2 December 2012

Nigeria: Defining Us


It is not often that one is able to see the mirror that reflects the self from another angle. It is not often that one is privy to the mirror that is reflected deep in the eyes of others, before it has had a chance to go through the many filters that dilate vision, which comes with sparing certain sensitivities. I have witnessed an image of my country through the tunnel of others' sight and it has not been pretty. In their mind's eyes, they have watched a great country, a giant, a potential power house stumble to its knees.

They see large numbers of women, our future mothers dying in child birth daily, youth with no purpose raging against the state, perpetual darkness nationwide, those in positions of authority helping themselves to the commonwealth with impunity.

They see a nation insensitive to its most vulnerable, a growing elite who have risen without a sense of responsibility, who have redefined what it means to be a citizen. A country where the highest placed citizens do not respect the most vulnerable, a country where those who make the laws feel themselves to be above those same laws, a country where there are no longer set moral rules.

A ruling elite so far removed from collective reality they have little idea of what life is really like for the majority of the people they have responsibility for. Their main focus is currently concentrated on the self, enriching, empowering and nurturing this self to the exclusion of all others. Allowing themselves to be kidnapped by their greed, they are trapped in a parallel universe of a few, far removed from the seeds that their behaviour is inevitably sowing.

They have relegated a hundred and twenty million people to life on the margins, striving to fend for themselves in the darkness they have created, converting their tears into succour for them. On the sweat and misery of their people they live large, a life of opulence without conscience.

Life for millions has become an endless pit of danger and disease, most will die young, from disease, malnutrition, childbirth, poverty, or poor roads, carbon monoxide poisoning from generator fumes, the list is endless. Suffice to say they will die young simply because they live in modern day Nigeria.

Those eyes pointing at Nigeria are aghast that a country with so many riches, so much potential, could find itself in the present state it is in, tottering on the brink, in some areas comparable only to Afghanistan or Congo, countries at war.

While, it would be foolish for us to deny others the vision they have of our country, or try to curb where their sights land them, we could do well to point them in the direction of the areas of light that exists for us. Corruption, incompetence and mismanagement have rewritten our story in a way that makes us ashamed.

They have defined the worst of us, stolen our future and mocked the opportunities that we tout. They have made others view us as novice pilots at the wheel of a jumbo jet. They have made those that want to see the country working ashamed, and our youth despondent, but that is not the whole story of Nigeria.

There are parts of this amazing giant that are astounding, and they can be found in the voices of the generation coming after us.

They are proud and resilient; they see a different Nigeria, one where culture and ethnicity matter less, and they are unlikely to manipulate it for political ends. They are finding their footing and voices in other spaces, such as the arts, entertainment, civil society and in the areas of volunteerism. They are seeking to define a different future, where a spirit that is national has a place, where politics is used for good, and the most vulnerable are included.

A few hijackers currently dominating the spaces where Nigeria is defined have allowed us to be cast in this negative spotlight, squeezing out the best of us, I believe the time has come for us to take back our space and redefine for our eyes and others what it truly means to be Nigerian. The values we share have not disappeared; we have allowed those who do not share them to speak for us.

Those who truly care about our nation and its people must begin to put themselves forward in all spheres where their voices matter. This will include government, at national, state and local levels, the private sector, civil society and also in the voluntary sector.

We must never allow those that do not represent the best of us to have the microphone that tells our story. For they will forever be more interested in the sound of their own voices, than those of the people they are supposed to represent. Lacking insight they are more interested in promoting themselves than our country.

The stories of ordinary Nigerian's coming together from across religious lines to stand together against Boko Haram, youth raising money to repair a roof at a school in their neighbourhood, our armed forces daily facing situations of terror, death and destruction and the majority of them who exercise restraint are amongst the best of us.

Members of civil society who use very limited resources to stand up and insist on accountability so that all our lives are improved, civil servants who diligently do the best job they can with very poor enumeration and who do not take a single Kobo of government that does not belong to them represent the best of us.

Teachers and doctors, community leaders who with very limited support work without complaint in some of our toughest neighbourhoods to ensure that communities are strengthened they often remain unsung, but help build the foundations of our country.

The best of who we are and what we do as a nation is right here under our nose. We must stop allowing thieves and opportunists to define to the rest of the world who and what we are. God Save our Crumbling Giant.

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