In the past week, we heard news of Boko Haram victories and unprecedented number of casualties amongst Nigerian soldiers engaged in the fight against the religious extremists. The police hierarchy is also locked in a blame game with a very highly placed Niger Delta elder who was a victim to what was again described by the police as an ‘unauthorized’ raid by some of its men. While all of this is going on, there are men currently lining up behind the flags of their political parties to indicate their interest in charting the course of the country, for good or bad.
In truth, the country needs a determined leader to take it through the coming years, especially as we are in a make or break phase of development in many areas. This crucial time in our history is proving tough, as should be reasonably expected in a country with so many diverse interests. There are times when one is simply proud of what we have achieved and the potential that we still hold, while at other times the daunting task of nation-building seems to be a lost cause. In the end, it is the people who hold this union together, through their acts and their belief in our prospects and survival as a country. This is where the trouble lies.
Nigerians are amongst the most mobile groups of people in the world. After the Chinese and Indians, Nigerians are probably the most likely group of immigrants you will encounter in most parts of the world, even in regions with stark differences in weather, culture and language. The average Nigerian considers it a step forward to be able to pack their belongings and leave the country behind, even to uncertain fates in foreign countries. This does not portray a picture of people who have faith in their chances at home or a belief in the prospects for a good life in this country.
Sometime after our independence, Nigerian immigrants moved freely to the United Kingdom where many families remain rooted till this day. When the British began tightening their borders, there was a concentration on American visas, and many Nigerians can now be found across the vast territory there. Again, the Americans tightened their borders through more stringent visa requirements and now the exodus is concentrated on Canada, where the signs of restricted intake of Nigerians are already materializing. Wherever the next destination may be, life in the country is still pushing people out, even at times when there seems to be improvement. When will visas stop being more important than national identity cards or voters cards?
Every day, more people make the seemingly bold move to restart their lives in other countries, sometimes uprooting entire families in order to give their children a fighting chance in the vastly competitive world out there. We no longer believe in dreams made in Nigeria, but want to be part of the American dream, or share in the openness of Canadian society. Nigerian children are learning to speak languages in continental Europe where the natives themselves are looking to expand their horizons and teach their children more of the popular culture in Britain or America.
We are so quick to trade our identities for the safety of a working society that we leave gaps in our own country that contributes to the poor development of our sectors. Many Nigerians serve in the British army or in the American military, even recent migrants, when the Nigerian army is engaged on multiple fronts at home and abroad. One cannot fault their decisions, as everyone is responsible for themselves, especially when it seems that we are faced with insurmountable obstacles at home.
Promising entrepreneurs and employers of labour flee the country to become employees in foreign countries where they get lost in the demographics and lead ordinary but safe lives. Ideas that can make positive impact in our society are sold to the west for the promise of a life there, only for the end products of those ideas that were conceived in the mind of a born and bred Nigerian, to be imported into the country at a premium. Our biggest employers of labour are foreigners who are mining the potentials of our unique market and repatriating the proceeds to their home countries. Behind crude oil and maybe the products of a rejuvenated agricultural sector, our biggest export is labour, and unlike oil and agricultural produce, it is a negative to national development.
Most of our public servants are not left out of the race for greener pastures. The ones that do not themselves have dual citizenship have ensured that their children have not missed out on the massive advantage of citizenship in successful countries where dreams are born and nurtured for the advantage of those societies. In many cases, their offspring identify more with the foreign nationality, for obvious reasons, and never visit or return home. For the ones who return, they are met with plush appointments facilitated by the standing of their parents or the natural advantage of their foreign background and education.
The returnees become policy makers and leaders of industry who understand the theoretics of global business and public management, but are deficient in the practical knowledge of how things work in the country. As a result, they are deceived, exploited and used by those that know but have no moral integrity. The shock of being jolted to reality leads many to leave or join the band of exploiters, having never felt, first hand, the consequences of their elitist ideas. They join a class of Nigerians that consciously or unconsciously propagate a growing class divide, widening the wealth gap through an established system of elitism that ensures non-inclusion.
A striking thing about the most developed countries is the sense of patriotism of the citizens there. Those that think Nigerians are patriotic merely confuse our natural defensiveness for patriotism. Over 80 per cent of Nigerians will readily trade their Nigerian passports for British or American passports and never look back. About 77 per cent of Nigerians are currently living below the poverty line and it is without question that they will be willing to make such a trade. Of those living above that line, one assumes that a quarter already have dual citizenship or are working on a migration plan.
What may encourage patriotism in the Nigerians that choose to live here, or simply have no choice, is not so difficult to decipher. Everyone wants to be able to lie down at night peacefully and wake up in the morning with peace of mind. For those living in the north east or outside fortified areas like military cantonments in other parts, this may be difficult. Security, therefore, is an important factor. This is closely followed by the guarantee of a respectable means of livelihood and access to affordable healthcare, education and other daily needs.
There is no shaming or praising people that leave or stay as everybody’s experience is personal. What is clear is that it does Nigeria no good when its best brains are in flight or when there is no belief in the country by its own citizens. Dora Akunyili of blessed memory tried to launch a rebranding programme that evidently has not sailed, like the vision 2020 plan that failed several years ago. We need to believe in our own strength to fight the obstacles we are faced with, before our country can emerge from the ashes of yesterday’s failures.
The measure of a country, it is becoming clear, is not by the wealth of its richest people, but by the aggregate of citizens actively working and succeeding at making a better life for themselves. We are grateful for the work of people like Aliko Dangote, Oba Otudeko, Tony Elumelu and others who are inspiring the next generation and creating a dream for Nigerians to follow. But there are obstacles that even they cannot help many cross, and we may have to rely on the resilience of the Nigerian spirit, channeled into nation building and growing together. This is what we expect today’s politicians to do, not ganging up to loot our common patrimony as it were.