hen the final whistle was blown signaling a victory for Nigeria’s Olympic Dream Team VI at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, I was ecstatic for our boys. We had beaten Denmark and we were into the semi-final! However, the remarks of the ESPN commentator for that match gave me some food for thought: “These Nigerian players are brave and skillful. With all the problems around them, they still kept their head above water and have conquered Denmark!” I do not know what will happen at the semi-final with Germany, but we are all hoping that Dream Team VI will prevail over the Germans and give Nigerians something to smile about at a time of great national gloom as Nigerians suffer the worst recession in a generation.
But could anyone tell me just why our players were stranded in Atlanta and why someone has not been fired for this national embarrassment? Why were the players owed their bonuses and per diem? Why are the coaches not being paid their salary and no one takes responsibility? Why are our administrators so inept in carrying out simple responsibility like chartering a flight, making international payments etc? The only likely reason is that someone is trying to cut corners, to make some money for themselves or to divert the money.
The national embarrassment caused by this debacle was such that BBC Sport reports that celebrated Japanese plastic surgeon Katsuya Takasu announced his desire to reward Dream Team VI with $30, 000 for each player along with $20,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze after hearing about their financial woes. Takasu is quoted to have said; "I read about the financial problems affecting the team and I felt the need to make a big contribution. "I am not doing this for media attention but to motivate a team with an indomitable spirit. I fell in love with the Nigerian team because despite all these problems they are in the quarter-finals of the Olympics. "Whether they win or not, I will still donate something to help alleviate the challenges in paying their bonuses and allowances."
I commend the generosity of Takasu, but I am ashamed of my country. Is Nigeria so poor, so beggarly that we will need a foreigner to rescue our national team in an international tournament from shame and embarrassment of not being able to pay her bills? But Takasu points out a few important points which I think are reflected in this saga about the Nigerian story.
Nigeria is a Blessed Nation, but…
There is no country in Africa that is so gifted like Nigeria, but there is no country on earth which I know that has been so woeful in developing her talents and resources as Nigeria. We are a country of wastes and our national landscape is littered with so many wasted talents and wasted resources because of bad leadership, and a dysfunctional educational system and poor work ethic, planning and management. There is no area of our national life which reflects this failure as clearly as in sports. Nigeria has lost its dominance in soccer in Africa failing now to qualify for two successive African Nations Cup championships. This was a competition which was once regarded in the past as Nigeria’s birthright. Our dominance in athletics in Africa has all but gone and we have accepted as routine the country’s failure to win any medals in the Olympic. If one looks at our decline in sports we will see the same problems playing out in every other sector of our national life: lack of any sustainable pattern and practices for hunting for and developing talents; lack of any standardized measure for choosing talents and supporting our young men and women; lack of any discipline or focus on cultivating an art and the absence of any programs for measuring, developing and transferring skills and best practices in any field.
We can relate this to other aspects of Nigeria’s national life: many talents, rich natural resources, rich arable land, rich culture, gifted human beings, but no structure for developing them; no tradition for enriching the collective consciousness with what God has gifted the country with. When I think of millions of Nigerians dying from preventable diseases, violence, hunger, penury and frustration I wonder what God thinks of us as a country with how we waste the abundant gift which God has given to this land.
Many Nigerian priests, nuns, men and women of God are ministering in many parts of Africa and the rest of the world. It is not only sports and talents which Nigerians export abroad, no other country in Africa rivals Nigeria in the export Nigeria’s own version of Christianity to other parts of the world. In different parts of Africa and in Europe and North America, you see TV shows, radio messages and books by many Nigerian big men and women of the Big God. But the question is why has our talent for founding churches and giving great messages and prophecies not been able to stimulate authentic conversion and worship of the true God in Nigeria? Why has our religious enthusiasm and passion for God not become means for social transformation in the country? It is the paradox of our nation, so many talents, little impact in the country, and lack of sustainable practices to develop our talents and to transfer it to successive generation for the good of the country and the world.
