MR SARKOZY’S BLUSHES

Nicolas Sarkozy recently added to his infamous pile of gaffes when he declared at a live debate that France had too many foreigners. The last time he made such an inciting remark was when he and Barack Obama were caught off-guard at the G20 meeting talking about the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. On that famous open mic, Mr Sarkozy described Mr Netanyahu as a liar. This time around Mr Sarkozy probably figured if he was going to get back into contention in the upcoming national elections he had to take a very decisive stance – on immigration. While the effect on the polls is not immediately obvious his intention to get everyone’s attention has certainly paid off. The question is if he can really survive the opinionated judgement of the rest of the world when he, in effect, blatantly declares to them that they are not welcome in France. Since I started learning French last summer, I’ve always thought the word for welcome, ‘Bienvenue’, was a lot popular than the expression for good bye – or shall I say good riddance? – which the French president seems to be bidding us all.

Since Mr Sarkozy stepped up to the reins in French polity, first as Minister of Interior and then as Le President he has been notorious for his unkind attitude towards foreigners. It was a major talking point when he first ran for president and will again be a sore point even as opinion polls show him trailing behind his main rival, Francois Hollande, by some crucial points. Truth is the issue bothering me is bigger than Mr Sarkozy and the French elections. His views are personal and it would be unjust to draw a sweeping inference into how the general French public thinks of foreigners based on them. However, there is a tinge of reprisal being mete out to foreigners not just in France but the entirety of the Western bloc. Immigration is a big issue even as national governments try to tackle fundamental problems like rising unemployment, housing, and crime rate. In the USA, the talk is always centred on illegal immigrants and what government response should be. Just recently, a high school valedictorian who was smuggled into America from Colombia was on the brink of being chucked out of the States. While not every illegal immigrant becomes a school valedictorian, it would only be fair to give them a shot at a better life.

For Westerners, this ‘shot’ comes at their loss. In France and many other European countries facing the odds of an economic downturn the debate as to who gets to stay and who gets to be thrown out transcends the legal status of the foreigners. Typically, foreigners are largely unskilled workers from Africa and new members of the euro zone who take odd jobs that indigenous French workers are very obliged to ignore. Now, with a backlash of a flagging economy, many people are either losing their jobs or taking second jobs and as such resort to low-earning jobs which seems to have become the preserve of immigrants. Hence there is a clash of interest and an increasing animosity towards the immigrants. It is against this rift that Mr Sarkozy seeks to revitalize his re-election bid. He is robbing Peter to pay Paul – a saying which practically gets lost on my French audience.

To immigrants, it is not about clinging to power; and since most of them don’t get to vote they really have no time for politics. All they crave is a better life for themselves – whether they are from Bulgaria or Burkina Faso – and hordes of relatives back at home living on whatever they can remit. In Africa, this narrative is very common. Relatives contribute money for someone to travel abroad with the hope that when he or she gets established in the West their ‘investment’ would pay off. This is how many African families can afford the essentials of life like food, medicine and electricity. To take this away by limiting immigration would detract from the West’s stated mission to lift Africa out of poverty. With hand-outs and aids that never seem to trickle down to the masses, Africans are beginning to take the bull by the horn and if it means braving the isolation and language barrier of Europe then so be it. And who says, it is just a give-and-take situation? There are countless ways in which foreigners have helped the West reach where it is today. Barack Obama is a textbook case of how much an immigrant can bring into a developed nation; and historians still contend how different our world would be had Sir Albert Einstein not emigrated to the US. Still, Mr Sarkozy’s father so happens to have been a Hungarian immigrant! Sometimes it is not even a win-win situation for many countries which lose their skilled workers – doctors, nurses, pharmacists etc – to the West and the diametrically opposite impact of this brain drain on the West and the rest is one which Mr Sarkozy would gladly shelve when he blurts out another gaffe.

At some point, national interests should supersede international ones. Countries like France must first look out for her own citizenry before it does foreigners but by design no country can subsist in isolation. After Japan opened its borders to the world it benefitted from a wealth of technological know-how brought in by westerners. While that example is not remotely akin to the 21st century situation of Europe or America, it does illustrate a lesson which the likes of Mr Sarkozy should understand. For someone like me, labouring hard to learn French, it is not because I ultimately want to emigrate to France it is because I appreciate the richness of the French culture in a multi-national context and hope to build on the existing relationship between my country and Paris.

