By Femi Aribisala
IN 1960, John Kennedy exhorted his fellow Americans on his inauguration as president of the United States to: “ask not what your country can do for you: ask what you can do for your country.” Can you imagine a Nigerian leader asking the same question of Nigerians? He would be laughed out of court. The answer is likely to be a curt: “What has Nigeria done for me lately?”
Nigerians are more likely to wax lyrical about what Nigeria has done against them than what Nigeria has done for them. Many Nigerians currently lying in our graveyards were roundly defeated by Nigeria. Many walking our streets today are victims of shattered hopes and dreams. Nigeria specialises in exasperating Nigerians. The country is a past master at de-motivating the ambitious, frustrating the industrious and demoralizing the godly.
As a result, where two or three Nigerians are gathered, you can be sure we are busy denigrating our country. We all seem to know exactly what is wrong with Nigeria. We are all experts at identifying our problems. But, alas, what is wrong with Nigeria is precisely what is wrong with us.
Few Nigerians love Nigeria. Fewer believe in Nigeria. Many only recognize Nigeria for its nuisance value. Most Nigerians only tolerate Nigeria. Several are looking for a way out of this prison called Nigeria. But some escape from the Nigerian gulag, only to end up being sold into slavery in Libya and elsewhere.
Nigeria is a fictional country without a past worth remembering. The history of our country is a tale told by an idiot. It is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Therefore, Nigerian history is not even taught in our schools.
Our leaders maintain we don’t have any other country but Nigeria, then they go right ahead to privatise our resources, sharing them like birthday cakes among their friends and colleagues. They talk federal character but practice ethnic character. They complain that our health facilities are mere consulting clinics, then they proceed abroad for medical treatment and check-ups. They lament the state of our universities and educational facilities, then they use our scarce resources to send their children to expensive schools abroad.
They swear oaths to keep us safe and secure; but they see and hear no evil when Fulani herdsmen invade our farms and butcher us to death. They claim to be building up our foreign reserves to record levels, while they systematically turn us into a debtor-nation by borrowing billions upon billions from home and abroad. They claim to be fighting corruption when corruption is the name of their game. They talk “change” but insist their sons-in-law must take over as our governors after the expiration of their term.
Praying for failure
Go to our churches and you will discover that the success we fast and pray for is selfish and self-centred. The success we crave is for our private businesses; for our homes and families, and not for Project Nigeria. We are convinced the success of Nigeria would not reach us. We are persuaded we can succeed in spite of Nigeria. Indeed, we believe the success of Nigeria would somehow be to our detriment.
When I prayed that the problem of electrical blackouts in Nigeria should be a thing of the past, my generator repairman was offended. He claimed I have no regard for the well-being of his family. When I wished the New Year would bring to me fewer need for machine repairs, my video repairman refused to say Amen. In Nigeria, our collective success is seen as a zero-sum game. Success is denominated only at the level of the individual or of the tribe.
In Nigeria, we go to school when Boko Haram permits, but not in order to get an education. We go to school in order to get a paper-certificate seen as our passport to gainful employment. If we can buy the certificate without attending classes, all the better, as long as the forged certificate will also get us the job. But how can we meet the requirements of the job without the necessary qualifications?
No problem! Nigeria specializes in putting round pegs into square holes. We seek employment, not in order to do anything meaningful, but just in order to get paid. In short, we don’t want to be educated: we just want to make some money.
When I endorsed the candidature of Kingsley Moghalu for president of Nigeria, some quietly informed me that the next president of Nigeria has been zoned to the North. However, the regional background of Nigeria’s next president has nothing to do with his capacity to succeed. Why not zone the next president to the competent? Why not say the next president must be industrious? No! That would disqualify most of the aspirants. Instead, we use the tried and tested criteria of tribe and region that has always guaranteed failure.
The next president must be from the North. Or he must be from the West. But certainly not from the East; because in Nigeria, people from the East are deemed by ethnic jingoists to have political leprosy. Is it any wonder then that we fail to promote in Nigeria the necessary cohesion that provides the engine for harmonious growth and development? If we did, I dare say, all government cars in Nigeria would be required to be from Innoson Motors because it is the only manufacturer of Nigerian-made cars. But instead, Innoson is subjected to government harassment and intimidation even in his home-country of Nigeria.
It is in Nigeria that presidential candidates are not penalized for refusing to have policy debates with their opponents during election campaigns. It is only in Nigeria that more people register and vote in war-torn areas than in peaceful towns and cities. It is in Nigeria that no less than 21 senior public officers are summarily dismissed just in order that their junior, a man who has difficulty getting his “transmission transmission” into gear, will leapfrog over all of them and become an infamous “oga at the top.”
