By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, there are two countries Nigeria must seek to emulate if we ever plan to move forward from our permanent state of inertia. Those countries, India and China share several things in common with us. The first is their huge population. Even if Nigeria is only a small proportion of those countries, we are still the biggest Black nation on earth. We are big enough to ensure that wherever four to six Blacks are gathered in the world, there must be a Nigerian among them. Our influence and relevance lie not in our oil and gas, and other natural deposits, but in our incredible manpower.
However, we are not just people of quantity we are a people of outstanding quality. You cannot fail to identify a Nigerian in any crowd. Our swagger marks us out as a race as proud and colourful as the peacock. We are brave and confident. We were born to fly and rule our world. And we do. We conquer far-flung territories with our guts and dare-devilry but hardly are we able to replicate same at home. Check out most of the blue chip companies the world over; Nigerians are on top somewhere, and somehow. I doubt if God awarded us such a lofty position for the fun of it. He must have considered us very special. There is nowhere you go and won’t meet Nigerians doing great or bad things. It is not our fault. It is impossible to have our type of population and not discover many great peoplebut also a few rotten eggs that scandalise the majority. Those few irritants are bound to splash some odoriferous fragrance on the rest of us.
It is the same problem with the Indians and the Chinese who have been called all sorts of unprintable names by those who probably marvel at what makes them tick. None could be more dastardly than the reckless insults hurled at the Chinese by the Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney who blames China for every woe ever suffered by the United States of America.
I can feel the pain and agony of the Chinese because Nigeria has suffered immensely, and endlessly, from such stereotypes. The difference in my view is the fact that our own leaders have done little or nothing to disabuse the minds of those who see us as the direct descendants of monkeys because we sometimes behave like baboons in reality. How else can one explain our abject backwardness with all that God has endowed us with? I’m yet to see any oil-rich nation as poverty-stricken as ours.
It is not enough bemoaning our woes in the hands of those haters, it is absolutely necessary to do something about the terrible problems we’ve created with our own hands. I have no doubt these issues can be addressed and sorted quickly if we are fortunate to have that one man at the top who’s determined to succeed where others have failed. The man must be willing and ready to fight the status quo and inconvenience himself in the process. What we find here are pretentious leaders who think more of self than their nation or fellow citizens. As a result of their incompetence and myopic attitude, it now seems there can never be a solution to our gargantuan problems.
We only talk and talk and forget that we cannot wish away those terrible conditions without positive action. We must investigate why those who have suffered all their lives get to power and quickly think they can make up for their deprived upbringing by bastardising their privileged position. Why is it that even the most renowned critics get readily and easily sucked into the cesspit of corruption as soon as they attain power? What is this obsession with the allure and appurtenances of power? On the surface of it, it seems Nigeria is irredeemable.
Many have argued with me that it is absolutely foolish of anyone to think he can change the bad ways of Nigerian leaders. The rot they say is like a gangrenous wound that can never be sanitised again. The corruption is so entrenched and cannot be uprooted they say. Such people often submit that a patronage valve has been built into our political system and those who fail to fit in to that space would be forcefully ejected. Theoretically, they seem right.
But I have a different thesis. There is nothing so peculiar about us that accords us a monopoly of madness. Our difficulties are not as insurmountable or testing as they appear. They are enormous, no doubt, but solvable too. Ours could not have been more intractable than that of India, China, Japan, Germany, Israel, Russia, Lebanon, Singapore, Australia, Brazil and others.
All the nations of the world went through their tough moments. The Second World War ended less than 70 years ago and the world has risen above the superstitions and ignorance that gave birth to such monumental calamity.
Even in Africa, we used to think South Africa was hell on earth and we never imagined at a point that apartheid could ever be crushed in our own lifetime. Kenya went through its Mau Mau struggle and many are still bearing the scars till these days but Kenyans are marching on with pride and dignity even if it is not yet total uhuru. We all remember the story of Ghana when the old Gold Coast was virtually reduced to a beggarly nation. But before our very eyes, Ghana has become one of the hottest destinations in Africa. Many multinational companies are flying over-head and ignoring us to go set up their headquarters in a country that has made appreciable effort to put its act together.
