An adapted chestnut: “How should you reward a Nigerian policeman? Give him a shift of his own!” If that gets lost on you then you are probably not a Nigerian; or to be clear, you are not a Nigerian who has used the public buses and witnessed the dexterous sleight of hand between drivers and policemen as they ‘handshake’ on the highways. Covertly overt, or otherwise, this demonstrates how deep corruption has eaten into modern Nigerian society. That, however, is no breaking news. It would probably make headlines if the parties in question were some high-level politician. The whole country would gasp in disgust. The journalists would ink their quill. The lawyers would dust their wigs. The self-acclaimed pundits would reach for their mouthpiece. Charades!
Indeed we have witnessed quite a number of such high-profile corruption narratives in recent years: Tafa Balogun, Depreye Alamiseigha, Sani Abacha. We might thus resort resignedly to the received wisdom that the panacea to all Nigeria’s problems is to rid the nation of bad leaders. Inject new blood. Change the faces. And the values? Of that, little is said. Three years ago as an undergraduate student, I penned in a campus magazine, ‘Our fundamental problem in Nigeria… [is] lack of values with respect to the fabric of faith, family and flag.’ I admitted that my view may be naïve but three years on I still hold on to them. I truly believe bad leadership has plagued us in Nigeria but while it keeps the print media roiling no one ever mentions ‘bad citizenry’. Many would even deem such an expression oxymoronic, emphasizing the ‘moronic’ part more. However, as Nigeria was celebrating her independence anniversary with drum-rolls and state-house, state-of-the-house addresses, many in the virtual world of nairaland, facebook, and twitter were computing their anger at the problems we have: bad leadership, naturally coming first; insecurity; unemployment; shoddy economy and so on. Only few people mentioned bad citizenry. I doubt if any used those exact words. It takes only a small stretch of thinking to postulate why: Nobody wants to be held responsible. Thus, there are chants like ‘They have ruined the country’, ‘They are all corrupt’, ‘They have done it again.’ We speak using the third person plural somehow trying to absolve ourselves of any responsibility, shirking from culpability as much as possible. For any organization to be successful all its stakeholders must have a sense of ownership. Every citizen must get involved in the business of Nigeria. Government, as Chester Bowles rightly said, is too big and too important to be left to politicians. A variation of that sentiment would be that our destiny, and that of our children is too important to entrust in the hands of political office-holders. It is our duty as ordinary citizens as well as the duty of those in political offices to reshape our nation – mostly ours though. So while our capacity to function individually may seem infinitesimal, our collective efforts can lift us higher. This, by the way, is not just poetic gibberish! There are practical solutions to our problems.
HOMEGROWN ECONOMY: PATRONISE MADE-IN-NIGERIA.
You have probably heard this before. While it may sound like a jingoistic anthem aired on national television, it is the bedrock on which our local economy will grow. The best resource any nation can have is its people. With close to 100 million adults, Nigeria is certainly not lacking in human resources. Economies are fuelled by trade, exchange of goods and services. With the creative potential of Nigerians demonstrated time and again in divergent fields, we should hone our mushrooming industries. This calls for cooperation however. Nigerians must patronize their own. That is the only way our local businesses can thrive in a steeply competitive international market. Sadly, our actions are often the reverse. Out of low self-esteem and inferiority complex, many live by the notion that if a product is not imported it is not good enough. A case study would be the clothing industry. As many Nigerian fashion designers and clothing lines try to enter the market they do not receive commensurate welcome from consumers who would rather wear Italian, French or even Brazilian-made outfits than ‘our own’ made-in-Nigeria. It is especially sad when locally-made products of equal quality and price are readily available. We owe it as a sense of national responsibility to patronize ‘made-in-Nigeria’ products and services before we consider anything foreign. I reckon another way of saying this would be ‘feed your brother first before you consider your neighbor.’ Charity begins at home. This extends beyond sartorial concerns. People hardly ever purchase the merchandise of local sports teams but would spend hard currencies just to import foreign sportswear. Granted, our local leagues may not be as exciting as the European ones but we ought to give it a try. That is the only way they can get better. The Europeans started somewhere after all. It is only by patronizing our own that we can create jobs, build businesses, and better our national lot. Naysayers might misconstrue this as a call for xenophobia but that would be untrue. There is a marked difference between patriotism and xenophobia. The latter is borne out of fear and the former, love.
