Wednesday, 7 November 2012
NIGERIA – A COUNTRY SCORNED BY TUNDE ADELEYE
The age of reason or the Age of Enlightenment was considered by historians as the significant intellectual movement of the 18th century, predominantly in Europe and the American colonies. The philosophers and the oppressed people demanded for democratic change from the repressive ruling class, and ensured that “those who made peaceful change impossible made violent change inevitable”. The end result was the social revolutions that swept across Europe most notably the French Revolution of 1789 and the American War of Independence of 1776. In Latin America, it was a revolution that brought Fidel Castro of Cuba to power in 1959. In modern times, particularly in 2011, the Arab spring snowballed first in North Africa and led to a spate of revolutions in the Middle East. The purposeful disregard for the civil rights and liberties of people, and a breakdown in the Social Contract between the government and the people, was a justifiable reason to invite social uprisings from the oppressed people in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa.
The Social Contract, as it is applicable to Nigeria at present, seems to have broken down irretrievably. Never before has it become absolutely important to peer into the contraption called Nigeria with a microscope, even if successive visionless leaders at the helm have always found it an arduous task to undertake. On the one hand, a cursory look at her evolution despite being blessed with human and capital resources, even before independence - which was more political than economic - has always presented viewers, prone to a world view of objectivity and realism, as a country deep in the quicksand of economic stagnancy, steeped in retrogression and often caught up in the endless tussle and abuse of leadership. Of course, from the same microscope, we should not be surprised if a select few view Nigeria as a country of opportunism, where nation building is permanently placed on the back burner and sacrificed almost nonchalantly on the altar of an insatiable appetite for wealth and power.
With hindsight, I am not overtly perturbed and seriously keen to engage in the discourse regarding the controversial book by Professor Chinua Achebe entitled - There was a country. At best the book is a personal and historical narration of events that occurred during the Nigerian - Biafra civil war of 1967. The prolonged dialogue on the matter only serves to create a further chasm between the Igbos and the Yorubas, rather than making the divisiveness a more inclusive one to foster togetherness and unity. Notwithstanding the needless distraction that birthed the unnecessary ethnic mudslinging, to his credit, the author did offer some sound recommendations of a better Nigeria in the latter part of the book. Similarly, like millions of Nigerians, I'm more concerned about the worsening economic state of Nigeria. Where we are today as a country, is as a result of our thoughts and actions or inactions of yesterday.
As George Santayana remarked, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. But in moving forward, we must not allow ourselves to be stuck in history. It is like placing the entire blame of our lack of economic advancement at the doorstep of the colonial powers. It is not only a tiresome exercise; it is also an intellectually lazy approach at excusing the excesses of our inept successive rulers. History is particularly useful to learn lessons from the past as well as best practices of other societies. In the case of Nigeria, good leadership, adequate planning and prudent management of resources attached to nation building, has eluded this country right from inception. Rather than grasp and seriously tackle the way forward, we are forever looking back at history (as if that's where our help and progress as a country resides). In a country where bribery and corruption is entrenched in every sphere of the society; where a breakdown of law and order exists in a supposedly civilised society, it only ends up making a mockery of true democratic principles. In the absence of good governance, social amenities suffer. Where there is a dearth of industrial growth and investment in job creation, it leads to high rates of unemployment. As a result, the income and purchasing power of the average person is severely limited or undermined, leading to poverty. In the main, the cultural and social values which underpin society, particularly the family, begins to be affected adversely.
In Nigeria, the attainment of power is seen as a potent drug. It has the intoxicating feeling of elevating the body, mind and the head to greater heights of invincibility. Due to the allure that power and wealth commands, public office is no longer seen as a means to offer genuine service to the people. Not surprisingly, it has helped to encourage a system where Nigerians no longer seriously question the source of anybody’s wealth any more. It is everyman for himself, and whoever is caught is adjudged to be a thief. It is instructive to note that a vast majority of Nigerians are eagerly awaiting an opportunity to occupy a public position, where they are equally prepared to compromise their own beliefs, sell their soul and good upbringing, in order to amass as much wealth as possible. Even the ardent critics of rulers who abused power suddenly become different human beings once they assume the position of power themselves. They completely become consumed and overwhelmed by it. Once they fall into the same cesspit of political power, they become excessively drunk with it and insensitive to the plight of the common man. It is said that when one cries, one still retains the ability to see. Not so for power drunk rulers. Once they are infected with power, in their wisdom, it is permissible for them to lose all sense of objectivity, reasoning and hearing.
