Posted on June 16, 2009

The Burden of Being a Nigerian

Dele Momudu, This Day Online, June 13, 2009

I spent most of last week in Washington DC and the days were well spent. Everywhere I went, the topic was always Nigeria. Nigeria seems to have become a major burden for most of its citizens. Wherever two or more Nigerians are gathered, there is usually nothing else to discuss than the failure of leadership, and our steady slide into apocalyptic state. To say everyone is worried is an understatement.

There is nothing to suggest that Nigerian politicians appreciate, or even care, about the dangers that ominously hang over us. The way they are carrying on suggests that these reckless fellows may once more endanger the democracy we suffered so much to attain. When a nation is incapable of transferring power from one civilian to the other, in an atmosphere of peace, then we are all doomed.

Politics for us is a matter of life and death. Elections remain a theatre of war, and opponents must be crushed without mercy. If a whole BAT (Bola Ahmed Tinubu) could cry out so stridently about the manner some powerful forces in Nigeria have been threatening him with EFCC, then we are indeed in trouble. This confirms what we heard during the electoral malfeasance in Ekiti State, that the federal government had warned Tinubu to stay away from causing trouble for the ruling party in Ekiti.

Failure to heed this blackmail may lead to his files being revisited at EFCC. What nonsense? We thought we had seen the end of this type of abuse of power. While some files are being closed, the underprivileged ones like Tinubu have theirs being kept for regular oiling in the cabinets. The brave man had to outsmart the foxes by taking the battle to their doorstep, and exposing the shenanigans of vindictive politicians.

We’ve never been lucky with most of our rulers. It is no longer news that we have very weak, incompetent, ineffectual, corrupt, wicked, ruthless, visionless politicians in Nigeria. What is news is that Nigeria parades some of the brightest people on the surface of the earth and yet cannot elect such people into office. The few good people who manage to get into power are never allowed to make a difference. They are often suffocated by those who joined politics for personal gains. We tend to complain a lot, but without visible results.

Every Nigerian knows what is wrong with us. Even theoretically, we all seem to have the solutions. Why then is it impossible to apply our knowledge to finding lasting answers to many questions begging for attention? How come we are so used to “suffering and smiling”? Could there be a spiritual dimension to our problems? It is baffling that we can endure so much pain. It is amazing how we simply shrug our shoulders to very serious issues, and move on with our lives as if nothing happened.

There is not a single thing that we can point at that our rulers have generously done for us. We lack good roads, yet we drive the most expensive cars on it. We build houses we cannot maintain in the most expensive slums in the world. We all have our individual boreholes at home to serve as private water corporations. Generators fight loudly for attention in every single home or flat. There are no sacred neighbourhoods.

Abuja, our brand new city is already collapsing. Nowhere is our rulers’ lack of vision so palpable than Abuja. It is obvious we have again missed an opportunity to build a city that can rival Canberra in Australia, or Brasilia in Brazil. We seem to suffer irredeemably from poverty mentality and can never copy the right things that we are so used to seeing elsewhere.

This was the platform on which we rested our discussions during a beautiful brunch which was hosted for me last Saturday by a young 26-year old Nigerian, Bankole Omisore, at The National Press Club, on 14th Street, Washington DC, a very historic edifice that has played host to the creme de le creme of American politicians and showbiz personalities. For me as a journalist, it was the perfect environment to enjoy the best of American burgers, and jaw-jaw on the issues of serious concerns to all of us.

I had struck a beautiful relationship with Bankole last year, at the Annual Nigerian Reunion Summit in Baltimore, where I gave a talk, and interacted with thousands of Nigerian youths. Bankole had chaperoned me on that occasion, and demonstrated his incredible love for Nigeria even at that tender age. He would later introduce me more forcefully to Facebook, a monster that has now taken over the world.

Today, I have the privilege of over 4,000 friends, with another 4,000 waiting for me to confirm them. Interestingly, Bankole controls the Ovation International magazine (loud for a purpose) group on Facebook, and has already attracted over 5,000 members, and growing at an average of 100 new members per day. This whizz-kid has opened my eyes to the awesome possibilities of technology. He was able to register and tutor me on the latest craze in town, Twitter. The generation of Banks, as we all fondly call him, is so determined to change Nigeria through technology. They have vowed never to allow Nigerians to be slaughtered on the streets while campaigning for enduring democracy and good governance.

