Nigeria: How do I begin?

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One of the greatest challenges in writing is at the beginning. You may have a pretty good idea of what you want to write but stuck on how to start. Beginning has always been a problem, not only to writers but to inventors, revolutionaries and pioneers in all human endeavours as well. Get the beginning well, the rest, in most cases, will fall into place like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle when cracked.

I want to talk about the good old Nigeria, hoping it would rekindle our patriotism, sense of sacrifice and unity and give us hope that our current seemingly hopeless condition is but a phase that can be overcome with the grit of will. In the words of Aristotle, “it is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light”. So, how do I begin?

Charles Dodgson (January 27, 1832 – January 14, 1898) was a mathematician at Oxford. One day he was rowing the daughters of Dean Henry Liddell down the Thames when he told them a surreal story. Alice, 10-year old daughter of Liddell, hunkered after Dodgson to write down the story. Write he did, but under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll and titled it Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (most popular as Alice in Wonderland) and released in 1865.

In the book, a white Rabbit was asked by a king to read some relevant information and putting on his spectacles, he asked: “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” The King, in a grave tone, told him “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end, then stop”.

Now I need to begin at the beginning so that I stop at the end.

However, that beginning cannot be that Buratai is back in Abuja after saying he won’t be back until he obliterates Boko Haram some two months ago, a feat accomplished by Idris Deby in two weeks. That the president and his vice have at various times given the order for the big bosses to be in Maiduguri is not news. It is also not news that not once were they told to return. Yet they are always in Abuja till the next order. That, too, I am not beginning with.

Will the yet-to-be-investigated allegation of Nyesom Wike against a general engaged in “oil bunkering” be a good beginning or the case of the murdered and cannibalised General Idris Alkali take the honour?

Perhaps, the forgotten case of the vehicles found in the Dura Du Lake of death or maybe the report of the post-2011 election violence or, better still, that of the PDP woman leader burnt alive in Kogi or perhaps Bola Ige’s, Funsho Williams’? You see, there are many others competing for attention. For instance, who killed Deputy Commissioner of Police Usman Umar one year ago? 

What happened to the Chibok inquiry or Rotimi Amaechi’s allegation that Femi Fani Kayode collected N2 billion as aviation minister and bolted away with it?

I do not think I should also begin with any of the plethora of cases we abandoned and swept under the carpet. It suffices to say such an attitude, either out of selective amnesia, sentiments based on any affiliation or personal interest based on any mundaneness breeds nothing but the feeling of injustice, unfairness. That gives rise to discontents and malcontents which make people become prosecutors, judges and executioners in matters that otherwise they would willingly submit to the authorities. And our security and judicial systems get mired in confusion.

Once a nation-state finds itself in such a situation, only a few options are left for it to continue. Most importantly, Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio’s ethos for a nation’s survival should become a national creed. Its leaders must urgently embrace justice and fairness and the laws of the land must equally be applied to king and serf. Then the leaders must truly see leadership as service to fatherland and not a means for them and their families to aim at owning the land. In his book, Bayan Wujub Al-Hijra, the revered scholar, revolutionary and founder of the Sokoto Caliphate said: “A kingdom can endure with unbelief, but it cannot endure with injustice.”

The easiest way to serve the people is to empower them to be able to easily access basic needs. The little money in their pockets should be valuable enough to guarantee that. Once the people can afford basic needs as a result of leaders’ efforts, crime rate and discontentment will take flight. What way is better to empower than to provide work for the majority?

In the 1960s, the premiers of the North, East and West, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, invested heavily in ventures that educated their people, gave them employment and made them producers rather than consumers, exporters instead of importers, givers as opposed to beggars, politically conscious rather than politically docile. These made our currency strong and our economy solid.

Oh, yes, I agree people voted for their own even then but it was not solely because they were their “own”. The politicians then identified with their people, fiercely guarded their honour, fought for their well being, cried when they cried and laughed when they laughed. And because of the provincial nature of the times, “their people” were much closer to them than others. That situation is not subsisting now. Again, since they headed regional governments, it is all the more understandable.

