[NOTE: Although speaking to the Nigerian context, the keynote address speaks to the larger issues of Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance, and the role of youth and young professionals. Nigeria was the pulpit, but Africa is the audience.]
Why We’re Here
On this Independence Day, many Nigerians and those connected with this great country have gathered in different parts of the world to celebrate the ritual of anniversaries and important dates. Others are gathered today to calibrate Nigeria’s performance on a wide range of preferred gauges.
But we are gathered here on this special day for a very different reason: We’ve been summoned here for action. To be part of a cause bigger than ourselves. To be the change Nigeria has waited for, believing that now is the time to act. And to assume our role in this great experiment called Nigeria.
It was William Barclay who said that “There are two great days in a person's life—the day we are born and the day we discover why.”
October1 was the birthday of Nigeria. But has this nation discovered why it was born?
Earlier on in the year, this country celebrated Nigeria @ 100. Today, we’re celebrating Nigeria @ 54. The absurdity of two such widely-differing birthdays are enough to give a young man gray hairs and to make the gray-haired go bald.
But a convenient bridge between the incompatibility and the reality, for the sake of the younger generation, is that while the celebration of 100 years was merely for the naming of adependent,this 54th anniversary is that of an independent republic.
And if the words of William Barclay are to continue as a reliable guide, our gathering here should be devoted to reflection and introspection. Not to celebrate, but to contemplate. Not to mark this date, but to date the mark we want to make in the history of this nation.
We are here at the anniversary of the coming of age of a man who spent several years of his checkered history under servitude, yet has not demonstrated being much a man of himself in spite of his 54 years of declaration of independence.A man who labored hard to have the yoke of metal chains cast off his limbs, but does little to loosen the mental chains shackled tightly to his mind.
The loud refrain of concerned Nigerians reverberate continuously in both spatial and cyber space that Nigeria is in danger. And for Nigeria to be in danger,then Africa is also in danger. Hence I am here today—a Ghanaian by birth,connected by the larger African thread—to echo that eerie warning loudly trumpeted. Not as an idle pastime, but as heeding the counsel of the elders.
My country of birth was the first to become independent on the continent. At the celebration of Ghana’s independence, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, one of our founding fathers of patriotism, declared solemnly that “our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation ofAfrica.”
Somewhere along the line, Ghana forgot that. Nigeria forgot that. And though connected by ties stronger than the geographical partitions drawn by our multi-national colonial masters,Africa also forgot that warning. Today, we all pay a heavy price for that amnesia.
Thus,it is my larger citizenship as an African that has earned me the right to be here on your Independence Day. And the scary, unprecedented times in which we currently live fortifies that right. The time has come to embrace the cause of our continent alongside that of our individual countries. Boundaries have become fluid, territorial integrity has become redefined by globalization, and we have no safer course than to champion the cause of Pan Africanism and theAfrican Renaissance.
I am extremely grateful to the Board of Trustees of the Circle of Hands Foundation for the invitation to be the keynote speaker today. I want to recognize two of them—Professor Pius Adesanmi and Bamidele Ademola-Olateju. Both individuals have distinguished themselves at home and abroad as illustrious offsprings of this great nation. They affirm for me the interconnectedness of our Africanness, a reality that forbids anyone of the black race from doing anything injurious to his brother or sister regardless of nationality.
I first met Pius briefly through his writings, and then last October in New York,at the United Nations’ office of the Permanent Secretariat of the African Union,I met him in person. We were both invited by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (Her Excellency, Dr.Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma), to give our input in the AU's vision of the next 50years. Hence the meeting was dubbed “Consultation with the Diaspora on theAfrica Union Agenda 2063.”
About40 people of African descent were officially invited to the three-day consultation.These are Black people of every hue and shade from Western & EasternEurope, South America, North America, the Caribbean, and those of us from theAfrican continent who are currently living abroad. The representatives included scientists, scholars from the academia, journalists, economists, authors,Pan-Africanist & other advocacy groups, etc.. These individuals who live outside the continent of Africa were invited because they are perceived to have had a significant or influential impact on the cause of “Black people” or are believed to promote the vision of Pan Africanism and African Renaissance. Pius and I connected very well at that meeting. Though he’s based in Canada and I in the United States, as we grappled with hitherto unappreciated issues associated with the different nuances and implications of being an “African in Diaspora,”we discovered that we are “soul-Brodas” of Mother Africa.
After that initial meeting last October, Pius and I re-connected earlier this year inGhana, where he spent his sabbatical as a Carnegie Diaspora Visiting Scholar at the University of Ghana, Legon, contributing his unique expertise that was “made in Nigeria, fine-tuned inEurope, North America, and Africa, and is constantly refined via cyber and global space.”
Professor Adesanmi is one of those mobile adverts for the essence of what is good inNigeria and a worthy model for the teeming youths of this country. I am happy that my country of birth benefited from his wealth of knowledge and rich reservoir of practical wit and wisdom.
Bamidele, on the other hand, came to me highly recommended. Since she’s here, I don’t want to embarrass her by saying too much. But I have to let the world know that, both at home and abroad, you have shown yourself ready to walk the talk,daring greatly, caring deeply, and sharing freely of your rich experiences.Yours is an insatiable hunger for the Nigeria of your dreams—the Nigeria where justice will be normal, productivity will be acceptable, commitment and sacrifice will become personal mantras, and a collective embrace of excellence will characterize every act.These qualities of yours attracted our EAGLESonline organization to your cause.We’re here today, as our show of support for a path that we all must travel together.
Through your unfailing belief that Nigeria can become what it ought to be, you have brought to us Circle of Hands, a new initiative on national engagement. One that is targeted towards youths and harnessing their yet-untapped bounds of creativity and energy for national development. Having met your team mates who have worked tirelessly to put this program together—Austin, Opeyemi, Shola,and others—I am excited that, through you all, many of the young people you will work with will be able to dream, and actualize their dreams.
I also want to recognize you, Petra Onyegbule, Gimba Kakanda, and Tope Fasua, for engaging us in that fascinating symposium titled “Beyond Religion, Ethnicity and Other Fault Lines: Nigerian Youths and the National Question.”
In your stimulating presentations, you’ve made the point clear that the issue facing Nigeria is NOT about ethnicity or religion—as many adults seem to suggest. Those are merely fruits. Rather, the root problem of Nigeria is its mindset. It is the reason behind the nation’s dysfunctional institutions and the civic irresponsibility of its people. Thus, the solution to the ills ofNigeria calls for a different mindset, a different way of thinking—and behaving. (You have essentially captured the essence of what I intend to share today.)
Above all, I would like to thank you, the audience. You have chosen to be in this place at this time by responding to the clarion call extended by the Circle of Hands Foundation. In your quest for sound answers to our communal problems, you seek for solutions through the collective reasoning of like-minded people. That through the encircling of hands, answers can be researched, refined, and retailed to every cranny of this nation. Thank you all for coming out to share your wisdom and perspective to enrich a much-needed discussion. I am grateful for the knowledge you have imparted to me this day through your questions and discussions.
The assignment given me at this Independence Day event is to speak on the theme:“Nigeria@54: Risky Republic or Republic At Risk?”
In addressing this topic, I will speak to you plainly, without any long-winded or high-sounding rhetoric. I hope this message goes to the villages where people will read and understand that a foreigner came into your house to make a passionate appeal—namely, that Africa is in trouble because Nigeria is in trouble. But if Nigeria gets it right, thenAfrica will be on track to its rightful place.
I’m also here for another reason—namely, to sound a note of caution to those of you here who have responded to the summons by “The Circle of Hands” and, thus, have committed yourselves to being the answer to the challenges facing Nigeria. My plea to you is that in your well-meaning effort to help a nation that is at risk, make sure you avoid the danger of offering the “Monkey Solution.” For a “monkey solution” is more risky than the problem it seeks to solve. Let me explain.
Caution: Monkey Solutions
I derive the expression “Monkey Solution” from a story I recently heard from the lips of one of Ghana’s pre-eminent statesmen—an Oxford-trained social anthropologist, a prolific author, and a theologian. His name is Dr. Peter Kwasi Sarpong. Some of you may know him as the Archbishop Emeritus of theCatholic Church in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city.
About three months ago, our EAGLESonline organization was invited by a group of young professionals in the city of Kumasi to conduct a 3-day “African Must Think”lectures at the prestigious Golden Tulip Hotel.
TheRetired Archbishop Kwasi Sarpong was the special Guest of Honor on that opening night, and his assignment was to give a short introductory speech to set the tone for my presentation. As he concluded his introductory address, he told the story of some monkeys as a warning against acting from well-meaning ignorance. It is from his story that I’ve coined the expression “Monkey Solution.” Let me retell the story:
“One day, a group of monkeys, on seeing a raging flood, quickly ran and climbed to the top of trees.From the top of the trees, they looked down at the turbulent waters below, and to their consternation, they saw fishes swimming energetically and jumping about in the flood. The fishes seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Yet it had to be a false impression, the monkeys concluded. The fishes were in a dangerous situation[Theirs was our equivalent of a “Risky Republic”]. The truth was, the fishes were fighting for their lives. It was a shame that they could not escape to the hills since fishes did not have legs.
