I think it is important, first off, to know how important it is for us to go back to our morality, to find our moral compass. I think we may find that compass through a collective search. We may have to lead ourselves as a people, in the hope that if we have a groundswell of people who have their heads properly screwed on, we may be able to run these crazy lot out of town and redefine our destiny as a people.
The late Dora Akunyili was the one who as Minister of Information tried to sell the mantra, “Good people, great nation!” to the world. She tried hard to change the narrative about Nigeria and her citizens, especially in the international community. Unfortunately, that moniker she tried to sell, did not stick. Before and after Dora Akunyili, other state functionaries have also tried, assisted by many ordinary citizens, to tell us and the rest of the world, that Nigerians are indeed good people and only a few of us go around the world misbehaving, being drug pushers and prostitutes, and international fraudsters. Since Dora left, by every means Nigeria, and Nigerians, have gotten a lot worse. Is the land still great? Absolutely, without question. I say that if we ship out the current inhabitants and import almost any other people from any other nation, perhaps in three years we may not be able to recognise this space, for good. Forget the natural resources buried in the ground and in the parts of the Atlantic Ocean that belongs to us as a nation. Those are replete with resources. The land is untroubled. We don’t have too many serious natural disasters, apart from the seasonal flooding. Since around 1986, Nigeria has not suffered a drought. It rains in the North and the South. Our dry seasons are not too punishing. The weather is great. I recall picking up an Indian-American lady at the Abuja Airport about 10 years ago. She had flown in on the same flight as Syed Ahmed, my then staff in London. She was amazed when she got into Abuja – not by our roads or buildings, but by how green the land was. She had probably been raised on a diet that depicted Nigeria as a wasteland of nothingness, where they couldn’t even plant a tree successfully.
The land is green. The land is also great. Are the people good? Well, maybe not to the extent of thumping our chests about our own ‘goodness’. Nigerians are still largely okay, and just like any other country, it is indeed a tiny proportion of the people who are involved in all the shenanigans that have now given the country a terrible name. Ask Abike Dabiri what she is going through in her current role. Nigeria has the unenviable position of being the most despised, most looked-down-upon, most-suspected, nation on earth, bar none. We are not suspected a lot for being terrorists, even though Boko Haram almost added this to our woes and some are foolishly linking Nigeria with ISWAP (even when ISIS has been snuffed out, under Trump). But when it comes to being suspected to be liars, forgers, fraudsters, conmen, drug pushers, money launderers, smugglers, yes we are up there in number one position. We are unfortunately the first nation when it comes to illegal migration. Nigerians, especially the younger population from the South, are all over the place. They seek to leave their country to go ‘hustle’ in another man’s land. Nigerians are often drawn by the blitz and glitz, the allure of neat, nice cities, not caring how those ones achieved what they have, on the basis of their own sweat and blood. You can find a Nigerian in any inner village of any country any day. In fact, in places like Dubai, the Nigerian problem has spilled over to other African nations. Many Nigerians now work with Ugandan or Zimbabwean passports. Of late, their woes have been compounded as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities have stopped issuing working visas to Nigerians. The President, Buhari, did not even bat an eyelid or raise a finger for those Nigerians.
Take the UAE, we have seen how young Nigerians go there, plan and execute robberies of banks or moneychangers. In Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Nigerians are chock full in their jails – accused of, or jailed for drug offences. The warnings that those who are caught will be executed has not abated the flurry of hard drug-peddlers who go there daily. In Ghana a few days ago, 27 Nigerians were busted in a building at Kasoa in Accra, accused of being internet fraudsters. They were stripped to their pants. Our loss of dignity is directly proportional to our rate of (usually illegal) emigration. In Uganda, Kenya, Cote D’Ivoire, South Africa, and just about everywhere, we have occupied an important chunk of the underground economy with a minority of us integrated in the formal economy, doing good. Perennial economic and social mismanagement has turned Nigerians to migrant gypsies, viewed with suspicion and disrespected everywhere. I am not sure that the money we make from these sojourns is enough to compensate for the dignity we are hemorrhaging. It is therefore important to search within us, what exactly is our problem. It cannot be poverty. For we seem leaderless, rudderless, and increasingly valueless, even though our politicians are known to be the biggest spenders around the world.
