Monday, 7 April 2008

Oh Nigeria...Where Art Thou?

Last Friday. there was a very interesting debate on the BBC programme 'World Have Your Say' prompted by news out of Nigeria about a bill that is before the Senate (their law-making organ). It is called ‘The Bill for an Act to Prohibit and Punish Public Nudity, Sexual Harassment and Other Related Offences in Nigeria’) and it seeks to ban women from wearing miniskirts and other ‘indecent’ clothing. It is argued that this will help to prevent rape and reduce social immorality.

This bill is sponsored by the Senate Committee on Women and Youth Affairs, whose Chair and Vice Chair are women.

Ha ha ha........Of course, this has captured the attention of the media and there is a raging debate about the merits and demerits of this "noble cause" [all sacarsm intended]. My question is why is it that when leaders especially in Africa are faced with daunting challenges of improving the lives of their people and the general well-being of their nations, opt for such silly distractions?

There have been various reactions to this absurdity. This one written by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie perhaps best captures what I would have to say about this. Another equally interesting opinion is this one that spells out the problems faced by women that should take priority instead of the bill and what the government would do to curb rape and other such ills.

My take is there are other pressing problems that Nigeria, one of the most naturally endowed nations in Africa and almost one of the most disappointing and embarrasing, should tackle first to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Why do I say most disappointing and most embarrasing? Because I belive that a country that has a GDP of US$ 191 billion has the resources to sort these challenges to an economic status that countries like Nigeria should strive to attain.

I will quote below verbatim from Wikipedia for you to make your judgment:

Health, health care, and general living conditions in Nigeria are poor. Life expectancy is 47 years (average male/female) and just over half the population has access to potable water and appropriate sanitation; the percentage is of children under five has gone up rather than down between 1990 and 2003 and infant mortality is 97.1 deaths per 1000 live births.

HIV/AIDS rate in Nigeria is much lower compared to the other African nations such as Kenya or South Africa whose prevalence (percentage) rates are in the double digits. Nigeria, like many developing countries, also suffers from a polio crisis as well as periodic outbreaks of cholera, malaria, and sleeping sickness. As of 2004, there has been a vaccination drive, spearheaded by the W.H.O., to combat polio and malaria that has been met with controversy in some regions.

Education is also in a state of neglect, though after the oil boom on the oil price in the early 1970s, tertiary education was improved so it would reach every subregion of Nigeria. Education is provided free by the government, but the attendance rate for secondary education is only 29% (average male 32%/female 27%). The education system has been described as "dysfunctional" largely due to decaying institutional infrastructure. 68% of the population is literate, and the rate for men (75.7%) is higher than that for women (60.6%).

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