Friday, September 08, 2006


‘To dream is not to think about ones own wellbeing, but about the future needs of a nation of people’

The overwhelming feeling that hit me (I didn’t ‘feel’ it as much as it ‘hit’ me) was that of sadness. A choking sadness that went straight to my inner being. It wasn’t a sadness of pity for the poor, underprivileged people slugging it on the streets for their daily bread- that would have been patronising. Nor was it a sadness generated by a sense of guilt on my part that I had been fortunate to be living ‘the good life’ in England for the past decade and a half- that would have been insulting. It was a sadness fuelled by the enormous potential Nigeria has. All around me, amid the decay and poverty, I saw potential. The potential of a great nation with a fruitful future. Where there was child labour, I saw the potential for development and training into what could be the makings of a thriving skilled labour workforce, the backbone of any industrious country. Where there was corruption, I saw the workings of intelligent minds, whom if given the chance, would be an asset to any industry, be it energy, engineering or telecommunications. I was saddened because although I saw the potential of a great nation, we are far away, generations, light years even, from that reality;

‘The workers are many, but the harvest is few’.

The labour workforce is ready and willing, but there is no industry. Nigeria is touted as one of the leading countries in Africa, a country with presence. But I think this is because of the resources and size of Nigeria’s labour force rather than what she has done with it. Nigeria should be so much more than that. She could be one of the leading countries in the world. This is what I felt. Nigeria has the natural resources, she has the willing labour force and she has the status of being a significant country in her continent. Nigeria is seen as the leader in Africa. The one to take to lead the way. When Nigeria moves, other countries should follow. But what is the problem? What is holding Nigeria back from making that leap and becoming a developed country?

We’d flown in the night before on Virgin Airways flight number 623 from London Gatwick to Port Harcourt. I quite enjoyed the flight- it had the luxury of in flight movies- but I noticed that a majority of my fellow passengers had quite a different experience to mine, particularly the elderly. They complained about the service given to them by the ‘white’ stewards on board. Their main cause for concern being that considering the price they paid for their flight tickets, they were still being treated as second-class or ‘black’ citizens. Up until then, I remember being pleasantly surprised by the quality of the whole trip. For me, the fact that a foreign airline was flying to a Nigerian airport other than the people’s capital, Lagos or the political capital Abuja was a positive sign. A sign that Nigeria still had something to offer. Of course there was the usual mayhem during departure and arrival, but that is part and parcel of being a Nigerian and what good is a nation without its culture? Germans are boring, the British conservative, Americans are capitalists, the Japanese are industrious and Nigerians are charismatic. I remember the mass crowd camped outside the airport waiting for their loved ones to emerge from the arrivals lounge. That some had been waiting for five hours was of no consequence. Nothing was going to stop them from uttering that heart-warming phrase that is indicative of every Nigerian, ‘You’re welcome’. Young, old, friend or foe, it was the same phrase: ‘You’re welcome’. And in the midst of the lost luggage and visa/immigration problems, I was home, and I thanked God for it.

The next morning- my first in Nigeria after fourteen years- I saw the good, the bad and the ugly of the nation all tossed into one mixture. So intertwined that if you weren’t sensitive to it, you’d miss altogether, pass it on as what made up the culture of the people, the nation. See, Nigerians are traders by nature. Like so many developing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America, we were blessed with silks and spices, iron ore, gold, diamonds in abundance. What we didn’t have, we traded for what we had, and what we didn’t need, we didn’t want. That was the way of life and by all accounts, it was a good life. Trade used to be for the benefit of the tribe, the society, the people. Now trade is more commonly linked with money. Money has its links with the emergence of capitalism, and capitalism (to capitalise) is grounded on the principals of individualism. Amongst all the systems of administrations of the world, capitalism is the most individualistic minded. Now, I’m not saying that I laud this ism over that ism, or any other ism. I don’t have the qualifications for that. All I’m pointing to is the fact that when the individual’s needs take precedence over the needs of the group, there is stagnation. Especially in a country like Nigeria whose value systems are based on the tight knit community.


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