20 Apr 2013

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By Ekerete Udoh

I woke up this morning in my hotel room in Cape Town, South Africa, angry, disconsolate and depressed. I am depressed, because from what I have seen since I arrived South Africa about a week ago, we sure have a long way to go and the painful aspect is that we shouldn’t be playing catch-up at all to any nation in Africa, given the depth of our endowments and the resources – human and natural that God had so generously endowed us with.

Having lived in a developed world, the United States of America,  for over a decade now and having been privileged to travel the length and crannies of the world, I have conditioned my mind to accepting certain infrastructural challenges in my country and to be more understanding of the efforts to fix and handle those deficiencies. But when one goes to another country that falls within the geographical sphere of a “developing” continent and what you find is rather a developed country that can compare to any you have seen in the developed world, you begin to be angry at the manner the resources of your country which would have ensured such or more advanced level of infrastructural amenities that abound in such a country, your anger becomes magnified.

As a proud Nigerian who likes to display that unique Nigerian aplomb, the confidence that sometimes border on arrogance, I must confess here that I am humbled by what I have seen in South Africa. What is going on in my country? Why have we sacrificed and betrayed the cardinal principle of the common good? Why are we content to accepting mediocrity when excellence and zero- tolerance to such behavior should be our watch-word? Why are we not sufficiently angry at what has become the state of our development and be propelled and motivated by that impulse of anger to tackle our challenges and raise our standard of living to meet at least the basic level that other lesser countries in Africa have since overcome?

I had arrived South Africa last Saturday at the invitation of a friend, who is a top official in the South African government, and had served as a member of the constitutional conference that wrote the current South African constitution. We had met last February during a United Nations event in New York, and impressed with the coverage my newspaper-The Diasporan Star had provided his delegation, my friend had asked me to come to South Africa and see, explore and report my observations. I had accepted the offer, and had informed him that in the course of my trip top Nigeria, I would create space and time to take a quick dash to South Africa. And that promise was fulfilled last Saturday when I boarded the South African Airways from Lagos to Johannesburg, filled with great expectations.

My first taste of what to expect in South Africa was manifested by the professionalism that the Cabin Crew exhibited. As we landed at the Oliver Tambo International airport in Johannesburg a little over six hours later, the ambience I saw reminded me of any large-size international airport in the United States. The arrival terminal and the amenities are world class and right there, my mind went back to the organised chaos I had experienced a few hours earlier at the main airport in my country-Murtala Mohammed Airport. Here, at the Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, everything worked in order and in strict precision.

Hitting the road to my hotel at Hilton, Sandton, I, again was mesmerised by the beautiful road network and the level of infrastructural development. I couldn’t help but confess to my host that driving along the highways of Johannesburg, reminded me of driving on I 95, which is a major highway that links the entire East Coast of the United States. I immediately recalled my nightmarish and suicidal road trip I embarked from Abuja to Port Harcourt last December, which I wrote about on this page, and my anger became magnified. How did South Africa build such an enduring and modern road network while thousands of lives are lost daily on potholes- filled roads that millions of Naira had been expended and the contractors simply did a shoddy job and no one paid the price for misappropriating the tax payer’s money?

Since I arrived here, electricity has been constant and impressed, I asked my host if power has ever gone out and he said it is most unlikely. Even if such were to happen, it would be due to natural situations, like hurricane which is not a South African problem. Put simply, there is uninterrupted electricity in South Africa and the people have come to expect nothing less than that. “First time I came to Lagos, I was shocked by the darkness that had descended upon the city and I couldn’t image how people lived under such conditions and they tolerated it. It can’t happen here in south Africa” my host had told me.

From Johannesburg to Pretoria and Cape Town, I saw a majestic country that the whites had built and the succeeding ANC administration had striven to maintain and even improve upon. I know some people may say the country was built by whites who never dreamed of turning it over to the blacks, but while the whites built their country, Nigeria also had the resources and opportunity to have built a much more advanced country than South Africa. What happened? Why did we fritter away our resources on things that did not add value to our collective well-being? Why is our leadership not angry with what they see in Nigeria? Why can’t we begin to expect nothing but the best practices in all our national endeavor? Why can’t our leadership take a cue from what an angry leader in Governor Godswill Akpabio has done in Akwa Ibom State where he has transformed a rural state into a modern state with advanced infrastructural amenities- a fact that  was celebrated at the recently concluded Commonwealth Law Conference in Cape Town, South Africa by no other person than the immediate past President of Commonwealth Lawyers Association-Nigeria’s own Boma Ozobia  who  had singled out the governor’s Uncommon Transformation for praise, stating that” Akwa Ibom state of Nigeria, has provided eloquent testimony to how the dividends of democracy can be appropriated.”

From what I saw in South Africa, we Nigerians should demand from our leaders certain degree of anger- we can’t and shouldn’t have leaders who do things the same way. We need leaders who are angry and offended by the rot in our system and are thus determined to fundamentally change the way things are done. We should look for leaders who are in a hurry to build this country and make it the shining example of the ingenuity of the black race. Why should we settle for mediocrity? Why should we be content with traveling to organized societies and buying homes form those countries while our nation is a slight improvement from the medieval age in terms of infrastructural upgrade? I am mad as hell and Nigerians too, should be mad. We deserve better, we deserve to have a country that we should be proud of, we deserve a leadership that should draw a line in the sand and challenge every one to put the nation first above our pecuniary drives. When my host asked me to challenge our leaders to do more, because he believes in the leadership role that Nigeria plays in Africa, I felt an added impetus to call our leaders to carpet and going forward, that is going to be my charge. I am mad and mad as hell!

Governor Akpabio wows the audience at Commonwealth Law Conference, Cape Town, South Africa

In a measured voice and cadence that is usually associated with broadcasters, Governor Godswill Akpabio presented an address as the Chairperson at the closing ceremonies that marked the Commonwealth Law conference that took place at the Cape Town’s International Conference Center from April 14 to the 18th.

Flanked by the Right Honourable, The Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Ms. Boma Ozobia, the Outgoing President of the association, and other legal luminaries, Governor Akpabio asked the packed audience of the brightest legal minds to always ensure that the sentence of truth is applied in all their legal dealings. The governor spoke of the triumph of the rule of law in Nigeria and briefly touched on what his administration has done to improve the human condition in his state. He finally introduced The Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, who was the keynote speaker.

The five –day conference was attended by  leading lawyers drawn from the Commonwealth of Nations including the chief Justices . One participant had likened the conference to the “Grammys of Commonwealth lawyers.” Governor Akpabio who is also a lawyer by profession was selected as keynote speaker as a proud example of an agent of change who also happens to be an attorney.
The next conference will take place in Glasgow, England

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