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A LETTER TO THE CLERICS

Religion. It is indeed the most powerful force in the world. Billions across the globe reckon their lives are fated by a Deity and a set of written or unwritten instructions in the form of a Bible, a Koran, Kojiki and so on. Over the years it’s been argued if this human feature is not just a consequence of an inherent human sense of self-inadequacy and mortality. It has also been argued if God – any god, for that matter – is real. I suppose the most important debate is how religion has become the premise for many of humanity’s excesses. In this context, religion has become a weapon which threatens the existence of human population. What is particularly striking about all religious forces is how much our rational minds succumb to the supposed words of a deity. This is not a bad thing in itself but at some point – some life-determining point – surely rationality should overrule the rules of any religion. It is this message I seek to pass across to all our prophets, imams, priests, pastors, gurus, rabbis and the other people who help interpret and define the creeds of our many religions.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks it was easy to point to Islam as the most unaccommodating religion in the world but then came 2011 and the Norwegian killings by Anders Behring Breivik who killed hundreds with a bomb and the barrel of a gun. His motivation came ultimately from anti-Muslim convictions. To set the records straight I must mention that Mr Breivik has been diagnosed to have paranoid schizophrenia. However, we can surely say that the hijackers of the airliners on 9/11 were just as insane. It can thus be said that insanity is a subtle part of religion. In fact, devotion to a deity is often measured by how far a follower can put aside rational thoughts and replace it by the interpretations of a religious creed regardless of how altruistic, detrimental, or perverted this creed may be. So, bearing this in mind it can be said that a certain subset of Muslims would consider Osama Bin Laden a martyr because he reached the brink in the cause for Jihad. While this is controversial and is a sentiment not shared by every Muslim, evidence shows he represents a thriving strain that has inspired other mushrooming sects across the world from Boko Haram to the Janjaweed militias.

So, the question is if we should be average religionists or fanatics who can go the extra mile in our worship of a Deity. An all-encompassing answer cannot be provided by me, a practising Christian. I do not know what the Hindus think of murder in the name of worship. I do not know if Allah is pleased by the wave of killings in Northern Nigeria. I do not know whether the Dalai Lama would be pleased if a follower attempts to kill the Chinese Premier. There are a lot of things I cannot say of other religions. This leaves me in a quandary. However, I can assume a lot from the natural order of things. Comparing humans to animals is demeaning but surely, no animal, however bestial, will kill its own kind. In fact, an animal will only attack another species in a bid to survive. Surely then, religious fanatics cannot be killing ‘unbelievers’ in order to survive. Killing someone who constitutes no threat to your own existence cannot be right no matter how extreme a doctrine is. Since all religions claim that all forms of human life is given by their respective deity it would only seem reasonable to postulate that the right to take away life is the preserve of the deity in question. Of course, some sects claim that their deity bequeaths this right to them. This leaves us with a perennial problem that shall take me to an ancillary point. Before then, I must pose this question to religionists who say their deity does not forbid killing of a fellow human being: Would it please to your Deity to kill a newly born baby because it was born to parents not practising your religion of choice? Same question applies with respect to other persons of all ages.

Radicalism is not something we can live with. Our system has checks and balances for societal improprieties but when a crime of religious passion of the scale of 9/11 is committed do we look to the law books or do we respond in kind? Everyone has an opinion regarding this and certainly we are not bound by the international consensus of a body like the UN. However, religious leaders must understand that in a world with disparate religious persuasions there will only be anarchy if we separately abide by our own laws. We must have a convention recognised by all and sundry. When the life of a fellow human is concerned, no person has any right to kill regardless of the religious premise. You only have right to your own existence regardless of whatever you believe in. This is not to say that the UN charter is more sacred than the Koran. It only means that in a world with plurality of religions a standard can and should be reached. This is why our respective deities gave us minds of our own: We can handle ourselves! Also, our respective deities have a reason for allowing other religious groups exist. It is not for us to exercise our inhumane killing instincts but to show tolerance in preparation for the end of time when our God, gods, goddesses will mete out appropriate punitive measure as is appropriate to ‘unbelievers’.

