The long search for the Nigeria we dream and hope for

By Tope Fasua (Ed)

“In 2023, anyone who does not possess the madness and sincerity of purpose should not come near leadership, What should otherwise be a positive example of the capabilities of black people has turned out thus far, to be the shame of the race

The arguments are; who can save Nigeria? Who or what will save Nigeria? Can Nigeria be saved? Everywhere one looks, one sees a deliberately mismanaged and debilitated nation. It needn’t be so, but that is what it is. I concluded that this country is the way it is today, because that is the way the principalities and powers that have run Nigeria want her to be; a nation deliberately screwed up for no reason at all. Nigeria is a bad testimonial for black people everywhere on earth. It is a one-stop evidence that black people cannot run anything once they come together in large numbers. What should otherwise be a positive example of the capabilities of black people has turned out thus far, to be the shame of the race. I am on a quest to find out why this is so; what exactly is our problem in Nigeria?

When I travelled to Egypt in January and February this year, I was shocked that on this continent there are countries where they are actively moving on. Egypt is like the Nigeria of North Africa, meaning that it is large and a little rough at the edges. It has the numbers too, compared with Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. All these countries do not consider themselves to be part of Africa even though we share the same solid, unbroken continental slate. They see themselves decidedly as Arabs. They are also integrating rapidly with Europe, and some of them see Turkey as their reference point. Even in spite of Covid, I saw buzz in Cairo. Their economy, like that of Tanzania, grew during covid, when many economies shrunk by half across the world.  I saw a resilient nation of patriotic people. I saw domestic consumption, and a people with pride in their nation. I saw new developments – two new cities built from the scratch in the last 25 years. I saw malls that rivaled and surpassed those they have in Dubai. I saw a nation that was ready to take over from those middle eastern havens if they as much as blinked. I saw a nation with ambition, despite its flaws. I saw how the Nile is cherished in Cairo, more than it is in the southern African nations from whence it flowed northwards. I saw a nation that valued her culture, and made money from it through tourism. I asked why did they remove Hosni Mubarak; for those dictators or North Africa really had vision and love for their people; the Gaddafis, Ben-Allis, Benbellas, Bouteflikas, the Kings of Morocco?

The Egyptians said they were probably bored. He had stayed too long and they needed something new. They eventually got one. After the fiasco of the radical Islamic government of Muhammad Morsi, Egypt settled for Gen Al-Sisi in 2014. They complain today… that the guy is too hard. He loves building infrastructure and has refused to share the money. He has devalued the Egyptian Pounds a bit without commensurate increases in public sector salaries, and inflation went up. He needs to engage in more palliatives for the poor, but he insists that now was the time to build infrastructure for coming generations. In Egypt today, they build whole bridges under one month. Building of roads is no big deal. You will even see the Army Engineering Corps on the road on a good day, getting involved in building infrastructure. I was sad at the underachievement of my country.

“Nigerians are not cooperating. We are rather pursuing disparate personal ambitions all over the place. This is manifest today in the total destruction of the civil service

And I thought it must be a black matter.

Then I came to Ghana.
We all haven’t travelled much since covid made its debut. I haven’t been to Ghana in almost 3 years. Of course, a lot has changed. Ghana has an articulate president; an old man all the same but with a clear, ringing voice, and a diction that is the envy of many an English man. He was recently at the United Nations, reminding them that though African nations suffered least from Covid – for one reason or the other – they (the western countries), seem hell-bent on ensuring we suffered the most. Talk about a leader that stands for his people.

Anyhow, it was my trip to Ghana that made me write this. We need nothing less than a mad man, or a mad woman, come 2023. How we will get that person, I don’t know. All I am saying is that we have faffed around enough in this country. Things have degenerated too badly and if it goes worse, we are done for. Every Nigerian now complains bitterly about how bad things have got – even most of those in government.  The level of impunity is unprecedented. Those ruining the country believe that nothing will happen to then, and they have been right so far.  Indiscipline and corruption rules the day.  Yes, it is sexy to pontificate from afar that it is better for the country to implode, but that will not be a savory spectacle. Alas, it is hard to imagine how we shall escape that implosion.

In visiting Ghana, I realized that we may not have a black man problem. Yes, the black man needs to be brought up to speed and fast, across the continent. We are slow in catching up. We haven’t mastered a lot of things ourselves in the area of organizing ourselves, and technology. We haven’t generated enough critical mass to turn our countries, and continent around. We still rely on the Chinese, the westerners, the Indians, even the Lebanese, to help us do stuff. Yet, nothing goes for nothing, and the more we beg for things to be done for us, the more people take advantage of us. Our leaders are mostly beggars; people with very low self-esteem who need to be helped out of their misery. Sub-Saharan African nations may have this problem but some of them are surely inching forward, while others are clearly leaping into the future.

