IT is an often stated truism that a person’s father’s house or garden looks best until he visits other people’s parents’ houses and gardens.
Reflected in another way, the Xhosa say: “Ukuhamba Kukubona”, meaning: “Travelling opens a window to the world”. I have been fortunate to have learnt how to travel and adapt since l followed my late father, Chief F.S. Giwa-Osagie, MFR, on his many transfers around Nigeria and Southern Cameroun in the Nigerian Prisons Service.
These days, while all current news is full of the horror of various wars or of people who decide to kill other people or kill themselves, I often find it therapeutic to look out for what l feel happy about in my country and wherever I go.
I recently, for personal and official reasons, had to be in various parts of Europe, Jamaica and East Africa. I had not been in Jamaica for over six years till 2009 when my mother-in-law celebrated her 100th birthday. In East Africa, I had health assignments in Tarzama, Uganda and Zambia. Jamaica was an eye opener.
The Jamaican High Commissioner in Abuja, Ambassador Miller and his Consul, Miss Angela Robinson, were outstanding in facilitating my visit and those of the few Nigerians who decided to spend their funds to accompany me.
At the Kingston Airport Jamaica, however, the female Immigration Officer gave me and an in-law some bother. She wanted so much evidence that we would leave Jamaica at the end of our trip, that we wondered if it was normal for Nigerians aged over 60 years to emigrate! Once inside the country we saw what stable government, high literacy and a straight judiciary do for a country.
I had also been to Jamaica during the time of the violent politics of the mid-to-late 1970s and at the time of the “gun courts” that tried arms related offences. At that time, though there was a democratic government in Jamaica, the thugs of the two political parties led by Dr. Michael Manley and Mr. Edward Seaga were killing each other. Tourists kept away, and many indigenes fled from Jamaica to USA and Canada.
The USA encouraged people to keep away from Jamaica because of Michael Manley’s political socialist romance with Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
Jamaica almost became a failed state before government was changed democratically and the rotation of tenure between the two parties resumed and productive life returned to Jamaica. Returning to Jamaica after a gap of six years made me and the Nigerians who went with me see how, when the people do not steal with gluttony, a country can provide for its people even with resources much less than some of our Nigerian states particularly in the South South region of Nigeria.
If you are educated and have a steady job in Jamaica, you can buy a house on mortgage; the banks help business to grow, the roads, hospitals and schools are repaired and maintained and public recreational facilities are accessible to the rich and poor. People do not have to go to expensive schools to be able to become ‘somebody’ and the politicians are accountable and respect the electorate. Of course it is not utopia. There are excesses and indeed from time to time the law brings the culprits to book. When I left Jamaica, I was happy for the people.
Visiting Uganda recently was also another pleasant experience. Uganda is one of very few countries that give Nigerians visa at the airport of entry if you are there for a legitimate purpose. Tanzania Issues visas in Abuja the same day you apply.
They should be commended for not treating every Nigerian as if we are all fraudsters and drug barons! President Kaguta Yoweri Museveni got the Uganda parliament to remove limits from the tenure of the President of Uganda.
Nigerians will remember how an attempt was made to do the same during our own Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency and before him, but also unsuccessfully, by President Arap Moir of Kenya.
President Museveni succeeded where Presidents Obasanjo and Arap Moir did not succeed. Right from Entebbe Airport which has been greatly upgraded, to the landscaping and new colleges, hotels and restaurants in Entebbe and Kampala I could see, after just two years absence, that Uganda is making progress. Particularly since the violence and publicised corruption in Kenya, Uganda has assumed an inviting glow for many international agencies and companies, including several Nigerian companies.
Uganda has also discovered oil and one will have to see if oil will raise corruption to a new level or accelerate development. What has also characterized the average person in Jamaica and Uganda is their friendliness and lack of greed. Of course there are thieves and bandits in every country.
If these countries which are not as blessed with resources as we are in Nigeria have made noticeable advances in the short time I have observed them, what can we in Nigeria learn from them or indeed from ourselves? Anybody who lives in Lagos or visits Lagos can see the positive changes of the last four years.
The Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, came to office and has acted like a man with an action plan. What we see in Lagos State is a state that is making progress. Indeed now some of those who specialised in abusing Lagos have gone silent! We even now have a non-Yoruba as a Commissioner in Lagos State.
There are signs that the younger governors who mostly now rule our Nigerian states know how to follow a good plan. Some states are changing for the better such as Delta State and recently Edo and Rivers states in the South-South zone of Nigeria.
Of course, before now, Governor Donald Duke and Governor Bukola Saraki in Cross Rivers and Kwara states had started the march to greater progress for their states.
If our governors can compete with each other in good things such as providing quality education, standard health, houses and roads, the country will leap forward in development.
Naturally, I cannot comment on states I have not observed for a while. The good in what is happening is that the states who mean to improve their lots can, and are, moving forward, once they can convince their leaders to spend some of their income on improving their states and not transfer the people’s assets abroad. This is the strongest point in the case for continuing democracy and taking any mistake made as part of a learning curve.
As Nigeria celebrates 50 years as an Independent country, we hope we retain the lessons of the learning process and find ways of reducing the cost of the model of democracy we have chosen. Some advocate a return to parliamentary democracy. I leave that discourse to others.
I always tell those who never find anything good to say of Nigeria, that Nigeria has many good things, but Nigerians like to denigrate Nigeria too much particularly in the presence of non-Nigerians. I have travelled widely in Africa and I know that the things we decry so much in Nigeria are also present in others such as in Ghana, Cameroun, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa, to name a few.
The older democracies have their own terms for diversion of public monies and showing favour to their friends but they have ways of reminding us that we are just learning. Could a person with antecedents similar to President Barack Obama’s become President of Nigeria? That is not possible in the way we conduct our affairs.
Neither would Bill Clinton, a man from a small and poor state, Arkansas, have been President.
If people who have resided in a state of Nigeria for over 20 years can still be considered to be non-indigenes of the state, those who are contented with the way we are in Nigeria must be reminded that there must be a better way. That better way and future for Nigeria is our joint venture and destiny.
What does one see for 50yrs of nationhood? We have in Nigeria, an obvious increase in volume of development for instance in numbers of roads, schools, hospitals but a neglect of maintenance. We have an increase in volume of graduates and high echelon appointments but a shocking fall in the quality of verbal and written expression.
Indeed many people appointed to high positions act as if they have decided they do not need to be courteous or to respond to any communication. They only respond to you if they think they may need you at some stage.
Are we surprised that many feel that the bridge between the governed and those who govern has long disappeared? it is near impossible to have good governance without open interaction.
We are aware that many orientation seminars and retreats are held for both public and private sector appointees. I suggest that an important part of those seminars should be presentations on basic civics and principles of responses to those that are supposed to represent and a lesson or two in memo writing.
In spite of the regular disappointments served to us all by most of our sports teams and sports administrators, in spite of catalogues of stupid conspicuous consumption by those supposed to be the peoples servants, in spite of governments that insist that people should buy land or houses with cash knowing fully well the income of the people, in spite of these negative aspects I believe there is a brighter future for Nigeria and that that future may not be as distant as one will think.
The 50th Anniversary of Nigeria’s Independence calls for committed men and women to come forward and be counted as we jointly elevate our country to a better future.
Prof. By Osato Giwa-Osagie writes from Lagos.