By Ebele Orakpo
Mr. Chima Obinna Ejimofor is an architect, producer, singer and songwriter. He spent most of his growing years in Imo State and has moved from one part of Nigeria to the other in search of opportunities, experiences and all. In this chat with Vanguard, he said nobody, no matter his religion, would want an insecure environment. Excerpts:
Is this the Nigeria you grew up in?
The Nigeria I grew up in was different and my aspirations for Nigeria kept changing as I grew. If you grew in one part of Nigeria, you are only left with stories to judge the other parts, so my dream Nigeria would be one in which we avoid concentrating on our differences and see ourselves as individuals who come from the same struggle, this way, we might be able to create a working force because I have seen how a lot of Nigerians have developed themselves in other countries. We come from a passion of wanting to be great so if that is already embedded in us, we always want some good for our individual selves so with a population of about 200m, I think with that mindset, the Nigeria of the future can turn into anything we decide. It is not one of those situations where our resources determine what we become. What will determine what Nigeria becomes depends on mindset. There are a lot of brilliant people who want to do good just as there are a lot of people who want to bring the country down but if we focus our attention on the positive which is building good infrastructural and healthcare systems by the people we put in there to guide and regulate the laws of the land, I think we can avert a lot of terrible things that have been going on with us for the past 53 years and make something out of the country.
We’re divided along religious and ethnic lines, how can we get out of that?
That’s my point exactly. Our religious system is just as good as the educational system because without education, you will not be able to understand religion. Religion is not something you just grow into and understand; you need to be educated to understand it so I think before we place religion (one of the destroying factors in the country), we should place education first.
We all want the same thing
If you ask a Christian, a Moslem and a traditional religion practitioner what they want for their children, the kind of environment they want them to grow up in; we all say the same thing – free, secure, peaceful environment. So without religion, we all have one particular thing we want and if we concentrate on that, then we have already conquered our religious differences. The fact is that many people are suffering and when you suffer psychologically, you are only left with your back against the wall and in that vulnerable situation, you only want to survive and when you think of surviving, you think only of yourself or your kinsmen; but when you ask yourself the question: ‘Why are we suffering?’ If we solve why we are suffering, then we can solve why we are actually fighting because I feel it’s not just a Nigerian situation, so many countries, even the great USA, have some religious problems too; you see people go into public buildings and shoot them up.
It boils down to our mindset, our psychological backgrounds and how we treat each other basically. Would you want to walk into a public building and get shot? Would you want a situation where your neighbourhood is run by armed robbers every night? Nobody, no matter your religion, would want that. We can decide to say ‘fine, we are going to secure the environment where your church or mosque is so that you can pray as long as you want.’ But if it is not secure and you are supposed to go for prayers, you won’t go, so the state of the nation depends greatly on how we secure ourselves and how we actually think. We call ourselves the giant of Africa; it’s not really because of what we have achieved, I think it’s because of what we believe we can do. You might be sleeping and people will look at you and say ‘ah, she can’t do anything!’ But once you wake up, you are active so it’s almost like Nigeria, at a point, went to sleep and if we come to recognise our force as one, not as different tribes, we would understand how countries like US and China have grown to where they are now. You will never see them divide themselves just for reasons that have nothing to do with their economic growth.
We can’t be fighting a war with ourselves when nobody knows the reason. My children come in and join the war which I didn’t start. It’s a waste of time, we can actually say ‘enough of this. If you want a good Nigeria, raise your hands and if you don’t want a good Nigeria, go over there,’ then work with people who want a great Nigeria and make it what it should be. Differences are not going to take us forward.
How did we get here?
It was a gradual thing, even diseases in our body start with a pinch or something as little as a pimple. For instance, we have people who are 80 years now and when Nigeria was a beautiful place, they were in their 20s so may be at that point, a couple of corrupt individuals or practices were not checked. Where you have a bad little child and you just ignore the fact that this character is bad and allow the child grow into an adult with the bad character, you end up dealing with a bad adult and you start asking questions like: ‘how did this adult become a bad person?’ No, it started way back and you did not take care of it. So it’s negligence and ignorance that got us to the point where we feel religion will solve all our problems. God has given us the gift of wisdom so when you have already been given the gift of wisdom, I don’t think you should go to God every night and morning to ask; you can thank Him for what you have been given and the more you give thanks and praises, it’s like gratitude, it multiplies and makes you feel good, but when you just keep asking and asking, it’s a problem but when we feel like, ‘hey, we are the ones that messed things up a while ago, so let’s fix this.’ I know there are bad people around and the only reason why there are bad people is so that the good people can do something about them. That’s how I see it.
What about the economy?
