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To make Nigeria lovable

By Bisi Lawrence

We used to sing that and profess to believe in it. But come on, now!… I mean, why then the long queues at the foreign embassies where you swallow insults on the visa line?

They now say you can get it “on the line” and save yourself the heart pains of rising very early before the sun in order to fly away to climes where its mere appearance is a cause for celebration. Don’t you like the sun?

There was a man named Andrew. He was thought to be an allegorical figure.

One day, he said he just couldn’t take it any more –  the failed power supply, the failed security provision, the failed road construction, the failed water requirement, the failed traffic situation, the failed economic circumstances, the failed educational system – in short, the failed nature of the national state of affairs which had him in a piteous bind. And from the depth of despair, he declared that he was “checking out”.

He was derided and stigmatized, this supposedly fictitious character, who would not passionately proclaim his love for his country because he “no go lie”, while all others around him were patent liars.

He was mocked by the real-life citizenry that he actually typified, and to which he should really be a folk-hero. But the people ridiculed him, or made a show of doing so, while they all knew that, as a matter of fact, the “Andrew” was essentially in them.

Would you believe that there was a time when Nigerians could not wait for a minute afterqualifying for their profession abroad before dashing back home? In those days, there were only oneor two universities here in Nigeria and that was the incentive that sent most of them away, in thefirst place.

With the increase in the number of institutions of higher learning, there was naturally alull in the traffic to secure qualifications abroad. Our independence from colonial rule alsoincreased our self-confidence in our institutions.

There was very little incentive to study overseas,and very few foreign universities even seemed to have heard about Nigeria, except those whichNigerians had patronized in the past – Oxford, Cambridge, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow and thelike. But you must have noticed that foreign universities now advertise for students in Nigeria.

Several of them, including from as far away as even Malaysia, have now found a market here. Andwhy not, when the fare here at home no longer satisfies in quality or quantity – that is when it isavailable at all, if the lecturers are not on strike?

The truth is that we all love what we would love this country to be, that is, what it is entitled and qualified, and ordained to be. It is not merely a question of loving one’s country. Love may be tested by frustration to a breaking point, and that is where so many Nigerians have arrived. Love is like money in the bank. It can go into the “red”; it will be diminished if it is not replenished.

Only divine love is “for ever shared, for ever whole.” We have to face reality.

We are unable to keep our universities open. We are unable to conduct an election for a single parliamentary position. We are now being elbowed out of serious contention in every sport arena, which is where we could have repaired our tattered image.

However, we have a Ministry of Education which is responsible for policies and programmes in every State, but presumably cares very little about the pupils in the schools; we have an electoral commission which we have found impossible to tame; we have a National Sports Commission which is totally at sea.

Someone was talking about concentrating on institutions as distinct from individuals. Oh, we have institutions alright – all we need are those who would run them.

And we say this year in, year out. The people mumble and groan but are unable to raise a voice; the media grumble and growl, but are unable to stay awake. And so as we launch out into the fiftieth year of our existence as an independent nation, some people, howbeit, with good intentions are calling for a “re-branding”.

But, think of it for a minute; after becoming free, what other “branding” do we really need? Could they really have meant a “re-birth”? But then, that at forty nine?

However, maybe we deserve the government we have. Our own mores must have fashioned itfor us. You know you are in trouble if your mechanic is entrusted with money to buy spare parts and install them in the car in your absence, for instance.

He’ll simply proceed to rip you off, and feel very comfortable about it. Everybody is in business: the carpenter who uses inferior material; the teacher who collects fictitious fees; even the housekeeper – one should in fact, say especially the housekeeper – who cheats as a matter of normal practice. We shall say nothing of the police who can’t be cured of corruption, or the judges who can’t be rid of compromise.

Or what shall we say of the legislators who, after all, are creatures of the political class?
This is the time of year when the populace is divided into three groups of people. There is the one whose members try to be philosophical and maintain that “Nigeria go better.”

They really have no concrete reason for expressing that view except, perhaps, that she could hardly get worse anyway.

