This polemic article was published in 3 parts in ThisDay Newspaper Nigeria – July to August 2013
The problems with Nigeria we are told, are manifold. There is endemic corruption, nothing works, there is no electricity, the people are mercenaries, oil is a curse, there is poverty, there is failure, there is no government, and the entire country is at the brink of collapse.
Everywhere, through every medium possible, this picture is painted for us, be it at a meeting, at the bar, whilst catching up with friends, at the church, mosque, community center or on the airline seat next to you, where the air hostesses repeatedly announce that mobile phones be switched off and seat belts fastened, and there is at least one person that chooses to ignore the announcements, and the person next to you says “this is the problem with Nigeria”. It appears that nowhere is exempt from this conversation, even as one goes to use the lavatory facilities provided at a wedding ceremony. It is the same with the old, and with the young. The “problems with Nigeria” confront you from the moment you wake up and all day until you go back home to rest and revive yourself for next day. However, writing until you go back home, is not entirely accurate as NEPA, the noise of generators and the wasting of food stored in the refrigerator are constant at-home reminders of the “problems with Nigeria”, all requiring a significant amount of fortitude to plough through every day of the week, month and years of human life. The young are excepted until they are about 12 years old, and then they start to overhear the conversations that their parents, their friends’ parents and teachers are having. I know because it happened the same way for me.
I was idealistic enough to assume that by the time it was the turn of my generation, all the problems that have marred Nigeria would have dissolved, miraculously and mysteriously. One of “the problems with Nigeria” to me appeared very simple. It was one of greed. If only the greedy people would be less greedy, then the country would be a better place. Oh the idealism of youth.
Now attaining some semblance of reality is my identification of the major issue with Nigeria. It is this: we are too keen to talk about “the problem with Nigeria”. Keen in the sense that there is always conversation about the many problems that the country faces, and many-a-times, one has been thrown aback by the strategies that have been employed to describe Nigeria and the reasons for its under-development. If only the same strategies were employed with the mindset to resolve and reinvest in Nigeria’s growth, then perhaps this article might have started with a different angle.
Nigeria has become a monster that everyone complains about, but no one wishes to tackle. But Nigeria is not a monster. Yes it is big. Yes it is sometimes ugly, and yes, sometimes it is its own enemy. But it is not a monster.
Without sounding too simplistic, there is no “problem with Nigeria”. Yes, Nigeria faces many challenges, and there are many complexities within our nation, from religion, culture, tribe, age, rapid urbanization, oil revenue dependency, federalism, population, infrastructural development but perhaps we should view these complexities, not as problems, but as different strands that comprise to form a thick, intertwined rope called Nigeria. Yes some of the strands are complex, but that does not make them insurmountable. The complex strands need to be broken down, unraveled and charted to result in a deeper understanding of the different inter-relationships inherent in complexities. These inter-relationships might be obvious and therefore the connections can be easily made, and sometimes they might not be so straightforward. Obtaining detailed understanding of the different components of the country is a daunting task. Daunting, but achievable.
An example may be the relationship between the strands of federalism and revenue generation by states. Nigeria is a federalist nation and the arguments for revenue generation and law enforcement. The argument for nationwide public provision of electricity and a Federal police force, in addition to the state police force again provide several inter-relationships between the “federalist” strand and “state autonomy” strand. However inherent in this example is the fact that there will be other factors at play, social and economic factors.
Rapid urbanization also poses its own set of challenges. Migration from the villages to the cities is happening very quickly. The agricultural sector suffers as the villages become sparsely populated as the cities become densely populated, the cost of living in the cities increase, and wages do not increase at the same rate, if they increase at all. There is increased demand on the limited public provisions for healthcare, education and electricity, and these provisions collapse under the strain. Businesses are not able to function effectively, families breakdown. Communities collapse, crime increases. This example has shown that urbanization is related to agriculture, to town-planning, wage-level determination, infrastructural provision of housing, electricity and roads; provision of healthcare, provision of good quality education, provision of jobs, and also family planning. A not-so-obvious inter-relationship is the effect that rapid urbanization has on literacy and consequently, the potential for employment. Urbanization is not bad. But rapid urbanization involves many strands that pose challenges. Complexities that need to be understood. Complexities that can be understood. If only we take a step back to try to understand them.
Now, you might say, how are these not problems? What is the difference between classifying something as a problem as opposed to a complexity? A basic definition search defines a problem as a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome. A thing difficult to achieve or accomplish. On the other hand, a complexity is defined as containing intricately combined or involved parts. The difference between the two is a matter of mindset. While problems sound pessimistic, viewing issues as complex is seen as optimistic, the challenge being to resolve the issue(s) at hand. This might sound simplistic; however, try to think of an issue as a problem. Now try to think of the same issue as a complexity or a challenge. One way weighs heavily on you, the other makes you determined to overcome it.