I am sure that what we need is a mad person to clear the Augean stable, the pigsty that we have created. He or she may come in democratically, but there is so much muck for such a person to clear without which his/her efforts after 4 or 8 years will result in disgrace. Such a one will not care about getting a bad name, because in going our problems with feather dusters and behaving like we were on the same level as western nations, the leader will be shredded, reported, sanctioned, hounded, dragged all over the human rights world, probably removed midway into his tenure, maybe even killed. But we need to make a sacrifice for this nation and we need someone to sacrifice of themselves so that we don’t all get into big trouble.

Ghana in the mirror

I had to go through Lagos Airport, and I have never gone through that airport without being incredibly angry. In the first place, having to take a cab between local and international for N4,000, when I knew that N3,400 on Uber or Taxify will take me to Victoria Island – 40 kilometres away, was very upsetting. A 4 kilometre journey costs more than a 40 kilometre journey simply because those old unruly men who have constituted themselves into principalities and powers of airport taxi are trying to frustrate technology. Most Uber drivers do not want to take the short trip anyway… perhaps because of harassment even at the international airport. At the local, they recently installed new signages threatening to fine anyone picking up passengers at Arrival. Arrival also happens to be Departure. What a quirk. But who cares? The airport is not designed to make the lives of passengers easier, just as the mentality of government agencies in charge of aviation. The customers come last, and are now expected to haul their luggage to the car park on the first or second floor, just to pick a taxi… or they go with wasted and disorganized pals of MC Oluomo, who always quarrel loudly with themselves and drag people in every direction into their often stinking cabs.

Getting to International Airport, some strange fellow came to open the door of the cab for me. I looked at him curiously to know what his role was. He was a tout. He was asking me what flight I was on. I ignored him. Lugging my bags through the screening machine and picking up on the other side, a lady approached me to find out if I had done my Covid test as she was there to help. I shook my head and ignored again. There were many touts all over the airport hustling for one thing or another. I had a zoom meeting to attend and so headed to a lounge where the lady tried to overcharge me N10,000 for use of the lounge. I was livid but kept a lid on it. I paid N3,000. The lounge leaked even though there was no rain as at then. They brought bowls to gather the water. When I was done with my meeting I proceeded to check in and the begging started.

“Our politicians, have already shown that they are crassly irresponsible what with the way they have ensconced themselves with so much undeserved luxury.

Every officer in Lagos Airport is a beggar (save for one Immigration guy named Ogundipe on that day). When you get to where FAAN Security staff are many, each one begs you separately for money. The NDLEA and other security guys there are not left behind. Ditto ground staff of airlines and those other companies employed to do checks and ensure your flight is hassle free. They are the ones who give you even more hassles. Traveling through Lagos Airport leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. You notice the decayed infrastructure. Nothing works anymore, not the air-conditioning, or the escalators or the lifts, or the moving walkways. The environment smells stale and foreboding. The seating arrangements at the gates are of course archaic and inadequate. There is a new wing that is probably waiting for commissioning. It was built by the Chinese. I know that it will be glistening for now, but give it a little time. Abuja’s new wing, the last time I visited already had the usual issues. They cannot even get cleaners to clean glass surfaces, and nobody cares about reaching high areas to clean and remove cobwebs. Of course, lifts, escalators and air-conditioning too have stopped working there.

An hour later I was in Accra. I hadn’t been there for a couple of years. I was the first person to alight from the very well-maintain shuttle bus from the tarmac to the airport building. I note that the bus wasn’t falling apart like all of ours. The new Kotoka airport was solid, modern, functional and could compete with any around the world. The immigration officers were as usual very smartly dressed and professional. Ghanaians has always put their best in the entry points to their country.  Nobody begged me for money. In fact, I could as well have been in Dubai given the neatness, precision, readiness, professionalism displayed at Kotoka. When I later complained to a friend about how the western nations were discriminating against Nigeria about covid, he pointed to the investment that ‘ordinary’ Ghana had made in covid-readiness. Like the UAE, every person traveling into Ghana must be tested for just $50 at the airport. Better than UAE, you wait in the airport for about 30 minutes before they clear you in – if your result is fine. The shiny, pristine airport is a pleasure to stay in for most people. I started to wonder why we could never get anything right in my country. Why are we so jagajaga? So disorganized. So noisy. So much in a hurry to go nowhere. So cocky and arrogant even as underachievers. So sorry, I need to hit us hard in the hope that our brains will reset. But we somehow shrug all these things off.

