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By Donu Kogbara

THE annual Independence Day navel-gazing exercise is upon us!

Every year, on or just before/after October l, like many other journalists and public affairs commentators, I solemnly contemplate the state of the nation. And – sadly! – there has never been a year when I have concluded that Nigeria is more good than bad overall.

The past 12 months have been particularly gruesome. We’ve had to tolerate killings galore as violent outlaws – herdsmen, terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, whatever – run riot, traumatise terrified citizens and make fools of law enforcement personnel. We’ve watched doctors who were trained in Nigeria gloomily queuing up to export their valuable skills to less depressing countries.

We have helplessly observed the economy taking a nosedive. We were there when electricity prices rose by 400 per cent a few months back. We’ve witnessed Yusuf, Mr. President’s gold-plated son, getting married very ostentatiously to a diamond-encrusted Kano princess…while death, despair and hunger stalk the land.

It’s not that one doesn’t wish the young couple well. But did they really have to dish out lavish guest gifts like engraved ipads at a time when millions of Nigerians are on their knees financially? Did many people not vote for Buhari precisely because they thought that he was the kind of no-nonsense man who despised the vulgar displays of wealth that had characterised some previous regimes?

So today, all Nigerians, regardless of their real ages, are kinda 61. And, sure, a privileged few – mostly corrupt government officials and their favourite cronies – are rising and shining and feeling fabulous. But most of us are limp and trembling with emotional exhaustion, struggling to make ends meet and so very worried about the future.

OK, so let me leave you with a thought-provoking quote by George Orwell, who wrote the iconic 1984 novel about the triumph of dictatorship: “A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims but accomplices.”

Crisis of faith

I am a Catholic and my parish priest is trying to persuade me to show up at church every Sunday. And I’m telling him that I only make an appearance occasionally because I am going through a crisis of faith…which basically boils down to wondering why God allows evil folks to thrive and allows decent folks to suffer and drown. My blasphemous wonderings are not original. Throughout the history of Christianity, various people have asked the same question.

Diehard believers usually respond with answers that sound like glib platitudes (to me at least)…and remind me of a cynical observation by Voltaire, the French Enlightenment philosopher who said that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him because we humans need to believe in a divine being who is bigger than us.

Meanwhile, I encounter so many tragedies, here and in other parts of the world, that make me keep questioning not so much the existence of God per se, but God’s refusal to rescue innocent individuals, children especially, from endless trials and tribulations. I’d love to hear Vanguard readers’ opinions about this topic.

Government with a human face

Last week the Athens-based Nigerian Ambassador to Greece, Opunimi Akinkugbe, visited Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city. According to her social media (LinkedIn) post: “A highpoint of her visit was a meeting with Mr. Femi Bambo, the Chairman of the Nigerian Community in Thessaloniki, to better understand some of the issues concerning Nigerians in the Macedonia region. “A major challenge is that Nigerians must travel some 500km to Athens at significant expense to have their passport and other consular needs attended to. In this regard our immigration team based in Athens will embark upon periodic passport intervention missions to Thessaloniki to attend to our communities passport renewal and issuance needs. The first visit will be announced in due course.

“Other important concerns to be addressed include capacity building, adult education, rehabilitation, jobs, social integration, etc. We thank Mr. Bambo for his efforts to support our community in the region.”

My late father, Ignatius Kogbara, used to shake his head and say that Nigerian embassies in foreign countries appear to have been established to maliciously frustrate – rather than respectfully, caringly and professionally represent – Nigerian citizens in those countries!

And Daddy was so right. I grew up in the UK and whenever I needed to renew my Nigerian passport in London, I would go through hell at the hands of sadistic and incompetent Nigerian diplomats. As a matter of fact, most Naija government officials (civil servants as well as politicians) are a complete nightmare, whether you meet them abroad or on their home turf. Mrs Akinkugbe’s refreshing attitude is evidence that some of them are genuinely interested in service delivery. Hip! Hip!! Hurrah!!! for a rare example of government with a human face!

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