A people’s reality versus perception: A disturbing disconnect
A RECENT report (published on 18th September, 2014) of a poll conducted by CNN puts Nigerians’ accent of the English Language as the sixth ‘sexiest’ in the world, out of an estimated 7,000 languages on earth. Whatever ‘sexiest’ connotes; the result of the poll is without doubt, an eloquent testimony of a uniqueness of the Nigerian people, which enjoy global endorsement. In this regard, CNN describes the Nigerian accent in the following way: “Dignified, with just a hint of willful naiveté, the deep, rich “oh’s” and “eh’s” of Naija bend the English language without breaking it, arousing tremors in places other languages can’t reach.”
The publication of the CNN survey elicited various reactions from Nigerians from all walks of life. A preponderance of the reactions pilloried and vilified Nigerians who hold the view that there is nothing positive about Nigeria and are, therefore, perennially in search of surrogacy in other climes, which some of them are ready to purchase at the price of their souls.
Added to the foregoing, is a 25th March, 2013 online article in the Nation Newspaper titled ‘12 Shocking Facts about Nigeria’ which argues that Nigeria is the most blessed nation on earth. The following, amongst others were put forward in the article in support of the argument: (i) Africa’s oldest known boat is the Dufuna canoe which was discovered in Dufuna Village, Yobe State, by a Fulani herdsman in May 1987, while digging a well. Various radio-carbon tests conducted in laboratories of reputable universities in Europe and America indicate that the canoe is over 8,000 years old, thus making it the oldest in Africa and the third oldest in the world.
The discovery of the canoe has completely changed accepted theories of the history and sophistication of marine technology in Africa; (ii) the Niger Delta (which is the second largest delta on earth), has the highest concentration of monotypic fish families in the world; (iii) the Jos Plateau Indigo bird, a small reddish-brown bird, is found nowhere else on the planet but Plateau State, Nigeria; (iv) the Yoruba tribe has the highest rate of twin births in the world. Igbo-Ora, a little town in Oyo State, has been nicknamed twin capital of the world because of its unusually high rate of twin births; (v) The Anambra waxbill, a small bird of many beautiful colours, is found only in Southern Nigeria and nowhere else on earth; (vi) According to the World Resources Institute, Nigeria is home to 4,715 different types of plant species, and over 550 species of breeding birds and mammals, making it one of the most ecologically vibrant places on earth.
The aforementioned are but a miniature representation of the wealth of resources and the uniqueness tucked away in our land. This is Nigeria’s reality. But the 64,000-dollar question is, is there any harmony between our reality and the way we are perceived the world over? There is no prize for guessing that the answer is in the negative. Why is this so? You will find the answer in part from the following admonishment of Frantz Fanon: “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” The sad fact is that we have not fulfilled our destiny as a people, but profoundly betrayed same.
Now enter the global perception of Nigeria, and for the most part, justly so. The list is infinite! Let us set out a few: (i) Transparency International in its 2013 corruption index ranked Nigeria as the 144th most corrupt country among 177 countries studied world-wide; (ii) Nigeria ranked an abysmal 161st place out of 184 countries with 66 per cent literacy rate according to the CIA World Facebook Country Comparison Index of Literacy Level by country in 2012. This makes Nigeria among the world’s most illiterate countries! (iii) The World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, in April last year, during the IMF/World Bank Spring meetings stated that Nigeria is one of the top five countries that have the largest number of poor people. Nigeria, he said, ranked third in the world having seven per cent of the world poor, next only to India and China; (iv) a recent World Bank report which is aimed at assessing the level of progress of countries under the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative showed Nigeria taking the shameful position of the second worst country with high electricity access deficit. The report states that 82.4 million Nigerians lack access to electricity!
As a nation, we smart from a double malady: firstly, in the midst of abundance, and endless potential, we live in squalor – largely sponsored by corruption; secondly, we have a rich cultural heritage which we readily abandon as we eternally give ourselves over to shameless copy-catism like people without an identity. We besiege foreign consulates, cap in hand, heads draping like a dying flower as we plead to be allowed entrance into alien lands where we embrace second-place with profuse gratitude. The result – our land lies waste with no one staying the course to build from the relics of nay-sayers of generations past.
In Nigeria today, the growing trend and proclivity are to believe that we can only derive legitimacy and validity from adding an earmark of the ‘Western’ to every endeavour of our lives. See a bit of the appalling list of the pervasive thinking in our clime: (i) you have only actually gone on vacation if you travelled abroad: the UK, U.S., Paris, etc, whether or not you took a loan to embark on such self-imposed assignment is immaterial; (ii) you meet a white man, your elocution quickly assumes a different, albeit painfully awkward accent as though you are some pathetic, second place person who is obliged to fan other people’s embers; (iii) you are only truly speaking well and belong to the Joneses when you use foreign terminologies which have absolutely no application to Nigeria’s local circumstances, for example you hear people make reference to doing a ‘9-5’ job even when they resume work by 8am and close by 9pm; you hear people refer to ‘secondary school’ as ‘college’; (iv) you don’t belong to a certain class if you have not travelled to at the UK or the US. This does not include the quick recourse Nigerians have to foreign aid: from education to medicare, even at the very highest level of our national leadership. The list is endless.
While many countries which suffered colonial imperialism (including African countries) have since taken bold strides to shake off the last vestiges of foreign domination by domesticating the peculiarities of their national experience and entrenching a culture of patriotism, in every sense of the word, Nigeria and Nigerians perennially tie themselves to the apron strings of past overlords by their very own actions.
The panacea to the above will start by us taking individual responsibility to build our fatherland. We must quit the temptation to point fingers and pass the buck. We must take a cue from the character, Cassius in the work, Julius Caesar; who said to his friend Brutus: ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.’
The reports of various international bodies on Nigeria in respect of such matters as education, poverty, literacy, etc, represent accurate or at least near accurate pictures of our condition. But these are not indeed our reality, because we have the wherewithal to live above these squalid conditions. Consequently, we must garner our resources, pull ourselves by our boot strings, let sacrifice and love for our fatherland be our driving force and rebuild the broken down walls of our existence. We must not sell our votes for pittance, we must begin to insist on good leadership and be ready to fight for change not with a barrel but with the ballot.
We must celebrate our rich heritage; we must insist on promoting our local uniqueness and compel the world through dialogue to accept the reality of our wealth – of both human and material resources. We must promote our autochthonous resources and take pride in the very things that make us special. We must realize that our uniqueness is in our difference, not in our conformity. We must desist from disparaging our land and our leaders and diverting our resources to foreign lands. Every man must in his own little space show the courage of leadership, the dignity of labour and the discipline of uprightness.
We must call our national orientation agency to account and require it to do more in promoting a positive image of our nation both locally and internationally. It must not be a hapless apparatus of some government hegemony, and their functions must transcend pushing files, releasing intermittent press statements, sharing financial allocations and collecting salaries.
Nigeria’s condition is not as hopeless as it is being portrayed on international media. We are not where we need and ought to be as a people, but we are not where we have always been, in many areas of our national life. We must, therefore, seize every opportunity to emphasize the good of our land and let the world know, as the Nigerian music icon, Asha, puts it, that ‘the land is green.’
As the 2015 elections draw near, Nigerian youths must get on the vanguard of the campaign for good and accountable leadership. They must refuse to be used as mere tools for promoting primordial interests and fostering hedonistic and epicurean ends. As the strength of the nation, the voices of the youths must reverberate with the crucial urgency of the moment that salus populi suprema lex esto – the welfare of the people is to be the highest law.
What we become as a nation is up to us.
Dictum sapienti sat est – enough has been said for the wise!