I’ve been writing this article haltingly since I got into Accra some 5 days ago. You see, I am what they call a Resource Investigator in human resource team play classification. This means that I have eyes to notice why things work or don’t and how innovations can be applied from one place to another. I am not emotional on that level; just coldly pragmatic. I also make provision for the ‘novelty effect’, a cognitive bias that makes us enchanted with a place when we get there anew. This is not my first time in Ghana. Could be my 10th. And I keenly note the flaws. Ghana is an expensive place. My hotel and restaurant bill comes with multiple taxes; 18.5% VAT, 2.5% National Health Insurance, 2.5% Ghana Education Tax Fund, 1% COVID Tax. Yes, they created a COVID Tax, and people are paying.

When Nigerians absconds from responsible citizenry
Those Nigerians who romanticize other countries are not willing to pay anything. Not even the billionaires in Nigeria – many of whom have locked up mansions in Accra, are ready to pay anything to their country. Imagine how Nigerians will react to having to pay education tax or health insurance, in a restaurant on a regular day? Or covid tax?

Accra still had serious problems with infrastructure. The traffic could be crazy and I think their engineers haven’t come up with crazy innovative ideas towards solving this perennial problem. Nigeria is doing better in that area especially in the big cities of Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Lagos. Perhaps we have more money. Or are we borrowing just to look good? See, if a country consistently rakes in funds on several fronts the way Ghana does, be sure that one day that country will soar. It is a case of the Chinese bamboo tree. Right now, Ghana is digging roots, and in spite of her many challenges, and the fact that the country is seen by the UK as its west African outpost – and so sometimes slowed down by some sort of neo-colonialism – this country is more likely to achieve development than Nigeria. Is Nigeria a serious nation at all?

“I don’t believe we need a democrat anymore, who will talk and talk and never achieve anything. I don’t think we need a scenario where we will engage in so much lawyering, twist laws around and get confused about what is right. We need a leader who will ensure that those who need to be punished are swiftly punished

The Nigeria brain reset
So, on this occasion of our 61st independence anniversary, I think we need a mad man or mad woman if we are able to trundle along till 2023. This mad man or mad woman leader will help reset our brain and cure our destructive madness. We are the ones willfully ruining this country. There is nothing wrong with the land. Forget that jive about endless democracy and human rights; we are not Europe. The stage of development that we are in right now, demands that one human right should come with a commensurate human responsibility. Our youths should work and add their bit to development. Our rich people must pay good taxes to assure the sanity of the country. Our poor people need space to aspire and get out of poverty, but they have no right to drag everyone down to the level of poverty, out of anger. Our government, our politicians, have already shown that they are crassly irresponsible what with the way they have ensconced themselves with so much undeserved luxury. Monies meant for development have been diverted to private pockets in an endless orgy of absolute stupidity by these people we call leaders. Buhari must be in a daze. He was the one we hoped will be able to clean the Augean stable. But he turned out a simple fraud.

In my opinion what holds Nigeria back is multifaceted. It is too simplistic to say it is just a leadership problem, but leadership can make a rapid and decisive difference if we are lucky to find real patriots, ready to lay down their lives for this nation. Most of the leaders we have had are inept and only interested in the photo opportunities:

1. Nigerians are unpatriotic and mindlessly damage their own country on a daily basis. As I queued up at Lagos Airport to get checked in one guy in front of me was told by the officials that he needed $50 to hold so that in Ghana he will be able to pay for his covid test at the airport. The next thing he said was “we will blow up this country!”. I sneaked a peak at his passport and his name was Nnamdi. Look, we have overdone this madness.

2. Nigerians don’t know that in expressing a negative view of their country, their currency and so on, we are also expressing a certain inferiority complex about ourselves.

3. Nigerians need to calm down. It is this gragra thing… this unproductive gregariousness that is partly responsible for the impunity with which politicians loot the country. You see, we have mismanaged our culture. Our intellectuals have not stood up and spoken up. Our aspiration ‘kabiyesi’ cultures, our superstitious backgrounds which feeds the idea that we are princes and princesses and so we are in this world to shine, takes our eyes off the need for collective development.

4. Nigerians are not cooperating. We are rather pursuing disparate personal ambitions all over the place. This is manifest today in the total destruction of the civil service – and indeed everything else – by current politicians under Buhari. Influence is the name of the game. Given any opportunity, every politician wants to have it all. Then a stampede ensues, and the unconnected common man is trampled in the dirt by those who are more powerful. We need a mad man or woman, who will forcefully call a halt to the madness going on.

5. Nigeria is one country in Africa that was quickly left to its own devices – on the surface. Unlike Ghana or Kenya , we are not really a British outpost. And we are not Francophone too – as the French never really let the reins go. This gives us a uniqueness that needs to be managed, having in mind that the presumed total independence has strings attached to it. It is as if when we got independence – based on the eloquence of our nationalists – the western world chose a different game with us. Out with direct control. In with the surreptitious one. Yet we believe we are totally independent and we carry the burden of a totally independent African country. This means that we became the poster child for what black people can do on their own – despite that we are often teleguided or derailed by you-know-who. The responsibility for development remains ours and to date, we have made a mess of it. We say we are giant of Africa, and we carry that chip on our shoulders around. This may have led to a grand delusion over the past many decades.

