By Owei Lakemfa
MY joy as we enter the New Year 2018 is etched on the photographs of two Nigerian babies, John and James who just returned to the country after a successful operation in India. Born on May 8, 2017 in Lagos, the Siamese twins had been fused at the upper part of their abdomen (Omphalopagus) and had only one liver. The operation in Bangalore had involved 22 Indian doctors who in separating them, also sliced their liver into two with each part having the potential of growing into a whole.
I shared the joy of the parents, Obinna and Amarachi Ugwuoke as they carried each baby; their shock and anxiety for giving birth to Siamese twins have given way to joy and sunshine as they soak in the yuletide season. But the operation set me thinking how much we have degenerated as a country when our hospitals cannot carry out what has more or less become a routine operation in India. Yet in the late 1970s we were so far ahead of India, that officially, degrees obtained in India were classified inferior. Our teaching hospitals like the UCH in Ibadan were so good that even foreign leaders came for medical treatment.
Our doctors, from Dr. Nathaniel Thomas King who graduated from the University of Edinburg medical school in 1876, were so good that they were in great demand worldwide. No, this was not just in the past; we continue to produce excellent doctors. One of them, Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, a 1988 medical graduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University, has in America, successfully operated on an unborn child to remove a tumour. Lynlee Hope was 23 weeks when Olutoye removed her from her mother’s womb, operated and returned her into the womb.
So what is wrong with our healthcare is not the lack of personnel; we have simply failed to put on our thinking cap and ensure we move our country on the path of development.
As it is in the health system, so is it in the mass media. We have produced some of the best journalists in the world like the Enahoro brothers; Anthony and Peter. By 1891, we had a well-produced newspaper, the Lagos Weekly Record . I have read excerpts of Nigerian journalists sustained reports and opinions on Lord Lugard to the extent that the colonialists had to remove him as Governor General in 1919. In 1925, two strong newspapers were established, the Lagos Daily News by Nationalist, Herbert Macaulay, and the Daily Times.
We continue to set the pace and Nigeria, today, has the best media organisations in Africa and some of the most resourceful journalists in the world. But the media that awards the ‘Best African Journalist of the Year’ is the 37-year old Cable News Network, CNN, established in Atlanta, United States. The irony is that we are happy when we win such awards, when we should rally Africa and be giving such professional medals.
We are a football-crazy nation, like many countries are in Africa. Nigeria has had great teams like the Stationary Stores which could whip the best teams in the world. Despite the fact that football has become far more popular in the country, our league has almost been killed. Pitifully, we now fight over which European club to support and sometimes this degenerates into violence with people killed.
Yet Africa has produced some of the best footballers in world; Thunder Balogun of Nigeria, George Weah of Liberia, Algerian Zinedine Zidane who played for France, and one of the greatest footballers of all times; EUSEBIO da Silva of Mozambique who because his country was a colony of Portugal, played for that country. Eusebio was so deadly a striker that he netted 733 goals in 745 matches. He played 64 times for the Portuguese national team and scored 41 goals for them. He was the first recipient of the European Golden Award (1968) winning the award again in 1973.
The disgrace to African football is capped by the fact that it is a radio station, the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, that awards the ‘African Footballer of the Year’. Before the station, it was the France Football Magazine. If we begin to think differently as a people, we can reverse all these.
It is because we have not taken our destiny in our hands, abandoned our citizens and failed to provide Africa the vital leadership it needs, that people like President Donald Trump will continuously insult us and our race. In his latest rantings, Trump had said when Nigerians go to America, they become so awed that they refuse “to go back to their huts”. Trump assumes we live in huts and not in houses like the rest of the world. I must admit that he is a bit brighter than his racist followers who think we live in trees. Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump had in 1885, migrated to America as an underage boy of 16. Generally, Nigerians do not migrate at such tender age to US. Secondly, if we are an upright country, we would have educated Trump to the effect that we had an earlier civilisation than his native Germany whose people first came to world attention after their contact with the Romans in the First Century BC.
Yes, there are huts in Africa as there are in all parts of the world, but that is not the level of African civilisation. Some 3,000 years before Christ, Africans had large houses and palaces. The pyramids which shame the so called Trump Towers thousand times over, were mainly built from 2575 BC-2150BC. One of them, the Khufu Great Pyramids was 480 Feet high and built with 2.3 million stone blocks. The ancient Mali, Ghana and Songhai Empires were noted for their huge structures and houses. Here in Nigeria, the Ile Ife Empire had big houses and paved roads by the 12th Century, and other empires like the Benin and Oyo had big houses and huge palaces.
But we have failed to annex our resources and build our country, so people like Trump can cast aspersions on us. Just think of the fact that the most educated group of people in the United States are Nigerians. The US Census Bureau had in its 2006 official survey reported that 37 percent of the Nigerians in America have at least a first degree, 17 percent of them have Masters Degrees while 4 percent have doctorate degrees. In comparison, only 19 percent White Americans have a first degree, 18 percent, a masters, and 1 percent, a doctorate.
We can reverse our underdeveloped status by having a critical rethink, clear the mist from our eyes, and build a New Nigerian with a New Song. Welcome to 2018.