“Ikenna Modebe became governor of Ogun State the same year Mohammed Ibrahim was elected governor of Anambra State and Gbenga Ishola assumed office as executive governor of Kano State. They were three of a number of elected public officials at federal, state and local government levels who won elections and were inaugurated in territories and states that they did not originally hail from. This would not have been possible some years ago.
“Nigeria’s transformation into a developed, progressive and flourishing country is something that has taken the world by storm. From being a slumbering giant that could not address her own basic problems, Nigeria rose meteorically to put those problems behind her and now helps in solving similar concerns for other African countries and, indeed, the rest of the world.
“The ‘epitome of peace in the world,’ which is how New York Times reporter Alan Baker describes Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, used to be the most dangerous region in Nigeria. At a time kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, oil bunkering, pipeline vandalisation and other forms of criminality were at their peak in the region and everyone feared the situation could precipitate the collapse of Nigeria.
“Now the Niger Delta is a haven of peace, a paradise brimming with economic prosperity. It is today the exact opposite of every negative association it used to connote so much so that one of the chief criteria the United Nations (UN) now considers for appointing peace envoys to mediate in conflicts across troubled regions in the world is some form of connection with, or a period of habitation in, Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Little wonder the region now produces the highest number of UN mediators across the globe.
“Recent attempts to rename Africa with a more appropriate appellation, as the description of ‘the dark continent’ has become archaic in the face of massive electrification projects across the continent, have their origins in the giant strides Nigeria has made to light up the continent. With the exception of North America, Africa now enjoys more electricity than other continents, thanks to Nigeria.
“Years ago Nigeria herself used to face severe power shortages. But after she failed to meet a mere 6,000 megawatt target in the year 2009, the government and people rallied together to put a definite and eternal end to what they considered the scourge of the black man – darkness.
“Nigerians’ fight against darkness was extended to every nook and cranny of their country, then throughout West Africa (through the West Africa Power Project – WAPP) and later across all Africa. And with ongoing work in solar power generating plants across the Sahara desert, in a matter of months Nigeria will be commencing the next phase of her fight against darkness by exporting electricity to the unlit parts of South America, Asia and Europe.
“’Illiteracy is the worst form of darkness,’ a former minister of education was quoted to have said at the launch some years back of a grand plan to re-engineer and reposition Nigeria’s then ailing education sector. Unsurprisingly, Nigeria pursued the plan with more doggedness than her electrification battle.
“The efforts have culminated in Nigeria’s current ranking among the few countries with a hundred percent literacy rate. Put simply, Nigeria did not just defeat illiteracy but annihilated it to the point where there is not one Nigerian who cannot read or write. In addition, Nigeria has moved ahead of the league of nations with advanced education opportunities. All of Nigeria’s 1, 350 universities are currently among the world’s top 2, 000 universities according to the UN’s latest universities ranking. In fact, three of them rank among the top five in the world coming ahead of Oxford and Cambridge.
“Nigeria’s university lecturers are considered the most enterprising and resourceful in the world with their unrivaled achievements in innovative and groundbreaking research. How so transformed things have become. It was only some years ago that it was never heard that any academic session in Nigeria ran without hitches – lecturers’ or non-academic staff’s strike and face-off with the government, infighting among university unions, students’ unrest or cult wars, etc. All of that is now in the long-gone past.
“The glory days that have arrived in Nigeria’s educational sector are also evident in her primary and secondary school system. Across the country, both primary and secondary school pupils who enjoy a one-to-one ratio with computer systems installed in their classrooms, are taught by highly trained teachers whose minimum qualifications far exceed those of their colleagues in Europe and America.
“Understandably, not everyone in the world is happy with the turnaround in Nigeria’s educational fortunes. All the Ivy League schools in the West that benefitted from Nigeria’s previously ailing university system now complain that they are losing not only Nigerian clients but also other nationals including their own citizens, who are looking increasingly at Nigeria for their higher educational needs.
“Highly competitive fees charged by Nigerian universities, which are no less capable and competent than their western counterparts, appear to be fuelling the influx of foreign students. Indications are that this trend is likely to continue for a considerable time to come.