There is the other group whose protagonists are only a short distance from that; they are the ones who bewail, with a strong voice, the catalogue of ills that beset us in this country: no power supply, no good roads, deteriorating educational system – you know, ALL our shortcomings. But in the grip of their agony, while they set out a list of our redeeming features, they forget to proffer the real solutions to the problems.

Then there are those who can see no way out of the woods, and not the slightest gleam in the encircling gloom. But all of them come out loud because they are, or want to convince you as, the real “patriots”. That is how they wish to present themselves because it is redolent of what appears noble.

And, what is more, it is a safe position which is where one should strive to be these days, not knowing what next might befall one’s freedom of speech. And so they lustily sing:

“I love my country, I no go lie,
Na inside am I go love and die…

If a fool at forty is a fool forever, what is to be loved in a fool at forty-nine?

The time for hollow sentiments is past. This is the time to tell ourselves blunt facts. Our version of “federalism” has gone askew. We should not be afraid to tell ourselves that a part of the country is on the way to dominating the rest.

And if we are made to feel that it is but only a scheme aligned to a grand design to subjugate the entire country, we should be able to say so even though some of the rest of us benefit from the crumbs under the masters’ table.

We should therefore stop paving an obsequious grinning lip service to the philosophy of the “Federal Character” as enunciated in the Constitution we love so much to condemn but have failed so grievously to improve.

The time for half-measures is past. We must confront the issues that tend to tear us apart. On the front burner is the burning issue of “Derivation”. We should remember that nothing is settled until it is settled right. This problem calls for a solution that has equity as its underlying motive.

We have to realize that if one section of the country sincerely believes that it is being short-changed of the wealth from its land area, we will continue to face a crisis of a sense of belonging.

The time for sloganeering is past. If we are to succeed, we must desist from deluding ourselves with precepts of mindless patriotic pronouncements when we are in a situation so unloving and, as such, unlovable especially since we know how lovely this nation can really be.

We have to speak out and sustain the principles for which people like Gani Fawehinmi, Osita Agwuna, Aminu Kano, Rewane and our other “heroes past” lived and died. We have to create an enduring awareness of their contributions with symbols that go beyond the rhetoric of graveside orations, and annual shallow lectures that dry up with time. They must become the symbols of our inspiration

Let us discard the shibboleths of our past misguided endeavours. Let us open the chapters of new approaches, especially in the effort of development.

Let each State provide its electrical supply, if it can, with the option of linking with the national grid. Let us introduce scholarships in each State for students from other States.

Let us have a central theme, like the sun in the form of a yellow (golden) disc inserted in the middle of our flag.

Let us divest our National Anthem of the military format and tempo, and present it like an anthem – which it really is. Let us make this country lovable…

Chuka Momah is my friend. The first day he came to visit me, my houseboy had served me a sad-looking eba with a sour okro soup. I was near to committing murder. But I was terribly more hungry than angry, and decided to “manage” the awful dish.

Then Chuka came in from nowhere, and would not listen to my apologies about the state of the food, but dived in with gusto. I have seldom tasted a more delicious lunch. It has remained an unforgettable occasion in my life these twenty-five years past. And that is what Chuka has continued to do with his friendship – he simply turns sour situations into sweet sensations.

He is an Igbo man, of Nnewi parentage, who grew up in lle-Ife and went through Government College, Ibadan – which also thoroughly went through him.

He speaks a surprisingly clean Yoruba that cannot hide its partiality for the Oyo accent, and glorifies in his palate for Amala, like a “true shon of the shoil”.

It would be the height of impudence to refer to my friend as “detribalised” because, in any case, he has never been “tribalized”. He is a proud Igboman and a noble Nigerian, at home with all fellow-Nigerians from whatever part of the country.

Chukah was a former Chairman of the Nigerian Tennis Federation, a position he also held in Continental tennis, but his real game was cricket in which he captained his college in his younger days.

This must be from where he acquired his sense of fair play and propriety in the finest traditions of sportsmanship. I hold it as a matter of good fortune that our paths crossed in this existence.

(Ps. Don’t you have a friend you value so much as to praise him to his face while he is alive?)
Time out.


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