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Samuel Okopi: Why Naija’s Backwardness Really Shocks Me

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When news spreads, of how one more Naija brother or sister has shocked the world with artistic genius or business savvy, we are reminded of why we love the motherland unconditionally. When we immerse ourselves in our own special way of experiencing life – be it in the intoxicating rhythm of our music, the vibrancy of our stories or the fervency of our communion with the heavens — we revel in the spirit of this special name, ‘Naija’

When over 200 girls are abducted from a compound of learning, away from their passport to the next tier of education, we wonder if this is really happening in the same country we fondly call Naija. When a bomb goes off, killing many in an area where, two weeks earlier, a bomb had ferried a greater number to the other side, we wonder if our pride for country, that makes us scream, “Naija for life!” hasn’t sunk to the lowest of lows. We wonder … if we haven’t become the laughing stock of the world. We imagine other nations jeering at us in pidgin: “Giant of Africa? For their mind!”

When almost a million youths throng stadiums and squares all around the nation, in vain pursuit of a few thousand jobs, most of which we believe have already been bought, we wonder if we should have given Nigeria an endearing name after all; we shake our heads as we ponder the tragedy of twenty plus souls who in the anguish of their last breath, pass on the bleak pursuit of happiness to the stampede.

And when I sit at the edge of my bed, close my eyes and imagine the horror of all these happening in one year, I shake my head—shake it again—and keep shaking it as several reasons why Nigeria should be one of the greatest nations on earth, three of which I share here with you, torment my mind:

A state like Taraba should have no business with poverty

At 73 recorded living languages, Taraba has far more indigenous languages than any other state in Nigeria, and more languages than those of some twenty African countries combined. The many cultures these languages have engendered should ideally position Taraba state as the potential hub of cultural tourism in Nigeria. Cultural tourism has been described by the OECD as one of the largest and fastest growing tourism markets in the
world.

Developing into a thriving centre of culture is even easier for Taraba because nature has been tremendously kind to it. Much of Gashaka Gumti National Park, Nigeria’s largest and most scenic park, which many have described as Africa’s best kept secret, is located in this state; a park that is home to the largest population of protected chimpanzees in West Africa and is imbued with pleasant micro-climates woven into various habitats that include rain forests, savannah woodlands, montane forests and grasslands, each of which supports a diverse community of plants and animals. Taraba’s exotic Mambilla Plateau is home to West Africa’s only highland tea plantation.

When you add this all up, you wonder why Taraba—and states like Plateau, Adamawa, Kaduna, Bauchi and Cross River that are endowed with arresting natural environments and many indigenous languages—can’t be transformed into a paradise of world class resorts, museums, theme parks and commercial centres coexisting in symbiosis with cultural activities spread across the year. Even without oil revenues, 68.3% of Tarabans have absolutely no reason to live in absolute poverty as is currently the case. It is pathetic that this state’s marvellous human and natural diversity has only bred deadly inter-ethnic strife that perpetuates poverty in such a blessed state. And is this not the case with many other states across the federation?

The Niger Delta should be one of mother earth’s most prized sanctuaries

You might not know that the Niger Delta is the world’s second largest Delta; or that the oldest surviving rainforest in Africa is located in Cross River National Park; or that Cross River state has the highest tropical biodiversity in Africa even as it ranks among the top ten butterfly zones on earth. Have you heard of the Cross River Gorilla, the rarest gorilla on the planet? Did you know that the swamp forests of the Niger Delta comprise the second largest swamp forests on the continent? It is on record that the Niger Delta’s mangrove forests are the third largest in the world and that the Niger Delta ecoregion ranks among the ten most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems in the world. Extremely rich in freshwater fauna, the Niger Delta ecosystem boasts the highest concentration of monotypic fish families in the world. Should I also mention that the Niger Delta Red Colobus Monkey, Sclater’s guenon and about twenty species of fish exist nowhere else on the planet save the Niger Delta?

With all these amazing endowments from God it is befuddling why this region had to become one of the most polluted places on earth. With all the vast potentials for eco-tourism, sustainable large-scale fishery, and intensive
R&D that would have resulted in a high standard of living for the people of this region, it is a wonder how oil came to be this blinding curse of underdevelopment in the Niger Delta, and in Nigeria as a whole.

I can’t help but wonder: if oil gave a visionary leader the power to transform a desert in the Middle East into this fabulous city our elites can’t be tired of visiting, what degree of transformation would have been wrought on the Niger Delta under such kind of amazing leadership? Would it have become the most beautiful … most developed region on planet earth?

Agriculture alone can lift the Nigerian populace out of poverty

Examine the statistics. Nigeria’s arable land is the largest of any country in Africa and ranks as the 9th largest of all countries in the world. According to 2011 estimates provided by Indexmundi.com, the value of Nigeria’s arable land stands at 36 million hectares. This is thrice that of South Africa, comes very close to that of Australia, is half of Brazil’s and a third of China’s.

