Jean and I crossed path during my last year of fellowship training in an upscale hospital at the heart of Manhattan. As you would expect in such a highbrow setting, we were the only people of color in a sea of white faces. He was a freshly minted Nurse Practitioner trying to steady his feet in a challenging work environment. I was to the rescue. It came natural to strike a bond with this brother from the Caribbean. Or as I liked to call him, my African brother in the diaspora.
Jean was a history buff and each little time spent with him felt like a drop-in on a doctorate level black history class. He was an unrepentant Pan-Africanist in awe of Nkrumah and Malcolm X. He was fascinated by everything Africa but more so with Nigeria. He was an avid consumer of Nollywood movies and raved about the stately mansions and luxury automobiles in flamboyant displays. He however was quick to notice the wide disparity between private ownerships (the mansions/cars ) and public utilities and institutions (roads and hospitals) shown. Jean was not impressed that while he believed Nigerians were rich people, he couldn’t wrap his head around the glaringly decrepit infrastructure on display. So dilapidated that it gave the impression of the poorest of the poor countries of sub-Saharan Africa. He was right. Sadly enough, he was not the first to make such a startling observation.
Nigeria is a huge market for all kinds of luxury automobiles, yet we lack access roads to drive them. We are among the world’s top oil producing countries but for the most part PMS is not even available at the pump. We are one of the few countries in the world our size with such an epileptic supply of electricity. It’s very true that poor and corrupt leadership is at the front and center of these issues but fact is Nigeria’s problems are not only that of leadership. Your everyday Nigerian is very hard-working, goal driven, result-oriented and extremely competitive. He will do whatever it takes to attain personal success and provide for himself and family. That same Nigerian will do little or nothing to build and prosper his country. In fact, given the opportunity, he will have no qualms undermining the only country he can call his own.
The average Nigerian hardly understands his duty as a citizen. For him, it’s not about how to help build a better and prosperous nation but about an easier and quicker ways to profit off of his country to help him and family. He places limitless expectation of what his country owes him but feels no iota of obligation or responsibility in return. He could care less about acts that undercuts Nigeria and has the tendency to downplay the criminality and immorality of infractions committed against the State. He fails to make a connection between his role in his society and the kind of society he wants to live in. He can’t understand that the fortune of his family is inextricably tied to that of his country.
Maybe we should pause every now and then and do a little soul searching. Perhaps you attended a state sponsored institution in Nigeria and unlike your contemporaries in the US or UK, you paid little or nothing in tuition and graduated with zero loan. I suspect also that many of us working in the private sector may never have paid a single dime in tax to the Nigerian State. You run to government sponsored health institution sometimes when you are sick. Though we all complain about the poor quality of these services, the question is what have you ever done for your country to help her grow and serve you better?
Few years ago there was the story of a very famous man traveling from Enugu to Port Harcourt in a convoy of multiple Rolls Royce. Along the way, he got involved in a fatal accident. He later died from a non life-threatening cut to his body simply because he couldn’t make the two hours journey through a treacherous alley to the nearest hospital. This death would have been avoidable in any society with functioning Emergency Medical Services or a good network of roads and one can make a case that he was one more victim of a failed system. The pain was even harder to bear considering that this man was so rich that he could afford to fix that road many times over. As a Nigerian he may even have unwittingly contributed to his own death if he failed in his citizen’s duty. Fact is, in a failed society everyone is a potential victim and a young Nigerian entrepreneur stated it so well:
“Personal success cannot insulate you from the failures of your society”