Finally, our religious leaders must play a big role in converting fanatics who have strayed from the centrality of religion which is to worship in harmony and peace. In today’s world, a religious war will be a bigger deal than what it was in ancient times. With the subtle proliferation of atomic and nuclear weapons in many rogue states it is not impossible that a religious sect acquires weapons of mass destruction that it would wield against religious ‘enemies’. This would only lead to retaliation and counter-retaliation. In the end, a World War 3 that leaves the entire world in rubble will ensue. Our religious leaders must understand that God did not give us free-will so we can end our stay on planet earth. The dynamics of the world is such that people have disagreements, differing opinions, contradicting viewpoints but they can contain them without necessarily resorting to murder. A person who can live in harmony with a stranger is more mature than one who can only live in peace with a friend. Let us all give peace a chance. To do this you do not have to love members of other religious groups, neither do you have to hate them. You only have to respect the worth of human life. If we keep killing ourselves we are no different from the praying mantis, laughing jackals and the spotted tigers! Please religious leaders, take this message to your congregation: We are humane by nature!

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VIOLENCE IS NOT AN OPTION

For five consecutive weekdays Nigeria was draped in green, white and red, the colours of the major workers’ union, NLC. The central government had removed subsidies on petroleum products imported into the country and that had sparked a nation-wide strike which literarily brought Nigeria to a pause. Streets which where normally boisterous with the hustle and bustle of commerce were silent except when an occasional convoy of union activists drove past chanting ‘Solidarity for ever!’ Usually, their vehicles where adorned in green figs and the banner of NLC.

On the fifth day of the strike I had volunteered to work since my house was close to the psychiatric hospital where I intern as a pharmacist. I had to walk down there considering the commercial bus drivers had joined in the strike protest. What struck me, however, was how lifeless a city like Lagos can become when the citizenry decide to revolt against the Federal government. It brought floods of written memory from articles I had read about the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. Respective authors, with free-flowing lines, had painted pictures of boulevards, streets, and parks quiet for fear of stray bullets, snipers and assailants alike. That fear was palpable, crisp like loaf bread. Death had been in the air, obligatorily breathed in like oxygen. That admixture of corporeal fear and oxygenated death summoned a feeling which no writer could aptly describe with words…

When I managed to get to the clinic I was astounded to find a bevy of patients waiting in line to see the only physician on duty. The doctor was obviously very weary and I was pretty sure she could not be delivering her best as she attended to them. At the pharmacy, there was a long queue of patients with prescriptions to be filled. I was going to be working with a fellow intern. Normally, at least 10 pharmacists would be on ground to attend to the prescriptions. Today was different! So, even as I settled into my swivel chair I knew I had to be different too. I had to skip through details, make necessary compromises, and work as fast as I could.

Eventually, we rounded up for the day. I had done my part in the service to humanity but the grief was there. To see hundreds of patients flock to the hospital – some via foot, some from remote places – to consult with a physician because all services, from local healthcare delivery to BRT transportation were closed for the week brought sadness to my heart. The issue was big: Fuel subsidy: To be or not to be. However, as I listened to a sixty-seven-year-old woman narrate the tale of how she had trekked 20km to fill her prescriptions the issue seemed to be less about the subsidy. These were humans who had risked everything from heat stroke to brain stroke to get here. Of course, the implication of not using their medication implied they might relapse to full-blown schizophrenia so waiting out the strike action was not a viable option. They had put their lives on the line in order not to have their lives on the line.

So I pondered: This was merely a week-long strike. What if it was war: were instead of NLC buses revving past me it was armoured tanks slowly thundering through; were instead of the colourful flags of labour union being waved around it was AK47s held by armed rebels that jutted out of the jeeps; were instead of shouts of solidarity it was the crack of bullets that ripped through the still air waves; were instead of silent roads dirtied by bills, burnt tyres and fig leaves it was abandoned streets strewn with lifeless bodies in a pool of congealed blood? First of all, I would not have thought of going to the hospital. Secondly, and more importantly, I am not sure I would still be alive. These were the thoughts that shrieked me back to the present even as my patient, stricken with bipolar disorder, repeated over and over again, ‘Violence is not an option.’ Maybe it was just a symptom of his malady, or maybe that was the undeniable truth.