But when the percentage arable land of each of the top nine countries, and the three African countries coming after Nigeria, is computed in relation to the respective country’s landmass, we get quite an interesting picture:

Chart

After studying this chart, aren’t you wondering why hunger ravages Naija to this day?

I am, too.

And right now, I am hoping that soon, a constitution that allows for the full exploitation of Naija’s natural and human resources, will emerge. I am hoping like many others that someday, every strata of this society will produce and be governed by leaders bent on making the Naija Dream, a reality.

Photo Credit: nytimes.com

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Samuel Okopi has a Masters degree in Architecture from A.B.U, Zaria. He loves poetry and engages with architecture, nature and culture on his website www.samuelokopi.com where he takes readers, every week, on an exciting journey round the world. Find out why you should subscribe to his newsletter. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

13 Comments

  1. Alesha

    May 15, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    First of all, I am ashamed that I dont even have a clue about my own country. Secondly, I am sad and actually in tears for the great loss and the suffering that Nigeria and Nigerians are going through. Lets even forget about oil for a minute, Nigeria has the potential to survive on Agriculture alone. We need visionaries in this country, God did not create us dullards na!! Look at all the beautiful land wasting away in Taraba and Niger-Delta??? Another country would have developed these places and not only turned it into serious revenue for both the states and the country itself but also create massive job opportunities for the millions of unemployed youths.

  2. Osie

    May 15, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    I weep along with you my bro and i hope along with you. Along with you and so many other Nigerians who weep and hope and pray daily for this giant of a nation that seems to have been accursed with the mind and attitude of a weakling. May it be well with the motherland.

  3. Esquiress

    May 15, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    WOW!
    Truly befuddling… I’m just speechless, I mean I knew we had natural resources but this data is rather compelling, now if we can get Nigeria to be safer and start investing in the tourism industry, we can watch the world flock to us for the right reasons!
    If we can get over this mad grab for oil and gas-related resources, the possibilities are truly endless and finally if we can give up trying to pursue the American dream and whatever other dream we are wont to chase after, and look inwardly and maximize the various opportunities we clearly have, people will come to us in pursuit of the Nigerian dream.
    Of course leadership is doing everything to cripple any chance of FDI thriving in our country, but I truly believe that delay is not denial.
    GOD BLESS NIGERIA!

  4. True talk

    May 15, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    Well done Samuel! Good write up… i really do hope that we the Y generation wake up and defend our country and help it realize its full potential. i shake my head too everyday. its a sad case. which way Nigeria, which way to go.

  5. Ibinabo

    May 15, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Nice article, very enlightening… but what do we do? We can’t just wait for the Nigerian govt. because they are not ready to think/act, all they care about is their pocket. So, as individuals what’s the way forward?.. Motherland na motherland o.

    • c'est moi

      May 15, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      One way forward is entrepreneurship with good policies to support. Nigerians need to sit and think outside the box, locate like minds and together make things happen for themselves whilst the policy makers redraft our outdated policies.

      Thanks for this article, very enlightening. Nigeria is truly richly blessed and i still have home in the future

    • c'est moi

      May 15, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      hope* typo

  6. ss

    May 15, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    a sad state, NIGERIA, the problem would continue once we fail to choose our leaders and allow the old unintelligent ones to continue to find there ways to leadership, these people without vision whatsoever for our dear nation, they are only after there pockets to use to oppress same people they steal from, its until when a nation starts investing in human capital then they are assure of producing leaders with vision, hmmmm not even with the educational system that has fallen below average, we Nigerians are blessed with natural resources and talented people, its goes on and on and on, please my people God would not come from heaven to help Nigeria, our destiny is in our hands, i am tired of ‘LETS PRAY FOR NIGERIA’

  7. So So Def

    May 15, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Gashaka Gumti National park on the road to Mambilla is very far!
    The roads are bad and they have no airport, the road from Wukari to Takum can kill!
    God forbid!
    That Taraba place common restaurant they have not, brother writer abeg leave that thing.
    I cannot shout!

    • Deedar

      May 17, 2014 at 11:11 am

      I think that’s actually his point. That the potential of these places has not been reached because the infrastructure has not been developed.

  8. ides of march

    May 15, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Thanks for this very insightful piece. All it’ll take for change to occur is for a few people to step up and begin to do things differently. We can’t keep waiting for the government to act so we must start the process, start in our communities and watch it catch on. Our generation needs to get into agriculture, there so much to do all along the value chain. We should not be afraid to try or to fail. I’m ready to do my part and I can’t wait to get my farm up and running!!

  9. Miss Mo

    May 16, 2014 at 3:17 am

    Interesting article.

    To Nigeria I say whither thee??????

    I am tired of people talking though. We need stop talking, praying and start doing.

  10. Sugar

    May 16, 2014 at 10:29 am

    Show me how to be relevant and take responsibility for this country Lord

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