Look In the Mirror; Will You?!, By Wole Olaoye
Look in the mirror. If your relative is given a government appointment today, what will be your first reaction? Would it be to congratulate him and leave him to face the challenges of his new office? Or will you go to him with a shopping list?
It is hard to imagine any other country as maligned and de-marketed by its own citizens as much as Nigeria is. Many of my countrymen and women simply have nothing good to say about their own country. To be sure, the country is not a paradise and many things are wrong in high and low places, but it is still our country. The challenge is for us to fight for a better country and do everything possible to transform our homeland to the level of those other countries we often love to showcase as Eldorado.
I was saddened watching a video of a Nigerian drug courier, a boy of about 25, telling an Indonesian immigration officer interrogating him that he would not have been a drug courier if he hadn’t been born a Nigerian. “My country is a useless place. Suffering everywhere. I regret being born a Nigerian. I wouldn’t have been in this problem if not that my country does not care for me”. As he wailed, the officer laughed out loud and told him that he, the courier, was the problem with Nigeria.
“It is your greed that is giving your country a bad name”, said the unidentified officer. “There are good Nigerians who pass through this airport everyday. But you want quick money. Now you blame your country for your crime.”
All the young man needed to do was take a look in the mirror to see the source of his appointment with fate. And that is what, I dare suggest, we all need to do if we must re-invent this piece of earth by whose name we are identified.
Look in the mirror. If your relative is given a government appointment today, what will be your first reaction? Would it be to congratulate him and leave him to face the challenges of his new office? Or will you go to him with a shopping list? In an environment where the “this-is-our-chance” syndrome governs the general disposition towards public office, the likelihood is that the new appointee will be buffeted with all sorts of ideas on how to dribble funds from government’s coffers into the accounts of trusted friends and relatives so that they can all live happily ever after.
In a country where a senator earns tens of millions of naira every month (we are so duplicitous that the emoluments of National Assembly members is a closely guarded secret and the world nearly fell apart when Senator Shehu Sani disclosed how much was credited to his account each month-end), some are campaigning that the insane package be trimmed down, while others are satisfied with milling around the assemblymen with begging bowls for crumbs.
Everyone is looking for an opportunity to cheat or bend the law. Just see the number of cars on extra queues waiting to beat the traffic light as soon as it turns amber. It’s as if there’s some demon which makes people derive pleasure from doing the wrong thing.
We have travelled so far down the slope of immorality now that any suggestion that we should retrace our steps to propriety sounds ‘old school’. Everyone — or almost everyone — is just waiting for his turn to milk the cow. Those lower down the ladder mount their own toll gates at their duty posts. Thus, a regular visitor to any government secretariat is armed with enough ‘change’ to ‘settle’ various gatekeepers: security men, messengers, clerks, political aides, civil servants and influence pedlars. We take it all in our strides.
Look in the mirror. Why do we jump into oncoming traffic like goats without herders? Government spent billions building modern highways but could not teach the people how to use them. Median lay-bys provided for pedestrians to wait while crossing multi-lane highways are converted to U-turn points by ignorant motorists, while the government looks on. Traffic lights are not obeyed and the defaulters know that there will be no consequence. Multiple lanes are formed once there’s a traffic build-up and those who dutifully stay in line are confounded when the traffic official gives priority to those who jumped the queue.
Everyone is looking for an opportunity to cheat or bend the law. Just see the number of cars on extra queues waiting to beat the traffic light as soon as it turns amber. It’s as if there’s some demon which makes people derive pleasure from doing the wrong thing. The same people will obey all the laws in a foreign land but once they return home, they treat their own laws and regulations with contempt and then turn round and say the country is not working.
At another forum, I once told the story of a young Nigerian I met on the streets of London several years ago. He was in his 20s, weatherbeaten, hungry, frost-bitten and homeless. He spent the bitterly cold nights in empty phone booths and trekked round the city during the day looking for food. He said he crossed over to the U.K. from Eastern Europe, having left Nigeria the previous year. He had dropped out of secondary school and did not have any skill except ‘trading’. After I assisted him with a drink and some cash, he rejected my offer of introducing him to someone who could give him a flight ticket to return home to Nigeria where he could at least live in some dignity. That was the last I saw of him. He would rather be a homeless beggar in London than be a respectable trader at home.
We complain as we rightly should, when other countries treat our people like vermin. But, truth be told, some of our people living abroad have no business crossing the border or flying out of the country in the first place. On the streets of Rome, some of our young men live there working as pimps, drug pedlars, underworld fixers, while others are selling little items like scarves and mufflers on side streets and alleys.
At the same time, we have Nigerian professionals numbering among the best all over the world, particularly in America where Nigerians have been acknowledged as a focussed group of achievers. There is much more to who we are than the negative impression given by the petty criminals in our midst.
There is a definite link between where we were before, how we have managed our affairs since then, the personnel we elected at all levels of government to take us out of the bind and how we got to this hard place of unprecedented criminality, armed robbery, kidnapping, smuggling, corruption, poverty, insurgency and banditry, IDPs, unemployment…
It is okay to rail about the things that need fixing. If we don’t do that, we may begin to accept our under-achievement as normal. But we can’t stay stuck there. Does a freeborn son point to his father’s compound with the proverbial left hand?
This is no blind patriotism. Indeed, I’m always wary of the fake nationalism of the so-called ‘patriots’. Haven’t ‘patriotic’ Nigerian civil servants and political jobbers been in the vanguard of virtually selling out the country to a small company called P&ID in one of the most one-sided business scams of all time?
There is a definite link between where we were before, how we have managed our affairs since then, the personnel we elected at all levels of government to take us out of the bind and how we got to this hard place of unprecedented criminality, armed robbery, kidnapping, smuggling, corruption, poverty, insurgency and banditry, IDPs, unemployment, hunger, destitution, and unprecedented inflation. There is plenty of work to do but we can’t get it done by de-marketing the same country we want to re-invent.
We are in a democracy. When the former government was adjudged ineffective, ‘We, the people’ put a new tenant in the presidential quarters. If the current one ends up with a similar report card, it is not prophetic to say another shall take its place. That is the way of democracy. However, if we destroy what we have today, what country do we want to rebuild going forward?
We are in an age when all lions must develop their own historians so that the narrative of the hunt will not be seen only through the eyes of the hunters. But first, who is going to start the moral resurgimiento?
Wole Olaoye can be reached through email@example.com.