If you are a Nigerian living in a developed country, especially If you schooled there, you would — at some point — have had a burning desire to go back home to either serve politically or with entrepreneurial skills you might have garnered from schooling. This desire is often innocently driven by a strong belief that Nigeria can be better than it currently is and all it needs is a few educated people like yourself who have lived within a working system, to have a seat at the table and steer the country on the right course. Other times, when interrogated properly, this misguided notion is driven by a messiah complex.
The truth is Nigeria cannot be saved by just “Quality foreign education and good intentions”. The country is not bereft of well-educated elites. The political problems in Nigeria are as a result of our social problems. In other words, until there is a change in our overall consciousness, no imported idea — no matter how good and tested — will work for us the way it works for others.
I do not believe we are capable of producing leaders — in or outside Nigeria — that can make Nigeria a better country politically. You would agree that there are no shortages of well-educated elites in Nigeria. The problem is that before most of us are anything else, we are Nigerians first. Until we clearly define what it means to be a Nigerian and collectively discard the cultures that no longer (or have never) serve (d) us, Nigeria will continue to be a failed state. The cultural diversity of Nigeria reduces any chance of this happening. Education and good intention wouldn’t matter. At best, we would make minuscule improvements but it wouldn’t matter because other serious countries would grow at a hundred times more than ours.
I was thinking about this few days ago and I remembered Obi, the protagonist from Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at ease.
In this book, Achebe exposes the psychological and moral impact of the Nigerian society on the mind of the “good educated people” who go into politics with good intentions.
Obi was an idealistic young man with European education who had just returned from England to Nigeria, detribalized (so he thought), and bursting with hope and determination to serve with selfless devotion.
His schooling in Europe had been made possible by the people of his village, Umuofia, through the Umuofia scholarship scheme.
On his return, here is (an excerpt from the book) the chairman of Umuofia introducing Obi:
“We are happy that today, we have such an invaluable possession in the person of our illustrious son and guest of honor.”
In Nigerian context, the expectation of the people of Umuofia is very clear. Obi is some form of investment that must now repay them back by elevating their status in the society as quickly as possible, with the benefits and access his European education has granted him. After so much war with the system and tussling between him and the people of Umuofia, he yields to the societal pressure and succumbs to corruption.
Is there a difference between the uneducated people of Umuofia and the Nigerian educated elite? The answer will depress us. We are the people of Umuofia. They are us!
During our small talks with our friends who have any sort of power in Nigeria, we remind them that taking care of us and their immediate family must be their priority; we remind them that duty to immediate family and friends must trump individual integrity required to selflessly serve the society at large.
We can hold the Obi(s) in Nigeria accountable for their actions, but we also have to acknowledge that they are victims of social and political forces beyond their control.
Nigeria is a state that thrives on profiteering, racketeering, rent seeking, and more broadly, favoritism (Cronyism+Nepotism). Add every other form of corrupt ism known to mankind. Any form of probity or selflessness within the same system is immediately treated as an aberration and so will not survive as a result. The entire system runs like an extended polygamous family. Hardly anything can be achieved on merit. Even as illiteracy rates nosedive, no substantial development is happening. Instead, young educated Nigerians are fleeing the country in droves for a better chance at life.
I do not believe that Nigeria can produce leaders with the sheer Will-Power to break away from the society itself and do what is necessary. It is but a pipe dream.
To all the Nigerians with quality education, scattered around the west and nursing an innocent ambition to go back home and make a change in the Nigerian political sphere, I hate to break it to you that you are likely to end up like another Obi in Achebe’s book. Until there is a change in our overall consciousness as a people, Nigeria will not grow politically or socially at the rate we wish it to.
P.S. If you want to understand grassroots politics in Nigeria and how painfully difficult it is, pick up Aisha Oshori’s “Love Does Not Win Elections”.