Connect with us


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

Avatar photo



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.

Photo Source: