by Lucky Onyema Egede
There was once a nation called Nigeria. It existed in the past. Men were reasonable and both the leaders and their subjects found happiness in their work. Merit was respected. People attained positions based on merit.
Students prepared for and passed examinations on merit. I was born in that nation and I lived and grew up in a nation where the children of the poorest of the poor could get public school education and compete with any person from anywhere in the world. Yes, there was such a country that looks today like a fairy tale. When there was a prize for the best graduating student, a student can aspire for it, prepare for that prize and actually get it. Products of her educational system were fit for employment anywhere in the world. Canadians and British white citizens came to Universities of Ife and Ibadan among others on students exchange program.
That nation truly existed in the past. It was called Nigeria where people went to public hospitals and were sure to get medical attention. The medical schools produced some of the finest medical personnel that served and are still serving in the finest hospitals in the world. Those people did not have to be born to any politician or civil servant. Their parents were happy peasant farmers who did their best to contribute to nation-building.
This is no fairy tale, I was once in a country called Nigeria where roads were good and travel by road was a great pleasure and opportunity to taste the diverse food culture of the tribes. In that country, it was great to crisscross by road in public transport operated with reliable brand-new vehicles that were manufactured in the same country. The people did not have tons of money but they were contented and reasonably satisfied.
In the Nigeria that existed in the past, there were, at a time three regions and at another time four regions not trying to run each other out of existence but doing its best to develop faster than the other regions. The competition was healthy and the world celebrated that nation for its great diversity. The western region was the world leader in cocoa bean production, the northern region was the world leader in groundnut production, eastern and midwestern regions were famous for palm production. We may have studied that a time was when Malaysia came to understudy Nigeria palm production and took seedlings from the National Institute for Oil Palm Research (NISOR) in the then Mid-Western region of Nigeria. It is no fairy tale. It is no tale by moonlight. It happened.
A country called Nigeria existed with a respectable currency. There was a half kobo coin that you could take to a restaurant and come out full. Yes, eighty kobos exchanged for one United States Dollar. Old Nigeria was an exporter of both crude and refined petroleum products, exporter of coal, groundnuts, palm oil, cocoa among others. It was also a manufacturing country that produced motor vehicles like Peugeot in Kaduna, Volkswagon from Lagos, Leyland from Ibadan, Steyr tractors from Bauchi, and Mercedes trucks from Anambra.
There was a country called Nigeria that manufactured Vono foam products, tyres, glass, bicycles, she produced her textiles and more. State-owned Odua group of companies intervened in so many areas of human existence, Wemabod estate for industrial estates and housing development were all pride of the nation.
There was a country called Nigeria. The green passport had the stamp “a citizen of Nigeria has a status of a commonwealth citizen”. The green passport took you to several countries without a visa or visa on arrival. A citizen of Nigeria was doing you a favor if he visits your country. There was nothing any country could offer that he did not already have at home.
There was no need to import anything, our electric cables from Nigeria Wire and Cable Ibadan was reputed as the best in the world, Exide batteries, Berec batteries, Dunlop and Michelin tyres, textile materials were all produced in Nigeria and we wore our clothes with pride.
Nigeria was the place for all displaced people of Africa. Many young people see a kind of bag referred to as Ghana-must-go and only know it as a bag for transporting bribes to government offices. That name originated from the emergency deportation of Ghanaians from Nigeria. Menial and odd jobs that Nigerians were too well-placed to take up were taken up by Ghanaians.
The brief above is not meant to bore you with lamentations of the fall of the mighty. You and I know that the nation described above is history. It does not exist anymore. Your passport now carries “Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)”. Even the ECOWAS passport does not guarantee you a comfortable reception in greater ECOWAS countries like Ghana. When Nigerian is mentioned anywhere in the world today, the first thing that comes to mind is criminality. This status is detested by all Nigerians including the criminal elements among us but it is a reputation that was not thrust on us because we are hated by others. We earned it and we can as well change our reputation across the world. Old Nigeria died in installments. It will not resurrect in a day, it has to also come to life in installments. Just like we did not notice it was dying by the unconscious act of unreasonable and greedy men, we will not notice immediately, the impact of little efforts of individuals when we chose the path of reasonability.
I recall the first literature book I read in class one in my college days was Sugar Girl (Ralia) by Kola Onadipe. The summary of it was if you do not know where you are going, you must know where you are coming from. I have taken time to detail where we are coming from. We may look at how we got to where we are today.
Corruption may be the single word to describe all that we are plagued by. Yes. One word that has changed our culture and nailed the coffin of our collective destiny. One word that has changed our reputation across the world, yes only one word that killed all public institutions, infrastructure, and facilities. One word that killed all industries and made unemployment a norm. One factor that killed our educational institutions and made our graduates unemployable. It is a big factor that has robbed us of food on our tables.
We had a national anthem that said “though tribes and tongues may differ, in brotherhood we stand” and “our flag shall be a symbol that truth and justice reigns” and again “O God of creation, help us to build a nation where no man is oppressed and so with peace and plenty, Nigeria may be blessed”. Whoever thought of changing this national anthem was in my opinion ill-advised. A nation where no man is oppressed is a nation where merit is the basis for an appointment, tribe and religion will not be the basis for discrimination. It is not possible to have such a nation and not have peace and plenty.
There are recent arguments that youths need to take over the rein of our nation. There is also a counter-argument that those who entered as youths are there today contributing to the decay of the nation. You do not build a nation because you are young or old. You build because you are reasonable. Why will a governor with senses intact collect N750b monthly in the name of security votes and transfer more than half of that every month to countries that his country is borrowing from? He just has to be unreasonable to do that. This is really not about leadership, it is not about age, it really has nothing to do with a tribe, it has nothing to do with poverty of finance. It just has to do with men who have become collectively unreasonable. We have a good number of people who act without thinking both at the leadership and followership.
Every leader will want to be described as the way Chief Obafemi Awolowo is described. A reasonable person who wants the result of a man will do well to profit from learning how the reputation of Awo was earned. He built schools across the region where he was Prime Minister. He did not place Ikenne above Asaba in the distribution of schools or hospitals. He was not reputed to have carried the money of the whole region for himself or placed his children above children of farmers. Education and health were made available to all irrespective of social class. Do you want his reputation? You have to earn it by doing what he did. You find people in leadership position complaining about Nigeria. They do nothing to correct it. The man that is stealing complains of the ills of stealing and goes back the next day to steal more money than he will never need just to rob the public of it. Secret accounts are kept that will not be accessed by any when the man dies as all men will. In over twenty years, we are still recovering the loot one man took from our nation. What we are receiving as a refund is less than the interest on the money. Why will a man rob his nation in this manner? We will all be unable to find an answer except to say it is quite unreasonable. Will those who recover the loot go-ahead to loot it and return it to foreign countries? Your guess is as good as mine. It makes no sense but they do it. Age or tribe or education or religion has not separated them. They are all collectively unreasonable.
You may think this is limited to the ruling class. Our educational system that is producing unemployable graduates is also manned by unreasonable men. Professors who will award grades in exchange for sex or money will sit somewhere to complain of leadership. He is not able to see himself as he is. He is just unreasonable. Men who do not question their own actions are just unreasonable. Men who take black poster color to paint their paper and complain that it is not showing blue. They left the blue bottle there and failed to put it to use. They are just unreasonable.
The security system has failed us when unreasonable men took charge. Police constable complains of poor funding and the way to correct it is to harass a taxi driver and collect his hard-earned money from him at gunpoint. The taxi driver takes it on his passengers by increasing transport fares, the food vendor raises the price of his food because transport fare is up, the school proprietor raises fees because the cost of food is up and it takes more to feed the students. The same constable complains of inflation. Reasonable people think through their actions. We have become a nation of the unreasonable.
Our young people have become largely unreasonable too. I don’t think getting an all youth cabinet will be any help until we get individually reasonable. A man was made speaker of his state house of assembly at age 33. He makes enough money to buy his way to governorship seat at 41 and buys his way through to become minister all in his youth. Check his achievements, it is all about amassing stupendous wealth with no industry to show for it. We have enthroned the worship of money and all we respect is the volume of money in the hands of a man who cannot show us any job he did to earn it. How do these people win elections?
In March 2019, Mr. Babajide Sanwo Olu was declared governor-elect of Nigeria’s most populous, most civilized, and most commercialized state (Lagos). He polled 739,445 votes and that represented 76.65% of total votes cast in a state that boasts of over a 13million youths. The people did not turn out to vote. They line up to complain that a godfather imposed a governor on them. The few that will come out were there to collect N500 in exchange for their votes. Others are there to snatch the ballot box for a fee of possibly N50,000.00. This is how we sold our roads, hospitals, schools, manufacturing concerns, and more because we have become collectively unreasonable. Did godfather really give us governor or we chose by being unreasonable? We know how to follow every information on US elections and do not know who takes charge in our local governments. When are we going to get a US president that will fix roads and schools and light in Nigeria? Unreasonable people don’t think through the consequences of their actions. Americans came out in their numbers to express themselves. A man polled over 73,000,000 votes and lost the election.
Appointment into civil service is a license to kill any business that is thriving. Demand for bribe sent away Virgin Airways, Econet wireless, Pioneer Hi-bred Seeds. Killed agricultural efforts and ruined Dunlop, Michelin, and countless industries. Do you know that your action increases the unemployment and dependency ratio? The same civil servant comes out to complain, the nation is not working. Unreasonable people do not think through the consequences of their actions.
Parents are exporting their children to serve as prostitutes in foreign lands to earn money. What does the future hold for a prostitute? How will these children end their lives? We have become collectively unreasonable.
Worship of money has enthroned lots of evil businesses like armed robbery, ritual killing, kidnapping, and the love for pleasure leading to rampant incidences of rape.
Awake o sleeping nation, awake the then giant of Africa. How did we become a nation of unreasonable men?