Nigerians Have an Indomitable Spirit
I have travelled to many African countries and everywhere I go I hear from other Africans expressing admiration for Nigerians because of their hard work, intelligence and creativity. My Ugandan friends call me ‘Oga’ and when I explained to them that ‘Oga’ means ‘my boss’ they said “well it all makes even more sense ‘you Nigerians are our Oga in Africa.’ I was surprised in Abidjan at the beach in Grand Bassam on the Atlantic to see Ivorian young people dancing to the rhythm and blues of Dunkan Mighty, Flavor and PSquare. When Sony Ade played here in Chicago last month, a friend of mine from South Africa who told me about the concert said to me humorously, ‘I must go see the Nigerian wonder, you people have beaten us as the greatest economy, you beat us in music, you beat us in soccer, that is why South Africans want your people to go back to Nigeria and leave South Africa before you take over our country.’
Nigerians fight to survive and when they are given a level playing field with the rest of the world, they can hold their own and be among the best. The problem is that such platforms do not exist in Nigeria. Most Nigerians abroad flourish beyond expectation; their indomitable spirits propel them to great heights when they have the opportunity. According to US Census data, more than 43% of African immigrants hold a bachelor’s degree or higher—slightly more than immigrants from East Asia. Nigerian immigrants are the most educated immigrants in the US, with almost two-thirds holding college degrees—a significantly higher percentage even than Chinese or South Korean immigrants. Nigerian immigrants are also very likely to hold advanced degrees, many of which are earned at US universities according to this census. Nigerians flourish when they have the enabling environment. Nigerians survive even in the most challenging environment. Nigerians are hardy; we are strong; we have a never-say-die spirit; and Nigerians fight for what they perceive is worthy of fighting for.
When you look at our failing economy and the suffering in our country today, it is the indomitable spirit of Nigerians that has kept many people from giving up. Millions of Nigerians have no jobs; many Nigerians are starving with no access to healthy nutrition, health care and other basic necessities of life but not many are depressed or relying on medication to cope. It is their innate strength and indomitable spirit which keeps them going; it is their faith in God which gives them hope that ‘igo beta tomorrow.’ This is what Dream Team VI has shown that even when faced with so much troubles and challenges, Nigerians will fight till the end. The pain for me in all these is: If we can do so well with failing systems and inept leadership, bad organization, planning and execution, think of what Nigeria could be if we got our acts together?
Playing the Blame Game and Failing to Take Responsibility
In many other countries, when people fail in their responsibility they resign. It is the honorable thing to do. But no one ever resigns in Nigeria. The Minister of Sports who claimed direct responsibility for this whole mess with the Dream Team should have resigned if he had a sense of honor. But that will never happen in Nigeria. Our moral platform has not been elevated to the level where we demand accountability from our leaders to the extent of pressuring them to leave office when they have shown glaring irresponsibility in the exercise of their duty. In Nigeria, everyone blames every other person for our national woes.
I was told a story of a rich man who was attacked by some armed robbers somewhere in Nigeria. This rich alhaji was going to play golf when he was stopped by armed robbers who pulled him out from his Land Cruiser and this dialogue ensured: Robbers: “Your money or your life! Give us all the money you have or we will kill you.” Rich Alhaji: “I am going to play golf and I only have 20,000 on me.” The robbers took the money from him and then warned him: “We will now search your car and then do a body search. Don’t waste our time, bring all the money on you because if we find money on you or in the car we will blow off your stupid brain.” The rich alhaji told them to go ahead. The robbers searched the car and did not find any money. However, they could not believe that such a rich man would leave his house with only 20,000 naira, so they proceeded to do a body search. As they were searching they found that the alhaji had hidden some money around his waste in a small purse tied around his waist covered with his pant. The shocked and ‘angry robbers’ screamed at him in anger: “Na una wey dey spoil Nigeria. We asked you if you had money on you and you lied to us.” They went ahead to take the money and gave the man a good beating and drove away.
