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Depressing contrasts

By Donu Kogbara
While we Nigerians are still struggling, in the 21st century, to provide ourselves with basic amenities like round-the-clock electricity and spectacularly failing to deal with simple challenges like running free and fair elections, other nations in Asia and the Western World are relentlessly moving onwards and upwards.

We are like ancient tortoises who can barely crawl down the road. They are like agile cheetahs who can and do run across the face of the earth at great speed.

Africa generally, is trailing so far behind that I often despair. While we are messing about like losers who can barely cope with the modern era and are finding it impossible to even establish a consistent maintenance culture, they skilfully maintain the considerable gains they’ve achieved in the past in all sorts of areas of endeavour – construction, medicine, science, technology, etc.

And, in addition to carefully maintaining what they have already built over centuries, they constantly invent new ways of improving the human condition.

I am an avid reader of foreign newspapers and I never cease to marvel at how regularly innovations are announced by Europeans, Americans, Japanese, etc.

About a fortnight ago, I read in pure wonderment about brilliant British surgeons at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital performing the world’s first operation inside the eye, using microscopic robots controlled with a joystick and touchscreen.

The patient – a priest called Father William Beaver who had been suffering from distorted vision but is now beginning to see normally again – described the operation as “simple” and said he felt completely relaxed and throughout.

Meanwhile, Professor Robert MacLaren, who headed the pioneering surgical team, said: “Current technology…allows us to monitor retinal diseases at the microscopic level, but the things we see are beyond the physiological limit of what the human hand can operate on…[whereas] with a robotic system, we open up a whole new chapter of eye operations that currently cannot be performed.”

Yesterday, Apple, the company that produces my phone, sent an update alert to all of its customers and a stunning new array of software advancements were unveiled.

London Bridge

I’ve spent a lot of time in the UK for the past couple of years; and during this period, I’ve frequently passed through London Bridge mainline railway station, which has been undergoing renovations. But they have largely been conducted in sealed-off spaces that only workmen can access; and my travel plans have never been significantly disrupted, so I’ve barely noticed the renovation process.

Then, last week, I went to London Bridge. And – hey presto! – it had been miraculously transformed. It was OK before. But it had been a bit dingy. Now it was very much more than OK and positively sparkling. And the thing that impresses me most is that this transition has taken place almost seamlessly and invisibly.

Tomorrow, next week and every month thereafter, there will be yet more admirable state-of-the-art developments in various sectors within the non-African cosmos because these folks who run the show globally – sadly, we are mere passengers – are always busily striving for perfection and making giant strides.

Certain Nigerians disapprovingly accuse me of being “Oyinbo” because I grew up abroad and have some “un-Nigerian” attitudes and behaviour patterns. And I ask myself and them why they insist on using the word “Oyinbo” as a criticism because, as far as I’m concerned, “Oyinbo” equals progressive, enlightened and effective.

And I really don’t mind being associated with ingenious, disciplined peoples who have provided us with telecommunications, cars, aeroplanes, televisions, the internet, anti-biotics and SO MANY other useful, enjoyable and life-saving things!

Of course, no country is Heaven On Earth. Truth be told, everyone get problem, no matter the location! And dysfunctions like corruption and incompetence DO exist, even in the most successful countries. However, the extent is what counts. And Oyinbo corruption and incompetence are miniscule compared to ours.

So when my Oyinbo friends grumble about their countries’ weaknesses and their leaders’ mistakes, I tell them to please keep quiet and thank their lucky stars that they don’t have the myriad MAJOR problems we Africans have.

Funnily enough, I have never bothered to apply for a British passport because, despite being entitled to one (having first set foot in the UK when I was two years old – over five decades ago!), my late father was a staunch patriot who didn’t want me to have foreign citizenship. And I have obediently respected his wishes.

But I am so tired of the huge disappointment that is Nigeria; and I’m sorry for sounding like a prophet of doom. But I don’t think things will change anytime soon.

And yet, some of our parents and grandparents were trained by White missionaries.   And yet, many Nigerians of all generations have been to decent educational institutions in Nigeria and abroad. And yet, our country is full of clever individuals who have done extremely well academically and have even, when given a chance to compete with Whites, scored higher marks in exams than White students.

So why can’t we copy the good things about Whites and dynamically and productively get our acts together in this day and age, for crying out loud? Why can’t we close up the enormous and embarrassing performance/status gap – the yawning chasm – that separates us from people in better countries?

Some Afrocentrists say that we are floundering woefully because Europeans have systematically undermined and confused us by imposing an alien culture and religion on us…and by crippling us via racism, slavery, colonialism, and neo-imperialism.

We have, according to this school of thought, been psychologically programmed to screw up…and are still being economically sabotaged on a daily basis by evil whites.

I don’t regard this allegation as entirely fair. Yes, Whites with their apartheid and Donald Trump types can be utterly pernicious (Trump had to be taken to court before he grudgingly allowed Black tenants to rent properties he owned). And, yes, we have been – and are – victims of several historical and ongoing injustices.

But, frankly, I think that Whites have helped more than they’ve harmed overall. I’m also pretty convinced that we are, when all is said and done, our own worst enemies.

But I’m willing to be flexible and humble…and to say, for the sake of argument that I am a brainwashed Eurocentrist who has an inferiority complex…and that almost everything that has gone wrong for us so far IS actually the White man’s fault.

OK, so if almost everything that has gone wrong for us so far is THEIR fault, what are we going to do about it? Play into their hands and foolishly follow a negative script that was forced down our throats until the end of Eternity?!

Or proudly stand up, refuse to be crushed and ensure that we become the architects of a glorious new future and collective destiny?

Ladies and Gentlemen: The choice is ours.



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