I have struggled all day with writing a post on Nigeria’s 53rd independence anniversary. I have struggled because I am compelled to say the truth (as I know and see it) when I write. I have struggled because the truth here is not pleasant. I have struggled because as a nation we are struggling. But, I am an incurable optimist and more than that, I am a believer! So you know what? I am going to highlight 5 things I love about Nigeria (because there is a lot to love) and then address 5 things I wish I could change about Nigeria. I am hoping that when you are done reading, you’ll have more to add to your list of what you love and hopefully you’d have come up with your list of things you’d like to change and develop a strategy for changing even 1. If we all did that, we’ll be steps closer to having better feelings when her 54th Anniversary draws closer.
5 things I love about Nigeria:
1. The diversity of her people: I am from the middle belt, grew up in the North, as a young adult I lived in Onitsha, in Eastern Nigeria and I now live in the South. Nigerians are different- in ideology, in looks, in our lifestyles, in the food we eat… We are different but our differences are beautiful! The Fulani’s and their unique wedding ceremonies, the Tiv and their distinctive black and white aso-oke, the Igbo’s and their forthrightness of speech and thought regarding commerce, the Hausa’s and the beauty of life in the North (you cannot beat Ramadan in the North, as kids, every house you went, you were given hampers of food, soft drinks, even money). The Yorubas and their beautiful wedding ceremonies and aso-ebi’s (I have to do another blog post about weddings in Nigeria, imagine my shock when I found out that in Yoruba land, the girl’s family pays for the wedding! Where I am from, the groom pays for the wedding and in some parts of the North, he even brings both gold and silver coins…). I love the diversity of Nigeria’s people.
2. Her abundant resources: in minerals, in oil, in gas (we are actually a gas nation with a drop of oil! Imagine that! This oil that we’ve lived on since a year before our independence is small compared to how much gas we have). There’s gold in Kwara and some states in the North, bitumen in Lagos, Ondo & Ogun. Uranium in Cross River, Taraba and Kano, I could go on and on but Nigeria’s best and most important resources are her people!
Yes you. I love Nigerians, our resilience, our ingenuity, our ability to hope for a tomorrow that’s bright in spite of the harsh realities of today. We are happy, we are strong! We celebrate as if there is no tomorrow, we throw a great party. We are proud, we know there’s something inside of us. Scratch our surface and you hear “do you know who I am?” Put us in NASA and we win awards, we have Nobel Laurettes, wonderful writers, we are brilliant! Nigerian doctors are doing great world-wide, we thrive in such difficult educational institutes in Nigeria, and so when we go to schools overseas where your Lecturers actually want you to understand and do well, we become outstanding. I had a teacher in University who used to say “A is for God, B is for me, C’s are for the best of the best and all the rest are for you”. I mean, I read my behind off, for his course but looking back on that I wonder if he even understood what he was in an institute of higher learning for? To keep “A” for God? How then did he score himself as a teacher?
3. The food!: I am sorry, I am a self-confessed foodist and Nigeria has the absolute best (to my Nigerian pallete)- from kunun zaki from the North (a drink made from millet and sweet potatoes), or efo-riro with iru and pieces of pkomo cut into it, or ofen sala, or edikiakong cooked by a Calabar woman. Or gbegiri cooked by a woman from Kogi (no, the Yoruba’s don’t actually own that one, they mix it with ewedu). Nigeria has good rich, savory food!
4. The freedom of worship: that we are allowed to worship, have religion and call God (when necessary and even when not! My goodness, nowadays when people say “to God” or “true to God” (both Nigerian expressions calling God to witness the truth of their statements), you can almost be certain they are lying! Lol, sorry about that, it’s just my observation. But the nation that we currently are, this freedom is key. I often wonder what our churches will preach about when we have free hospitals, free education, easy mortgages to buy cars and the like… all the special break through services- “you will be rich” “my car must come this year”- will no longer be necessary, and maybe then we can move into giving the meat of the Word!
