As a country, Nigeria has become a metaphor for missed opportunities, despite its abundance of talent and resources. Even with the abundance of fossil fuel, it has been impossible to build a reputation as an oil producer because, in the true sense of the word, we have remained an extractive resource centre. We are a nation that generates top quality crude oil, sells it to other countries and then endures the folly of importing it in its various processed forms and by-products.
To build a reputation as a strong agro-economy is also nowhere on the radar because we lost the plot when crude oil was found in the soil beneath the country’s farms. The few industries that were built from the early inflows from agriculture and later, oil, fell through the leaky fingers of the nation’s leaders, mostly into private pockets because past and current leaders have been incapable of managing success. All efforts to position the country to maximise the benefits of its comparative advantages as a resource-rich nation, have always fallen short, thanks to the insincerity of the minders of the nation.
If you are a Nigerian, or better still, a Nigerian in government, and you are given the Nigerian script to mark in an examination, asking that you rate the nation in terms of global competitiveness, would you score the country any decent marks? Amid calls for national pride, people who have benefited or are currently benefiting from the disorder in national planning would probably be the only ones pretending that there could be pegs on which the country could hang its torn coats along the global hallway.
Evidently, the chief reason many Nigerians are desperately leaving the country now is because they fail to see themselves in the total picture, if any, of a politically stable and an economically vibrant Nigeria. Statistics from United Nations sources state that Nigeria’s migrant stock has been on a frighteningly steady increase since the dawn of democracy in 1999. This casts a gloomy shadow on the presumed freedoms and opportunities that civil rule ostensibly offers. Between 2000 and 2005, for instance, it was reported that the country’s migrant stock rose by 32.82 per cent. The statistics rose to 41.99 per cent between 2005 and 2010 and for the period 2010 and 2015, it stood at 30.32 per cent. The statistics here captured only legal migrants and those who were granted refugee status; they do not reflect the thousands, if not millions that have been living illegally in many countries. There are a great many more who have remained in the country for the lack of options and opportunities. This, indeed, should worry anyone remotely or intricately connected to the country.
Although similar or related cases have been witnessed in many countries across the globe, the rising cases of centrifugal nationalism in Nigeria can be directly traced to a fractured faith in the country as an institution. In most informal conversations, more than 70 percent of Nigerians would rather keep a personal distance from public institutions and government, preferring instead to refer to them as “Your president;” “Your governor” or “Your National Assembly.” There are no personal connections.
This disconnect is a fallout of the transactional attitude of political and, increasingly, traditional leaders. Everybody treats the country like a stream that does not need deliberate care and attention, for the water which everyone fetches and drinks to recycle. But the truth is that you can overstretch a stream, foul its source, and/or do other things that either slow the water flow or compromise its cleanness. Nigeria has largely been unlucky in its history, not because of the paucity of ideas but because of a high concentration of people whose definition of social and economic wellness begins and ends with personal comforts. This, in part, explains why the notion of personal ‘economic emancipation’ is more readily embraced by Nigerians at the expense of the general wellness of the nation.
At the heart of personal ‘economic emancipation’ is a nation that is divided into two distinct groups. The first set is made up of the political elite and their business collaborators, while the second includes the rest of the country. Both groups tend to be mutually exclusive, with the first aiming at self-preservation rather than promoting the happiness of the greatest number and the second perpetually seeking to exit the rat race to join the elite class by any means fair or foul. Either way, ‘Nigeria,’ strictly speaking, does not feature prominently in these equations. But with the COVID-19 pandemic currently ravaging the world, there has been some relative blurring of the line that separates both groups.
The international travel ban occasioned by the need to contain the virus has ensured that everyone begins to use the same hospitals once again and if things continue the way they are, everyone might attend the same schools in the near future. The unintended consequences of the levelling effect of COVID-19 could be just what Nigeria needs to compel the minders of ‘Brand Nigeria’ to recalibrate the polity and make Nigerians to love Nigeria more. No one loves a country just because he or she is a citizen; you love your country because there are certain benefits you either derive or hope to derive from loving her.
These benefits could pertain to the quality of education, security of life and property, enhanced opportunities for the realisation of dreams, and a strong heritage. A nation is no different from social clubs; once you do not find yourself and your interests in the value propositions of the association, retaining your membership would make little or no meaning. COVID-19 has, therefore, provided a roadmap for Nigerians to navigate as ‘Elections 2023’ beckons. We have the option to return to the pre-coronavirus Nigeria when we had what has been described as governments of ‘anything goes.’
Alternatively, we can join the rest of the world in a post-COVID-19 era in which the future has been re-defined by seeking sincere minders of ‘Brand Nigeria.’ It is important to note, however, that the national transformation we seek cannot be imported like the many things for we have developed an uncanny predilection. It should and must involve everyone. As individuals, if we do not do what is necessary now, what future have we?
About the Author: Ikem Okuhu is a marketing strategist and public relations practitioner, he writes from Lagos.