On seeing the predicament of the fishes, the monkeys decided to help. They jumped down from the trees, waded in at the edge of the flood, and with much difficulty, caught the fishes one by one and placed them on dry land. After some time, there was a great pile offish lying on the ground, all of them motionless.
The monkeys told themselves: “You see how tired the fishes are; they are just sleeping and resting. Had it not been for us, my friends, all these poor fishes without legs would have drowned.”
Then one monkey said:“Yes, at first they were trying to escape us because they could not understand our good intentions. But when they wake up, they will be very grateful because we have brought them salvation.”
Salvation? No, the monkeys had not brought the fishes salvation. Rather, their ignorance of the way of life of fishes had brought destruction upon the fishes!
After narrating this story at our “Africa Must Think” conference, the Archbishop advised:
“In our pursuit of development we should desist from acting like the well-meaning but misguided monkeys…. Our honest efforts at development will turn out to be disastrous if we do not take into account the ways of life of our [African] people and the arrogant deception and ignorance of those who pretend to be the friends ofAfricans, but are seeking their own satisfaction. Yes, Africa must think, indeed!!
It is this same caution that I pass on to you at this Independence Day event,where we have gathered at the invitation of the Circle of Hands Foundation to do something about our nation that is at risk, and thereby, risky. My plea today is that in our well-meaning effort to do something about the Nigerian situation, we will not repeat the fatal mistake of the well-meaning, but misguided monkeys. We will avoid offering“monkey solutions” to the critical problems we seek to solve.
What this means is that, we must carefully understand the problem before we attempt a solution. For ignorance in action is as dangerous as stupidity or inaction in the face of danger. Let me state it another way: In the face of danger,ignorance in action is as dangerous as stupidity or inaction.
Outline of Presentation
To address the question of whether or not Nigeria is presently a risky republic or republic at risk, my presentation today will be divided into three major parts under the broad headings: (1) “What ought to be?” (2) “What is?” and (3) “What ought to be done?” Under these three major parts are issues of identity,character, reputation, perceptions, reality, problems, more problems,consequences, warnings, and some suggestions. I will proceed under the following six sub-heads:
1. Who is Nigeria?
2. Where should Nigeria be?
3. Where is Nigeria right now?
4. Where is Nigeria going?
5. What Should Nigeria Do?
6. How Should Nigeria Begin?
Hopefully, by the time we’ve addressed these questions, we will be in a position to answer today’s dilemma: “Is Nigeria risky or at risk?” and what panacea is there to the risk it either is or portends for others.
WHAT OUGHT TO BE?
The phrase “what ought to be” is a way of explaining to the caterpillar what his natural destiny is—namely, to become a butterfly. And to further explain to the caterpillar that no matter how beautiful or comfortable he might be in that nascent state of growth, there is a higher and better state that completes his lifecycle. So with Nigeria.
54years ago was the declaration of independence of this nation. That act signaled the laying of eggs, not the hatching of a butterfly. It was an event that was the beginning of a process, and not the end of it. So, let us retrace back to that beginning.
1. Who is Nigeria?
It is common, courteous practice, whether in writing or in speech, to begin with an introduction of who you are. “I am Mr. So and So” or “My name is Mrs. So andSo” are universal expectations when you either write or speak.
So it is not out of place that when we talk about Nigeria on this important day,we ask “What is Nigeria?” But because this enigmatic entity called Nigeria is so vibrant and full of life, betraying an existence that only the living is capable of, we shall substitute the “what” part of the introduction with a more personal “who” and ask the more proper question: “Who is Nigeria?”
Raising the question “who is Nigeria?” gives away the concern for the deeper,below-the-surface rote answers that are often employed to describe this combustible contraption that started out as a commercial venture, was reconstituted as a republic, and often incorrectly perceives itself to be a democracy.
In answering this fundamental question, I enlisted the help of (i) official documentation and records, (ii) the personal understanding of Nigerians, as well as (iii) the international perception of foreigners. As a Ghanaian, I naturally belong to the last group.
But my deepening ties to this great nation posed a binary dilemma of whether to hold on to the viewpoint filtered to me as a foreigner, or take advantage of the rich associations I enjoy with many great men and women of this country and see through their lenses.
I chose the latter. Hence, the views expressed in this lecture errs greatly on the side of what I have come to appreciate as the more accurate, factual demystification of confounding premises and conclusions. I am sincerely appreciative of this gain in perspective, and it has made me more committed to the much-needed continental change that must necessarily begin from here.
So,who is Nigeria? To answer this first question, we shall briefly look atNigeria’s (a) identity, (b) character, and (c) reputation.
Nigeria is not a theocracy—i.e., it is not a nation ruled by religious laws, whether Christian or Muslim (although we appreciate the values these religions bring to the nation). Nigeria is also nota monarchy—a nation ruled by chiefs and kings (though we respect those traditional structures of governance). Official documents describe Nigeria as “theFederal REPUBLIC of Nigeria.”
And before we proceed any further, it is important to set the records straight on the type of system that actually defines the Nigerian polity. Perhaps this will yield some much-needed, but unsought-for, benefits.
It is all the more necessary when it is clear that in the minds of a majority ofNigerians, as evident in media statements, public opinions, and official correspondences, Nigeria is simply a democracy.This is nothing short of a blasphemous denigration bequeathed unabashedly to succeeding generations of young people in what can only prove its ruin.
Although this ignorant muddling-up of a republic and a democracy is one that is not confined to the Nigerian population alone, it is still important to set the records straight on this soil. Even America—with its longer history, more intense focus on political science, and its placement among the top five most-educated countries in the world—struggles with telling the two systems apart. But as America is not our pre-occupation at this forum, whatever we find to criticize about them offers no justification for our own ignorance.
Our focus is on us, and when I use “us,” it includes my country Ghana, the baby brother who too often stumbles along gullibly behind its self-assured but sometimes wandering giant brother, Nigeria.
The“us” also includes other countries on our continent whose problems are largely traceable to the identity crisis that seems to characterize much of Africa’s post-colonial existence. Hence, the answer to the question “who is Nigeria?” is applicable to as many African countries, which at independence, obtained the title “The Republic of …[country X, Y, Z],” but think today that they are nothing more than democracies.
To reject the significant differences between these two distinct systems is to live in a house without a foundation. And as in one of the parables of Christ,one day when the rains come down, and the floods come up, and the winds blow and beat on it, the house that is not built on solid rock will come crushing down with a great fall (Matthew 7:24-27).
As our topic indicates, our gathering here today is concerned about Nigeria as a republic. The suggestion or recommendation of Nigeria as anything other than a republic, which by the way,has become the new normal, paves the way for cheating and abuse.
WhenNigeria is described otherwise than a republic by Nigerians, then there is greater cause for alarm as it becomes doubly prejudicial. It heralds widespread abuses by those who lead. Unchecked,it is a national identity crisis that will mutate eventually to a failed state.
What then is the difference between a republic and a democracy? And why is the distinction between the two important to us at this gathering, or even as a nation?
From the plethora of simple and technical explanations of the two distinct forms of government, I will give you a sound bite that I hope will get you sufficiently interested to want to sink your teeth into a full meal of study of the characteristics of these two systems.
A democracy is direct government ruled by the majority.
A republic is a representative government ruled by law.
Nigeria is the latter, though it operates with the mistaken identity of being the former. The status of a Constitutional Republic is what this nation and many others in Africa were bequeathed at independence. It is what has become subsumed in mounds of political platitudes that extol the virtues of what often empowers the looting of citizens by a majority. And without the representatives and those represented understanding the unique expectations and corresponding obligations of each party in the relationship, we all might be headed in the wrong direction.
Look at it this way.
Our quaint way of defining a democracy is that it is “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The pundits’ way of saying it? A mob rule. One that allows a finger to sweep a mound under a carpet. What the majority wants becomes law secured by votes. If things go wrong, representatives can be let off the hook because the people will get the blame for voting wrongly.
So,if for instance, an election is won by 51% of votes. A democracy allows the 51% to disregard the wishes of the 49%minority if it suits them. Even if 5% of this majority decides to sleep on their duties, leaving only 46%, the majority-minority balance has actually shifted, but democracy will still not reflect that reality, and will retain its concerns with the majority that won the votes.
A Republic on the other hand is concerned about not only the majority, but also the so-called minority. Everyone counts.Including the minor minority, not just the major minority. It’s why in some countries, minority groups (Blacks, Hispanic, Muslims, gays, etc.) are able to assert their rights. Because they count, though they might be in the minority. The law of the land, or the constitution, rules. It’s the document that guarantees the protection of the inalienable rights of the people. A majority cannot act like a mob to use their strength of numbers to subdue those who do not agree with their viewpoints.
