The Child Who Never Really Grew

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The tale of Nigeria’s journey from June 1998 till date is like the tale of the child whose birth was heralded with joy, whose infanthood gave so much promise, whose future was as bright as the mid-day sun, but who never really outgrew his diapers. This is the very sorry tale of a sickly infant who has retained the world’s attention and kept observers with bated breath, hoping against hope that one day he would live up to his potential. As with all other things in life, patience runs out, another child is born somewhere else on the planet, the world hisses, shakes her head and moves on. Attention quickly shifts to the next child of promise.

So much was predicted and expected of Nigeria as the old millennium folded up and bowed out to be replaced by the age of new beginnings. Nigeria’s forgettable years spent in military backwardness were heartily dismissed as the worst we could ever do, as we celebrated General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s statesmanship and resolve to return Nigeria to democracy. The world was lousily warned that Africa’s giant was about to roar into life and finally claim her place as the leader of all black innovation. Olusegun Obasanjo was philanthropically rewarded with the presidency for his prison years and supposed wisdom, and gracefully welcomed back into the world of the civilized as the chosen one; the one who would wipe all tears away from weary Nigerian eyes and crown them with a diadem of honour. Thirteen years down the line, the centre is refusing to hold.

What happened? Did Nigeria over-promise and under-deliver, or was the world too expectant? Were there insufficient speeches at the United Nations or a shortage of ‘foreign investors’ from China, Brazil or Qatar? Were there limited cabinet positions or too few administrative reshuffles that prevented change-makers from having a shot at introducing change? Were there inadequate political positions for friends, associates, acquaintances and distant relatives of (s)elected officials? Were there too few foreign trips to ‘observe how things are done abroad’? Did the presidents of other countries not visit to sign partnerships, contracts, Memoranda of Understanding, shake hands, sanction bi-national commissions or give major speeches? Did we not have enough governors, legislators, wives of local government chairmen, senior special advisers and ‘captains of industry’ on our delegations to the UN General Assembly or G-20 summits? What exactly did we fail to do?

We observed the appointments of all sorts of phony magicians to cabinet positions, we endured the endless blast of sirens whenever the special assistant to the Minister of Solid Minerals visited Ibarapa Local Government Area, we gullibly believed the endless promises of solutions to the crippled state of power generation in the country, we rejoiced whenever a culprit was fingered in a money-laundering scam but hissed furiously when the Supreme Court dismissed all charges against him because they could not be substantiated, we sympathised with organized labour whenever they declared a national strike to protest the non-implementation of the minimum wage and shook our heads pitifully when a compromise was hastily reached without the meagre wages being paid. We have had our hopes built, dashed, shattered and then raised again because we are Nigerians and we don’t give up. We know that God has not forgotten us and that there is still hope for us in the future.

We know that even though South Africa found her feet in 1994 with the election of a serious revolutionary and has refused to look back ever since, there is nothing to worry about because we’re still building our democracy. We know that even though Ghanaians shamefully packed all their belongings from our country just a couple decades ago and endured our jeers at their ‘useless’ currency while they slowly rebuilt their economy, there isn’t much cause for alarm because they still allow us to visit their country on excursion and their ex-presidents do not reject us when we invite them to lecture us on national development. We know that even though we did not endure anything close to the genocide that wiped away more than a million citizens of Rwanda eighteen years ago, the fact that the Rwandan president is now the global face of the rising African continent does not mean our president is also not respected. At least, he can afford to fly two presidential jets to New York whenever he has a very important speech to deliver to the rest of the world.

There really is no problem in Nigeria as long as a few of us are able to secure scholarships to study in foreign universities, even if the destination is Lithuania or Equatorial Guinea; at least we’re studying abroad. Nigeria is not doing badly as long as we have the largest black population of Facebook and Twitter users; isn’t that something to be proud of? We have not forgotten the fact that John Mikel Obi has a starting shirt at Chelsea Football Club, even though he is probably the only Nigerian who is a regular first-team player in any club in Europe. For crying out loud, at least we won a few Paralympic medals in London, making up for the dismal performance of the able-bodied Olympic athletes who cannot be blamed because funds were released for their training only four months to the Olympics. Furthermore, the U-21 female national team performed quite well at the just concluded World Cup. Don’t we have enough to celebrate?

As we witness stunted growth and celebrate mediocre achievements while the rest of the continent progresses, there seems to be a growing sense of curious calm in a raging storm. Social media guarantees a safe haven for a new generation of political commentators to vent their frustrations and move on as quickly as they make an angry post. The impending 52nd commemoration of the country’s Independence Day doesn’t give much promise about potential developments as citizens satisfy themselves with the awareness of the current president’s failures. It really doesn’t feel utterly shameful anymore to realize that the 13-year old toddler called Nigerian democracy doesn’t even crawl or suck his fingers anymore; that he seems to be grinding to a full stop in his expected growth. Who knows if this sickly child would ever get out of his diapers, eat some real food and learn to clean up after himself? Who knows if he even has a future ambition?

You can follow Faith Abiodun on Twitter @FaithAbiodun

Before Obama Returns…

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This article was initially written and published on November 11, 2009, and is replicated here verbatim because the conditions that warranted it haven’t changed and it’s message rings true, 26 months after.