“Like her education, Nigeria’s health sector has taken a leap light years ahead of what it was several years back. What jolted Nigeria out of her seeming insensitivity and unconcern about the then comatose state of her health care delivery was a prolonged stay (for several months) of her then president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (now late) in a hospital in Saudi Arabia for an easily treatable illness initially diagnosed as acute Pericarditis.
“It was so embarrassing to discover months later that Saudi Arabia, much like other countries in the East and West where Nigerian government officials and her elite fly to for medical check-up and/or treatment, usually misdiagnose their illness or falsify their medical situation. This was done obviously to enable them fleece their Nigerian patients.
“It is ironic that these were the same countries that had benefitted from the presence of a large body of Nigerian doctors and other medical practitioners who relocated to those lands in search of better working conditions. Of course, most of those doctors and other medical practitioners have since returned home following Nigeria’s implementation of a rigorous health sector reform that paved the way for Nigeria’s health care regime to operate at par with those in the West.
“After years of diligently implementing revolutionary socio-economic reforms, Nigeria has made substantial progress on so many fronts, on several of which her level of development is at par with the West’s. The rapidly improving quality of life in Nigeria is supported by Nigeria’s high ranking on the latest UN Human Development Index report. Nigeria’s GDP (gross domestic product) per capita which now stands at $150, 000 is among the highest in the world.
“Her onetime monocultural economy has become so diversified that oil and gas revenues have shrunk to less than eight percent of GDP even with increasing output and revenues from the sector that used to account for 90 percent of Nigeria’s GDP. Nigeria’s economy is today aptly referred to as sub-Saharan Africa’s leading knowledge economy being third in ICT (information communication technology) after United States and India. Nigeria is also the world’s leading country and destination for business process outsourcing (BPO) and tourism.
“Nigeria leads the world in refining technology with a vast array of scientists and technologists who have helped position her as the destination of choice for everything (agricultural and natural resources) worth refining and processing. Petroleum products, gas, coal, gold, diamond, steel, aluminium, timber, sugar, cocoa, oil palm and rice are among the numerous raw materials/finished goods that keep Nigeria’s many ports ever busy. Other products which keep Nigeria’s import and export market in a constant state of flux include animal hide, textile, cashew nuts, ginger, cassava, shoes, bags, belts, shirts, suits, etc.
“The socio-economic reforms in Nigeria have not only created millions of jobs and lifted over 95 percent of the populace out of poverty (based on the recent World Bank survey conducted two months ago), but also relocated 85 percent of slum dwellers in Nigeria’s major cities to decent accommodation. It was the success of the reforms that enabled the recent reclassification of the poorest of the poor in Nigeria as those only able to afford, in a day, a little more than three square meals for themselves and a couple of medium-size families (from the usual index of surviving on less than $1 or $2 per day).
“Indications are that this minority (approximately 5 percent of Nigeria’s population of 165 million people) will have been elevated from poverty within the next two years. Stable and increasing positive macro- and micro-economic indexes coupled with an annual population growth rate of less than one percent, mean that living standards for all Nigerians are expected to continue to rise for the foreseeable future.
“Very strong and robust institutions that guarantee certain basic and irrevocable standards for all Nigerians as well as foreigners within the country, irrespective of race, class or creed, have helped to accelerate Nigeria’s transformation. Today she ranks as one of only five countries in the world where all public institutions are perceived to function at their most optimal level.
“Bolstered by an effective corporate governance system and annual accountability forums where the public engages them on their activities and performance levels in the outgoing year, Nigeria’s public institutions continue to deliver exceptional services in their areas of intervention. Public agencies and the administration of public utilities are marked by clockwork efficiency, effectiveness and courtesy that are widely acclaimed.
“For the ninth year running Nigeria has retained her position as the World Food Programme’s largest donor in cash and kind. Due to her highly mechanised and advanced agriculture, Nigeria is able to produce enough food to feed Africa’s over one billion population, export to Europe and Asia and supply nearly half the raw materials required by her vast agro-allied industry as well as support humanitarian causes more than any other nation on earth can.