Power drunk rulers have rejected the truth and strangled it. They have sacrificed their conscience, mortgaged their soul and hardened their hearts. Their lust for wealth, fame and power has stained the purity of their character. Character should not be confused with personality. The former is bigger than the latter, because it is the sum total of honour, dignity and conscience that forms good character. Little wonder that character cannot be bought. It is priceless, for the simple reason that consistent self-discipline and self-control is required for anyone to develop greatness of character. For when a good person dies, regardless of all their wealth and power, the only thing that speaks well for them after their demise is character.
The relentless crave for wealth and power has increasingly allowed corruption in the society to grow into a cankerworm that continues to feed on our commonwealth. The EFCC and the ICPC, set up to combat crime, are simply decorated bulldogs who bark ferociously with a formidable voice but are toothless to attack. Criminality is now celebrated with fanfare to welcome any big shot from prison that had siphoned public funds into their private accounts. An assortment of Aso-ebi materials, thanksgiving service in the church followed by merrymaking, usually ends the theme of the day’s activities. On other occasions, as long as the perpetrator of the crime can negotiate his or her way out of prison with billions of naira, the criminal matter brought before the court is quashed. That is if the case file can be found once huge amounts of money has changed hands. Whilst some people blaze this trail of attaining power and wealth through political means, others dabble into ritualism and others choose the path of indiscriminately scamming people as a profession. Once power and wealth has been attained, these are the same people (some of them at least) when being subjected to a public search at the airport; or expected to join the queue in a public place; or asked by the receptionist in a company to wait like everyone else to see the CEO, would exclaim with a loud voice for all to hear; “Just imagine! Do you know who I am? I am Sir, Chief, Dr, X..... OFR, MON, JP, Esq. How dare you?”
Honesty has since been abandoned as the best policy. The society is now morally and socially bankrupt. We delude ourselves if we keep accusing only politicians and government officials of corruption. Almost everyone is looking to outsmart or out-think one another for pecuniary gain. Almost every Nigerian is corrupt in some way, from even the average Nigerian on the streets; the market seller of products; the mechanic, the driver; the house-girl/boy and maiguard in the house, etc; all looking to inflate expenses of items bought or sold in a bid to exploit the rich oga or madam for monetary purposes. Only on very rare occasions, would you find upright Nigerians who would return a bulk of money amounting to millions of naira forgotten in a taxi to the owner. Regardless, the concept of delayed gratification does not appeal to most Nigerians anymore. Patience is no longer a virtue. Instant wealth or success on the fast lane is now the most preferred option at the expense of anyone, including close relatives. Even some churches are now operating as commercial businesses. Admittedly, churches offer spiritual sanctuary to many church goers, especially to the downtrodden. However, some pastors end up exploiting their vulnerability, ignorance as well as their finances for their own personal gain. Whilst some of these pastors live in affluence, some members of their congregation live in abject poverty, yet prosperity preaching is being fed to them from the pulpit every Sunday.
We don’t seem to value ourselves, let alone want to add value to one another without expecting something back in return either in cash or in kind, as well as to wield power and oppress one another. It is not uncommon to see some men requesting for sexual favours before they can offer assistance to a vulnerable female who desperately needs to be helped. In addition, a class system – referred to as levels - and a strong network exists, whereby you are judged by big boys or senior girls either based on the way you dress, the type of car you drive, the area you reside, your profession or the fleet of businesses you have. Woe betide anyone (with the exception of a white expatriate) no matter how well dressed or well spoken, who arrives at a business meeting to secure a business contract and the CEO sees him off after the meeting, only to discover that he flagged down an Okada bike or Keke Napep to take him to his next destination. Branding is your marketing tool to sell your image to the corporate world. In Nigeria, you either have it or you are ruthlessly relegated to the background.
In the 1980's, the brain drain exodus to the Diaspora of talented professional Nigerians occurred. Not content with the "checking out" syndrome, Nigerians seemed to have upped their game, according to a satirical but factual analysis that made the rounds over the internet some months back. It observed that "When Nigerians steal money, they keep it in Swiss Bank. When businesses want to relocate, they choose either Ghana or South Africa. When they’re sick they go to India or Germany. When they want to invest they go to America. When they want to buy mansions they buy in London or Canada. For shopping, they go to Dubai. For holidays, Paris is the preferred destination. When they want to repent, they go to Israel or Saudi Arabia. But when they die they all want to be buried in Nigeria". It is really a sad indictment on our beleaguered polity. It's a case of if you can't beat them, you join them. After all, what is good for the goose is equally good for the gander. Everyone wants to enjoy the highlife rather than endure life, and since there's only one life, we may as well enjoy it if we can afford it in a foreign country.