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2011, THE PROTESTERS, AND THEIR SHEATHED SWORD

2011 has been dubbed the Year of the Protesters, and rightly so, considering the scale of protests and demonstrations that we witnessed across the world. Their effects were no less dramatic. The Arab Spring especially stands out in this regard: a number of leaders were overthrown after several years of power-clinging. This became a major thrust for other protests, from Syria to Russia, that surfaced later in the year. There is that unspoken hypothesis that when the political, financial, or socio-economical situation is not agreeable to the majority of people it can easily be turned around by one modus operandi: Protest en masse and overthrow the leader. I have no issue with uprisings. Venting anger peacefully to achieve set goals should be the pride of any population but the consequent removal of a leader is in many ways misplaced and overemphasised.

The argument is not that despotic leaders should be left in power. My view is that any non-performing, autocratic leader is not fit for the helms of affairs but protesters across the globe become so engrossed in the short-sighted objective of regime change that they attach the ills of their nation whichever form it comes solely to one person: the ruler – and sometimes, as with Colonel Ghaddafi, their family members. However, as the aftermath of the Arab Spring clearly demonstrates, the ills of a nation are usually bigger than one person. So, many months after Hosni Mubarak was forcefully removed from office in Egypt, the Land of the Pharaohs still remains embroiled in the turmoil of more protests which leaves everyone asking, ‘What do they want now?’ This is why I have always maintained that before any group of rioters or protesters take to the streets with placards they must define what they are agitating for and usually the answer to that is bigger, far bigger than what any set of street protesters can solve regardless of their number or persistence.

One thing people seldom realize is that when an ideology infiltrates a system it becomes larger than life; when a principle becomes institutionalised it ceases to be the sole machination of one man. Killing Karl Marx, for instance, would not have meant the demise of communism just like the death of Osama Bin Laden does not spell the end of al Qaeda and its tenets. So, whenever we need to address a problem in a system, be it corruption, terrorism, stagnancy, or political retrogression we must put into consideration the fact that the person at the helms may seem representative of the system but uprooting the stump only leaves viable roots deeply entrenched underground that may either wither or thrive depending on the dynamics of the situation. It is this dynamics street protesters seldom ignore. Let’s use Egypt as a case study. In the heat of the Arab Spring at Tahrir square, the consensus was unanimous: Mubarak must go! Fair enough, it was a decent move to remove Mubarak. He was stalling democratic process in the country and had clearly overstayed his welcome. This, however, became the only ethos of the protests and so after his ouster the protesters celebrated with shouts of victory, popped champagne and married new wives in a festive air. Apparently, they had won. Then all should be well. With the benefit of retrospect we can conveniently say things did not exactly pan out that way. Instead of anticipated paradise there were more protests, more crackdowns, and more protests. The protesters failed to realize that the problems of Egypt outweigh the body mass of Mubarak. No one studied the sociological dynamics of Egypt and enlightened the protesters that beyond – and, alongside – the street chants and cantatas they should have a formal representation in the corridors of power outlining what they want – in specifics and in black ink.

Whenever a body of people assemble to demonstrate, they would usually have a clear-cut objective. For many of the well-celebrated protesters of 2011 the objective was vague, hinging for the most part around the framework for the removal of a political figure. This short-term goal becomes overblown when it is achieved but the real problems of unemployment, insecurity, financial upheavals remain. It is only then we realize how myopic the protests were. So, in order to have a well-rounded protest, the protesters should demonstrate some form of organisation. Firstly, they must identify the problems that needs solutions, highlight how the parties in power have failed to meaningfully craft a path to solve these problems in question, suggest how they would – if they were in power – solve such problems, put it in writing and let the whole world know it. Of course, this does not preclude concomitant street protests. This way we know that protesters are not throwing stones at government buildings for every change in the price of table sugar! Also, it puts a face, a voice and a reason to the protests. The end result of every protest should not ultimately be the removal of a president; rather it should be a marked change in the attitude and actions of government towards solving highlighted problems. If any Head of State chooses, however, to be a stumbling block to positive change then he or she should be removed by hook or crook.