Not too long ago, the world stood still. Journalists jostled for space. Cameras clicked furiously. Statesmen surreptitiously sought audience. The media was uncharacteristically awake to every comment that passed. The high and lofty claimed to have been brazenly ignored by the most powerful man in the world. Fangs were bared, egos were dented, hopes were dashed, but what was the cause of the fuss? Obama was coming to town!

Nobody likes to be ignored, not if they claim to be the most important nation in the continent of the blessed. After all, Obama is a noble son of this continent and cannot feign ignorance of the pivotal role we have played in the collective survival of the continent. What with our numerous peacekeeping missions to nations that were boiling over (probably including his native Kenya), or our big-brother status that saw us loan millions of dollars to economically crippled Islands like Sao Tome and Principe (even though we had to borrow $500million from bigger donors). It did not matter if our peacekeeping missions came in the heat of the Niger-Delta crisis or the Boko Haram debacle, what mattered was that we are Nigeria, the giant of Africa and for that, we deserve respect. 

Obama probably wasn’t aware that on the 29th of May 2007, we witnessed the first civilian-to-civilian transition in the chequered history of our beleaguered existence. To those who are not aware, that was a big deal because Nelson Mandela had not democratically transferred power to Thabo Mbeki, nor had John Rawlings handed over to John Kuffour without the rancour and bloodshed that accompanied our celebrated civilian-to-civilian transition. Obama probably had not noticed the huge debt pardons we received from our creditors world over even though huge projects like the 6000MW power generation target and the Heart of Africa project still command billions unaccounted for. 
If Obama had not noticed all these, what exactly had he been looking at? What, apart from governing America, had caught his attention? With what we know of Barack Obama, he isn’t so insensitive as to forget the continent of his fathers to embrace the white man’s land without looking back, or had he forgotten that without the support of Africans, nay Nigerians, he would probably never have ascended to the American throne? Obviously, Obama was not idling away at the White House; he was paying close attention to Africa but with a clear focus. He was looking out for certain things in certain places and it appears he was getting results in unconventional places. 
Nigeria is truly a giant in Africa but not THE giant of Africa because that will place her shoulder above other countries in all ramifications and that will be too generous, if not deceptive. On his first visit to sub-saharan Africa, Obama sought a giant in matters pertaining to democracy and good governance to establish his base but sadly, found none in Nigeria, but neighbouring Ghana. Ghana indeed has proven herself as a force in such matters, admirably imitating the American style of democratic transition from a ruling party to an opposition party as evidenced in Rawlings-Kuffour and Kuffor-Mills. Again, Ghana has proven to be a shining example to the rest of the continent in delivering dividends of democracy and not a few people felt defeated when the Aelex Law firm invited the Ghanaian Energy Minister to lecture Nigerians on ‘How Ghana Kept The Lights On’. What a shame!

It is no surprise therefore that President Barack Obama found an immediate ally in Ghana, not minding whose ox was gored across the continent. Nigerians raised the highest dust over the apparent snub but the arguments were lame and their premises inconsequential. Why were we so bothered that Obama chose Ghana ahead of us? After all, we’ve played host to his predecessors in the past, not to mention the numerous world leaders who have all graced our soil in spite of our inadequacies, but Obama’s coming meant more than all these. His coming was prophetic; indicative of a paradigm shift, a change in the modus operandi. America will no longer endorse nations that fail to ‘get it’. 

The message from Washington to Africa and the rest of the world is clear, ‘Democracy and Good Governance’, whether delivered by Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy or any other of the patriots gone before. America will no longer tolerate strong men who end up richer than their countries because they are the ones skilled in the game of politics, neither will they flirt with dictators who hold their people hostage with unpredictable tenures like Robert Mugabe, Muammar Ghadaffi and Mahmadou Tandja are doing. There is a changing world order, a revolution of politics for progress and Obama’s government is at the head of it. 

Obama’s visit to Ghana was not his first voyage of that sort, he had delivered a speech to the Islamic world in Egypt weeks before, but that was seen as a modest visit. His second coming was designed specifically to endorse an African country that was seen as perfecting the art of democracy and that was where we failed to make the mark. Rather than mourn endlessly, it is time to pick ourselves up again as a country and strive for the mark in the pursuit of true democracy. Actually, an Obama visit is not the reason President Yar’Adua and his team should govern this country with the fear of God, governance is not about perks and endorsements, it is about satisfying the people to whom one is responsible. The Nigerian government is not answerable to Obama and his country but to Nigerians who entrusted this nation into their hands. However, since our mentality of servitude has led us to view the visit of an American president as a mark of progress, we have to do all it takes to ensure that we get our visit at the right time. Obama will surely visit Africa again; but when he does, how prepared will we be? 

Before Obama returns, we have to ensure that our polling booths no longer serve as slaughter slabs or battlefields, we have to find a solution to the perennial industrial actions that bring our country to her knees, and we have to ensure that security of lives and property are guaranteed as much as possible. Whatever needs to be done to create an enabling environment for industrialists and entrepreneurs has to be done, education must be at the forefront of our agenda, health reforms, land reforms, food security and other such national challenges must become forgone issues. Obama’s return draws nearer, but how prepared will we be? Think on these things and act accordingly.