Ina Republic, no part of the majority can afford to go to sleep because they won a vote. That can only happen in a democracy where the representatives of the majority know that the minority does not count so much and the law can be made subservient to the wishes of the people based on votes.
Whereas a Republic recognizes the inalienable rights of individuals, democracies are only concerned with what the majority group wants or needs (the public good).Lawmaking in a constitutional Republic is a deliberate process. And because it requires thinking and serious reflection, the process can at times be slow. But lawmaking in a democracy occurs rapidly, requiring approval from the whim of the majority as determined by opinion polls, referendums, agitations and clamor by the majority (whether ethnic/tribal, religious, ideological, etc.).
Without the safeguards of thoughtful constitutional laws of a republic, democracies can easily lead to the oppression and persecution of the minority. And with time democracies can collapse, always to be succeeded by dictatorships. A good example of democracy in action is a lynch mob, violent revolutions, jungle justice or vigilantism (when an individual or group takes the law into their own hands and attempt to effect justice according to their own understanding of right and wrong).
Sadly,one of the major causes of the constant upheaval in many of our African societies is because of this mistaken identity. What we signed up for, and celebrate every year at our Independence Anniversaries is not exactly what we see ourselves to be and consequently live out.
I encourage you to study more into this, so that you understand what is expected of the nation as a republic, and consequently what the duties and obligations of both you as citizens, and those elected as leaders are.
Nigeria is a republic, not a theocracy, monarchy, or even a democracy. Now that we know the identity of Nigeria as a republic, what about the character of the nation?
There’s a lot to make one proud as a Nigerian. Smart, driven, vivacious, and generous,I have met many Nigerians who are among the most wonderful people on the planet.
Outside the country where the playing field is more level, away from ethno-cultural and religious partitions, you represent the ideal for many in terms of your confidence, intelligence, and warmth. Your intellect is astounding and your resilience enviable. Though having an economic contraption that seems to have so far confounded many of your highly-placed intellectuals, you remain unhindered in your enrichment of the global knowledge-base.
When it comes to style and color, you are among the most tasteful in the world. You have healthy, mouthwatering cuisine that can delight even the most discriminatory taste buds. And many of your cultural festivals and displays have earned the right of recognition on the international stage purely by their merits.
Whether you know it or not, you have modeled for many people how it is possible to survive in adverse situations.
You demonstrate positivity and optimism. “Naija no dey carry last” is your national psyche, ethos, and motivation. It expresses Nigerians’ sense of exceptionalism.
You blaze trails for others in paths that confound many. Your can-do spirit is in the same league as that of many other global players, and your individual successes inspire the hope of economic prosperity for the continent—once we all get past other hindrances and limitations.
You’re not afraid to speak your mind. And out of the love for your nation, the power of your pens do not spare anyone in your vigorous self-criticism of both your leaders and people. Just listen to this self-criticism penned by Okey Ndibe,one of your foremost political commentators, and essayist:
“Nigeria is a veritable zoo, a social jungle where might determines right, a sheepdom run by a coterie of mediocrities. To hear somebody described as a “chieftain” in Nigeria is,almost as a rule, to encounter a thief – a “thieftain”! When Nigerian officials speak about somebody as a “stakeholder,” the person so identified is invariably a certified, brainless buffoon who contributes nothing to society, but who receives huge handouts – oil blocks, security votes, constituency allowance, or inflated contracts. These thieftains and steakholders relish foreign trips aboard the presidential jets or in the first class cabins of commercial airlines. They gloat as they luxuriate in the comforts provided by the ingenuity and enterprise of other people, and bask in the fineries of societies that have struck a prudent balance between production and consumption” —Okey Ndibe
But the self-criticism is not only directed against leaders. In fact, some of the most penetrating critiques are reserved for its people. Listen to this excerpt from a thought-provoking article I recently read from the pen of a femaleNigerian patriot. It’s titled, “Nigeria and WE Its 170 million Stupid People.”
“Nigeria has become 170million stupid! It is quite hard to admit and it is patently invidious stereotyping to label a whole nation stupid, but anything else is blithe liberal optimism.
Our problems are many,serious and grave; yet we refuse to learn, change or improve. We have elected to remain profoundly stupid.
We became pew hugging,minaret clinging religionists who stand for nothing except invoking God at intervals to project unavailable righteousness. …
Why are we content at setting new stupid standards every day?
Bad roads? Take it to TheLord in prayer
Comatose HealthcareSystem? Bad diseases will not be our portion in Jesus name.
Collapsed EducationalSystem? What will be will be, our children are overcomers.
Epileptic Power Supply?May the good Lord bind all the principalities, demonic spirits and the powers of darkness preventing Nigeria from enjoying stable electricity supply.
Nigerians sit on their hands praying for celestial edict beamed down to them from God’s majestic throne….
It is only in a country of the stupid that people will pray to God for what humans must do for themselves;good roads, affordable and accessible healthcare, electricity, clean water,basic education etc. —Bamidele Ademola-Olateju
Wow!Only the sharp pens of Nigerians can paint such pictures. Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ken Saro Wiwa, Joe Okei Odumakin, Pius Adesanmi … But make no mistake,the criticisms of Nigeria by Nigerians is out of love. For woe unto any lizard,who on account of Nigeria’s foibles, attempts to put down its people! For me,the self-criticism by Nigerians evidences the unique character of a nation whose citizens are not afraid to confront the truth—if they want to.
So,based on personal interaction and sufficient accounts of many others with the same experience, Nigeria has a good character.
Now that we know the identity of Nigeria as a republic and its good character,let’s also reflect on Nigeria’s reputation.
Nigeria’s good character notwithstanding, what the nation has earned by way of reputation is a different matter. For several years now, Nigeria has enjoyed the unenviable record of global notoriety.
Retailed through the different media, promoted by recurrent scam emails, it is regarded by many as a bundle of contradictions. While on one hand the nation tops the chart of having the happiest people on earth, on the other hand, it has retained its top spot as one of the most corrupt places globally.
The exportation of churches and missionaries continue to coincide with the importation of ammunitions and terrorist trainers to perpetuate religious persecution under various political, personal, and other masks.
The same country that helped with peacekeeping in warring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia was itself held hostage by its local MEND (Movement for theEmancipation of the Niger Delta). Today, the nation features prominently on all international news channels as one of the hotbeds of global terrorism through its poster group—Boko Haram—and its poster child, the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to bring down a jumbo jet on Christmas Day in 2009.
All the cable networks on the continent devote considerable time to air performances by two of the largest Nigerian industries—Christian churches and Nollywood. While the former supplies an ample dose of miracles, gospel of power and prosperity, the latter dishes out its large-portioned mélange of voodoo, vice, and virtue.
And the fraudsters make sure they are not outdone either. Some of the smartest brains on the earth are Nigerians. Go to major universities in many developed nations of the world and you will find Nigerians there as professors,physicians, engineers, and in many other professions. From the same pot ofNigerians emerge the 419 masterminds and swindlers.
And so, regardless of the good character of the country and the people, Nigeria andNigerians have earned a bad reputation outside. And many are the afflictions that flow from that.
Having refreshed our minds on “who Nigeria is,” where should such a great nation be?
2. Where Should Nigeria Be?
The question of where Nigeria should be is not rhetorical. It begs to be asked, and it demands to be answered. The characteristics of Nigeria and Nigerians are too extraordinary for either to be ignored.
With a country that has over 170 million people, with a nation that is blessed with such vast natural resources and pool of young people, Nigeria should be one of the most formidable countries in the world. It is, but mainly for the wrong reasons.
With such a powerful resource base that the youths of Nigeria represents, Nigeria should be
· Like China in terms of manufacturing & exports, but Nigeria is currently largely the international trash bin of its exports.
· Like the US in terms of security, but Nigeria now needs help with its own security
· Like Russia,Canada, Japan, and Israel in terms of education, but Nigeria sends its youths to different parts of the world for educational training, including to Sudan.
· Like UK, Germany,Netherlands, and the US in terms of healthcare, but Nigeria is engaged in a steady pilgrimage to India as its medical Mecca.
Andthe list goes on and on in a dismal trend of what should be, but is not.
So,having looked at our baseline of “what ought to be?” in this Part I, it is time to make a transition to Part 2 and discuss the cold reality of “what is?”
Where is Nigeria right now, and where should Nigeria be going? It is in this section that the theme for this lecture series—“A Risky Republic or A Republic at Risk?”—comes to play. The discussion here will set the tone for some contours on what we can do about the challenges confronting the nation.
3. Where is Nigeria Right Now?
How a situation is seen depends on a range of factors. The factor relevant to our discussion here is that of “the condition of the eyes of the viewer.”
In Nigeria, the condition of the eyes of many, especially those within, is impaired by factors such as ethnicity, religion, and pedigree. This is the same reality in my home country, Ghana, where the color of the sky has gradually come to depend on the political party of the person who asks the question.
But all sentiments aside, Nigeria in all ramifications has no business being anything but a great nation. And even God has made everything possible to achieve that.
