by Babajide Ajidagba
I haven’t read Barack Obama’s book ‘audacity of hope’ yet, but I’ll title this piece that. I’ve chosen this title as it represents a personal turning point for me. I have up till now held on to the belief that there’s little to no hope of a better Nigeria emerging in my generation (I’m in my early 30s) or worse in my children’s. I didn’t take that stance flippantly. So how did I reach the ‘no hope’ stance? Here goes…
I have a few mottos that I try to use to encourage and/or guide my outlook on life. One of it is “the evidence of desire is pursuit”. I can’t remember where I first heard that statement, but ever since I heard it, I’ve held on to it. I, like many others occasionally desire things. I hold on to those desires and subconsciously wait for it to materialise. Sometimes, I take no active steps to ensure the desire comes to life, yet I hold on. After time passes, with said desire not appearing, I ask myself, where’s your evidence that you truly desire this thing? Where’s your pursuit? Cue light bulb moment. If I can’t show the evidence of pursuit, then it must mean I truly don’t desire that thing, and if evidence of pursuit exists, then I assess why said desire remains elusive and if there’s anything I can do about it.
This brings me to Nigeria’s current situation. I read a lot of complaints by Nigerians about Nigeria re politics, economy, elitism, unemployment, insecurity and the general breakdown of a social contract. With twitter and other social media platforms, instantaneous reactions are easily observed on every government move or societal happenings. So in the midst of all these complaints, quite a lot of Nigerian’s express desires on what they want out of Nigeria and how things should be. This often makes me wonder, where’s the evidence that these people truly desire these turnaround or things they complain about?
Is there evidence of the personal sacrifices necessary to actualise these desires? Can a mentality change be assessed or observed? How do ordinary Nigerians interact with each other? Are they peaceful, cordial, and respectful? Does anything in their interactions with each other demonstrate that there’s a sane and humane value placed on the Nigerian life? For example, people with vocational jobs, do they try and fleece their customers with exorbitant and outright criminal quotation for tasks? Do same customers negotiate project cost down to such an extent where it leaves, say, the plumber no other choice but to seek to cut corners? Think about it, do you expect your vocational worker or handyman to be able to survive (feed a family) on the beat down project cost you’ve just negotiated? Would you survive if it were you? To some it is just business and all man for himself, but it isn’t just business. If there’s breakdown of trust with every market participant suspicious of one other with presumptions that the other participant will fleece you without thought on average, how is this not clear to all that this attitude erodes value creation? I mean, look around you. Has this attitude improve the average standard of living of Nigerians in the last three decades? No. Is anything being done to change it? No. It’s PDPs fault says APC. It’s APC’s fault says PDP. And on and on the blame game goes, but does anything get done? No but rice is shared, perfect, our problem is sustainably solved.
You’re a customer service officer at work, are you cordial, respectful, professional in your dealings with your employers customers? Or do you always have a chip on your shoulder with the intent to prove to the customer that just walked in that you’re in an equal class of society regardless of the Cayenne the customer just parked outside or turn your nose up on those deemed of an inferior class? Whilst it may be true that some employers have failed to train their customer service officers appropriately, basic human decency surely need not be trained or basic common sense need not be farfetched? Take Nigerians working at our various airports, it may be true that the FG or whoever does not pay them well enough, but should that stop them from ensuring that travellers don’t experience hell at airports? I get that they don’t earn enough or working environment isn’t always conducive, but is the traveller the cause of it? Should you then exert your discomfort on them? How does that alleviate your own discomfort? That’s right, it doesn’t at least not permanently or sustainably. What ever relief you get from exerting hell is only fleeting or temporary at best. So why do it? Our IQ can’t be so low to not grasp this.
A good nation does not come about by happenstance. Deliberate and active steps have to be taken by all and sundry to make it so. Those in government don’t exist or live in a vacuum. They dwell among us. Some of them are our blood relations, others are within six degrees of separation from us. So those we’ve saddled with the responsibility of making the collective benefit materialise live among us, why then aren’t we communicating with them? Like walk over to their house, knock on the door and have a proper conversation. Why do we find it so difficult to organise/hold/attend community meetings with an objective view of discussing our common ails with a view to agreeing solutions that make our collective lives better? Why do the so called “elites” think it beneath them to be part of these conversations especially when their lives are so impacted by it? In reality, these conversations are happening somewhat, but who has been attending?
We all need to take stock and appreciate where we are as a society. We need to understand how badly our resources have been embezzled in the past. The fact that the misappropriation continues today does not mean we are wealthy and that we should take “wait your turn” stance, our resources are more finite than we care to admit. The cold truth is we all need to make personal sacrifices. If you want something of value, be ready to pay for it.