The point here is about the blame game. Armed robbers in the process of committing a most heinous crime are blaming another person for spoiling Nigeria! The hired kidnapper will blame the traditional ruler whom they kidnapped for spoiling Nigeria. The Minister of Sports will blame the airline for causing the delay in transporting the players to the games in Rio. The NFF will blame the slowness of banking transaction for their failure to pay the bonuses of the players and the coaching staff. President Buhari still continues to blame the falling oil prices and corruption for his failed economic policies, his clueless leadership and seeming lack of feeling and connection to the heart-wrenching plight of the masses of our people. The so called Niger Delta Avengers will blame the federal government for pushing them to adopt violence and sabotage of oil facilities in pressing their case for marginalization. Ask any police man or woman or any security agents why they take bride and extort money from fellow Nigerians and they will tell you that ‘na condition make fish bend.’ The man who is cheating on his wife instead of simply admitting his moral failure will say that ‘na these small girls who are seducing us in the office.’ Everyone in Nigeria knows who to hold responsible for the Nigerian predicament but themselves.
We are a nation of blamers and takers. Everyone wants a bit of the national cake for themselves or for their family, small circle of friends, ethnic group, church or Islamic group, party or secret society. No one wants to contribute to the national till. Anyone who gets opportunity to be in power want everything to go to their own part of the country. Just look at what President Buhari is doing right now with appointments and you see why our country is where it is today. Nigerians are the problem of Nigeria; it is our national character and our national moral compass which needs to be transformed if Nigeria will ever make any meaningful progress.
Nothing will change in Nigeria unless every Nigerian takes responsibility. This will require a change in our ethical template to a more objective and critical analysis of our failings as a nation. This will also require of every Nigeria that we exercise the highest ethical and patriotic flavor in exercising our daily responsibility to the best of our ability.
I do not think that Buhari is the problem of Nigeria nor do I think that he is the solution. Just as I never thought that Goodluck, Obasanjo or any former leader for that matter had the magic wand to change Nigeria. Nigeria will be rebuilt one block at a time, through small oases of hope which arise from communities, groups, associations and social capitals especially in the non-formal sector who are alternative communities of belonging for reversing our constant cascade in the tempestuous climate in which we are undertaking what is becoming a very perilous national journey.
Time has come for us to tell ourselves the truth that we have a poor work ethic in Nigeria that we have an unworkable national structure, and we have an unwieldy government and too much centralization of power and money in a few state structures and individual. If the fate and fortune of Nigeria will depend on the daily choices of one man (Buhari for instance) or a few elites then we have a fundamental problem which cannot be solved by those who are benefiting from the system.
Nigeria needs to return power to the people or rather the people need to take back power from the government through grassroots action and subalterns who become sites of reversal of this unacceptable trajectory of history. They can do this not through violence, but through strong social movements and collective synergies for mutual praxis. We must liberate our people who have been nailed to the Cross by failed and failing governments and the monopolization of everything by the government and a few ruling elites. But for this to happen, our leaders and citizens must begin to take responsibility for the failings and fissures in our systems and structures of governance.
We can work together in this Country
Whenever our national team shows up and do well they remind me of what Nigerians can do together. Despite our differences and diversity we can work together. In this Dream Team VI, we find the different faces of our cultures, religions and ethnicities. We see how they blend together to form a rhythm for collaboration, co-operation and community. We must give voice to the dignity of differences in our country and not use them as sources and sites for some form of existential ghettoization of the nation. These differences are strong social capitals and instruments for optimizing the rich variety of the blessings which God has showered on this land.
But the problem is that we see national unity as sameness and centralization of power and privilege in a few hands. Our national unity is not an absolute which is set on stone. Rather, it is a constructed reality whose terms, nature and condition for continuity should be open to constant negotiation and revision. This is necessary so that the common and particular interests of everyone and every religion, culture and ethnic group will be promoted, protected, preserved and advanced.
The idea of national unity in Nigeria as it is today where everything is centered in a few hands and a few institutions is an unworkable and unjust structure of sin. This has created different monsters in the country and left cultural carcasses in our land and burnished many talents, while placing many people especially the minority tribes under the heavy flabby feet of this giant elephant called Nigeria.
