By Nwachukwu Egbunike
“Ask me, I should know, I am proudly Nigerian!”
(Eugenia Abu, In the Blink of an Eye)
COME OCTOBER 1ST, 2009, Nigeria will be a year shy of her golden jubilee independence anniversary. While some may posit that there is nothing to celebrate, given the numerous traps – economic, values, leadership and natural resource – that have bedridden the country. Still, Nigerians deserve some congratulations. This birthday message is for ordinary Nigerians who have defied all odds, labouring without public recognition and, above all, towering in their desire to make a difference. Asides, since being is far superior to having, Nigeria also deserves some praise for maintaining her nationhood for this 49 years. The problems of Nigeria are legion, we know them, what we need are solutions.
In the Beginning
‘ Nigeria ’ was first used to describe the country by Flora Shaw (before she married Lord Lugard). According to Michael Omolewa, Shaw in her despatch of January 8, 1878, as a correspondent for the London Times, suggested that: “as the title Royal Niger Company Territories is not only inconvenient to use, but to some extent is also misleading, it may be permissible to coin a shorter title for the agglomeration of pagan and Mohammedan states which have brought, by the exertions of the Royal Niger Company, within the confines of a British Protectorate and thus need for the first time in their history to be described as an entity by some general name.”
Frederick Lugard bought Shaw’s suggestion and on January 1, 1900 he named the territories occupied by the Royal Niger Company as ‘ Northern Nigeria ’. Fourteen years later – January 1, 1914 – Lugard united the North and South protectorates into a new nation called Nigeria . A flow of events led to the independence in October 1, 1960. The euphoria before self rule was contagious, Nigerians were proud of their country. 49 years after things seems to have fallen apart. What went wrong?
Rebranding Nigeria ?
I will employ Nigeria ’s image problem as a means of discussing the challenge of our nation. I have been sceptical of attempts to revamp the Nigerian brand, not because it is unnecessary, but because of the superficial approach.
“Most of the rebranding rumbles have been hinged on the fact that it does not pay to send a malnourished person to have a plastic surgery. Nigeria by all intents is malnourished.” In the Rebranding Rumble I also maintained that, “Thus any attempt at rebranding should go to the root cause of the problem. The criticisms have all being hinged on the shallow attempt in the past to garnish the symptoms with the hope that the illness will be disappear. It is a well known fact that a defective product cannot be turned into a superstar, by the strength of media campaigns only.”
Tunde Fagbenle captures the problem like no other in these words; “when we talk of ‘Nigeria‘s bad image’ what exactly are we saying? We are saying: that Nigeria is a haven of corruption and for the corrupt; that the Nigerian is viewed abroad as a crook… In short, that the Nigerian should be treated as a social leper among all decent peoples of the world. There can‘t be a worse fate, a worse burden, especially for the majority millions of Nigerians who are honest, hard-working, and possess sublime human qualities.”
Certainly the people have not changed. What seems to have changed is that the nation has assumed new and unfit apparel. “In my experience, the people in Nigeria are incredibly friendly and cheerful. They love a laugh and have a great sense of fun. They are always willing to help, sometimes at great inconvenience to themselves…” contends a Brit, Ian Nason. But the smear of a clutch of dishonest, lazy and dubious Nigerians is doing a lot of harm. It is stark clear that the root of the rot simmers from the abdication of strong moral values.
Some may contend that Nigeria never had any ‘national’ moral values – being a fusion of independent nations – as such it will be futile trying to revive what never existed. However, we tend to forget that every human has a set of principles that have been engraved in his conscience. Besides, the diversity of our roots should be a plus not a hindrance. No nation advocates that stealing is good or that killing is commendable. We have under-mined the roots of our ethos, with our value system so violated that we seem to have lost all sense of shame. It pays to bury the tendency of money-at-all-cost; perfidious pilfering of the public till and milking the national cow to death. Corruption should be discouraged, not only with loud mouthed exaltations but by sending the corrupt to the dungeon.
Morality in Nigeria bears the face of Janus: ‘the primordial morality,’ which is tied to the individual’s immediate community and the ‘public morality,’ which relates to the larger society. While a Nigerian may find it difficult to steal from the community purse, there is no inertia in dipping into the public dish. The national cake syndrome represents our collective atrophy.
The present state of exclusivity in government business, lacking in transparency and account-ability may be one of causes of this attitude. It’s high time we morph from having a slice of the national cake into contributing to the national garri. “The most immediate source of disconnect between Nigeria ’s wealth and its poverty is a failure of governance at the federal, state and local level”. This according to Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, “has eroded the legitimacy of the government and contributed to the rise of groups that embrace violence and reject the authority of the state.”
However the national garri mindset can only evolve when our leaders show a commitment to serve. And one needs not go to Sokoto (a city in northern Nigeria ) to experience that, right here in our sokoto (Yoruba word for trousers); the Lagos State government is a light house. The infrastructural and attitudinal development it has recorded is being reciprocated by the citizens, who now compete to pay their taxes. The Lagos BRT has been adopted by the South African and Ghanaian governments. Tunde Fagbenle again asserts that: “the example of Lagos State ’s Fashola again comes to bear… If tomorrow he goes on air and says he wants Lagosians to jump, I would imagine many would ask “how high” and go right ahead. They have seen him in action, they have seen leadership by example, and they are ready to follow.”
Our motherland is a piece of beauty; a creative masterpiece that needs to be displayed on a show window. We have to tell our story, or else someone else who has no love for us will tell it. Nigeria is beautiful; we have it, and then let’s flaunt it. How many countries on earth have been so endowed by Mother Nature, bereft of ecological disasters and have so many natural allurements? Not many.
Sonnie Ekwowusi explains: “there is the need to let foreigners know that Nigeria is not Niger Delta. We need to let them know that the part of the earth called Nigeria is richly-endowed with abundant human and natural resources. We need to tell the whole world that our children are not all completely malnourished. We need to show them Obudu Cattle Ranch, Tinapa, Olumo Rock, Omo Virgin Forest , Ogbunike Cave etc. We need to show them the skyscrapers in Lagos Island .”
The project of rediscovering our culture values is not being piggy, it’s plain common sense. The road may be strewn with difficulties but not impossible. We can still clean up the slimy and putrefying face of our beautiful motherland. It will take a lot of effort, time and patience. Nonetheless the words of the late Sunday Awoniyi resonate in my ears: “we may be fed up with the present, afraid of the future. Yet we dare not despair.” Happy birthday Nigeria !
Eugenia Abu (2007): In the Blink of an Eye, Ibadan : Spectrum Books: 248.
Hilary Clinton (2009): “ Clinton : Leadership has failed Nigeria – Yar’Adua admits challenges”, Daily Trust newspaper, August 13.
Ian Nason (1991): Enjoy Nigeria, Ibadan : Spectrum Books: xiii.
Michael Omolewa (1986): Certificate History of Nigeria , London : Longman: 12.
Nwachukwuu Egbunike (2009): “The Rebranding Rumble” Feathers Project.
Tunde Fagbenle (2009): “The Oily Road to Rebranding Nigeria (1)”, Nigeria Village Square, February 15.
Sonnie Ekwowusi (2009): “ Nigeria : Akunyili and the Country’s Image”, ThisDay newspaper, February 17.
Sunday Awoniyi (2008): Sunday Awoniyi: Selected Speeches and Writing, Ibadan : Spectrum Books: 455.