Similar to the political protests across the world, the Occupy protests are taking place in major financial districts but do we really know what they want? It is easy to call for tighter financial regulations, change in policies of corporate organisations etc etc. My stance is that Occupy Wall Street, Occupy London and other affiliated franchises should have a face in meetings of financial stakeholders; they should circulate proposals to appropriate government agencies; hold formal conferences where they detail their proposed schematics; cite names of wrongdoers and not just blab about jobs, education and so on. We all have difficulties in our personal life. Typically, we consider government to be culpable but in the spirit of fairness we ourselves must realize that government cannot solve all our problems. Right now, most of us are concerned with what government can do for us but we should ask how we can partner with government to salvage our situation.

Street protesters may have got all the attention of 2011 but that does not detract from the relevance of the bloggers, lobbyist, diplomats and other off-the-scene protesters working round the clock to ensure a seamless transition from one political or economic phase in a country to the next.

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AIDS, TECHNOLOGY AND THE MOTHERLAND

I have always believed technology will change our world in a number of ways we cannot envisage so I was not particularly bemused when Apple Inc. released its latest device, the iPhone 4s, which came with a voice-recognition minion called Siri. Online rant about Siri implied that the role of a real life personal assistant was about to become obsolete. What intrigues me as a person living in the third-world district of Africa is not what Siri thinks of my girlfriend but how much technology can spur development and consequently transform the continent.

In the West, Africa is synonymous with hardship; a narrative akin to having a mental picture of sushi each time Japan is mentioned. The difference is that Africa’s sushi is far from delectable. What is important for the continent is how to move forward beyond all the drama of G8, G20, G100 and other Gs there might be. Whatever Western powers and more recently Eastern powers map out in their communiqué at the end of such G conferences the resolution is always similar and annoyingly predictable: more aid, fight AIDS. How? More aid. The effect of these policies, to be fair to the G-elitists has been good if you count the number of Africans who now get free access to antiretroviral therapy and how many communities now have water boreholes. Statistics on the number of Africans who have actually been lifted from the quagmire of poverty due to the handouts from these kind foreigners are really foggy. Whatever the case, the reality is painfully distressing. From WHO to Amnesty International there are still organizations whose findings show millions of Africans are still holed up in poverty. Africa needs the money – but even more.

BILL GATES’ TOILET
He is one fellow we know for his Forbes rating but Bill Gates certainly has taken a global stand on philanthropy. What strikes me is how thoughtfully he goes about it. In July 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation provided a little over $40 million in grant for sanitation projects with the ultimate goal of reinventing the toilet. At first blush it is very tempting to condemn this as risible (a Times magazine headline called it ‘Human-waste gold mine’) but you only have to look at the statistics to understand the significance of having a waterless toilet. According to UNICEF, at least 1.2 million children under the age of 5 die of diarrhoea every year; the main cause is contact with human faeces (source:  Times magazine). 1.2 million! That’s staggeringly high considering the deaths are due to a dearth of toilets! So Bill Gates came in with the millions and he deserves some commendation and some emulation too.

As far as financial aid is involved the investment by the Gates foundation represents the model the G-force of our world should adopt when giving money to Africa is concerned. There should be project-based funding that meets unique needs of Africans. Traditionally, foreign aid is doled out to Non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The argument against this model is that these NGOs use a part – if not all – of the resources to foot their administrative bills. Also, with corruption level at an alarming high across the continent it would be foolhardy to give money to these organizations without any assurance that it will reach the boy in the streets of Bujumbura or Ouagadougou.

I’M FEELING LUCKY
While the online search engine, Google, may have become a global brand accessible via mobiles and ‘immobiles’, it is also worthy of note that the full potential of the internet at large has not been fully unleashed in Africa. Businesses flourish when people have access to them. The meaning of this access in the 21st century world of digitalization now transcends proximity in miles. Rather, it now connotes a more modern meaning of how quickly it can be seen at the click of a button. So if you want flowers to be delivered to your wife at home all you have to do is make a quick search online for the nearest florist, make your pick, fill out your credit card details and in a couple of minutes your wife is savoring the allure of a blossom. That could happen in Chicago, Paris, and Tokyo. In Africa there are strings attached. Apart from the risk of spurious credit card details – which, let’s be honest, can happen anywhere – local businesses in Africa have very little online presence. This makes it difficult for consumers to locate businesses online and limits the profit the local businesses can derive. If Africa will truly flourish it will be spurred from local businesses especially those in the remote parts. Thriving businesses, no matter how small in size, lead to a cascade of sparks which spurs development in local communities.

