What’s to be Done About Nigeria? By Sabella Abidde
I arrived in Lagos on Friday, May 9 and was scheduled to leave on Friday, May 23. But a group of Nigeria Immigration Service officials at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, foiled my planned departure. As a result, I couldn’t leave until Monday, May 26. True to form, illegal inducements were encouraged and overtly solicited for. Possibly as a result of my inability or refusal to play ball, I was subjected to “administrative processing.” My passports were seized. I was grilled. I was finger-printed. This was a process that took hours to complete– causing me to eventually miss my flight.
The hours I spent at the airport and with the immigration officials were perhaps the most stressful for me this year. Frankly, up until the very moment I was boarding the Delta Airline plane – Delta 55 at about 8:30pm a couple of days later – I wasn’t so sure that there won’t be another excuse to detain or delay me. Rebooking my ticket and related expenses had cost me close to $600, an amount I did not budget for. This was not the trip I bargained for. However, the only beacon in my harrowing experience was Mr. M.T. Umar who brought his kindness and professionalism to bear.
Every so often, a civil servant surprises you by their professionalism. Umar was such a man. He caused my US and Nigerian passports to be released on the afternoon of Saturday, May 24. But more than that, he offered assistance that was above and beyond his call of duty. When you encounter professionals like him, you begin to wonder why the Nigerian civil service does not have more of men and women like him.
For several hours into the flight, I couldn’t sleep. I just couldn’t sleep. My trip to Nigeria was largely unplanned. In earlier times, I had contemplated relocating to Nigeria but couldn’t find compelling reasons to doing so. This time however, I had to visit. It was not an exploratory visit. Not at all! If you’ve ever read some of the poems written by that Chilean poet, Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, a.k.a Pablo Neruda, you will understand why. My heart was gripped in ways I was unfamiliar with. An unexpected miracle you could say; a gift from the heavens. A gift and a miracle she truly is.
In any case, here I was on my way home to a country that has given me so much joy, hope, happiness and satisfaction. And all I can think about were the fears, anxieties and uncertainties that envelop Nigeria. Boko Haram may be our latest headache, but really, things have been this way for a very long time. It is like a ship lost in a raging ocean and without a captain. Is this a failed state, a failing state, or a collapsing entity? You couldn’t tell. But you know it’s been like this for a very long time.
According to the July/August 2007 issue of Foreign Policy journal, “The problems that plague failing states are generally all too similar: Rampant corruption, predatory elite who have long monopolised power, an absence of the rule of law, and severe ethnic or religious divisions.” Tell me: Isn’t this the description of Nigeria since heavens know when?
Nigerians, especially the ruling class, are too proud to admit that the country is no longer the doyen of the Black World, or of the African continent. Those days are long gone. All we do now is wobbling. Pretend. Arrogate non-existing power to ourselves. Live off past glory. You know there is something wrong with the image of the country when Yoweri Museveni of Uganda can direct filth at the Presidency. You know there is something awful wrong with us when Robert Mugabe and Paul Kagame of Rwanda can openly take shots at this country and its leadership. Well, that’s what Nigeria has become: The punching bag and laughing stock of the world.
Thousands of miles up in the sky and on my way to Montgomery, Alabama, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone has the solution to what Nigeria has become. And what Nigeria has become did not start with the current administration. This has been a long time coming – at least since the “what is the two-thirds of nineteen” debacle that was orchestrated and predetermined by the Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo regime in 1979.
Everywhere you go – everywhere I went – the resilience and determination of everyday Nigerians were apparent. Their entrepreneurial spirit was unmistaken. Their zeal and can-do attitude were infectious. There was energy in the air. But how do you harness all these resources? How you do tap and channel all these energies and brilliance and gifts to make Nigeria what it set out to do and what it might have become?
It is time we collectively admitted to four things: First, we don’t know what democracy is; hence we are at a loss over what to do in terms of good governance. Second, in spite of our abundant human and natural resources, we have no clue on what to do in terms of economic growth and development. Third, the government, the military and the security/intelligence agencies seem not to know what to do in terms of combating Boko Haram and other non-state actors. And finally, there is confusion and chaos in all areas of our national life. The aforelisted begs one simple question: What should we do with this space and land called Nigeria?
What I mean is simple, very simple: Why can’t we get leadership right? Why have we not been able to get our best and brightest at the fore of our national affairs? What is it about our national culture that stunts the intelligent ones and promotes the dense and the daft? Since 1999, more than 60 per cent of state governors and ministers have been idiots. Fifty-four years after independence, we still cannot tell that mediocrity served on a platter of gold or diamond is still what it is: mediocrity?
No sane country allows its affairs and institutions to be governed by half-baked minds. Sadly, this is the norm in Nigeria – a country with a pool of talents that doubles, and in many cases, triples many other countries around the world. So, what’s to be done about this Federal Republic that has failed and continues to fail its citizens and global admirers?
What’s the way forward? Well, if I knew, I’d tell you. If I knew, I’d be the one leading the revolution.
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