With every passing era, the times are changing fast. Either positively or negatively, the lifestyles of many Nigerians, their practices or their beliefs are changing, so too is the wide gulf between the rich and the poor. In all ramifications, our cultural heritage which made us unique as a people is being gradually eroded by Western influences and vices. It is a form of unconscious rebellion against the cultural norms inherent in our society that moulds our beliefs and way of life as a people. We want to copy and doggedly imbibe foreign cultures, but we don’t want to copy their organized system, business ethics, excellent time management, integrity and prudent management of human and capital resources. We also prefer imported products so much that we wouldn’t settle for any lesser item unless it is a designer product, no thanks to our ailing local industries. We even import designer rice worth billions of naira annually that we could easily grow ourselves at home. We abandoned our own football league and instead, have become so addicted to the English Premier League that the passion and energy we throw into it makes you wonder if we are being paid for our arm-chair football analysis. That is if the ensuing conversation does not degenerate into a heated argument leading to a free for all fight.
Conversely, respect for elders nowadays is either half baked or non-existent. Kneeling down and prostrating as a form of greeting is considered archaic and belongs to the old school era. This is the new age, an era of youthful exuberance, with flash and swagger underlying the tone of their new found unbridled freedom and independence. As the world continues to evolve, we shouldn’t be surprised at the level of change that is evident with the present generation. Certainly, if previous generations felt the same way, the present generation will also be appalled at the attitude of the coming generation. It has been like that from one era to another.
Today, it is deeply dismaying when you observe what some young girls wear that passes for a funky outfit. They flaunt their bodies with a “shake what mama gave me” type of attitude. The same can be said of boys with sagging trousers almost dropping off their bums. Similarly, our language is dying a slow and painful death and it is diminishingly unlikely that things will go back to the way they once were. The new generation of teenagers can hardly muster nor sustain a conversation in their local dialect, let alone speak it fluently without interjecting their sentences with English phrases. To appear sophisticated, we would rather adopt a foreign accent, no matter how fake, to address our peers. Anyone who happens to accompany a friend or relative travelling to the US or UK and spends about an hour to see him or her off at the MMA international airport, suddenly develops a foreign accent by the time he arrives back home that same day. Tongue twisting phrases such as “Ya’ll”, “Wha’rever”, “I’m gonna”, “I wanna”, “You know worra mean”, “Twenny”, “Hospirul”, “Parry” and other foreign swear words have now been added to our lingua franca. Some youths who lived most of their lives in Nigeria and were fortunate to reside in the US or UK, assume or change their native names to foreign names, from Chukwudi to Chuck, Bilikisu to Bill, Rafiu to Ralph, Salimotu to Sally, etc.
By the time they arrive back to Nigeria after a sojourn of 10 years in the US, they don’t wish to lose the yanky accent in a hurry. Whilst hailing a hired taxi at Surulere, the JJC calls out his destination with an American accent: “Yo! Man, Pappi Jao, Pappi Jao. You dig?” The taxi man, elated at the prospect of extorting a high fee from the JJC, may respond by saying “Enter, na N5k naira o”. To which the indigenous Nigerian is compelled to come out of the JJC when he protests “Haba, na Papa Ajao for Mushin you wan collect N5k, you don see mugu. Abeg clear!”
No doubt, Nigeria is a complex country with a particularly complex breed of people. We are a people composed of a multitude of tribes, and it is a pity that we are unable to converge and tackle the process of nation building with a collective resolve at sustainable economic development. In equal measure, there is something seriously wrong in Nigeria, even with an embarrassment of so many natural and human resources all of which still remains largely untapped. Everybody knows it. Yet the brutal and undeniable truth is that there's a great disconnect between those who will do anything to preserve the status-quo, and those who are bent on destroying it. We have lost our humanity when our rulers turn a deaf ear to the plight and cries of its people. They do not seem to value the life of its own citizens, seeing it as collateral damage for all they care. The catalogue of incidents such as air disasters, religious killings and acts of barbarism, has ended up being swept under the carpet by the government and allowed only a fleeting remembrance in our collective consciousness. Any probe commissioned by the federal government, via a committee set up to investigate any of these incidents, is usually tucked away and the recommendations never implemented. It is business as usual as if nothing happened. End of story.