This snag of online absence of African businesses is really not hard to fix. With about $65 a company can set up a website which can be accessed by everyone all over the world. So Western donors should rethink the strategies they have traditionally used. Would it not be easier to help all business owners in Africa set up websites rather donate millions of dollars which, humongous as it appears, slims down to a trickle when and if it reaches the girl in the streets of Kumasi or Abeokuta.

AGRICULTURAL BEASTS OF EASE
While many African parliaments are still embroiled in the debate over whether they should cultivate genetically-modified crops or not, what is incontrovertible is that farm machinery such as ploughs, harrows and seed planters will immensely improve the capacity of a nation to become a buoyant agricultural force. It is also a cold fact that the developmental potential of Africa relies critically on agriculture. The question, therefore, is how many farmers have access to these implements. The answer: only few.

Customarily, governments give out loans to farmers to buy these equipments which they pay up with time. Laudable as that might appear it is not as good as giving the machines for free. With pests, floods, natural disasters and non-existent insurance policies there is really little a farmer can do to avoid bankruptcy in the face of any unavoidable peril. A farmer who takes a loan and soon finds himself in the thick of the Somaliland famine will ultimately be plagued by hunger, debt and ultimately death. The headlines in the West would capture the death, more aid would be given, more loan will be taken and it’s déjà vu all over again.

To any financial brain doling money out without any financial interest is foolish. The reality, however, is that rich countries of the world have been doing this for years. It is important that these nations apply some wisdom to this foolishness by giving the money to farmers who, by so doing, would have overcome the offsetting financial limitations of purchasing machines. In Zimbabwe, after Robert Mugabe swept out most of the white farmers agricultural production in the country ground to a halt. The emerging black farmers could not meet the agricultural expectations not because they lacked the technical know-how but largely because they had no tools to work with. And yes there was politics involved too.

AFRICAN BITE AT THE APPLE
Like millions across the world, I was awe-struck to hear that Apple Inc. had more money than the US government. A newspaper columnist took a dig at the Obama administration suggesting that the White House would better serve as an Apple outlet retailing ipads and iphones. I took a bigger lesson from this: There is money in technology. Silicon Valley accounts for a large pool of money that America boasts of. A parallel Valley can be ‘dredged’ in Africa only it would require a level of compromise from Silicon Valley of Santa Clara. There have been huge investments by Western tech companies in East Asia. Hewlett-Packard laptops are assembled in China and many GSM operators in the USA have their customer call centers in India. Call it outsourcing the reality is that India and China are better off with these foreign investments. African countries may not be resourceful as India and China in terms of number of software engineers and programmers it has but our human resource are in no way any less knowledgeable. So I pose this question to Siri “Why assemble your iphones in China where a communist government limits freedom of speech when the same assemblage can be done in downtown Nairobi?” Arguments that suggest Africa is volatile strike me as completely incomplete. In the heat of kidnappings and vandalism by armed militants in Nigeria’s Niger-Delta no multi-national oil company pulled out of the country completely. Also, soon after the Libyan crisis died down ENI, the Italian energy company was quick to commence its operations in the oil-rich country even in the face of the uncertainty and instability of a National Transitional Committee. How is ENI different from Apple? If western powers truly want to help us in Africa they must put aside the hypocrisy of yesterday and see Africa for its potential to become a technological hub and not for the headlines splashed across the dailies.

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WHAT ‘WE-SELVES’ CAN DO FOR OURSELVES

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.

