Nigeria — Rethinking our values. . .

The Ry Folk High School

I recently had the opportunity of a lifetime to participate at the inaugural Unleash Lab 2017, a program that attracted 1000 bright young people from 129 countries to co-create innovations for achieving the SDGs. The opportunity was doubly special because it would be my first trip outside Nigeria. The destination was Denmark, one of the richest countries in the world — on a per capita income basis — and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Everything works, society is organized and life is simple.

However, the stark disparity between Denmark — other developed nations I believe — and Nigeria would not dawn on me until I landed at MMIA last week. Not the tired looking airport and its surroundings nor the ruinous view of the city from above could faze me. It would take more than the wave of a magic wand to transform Lagos in two weeks; so all was as I expected it to be. However, as I lugged my baggage to the waiting area to be picked up by wifey, it suddenly hit me. At once, I understood why our dear country is the throes of underdevelopment. All around me, Police men, airport officials, Immigration officers and ‘’agberos’’ were jostling for ‘’tips’’ from returnees. It was all about the next quick buck. And so it is for almost every Nigerian and the exceptions are few, if any. We are like a child that has lost its way; hungry, desperate, beggarly and often times coercive. Your car just needs to breakdown on the road to prove this.

Before you take me to the guillotine for these disparaging generalizations, would you deny that for the most part, all we are concerned with is what goes into our individual pockets? The fact is simple: in Nigeria today private wealth trumps public wealth. We are classic examples of ‘’the tragedy of commons’’. Society is so fractured that we go through life believing that acquiring creature comforts for our families alone is all that matters. Grow up, get a well-paying job, build a house, send your children to school abroad, live comfortably and all else can go to blazes. The noise of our generators don’t matter, nor the green gutters and roads ridden with portholes. It doesn’t matter that our food is sold in gutters or that flies have their fill of our food before we take the first bite. With reckless abandon, we manage to survive some of the most unimaginable oddities.

Yet Nigerians are about the most aspirational people on earth; no one wants to “carry last”. This attitude comes with so much mental and emotional strength that drives us to succeed against the odds especially outside our shores. If only we can channel this energy the right way and demand a just and equitable society that allows everyone to thrive irrespective of their lot in life. I have always hoped for Nigeria where electricity supply is reliable, the roads are good, trains work and food is cheap and readily available. In that Nigeria, the hustle would be much lesser; people would take pride in their work and shun begging for handouts; perhaps, agberos would even cease to exist. That hope wanes with each passing day.

Rather than hold our leaders to account, my people have decided to play the fool and hope that God would someday judge them. They forget that He has given us the perfect basis in His Law for building just and equitable societies. The Nigerian version of democracy and the ripple effects still mystify me:

X comes to me for my vote.

My vote gets X elected to office.

X becomes more powerful than me and the electorate.

X diverts public funds to his private pocket

X buys “my” votes at the next elections

The masses and “I” remain poor and beholden to X.

And the vicious cycle continues… Perhaps democracy is overrated especially in the Nigerian context.

For two weeks in Denmark I observed that it doesn’t matter whether you ride a bicycle or drive a small car. Many of the houses are uniform, well-built structures. New breath taking architecture stand side by side with the old historic structures in idyllic consonance. The air is clean, there is laughter in the streets and people are proud of their home and heritage. They have ‘made their bed’ and now we would give an arm and a leg to go “lie in it”.

Here and now, it’s a pipe dream to imagine Nigeria that works, even in the next hundred years. Yet I remain hopeful, that someday soon, like the prodigal, the wool will be lifted from your eyes. Then, we can with renewed vigor pursue a Nigeria we are all proud off, even if it means dismantling everything and starting on a clean slate.