Two views jostle for superiority to determine the true state of where Nigeria is right now. One is the suppositions through shortsighted eyes. The other is the reality through bifocal lenses. The former (the shortsighted perspective) is often the view of Nigerians. The latter (the bifocal perspective), that of non-Nigerians.
Both views are agreed on the same point—that Nigeria is a great nation. The point of divergence is in what they see, because of what they look out through—shortsighted eyes versus bifocal lenses.
Nigeria through Shortsighted Eyes
Nigerians see Nigeria as the giant of Africa in every way, in every place, every time. And this happens with many non-Nigerians as well, which is a good thing. But while the giant status of the nation cannot be denied, it does imply a responsibility for “gigantic good” on Nigeria—far weightier than the one on others of lesser status. This is rarely talked about and appears to be overlooked by many Nigerians.
Trouble strikes where this status of heavier responsibility gets personally appropriated by a Nigerian in a gathering who then expects the “dwarfs” to kowtow to him as the “giant.” It works many times. Except for where some people in the gathering have just received a scam email by one of General Abacha’s always-in-trouble wife or never-ending children. Or the Central Bank of Nigeria has again seized from some helpless children what rightfully belongs to their late father. Then the bubble bursts.
Many Nigerians also see hope in the future of Nigeria. But the kind of hope many see is so miraculous in nature that a better Nigeria will just fall magically onto their laps without their lifting a finger to do anything, including sweeping the front of their own houses. It is a future where government must do everything that should be done, or share part of that responsibility with employers, parents, friends, and even the international communities, leaving this class of hopefuls free.
Government on its own also sees hope. But in foreign aid, a glorified name for begging for alms. Just as we have individuals begging on street corners, so we have governments of our countries begging for handouts in international street corners—under the euphemism of “partnerships.” And things are getting more insulting by the day.
Just a few months ago (last August), many African heads of State were dragged to the US to meet with a government-led coalition of interested investors in Africa. Trending news on several web sites: “US businesses set to invest $14b in African markets.”
I am still wondering about the allocation formula that will be used to divide $14b among 54 countries in our continent. What do they take us for? This is Africa where news from the giant shores of this giant country filter to every part of the globe that such a “paltry” sum of $14b as is sought to be invested in an entire continent is barely enough to fit into the pockets of one or two serving public officials.
And some frustrated Nigerians believe that the “giant” status of their nation can only be realized with a Rawling’s-style revolution, or some Arab-Spring kind of revolution in Nigeria. What they mean is a violent overthrow and the execution of all corrupt politicians (both current and past), as well as officials and leaders at different levels of society—including religious leaders—whoever is perceived to be corrupt.
The only problem is that, after the revolution, hardly anyone will be left to build the utopic Nigeria—since very few can claim to be uncorrupt!
Reality through Bifocal Lenses
Regardless of the view of where Nigeria is by Nigerians, the world looks at Nigeria through bifocal lenses. These special lenses aid seeing both the shortsighted and longsighted views of the nation. It allows both the bird’s eye and the microscopic views.
It is in this context that it might help for a foreigner to raise the question: “A Risky Republic or A Republic at Risk?” The answer to this question depends on how one perceives the extent of the problems or challenges facing the country.
If one views Nigeria in pessimistic terms, then Nigeria is “Risky Republic.” But if one is hopeful, then Nigeria is a “Republic At Risk.” Either way, the very nature of the question suggests that we must take seriously the problems facing Nigeria so as to avoid a worse-case scenario.
As I see it, the question of a risky republic arises from the current reality of Nigeria and also the implications of its massive size, diversity, and potential. Let me explain against the backdrop of some general indicators of a great nation.
Any instability in the politics of the nation is going to affect the entire continent. A case in point is Boko Haram and the seeming national impotence to stem the tide.
It’s like the main thing the larger world now constantly talks about when it comes to Nigeria. As though a new marriage was announced for Nigeria when news of the 276 missing Chibok girls broke out in the news some months ago. This marriage has resulted in a change of name, with Nigeria being the first name of the newly-married woman to a dominant force with a compound surname—Boko Haram.
Every day the international media ensures that the plight of refugees in Syria and Iraq is brought to our attention. We listen to the cries of Turkey as they burst at the seams trying to meet the needs of the more than one and a half million refugees that throng their borders. Yemen, Jordan, and Pakistan are some other countries that have had no choice than to take these helpless refugees in.
When we see and read and hear about these, whether we are in Ghana or the US, we increase our prayers for Nigeria. For these news from far away Middle East could well portend similar woes for those countries that are close enough to Nigeria to be the logical place of refuge in the event of war.
Even now that there is relative peace, our infrastructure creaks from the weight of Nigerian students and businesses that dot the economic and educational landscapes of Ghana. What on earth will Ghana do if there is a crisis in Nigeria? If only 10% of Nigerian refugees flee to Ghana, their number alone (about 18 million) will almost swallow the entire country of Ghana, whose current population is only 25 million! (This is after it would have swallowed up the entire Benin and Togo.)
You can see why instability in Nigeria can pose a serious threat to my home country Ghana’s existence as a nation. While the refugee experience with Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ivory Coast were sad but containable in my home country, that of Nigeria will be an unfortunate, uncontrollable, and unprecedented experience.
Already, it’s estimated that there are about 3.3 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nigeria. These IDPs are the results of Boko Haram attacks and counterinsurgency efforts in northern Nigeria, communal violence between Christians and Muslims in the middle belt region, political violence, flooding, forced evictions, cattle rustling, and competition for resources. This displacement is mostly short-term, but when a major political instability takes place the refugee situation will be a real challenge.
So the issue of security raises the question about whether the nation is Risky or At Risky.
#2. Population & Size
The large population of Nigeria and its massive size can pose some dangers. Currently, estimates place the number of Nigerians as being anywhere between 174 million to 177 million—the most populous on the continent.
The size of the land mass of the country is 923,768 sq km (32nd largest in the world; slightly more than twice the size of California). And total length of Nigeria’s land boundaries is 4,047 km. In relation to their neighbouring countries, Nigeria shares the following boundary lengths with their next-door neighbors: Benin, 773 km; Cameroon, 1,690 km; Chad, 87 km; Niger, 1,497 km). Besides land boundaries, Nigeria also has a coastline of 853 km.
With this large population and size of the nation, can you imagine the risks at stake when there are environmental or health issues—Ebola, cholera, urban air and water pollution, and soil and oil pollution. And let’s remember that diseases and environmental pollution do not respect immigration or custom regulations at our national borders.
Risky or At Risk? Think immediately of the nations bordering Nigeria.
#3. Ethnic & Religious Diversity
There are more than 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria. Muslim 50%, Christian 40%, indigenous beliefs 10%. These should be a blessing. But they could also be a curse.
In the event of an ethnic or religious crisis, Nigeria will make the situations in Iraq, Syria, Northern Ireland, Rwanda, Palestine etc. look like child’s play. Risky or At Risk?
#4. Economic Situation
Nigeria is not poor. It has an abundance of resources-- natural gas, petroleum, tin, iron ore, coal, limestone, niobium, lead, zinc, arable land. If we believe the official figures of the major financial institutions, Nigeria has emerged as Africa's largest economy, with 2013 GDP estimated at US$ 502 billion. The estimated GDP for 2014 is $522 billion
No doubt, money talks. But what does money say? And what if all these money are in wrong hands—or in just a few hands? Risky or At Risk?
This is where the issue of the rich versus the poor come in. I’m talking about economic imbalance or injustice. Let me explain.
Though rich, Nigeria is also very corrupt. I’m not saying Nigeria is the only corrupt nation in Africa or in the world. But it can hardly be denied that the Nigeria’s massive-scale corruption and public kleptomaniacy has attained legendary proportions.
Where people faint at the news that a public officer has robbed the public purse of four, five digits of foreign bills, Nigerians no longer bat an eyelid. When reports of the looting of six, seven, eight-digits of public funds send the rest of us into a coma, young Nigerians especially, casually toss in the air: “what’s the big deal about that? That’s a really big hit!”
The unbridled corruption has created two economic worlds in Nigeria. On the one hand, there’s opulence and extravagance of those in power—both those in political and religious power. Nigeria has more private jets than some countries have vehicles on their roads. On the other, some 70% of the population live below poverty line. Over 62% of Nigeria's 170+ million people live in extreme poverty.
Now when we have a few that are filthily rich people versus a huge majority living in abject poverty, is the nation Risky or At Risk? The Bible tells exactly what will happen: Revolution/clash (James 5:1-6)!
#5. The Human Resource
Nigeria’s greatest resources are not those in the ground, but those that walk on the land. Its people. Of these, the nation’s most untapped resources are its youth. 2014 estimates suggest that about 63% of the population of Nigeria is below the age of 25 years:
0-14 years: 43.2% (male 39,151,304/female 37,353,737)
15-24 years: 19.3% (male 17,486,117/female 16,732,533)
25-54 years: 30.5% (male 27,697,644/female 26,285,816)
55-64 years: 3.9% (male 3,393,631/female 3,571,301)
65 years and over: 3% (male 2,621,845/female 2,861,826) (2014 est.)
