macro and micro-economic reforms of the President Obasanjo's administration, that catapulted Nigeria from a nation of heavy indebtedness to a nation of huge external reserve, were one of the significant reasons to give kudos to the Obasanjo's economic team, including the ousted former minister of finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The petroleum windfall that could partly explain this astounding economic achievement of this administration is not new to Nigeria history. The first Gulf war allegedly fetched Nigeria a whopping over twelve billion dollars budget surplus during the dictatorial era of the retired General Ibraheem Babangida, though the fate of that alleged colossal money still remains a mystery to average Nigerians more than a decade after the said windfall. The fact that the Obasanjo's administration decided not to tread the footmarks of its predecessors, especially the IBB's, in managing our money is a big reason for all Nigerians to rejoice and pat the current administration on the back.

Just as recognizing positive steps taking by our leaders is our civic responsibility, screaming out against negative and disastrous gesture(s) of our policy makers even before such becomes step(s) is equally an important civic responsibility that we owe one another as a people. The money that has been accumulated by the President Obasanjo's administration is, importantly and undoubtedly, the money that needs to be spent before the current administration vacates the office for a possible looter(s) that may takeover the office in May 2007. Despite the urgency in spending the huge money that has been accumulated, our leaders seriously need to exercise caution.

There are prudent and patriotic ways of spending hard earned money just as there are numerous unscrupulous and myopic ways of squandering the same fruit of our collective toils. The currently debated hundred million dollars laptops' project is an unpatriotic route of leaching our money if Nigerian's opinion matters to our leaders. The foregoing paragraphs enumerate numerous things that a hundred million dollars can achieve in providing basic necessities of life to Nigerian children and students.

The One Child One Laptop's project, a brainchild of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative State of Maine, United States of America, was designed for adoption by citizens and inhabitants of nations and communities where what to eat is no more a general concern. The immediate expected targets of this project, as envisioned by its initiators, are stable communities like the United States of America where unexplained or impromptu electric power supply disruption is not only considered as an aberration but something that requires public investigation. It is designed for the nations whose children's access to internet and desktop computer is unlimited; but not for the nations whose largest percentage of children do not even know how to read or write, not to talk of typing. It is designed for such nations where children do not have to go to schools with empty stomachs for reasons beyond their control; and not for such nations where hundred million dollars will save millions of childrenbs lives from lethal starvations. It is designed for nations whose leaders care so much that they are so proud of the school systems they provide for their citizenries that they allow their children to attend the same school systems which ordinary citizens attend; not for such nation where the prime priority of its leaders is looting as much as possible so that such leaders can afford sending their children to countries like the United States of America and the United Kingdom for basic education they ought to have provided right in their own countries. It is designed for such nations whose teachers do not have to improvise stones as sitting chairs just because the leaders never realize that teachers need chairs to sit in the classrooms. It is designed for such nations where the availability of basic textbooks is so basic that lack of such can engender revolt that may unseat their national presidents. It is designed for such nations whose leaders prefer having their cardiac and brain surgeries performed right within the health systems that ordinary citizens are being cared for; but not for the nations whose leaders choose to travel thousands of miles across the globe just to have annual medical checkups because they do not trust the health systems they are providing their citizens with well enough to vouch for the accuracy of something as basic as checking their blood pressures or screening them for colon or breast cancers.        

Dear Mr. President and other stake-holders in this adoption of the One Child One Laptop's Initiative, Nigeria is not ready yet for this type of heroic emulation. I, and I believe millions of the lovers of Nigeria all over the world, strongly support the fact that the accumulated money must be spent before a possible looter takes advantage of us come May 2007. Your current proposal of a hundred million laptop is however not one of the prudent ways that we want to see you spending our money. The billions of dollars that your administration has accumulated should be channeled towards ensuring provision of basic things like uninterrupted electric power supply at every nook and cranny of Nigeria and to provide computers in each school library and possibly classroom, but not on purchasing laptops for one million selected privileged 'children' who may even be able to afford more powerful systems on their own. I can assure you, if you make a mistake of purchasing the controversial laptops, not only will these laptops not reach the right targets, such efforts will remain useless and wasteful one in the history of Nigerian leaders' mistakes and will, forever, be remembered as another misplaced priority.




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