Fifty-nine years old. 59. Wow, that’s old! If that were a person’s age, we’d soon start calling him or her a senior. This person would have seen life — they would likely have passed their prime, and their best days would almost certainly be behind them. If they had kids and, or grandkids, they would have laid the foundation for them and set them on their way to succeed. All that would be left for them to do at this point is to retire, watch their children prosper, and reap the fruits of their labor.
Except, this is not Nigeria.
Some argue that 59 is relatively young, especially when compared to other western, industrialized nations that did not experience colonialism as we did. (Although, I am sure we can all name a few countries similar in age and history to us, that are doing much better than we are). But comparisons aside because that is not the point, 59 years is still a long time – long enough for things to have changed… and oh, how things have changed!
We now have an entire government that we can, with absolute certainty, say steals, cheats, and kills.
We are now the poverty capital of the world.
We now have citizens whose ‘Nigerian dream’ is to make just enough money to emigrate to a different country and flourish there.
We are now at a point, as a society, where internet fraudsters, ‘runs girls’ and ritualists are not only looked up to, but also publicly defended.
Our youth, celebrities, and even certain corporate entities would rather invest their time, money, votes and hashtags on reality TV contestants than on political candidates and real social issues.
Kidnappings, bombings, police shootings, massacres, and trafficking are now so common, we are almost desensitized to them.
I could go on and on, but let’s not, right?
And as for things that haven’t changed:
Our current democratic president is our former military head of state from 30 plus years ago.
We still do not have constant electricity.
Millions of people are still without running water.
Our economy is almost entirely dependent on oil and constantly declining.
Our educational sector is basically a joke, and our healthcare sector is virtually non-existent.
As for our infrastructure and transportation sector, well, you tell me.
What makes it all the more frustrating is the fact that we are where we are, not due to lack of resources because we have it all; natural, human, and intellectual. Our country is struggling because our political, religious, business leaders are greedy, corrupt, and power-hungry. There is no accountability, no vision for the future, and no regard for the common man.
And when someone attempts to point out how not so terrible things are, the examples are almost always limited to (select elite areas of) Lagos and Abuja – 2 out of 37 states. But remember that Kebbi, Yobe, Ebonyi, etc., are also states in our beloved country. What is happening in those places? They are never even included in these conversations.
Oh, but what about entertainment, literature, fashion, etc.? Those industries are doing really well, and we have huge successes in those fields, don’t we? Well yeah… but aren’t most of those people stand-alones? And for the most part, doesn’t the recognition come when they ‘break out’ in foreign countries? Which means that if they were only confined to Nigeria and its resources (or lack thereof), they would probably never rise to their current level of prominence.
But we are arguably one of the proudest people you will ever come across. We have this false sense of pride that cannot be explained. False, because it is not backed by true patriotism. We are fair-weather Nigerians. We come out, hearts beating green and white, when Burna Boy appears on The Daily Show, when Adesua and Chimamanda are featured on Vogue, or when Wizkid and co. appear on a Beyoncé album.
I write this with so much pain and frustration, and because this is genuinely how I feel. And sadly, this is the truth. A few years ago, I was probably one of the most optimistic Nigerians you could find, but I can no longer pretend like I see the light at the end of the tunnel, because I honestly don’t. I can’t keep saying “God dey”, “las las we go dey alright” or the dozen and one special prayers churches have created, like ‘Prayer for Nigeria in distress’, ‘Prayer against bribery and corruption in Nigeria’, and the likes.
So again I ask, what exactly did we have to celebrate?
What is it that you, who is proudly Nigerian, want to celebrate our country for?
What do you want us to be known for? Besides Jollof rice, over-priced Nigerian weddings, and blind optimism, what do you want to boast about regarding your country? And what is your role in facilitating that?
We can hope and pray all we want, but the truth is that God is not going to come down and enter Aso Rock to change things for us. And clearly, our current government has no plans for the country.
Every day, I struggle to find the willpower to remain emotionally vested in a country that is obviously not invested in me. But the onus is on me and you – to build the country we know and love – into one we can someday be truly proud of.