You will realise that a lot of countries that are not doing so well are not very populated so it has a lot to do with workforce. If the economy of a country is bad, it is the people because economy is just abstract, it is me and you deciding to make something work out for us; what we buy, what we sell and how we improve our trade. So the Nigerian economy is dependent on the people. For instance, if we stop relying on government to provide everything for us, we would be able to create a sustainable economy that can take care of you and your household without you going to your neighbour like how it used to be in the past – trade by barter system where what you reap is from what you sow. If you want to eat, you have to give something and if you don’t have something to give, you will starve so it will only create this cycle where you ask yourself: ‘what can I do? and that’s the question a lot of great people have advised people to ask. If we have 100 people in Nigeria and 100 of them are trying to do good, every one person that is around 99 people, will only gain 99 times as much as he is giving but when you have one person who is docile and doesn’t really care but focusing on other people and saying: ‘let the government give me money for the oil under my land; I own this,’ things like that don’t help. When you have an economy like that, you tend to have people who come in to take advantage of it because they see the citizens don’t want to do anything so they capitalise on their laziness and sell to them what they already have. Everything in this world, I believe, is information and if you have information, you can transform anything to benefit you.
So we shouldn’t expect the government to do anything?
It’s not like we shouldn’t expect them to do something. The only reason I feel we have government is because as human beings, we are wired to need hierarchy, even animals. It’s not for power tussle, it’s more like ‘ok, we have a leader so if you want to pay for whatever, pay it into the leader’s account, the leader would take care of it.’ It’s like regulation, making sure everyone is doing what he is supposed to do. It’s not someone who is going to lord it over others. If you see a leader like a father and those being led as the children, then you are already putting yourself in a situation where you are not responsible enough to take care of yourself but when you see the leader as a father and others as his bothers, you know why he has you. A government is as good or as bad as the people and when we talk of Nigeria, we talk of democracy. It means the leader is whoever we elect. We are saying: ‘Hey, this is what we want to do, this is what we can do on our own but we just want you to be the one to spearhead this idea.’ It’s not ‘please tell us what to do, we have no idea.’ We are intelligent enough to say: “Ok you have the tendency to carry the crowd, some have leadership qualities, some probably like to stay at the background; we just ask those with leadership qualities to speak for us, be our voice, things like that just like in the church or mosque where we have a pastor or an imam. So I feel that’s really what government should be about and not that if there is no government, then we are nobody. I don’t believe in having a leader that tells you what to do and that is why we have the National Assembly, they go through everything that is said and ask if you are ok with it, what you think and what your people are saying about it? Everybody makes an input and the President signs.
That’s in an ideal situation…
That is why we are having this conversation. There’s no government without the people. When you say ‘they,’ ‘they’ is just one man or one woman. If the people decide that from now on, this is what this country is going to be about; when we go to the filling station, we will be orderly; we are going to park our cars well in public places. In the last election, there were many videos of election malpractice so it’s not just the government, it’s the people!
When you say the powers-that-be, who gave those people the power? It’s back to the people. Nigeria is not an ideal place, no doubt but I am trying to take the blame from an individual or a group of 10 or 20 people and put it on the 200 million people. So many times, a lot of revolutions have happened in countries where the people decide to say no, ‘enough of that.’ So I think 200m people should be able to say ‘we don’t want this for ourselves again, we’ll change this. We’re not coming out to vote, our votes don’t count the way you claim they do,’ and everybody stays at home, even those who were promised N20m to go and vote, will say: ‘It’s not about the money, it’s about change.’ If we can stop being greedy because one greedy Judas in your crew is already a loophole, he has no principles or dignity so he can always cave in.
Education starts from the home not from the school but most of the time, we have children basically being raised and even nurtured by teachers, even worse, by their fellow students. If they all have good backgrounds, I think our educational system will be way better than it is now. I always congratulate every single teacher out there who took time to impart knowledge. That’s the best job ever, apart from being a mother.
Doing business in Nigeria
For a sole proprietor, someone who has a dream and wants to achieve the best, business here depends on two factors. First, capital; there is no capital and even if you have to go to the bank, you already have to be established which is basically what you are trying to do so if you could be established, why do you need to go to the bank in the first place? If our dreams are being funded by people who believe in us, it’s a risk. If you feel you have to be a rich man to be able to achieve your dream, you’ve already started losing, your dream will never be achieved so capital is one. Two, people you associate with. A lot of people have great ideas but they are always around people who are there for the short term, those who just look for what they can gain, you may be thinking of 20 years and someone is thinking of 20 mins, what they can just get out of you now. So it takes us back to mindset.
Secondly, I think we should start looking at foreign investors. When we say foreign investors, it looks like we are talking about people who are better than us, but it could be partnerships, Nigeria doing business with Burkina Faso, with France, this is how nations power themselves to become strong allies. Young people are the ones who suffer the most because once you are done with school, it’s almost like that’s when your life really starts. You go looking for a job and when you want to get a job, they start asking you for 4 -10 years experience! So people who graduated and ready to work but without experience, there is no job.