Good time to be a Nigerian!
IT might, on account of the sheer number of Nigerians or Nigerian-born persons performing remarkable feats across the world, seem another story of ordinary compatriots making good. But the report the other day of Adewale ‘Wally’ Adeyemo, who was appointed Deputy National Security Adviser of the United States by President Barack Obama, is exceptionally remarkable and should lift the spirits in these gloomy times. Nigerians are renowned for excellence in every sphere of human endeavour, but Adeyemo’s ascent to that level of power in America is real testimony to commitment to excellence and the indomitable spirit of a people.
Born 34 years ago to a Nigerian school teacher-father and his wife, a nurse, both of whom moved to the United States in search of a better life for their children, Adewale Adeyemo has been acknowledged as a superstar of the Obama administration. He has been credited with helping to end the global economic recession, which started in 2008, in which much of the world is still reeling but from which the United States has largely recovered.
Indeed, the words of the American President are unequivocal in the assessment of Adeyemo’s worth to the U.S. and to the world. “At the Treasury Department (America’s equivalent of the Ministry of Finance), he was part of the team that helped coordinate our response to the global recession, laying the foundation for renewed growth at home and abroad.”
An effusive Obama went on: “Adeyemo helped establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and he has been our point person on a range of international economic issues, including negotiations on strong currency agreements.”
He then concluded by saying that he “will be calling on Wally’s intellect and judgment” as America seeks to sustain its global economic leadership, “which reinforces our national security…”
Adeyemo had before now been deputy chief of staff at the same Treasury Department among many other powerful positions he earlier held, and, with his new job, speculations are already rife that he is set for higher things. The heights to which a man with Nigerian roots has risen now in the American power equation is enough reason for joy.
And if you are one of those who think the dancing over Adeyemo is beginning to take on the air of over-celebration, add another Nigerian name, which popped up as having made a great stride in medical practice. Bennet Omalu, the first pathologist to report chronic traumatic ancephalopathy in professional American footballers, wrestlers and other high impact contact sport athletes as well as military war veterans. He made the discovery by probing the obvious mental and physical degeneration before death of some star athletes and his curiosity led him to this particular form of brain damage they had suffered while plying their trade. The story of Omalu’s discovery is now the subject of the much-anticipated movie, “Concussion,” with the famous actor, Will Smith, playing Omalu.
Omalu’s discovery, like many such ground-breakers, of course, earned him the ire of the professional sports world, which claimed Omalu seemed to have concluded that sports was unsafe. Even so, the authorities have been compelled to act on the strength of his findings and contact sports will never be the same again. Omalu’s discovery has even spurred better funding for research into a cure for the condition, towards highlighting the need for better education on sports. Omalu, from Enugu-Ukwu, has been named Health Hero 2015 in the U.S.
In all spheres of life, Nigerians, especially in the Diaspora, have notched up feats that change the narrative often re-inforced by the international media of a nation populated only by crooks, scammers and ruled by a thieving elite. These achievements have, nevertheless, exposed the ineptitude of Nigeria’s leaders and challenged them to a better utilisation of human capital. For, were Adeyemo and Omalu home-based, their stars shining as they do now are a possibility. A more potent possibility, however, is that those stars would probably have been extinguished by a bureaucracy that stifles merit, a system that is the graveyard of talents.
Nigeria has had and is facing very daunting challenges. It has often perched perilously on the edge of an abyss. There are times, indeed, when it seems only elegies are left to be written about the country. Her potential greatness having been squandered by inept leadership, various ills assail Nigeria’s soul, weakening further an already damaged giant and making the reality of obsequies seem only a matter of time.
We all railed against the American diplomat, John Campbell, who predicted the just ended year, 2015, as the appointed date of Nigeria’s demise. But we all actually acknowledged that his prognosis had some basis in real evidence and, even if patriotic instincts would not let us admit it, most Nigerians expected the worst. Remember the airports on the eve of the last elections and the multitude running as far as their pockets could take them?
Then the 2015 elections came and went smoothly!
In a classic demonstration of the true meaning of democracy, the people said they would be ruled on their own terms as enshrined in the national covenant and that they were capable of changing their rulers when such fail in the service to which they were consecrated. The transition went even more smoothly and Nigeria pulled off a miracle of sorts!
But Campbell and his prediction are not shamed yet. The continued pauperisation of the people, inequities in the land, compounded by a weak, wobbly and monumentally fraudulent federal structure have yielded such gangrenous manifestations in the nation’s body as threaten her life or, at best, may consume her limbs. And a lot of work still needs to be done to prevent a situation in which it would be said that Campbell got only the date wrong.
It is against this background that the news about Adeyemo and Omalu are very pleasant reminders of who Nigerians truly are. Or what it means to be Nigerian.
Brilliant, talented, hardworking and assertive, the Nigerian, from the North to the South, the East to the West, is one who masters his or her environment and conquers it for good.
Nigeria’s purpose is clear: United in diversity, fierce in the battle for peace and unrelenting in the work of prosperity for all.
But there are serious worries over corruption and the elevation of self over anything else, which is at the root of the nation’s leadership shortage.
Character is so much in short supply, a particularly tragic deficit that runs through all strata of the society. Hence, greed rules!
The economy is in danger and poverty has made mince-meat of the majority, while a few have cornered the common wealth for their personal selves.
If only members of the ruling or looting elite would appreciate, as former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, once said, that wealth must serve more than the wealthy, fortune should be for more than the fortunate and riches should enrich not some of the people but all of the people, and that wealth can only be sustained when it is shared.
In this atmosphere of despair, however, stories such as Omalu’s and Adeyemo’s are pointers to the endless possibilities for Nigeria’s redemption.
Afterall, excellence is Nigerian!