Actually, Muhammadu Buhari was supposed to have offered us some moral compass. After having tried thrice and failed to become the president, majority of Nigerians were ready to kay everything on the ground for him to lead and show us the way. We knew, just as we still know today, that our biggest problem is our impunity, which manifests as mindless corruption among those in government and most of our elites, and in indiscipline…
Is it that the average Nigerian has suffered too much? Perhaps. But is this international opprobrium one of the ways of alleviating the trouble we find ourselves. Will adding scorn to hunger be of any benefit to us as a people? They have suffered in Ghana too, but the last time I was there, I didn’t see what I usually see on the streets of Abuja – total disobedience of law and order, noise from the big man’s sirens as he journeys through the streets, okadas and keke napeps and local taxis disobeying traffic lights with wanton abandon, small men and big men misbehaving alike, as if in a competition to know who is more unruly. I didn’t see that in Zambia, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Cote D’Ivoire, Egypt and any of the African nations I have sojourned in. I recall how decorous a long queue of cars were as I watched them from the balcony of my friend’s flat in Kenya. At a very tiny roundabout, they all took their turns. Not here. Everybody is a big man! The politicians lead the way. From senator to local government chairman down to the least councilor, it has become all about hubris, hot air, braggadocio, and the oppression of whomever they could catch. The latest manifestation of our unwarranted and counterproductive feistiness was seen at the recent launch of the eNaira by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Nigerians were asked to register to be able to use the new innovation. The CBN was still figuring out a couple of things – just like every other country is trying to do. But Nigerians were too ‘woke’ to be calm. They went on the app and started ‘rating’ something that had not found its feet on the ground. Google found so many negative comments it had to pull down the app for a couple of days. Who have we helped by unnecessary wokeness and rascality? We all need to calm down in this country. We seem to be frantically looking for what is not lost, or what we shall easily find if we took a deep breath and engaged our senses.
So, there isn’t much that is really spectacular about Nigerians. We are just normal people looking for direction. It is that direction we lack – the moral compass.
Actually, Muhammadu Buhari was supposed to have offered us some moral compass. After having tried thrice and failed to become the president, majority of Nigerians were ready to kay everything on the ground for him to lead and show us the way. We knew, just as we still know today, that our biggest problem is our impunity, which manifests as mindless corruption among those in government and most of our elites, and in indiscipline and unruliness among the poor, who try to get back at society. Nigeria is thus treated as an orphan, or as a fallen elephant which gets cut up in so many ways by all sorts of players. A friend recently showed a short video of Cotonou, the capital of Benin Republic nearby, and it was sad to see just how neat that city was. Sad, I said. Not for Benin Republic, of course, but for us in Nigeria. How can we be this disorganised? Why are we happy to be the world’s most disorganised country? Do we know what others really think about us? I can assure us that they don’t think too highly of us in this country. And we thus lose a lot because of this. Our reputation has plummeted to the lowest levels, and we are arguably the most despised people in the world. The noose is closing in as more and more countries shut their doors on our peoples, stop employing or doing business with Nigerians, or make obtaining their visas more onerous for our people. Whereas many Nigerians don’t care about these things – especially those who have little or no self-esteem – those who have invested in themselves through education or the gradual building up of integrity in our very tough terrain, get stung painfully when they get categorised with criminals. Our children are also going through this, and it is very unfair that we have devalued these kids through our actions and inactions.
There is nothing wrong with Nigeria but our collective failures to understand and confront the arduous task of nation-building. Many of those who have had the opportunity to actively engage, are soon distracted, and would rather loot instead. The rest have become listless, noisy, uncontrollable, uncooperative and, of course, on a selfish overdrive too. Somebody somewhere has to call a lot. We need our moral compass back.
Where will we find the moral underpinning and compass? Who will bring some to our country? These are the questions. You see, morality is very important. We have seen how our leaders have consistently let us down on the matter of morality each time they say, ‘Well, I have fulfilled the law and that is all that is required’. President Jonathan did this with asset declaration. Yar’Adua, before him, had toed the path of morality in declaring his assets openly and without prompt. Buhari, unfortunately, went the Jonathan way and his spokesmen said the same thing the Jonathan people said. I remarked then that our anti-corruption war collapsed at that very moment. It was a major tragedy. For morality is more important than law. Law derives from morality. It is the depth of shallowness (now, what figure of speech is that?) for anyone to talk about law outside morality. Such a person thinks that because the white man colonised us and gave us the Common Law, then we can live by that law and forget anything else. But like Fela Anikulapo-Kuti told us, culture and tradition are the teachers of government, and it is from them that laws are created.
Our religious leaders have failed us in morality. Our business elites have as well. Forget our political elites. Our traditional leaders have been subsumed under local government bosses. This may be the worst thing that the British did to us, even though the traditional leaders do and did have their own shortcomings.
I think it is important, first off, to know how important it is for us to go back to our morality, to find our moral compass. I think we may find that compass through a collective search. We may have to lead ourselves as a people, in the hope that if we have a groundswell of people who have their heads properly screwed on, we may be able to run these crazy lot out of town and redefine our destiny as a people. Perhaps the discrimination our children suffer, the embarrassments and losses we too will continue to suffer in the comity of nations, will bring attention to a need to a return to morality. We cannot all be behaving like philistines, foisting ‘anyhow-ness’ on our society, reverting to the Hobbesian state daily, acting only for ourselves and the maximisation of our own individual comfort. We only have one chance at this life. Collectively, it looks like we have failed in this entity called Nigeria. But who knows where the last gasp effort will heave from? There is nothing wrong with Nigeria but our collective failures to understand and confront the arduous task of nation-building. Many of those who have had the opportunity to actively engage, are soon distracted, and would rather loot instead. The rest have become listless, noisy, uncontrollable, uncooperative and, of course, on a selfish overdrive too. Somebody somewhere has to call a lot. We need our moral compass back.
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