By Uche Onyebadi
MY family journeyed some 390 miles (about 630 kilometres) in roughly six hours to visit with and welcome 2016 in the company of my long-time friend, Tony Aduro, and his wonderful family in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Tony and I go way back to our days in Nairobi, Kenya, in the 1990s when we served as officers in the Association of Nigerians in Kenya. Fate brought us back together in the United States and we have kept in touch.
As usual with me whenever I travel long distances in the US, I marvel at the foresight and ingenuity of the forefathers of modern America who had the vision and wisdom to invest in good roads as a stimulant for economic growth and leisure trips. I’ve always believed that one of the few areas where the so-called developed nations beat the rest of us is in their well-developed and maintained infrastructure. You drive for six hours or more and you don’t feel any stress. I’ve driven for 13 straight hours alone and hardly noticed anything. My good friend and school mate at the University of Missouri, Tayo Oyedeji, used to drive longer distances, sometimes 17 or more hours, without qualms. Yet, when you drive mere two hours outside the capital cities in some, if not most, African and developing countries, you feel as though you had survived a tough wrestling or kick-boxing context.
If only our governments would pay deserved attention to the development of infrastructure, roads for a start! Here, roads are full of well-managed Rest Areas, which are utility buildings constructed mostly 50 miles apart for the convenience of motorists. If you felt tired while driving or needed to use the bathroom, you simply stopped at the Rest Area, re-energized and drove on. For people on family trips, and truck drivers who have to deliver goods to various parts of the country, the Rest Areas are simply utility spots. Of course, at measured intervals, you see highway patrol officers not only to check excessive speeding but also to give you a sense of security as you make your journey.
The economic benefits of such infrastructure are simply unimaginable: lower costs of goods and more disposable income in the pockets of many; cheaper cost of vehicle maintenance and less fuel consumption; phenomenal increase in trade, employment and ancillary activities. I’m not an economist, but you don’t need to be one to appreciate what reliable infrastructure would do to an economy. As I drove towards Fort Wayne, I thought of one of Nigeria’s great educationists, the late Tai Solarin, a man I had the privilege to interview when I worked for Vanguard newspaper. At the beginning of each year, Comrade Solarin used to write this prayer and wish in his Tribune newspaper column: May your year be rough. It was his way of reminding everyone of the need for hard work and focused agenda for the year.
Let me borrow from the late icon and say to myself, family and friends, and all who bother to read this column: May your year be rough. Still on the smooth drive toward Fort Wayne, I thought of the New Year resolution I was contemplating. I don’t usually make them. But, this time I thought, why not? I’ve resolved to respectfully tell uncomfortable truths to people around me, especially family and friends, and also to myself. And, I’ve also resolved to accept such truths from others, including my staff, students and colleagues in our school of journalism.
Trouble with followership
The trouble with our leadership, including those in power, is that they are not ready to hear such truths; and the trouble with the followership, is that they are too timid to tell them. That is why our African societies rot away at incredible speed.
Another resolution is to reach out to, and maintain more contact with old acquaintances and buddies in 2016. At times, we all get totally wrapped up in whatever we are doing and pay less and less time to people with whom we share nostalgic moments in the sun. The “very busy” excuse we all seek refuge in to wriggle away from bad habits will no longer be tenable. We can’t be too busy to extend our hands and give hugs to people who genuinely worry about us.
My thought was also on international politics and governance. I thought about ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shaba and other organizations that have insatiable thirst for human blood. Something tells me that their days will actually, and in the real sense, be rough in 2016.