By Muyiwa Adetiba
I have a younger friend, an aburo, in the common Nigerian parlance, who lives in Canada. He has been living in his adopted country for the past two decades. I have only met him a few times in Nigeria when he came visiting, and in Canada when I had cause to visit. But he is so active on the WhatsApp platform we both belong to that I feel I know him very well.
He is articulate and can be persuasive. Most of his posts are his thoughts and not some forwarded posts—that makes a refreshing difference these days. He has strong views which can make him come across as being strongly opinionated. But he is quiet and very respectful in real life. It is with some of his views that I sometimes have issues. He says he is Canadian. I have no problem with that.
He goes on to say he is more Canadian than Nigerian. That is his prerogative. He has harsh words for Nigerian leaders and doesn’t suffer our political fools gladly. He can be and is often very scathing when lashing them. I can live with that though my language might not be as colourful as his. But I begin to feel uncomfortable when he sees Canada as a country where everything works and Nigeria as a country where nothing works. Or that some of them saw the ugly handwriting on the Nigerian wall decades ago and quickly exited our God-forsaken country.
He is quick to comment on negative posts on Nigeria—and there are many—from the jokers who called themselves Presidential candidates and didn’t have senatorial candidates vying on their platforms, or those who think we should be impressed that they can visit the US again, to the SANs, our elite lawyers who think justice is for the poor, or that the means to justice is more important than justice itself, to decaying infrastructures caused in the main by corrupt leadership, to the shenanigans in the National Assembly, to insecurity and unceasing increase in poverty.
As much as some of his biting comments often ring true, I feel that he is too dismissive of the Nigerian situation, like someone who is anxious to justify his decision to live abroad. But more to the point, I feel patronised; perhaps more patronised than if a white man talked down on Africa or Nigeria. After all, this is a young man who was born, bred and educated in Nigeria, but who chose at some point, to flee the harsh conditions of his country to live a more comfortable life elsewhere. And in doing so, I feel he has traded the right to criticise the country as he wills. There is a lot wrong with Nigeria.
But there is also a lot that is good. It gets to me when people concentrate only on the negative. And sometimes, a self-righteous criticism of the country by someone who claims he has turned his back on Nigeria and chosen another country can rankle. But despite his body language or because of it, I see some passion, some eagerness to connect with Nigeria in his criticisms. I see a man who wants to be proud of his country of birth, but can’t seem to do so. Sometimes, he challenges, ‘if you say I am too pessimistic and negative, just give me three positive things that have happened in the country in the past ten years that I can run away with.’
He recently used the analogy of a burning train to describe the situation in Nigeria. This analogy got me thinking, and I had to reluctantly agree with him. The topic was politics and the hard choices Nigeria had to make. Choices that ethnic loyalties were not making any easier. As usual, people’s comments were in line with their political preferences. This was when he opined that the situation in Nigeria would not change much in the short term irrespective of whoever gets there in May. This was when he described Nigeria as a burning train that people were trying to jump off to avoid being burnt.
Such a train he said, would first need fire fighters to douse the flame before engaging a train driver no matter how skilled the driver may be. To buttress his description of Nigeria as a burning train he pointed to the current rate of emigration which he described as worrisome and alarming. People according to him, are arriving Canada in droves. A Canadian official recently asked him if Nigeria was at war judging from the way Nigerians were fleeing to Canada. I know his assertion to be true because there is hardly any middle class family who does not know someone who has left or is thinking of leaving for Canada or Australia.
A visit to any visa office today would see scores of desperate Nigerians on the queue. The refrain from them is the same. There are no jobs, no security and no prospects of qualitative education for their children. Nigeria has truly become a burning train. Even those who have made it big here are making sure their passports and visas are current in case the fire gets too hot or the smoke begins to choke and they have to bail out.
To make Nigeria liveable, we have to douse the fire of religion, ethnicity and security. We have to find shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry, clothes for the naked, jobs for the jobless, protection for the vulnerable. All the things that the holy book prescribes during this season of Lent. These won’t happen just because we change the driver of the train once in a while.
We all have to get involved—from the artisans to the professors, from pastors, imams to atheists. We have to change our attitude to Nigeria and the way we do things. We have to look at the cause of the fire. I believe it is poverty of sorts and our attitude to them. Poverty of ideas. Poverty of tolerance. Poverty of inclusiveness. Poverty rooted in our economic and social system.
A system that gives so much to the top and so little to the rest of the people. The political class is way too rich. It is a thieving class that is not accountable to anyone. And the legal system as it stands is not designed to bring any rich thief to justice. Nigeria needs help before the smoke gets too much and chokes everyone. It is not the job for one man however honest—and there is no truly honest man irrespective of posturing in Nigerian politics.
The civil society must rise up to challenge the excesses of the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Especially the judiciary which is supposed to be the hope of the common man, but actually gives succour to the rich. We need to collectively douse the fire that is raging from within.