By Tabia Princewill
Reading British and American news reports about the Olympics, one is easily convinced that these two countries in particular, know what it means to not just be proud of one’s country but to take practical steps to show the world why exactly said country is worth mentioning at all.These are not countries where principal officers of National Assemblies allegedly employ around 400 aides. Neither are these countries where cost cutting applies only to the poor.
These are nations where representing one’s country, be it in sports or through politics, is an honour for which one is both encouraged to do well and rewarded—rewards, admiration and privileges don’t go to those whose actions bring shame and dishonour on a country and its people. The UK and US celebrated their athletes this Olympic season, not just for their gold medals, but for making the average American and Briton dream of greatness: with every individual athletes’ triumph, citizens (viewers around the world for that matter) triumphed too, encouraged to believe that dreams can come true, that the human spirit is conditioned to triumph against adversity and that with hard work, anything is possible.
There is no such example in Nigeria. Most of our would-be heroes in business and politics owe their success to corruption and injustice. Many of our would-be stars in the entertainment world owe their financial success to boyfriends or “patrons” in business and politics. Very little of what we call success in Nigeria exists through hard work or talent.
Watching the US gymnastics team win gold over and over again, seeing these young women talk about their humble beginnings, the hours of training, the tears; in short, what it took to get them here, I was impressed (as I often am) by the American spirit, the almost religious belief that anyone can be anything in America. Then I heard of the polio cases re-appearing in Borno and I wondered, beyond death, illness and socio-economic paralysis, what is there for the Nigerian child? Who is telling our children that they can be anything they want to be? Who is showing them that without corruption, there is a future in Nigeria?
In Nigeria, politicians and business people rise from poverty to become thieves. Nothing in our society teaches children to look beyond their immediate condition or surroundings, to dream big and then, to help those they’ve left behind once their circumstances improve, which is why our leaders can claim not to have worn shoes as children and still believe that the number of private jets in Nigeria is a good indicator of our economic performance as a country. Proof that this is nonsensical is that all it took for us to relinquish our largest economy in Africa status was for our economy to be deprived of its main source of sustenance—oil. Even our fledgling media and film industries which accounted for our growth in GDP might still disappoint, if it becomes apparent that they, like countless other industries, lived off of the proceeds of corruption.
In Nigeria, hopelessness reigns, with generations born into poverty with few prospects of ever escaping it. So, to many in Nigeria, the Olympics mean nothing. Watching Simone Biles, a 16-year-old American gymnast, one of the most decorated athletes in modern history, who comes from a broken home, who was given up by her mother (she was allegedly on drugs at the time), before being finally adopted by her grand-parents, means nothing because her story would not be possible in Nigeria.
We have no public school system to boast of—even some of our best private schools cannot compete with good public schools in the Western world—so what kind of education is Simone’s Nigerian equivalent receiving? Who is awakening our children’s talents? What happens to motherless babies in Nigeria? Where would Simone’s Nigerian counterpart have practised gymnastics? Our local governments have no parks or facilities for sports, the budgets for such amenities are often unaccounted for. Even the would-be “constituency projects” our lawmakers bicker over have had little impact, if they were completed at all.
Greatness in Nigeria comes at a cost (terrible for some, a mere fact of life for others): one has to decide whether to become a thief, a killer or both. A thief because, only by stealing from others does one seemingly get rich in Nigeria and only by robbing them of their potential, or by killing them both morally and physically, does one become well-known and successful in a country where everything is upside down.
In the US, the UK and other such modern democracies, jealousy doesn’t stop the rich and able from lifting up a poor child with the talent, ability or potential to do great things. One doesn’t get into public office to hire only one’s family members in such countries. Personal ambition merges with the desire to see one’s country and its people be great, in a way yet unseen in Nigeria. Our dreams and aspirations only target our nearest and dearest, forgetting, in our small-mindedness and apathy, that true greatness lies in the number of people one is able to elevate by doggedly seeking public office.
I often wonder what goes through Nigerian government officials’ minds when they visit Western countries. Do they think it an anomaly that domestic staff in modern democracies can work and go to university part time?
That a butcher owns property? Or that a plumber has his own mortgage? Do they think it strange that these countries rely on their middle class for their economic strength? Do our sports ministers think foreign athletes are inherently more able or talented than Nigerians? Despite what many think, change isn’t impossible in Nigeria, it wouldn’t even be so difficult, if the best and brightest got a chance at leadership. While Buhari fights the anti-corruption war, if he had around him the right people, men and women with fresh ideas, the country would be a different place.
To be well-meaning is not the same as achieving. We need to shake the sluggishness which has come to characterise governance in Nigeria, with its outdated ideas and hollow, ineffectual actions. There is a lost generation in Nigeria, one with nothing to look forward to and virtually no one to look up to. We need to retrain their minds and bodies if we hope to survive as a nation. Overhauling the Ministry of Youth and Sports would be the perfect place to start. The Minister’s outfits have been the focus of media reports, rather than the Ministry’s output. Team Nigeria’s success or lack thereof, should come as no surprise.
States and debt
How is an oil producing state like Bayelsa in debt? Many states of the Federation seemingly exist only to pay civil servants salaries. It is time to seriously talk about our states’ lack of productivity. Also, why were so many civil servants hired in states that produce virtually nothing and contribute little to our GDP? We must get people in power creative enough to look beyond federal allocations for their people’s survival.
Reports of the police arresting a man for calling his dog “Buhari” have been trending online. It was initially thought the arrest was a chivalrous attempt at safeguarding presidential honour. But the story got more bizarre when the police stated the arrest was to “forestall (a) breach of public peace which the suspect’s action may likely cause”.
The suspect purportedly named his dog “Buhari” in a bid to offend his Hausa neighbour whose father is called “Alhaji Buhari”, as well as insulting the Hausa community in his area where he allegedly paraded the dog. The suspect, however, claims he chose his dog’s name out of love for the President. I’m not sure which is more frightening, that the police is attending to such puerile gags or that communities could possibly come to blows over dogs and their names. What a curious case. What an infamous dog.