Now, Let the Conversation Begin… By Olusegun Adeniyi
On Monday, President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated his 13-member Advisory Committee for a “National Conversation” (please note that the nomenclature has changed) where he gave a good speech to reply some of us that are critical of the process. But as the erudite chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Dr Chidi Odinkalu, pointed out last week, it is noteworthy that on a committee to undertake an assignment expected to determine Nigeria’s future, not a single person is under the age of 50 even when our demographics indicate that people within that age group (1 to 50) probably account for more than 85 percent of our population.
However, if the authorities are looking back for a solution to the future, my pastor, Eva Azodoh, a retired army colonel and medical doctor, has better ideas—apparently in recognition of the fact that the wisdom of Solomon had nothing to do with the age of Methuselah. With last Sunday designated as Nigeria Day in our church in commemoration of the 53rd Independence anniversary, Pastor Azodoh made the ‘Jesus Lamb’ department (comprising the Teens and Children units), the focal point of the service. Acting along that line, head of the Teens’ Church to which I belong, Olusesan Adeniyi, decided to ask each of our teenagers to say something he/she admires about Nigeria and another thing he/she dislikes about the country. It was a most revealing session.
Some of what they like about our country and its people include the resilience of Nigerians in that no matter the difficulties we face, we have the capacity to laugh at ourselves with one suggesting that perhaps accounts for why the tribe of comedians is daily increasing. Our legendary hospitability, the abundance of natural and human resources, the fact that we do not experience natural disasters (earthquakes, landslides etc.) and our culture of respect for elders are some of the things that fascinate some of our teenagers. Another said what he likes about Nigerians is that we do not give a damn (his exact phrase) about what people say about us. One said she admires our creativity and instincts for survival even against great odds. In all, it was comforting to know that members of the population between 13 and 19 have positive things to say about Nigeria. But the negatives are as compelling.
Some of the things they dislike about Nigeria, according to no fewer than four of the teenagers, are the seeming recourse to lawlessness and that our governments always recycle the same names of people who cannot add value to our lives. In the words of another teenager, we do not appreciate what we have as a nation and that Nigerians are too abusive of people in authority, especially the president. Of course, corruption, the Boko Haram menace and poor governance also came up as things they dislike about our nation. Even though many of the teenagers said our country does not pay adequate attention to education, one personalised it: “what I don’t like about Nigeria is the fact that I have been at home for months doing nothing just because the federal government cannot resolve its problem with ASUU”.
I took many things away from the interaction but the greatest lesson for me was from a girl who said what she dislikes about Nigeria is the pessimism of the people. “Nigerians just have this negative attitude that things are not going to change; and that nothing is going to work.”
That got to me, especially against the background that some Nigerians actually believe that the proposed “national conversation” that I dismissed on this page last week as an organised waste of time could help in resolving some of the contradictions that hold back our nation. Am I being negative and unduly pessimistic? I have had to ask myself that question several times since Sunday, following the Teen Session. Whatever may be my misgivings, I sincerely wish to be proved wrong even as I hope the “national conversation” helps to advance the cause of peace and development in our nation.
It is instructive that the teenagers in my church come from all parts of the country and from diverse ethnic groups and social backgrounds. Yet not a single one spoke about ethnic differences or that we cannot live together as one nation. The problems they see are not peculiar to any group, region or religion but rather common challenges that could be addressed by good leadership and responsible citizenship. These are smart kids who are very much aware of our diversity as a nation (three in fact referred to it) but intelligent enough to also know it could be a blessing if properly harnessed.
What ought to concern those of us who are 40 years and above is that while members of the younger generation have accepted Nigeria with all its imperfections as a given, many of us still feel compelled to talk endlessly about our differences. While the younger people feel challenged to act in order to create the Nigeria of their dream, we older ones are still at the infancy of our humanity, the stage of perennially learning to master our reality through endless talking! But since I do not want to be counted among the pessimists or the naysayers, let this “national conversation” that will usher in our mythical Eldorado begin…
A Multiple Funeral
According to a Yoruba adage, “how do you console a man whose mother was bitten to death by a dog—would you say it is a common occurrence?” Such is the tragedy of the Associated Airlines plane crash of last week that it is difficult to come to terms with it. But while I commiserate with the family of late Dr. Olusegun Agagu and Chief Olu Falae (over the painful loss of his son, Deji) as well as the other grieving families, the pertinent question remains: at what point did we start ferrying corpses locally by air? The answer is simple: at the moment when our roads became impassable.
Without making excuses for the undertakers who were unfortunately caught in the tragedy, I am almost certain they would have preferred to travel by road where they could go in a convoy and dramatise the entry into Akure to add colour to the occasion. But they must also be aware that they could spend the entire day on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway—a road that daily accounts for about 70 percent of Nigeria’s road traffic yet has been abandoned by successive administrations, to our collective shame as a nation.
However, the challenge of our transport sector goes beyond the road and the air, given the rapidity of deaths on our waterways, a sub-sector that is not only unregulated but largely left in the hands of some unscrupulous men who pay scant regards to issues of safety. Yet nobody seems to be paying attention, perhaps because the people mostly affected are the poor. In the last one month alone, there have been no fewer than seven of such accidents, leading to more than a hundred fatalities–all because the rickety canoes or boats that ply our waters always ferry more passengers than their capacities would ordinarily allow for. It is therefore important that we place the tragic plane crash within the context of a transport sector that is in critical need of a thorough appraisal. That is the only way we can put an end to all the avoidable made-in-Nigeria tragedies whether on land, in the air or at sea.
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