24 February 2013, Sweetcrude, Abuja – As we approach 2014, the year in which Nigeria attains her centenary, it may probably begin to enter the consciousness of Nigerians that this nation has been in existence for much longer than many had previously thought. Alongside this realization, would be a dawning that many of the issues we need to address, as a nation, have been decades in the making and common reasoning would make it obvious that there’s no magic fix for problems that took decades to create.
You don’t go to the gym from the first time at age 40 – unfit and completely out of shape – do a set of bench presses and expect to walk out with muscles. There’s a law of process in nature and you either learn to harness it or you break yourself trying to bypass it.
And it is in recognition of this law that Nigeria’s literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe, a man who has lived through 83 of the 99 years of which Nigeria has been in existence advised in his most recent best seller, There was a Country, that “we must learn patience and not expect instant miracles”.
We live in a world that spins on its axis, but we remain unaware of this movement of the earth, conditioned by our relative minuteness to remain unconscious of this scientific fact. However, there are those committed to the specific knowledge of this force of nature, who are continually in observation of this phenomenon. Once in a while, those ignorant of the scientific facts attempt to argue with the scientists, calling them liars. These arguments don’t make the scientists liars. Disagreeing with facts doesn’t turn them to lies. Facts remain unmoved by disbelief or cynicism.
This ignorant and loud approach to disagreeing with facts is the unfortunate trend I have observed in the Nigerian social media space where an extremely loud minority hold the preconceived mindset that ‘if it is not happening to me, it is not happening in Nigeria’. This is an extremely shallow and narcissistic view.
Responsible self-leadership requires that if one decides to assume the position of a public commentator, as so many on social media wish to be, there is also a responsibility of widening one’s world view, so as not to mislead the people whom you desire as followers. A true leader is a fact seeker and follows the facts wherever they may lead. A true leader makes research based conclusions.
For example, you can’t sit in your home and conclude that since the power situation in the country has not improved where you live, that it hasn’t improved at all for others in the country. That in itself betrays a selfishness and a corruption of the narrative because you have reduced Nigeria to your locality and give off the impression that you are speaking of Nigeria as a nationality.
Celebrated CNN anchor, Christiane Amanpour did a show on the Super Bowl power failure in America and decided to ask CNN’s correspondent in Nigeria to do some OpenMicinterviews on the power situation in our country. What happened? Vladimir Duthiers found a location in Lagos where he asked Nigerians to appraise the power situation in their country. Some people said it was terrible, some said it had improved. But CNN, for the purpose of sensationalism decided to edit out the voices that projected a positive report and only reported those who painted a sorry picture. By shutting down voices that she didn’t want to hear, Amanpour misled the world in her report and that’s very sad.
Why did Amanpour do this? Her show was a calculated attempt to cover the national embarrassment of the Super Bowl outage by ridiculing Nigeria and video testimonials of Nigerians affirming that power in their country had improved would not fit into her pre-conceived narrative of selling the misery of African nations to the world, hence they were not used in her report.
I am saying this with all seriousness and those who would accuse me of spinning the truth may want to listen to the audio of the unedited interviews here (http://tinyurl.com/9wthgaq) And compare with what Ms. Amanpour presented to the world here (http://tinyurl.com/bxnquvz)
On the issue of the power situation in Nigeria, there are some who may disagree that the power situation in Nigeria is improving but it is a fact. Nigeria in the last three years has increased from 2800 MWs to 4500 MWs.
Obviously, in a nation of 170 million people this is grossly insufficient, however, Nigerians ought to remember that between 1980 and 1999 no new investments were made in the power sector. In fact, the Egbin power station that was commissioned in the very early 80′s was the last power plant that was built in Nigeria before the launch of the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) and the contract for that plant was awarded in the 70′s.
So how can we have a situation where our population increased for 20 years and no investments were made in building new power plants and Nigerians who remained silent all that time want to heap all the blame on the administration that is finally doing what ought to have been done? As Lord Denning said in the celebrated case of UAC vs Mcfoy, “you can’t place something on nothing and expect it to stand”!
It used to be back in the day that activists were people passionate about their nation, but accidental activists of today are passionate about power. They criticize ferociously using the foulest language but are themselves so intolerant of criticism and have a horde of impressionable youngsters who would unleash a torrent of insults on any one who dares criticize them.
And the reason these men masquerading as activities are able to hoodwink many in the theater of Social Media is because they have clued on to the psyche of the Nigerian netizen which is that cynicism is celebrated as intelligence.
For example, it is a natural and spiritual law that what you appreciate increases in value and occurrence. So for instance if a child shows good manners and you celebrate him or her, the child is likely to display good manners more often, not because he/she necessarily wants to be good mannered but because the child likes to be celebrated.
