First Officer Binta Mohammed Lawal is a commercial pilot in the General Aviation sector of the Nigerian Aviation industry. Trained in the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology, Zaria, Binta obtained her Private pilot’s licence and Commercial pilot’s licence and says she is very proud of the college because as far she is concerned, it is one of the best aviation training schools in the world having produced about 80 per cent of Nigerian pilots flying in the Nigerian airspace. In this chat with Vanguard, Binta speaks on the many ills of Nigeria, saying that the war against insurgency can never be won as long as the manpower is there and how we can get Nigeria of our dreams.
By Ebele Orakpo
Is this the Nigeria of your dreams?
To be honest, it is not! The Nigeria of my dreams is a nation united in purpose, where basic rights are guaranteed, people go about freely without fear and can transact businesses with trust and confidence; where the judicial system is fast and competent enough to handle criminal cases and issues of crime against the state and humanity; a country where the health system is not a laughing stock, where people are not dying because of lack of oxygen, where we can at least compete with the world when it comes to healthcare. I know there is no health equipment or professional in the world that Nigeria cannot afford. We can afford to hire the top 10 best surgeons or specialists in any medical field to come train our professionals.
Nigerian physicians are among the best in the world.
Yes, so why do they thrive in other places? That means we have it in us to excel so why are we not working on ourselves? Why are we accepting the status quo? Unfortunately, we have this mentality of invulnerability; if it doesn’t happen to me, then it’s none of my business. The fact is that we are all sleep-walking as it were, because this issue can hit home any day, any time. Last year, a friend of mine lost her dad who was travelling out of the country. At the airport, he had a seizure and there was no oxygen. They ran to the airport clinic, then to the Air Force clinic, there was none, the driver was frantically driving to a general hospital when the man died.
Another was a pregnant woman who was denied US visa. She had her first three babies in the US and was about to have her 4th but had issues with her visa. She was managed in a highbrow private hospital in Lagos and somehow, the family decided to transfer her to another clinic. During labour, she had complications and needed oxygen, the hospital had none, they put her in an ambulance and on their way to another hospital, she died. I don’t care if you are the President, if you have an issue and there is no oxygen, you will die. It’s not as if we don’t have the minds, the capital or capacity to afford state-of-the-art medical care. Let’s not even talk about education!
It’s so painful because whenever I lament, my friends would ask me to relocate. I have two questions with relocation: Do you want me to leave my own country, my own birthright to go live in another country? I don’t care if they give me citizenship, I would always be a second class citizen. Two, if we all jump out of the ship, who will save it? What happens to those who cannot afford to relocate?’ My hairstylist was trying to leave the country through the desert and he died. So should our suggestion be to throw away the baby with the bath water? Could we actually wake up from our slumber and look inwards, knowing that we too can make a difference in our own little way? Who are the people we vote for? What are their plans for the country? We keep recycling leaders and the painful part is that the world is advancing at the speed of sound and we are decades behind.
They keep people uneducated and the same uneducated people are the ones kidnapping people everywhere so tell me, how is it not coming back to bite us? A large mass of our youths are very susceptible to brainwashing because nobody taught them better; they were never exposed to better education so any fanatic can influence them. Their brains are like plain canvass for anybody to program. If you go to the North, you will see a very large number of uneducated, malnourished, ill-informed and hungry youths. They are like walking missiles and we keep complaining about insurgency. As long as there is manpower to be used, insurgency is not going to end. We keep saying there are people behind them, how about the foot soldiers, those who are going to wreak the havoc? Nigeria right now is a far cry from the Nigeria I hope to be a part of but one thing I know is that we can’t all abandon the ship. We have good people that are very passionate about Nigeria and we are going to keep on with the movement. My hope and prayer is that more would join us because we have work to do.
Are Nigerians docile?
No, we are not docile or laid back, we are just self-serving. Nigerians are very hardworking and very active when they feel the need to. We have people who believe they should always benefit from whatever is going on and as long as they are personally benefitting, it’s okay, which boils down to our values, the things we celebrate. People are celebrated for bravery, selflessness and for acts of heroism. Here, we celebrate people for embezzlement. ‘Oh, he has the latest G-Wagon or the latest Ferrari’ so the average individual wants to get that recognition and the only way is by lavish show of material wealth. We ought to celebrate people that do things we can’t see or touch. I expect a yearly memorial for Dr Adadevoh who died trying to save us from Ebola. Why don’t we put the floodlight on these unsung heroes instead of on the wrong people for the wrong reasons? By the time we take our mind from trying to embezzle to actually trying to leave a legacy, there will be a shift.
I’m sorry to say, if anybody thinks they can stink up Nigeria and run away, it will haunt them wherever they go.
We all need to put in our best every single day. That alone, will change this country drastically. Whatever you do, search your conscience and ask yourself if it is the right thing.