Most of these youthful resources are not employed or are underemployed. These undeveloped youth are assets that are wasting away, or which can be exploited for ill.
And by the way, this is not just a Nigerian problem; it is an African problem. It appears that Africans don’t have those who can develop its untapped youthful resources. Why? Many of the experts to develop and mentor these youths have either died prematurely (thanks to HIV-AIDS and short life-expectancy). Other mentors have chosen to freely donate their services to other nations in what is known as brain-drain.
Left with nothing to do, many of our untapped youthful resources are forced to become the raw materials of other “noble” causes, such as fighting as child soldiers in senseless tribal and political wars. In other cases, as in recent times, the youthful resources voluntarily offer their free services to assist in international jihadist wars.
Those who do not volunteer in Jihadist wars serve as political vigilantes for opportunistic political parties—for a bowl of rice or T-shirt.
Other youths resort to trafficking in illicit drugs. And so Nigeria has become a transit point for heroin and cocaine intended for European, East Asian, and North American markets. The country has also become consumer of amphetamines, a safe haven for Nigerian narco-traffickers operating worldwide, a major money-laundering center, and a nest for massive corruption and criminal activity;
You be the judge, is Nigeria Risky or At Risk?
#6. Educational System
The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) says any country that wishes to become part of the 21st Century should be devoting 30-40 per cent of her total annual budget to education. I don’t think this can be said of Nigeria.
I have been to a couple of university campuses in this country. Nigeria has some of the worst academic environments I have visited. Poorer countries seem to place a higher premium on the oven where their future leaders are baked. Not here.
The tragic deterioration of Nigeria’s educational system is a cause for concern. With the following indicators, is the nation Risky or At Risk?:
- Underpaid and under-motivated lecturers and staff, causing them to spend more time on industrial strikes than in the classrooms.
- Overcrowded hostels and lecture rooms, dilapidated infrastructure, few facilities in the science labs, libraries with no new books and zero subscription to world-class journals.
- Not enough spaces to admit the growing population of school-aged youths, leading to educational pilgrimages to Europe, North America, South America, Ghana, Togo, & even Sudan.
- Our politicians are attempting to solve the educational problem in very creative ways. Using the “monkey solutions,” they simply change the gates and names of secondary schools in their villages and call them state universities;
- Businessmen also have their “Monkey solutions.” For selfish and egocentric reasons, private universities pop up like mushrooms, whenever any rich man wants to diversify his portfolio or wants to be a university Chancellor—never mind the source of the money.
- And our religious groups, to gain some level of respectability, are also reinvesting the enormous tithe offerings in the establishment of institutions of higher learning, with the expectations of safer returns on investments than at the capital markets. This is also the means by which our religious leaders can add intellectual titles to the humble ones they currently have: “God’s Servant, Pastor Dr,” “Man of God, Most Reverend Professor,” “The Very Reverend Apostle Dr,” and “His All Holiness, Presiding Bishop Dr.”
- And, Oh, the zillions of mushroom church leaders, not to be left out, are now starting their own universities so they also will add “Doctors” to their wonderful grand titles and ecclesiastical seals such as – “Holy Seer,” “Holy Ghost-Filled Apostle,” “Most Anointed Prophet,” “King of Heaven on Earth,” “Spiritual Bulldozer,” and “Prophet, Reverend, Pastor and Founder.”
The result? Inflated academic degrees and mass production of half-baked graduates who can hardly barely spell their own names or write a correct sentence in any language. The few among them who are able to read and write cannot do any independent thinking. During public discourses, they can only spew out the information they’ve received when they were brainwashed in these Monkey universities.
Is Nigeria Risky or At Risk when public universities are collapsing?
By contrast, China is producing about 600,000 engineers every year and sending them all over the world. This is excluding the thousands of Chinese domiciled abroad.
And, a little over a week ago (September 24, 2014), India beat China in the race to Mars. It successfully placed a satellite in orbit around Mars at its first attempt, becoming the first Asian country to send a spacecraft to another planet. By way of contrast, Chinese mission to the planet, Yinghuo-1, failed last year, as has more than half of its similar missions—23 out of 41.
India succeeded in its first try, at the cheapest ever mission to Mars at $74 million—a fraction of the $671 million that has been spent by NASA on its current mission to Mars. Equally significant is the fact that, within the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), the equivalent of US’s NASA, are 1,654 female engineers—12% of the organization’s workforce!
Doesn’t the deterioration, if not the collapse, of our educational institution suggest that Nigeria is Risky or At risk? How can a nation compete with the world, when its educational systems are being destroyed?
#7. Healthcare Situation
Infirmity of either the mind or body renders even the best athlete unfit for any race, hence the need to add more to our efforts to combat diseases and dangerous health practices on our continent. Unfortunately, healthcare woes and consequent decline of life expectancy ratio is a challenge in Nigeria, as it is in other African countries.
When I was preparing to come to Nigeria on this trip, many concerned people counseled against it because of Ebola. None of the arguments swayed me from the decision to be at this event. Fortunately WHO officially declared Nigeria Ebola-free before I came. So, that nailed that argument.
Well, just this past Sunday, Chelsea Clinton declared on CNN that Nigeria has been able to contain the Ebola virus because of a more robust health systems in place than Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Seriously? Isn’t it interesting that the healthcare systems of Nigeria at almost 177 million people is judged by that of countries with approximately 6 and 4 million people respectively? Recent survivors of bloody wars still trying to rebuild? Why not with any of those other countries that ranked top 12 on recent survey on overall health care?
Because that declaration was made around 10am Eastern Time on Sunday, which was around 4pm here in Nigeria, many churches had already concluded their service for the day. But I hope that this supposedly-good news or pass mark will not, in our characteristic fashion, occasion elaborate thanksgiving celebrations at churches this next weekend.
Talking about celebrations, I cannot help sharing this anecdotal story about how our miracle-working churches are handling the Ebola crisis:
A man went to church on a Sunday and gave testimony that God had healed him of his Ebola infection. As expected, the miraculous healing was greeted with many Amens, Hallelujahs, and dancing. When he finished his testimony he tried to pass on the microphone to the next man in line. To his surprise the man refused receiving it from him, saying “I’m, OK. Give the mic to the pastor.” The pastor he held it out to also refused, saying “I am not in charge of testimonies today. Give the mic to the senior pastor.” The man healed of Ebola was shocked when the senior pastor said to him: “The mic is all yours, my dear. Take it home; it a gift from the church.”
So much for the belief of our churches in the "healing miracles" they patent as the best form of healthcare for the continent. If the manufacturers of the healing are themselves skeptical of its validity, why continue to allow them to continue to take the masses for a ride?
The true state of our healthcare system in Nigeria, Ghana, and many parts of Africa should be judged not merely on the basis of how we were able or not able to prevent or contain Ebola, but on universal parameters of access, quality, facilities, etc. If malaria is still killing our children, and impacting the productivity of our adult population, is it time to celebrate yet? After all, this is one of our distinguishing marks in West Africa—the breeding house of malaria-causing mosquitoes.
Unfortunately, Nigeria has taken a middle or back seat in the fight against malaria. In spite of all the glitzy campaigns against malaria, national efforts seem concentrated on prevention. We partner with international organizations for aid and support to join us to prevent malaria. We enlist the help of individuals and their corporations to help us prevent malaria. But these are people who live in places with similar climates where malaria was eradicated decades ago.
We are content to accept their preventive measures, because that is the highest we believe that is attainable for us. And so, the reception of insecticide-treated nets make national news, announcing to citizens to protect themselves from the mosquitoes on the one hand, and telling the mosquitoes that they’re still too powerful for us at this stage.
Without millennium development goals and the staggering funds our endorsements attracted, would our healthcare facilities have even gotten to the level they’re at now? Yet, Nigeria is endowed with enough natural and human resources to spearhead an improved healthcare system not only on its own soil, but in other African countries as well.
Given all these challenges that have to do with the current reality, size and diversity of the nation, you can understand why the world has a right to ask the question on this Independence Day: Nigeria @ 54: Risky Republic or A Republic At Risk? To answer this question, we must move to the next question.
4. Where is Nigeria Going?
We are now at the crux of today’s journey. This is where we look at the question we’re faced with in this lecture: “Is Nigeria risky or at risk?”
Or to state it differently, having looked at who Nigeria is, where it ought to be, and where it actually is, who is in danger? Is it Nigeria? Is it the rest of us, with the “us” referring primarily to the neighboring West African countries, of which Ghana is one of the most vulnerable, and then the larger, secondary others who are farther away.
About four years ago when Nigeria celebrated 50 years of Independence, the question on global lips was “Is Nigeria still standing or is it standing still? Radar spotting shows that the question of four years ago is not as relevant anymore. For Nigeria has moved beyond standing still to a position whereby it is not standing at all, whether on its own or supported by props.