“Relentless efforts are continuously being made to bolster Nigeria’s strategic food reserves with which she is able to intervene during periods of droughts or food shortages and crises anywhere in the continent. Acting alone or in concert with other governments and/or international institutions, Nigeria is able to bring down and stabilise prices of staples across the continent and ensure food security for the entire Africa region.
“Nigeria’s highly advanced and efficient integrated public transportation and communication system compares very much with those in Europe and Japan, setting her apart from other African countries bedevilled by chaotic systems. Built and planned to connect the waterways, airways, railways and roads seamlessly through a large network of main and alternative routes, the system daily ensures smooth movement of vast amounts of people and goods across the country and beyond with minimum loss of time to traffic snarls and other forms of delay.
“Meanwhile, parliamentarians from across the globe are in Abuja on a two-month attachment to understudy Nigeria’s legislators. Since the reform of the country’s constitution, the electoral system and the legislative structure, Nigeria’s lawmakers have earned the respect and attention of other democracies.
“Made up largely by volunteer (or part-time) legislators who are paid only an honorarium (less than a quarter of what local council bosses earn), Nigeria’s National Assembly is peopled by the true representatives and defenders of the masses and their rights. Their ascendancy began with the passing of legislations that reduced first their then outrageous remuneration, then their size and finally the chances of selfish and greedy individuals finding themselves in the hallowed chambers. They have gained worldwide renown through the quality of their legislations, which are often hailed as proactive and forward-looking.
“Nigeria’s lawmakers function as her best bastion of constitutional rights and privileges and a virulent opposition to bad governance whether at federal, state or local government levels. Because the public believes they are incorruptible, people generally turn to them first instead of the courts when they feel their rights have been abused. This probably accounts for legislators’ ongoing efforts to further reform the court system to make it much easier than it currently is for ordinary people to first seek redress through the courts.
“It is to the credit of the National Assembly that Nigeria today has a reformed police force and an advanced criminal justice system. The professional, well-paid, highly trained and disciplined men and women of Nigeria Police Force are thought to rank next to the angels and saints in heaven, according to a recent report by Amnesty International.
“The international human rights watchdog described Nigeria’s excellent human rights records (largely ensured and safeguarded by the police) as the new standards she will insist on for other nations. And this partly explains why every year Nigeria’s police force is bombarded by requests from other countries to assist in training the officers and men of their police forces.
“It is also due to the efforts of Nigeria’s national parliamentarians that the country has ceased to witness any form of ethno-religious conflicts or crises based on settler-indigene classification and disagreements. This followed the passage of a punitive legislation that, among other things, imposed a hefty compensation package for victims of any such conflicts which is to be deducted at source from the federal allocation of states where such conflicts occur or whose indigenes are proven to have been the perpetrators of the violence.
“Before the legislators were done and ready to send the bill for presidential assent, all the state governments had quickly mobilised their people and created ad hoc constituent assemblies to frankly and forthrightly address the root causes of perennial conflicts in their communities. No state government seemed ready to forfeit a kobo from its federal allocation.
“Another excellent piece of legislation that helped put Nigeria’s National Assembly on the world map was the one that comprehensively tackled the problem of housing in Nigeria. One critical component of the law was the restriction imposed on the number of months landlords could seek to collect from existing and would-be tenants rent in advance to no more than three to six months maximum.
“Before then landlords asked for rent in advance for two- to three-year periods (i.e. between 24 to 36 whole months!). The people’s legislators had argued that no citizen gets paid their monthly salaries for two to three years in advance and so it was criminal for landlords to demand two to three years’ rents from anyone.
“All over the world people are talking about the Nigerian factor, a je ne sais quoi about Nigeria that makes everything in the country work excellently; a kind of Midas touch inherent in Nigeria and the Nigerian to make a huge success of every plan, project or venture embarked upon (including sports as the factor is being hailed for Nigeria’s rising dominance at sports events and competitions around the world). This meaning is in complete contrast to the original understanding of that phenomenon years before. Then the Nigerian factor was thought to be that element in Nigeria that made programmes and endeavours that were successfully implemented elsewhere to fail when introduced into Nigeria.