As a country, we need to ask far reaching questions on why Nigeria has not fully maximized the great potential she undoubtedly possesses. Where did it really go wrong? Could the assessment be correct then that our successive rulers have never taken nation building and the management of resources seriously enough leading to bad governance, ineptitude, social decay and institutionalized corruption? Or perhaps, and I’ll allude to this, they never fully grasped what the mechanics of leadership and management really entails?
In truth, despair, disease, destitution, disaster and destruction and the infamous advanced fee fraud 419, are the negative phrases employed by the West to portray a bad image of Africa and our stunted economic development. Transparency and accountability is a far cry from political and corporate governance. Whilst some people may disagree with this stereotype, it still does not remove the fact that many people in Nigeria are suffering under the weight of economic mismanagement which inevitably has led to social decadence. Many Nigerians have lost hope for the present as well as for the future betterment of Nigeria should the crippling social and economic situation continue unabated. Untold hardship and many years of toiling without anything to show for it have sapped their strength and the ability to struggle any further. Ironically, we are adjudged to be the happiest and most religious people on earth. Lately, a character called Akpos has been providing comic relief to many Nigerians via the Internet and smart phones. In addition, sports, entertainment, Nollywood films and partying seem to create a bond of togetherness and a temporary relief to mask the struggle they continue to endure.
Yet in the midst of the palpable gloom that continues to envelope Nigeria, some youths still find an avenue to dream. The unquestionable perception that Nigerians are industrious and will latch on to an opportunity if given the chance is not misplaced. Ours is a country that is not devoid of talent. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see many youths aspiring to be self sufficient and independent. Two prime examples of their demonstrable talent can be seen in the movie, entertainment and comedy industry that gulps staggering returns in millions of dollars annually. There are other notable entrepreneurship examples of small scale businesses borne out of ingenuity such as the pure water and mobile toilet businesses.
The potential for a great Nigeria can still happen as long as hope of her greatness can still be retained by Nigerians. If a country like Ghana was able to overcome a period of economic gloom that affected it in the 1980’s, and South Africa was able to see out a turbulent apartheid era, I see no reason why Nigeria cannot achieve the same economic progress. Presently, the only way the economic problems can be sorted out is if we strive to correct the mess we created ourselves. No one is going to do that for us. As history has authoritatively informed us, change is not given free when demanded. It has always been wrestled and taken out of the grasp of oppressors who have refused to back down to the will of the people. There are no quick fix solutions to the numerable problems afflicting Nigeria. Change can happen in incremental stages in our society, but only if we are seriously desirous of change and have the character of mind to accommodate it.
Evidently, we have chosen to be passive rather than reactive to the dilemma facing this country. We would rather leave everything to prayer and fasting. In biblical times, even those two spiritual acts were not enough to topple Pharaoh when he refused to let the Israelites go. We seem content to bask in the hopelessness of Nigeria’s dire economic situation that seems to lurch from one wholesale problematic crisis to another. We forget that we hold our destiny in our hands. Not even wishful thinking, without positive action can ever make it go away. What continues to defeat my understanding is that the democratic principles of sound governance in advanced countries, which we claim to mirror, are a great departure to how we practice it in our own country. Sure, Rome was not built in a day. A foundation was laid and it was built brick by brick. In the case of Nigeria, our rulers seem to be laying the foundation, placing one brick after another until a fence is erected, only to use a bulldozer to destroy it and start all over again. A case of one step forward, ten steps backwards. Yet, we cannot continue to be passive with a siddon look approach. We have to keep talking and demanding for democratic change. As Martin Luther King Jr. said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.
The issue of leadership, corruption, unequal distribution of resources and the failure to practice true federalism has always been the bane of Nigeria. We need progressive leaders who have vision, the ability to plan and to execute policies effectively for the betterment of its citizens. My Nigerian dream is to live in a country that has a functional and organized system. With this system, everything else falls into place, but attitudinal change in Nigerians as well as the management of human and natural resources has to be fully harnessed to make the system work. My dream is that one day Nigeria will arrive at the summit of greatness, where bad governance will be replaced with social justice, equality, shared prosperity for all and an environment where every Nigerian has the opportunity to thrive. Re-branding Nigeria is not costly. All hands must be on deck to improve Nigeria's image. We cannot afford to entrust it alone to our rulers. Everyone has a role to play. We must be the light rather than curse the darkness. For now, collectively we can only dream for a better Nigeria. But the only way to make our dreams come true for Nigeria to become great is to wake up.
Tunde Adeleye is a Management Consultant, Pulic Speaker and a Social Commentator.