5. Her National Anthems: since I became an adult and fully took in the words of our National Anthem, I cry every time I hear it sung. Verses like “one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity”. Like “direct our noble cause”, like “in love and honesty to grow and living just and true”, “great lofty heights attain, to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign”. Like “though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”, like “help us build a nation where no man is oppressed and so with peace and plenty, Nigeria may be blessed”. When I hear these words and think of current realities, pain sears through my heart. I imagine the hope of the people who chose those words, I think of the young nation, looking forward to self-determination, hopeful and expectant of a bright future, I think that Nigeria must be like a bride who married her groom and took to heart all his promises to protect her, love her and honour, but who is now, battered, violated and flagrantly cheated upon… That she must be totally heart-broken.
5 things I wish I could change about Nigeria:
1. The “Me above We” mentality: this one absolutely stumps me, in all the talk about who our next President should be come 2015, I have not heard anyone talk about the vision for a united Nigeria, talk about I see a Nigeria where 70% of her people do not wonder where their next meal will come from… Instead all I hear is “it is our turn” “it is not your turn”. No vision, no plan, no what/who is best for NIGERIA! No objective evaluation of what the nation needs and how we will work to give her what she needs. I don’t know how we can build a great nation if we are always divided across tribal lines.
2. The degree of poverty we face: poverty is relative, the poor in America are not the same as the poor in Nigeria for example. What worries me about poverty in Nigeria is how wide chasm is between those who have and those who don’t. Sitting in Lagos traffic sometimes, I see jeeps pass by with children in it watching DVD’s in the car, and I watch children of the same age, running alongside those cars hawking food items. There are still parts of this Nation where women give birth in hospitals by candle light… Still 60 to 70% of our people who live under N160 (a dollar) a day! Really? A dollar? For these there are no schools, no hospitals, no food, how now? Haba! We really need to change this and cannot leave it to government alone, that’s why I believe in entrepreneurship as well but that’s subject of another post.
3. The insidious corruption: I won’t go into a diatribe about this but let me just tell you that every time you go one-way instead of getting into traffic, every time you “expedite” something you need from a government official, even jump a queue- you are part of the problem. You are cutting corners to get to your destination because the traffic is too much, the corrupt government worker is cutting corners to get wealthy because it takes too long, and you know what? Corruption causes planes to fall from the sky too- it is not only lack of maintenance, it is corruption that causes the person who should inspect and ground a plane to get overlook “minor” faults in exchange for some money or tickets for his family. It is because public officials need to siphon money that you do not have hospitals and schools for your kids. It is corruption that has kept us without electricity and raised the cost of doing business in Nigeria by 60%.
4. The resource curse! You have crude oil, you import petroleum products. Need I say more?
5. One of the other things I really wish I could change has been very eloquently explained by Chimamanda Adichie in her book Americanah, through a character called Obinze. He was thinking- in relation to some of his white friends, that “they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him… resolved to leave Nigeria… merely hungry for choice and certainty”. The oppressive lethargy of choicelessness! That tugs at my heart- put a gathering of Nigerians together anywhere in the world and talk long enough, the topic of what ails Nigeria always comes up and we usually talk and moan but most conversations end with “God help us” or “it is well”. You leave feeling disempowered because it feels like there is nothing you can do, they seem overwhelming.
Having said all that, I am a believer, an optimist and I am Nigerian! So I believe this is not our end, those things I wish I could change will change and more. I will close by telling you about the Nigeria I see. “I see a Nigeria that is the best place to be born in the world. I see a Nigeria where the playing field is equal and everyone is judged on his Individual merit. I see a Nigeria where children can be children- where they play, are educated, have hospital care and look forward to their futures with pride and hope. I see a Nigeria lit up with electricity, where businesses thrive, where this hard-working nation of people are rewarded for their work. I see a Nigeria where children can go to school without fear of being shot in their sleep! Where we can all still be different but tolerant and thrive, each complementing the other. I see a Nigeria whose resources are fully utilised- oil, people, crude, tourism, even language. I see a country that’s not only beautiful to look at but beautiful to live in. I see peace, I see unity, I see wealth, I see people whose minds are lifted above basic human needs to “lofty heights” and changing the world.” I see so much but I’ll stop here. Tell me, what do you see? What do you love and what will you change? Happy Independence. We are not helpless! Be the change you want to see, be part of the solution and slowly, one action at a time, we will start to re-direct our nation towards the noble cause. Ciao! Be awesome this week!