Ever since the Willink Minorities Commission Report in 1958, there have been cries by one ethnic group or another in this country for being marginalized. But these cries are often treated in a reactionary manner by the Nigerian state. There are millions of Nigerians especially our young men and women who are poor and who have no hope and who are living lives of quiet desperation. Many of our parents and grandparents are dying and suffering because the nation which they served in their youth cannot provide them social security in their old age. How can this nation fail millions of the despairing young Nigerians who have no work? How can we give every Nigerian equal access to social mobility? How can we provide equal opportunities for all and special attention and concern to those who have suffered historical marginalization because of their names, ethnicity, place of birth or lack of social standing?
When we look at our Dream Team VI, we see different varieties of gift. We see how they support each other; how they rejoice with each other when they win and how they comfort each other when they lose. This team with all it has suffered has already achieved more than people expected of them given the avoidable challenges which they faced.
Like this team, Nigeria is facing perhaps the greatest challenge of her national life in the life time of most of us who were born after the Civil war. I have never seen so much suffering and pain in the lives of friends and family as I have seen this year. In the village, in the cities, on our highways and our hamlets, people are nailed to the Cross of suffering, and pain. Many people are being turned down in our hospitals because they have no money. Hunger is battering Nigerians by the day, and fear, uncertainty and anxiety trouble them by night. Many Nigerians are dying and we seem to celebrate their deaths rather than ask why so many people are dying and why are they dying so young and from ailments which are preventable and treatable. When I visit home and see so many death posters and obituary announcements, and so many graves, I recall the immortal lines of the poet Thomas Grey in 1751 in an elegy at the Countryside Church when he thought of how death had plucked so many people in their prime:
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.
But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll;
Chill Penury repressed their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.
Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
The sad thing is that the Buhari government and our legislators appear not to care and do not seem to have any clue about what to do. They are playing the blame game—blame Goodluck, corruption, Boko Haram, oil prices etc. Our state governors are also lost in translation. However, the rebirth of our economy and the renewal of our national life will not come about by sudden divine intervention no matter what the prophets and marabouts might say.
Buhari’s effete and selective anti-corruption campaign will make no sense to hungry and angry people who are nailed to the Cross by the failing national structures and institutions under the charge of Buhari. The crisis which Nigeria faces in our times calls for courageous, visionary and bold leadership which Buhari lacks. Talking tough and making promises do not translate into well thought out sound social and economic policies, programs and strategic problem-solving approaches to social engineering. Hope is not achievement. Nigeria has a fundamental challenge which is to diversify our economy and to put Nigerians back to work—in agriculture, sports, cultural production, industry, factories etc. Nigeria is a cash economy which has run only on growth without development.
Nigeria needs greater diversity in the economy which will stimulate the inter-sectoral convergences of factors within Nigeria and in Nigeria’s relation to the global economy to heighten our competitive edge and minimize the harm done to the Nigerian economy by severe headwinds which the country cannot control. There is a growing income inequality in the country and a recurrent and pervasive inter-generational poverty which have kept millions of Nigerians down. But meeting this challenge cannot continue as has been the case in Nigeria with more foreign loans or through federal largesse to states or local governments, reduction of fuel subsidy or redistributing income, handouts or aid from the rich to the poor. The main force which will drive a more equitable Nigeria will be the diffusion of knowledge and investment in training and skills or what has been called ‘rising human capital hypothesis.’ Optimizing our human capital is the key driver for the future of our dream. The indomitable spirit of Nigerians, their hard work and talents if pulled together will be a force which will be stronger than the iron will of market forces and is a good driver of trade and economic convergence.
Nigeria has the best brains in the world, the finest spiritual power houses that are sought after in the world, a rich cultural life and a rich land and predictable climate with less environmental degradation and climactic occurrences compared to some other parts of Africa. Like Dream Team VI we can work together to win some victories for our land and our people. We might not get to the mountain top today, but we can begin the step to climbing the mountain. This is why President Buhari must come up before our national day with a blueprint on how we can win together as a nation. If he does not have a clear agenda, then he should resign or be impeached. This blessed land and her people deserve more than they are getting from this government and previous governments because unlike our most successful soccer team, Dream team 1996, we do not often play with our first and best eleven when it comes to national leadership in Nigeria. We play by quota and power rotation. This is the heart of the matter!