We have great minds in this country, name any field and I can tell you there is a Nigerian that is flourishing in that field and we can’t solve our electricity problem because we don’t want to! If you want to boost Nigeria’s economy, you don’t need to do anything, just give us one year of uninterrupted power supply and watch the GDP. We will be exporting shoes, bags, clothes etc. We are a very vibrant people.
Some homes have solar systems, do you know there is a way they arrange it so that if you don’t consume all you generate, you can sell to government for redistribution? Why can’t we do that? I think there’s a cartel that wants to sell generators. Let’s call a spade a spade! We are afraid of the generator cartel and as long as they are there, we will never have power. Just a select group of people holding a nation of about 180 million to ransom! We have enough sunlight to power the whole nation, so why are we not focusing on that? Do you know that only one third of our land mass is being utilised? We have more than enough space. We have a whole desert in Sokoto and Borno that we can spread solar panels on. Is it that government doesn’t have these ideas or their minds are so stuck up in something else? There is no politics without the people and we are getting there. When are we going to move from potential to actualisation? We’ve been in potential mode since I was born. It’s really sad!
People complain that the business environment is very hostile…
Yes, Nigeria is one of the most hostile nations to do business in. I have tried running a business part-time. We are calling for investors, but they won’t come because nothing works. For instance, I have a fish production farm and we have a hatchery that needs to run on power 24/7. I have a power line that goes right across the farm. I had to buy my own transformer and then they give me a metre that runs about N20,000 in 24 hours. I had to quickly get a solar system and generator as back-up; I’ m doing all these out of my pocket. Who does that? Business people run their businesses as if they are a government; you provide water, power and other things for yourself, so I ask; are we even in a country? We talk big, talk is cheap but what are we actually doing to make things work? There’s this whole craze about agriculture and how government is looking to help farmers. How many farmers are aware of the facilities government has in place for them? We keep hearing of billions of naira from World Bank and CBN, where is the money going to? Do the farmers know they are entitled to that money? Another thing we do is to keep the ignorant ignorant. Nigeria is a country that thrives on the ignorance of the masses. We can’t keep doing that. We are the largest importer of anything you can think of, yet we go to the media and talk big and try to portray ourselves as what we are not. It’s a very dangerous path we are treading because it’s going to bounce on us very hard; everybody will feel it.
We need to develop more passion for our nation, pray for Nigeria and do whatever it is that we can to help her. An average American will say; “God bless America,” that positive affirmation said over and over again by millions of people, is enough. We always complain and curse the country; why don’t we look at the problem and think of whatever we can contribute and if you cannot contribute anything, just say ‘God bless Nigeria.’
Leave a legacy
We need to start thinking about leaving a legacy. It shouldn’t be about personal gratification. Our values are placed in the wrong direction; we are too materialistic. The average young Nigerian now wants to be seen on social media parading the most expensive cars, shoes and bags. What is the process of this accumulation? We have become a laughing stock to the international community. You think that because you are driving the most expensive car and carrying the most expensive bag, you are being respected? Our legacy should lie at making a significant contribution to the generation coming after us.
Let me give you an example, someone embezzles money that was supposed to be used for roads and hospitals and buys a Lamborghini. Now you have this car and roads are bad, the environment is dirty and nasty looking, who are you fooling? Let me give you an example, someone embezzles money and buys a Lamborghini, money that was supposed to be used for roads, hospitals and roads. Now you have this car and roads are bad, the environment is dirty and nasty looking, who are you fooling? Where are you going to drive the car to? That is a fast car that goes from zero to 100 in one or 10 seconds. How are you going to drive them on our bad, pothole-filled roads? They should care, it’s stupid not to care because that person can have an accident due to those bad roads. He could lose his father, mother, relative or even his own life in those hospitals because it is not every time you have an emergency that you have an opportunity to fly out sometimes, you need home medical care or stabilisation before you go. My hope and prayer is that more would join the bandwagon because we have work to do.
25 years behind in agric
I have interest in agriculture so I do my research. An Israeli working in Nigeria said that in the Agricultural sector, Nigeria is 25 years behind so by the and say what point is enough going to be enough? When are we going to pick ourselves by the bootstrap and say ‘look, we need to fix this, no messiah is coming to change this nation, we have to change it ourselves, we have to stop all this grumbling and begin to ask ourselves: ‘how can I be a better person to make better contributions?
For instance, if Dr A runs a hospital, he ensures his doctors and nurses are well trained, he has state-of-the-art medical facilities, he always has everything on hand to save lives, people will be trooping to him and by the time other hospitals ask themselves ‘ok, why are people patronising Dr A and not us?’, they would be forced to meet up with the standard so he, in his own capacity, has made his contribution. It should not be about government alone.