Thus by 1972 when General Yakubu Gowon increased the annual minimum wage from N312 to N720 based on the famed Udoji Report, N60  was equivalent to $100. The minimum wage was thus $1,200. Now our minimum wage of N30,000 is less than $100.

In 1980, $100,000 was equivalent to N50,500. The question one is tempted to ask is why? And the answer is simple. In 1980 Nigeria was a producer. I came across a compilation of Nigeria’s productive capacity then and I believe it is worth ruminating over. Nigeria refined petrol and exported its allied products. Volkswagen cars were assembled in Lagos, Peugeot in Kaduna, Leyland in Ibadan; Steyr in Bauchi produced tractors while ANAMMCO produced buses and trucks in Enugu.

The windshield and glasses, batteries, seats, tyres, brake pads, etc, were all produced locally. Impressively, the tyres were produced from rubber grown on plantations here. Refrigerators, air conditioners were produced by Thermocool here and Sanyo in Ibadan assembled radio and television sets.

Textile mills in Kaduna and Chellarams churned out clothes from home-grown cotton while water pipes were produced in Kano and Bata and Lennards produced quality shoes from locally tanned leather. In the area of cosmetics and common household needs, PZ was there and AJ Seward & Kingsway Chemists produced Lotus, Jeleen, Nku, Shield, etc.

One can only imagine the number of people employed by such outfits, the arrest of capital flight and the hard currency the country earned. The internally generated revenue, well managed, could propel a nation with serious leaders into the league of big players. Crime rate will be low because many idle minds and hands would be out of the devil’s reach.

To achieve that, what we need now is servant leadership. A servant leader is a leader whose philosophy is to serve the people. A story was told of Sayyiduna Umar (RA) who got curious that his leader, Caliph Abubakar (RA), always left immediately after morning prayers. To kill that curiosity, one morning he followed him discreetly at a distance and saw him go into a house.

After some hours, Abubakar emerged and when he disappeared into the horizon, Umar went into the house where he met a blind, frail old woman with kids surrounding her, playing and eating in a clean environment.

To his enquiry, she told him, “I’m old and blind. I’m responsible for these orphaned kids here. They are my grandchildren…I have no one to take care of me”. Then Umar asked her, “Who’s that visitor who comes to you every single day?” and she answered, “I don’t know. He never once shared his name with me”. Then he asked her, “What does he do?”

To which she said, “Every morning he comes, he cleans my home, washes my clothes, grinds our wheat and bakes our bread and then he leaves”.

Of course, we know this isn’t possible here or anywhere now. The modern equivalent is to provide the wherewithal for the food and clean environment. But whatever the case, a leader must by his actions give hope to his people and the confidence to excel. Again, if the Chinese, in one of their proverbs, believe the fish begins to rot from the head, then the head must show more patriotism.

Servant leadership is why Malaysians in 2018 overwhelmingly brought back Dr Mahathir Mohammed at the age of 92 to lead them. He was ready to sacrifice his life for them when he refused to travel abroad for medical treatment in 1989, opting to be operated upon in Malaysia. This led him to build world-class medical facilities that now attract medical tourists from around the world. He could have died, yet he rejected his doctor’s recommendation for surgery in the US out of patriotism. “I had to have faith in our Malaysian doctors,” he said. “If I didn’t make an example of myself, no one else would have confidence in our medical service.”

Or the Indian case where the father of the nation, Mahatma Ghandi (October 2, 1869 – January 30, 1948) would not ride in the sleek and luxury cars from the west; he elected to trek and drive in locally made carts. This injected vigour into local car manufacturing. Now India is a vehicle exporter.

These servant leaders teach that a leader sacrifices; he is not one collecting a fabulous salary and unimaginable allowances but still being fed by the government or using foreign-made items like clothes, food, cars, etc, instead of those his country produces.

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