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ENOUGH TALK. LET’S ACT

Wouldn’t we all end up like them? That was the multi-million petro-dollar question I pondered after I recently read online accounts of the spat between two erstwhile presidents of Nigeria. Nothing could have been more reminiscent of my yonder childhood years than the unbecoming bandy of expletives between two elder statesmen (I grimace as I reluctantly pen that clause). While that saga held sway in the national dailies I was busy wondering what my generation would be like when grey hairs begin to dot our skulls and the hairlines begin to recede, resisting the alluring nourishment of yet-to-be-discovered chemicals. Would we not be like the generation past, basking in personal wealth without any legacy to pass on? Would we not do worse than these dansiki and agbada -garbed ex-servicemen only that our generation would give such squabble a touch of technology using on-line communities like twitter or facebook? Would we not end up like them?

That question may have a rhetorical ring to it but it does merit an answer. The youth of this generation consider themselves the next best thing. Being part of the subset I hold such optimism – but only with a loose grip. We do know that the current crop of leaders were once brimming with verve and energy at their prime gloating at the prospects of their tomorrow. They were called the leaders of tomorrow. They dreamt big dreams for their nation, travelled across oceans and time zones to earn imported degrees and learn the art of politics. They mapped out Vision 2010. Their tomorrow is our today and if anything it is characterized by mediocrity. It wasn’t that they failed to dream; it was more like they failed to act right when they got to the corridors of power. They got it wrong when they allowed nationalist ideologies to be overrun by personal lust for power, money, and fame maybe not in that order. The vision died along the road for everyone was too busy stuffing his or her nest in preparation for the rainy day. Well here’s the good news: The rainy day is here and we are all going to suffer for it. From the politician ensconced in a palatial abode to the businessman touring the world we all will suffer the consequence in one way or the other. It may be a wary look from an immigration officer or a frozen Swiss account the effect will surely ripple through the pond.

So here we are now, another generation of warm-blooded youths beating their chests, cursing the old, chanting cries for intellectual revolution: Time for Change, We are leaders of TODAY, The Young Has Grown, Power Must Change Hands etc etc. I was not there but I trust the present leaders shouted more. They hated the military, drumming it in every print that Nigeria must be a democracy. The poets of their time wrote enchanting verses about the country of their dream. The architects of their time drew inspiration from foreign cities and drew such blueprints desiring and longing for its actuality. The orators of their time travelled the length and breadth of this country and beyond giving apt description in free-flowing tenses and sentences on how we can be the giant of Africa. Their time did come but there was no change. There are two possibilities: either those activists got to power and forgot their roots or they did not get there.  I’ll let the historians deal with the conundrum. Many years have passed since then but while the date has changed – also, computers have replaced typewriters, colour television has replaced black-and-white television, internet has replaced town-criers – the current status is a relic of the past – maybe even worse. Politicians-cum-motivational speakers are sprouting like weed everywhere speaking in abstracts about how we can climb that mountain and soar through that valley. Poets have become sharper with rhyme and more adept at using obscure words. The internet is replete with articles on how we can change this country. Journalists have grown in confidence with a technological twist to it. But the dirt is still there looming menacingly over us. It is déjà vu all over again.

Two words: Act right!

Beyond flyers and essay competitions, beyond seminars and talk shows, beyond dreams and daydreams we must act right. We must decide our future not in newspaper columns but the industrial plants. Nationhood must come first. When we run for elective offices we must put country first. We must learn from the mistakes of our predecessors who got to office only to find power intoxicating. Our children must not suffer what we suffer. We must be the ones who finally get it right. Fancy your child singing the national anthem and thinking the expression ‘our heroes past’ refers to the current pool of senators  whose inspiration for governance comes from their sugar teeth or the set of presidents we have had who constantly fiddle with the potential for tenure permanence (the short-sighted call it ‘elongation’) at the expense of national welfare. Our generation must be different not because we know how to send text message while driving but because we visualize the future and deliberately take steps to reach it. We must act! Talk is cheap! Tell the motivational speakers that there are no mountains or valleys in sight. Rather, we have a deluge of unemployed youths roaming the streets like a time-bomb. I’m not belittling motivation – this article may pass as motivational in certain quarters – but what’s even more important is that we pick up tools: spanner, pliers, scissors, stethoscopes, keyboards, stencils, spades, frying pan and so on. Let’s work our way to greatness and not dream it away like Alice in Wonderland. That way when our children sing of the sweet labour of their heroes past they would be referring to us and not the two elephants comparing trunks in the middle of sinking sand.

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