Rather, it is sitting down comfortably and conducting its usual business at the same time. While that fact alone, on its own, does not pose much of a problem, the choice of Nigeria’s seat and the location of that seat is what triggers the alarm bells. For, like the famed Humpty Dumpty, Nigeria sits alarmingly on a wall, under the full glare of the sun.
Is Nigeria at risk? Without a doubt, it is. For “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.” Nigeria sits on a wall, and Nigeria is at risk of having a great fall. It’s not rocket science. And like Humpty Dumpty, when the giant Nigeria falls, “All the king's horses and all the king's men cannot put Humpty together again.”
Nigeria is Risky
Nigeria is risky because this nation represents the hope of Africa and it does not seem to be acting out that role well. The recent demise of more than 100 South Africans in a collapsed building somewhere here in Lagos is still fresh on the continent’s mind.
Why that many foreigners in one place? Because they came to Nigeria to seek for answers. They chose the route of religion, attracted to its nectar by the promise of unrestricted help from their TV screens. Emmanuel TV beams from here to different parts of the continent, promising panaceas in the form of holy water, anointed touches, evangelical safaris, and a potpourri of other miracles that seem to be in endless supply in this country.
In a similar fashion, Africa needs Nigeria to offer credible and long-lasting solutions that can be replicated anywhere else on the continent. The solution to Africa’s problems lies here in Nigeria, but do you Nigerians realize the enormity of such a responsibility? That you can no longer live just for yourselves? That when you plan, you have to consider the fate of other nations that wait for you to lead the way?
God has not blessed this country in vain. He has given you all the resources that you sometimes take for granted or fritter away so that you should blaze trails in many different sectors. And before you pat yourself on the back that you are, let me be blunt and say that whatever you have done is not yet enough. Remove the taint of one finger of good mired in four of bad.
If the giant of Africa should fall from its precarious seat on the wall like Humpty Dumpty, how risky that will be for the rest of the world. For just as all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again, so will the rest of us not be able to put Nigeria together back together again. We will have to leave whatever currently engages us to focus on putting Humpty together again, but how easy or successful will such a task be?
The Kenyans tell us that “a home cannot be repaired when the owner is himself destroying it.” This explains the dilemma many other countries face. The risk that Nigeria poses to us is that of its being at risk of itself.
And I heard an apt Yoruba proverb that justifies our appeal: “If someone quietly watches a member of his household eat a dangerous insect without raising an alarm, the scratching of his throat will keep him awake all through the night.” That, in a nutshell, is what has engaged us—the dread of being kept awake at night.
Nigeria is at Risk
Nigeria is at risk because of the realities we have explored through the bifocal lenses. But perhaps more serious than that is the real but hidden tensions between its two broad age groups—the youths and the adults.
Alongside ethnicity and religion is the potentially-explosive fault line of age. It’s reflected in your classrooms, churches, mosques, on the streets, everywhere. A nation where almost half of its population comprises young people is a vibrant one. This vibrancy can be for good or for evil. And Boko Haram pulsates on our collective conscience with the reality of this latter situation.
Hence, for the short remainder of this lecture, while addressing my message to all Nigerians, I will speak more directly to the young in Nigeria. They, after all, hold the key to Nigeria’s future—nay, its present.
WHAT OUGHT TO BE DONE?
But we can’t afford to just stop at concluding that Nigeria is both risky and at risk. We must embed in the answer posed by the theme of today’s lecture a prescription that will not only trace where we are right now and where we’re going, but offer trajectories that can get us to where we ought to be and how we can set off that journey.
5. What Should Nigeria Do?
As I stated at the end of the previous section, while addressing this particular question to all Nigerians, I will speak more directly to the young in Nigeria. They, after all, hold the key to Nigeria’s future—nay, its present.
Challenge to the Young
We have said a lot about problems, but that’s not the main reason why we’re here. You—the young people and young professionals of Nigeria—are the reason why we are gathered here today. You are the reason why we do what we do—because you represent not only our future, but also our present.
I have spoken with many of you in my lecture series on university campuses and at other forums. I have also read some of your thoughts on social media where your uncensored, uninhibited thoughts lend credibility to the originality of the sentiments that initiate them. Though the horizon looks bleak, according to you, I am one of those who think that there is hope. And if we can get you to believe that the hope of this nation and continent is in you, then I will be able to safely move from the realm of “I think” to “I know” that there is hope.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with each person representing one out of four Africans. We have reeled through multiple statistics, showing that Nigeria has one of the highest ratio of young people of any nation.
With such a vast number of young people, the country’s future should be secured economically, politically, and in every other way. But, is that really the case? With the country’s ineptitude with governance and resource management, especially human resources, a different reality stares us in the face.
As prosperous as Asia has been in the last half century, experts predict that we are getting closer to the brink of rapid changes that will give the world an “African Century.” You alone currently account for more than one hundred million of the continent’s total youth population. By your age range, you are, and will qualify as the leaders of every sector well into the current century.
The question is: What building blocks are shaping your minds? What healthy nutrients do the current decaffeinated educational curriculum you have inherited offer you who must lead alongside your peers in our global village with its increasing complexities? What engages your time and best energies, beyond music, dance, and entertainment?
I am struck by how easily and frequently the option of violent revolutions as the way forward crops up in my discussions with you. I wish the recent experiences of those who have toed that path will caution to seek more viable alternatives, beginning with the revolution of your thinking processes and patterns.
Many of you—and your generation—do not read, but you think you can lead. Many of you cannot serve, yet you want to be served. You think might is right, failing to see that the light of might is at best dim.
The best revolutions are the ones waged on yourself. The one that impels you to dare to stand and make a positive difference no matter how black the darkness around you. The kind of revolution that sounds exotic and desirable to many of you and which might effect a change of government, but does not necessarily guarantee a change of circumstances. It might get you a new set of people at the helm of affairs, but if both their mindset and that of those they lead remains unchanged, what good has been accomplished?
Let it be clear that Nigeria and Africa cannot get the change we all look for if things continue with business as usual. Africa must think, and it must begin from Nigeria. Nigeria as a nation shapes the thinking of more Africans far more than their pastors and presidents can even boast of. Through Nollywood. Through your cable TVs. Through recurrent accounts of corruption that gives the impression that it is one of the main cultures in the nation, though not as old as the other ancient ones in history books.
The old ones have tried their best. And they will doubtless continue to do so until it’s time to go down into their graves. But the answer to Nigeria’s problems lies in you as young people. You are more in number. You are more energetic in strength. You are more creative in intellect. Technology is at your beck and call, ready to do your bidding. You still retain the essence of idealism that many of the older folks lost several generations ago. Nigeria needs you. Africa awaits you. And the world needs to be hit by the force of what is inside of you, yet to be unleashed.
Be A Butterfly
Earlier, I spoke a little about identity crisis. Do you really know who you are? The heritage you have as Africans and the expectations on you as Nigerian youths in this 21st century?
As I stated then, the declaration 54 years ago of this nation’s independence was an act that signaled the laying of eggs, not the hatching of a butterfly. The caterpillar must move to its natural destiny and become a butterfly. Failure to do so puts its own life at risk. It’s one reason why the youth of Nigeria must be challenged.
Perhaps a short story will help sound the note of urgency on what we should be doing.
A caterpillar once asked his mother why she was able to fly around him and he could only slug around on his stomach. The mother told him that because he was a baby and still in formation. The caterpillar took a good look at himself from head to toe and puffed out his chubby cheeks: “I’m happy the way I am. I’m all plump and rosy. Why would I want to be flat like you?”
“But you need to be able to fly,” the mother replied. “You are a butterfly in the making and not meant to stay a caterpillar for long.” The caterpillar was adamant in his contentment with his current state and refused to join his siblings and friends as they went into their cocoon to move on to their next stage.
Later when they emerged with their beautiful wings, they couldn’t help gushing about their freedom to fly. Little caterpillar had grown fatter and his movement sluggish. Several times, he slowed the others down since he had no other playmates to hang out with.
One day while out playing, the wings of a large bird overshadowed the branches of the tree they were on. The butterflies, startled, started flying away. As they flapped their wings, the piteous cries of the caterpillar called to them for help.
“Fly, brother. Fly,” they urged.
“No, I can’t. I can’t,” were the last words of Little caterpillar before he was gobbled up by the bird.
None of us can give what we don’t have. Many of you are at a stage of arrested development.
- You have been born into an era where personal sacrifice and commitment is considered not hip.
- A time when the term “federal character” has become the umbrella for nepotism, tribalism, every strain of greed and its genetic mutations.
- The stage in history where it is the norm to brandish sharp knives in a constant vigil for how to cut huge chunks of the mischievously-branded “national cake.”
- You think it is normal to be motivated with financial reward before you even contemplate to do what is for your own good.
- You cannot imagine planting a seed today and waiting for it to bear fruit. If it won’t yield returns as soon as it’s buried, then it’s not worth it.
Shall we continue to rob ourselves thus? No great country was ever built on such rotten foundations. In fact, nothing enduring or good was ever built that way. With all of man’s meddling, the laws of nature still supersede. Those that did soon crumbled away.
