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Simon Kolawole’s Profound Fictional ‘Open Letter to Nigerian Leaders’ by Lee Kuan Yew



ThisDay Columnist Simon Kolawole penned this tribute, in the form of an open letter, to Singapore’s first Prime Minister & founding father Lee Kuan Yew who passed away last week.


Here are some excerpts:

On Singapore’s Origin
May I briefly tell you the story of Singapore so that you can understand why it is often told with admiration all over the world. We were a small, hopeless island. We thought we were so poor it was impossible to survive on our own. It was so bad we had no potable water. We relied on other countries for water to drink! We had no natural resources. No oil, no gold, no solid minerals, nothing. All we had were human beings — and ports.

On Singapore’s Progress
Dear Nigerian leaders, we did not give up. We decided to pick the pieces of our lives. We resolved to turn our fortune around. Today, our story has changed completely. So you know, we are no longer a Third World country. We are one of the four Asian Tigers — so-called because of our incredible development story. We are the fourth largest financial centre in the world. We have one of the five busiest ports in the world. Manufacturing accounts for around 30% of our GDP. And Singapore has the third highest per capita income in the world.

Nigeria & Singapore: Differences & Similarities
Permit me some more immodesty. Unlike Nigeria, we don’t have a single drop of crude oil on our land. But also unlike Nigeria, we are one of the biggest exporters, not importers, of petroleum products. Our country is in the top three of oil-refining centres in the world, yet we don’t have oil! We have some of the biggest refineries in the world. Meanwhile, Nigeria, the sixth largest oil producer in the world, has been importing petrol, diesel, kerosene and engine oil for decades! Let me shock you: we are the largest oil-rig producers in the world!

Leaders from Poor Countries, with Expensive Lifestyles
Furthermore, leaders must not be obsessed with instant gratification and personal comfort. That is one of the biggest problems you, Nigerian leaders, have. You are too obsessed with the perks of office that you have forgotten why you were elected in the first instance. I understand that you have a presidential fleet of the latest jets in town, and that your governors also own jets or fly in chartered jets. What a waste. I will share a story with you, which you can read in my book, From Third World to First. The story is on pages 363-364 and it had to do my trip to Ottawa, Canada, for the Commonwealth meeting in 1973.

The Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, arrived in style in his own aircraft. When I landed, I saw a parked Boeing 707 with “Bangladesh” emblazoned on it. When I left, it was still standing on the same spot, idle for eight days, getting obsolescent without earning anything.

Presidents of Kenya and Nigeria also arrived in jets. I wondered why they did not set out to impress the world that they were poor and in dire need of assistance. Our permanent representative at the UN explained that the poorer the country, the bigger the Cadillacs they hired for their leaders.

‘Religious’ Nigerian Leaders
Dear Nigerian leaders, I understand that you are very, very religious. Yet, I am told you loot your state treasury without compassion or compunction, inflate contracts recklessly, operate killer squads, and watch — without conscience — as your citizens struggle without clean water and good hospitals.

Unfortunately, I died an agnostic. Don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying you should not believe in God. But I only wonder: how can you say you believe in God and fail so woefully in what the Holy Bible and Holy Qu’ran teach about loving your neighbour, caring for the needy and showing responsibility as a leader? I cannot understand it. You guys never cease to amaze with how you can conveniently combine religion with greed.

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  1. @edDREAMZ

    March 29, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    After nxt week all this things will change no doubt….

  2. holuwarseun

    March 29, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    Tell them

  3. Aunty

    March 29, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    If only they would read this and feel it

  4. Dr. N

    March 29, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    The poorer d country d bigger d cadillacs

  5. bruno

    March 29, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    religion and greed go hand in hand.
    the greediest people on these planet believe heavily in god.

    • bruno

      March 29, 2015 at 3:02 pm


    • me

      March 29, 2015 at 5:03 pm

      PROFESS a heavy belief in God would be more accurate.

  6. ebyie

    March 29, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    God Pls forgive us… I’m soo weak after reading this! God Pls hv mercy

  7. moi

    March 29, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    U have to read the whole story to know what this people did.
    They started teaching ethics from primary schools so that the young ones will know corruption is not the way
    they sent people on scholarship abroad yo come and work for government not private sector but u will also have intenship with private sector

  8. Ibraheem

    March 29, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    I strongly believe that change is coming to Nigeria, Rome wasn’t built in a year

  9. eyong

    March 29, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, the main reason Nigeria is where it is today is because of an inferiority comLex. Too busy trying to compete with first world countries, and seeking validation, when we know we don’t have the credential Do. Have we worked as hard? Have we accomplished as much, have we been innovative enough? NO! But, we want all the glories of those who have. maybe if you government officials invested even half of what you have in your bank accounts into the country, with the hopes of making it a paradise, you won’t have to travel to every other continent “vacationing” RUBBISH!

  10. Nonamespls

    March 29, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    LKY was a legend, i think Singapore is the best place i have been? They really started with nothing, are not afraid to punish even top ranking officials, i understand that it is way smaller than Nigeria but their leaders are so focused. May God help us in Nigeria.

  11. Ladydoctor

    March 30, 2015 at 6:00 am

    Nigerians… We are religious but ungodly.

  12. WFK

    March 30, 2015 at 10:17 am

    It is sad that the trend LKY identified many years ago ars still very much present and worse by a million yards, from the likes of OKOTIE-EBOH to the Dezianni’s of today.

    Corruptioin sits atop the heart of an average Nigerian. As we can see, this write up has less than “20 COMMENTS” because we shy away from the truth, we are more interested in less value adding stories like one person got married in gold lace, wizkid is kissing one girl bla bla…

    ‘You guys never cease to amaze with how you can conveniently combine religion with greed’

    • mz_daniels

      March 30, 2015 at 11:13 am

      Our God supplies our need and gives us the desires of our heart.

      But seriously, I’m tired of hearing the stories of other countries, we need to write our own stories

    • Meah

      March 30, 2015 at 12:30 pm

      @WFK, i know right?! The young ones claim to want a better Nigeria, but you’ll find more comments on a Banky-W-flies-private story than on stories about development and achievements. It seems to me that while a number of us desire to have a better country and in effect better lives, we are not prepared to put in the effort it requires. I’m willing to bet half my pay that a good number of the so-called leaders of tomorrow haven’t read books by LKY, Al-Makhtoom and other great leaders who took their countries from the back waters to centre stage through determination and hard work. But they know where Chika Ike took her last vacay. We need to stop deceiving ourselves and understand that without preparation, all our desires and talks about a better tomorrow will be nothing but breeze-shooting.

  13. Adeleye Oluwatosin

    March 30, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    Naija which way forward???? No oil in singapore yet dey could achieve all this!!! We jst av to set our pirorities right…

  14. b-west

    March 30, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    Can Can lah!! & this is coming from a PROUD Singapore trained graduate ! Best country i ever been to !

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