Nigeria’s literary icon Chinua Achebe in his classic book “An Image of Africa” written in 1983 shares these provoking thoughts on Nigeria “…Whenever two Nigerians meet, their conversation will sooner or later slide into a litany of our national deficiencies. The “trouble with Nigeria” has become the subject of our small talk in much the same way that the “weather” is for the English. But there is a great danger in consigning a life and death issue to small talk. National bad habits are a serious matter, we resign ourselves to them at our own peril”.
I have spent the last fifteen years of my adult life building organizations, building people and trying very hard to build a good life for myself and my family. In these years I have written over 100 newspaper articles, posted and made an uncountable number of comments on social media, spoken on scores of TV and Radio Programs, delivered seminars and workshops to tens of thousands of people, written books and engaged my fellow Nigerians on how we can all work together to make Nigeria better, but I have come to the awful conclusion that in all this time, my life and my businesses have prospered, but I cannot really say the same about Nigeria. The problem of Nigeria still persists.
Ingo Walters, a Professor of Economics at New York University once commented about Nigeria and I para-phrase: “The Nigerian people keep shooting themselves in the foot because of the type of leaders they have… The Nigerian renaissance will take place, but only when forward-thinking Nigerians decide to act and do something about their country”. Rather than act, we talk, especially on social media, and with due respect, it seems that all we achieve most times is whining and complaining that doesn’t really move the needle of change. Clearly the biggest challenge to the Nigerian renaissance lies in the fact that forward-thinking Nigerians are too busy trying to build their own private empires and get out of the cycle of poverty so that they can live a better life and are not interested in getting involved in the process of determining who leads them across all levels or even getting involved in vying for political office itself. The result – we will continue to get the third-rate leaders that we deserve, and in spite of the personal progress we make, we will not make much progress as a society, because inevitably – the fish rots from the head.
Rev. Fr George Ehusani, in an article written in the build-up to the 2003 Elections asked the following critical questions which unfortunately are still relevant and remain largely unanswered by the forward-thinking people of Nigeria till today, a good 15 years later: Who are the aspirants to political office this time around? What are their antecedents? What kind of people were they in private life or public office? How have they performed in the various positions of responsibility they have held in the past? What measure of patriotism and sense of service have they demonstrated in their previous outings? What is their understanding of the common good? How do they hope to meet the challenge of national reconciliation and economic rejuvenation?
I am challenging us to be audacious and do something beyond complaining and allowing a handful of over-experienced politicians and their thugs to hold us to perpetual ransom. It requires a number of philosophical paradigm shifts and specific actions including the following:
Firstly, we must all recognize and BELIEVE that Nigeria can only get better when we the forward-thinking Nigerians decide to do things differently. Building on this we can’t just keep writing, talking, posting, on social media and then sleeping it out on election day because we do not care. We need to secondly – participate ACTIVELY in the electoral and political process – join political parties of forward-thinking Nigerians who offer alternatives to the over-experienced establishment parties and get involved in selecting and grooming leaders. Thirdly, we must as Fr Ehusani has suggested select candidates that are ready to be DISRUPTIVE, make a DIFFERENCE and add VALUE. Also, we must begin to focus and “play” politics on the REAL issues, and get beyond ethnicity, religion and money politics. We should stop getting impressed by candidates promising roads, power and hospitals (which my 12-year-old daughter can achieve) and begin to challenge our leaders to deal with the “soft” infrastructure issues of value-reorientation, human capital development and building strong institutions which Bill Gates spoke about in his last visit to the country. Finally, we should be AUDACIOUS – do something and do the right thing. Kwame Nkrumah once said – “Seek ye first the Political Kingdom and Everything else will be added unto you”. Forward-thinking Nigerians need to understand that until we have more Forward-Thinking politicians, all our efforts in social, business and even in our faith communities will never take us to the promised land. I have decided to get involved and I urge all forward-thinking Nigerians to take these steps I have outlined to get involved. It’s the only way that things will ever really change in this country of ours. #Let’sGetInvolved.
Barrow wrote this piece from Abuja