The big bird of globalization is here to stay and all sluggish caterpillars will be gobbled up. The fast-paced world of today has no room for slackers. The friendliest policies prey on vulnerable slugs that are still in formation. Only those who are able to fly can escape ending up in the stomach of bigger members of the consumption chain that we’re all in.
Have you wondered why many African roads are littered with Japanese and South Korean cars while no “made in Africa” tire even graces the wheels of children’s bicycles in those countries? These are just two examples of countries who survived wars and started the work of rebuilding at about the same time as Nigeria and many other African nations. Today, we consume their products in an insatiable greed for foreign goods.
All of our countries have become the repositories of China-made goods, and not even the top quality products. Yet they’re not stopping to rest on their oars. Every technology company knows now that it is the beginning of wisdom to have a presence in China. The whole world is at their mercy, as we all depend on them to supply most of our needs.
Nigeria has exactly the same potential as China. Unfortunately, without the same mindset. Chinese are among the smartest people in the world. So are Nigerians. But that critical difference in mindset is what accounts for the difference in our GDPs and the international impact we make in manufacturing, sports, education, health, and even agriculture.
Is Nigeria at risk? Yes. And woe unto the rest of Africa as a result! Is Nigeria risky? Alas, the ripple effect of Nigeria being at risk!
Giants should dance, but do so gracefully. Giants can sit, but not precariously on walls. The red flags of the risks associated with Nigeria are dripping in bright neons of danger. That’s what has many of us out of our closets appealing to you, offering to join whatever efforts can prevent this Humpty Dumpty that is Nigeria from falling.
But is it all gloom and doom? Fortunately not!
6. How Should Nigeria Begin?
What we’ve described thus far in our presentation are the symptoms. They are the outgrowth of a deeper problem. In order to address the issues facing us as a nation or even the continent, we must not treat the challenges we face like the way we tend to treat our headaches.
When a person has headache, what do we typically do? We quickly and freely dispense the advice: “Take aspirin, drink a lot of water, get some sleep, etc. etc.” All these panaceas assume that we know the root cause of the headache. Meanwhile, our guesses may or may not be true. And if they are not valid, we’d have wasted time and resources trying to address the problem, with solutions that might prove ineffective or futile.
But what SHOULD we do when we have headache? We must go to the doctor to carefully diagnose the cause of the headache. It is to arrive at this “what should we do” phase of our solutions that I argue that “Africa Must Think”—the title of one of my books and the basis of the “Africa Must Think” lectures I give on the continent.
Africa Must Think
We must think for ourselves. If we don’t, others will do the thinking for us, based on their perception of what our real problems are. It’s like someone chewing food, and spitting it into your mouth to swallow. That’s what has been happening to us.
For example, Africa relies on donors, that we euphemistically called “partners.” Unfortunately, in this “partnership,” one side is largely doing the thinking, chewing, and spitting—the side which is intent on a new colonization—while the other side dutifully opens its mouth to receive what is deemed fit to spit into it.
Oh Africa, the continent that has every interesting international partnership agreement littered with its name, receiving every strangling morsel spit into our cavernous throats!
Many of these “kind” partners are attentive to our needs. Just this year alone, from Lagos to Nairobi, Accra to Kigali, Douala to Dar es Salaam and everywhere else in-between, our African leaders have been invited to different places to discuss solutions to Africa’s problems. And for maximum effect, we have been lured away from our home countries on the continent to foreign capitals to be married to new partners. Thus—
- Earlier this April, it was the EU’s invitation of our African leaders to Brussels for us to hear what the European Union thinks is best for Africa.
- Then in August, there was a mass exodus of our leaders to Washington DC for us to hear what America is thinking for us,
- This December, India has already extended its wedding invitation to Bombay, so our leaders can go to them and have them think for us
- China is rolling out its red carpet for our leaders, so we can also make the pilgrimage to them to think for us
Disguised under many different names and the best of intentions on the part of other non-African nations, unless we think for ourselves, these new partnerships will be no more than a new “Scramble for Africa” based, yet again, on extracting its natural resources, but this time with Asian players prominent.
The fishes of Africa must think, or else the well-meaning Monkeys will offer solutions to our problems.
We must be thankful that since last year when the African Union celebrated its 50th Anniversary, there seems to be a renewed effort to start thinking. This is what “Agenda 2063” is all about: “What kind of Africa/Nigeria do we want in the next 50 years?”
But here’s where the issue becomes interesting. In 50 years, most of the adults currently engaged in the discussions will no longer be alive. This fact should suggest to us that there can be no serious solution to Africa’s future unless we actively engage the youth today—the very people who will be alive in 50 years! If we don’t involve the youth, we shall only be recycling the old, tried, and failed solutions.
By way of illustration, let’s look at how Petra Onyegbule and Gimba Kakanda analyzed the problem of Nigeria during the symposium: “Beyond Religion, Ethnicity & Other Fault Lines: Nigerian Youths & the National Question.”
As young people who are “thinking,” they concluded that the problem facing Nigeria is NOT about ethnicity or religion—as many adults seem to suggest. Those are merely fruits. Rather, these thinking youth conclude that the root problem of Nigeria is its mindset. It is the reason behind the nation’s dysfunctional institutions and the civic irresponsibility of its people.
In contrast to adult politicians and opportunists who selfishly resort to tribalism, religion, political affiliations, and other old fault lines as the basis of drawing a map for the future, what these young people are saying is that the solution to the ills of Nigeria calls for a different mindset, a different way of thinking—and behaving. A new psychology for the Nigerian.
That’s precisely my point. The fundamental problem facing Africa is an issue of mindset. We need to break away from the “Elephant in the zoo” mentality that has bred ineptitude, mediocrity, dependence, etc. etc.
We need a change in mindset. We need to inspire, mobilize, and educate a new generation of Nigerians with this new mindset. That’s the first step. And it must begin now. We must immediately start growing a new breed of thinking Africans. For as the Chinese tell us,
“If you want 1 year of prosperity, grow grains.
If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees
But if you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people”
Let’s grow Africans who can think. And think outside the box.
Think Outside the Box
Nigeria’s future depends on Nigerians and their commitment to its future. Such a commitment requires an out-of-the-box thinking. In this respect, Al Khwarizmi offers us a template to address how we should think out of the box—out of the elephant in zoo mentality.
You may have heard about the story of Muhammad Bin Musa Al-Khwarizmi, a man who lived twelve-hundred years ago in the city of Baghdad. Al-Khwarizmi taught in an institution of learning called the House of Wisdom, which was the center of new ideas during Islam’s golden age of science.
Born around 770 AD in Persia, Al-Khwarizmi was a mathematical genius, astronomer, and geographer. Our English word "algebra" is the European corruption for the Arabic word al-jabr in the title of his book Hisab al-jabr w'al mugabalah, a work which for centuries was the standard mathematics textbook. To this day computer scientists honor Al-Khwarizmi when they use the word algorithm, which is their attempt to pronounce his name.
The story of his “out-of-the-box” thinking goes like this: One day, Al-Khwarizmi was riding a camel laden down with algebraic manuscripts to the holy city of Mecca. He saw three young men crying at an oasis.
“My children, why are you crying?” he enquired.
“Our father, upon his death, instructed us to divide his 17 camels as follows:” one of them replied.
‘To my oldest son I leave half of my camels, my second son shall have one-third of my camels, and my youngest son is to have one-ninth of my camels.’”
“What, then, is your problem?” Al-Khwarizmi asked.
The oldest son said, since my share is half, if we divide the 17 camels by 2, I will get 8.5 camels
The second son, since my share is one-third, if we divide the 17 camels by 3, I will get 5.67 camels
The youngest son said, since my share is one-ninth, if we divide the 17 camels by 9, I will get 1.89 camels.
They all answered: “Sir, our problem is this: We love our camels. We don’t want any to die. Therefore we can’t divide the camels exactly!”
Al-Khwarizmi thought for a while and asked, “Will it help if I offer my camel and make the total 18?”
“No, no, no,” they cried. “You are on your way to Mecca, and you need your camel.”
“Go ahead, have my camel, and divide the 18 camels amongst yourselves,” he said, smiling.
So the eldest took one-half of 18—or nine camels. The second took one-third of 18—or six camels. The youngest took one-ninth of 18— or two camels. They all got whole camels—no fractions of camels. And they all got more camels than if they had divided the camels exactly by killing some of them!
After the division, they were all surprised to discover that one camel was left—Al-Khwarizmi’s camel. For, the total number of camels divided among the sons (9 + 6 + 2 ) equaled 17.
Then Al-Khwarizmi asked, “Now, can I have my camel back?”
These young men had the resources (camels). They had instruction on what to be done about the resources (the will, outlining the share of each son). But they lacked the wisdom to use the information effectively. They couldn’t think outside the box.
