By William Ikhianosimhe Orbih
What is wrong with Nigeria? There is a terrorist attack on a train. Many Nigerians die. And we are not even lamenting? A few tweets and life goes on as though nothing happened. Nigerians in Southern Kaduna continue to be murdered in cold blood, and we have all accepted this as normal? What is wrong with Nigeria?
There are as many diagnoses as there are thinking, talking, and writing Nigerians. The most famous diagnosis of the Nigerian malaise is from the acclaimed father of modern African literature. According to Chinua Achebe, “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.”
His conviction is that while there is nothing wrong with the Nigerian climate or water or air or anything else, everything is wrong with the “unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example.”
While expounding on the trouble with Nigeria and how the failure of leadership manifests itself in the Nigerian society, Achebe also theorizes on why he thinks the trouble with Nigeria persists. It persists because we have a flamboyant, imaginary self-conception of ourselves. We are too quick to refer to our country as great, even though all indices point to the contrary. Achebe was at his brutal best as he denounced this self-delusion of greatness.
According to Achebe, “Nigeria is not a great country. It is one of the most disorderly nations in the world. It is one of the most corrupt, insensitive, inefficient places under the sun. It is one of the most expensive countries and one of those that give the least value for money. It is dirty, callous, noisy, ostentatious, dishonest, and vulgar. In short, it is among the most unpleasant places on earth!”
Achebe did not stop there. He insists that it is not just that Nigeria is not great, but that we often delude ourselves with the “greatness” of Nigeria. “Only a masochist with an exuberant taste for self-violence will pick Nigeria for holiday; only a character out of Tutuola seeking to know punishment and poverty at first hand! No, Nigeria may be a paradise for adventurers and pirates, but not tourists.”
I agree totally with Achebe. Recently, I have become weary of the many exalted titles we bestow on ourselves. For instance, when we call ourselves “giant of Africa,” do we ever pause to ask in what specific way we are “giant”? Is it not simply because we have the advantage of population—a population mostly languishing in poverty and misery?
When we boast of our thriving music industry, is it not because our advantage of population provides a ready market (demand), which in turn inspires talent (supply)? Make a sound that appeals to a quarter of Nigerians, and you are a multimillionaire already.
When we boast about our intellectuals scattered all over the world, we fail to realize the many unpalatable reasons this is the case. We fail to realize that the failure of our country and its leadership is what is leading many Nigerian scholars to seek greener pasture outside the land of their birth.
What we laud as conquering the world “intellectually” is often nothing but a regrettable brain drain. By the way, is there a country on earth that lacks intellectuals? There is, perhaps, an apparent reason that there are more intellectuals (whatever this word means) in Nigeria than in Ghana. There are at least six times more Nigerians than Ghanaians!
Nigeria is not a great country! Yes, it has promise and potential. Yes, I believe that if we get leadership right, it will not take much for Nigeria to ascend and take its rightful place in the committee of nations. Yes, I believe that Nigeria can one day become truly. Yes, I agree that Nigerians are doing well in different parts of the world and various fields of human endeavor. Yes, I agree that most Nigerians are good people.
Most Nigerians are not 419ers, evil and heartless. Yes, I concede that there are a few areas we are performing well, for example, the music industry. But the undeniable truth is that Nigeria is not presently working, it is not currently great.
Yes, I also agree that we should do less blaming and get to work. I agree that we should be patriotic, and I swear I am. But I firmly believe we can put Nigeria back on the path of greatness only when we discard the delusion of present greatness. We can only begin to put in our best to make Nigeria work when we all agree that it is not presently working—it is not presently great. If we continue to delude ourselves and brag about our non-existent greatness, we will only continue to deteriorate.
A country with more than half of its population living in squalor is NOT great. India has recently overtaken us as the world’s poverty capital—that is, the country with the most number of poor people. Considering that India has 1.3 billion people and Nigeria has only 200 million people, we should be ashamed.
While less than one-tenth of Indians live below the poverty line, about half the population of Nigeria do. A country where women don’t feel safe, whether in church, mosque, or even in the classroom, is NOT great. A country that fails to provide its citizens with power, water, and other basic social amenities is NOT great.
A country where university lecturers are perpetually on strike is NOT great. A country that cannot retain its medical doctors and properly remunerate them is NOT great. A country where politicians and civil servants steal and go scot-free is NOT great.
How can we call a country great that cannot guarantee the security of its populace? We now travel in fear. In addition to our unmotorable roads, we now also have robbers and kidnappers. Even our newly refurbished railway system is not safe. How can we call a country great that gives nothing to the poorest members of society?
How can we call a country that smells terribly of tribalism, nepotism, and corruption great? How can we call a country with irresponsible, insensitive, and inept leaders great? All that Achebe noted in 1983 when he first published The Trouble With Nigeria is still sadly true. More troubles can now be added to his already long list.
I contend that we stop referring to ourselves as a great nation with immediate effect. At best, it makes us blind to the terrible reality. At worst, it inflicts us with a baseless optimism that often manifests in what Achebe and Chinweizu famously decried as a cargo mentality—”a belief by backward people that someday, without any exertion whatsoever on their own part, a fairy ship will dock in their harbor laden with every goody they have always dreamed of possessing.”
Unfortunately, most of those who promote this delusion of greatness are usually those who are either in some ways thriving despite the mess or are benefiting from it. Politicians are not the only people preaching the heretical gospel of Nigerian greatness. I have also found this gospel common among Nigerians in the diaspora.
It is high time we got rid of this delusion and became a people lamenting, protesting, and working. We must lament our present predicament and not simply shove it aside with the weapon of cognitive dissonance. Our hope for a better Nigerian must be born from lament. We must protest—using whatever means and instrument at our disposal.
Those who can write must not stop writing. We must not stop carrying placards and protesting every Oluwabamise let down by the Nigerian experiment. Those in the diaspora should stop advertising non-existent greatness and instead get into the business of drawing the world’s attention to the barbarism and lawlessness of Nigerian leaders. Above all, we all must get to work. I believe that Nigeria can become truly great. But, to get to that Promised Land, hard, sincere, and honest work is needed.
Disclaimer: “The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of William Ikhianosimhe Orbih and do not necessarily reflect those of The World Satellite. The World Satellite will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.”