Nobody has the right to impunity – it is not acceptable
At what point did Nigerians get the idea that they can get away with any and everything? At what point did taxi drivers in Abuja decide that obeying traffic light was not their thing – in a federal capital? At what point did we agree that the poor can result in mob action in order to keep society spiralling down in a race to the bottom? Why can police no longer control okada riders in Lekki, or Keke drivers in Abuja? Have we noticed the power to destruct, wielded by our poor – perhaps in revenge for how society has turned out? Certainly we have no leaders that are perceptive, determined, and resolute.

I am not awed by Ghana. I am only alarmed. Alarmed, looking at the well paved, qualitative roads of East Legon, North Ridge and Central Accra. I am alarmed that these people are a lot calmer than we are, and they have still retained their self-respect. It looks like Nigerians are on cheap drugs. Someone should take samples of the water we drink. Perhaps we are all being intoxicated into destroying our nation by God-knows-whom, who poisoned our water. Even our young, smart ones these days cannot be trusted. A lot of them now think up all sorts of capers to defraud the masses. You hear that they are ‘investment bankers’ at 24. They have never studied anything about investment or worked anywhere, yet they promise all sorts of Returns on Investment; ponzi schemes that our people have lost billions to. These are the people we fete in government circles, and to whom awards and chieftaincies are given. Dishonesty, shallowness, loudness, rules our land. I joke with friends here in Ghana, that most Nigerians will reject the tiny cars they drive even if they were gifted. You see tiny brands that look and sound very strange; Chevrolet Aveo Spark, Kia Morning, Hyundai i10, Matiz, Toyota Vitz. Very tiny cars that Nigerians – despite not producing anything – will use in abusing whoever owns them. There is also a likelihood that if anyone drives such cars in Nigeria, other drivers may have no regard for them. 

But in spite of the humility shown by Ghanaians, the country is developing roots and the fruits are beginning to germinate. I saw the skyscraper housing the African Free Trade Centre in Central Accra. Shoprite has refused to leave here because Ghanaian middle class is growing and are silently living a good life. I saw so many westerners freely exercising on the streets or even queued up at bus stops waiting to board same buses as the Ghanaians. And there are many fantastic middle-class housing estates with British finishing coming up in Accra and environs; I saw Casa Trasacco, Montgomery Residences, Mirage Residences, 233 Boulevard, Nova Roman Ridge, Lakeside Village, Transitions, Kass Airport Residential, Eden Heights, Arlington Court, Tribute House, Solaris, Loxwood House, The Genesis Residences. Nigerians are only interested in buying up everything in sight. We don’t think of sustainable development for our land. These housing estates springing up all over Accra especially, speak of a renaissance, and economic renaissance among the people. A new type of Ghanaian is rising out of the ashes, and the people are compos mentis – in the right mental frame – to assist the emergence. I even notice a PwC Tower, and wondered why PwC, despite making more money in Nigeria, has not made such investment in our country. We are not welcoming. We have become a country of hustlers, shaking down people everywhere, extracting pounds of flesh everywhere we can. Pathetic really.

Children of the Alnajiri system queue up for foods

Nigeria cannot continue in the decline
I don’t believe we need a democrat anymore, who will talk and talk and never achieve anything. I don’t think we need a scenario where we will engage in so much lawyering, twist laws around and get confused about what is right. We need a leader who will ensure that those who need to be punished are swiftly punished. There is corruption and indiscipline all over the world, but ours is destroying us and destroying our nation. That is why we have become the most-despised the world over; known as an unruly lot, crime prone, drug prone, listless and restless, fraud and prostitution-prone. This is a cry for help. Nigeria cannot continue like this. If we manage to crawl, bleeding profusely, to 2023 and a new government, this is what we need. All this violence going on, the collapse of security everywhere, embarrassing mismanagement of the polity, crazy thievery everywhere, secession threats, crime-proneness of the youths, could be tackled. They are the result of broken windows that were left unfixed in our society, which has led to our national edifice being taken over by drug dealers and prostitute rings, figuratively and otherwise.

In 2023, anyone who does not possess the madness and sincerity of purpose should not come near leadership. And it will be great to see the manifestation of that now, among those who will aspire. There is nothing wrong with this nation and we can rediscover our greatness. And that greatness has nothing to do with the current lousiness.  We need to calm down. Farabale, as VP Osinbajo once advised.  Otherwise, our fake, delusional smarts is what will totally undo us. The rest of the world is moving on and leaving this country, Nigeria, in the ditch.Then I came to Ghana.

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