From the oil rich swamps of Bayelsa to the deserts of Sokoto, from the highlands of Adamawa to the bustling Lagos. If you were ever to crisscross this country, you would have covered 923,768 Square Kilometers with 152 people in each Square kilometer. You would have met 250 tribes and heard over 400 dialects. You would have worshipped in a shrine, a mosque, a church and possibly a Hindu type temple. This is the home of diversity, the place where 150million people call home.
Like popular Nollywood actress Genevive Nnaji stated in her recent CNN Africa Voices interview, there is no place like Nigeria. Indeed one of the more popular songs we sang years ago in primary school while marching to our classrooms declared unequivocally that Nigeria is a home of great beauty. The reminders of this fact are not in short supply; with diverse vegetation, amazing landscapes and aquatic formations as well as a weather pattern that is neither too harsh nor too friendly, we are perpetually in no doubt that under the sun, this is one of the greatest places to be in.
But are we really a great nation? While that answer remains a subject of intellectual debate depending on what school of thought you belong to, there is a general consensus amongst us all; one which we express at every opportunity and which foreigners are quick to notice and point out, that we are far from being who and what we can be as a country and as a people.
So how did we arrive at this place? What went wrong? How did we end up becoming the biggest export of human beings to Europe and America? How did we become the most popular black face in Asian jails? How did we end up with a comatose health system and a public utility system on life support? How did our oil money grow wings and perfect the art of flying? How did we end up in the number of countries that are expected to pack up any day? Most importantly, how did we succumb to defeat and agree in our minds that it can never be well with Nigeria? How?
Quite a number of great minds have attempted to answer this question and their varying views are all quite on point. Regardless of the view you hold, one thing is certain; we are not under any curse. We are instead, a victim of our own machinations.
Let it be clear, our leaders in the past fifty years did not hate this country. If anything half of them fought the British for independence and the other half fought to keep Nigeria one during the civil war. So they loved this country as much as we do. But their love was not enough. They were misguided. They took wrong decisions. They enthroned ethnicity. They feasted from common wealth. We let them. We were docile for too long. And from experience, when a people lose their ability to express their opinion, such a people are beyond help.
Sadly I see these traits I blame on the generation past on display among my generation. I see it in the degree of cynicism and indolence. In the ease and hurry to cut corners. In the hot air of the make-believe national consciousness we express on Twitter, chains and chains of poorly thought out opinions and unoriginal talk backs. I see it in the effort albeit insincerely to appear as youth leaders of a million and one youth groups while in essence simply positioning ourselves for donor funds, government largesse and the opportunity to appear on television. I see it when in this age we still speak in terms of tribe and creed and hawk around such archaic terms as zoning and federal character, ‘our turn’ and ‘my people.’ I see it and it hurts.
I see it in the disconnect among the youths of this country. We are quick to make statements on behalf of Nigerian youths without any idea of what we are talking about. For many of us, Nigeria consists of Lagos, Abuja and perhaps PortHarcourt. Anything happening outside these places doesn’t concern us neither do we care to be concerned, except when they make news. The violence and manslaughter in Jos doesn’t matter because ‘our people’ are not there. We do not know what the boy in Damaturu thinks nor do we seek the opinion of the girl in Okene or put their peculiar circumstances of existence into consideration. This disconnect is our Achilles heel and to build the Nigeria of our dreams we must start from there.
We need to talk. By talk I don’t mean the same old activity we have been engaged in all these years. No. I mean a different kind of talk. Talk that is two-way. Not noise. Not complains. Not hate. I mean talk that is productive…that reaches out to enquire, to explore, to understand, to encourage, to advocate. Talk that is not cheap and not over rated. That confronts the issues directly without any colouration. That brings up pragmatic solutions and defined directions for achieving them. Talk that is focused, but all encompassing. The kind of talk we’ve never had before. A kind, we must now have.
The elections are here, and we all perhaps have made our choices. It doesn’t matter what those choices are. It doesn’t matter if your decision is popular among your friends. What matters is that we all get to talk through that ballot paper, that we express all our yearnings and aspirations through that thumbprint. And regardless of the outcome of the polls, we would have by our participation, proudly kick-started the process for a new Nigeria.
Now, let us talk.