CORRUPTION: TAKE A STAND
Are you for corruption or against it? Of course, most people would say they are against it. When you posit the next question: What steps have you taken to fight it? They shriek. It does take guts to stand up to a corrupt person like a policeman stroking an AK-47. What is important is a united effort to fight the menace. If we all say no to it there can be no going back. There will be consequences, sometimes untoward, but risk is the capacity to perform without guarantee. Speaking plainly, if a commercial driver refuses to offer bribe to a policeman for instance, it is only fitting that his passengers stand right beside him in that defiance. This is seldom the case. People would usually cuss out at the driver, ‘Give him what he wants and let’s go.’ It seems rather convenient to be complicit in an act like that yet we all would cry foul when newspapers report isolated cases of politicians defalcating public money. The system may not be perfect but it can be perfected. Citizens who allow implicit acts of fraudulence like offering an official bribe or doctoring fiscal figures with ‘extra zeroes’ are just as bad as those politicians whose pictures splash the front-page of the dailies for multi-billion-naira corruption charges. They have no right to accuse the latter of being corrupt. It would be pot calling kettle black. Equally guilty are citizens who know people who are corrupt but do nothing about it. By keeping quiet you are implying it is okay. Everyone must say no to corruption. It would be fitting to reiterate my earlier stance that respect of values on the three fronts of faith, family and flag is the panacea to national reform. When we all adapt the moral virtues embodied in the precepts of our holy books and constitution it is only then we can make progress as a nation. If you take a stand to act right and I take the same stand, if you pass this message to someone else and I pass this message to other people we will be taking our first steps to economic might.
SECURITY: COMMUNITIES FISHING OUT TERRORISTS.
Every citizen would normally look to the commander-in-chief when issues of national security is concerned. Being passive lookers-on will not help our cause, however. We must play a part in the protection of our lives. In fact, the part we play may even be more significant than what any joint-task force with their heavy metals can do. The reality is that nowhere is safe in Nigeria. Not even Aso Rock! If we leave the task of protecting ourselves to fellow mortals at Abuja who recently got a raise we are seriously deluding ourselves. It is we who are dying. We are losing our fathers, mothers, children, and loved ones to this insanity that has grasped some bestial humans amongst us. Also, the stark reality is that these security directors have no clue! As citizens we can build a network of informal community police. Terrorists buy food, rent huts, have relatives, have to buy lubricants for their guns, purchase machetes, go to the market etc etc. People must learn to speak out. If you suspect anyone in your local community, a friend, a neighbor, a drinking pal, you owe it as a sense of responsibility and as a matter of life and death to report that person. Let us not be intimidated by terrorists rather let us make them run for dear life. Man-hunt for suspects should be done routinely. Questions should be asked. What do you do for a living? What are you buying those chemicals for? What do you have inside your bag? Communities can come together to build wind vanes that can power street lights and cctv cameras. I only had to watch William Kamkwamba at TED talks to believe this is possible!
OTHER PROBLEMS: FOLLOW SUIT.
To list all of Nigeria’s problems would render me listless. However, there is a mode of thinking after which we should pattern our thoughts. If elected government does not care for our future, I as a Nigerian should care. If elected government does not act, I as a Nigerian should act. Our efforts may seem puny. Our limitations may be intimidating. But just like individuals such as Rosa Parks, Mohandas Ghandi, Nelson Mandela did illustrate in their legacies to humanity, an individual will is enough to make a positive change. Will you continue to grumble or join the cause for action? It is not what your country can do for you. It is what you can do for your country. JFK may not have had you in mind when he blurted that but that should matter only little.