Is Nigeria so poor that we cannot even afford to pay our national football players? Certainly not! Yet time and again, they don’t get paid. Sometimes they have to threaten not to play even World Cup matches in order to enforce payment. That course of action itself betrays their loyalty. It shows they play for money and not for country. It means under no circumstances would they ever forego payment, not even for love of country. To the Nigerian footballer, getting paid is more important than playing and winning for Nigeria.
Nigerians are industrious, except that our major industry is 419. The “Nigerian scam” is an internationally patented enterprise. We own the copyright. It is our very own area of expertise, as homegrown as edikaikong soup. Alas, it speaks eloquently of our inability to succeed by legitimate means.
Our Okada riders can be relied on to run pedestrians off our sidewalks. They also have diplomatic immunity from obeying traffic-lights. Keke Marwa drivers are entitled to drive on the wrong side of the road. They also apparently have exemptions from traffic regulations.
Our police-officers are self-appointed tax-collectors masquerading as law-enforcement agents. Our doctors are just as likely to kill the sick as to heal. Therefore, the well-heeled take no chances; they go on medical tourism to England; to India; they give birth to American babies in the United States.
Obviously, Nigerians cannot care less about national success. Otherwise, we would not be a major world oil-producing country that nevertheless meets our petroleum needs from imports from abroad. If we cared about success, we would not still be without electricity after 58 years of living in darkness. If we cared about our success, we would not be subject to food imports despite being blessed with substantial arable land.
The truth is we are determined not to succeed, otherwise we would insist on a National Conference to map out our escape from failure. Nigerians are only interested in making money by ourselves for ourselves. This money-making is our misnomer for success. It is a recipe for failure because, in Nigeria, money is made at the expense of the collective.
In the United States, the rich are invariably the successful. In Nigeria, the rich are often those who redeem their failures by stealing public funds. In Britain, the rich man is likely to be industrious. In Nigeria, the rich man is likely to be a thief in the politician’s agbada or in military uniform.
Successful thieves are extolled and worshiped in Nigeria. We celebrate them in our newspapers, venerate them in our churches and make a song and dance about them in social circles. Even when caught and jailed, these thieves, return home as heroes. We fail to appreciate that success in the thievery of our patrimony is the blueprint for our failure as a nation. Moreover, in Nigeria, it is these same thieves who prosecute our much-vaunted wars against corruption.
Nigeria kills noble dreams. Nigerian dreamers are not those who see a bright future ahead for the country. Nigerian dreamers are the Andrews who see a brighter future for themselves in greener pastures abroad. Nigerian dreamers are those waiting with baited breath to be asked to “come and chop.” They are those who firmly believe defrauding the national purse should be conducted on the basis of “Turn-by-Turn Nigeria Limited.” Their dream is not about building up the nation. It is about building their private mansions in Dubai.
Do Nigerians want Nigeria to succeed? Don’t bet on it. Nigerians work very hard to ensure the failure of Nigeria. It is in this very determination to ensure that Nigeria is a failure, that Nigerians have been remarkably successful.
How else are we to explain the paradox whereby, in spite of the mess we live in, we are nevertheless deemed to be some of the happiest people on the earth? What, you may well ask, are Nigerians so happy about? If we are happiest in the midst of abject failure, what would happen if we were actually to succeed? I dare say, we would be miserable.
Agenda for action
What do we need to do? We must grab Nigeria by the scruff of the neck and drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. We must get rid of those whose specialty is failure. We must give quit notice to those whose job is to come up with excuses for failure. We must put to silence those adept at selling the lie that our failures somehow amounts to successes.
We can do this by rallying round a new breed. We are in dire need of a new generation of Nigerian leadership. The old must go: the young must grow and take over. Our watchword cannot continue to be tribe or federal character. Our watchword must become competence. There are competent Nigerians North and South of the Niger, and East and West of the Benue.
We need to mobilise rank and file Nigerians in this regard. We need to exploit to the fullest the power of our nascent democracy. We need to build a political army to mobilise the electorate in our homes and our neighbourhoods. We need to educate the market woman and the man in the street, that we cannot continue to sell our votes for the cost of a lunch and then spend the next four years in starvation.
It is time to throw out these rascals in our federal, state and local governments lock stock and barrel. It is time to use our vote as a mighty weapon of war. Let us mobilise so overwhelmingly that the powers-that-be would not have the audacity to rig the vote in 2019. Let us use our vote to put Nigeria finally on the highway to success.