Their strategy is to use the Internet to reach as many enlightened Nigerians, at home and abroad. Believe me, these guys are winning, slowly but surely. They post my column on Facebook every week, so that those who may not be interested in reading newspapers on-line can have access to the serious issues we tackle these days.

I cannot thank these Nigerians enough for their selfless contributions to nation-building. They have contributed largely to my unbounded optimism lately. We must pay special tribute to these unsung heroes who are working round the clock to achieve positive changes for Nigeria. These are guys who combine their regular jobs with sitting on their Blackberries to send messages at the speed of light. We must encourage them to carry on for they are the salt of our world. One can only hope that more Nigerians would also take advantage of the many stunts that technology has put on parade today.

Back to our brunch, Bankole was able to hook up his group with the older generation by attracting the famous Professor Bolaji Aluko of Howard University and Mr Muyiwa Sobo, a distinguished Attorney in the Washington Metropolitan area. It was a meeting for about a dozen people and we had very useful insight into the problems of Nigeria through Professor Aluko. He was of the opinion that the decision of Chief Obafemi Awolowo to move from the Western Region to the center robbed Nigeria of the opportunity of every region developing at its own pace.

According to him, the South-west would have become like the Singapore of Nigeria, while offering the other regions the spirit of competition. He lamented that all the enviable legacies of Awolowo and his vibrant team have come to ruin in the hands of the carpetbaggers who have taken over the whole place. He wondered why nothing concrete has been added to the innovations brought into governance by Awolowo.

We talked about the dearth of good people in politics. It was agreed that that decent people have allowed themselves to be intimidated by political upstarts and thugs. We have inadvertently transferred the levers of power to most of the certified crooks that are ready to play the game by any means necessary, while we are busy running away from what we call the dirty game. The simple analogy is that of beauty contests. We always complain that Miss This and Miss That are very ugly, yet we keep our own pretty daughters under lock and key. It is the same with politics.

We cannot continue to complain about the poor quality of politicians we have when none of us is ready to join the fray. As for those of us who may not be ready for elective office, there is always a positive role to play. We can start to effect change by helping to mobilize voters for good candidates. We can also help to recruit foot-soldiers who would help to protect the votes of the right candidates. It is very clear that useless candidates would always spend huge fortunes to amass guns and cutlasses but there are lessons to be learnt from the past. You can only rig where you are popular. That is the main reason PDP amassed all its votes predominantly from one zone.

In the future, we must never allow ourselves to be caught unawares. Since we know Maurice Iwu is a beautiful leopard who can never change his skin, all hands must be on deck to beat this master at his the game. We must put a lie to his brazen propaganda. Everyone must come out to vote. After voting we must stay around to ensure no hanky-panky is introduced. We agreed at our brunch to take this campaign to all our friends and families.

Nigeria cannot afford another four years of this dangerous drift. All over the world, Nigerians are crying. Most people want to come home. But they are worried about the state of affairs. They hardly receive good news from home. A friend said he was trying hard to cajole his young kids to visit Nigeria, and where they refuse; he may have to apply pressure. All the kids are complaining about lack of steady electricity.

The news that the ruling government is pumping more money into that sector is being scorned at by most people. They are of the opinion that the problem was never that of funding. It is that of a perpetual sabotage by those satanic profiteers who are benefitting from our collective misery. There is also the issue of awarding contracts to those who will never get the job done after collecting full payments. Examples of such unexecuted contracts abound in our country. Yet the contractors are usually untouchable.

There is also a consensus on the issue of getting rid of our traditional politicians who have failed us so woefully. After ruling us for about 50 years, we must begin to ease them out of the system. Most of them started their political careers when they were in their twenties. Now some of us are nearing 50, yet we are being looked at as “small boys”. When are we going to mature enough to be able to serve our dear country? The same politicians are being recycled over and over again, as if the rest of us are idiots. We must challenge the retrogressive system that makes it possible for the worst politicians of our society to force themselves on us.