Can we ever forget the war of attrition in Angola that killed and maimed so many thousands? Or is it possible to obliterate the genocide that wiped out millions in Rwanda? But those countries are rising above those tragedies and growing at a rate we can hardly fathom in our clime. Even in Sierra Leone and Liberia where Charles Taylor and his goons wreaked indescribable havoc not too long ago, life is on the rebound and the people are struggling to build monuments out of the rubbles of conflict. In the tiny country of The Gambia, a diminutive dictator has managed to build one of the best tourist destinations in Africa. Even in Niger Republic, where our security experts are suspecting Boko Haram insurgents to be secretly ensconced somewhere, they are building refineries while we are literally pouring petrol and setting fire on our own dollars in the name of nebulous subsidies. Next door in Benin Republic, the world’s biggest ships are able to dock and offload their cargo while we are unable to offer, or deliberately frustrate the presence, of such facilities at home. President Yayi Boni who six years ago was just a banker in Togo has virtually become the toast of Africa by dint of hard work and the magnitude of his vision.
When I met Samuel Sarr, a Senegalese by birth who was resident in The Gambia over 12 years ago, he told me it was possible to have electricity round the clock in West African countries. He was barely 35 at the time, and I thought then that he was suffering from youthful idealism and exuberance. Thereafter, Samuel headed back to his country Senegal and joined hands with others to make the impossible possible. Senegal currently ranks among the countries that enjoy stable power-supply.
When I spoke with Professor Barth Nnaji two weeks ago, he re-echoed Samuel Sarr’s sentiment and uncommon faith that there’s nothing in our gene that disqualifies us from enjoying regular electricity in Nigeria. We have not offended God in any exceptional manner to warrant being punished exclusively with stark raving darkness. What is required to make things happen is not rocket science as we tend to portray it here. We do not have to invite Angels from heaven to give us light of an ethereal nature. We have abundant human and natural resources to achieve our needs and much more. It should not even be considered a favour to fix the problem when the rest of the world has virtually moved on beyond those challenges.
I can go on and on giving copious examples of poorer nations leaving us behind and forging ahead effortlessly. But my main interest is to assure us that it can be done. We must plead with our leaders to wake up and do the right things. A leader does not even need any special clue to achieve success in governance. Most of the things we need have been manufactured by others and made available to whosoever is ready to pay.
Unfortunately, we still get short-changed after paying more than necessary for most services because our leaders are only too willing to be compromised. The quality of roads being built for us by the so-called construction giants is certainly inferior to what the same companies would deliver in Europe at cheaper prices, yet we accept these substandard roads unquestionably. We must have pity on our nation and insist on value for money. No matter the pecuniary gains we make from over-inflated and abandoned contracts, we must all account to God one day. We cannot carry all the stolen funds to Jerusalem and Mecca in the hope that God can be bribed. Do not be fooled, because God cannot be hoodwinked.
The profligacy of those in power must be curbed. Their animalistic greed must make reasonable human beings cringe with embarrassment. We claim not to have resources for badly-needed projects yet possess enough to indulge in personal fantasies and frivolities.
The lessons I learnt from India and China is that while the whole world mocked them, they kept working with a clear vision of what they want to be in the future. China has climbed to the number two spot in the world. Some will even accord them the status of the world’s number one nation. You can call them names but the Chinese have shown that there is dignity in labour. Notwithstanding that the Chinese would deliver whatever quality you’re willing to pay for, they are a match for any qualitative manufacturer in the world.
The Indians are not lagging far behind. Even if they have not reached the level the Chinese have attained, they are moving on slowly and steadily. They are re-colonising the world with their products and medical tourism in particular. Those who cannot afford the treatment of Harley Street are flying to India to seek amazing succour from wizards of medicine. The talismans of old have yielded way to modern inventions. For many years, the Indians sought education in the best schools abroad and returned home to replicate what they saw and learnt. The best universities in the world parade Chinese and Indian whiz kids.
It is now our own time to study how these folks who were once treated with total disdain began to attract attention to their unparalleled progress and now command the respect and awe of us all. When we have properly done so, maybe we will start embarking on the long arduous journey to the Eldorado we pray Nigeria will become because of the human and natural resources God has blessed us with.