The genius of Al-Khwarizmi was not in his mathematical wizardry or even his book knowledge: It was in his experiential knowledge — his big-picture, right-brain thinking; creativity; innovation; and wisdom in addressing a seemingly-unsolvable problem, something that many can have. His wisdom made him add a camel to make the total 18 and still get his camel back.
Al-Khwarizmi was also willing to give up his only camel for the good of the children. Africa needs individuals who are willing to give up their most cherished camels—their personal property and comfort, ideas and opinions, tribal and nationalistic allegiances, and if needs be their lives—for the sake of the entire continent.
The answer to any dilemma in nation building is the willingness on the part of each to give—and even, give up. We must let go of our ethnocentric and religious camels; those of our political affiliations, the sole camels of our family networks, and any other that’s needed for the commonwealth of the nation.
To put it in Christian terms, we need the “mind of Christ”—the mindset of Christ adopted by Christ to save the world. We are told:
"In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant [slave], being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:5-8; NIV).
Christ was not eager to hold on to his Camel—His prerogatives as God. He became one of us, lived with us, and modeled for us. And because He was willing to lay down His life for humanity He made a difference in the world. It is this "mind of Christ" that Africa needs. When our old mindsets are replaced by the "mind of Christ," we shall display Christ's life of excellence, humility and service. Africa needs a transformed mind—a mind renewal. Mind liberation.
The heart of the African problem is the African heart. This heart must be changed. It must be transformed—from within. I call it “mind liberation,” the concept advanced in my Africa Must Think book. “Mind liberation” is a call to think and act differently.
The solution to Nigeria’s problems begins with the transformation of the minds of its people. A new mindset. A new psyche or psychology. A complete attitudinal and behavioral change. And this begins at the heart level.
The world is tired of watching the majority of Nigerians survive in Nigeria. We want to hear that the majority thrives. Whatever policies will transform economics and governance in Nigeria to guarantee sustainable overall development will serve as good templates adaptable for the rest of Africa, so we’re waiting.
We need a new Nigeria, and it cannot survive on what is the prevalent mindset among your generation. At the core of planning and the execution of those plans must be an attitudinal change that will revolutionize your thinking and consequently, your perspectives and output. These are within the powers of each one of us. They cannot be legislated and won’t accomplish much if enforced. They have to be willingly embraced by all as a way of life, to guarantee safe depositories of other expendable resources needed for nation building.
Quick fixes are not proof that you’re smart. Such cannot endure. Instant gratification for everything you do cannot keep you in a good place, even if it gets you there. In that case, prepare to turn out the poorest and most miserable of men in the things that matter most in life. Don’t merely give to get, but give because it is the right thing to do.
The care that we give our own personal properties must be matched by how we take care of public infrastructure. To destroy them show us ignorant stewards of what has been entrusted to our watch for our national pride in the present, and bequeathed legacies for our progenies in the future. The willful destructive spirit, or the careless indifferent one do no justice to the special privileges posterity has showered on your generation.
The change in mindset is that which will make you, the young people and young professionals assembled here, a formidable force in the transformation of your nation. At no point in history has any generation had such abundance of opportunities as yours has. Take your time to get to know the responsibilities your existence confers on you.
In practical terms, this means you must develop a hunger for learning. Acquire a passion for reading. Immerse yourself in history. Tribalism or nepotism will not get us far in our global world. And the pursuit of selfish interests will continue to slow us down. Master the lives of great men and women, the ones who sacrificed for the greater good and left trails of selflessness for the rest of us to follow.
Unlike what you have seen repeatedly, there is dignity in honest labor. And whatever you put your hands to, do so well. Excellence remains a strategic asset, though our nations are blanketed in mediocrity. It will do nothing but slide us further down the scale. To move ahead, we should no longer tolerate or acquiesce it in any form of mediocrity. Neither should we justify or excuse it.
Have you been hurt? Have you been wounded by a tribal insult or personal grievance? Seeking vengeance at every turn, playing scorched-earth politics with each other sucks. The shackles of unforgiveness and vengeance are a dead weight that a nation builder cannot leave attached to himself. Every part of him must be free, ready to swing or run or climb—whatever situation his commitment may demand of him.
What we are calling for is transformation. A different way of thinking. A renewal of our current mindset. Nigeria needs transformed minds, not loud, empty mouths. Not inflated pockets, not unlimited resources. We need the right mindset to be able to apply the resources that we are already endowed with, and the ones that will be attracted by the output of the right mindset. .
The Circle of Hands Foundation has come at an opportune time to lend its support to the initiative for national renaissance. It’s why it’s being unveiled on this 54th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence. That’s why I said earlier that we’re not here to mark a date, but to date the mark that will be your contribution, through this new organization, to the development of Nigeria, and Africa as a whole.
The focus of Circle of Hands is you as young people. You may feel marginalized, but that has never excused non-engagement in worthwhile causes. You may feel alone in daring to hope for a better Nigeria, but there are many others here and outside who are looking for those who share such hope with them. You may think that your efforts will not amount to much, but you are not thereby excused.
You are one, but you can make a difference. The change we desire to see in our world can begin with one solitary person. One individual. You!
James Allen Francis, in his famous 1926 essay titled One Solitary Life described the incredible power of one:
One Solitary Life
He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another obscure village, where
He worked in a carpenter’s shop until He was thirty.
Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.
He never owned a home.
He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never had a family.
He never went to college.
He never visited a big city.
He never traveled more than two hundred miles from the place where He was born.
He never did one of the things that accompany greatness.
He had no credentials but Himself.
He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against Him.
One of His friends betrayed Him.
Others deserted Him.
One of them denied Him.
He was turned over to His enemies, and
He went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves.
While dying, His executioners gambled for His clothing, the only property he had on earth.
When dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
But three days later He rose from the dead.
Those are the facts of His human life.
Twenty centuries have come and gone,
And today He is the centerpiece of the human race
And the leader of mankind's progress.
All the armies that have ever marched,
All the navies that have ever sailed,
All the parliaments that have ever sat, and
All the kings that have ever reigned, put together,
Have not affected the life of mankind on this earth
As powerfully as that One Solitary Life.
As I close this, I want this to ring in your ears. Your nation, Nigeria, needs you. Not only to be part of the solution to the risks it faces and poses in the present, but also to rebuild a better foundation for future generations yet unborn. You are that one solitary person that can make the change. Sign up with like minds, and be the change that you want to see!
© Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhD
October 1, 2014
Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhD., is a US-based Ghanaian author, inspirational speaker, leadership trainer, and an advocate for youth empowerment. He promotes excellence and “mind liberation” as the basis of transformational social change on the continent of Africa. Dr. Pipim was trained in engineering and systematic theology, and has authored nineteen books. He currently directs two Centers for Leadership Development known as EAGLES (Empowerment & Advisory Group for Leadership, Excellence, and Service) and ANANSE (African Network & Advisory for Needed Services and Excellence. www.EAGLESonline.org. He also serves as a special consultant on Bible projects for Remnant Publications.
 EAGLESonline is the umbrella organization for two Centers of Leadership Development known as EAGLES (Empowerment Advisory Group for Leadership, Excellence & Service) and ANANSE(African Network & Advisory forNeeded Services & Excellence). As part of the work we do under the two Centers of Leadership Development,EAGLESonline functions as an “ideas company,” “think-thank,” “a consultancy,”or “resource center” for transformative change in society. For more, see www.EAGLESonline.org.
 The symposium presenters were Gimba Kakanda (a socio-political essayist, and author) and Petra Akinti Onyegbule (Executive Secretary & Advocacy Officer at Credit Bureau Association ofNigeria; she’s also frontline social media activist). The symposium and discussions were moderated by Tope Fasua (CEO of Global Analytics Consulting (UK) Limited. He’s an alum of London Business School and also of the HarvardBusiness School Executive Training on Strategy [Balanced Scorecards]. He’s also a columnist with several newspapers, teacher and author).
 Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, “Nigeria andWe Its 170 million Stupid People,”PremiumTimes, October 22, 2013.
 “The most educated countries in the world,” http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/09/13/24-7-wall-st-most-educated-countries/15460733/
 For samples of the Nigerian Scam Letters, seehttp://www.quatloos.com/cm-niger/nigerian_scam_letter_museum.htm.
 "Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. 2 Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. 4 For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’sArmies. 5 You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and killed innocent people, who do not resist you" (James5:1-6).
 For more on this, see my chapters titled “Be Out of Your Mind,” “The Transformed Mind,”and “Mind Liberation” in the book I co-authored with Dr. Joyce Aryee: The Transformed Mind: Changing the World byBeing Changed (Ann Arbor, Michigan: EAGLESonline, 2012), pp. 61-109,135-168, 195-241.
 Over the years there have been many different variations of the “One Solitary Life”poem. The version reproduced here is my own, adapted and conflated from many different versions currently in circulation. For the poem, a summary discussion of the authorship and versions of this poem, see my This Is Love (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Berean Books, 2007), pp. 92–94,notes 1 and 2 (Cf. Six More Chances:Success in the Midst of Failure (Ann Arbor, Michigan: EAGLESonline, 2012), pp. 61-62).