“Nigeria’s transformation is remarkable. It is a valid testament to the veracity of the maxim that ‘where there is a will, there is a way.’ It is the result of the coming together of patriotic and determined Nigerians from all walks of life, irrespective of tribe, religion and class, to chart a new course for their country when things came to a head in 2010.
“It is evident from the way it all happened that if Nigerians had set their minds to it long ago, the transformation of the country would have probably come within Nigeria’s first decade of independence. All the same, it is better late than never. Now, Nigeria’s example is inspiring other African as well as Asian and Latin American countries.”
(MY EYES OPENED. BUT EVEN THEN I WAS STILL GRIPPED BY THE VERY VIVID IMAGES OF A COMPLETELY TRANSFORMED NIGERIA I HAD SEEN IN MY DREAM)
Make no mistake about it. This is not an attempt at creative writing and should not be confused as such. Instead, it is an effort to share a dream deeply held for one’s country using one’s very limited vocabulary. Every believer in a new Nigeria should have a dream, a picture or film of that new country that they passionately want to become reality. People shouldn’t question the legitimacy and sense in having transformational dreams for Nigeria, wondering what difference it could make because they are not in government and so lack the means to pursue and actualise them. You never can tell, your dreams could inspire someone in government. And who knows? You may find yourself in government tomorrow!
It is not implausible to argue that compatriots we have had in government have not had any transformational dreams of Nigeria to share with the governed because they made no effort to create and develop any such dreams before they got there. People in government will readily admit, if they are sincere, that it is quite an uphill task to begin to think up or create and develop any such dreams once one has entered government house – what with the comfort and spoils of public office.
Understandably, intellectuals in Nigeria may at first want to dismiss the above dream as idyllic fantasy or castles in the air and forget that creating big national dreams can play a critical role in nation-building. As Aristotle once noted, “A vivid image compels the whole body to follow.” In the absence of political leaders with capacity or willingness to create a transformational dream and match it with unflinching commitment (manifest in firm positive steps towards its realisation which everyone else can see and follow), those of us outside government who can dream, and who have access to public platforms like the media, must seize every opportunity to share our dreams with fellow compatriots.
It should remain evergreen in our minds that America’s late black civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was not in government when he shared with his nation his (‘I have a) dream.’ That dream took hold of the psyche of a generation of Americans and influenced them for good. Today’s America, wherein a black man is president, is the product of that dream, among other things.
Our own Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka has aptly described Nigerians of his generation as a ‘wasted generation,’ though he has since that time carried on a struggle to leave a better legacy than any of his contemporaries. My humble submission is that Prof. and his contemporaries who are alive and concerned that succeeding generations after theirs should not follow their ‘wasted’ path, need to put together a portrait of a new Nigeria – a gripping and compelling dramatisation (or film) of an idyllic Nigeria, an overarching dream that can arrest and begin to drive the nation’s psyche, a lofty national dream akin to paradise which all Nigerians can plug into and get a new impetus to pursue something so big and captivating.
Admittedly, Nigeria’s current state of affairs can make even the most sanguine of optimists to despair. But it could help if we bear in mind that we are where we are today because of the wrong actions and negligent inactions of yesterday including promotion of wrong images that reinforced corruption and other vices. For a New Nigeria to happen tomorrow it is incumbent on us to do the right things today and a good place to start is in creating big transformational dreams that could grip the psyche of a critical mass of Nigerians.
If they are so well crafted and so well sold to the populace, such transformational dreams could suddenly open Nigerians to a new reality that they have never imagined or considered making any effort to live for. New visions, new horizons and new possibilities (for which people are willing to die) will take hold of Nigerians. Patriotism then assumes a new meaning (or suddenly comes alive again). And possibly for the first time since our struggles for and eventual independence, faith in the Nigeria Project will take on a life of its own with all the passion, commitment and drive to propel our march to a New Nigeria.