Now imagine that two children lived in a home and there was darkness and the first child who was eight years of age was given N16 and then sent on an errand to buy batteries for a rechargeable lamp. Imagine that he bought just one battery and this was not sufficient. And so the second child who was three was given N4 and went to the same store and instead of buying just one battery, he bought two which was still insufficient. Under what scenario would the older child who was given more money have the audacity to criticize the younger child who wasgiven less money but bought more batteries for the house?
It would be tempting to say that no scenario could exist for such an eventuality. But, then you don’t know this house. The inhabitants of this house are so present-minded. They remember not the N16 and the one battery. It is in the past, and after all the 8-year-old has explained his frustrations with the battery buying system, and even gave a half-hearted apology and though he never brought back change, he was forgiven. In this house, the fault must be that of the 3-year-old, he’s the problem. Why? He managed to buy twice the number of batteries his 8-year-old bought with one-forth of what his elder was given. Unfair, you may scream.
But that is the exact situation we find ourselves in Nigeria. A social media user expressed anger at me for celebrating the revival of Nigeria’s previously moribund railway networks and asked me if that was what obtained in America where I lived for many years. Apparently this fellow wasn’t taught that in making comparisons you should first compare what is with what was and only then can you appreciate progress.
Before the American rail system got to where it is, there was a consistent investment by several administrations who kept building on what they met, till they went from A to B to C all the way to Z.
Nigeria’s railways had been moribund for over a decade and rather than applaud the leadership that removed the shame of a nation some people expect that we can go from moribund to fast speed trains, which is akin to asking a child to move from crawling to running.
James Russell Lovell once wrote that “No one can produce great things who is not thoroughly sincere in dealing with himself”. As Nigerians, we have to be sincere with ourselves. We cannot allow our narrative to be hijacked by tragic heroes, who have written epistles to rubbish all those whose backs they have climbed on to success and praise those whose backs they still need to climb.
Is it not said that a slave who has seen his fellow slave buried in a shallow grave must know that he too will be so buried when his own time comes? Social Media is now the ladder on which bitter people who served in government and left under a cloud of disgrace want to climb to power. One only has to look back at what these disgruntled elements did to the people who helped them rise to power, to know exactly what the future holds for the people they are presently using.
I appeal to Nigerians, to resist this tendency to display the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome where victims of abuse end up having sympathy for their abusers. Even if you believe there is nothing you can do to make Nigeria great, at least believe that Nigeria can be great. Don’t let bitter persons sap away your faith in your nation. Of course, there are a lot of challenges but things are getting better!
Disgruntled persons may tell you that our economy is not doing well, but the facts don’t support them. Let me present some of the facts to you. Only last year, the Clinton Foundation identified Nigeria as one of the ten fastest growing economies in the world.
On the 10th of October 2012 while addressing the Annual Conservative Party Conference, David Cameron said “We’ve been hearing about China and India for years but it’s hard to believe what’s happening in Brazil, in Indonesia, in Nigeria.”
His Undersecretary of State for Africa, Mr. Henry Bellingham said of Nigeria, “Nigeria has averaged growth of 8.9 per cent which is really stunning. Nigeria is the world’s fourth fastest growing economy with solid growth in the next five years and beyond; this is truly remarkable.”
When the papers reported that President Barack Obama had declared Nigeria the “world’s next economic success story” on August 26th 2012, I tweeted about it and somebody actually tweeted back in response saying, “what does he know of economics?!”
Some may disagree that poverty is reducing but it’s not a lie. According to the World Bank, poverty in Nigeria reduced from 48 to 46%. I did not make this up and the Federal Government has no control over these foreign individuals and institutions. They cheer for no team in the contest, so why would they lie?
Only this morning I woke up to the cheery news that Nigeria’s inflation had reduced to 9% the first time it has hit single digit in four years!
We can invest so much intellectual and emotional energy on painting a negative image of our country on Social Media andcelebrate when Miss Amanpour makes Nigeria the butt of her jokes to a worldwide audience, but not everyone will be laughing in scorn. Some will actually be laughing all the way to the bank. And I know some of those who will be among this lot. Only three days ago Leadership Newspapers ran as its front headline the story “Exodus, The Movement of British-Born Nigerians… Back to Nigeria”.
While some Nigerians resident at home are getting carried away by the gospel of negativity being peddled by tainted persons, Nigeria is seeing a reverse brain drain of highly skilled Nigerians born in Europe and the Americas who know that in a world where many nations struggle with negative GDP growth there must be many things right about a nation with consistent 7% GDP growth.
Reno Omokri is Special Assistant to the President (New Media) and is on twitter @renoomokri