We need better education. If teachers, lecturers, VC’s and other admin staff don’t first make a personal commitment to be incorruptible, then it’ll be very difficult to improve our educational standard. Increase the budget all you like, improvement will hardly materialise, those that have made the personal decision to steal will steal any increase. Perversely, the society will celebrate them as material wealth automatically confers character worthy of emulation on thieves. Values, warped.
We need jobs to reduce unemployment, so need to encourage entrepreneurs and small businesses, even accidental entrepreneurs. Whilst company registration process may not be the global standard 48hours, ordinary Nigerians that work for the CAC need not sabotage the process to make it difficult for risk takers to register their businesses. Surely they can and need to appreciate the wider impact of their sabotage on the society? No, they only care about themselves, damn the society. Has the sabotage turned them to billionaires? No. Yet they perpetuate the impunity.
We need improvement in security. Both the public and the police force need to make sacrifices to make our nation more secured. Members of the police force should desist from soliciting for bribes before doing their jobs. You’re there in the first place because you (presumably) had a heart to serve. The public also need to do a whole lot more for our security officers. They deserve a lot more than they’re currently getting for putting their lives in harm’s way so that the rest of us will feel safe. If anything is what mass protesting for, it’s better working environment for members of our security services. We’ve neglected them over the years, is the current insecurity any wonder?
We need better leaders. That can only happen if the followers are better too. The quality of our present leaders reflects the quality of the followers. Bad followers can’t produce good leaders. The kind of change we yearn for starts with self. We need to improve our political consciousness and engagement. We all don’t need to be political experts or be members of a political party but we do need a significant percentage of the population to understand the various political ideologies that exists, their impact and how they can be applied/customised to the Nigerian situation. At a minimum, the bigger political picture should be clear to a significant portion of the public, how the actions and especially inactions of every individual contribute to the whole. We need to appreciate that we the people create the systems and establish the institutions that allows and enables us to live an equitable life. We need to maintain those systems or ensure that those we select to represent us maintain the systems and institutionalise a decent standard of living. Our collective complacency so far has led us to where we are today. We simply cannot continue like this.
Religious intolerance and the illusion of ethnicity. One of the evidences that is currently absent and shows me a lack of desire for a better Nigeria is the lack of depth to our thoughts. Although, in my opinion, there aren’t enough historical and factual books written by Nigerians about our history, we can and should be able to observe (at least in the last 34years) that ethnic and religious intolerance has never served us. Whilst those we have been unfortunate to have been led by have used religious and ethnic sentiments to divide and rule us, I still struggle to accept how easily we’ve made ourselves susceptible to such bile and bigotry. Indeed our educational standard hasn’t been up to scratch, surely it can’t be that bad that graduates are unable to see through the bigotry of ethno-religious sentiments? I mean, what evidence exists to support the superiority of one ethnic over another? Aren’t we all just as insecure, do we not all suffer from inadequate infrastructural development, aren’t we all affected by inadequate health services? Poverty, corruption, mismanagement of national resources and their facilitators remain indiscriminate, yet we continue to let it divide us and worse, shed blood for the illusion? Surely one doesn’t need an OND let alone a PhD to realise this?
A similar argument can be made for religious bigotry. Those that oppress the masses come from the two main religions, clergy included. Yet, the masses, even the educated ones, continue to allow religious sentiments stoked by false clergies and leaders divide us. If you’re all so righteous, prim and proper why is corruption so high? Why is there no evidence of your moral uprightness as influenced by your religion reflected in your everyday life and dealings with others? Why do you “se aloala” on aFriday, sing kumbaya on a Sunday, but steal blindly on a Monday?
Hard work. Why are we so loathing of rewarding the dignity and integrity of hard work? Why have we made cutting corners a national past time, celebrating those that circumvent due process, giving them national honours, pardoning them after completing unfairly short sentences, making them VIPs at social events. It is abundantly clear that on a cost/benefit basis, our politicians aren’t delivering – most are not even trying to deliver, yet we freely refer to them as “honourables and excellencies”. What exactly is honourable by their conduct? Why are we so docile as a people?
So, back to my original point, in observing how Nigerians interact with each other on social media, the intolerances, the far too often lack of depth to thought, the lack of critical thinking, the irony of accusers and accused behaving in the exact same way, the astounding selfishness, the immoralities in all forms of life – none of these suggests the presence of “evidence of pursuit” of a better Nigeria – yet, I have decided to have the audacity of hope. Perhaps I am foolish, I don’t know. What I do know is, I have no other choice.