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September 30, 2023

A nation in search of heroes at 63, By Muyiwa Adetiba

A nation in search of heroes at 63, By Muyiwa Adetiba

Muyiwa Adetiba

Tomorrow is our National Day. Nobody will be clicking celebratory glasses on the day. To do that will be to celebrate something akin to failure. To do that will be to see any development or any figure that is not in the negative as a pass mark. To do that will be to set the lowest of bars and have the lowest of self-esteem. It wasn’t always so.

The bar we set for ourselves and the nation at independence was high. Nigeria was that sleeping giant of Africa which needed to be aroused. Once aroused, it was to find its rightful place in the comity of nations. And then, to ginger the rest of Africa into bringing respect to the black race.

At independence, Nigeria’s leaders talked about emancipation, they talked about freedom, they talked about unity in diversity, they talked about Africa coming of age. The aim was high; the aspirations lofty; the dreams beautiful. 63 years are long enough time for a child to become an elder; for innocence to become knowledge; for dreams to become realities.

One of the realities which has ushered us into our Independence Day is that of a thousand Naira exchanging for a dollar. We had thought about the possibility of that happening in the past but I always thought we were exaggerating things. I never thought it could happen in my lifetime coming as it were, from the days a Naira exchanged for two dollars. What is marking the day with us tomorrow is not only a depreciating Naira, it is the hyper-inflation that comes with it.

As a result, we should wake up on Sunday morning to the sound of generators fueled at 1,100 Naira per litre of diesel and cars at 650 Naira per litre of petrol. As strange as it might seem, there was a time when generators were not part of our lives in any form; and I was around when Nigerians commuted from place to place in trains. At Independence, we had a strong currency.

We had a stable economy. More importantly, we valued and respected hard work and knowledge based skills. Today, most of the values are gone and most of the indices that make for a stable polity have gone southwards. It is a sign of the times that a national strike will be labour’s anniversary gift to the nation. I personally don’t have much faith in the strike. It will merely continue what Emefiele’s currency swap did which is to further cripple the economy and punish the poor.

It is defeating to dwell in the past and I don’t encourage it. But it is also foolhardy to keep trudging ahead without so much as a backward glance to examine why things have gone wrong. There is no better time to take stock than on Independence Day. Why is it that we are poorer today as a people with oil than we were without it? Why is it that we are now less educated with oil than we were without it? My answer is simple; we lost our values.

This loss of values seeped into our every undertaking as a people.It started in my opinion, with the end of the unfortunate Civil War. We were so suffused with oil money that we were not able to reflect on the lessons of the war let alone learn from them. The notion that Nigeria was rich permeated our being and created a mindset of entitlement. Whatever money could not do, more money – specifically oil money – would do it. We threw money at everything. As a result, everyone and everything became subordinated to wealth.

This included hardwork, education, skills, accountability and morals; especially morals. And because making money became our national ethos,a Professor leaves the classrooms to go into importation otherwise known as ‘business’ because a semi-illiterate with containers at the wharf is more respected than him by the society. An industrialist abandons his factory to go into buying and selling because the returns are faster and the system offers no protection. A farmer leaves his farm to go into the city to ‘hustle’ because there is no longer dignity in labour. It is now dignity in money.

A notion that is endorsed by churches when they laud donations from people of dubious means. Companies left our shores at a time in droves citing harsh operating environments. This was in spite of the vast market which has always been there. This was in spite of ‘NEPA’ and bad roads which have always been there. What has changed, what has become worse, is the attitude of the stakeholders. The staff, from floor attendants to Executive Directors, want to take as much as they can from the company. Banks and public officials who are supposed to nurture are more interested in bleeding. There are no consequences to this loosening of morals, this kleptomania.

And because we are short of values, we are short of heroes. Wole Soyinka became Africa’s first, and Nigeria’s only Nobel Laureate for literature. He put us on a literary and intellectual map over forty years ago. He made us proud as a people. It was therefore disappointing, but not surprising, to see those who could not even lace his shoes let alone be in the same company with him use derogatory words on his person in the social media.

You can disagree with someone’s views – in this case political views- without attacking the person. Especially someone whose international achievements have lent stature to Nigeria and the black race. They had no respect for his considerable achievements; and at 90, they had no respect for his considerable age. That they got away with it without any rebuke from elders shows the type of values we now have as a people.

Though more populated, Nigeria still has the same land mass it had 63 years ago. Though degraded, she still has the same arable land. Though badly exploited, she still has the same variety of mineral resources. In other words, Nigeria still has the very things that made her viable at independence. What needs to change is our attitude. We should encourage our youths to embrace hard work and to stop cutting corners. We should encourage them to find heroes and role models outside the realm of wealth and politics.

Our moral fabric is thin and faded. By worshiping wealth, we extol corruption. No country is rich enough for everyone’s greed. Nigeria is not an exception. Nigeria should rise if we could again inject discipline and values into the blood streams of the society.