I read some years ago, during the run up to a General Election, that the then newly re-elected British Prime Minister was getting some flack from the opposition for displaying racist tendencies. They referred to a comment he made when he was still a journalist. In an Independent on Sunday publication of October 1999 he had regrettably quipped, “All the young people I know — i.e. those under 30 — are just as avaricious as we flinty Thatcherite yuppies of the 1980s… In fact, they have an almost Nigerian interest in money and gadgets of all kinds.” A remarkably distasteful comment by any standard and how patently unfair it is to paint a whole nationality with the same brush. How I just wish we hadn’t given him the ammunition to shoot us with though.
One thing I know for sure is that we need to change the narrative about us as a people and to do that, we need to ask ourselves, who is the Nigerian? What do we stand for, believe in or hold dear? What is our general outlook on life and what do we believe life should be about? It behoves us to truly understand who we are and to promote it with much gusto, plenty of swag and much clarity to the world. We need to deliberately project our strengths and virtues and believe or not, there are many. We need to tell the world of our hospitable and ebullient nature, our generosity of spirit, our love for life, the confidence which by nature, we have in our abilities; our can do spirit even if the face of overwhelming odds, our diligence, dexterity and fathomless ability to innovate. No matter what, we are a good people and we need to present ourselves as such to the world instead of complaining while we allow the foreign media to control the world’s perception about us. In August 2018 Bloomberg ranked Nigerians working in the United States as the eighth most hard working and most skilled immigrant group. It boggles the mind to think what that could and should have translated to here, if only the environment was more enabling. And that’s what makes our modest achievements here so amazing. In many ways, we still manage to move forward in spite of and not because of.
Believe it or not, the Caucasian isn’t all good either but he has been able to put systems in place which curb man’s natural tendency towards excesses and the focus on self. Of course, like anything, it doesn’t always work but it has certainly gone a long way to making their society a more functional one. I remember when I was still at boarding school in the Uk. The story went round that a Nigerian boy had just been expelled from one of the top schools. The boy’s father quickly offered to donate a million pounds to upgrade the school library. Bear in mind this was about thirty seven years ago and then you’re likely to appreciate just how large a sum that was back then. Pronto! The school swiftly readmitted the boy and explained it away as an unfortunate misunderstanding. Who told you the Caucasian doesn’t like money too?
Until each and every Nigerian sees the success or otherwise of our society as a collective responsibility, we will remain where we are. No, you cannot leave it all to the government unless you see yourself as having less stake than government officials. You don’t. There is a part for us all to play and it begins with taking ownership of the Nigerian project backed by sane, rational, intentionally disciplined and civil behaviour which always contributes immensely to corporate progress and well being in a way that can hardly be measured. We need to guide our adolescents and youth to cultivate the best of habits because no one else will do it for us. Throwing money at the problem by giving them everything they desire without instilling priceless values simply won’t cut it.
The Nigerian story is not one entirely of doom and gloom. It depends on how we decide to tell it. Of course we can tell it in a way that quenches any remaining glimmer of hope and kills the spirit or we can decide to tell it in a way that restores hope. And we all know hope is an essential commodity in and for life. Hope for a better tomorrow is what pushes us on even when all around us looks bleak. Hope of making it to an infinitely better and eternal afterlife makes the present situation which in comparison is so ephemeral, more bearable. But when hope is lost, some will argue, so essentially is life. Everything loses meaning and value. So, for a patient who has come to the painful reality of his mortality as he gradually succumbs to a terminal illness, to then surround him at that point with all known luxuries of life, shall mean nothing to him. The only hope remaining for him is one that transcends this life. In the same way, many of us who see our dear country as one in the throes of a terminal sickness, leaving it no hope, no future, will never lift a finger to salvage it. What’s the point? We should never allow the Nigerian spirit to atrophy. We must not allow the Nigerian spirit to die. To inspire the younger generation, we need a whole new set of national heroes. Those who have the love of God, love of their fellow man and the genuine love of country.
What makes us Nigerians? Our ability to stand and yet innovate; our boldness not just in conquering the most adverse of circumstances but our cheek in even believing we can. Faced with daily and often compounding challenges in one of the most unforgiving environments on this side of eternity, we still find time to laugh, to dance and to love. I do not believe that we will be broken, I do not believe we will give in for we are Nigerian. But we must tell our own story and stop leaving it to be told by those who do not understand our nuances, or feel our pain or truly appreciate what motivates us. We must not allow our story to be told by those who love to toy with the little hope we continue to hold on to. We must not let our story be told by those to whom we’re just that, a headline story. Truth is, they have no stake but we do. For we are Nigerian.