“Quite clearly patriotism is not going to be easy or comfortable in a country as badly run as Nigeria is. And this is not made any easier by the fact that no matter how badly a country may be run there will always be some people whose personal, selfish interests are, in the short term at least, well served by the mismanagement and the social inequities. Naturally they will be extremely loud in their adulation of the country and its system and will be anxious to pass themselves off as patriots and to vilify those who disagree with them as trouble makers or even traitors. But doomed is the nation which permits such people to define patriotism for it. Their definition would be about as objective as a Rent Act devised by a committee of avaricious landlords, or the encomiums that a colony of blood sucking ticks might be expected to shower upon the bull on whose backs they batten.”
—-Chinua Achebe, The Trouble With Nigeria (1983)
On April 09, 2006, Ms. Diane Abbott, a British MP, born of Immigrant Jamaican parents, published an article in Jamaican Observer newspaper entitled, “Think Jamaica Is Bad? Try Nigeria.” Before then, Ms. Abbott had visited Nigeria with a group of British MPs and the essay was her own way of expressing her rude shock (and, perhaps, that of her fellow MPs) that a country like Nigeria, immensely blessed by God with abundant natural resources, and raking in billions of dollars from crude oil exports, could still be fatally trapped in such unimaginable backwardness, chaos and abysmal decay, as a result of gross mismanagement and boundless corruption on the part of characterless, visionless and clearly ungodly leaders. For effect, she tried to make a comparison between Nigeria and her home country, Jamaica. She said: “This West African country, is potentially much richer and more powerful than Jamaica could ever be. Yet, in certain crucial aspects Nigeria is in an even worse position than little Jamaica, and contemplating the Nigerian situation might cause even the gloomiest Jamaican talk show host to count their blessings. Nigeria’s greatest blessing has been oil; but it has also been its greatest curse. It is the sixth biggest oil producer in the world. And when it comes to corruption, Nigerians make Jamaicans and every other nationality in the world, look like mere amateurs. Billions of pounds of oil money have been looted by politicians.”
A few days after Ms. Abbott’s article appeared in Jamaica Observer, an internet news site owned by a Nigerian republished it. Last week, too, Sunday Independent newspaper, Lagos, equally carried the article in its Op-Ed page alongside a rejoinder to it. While several Nigerians who posted comments on the article hailed Ms. Abbott for her forthrightness at a time projecting the “approved” and official view of Nigeria has become such a lucrative business for some Nigerians and foreigners alike, some Nigerians, mostly those living in better managed countries, several thousands of miles away from Nigeria’s excruciating problems, dubbed her an “enemy of Nigeria.” Her offence, if you ask me, was simply that she resisted the temptation to embellish or even pervert the naked truth about the situation in Nigeria, as she saw it. They called on Nigerians to condemn her for refusing to lie.
I will not condemn Diane Abbott. I would rather regard her as a true friend of the long suffering masses of Nigeria. The real enemies of Nigeria and Nigerians are those discrediting her unimpeachable testimony, which the regime in Abuja needs from time to time, to help it develop the right attitude to governance. Even if the Abuja regime insists on remaining totally destitute of pity and compassion for impoverished Nigerians, the continued exposure of the rot and underdevelopment it is religiously creating in Nigeria by such influential personalities like Diane Abbott, might achieve a change of heart in them. Indeed, it is clear from Abbott’s article that the corruption she denounces in Nigeria is official corruption, the one perpetrated by leaders, hell-bent on milking Nigeria to death. She believes that based on what Nigeria is earning daily from oil, Nigerians should be living in a more decent and well-organized society.
Ms. Abbott’s crime, therefore, was that she refused to become another Baroness Lynda Chalker or other “friends” of Nigeria, who are heavily paid to falsely project Nigeria as a place of plenty, happiness, functional amenities and elegant politics, even when the evidence on ground suggests otherwise. Yes, she would have been a great friend of Nigeria if she had like some other people manufactured “great achievements” and fake testimonial for the Abuja regime, and instantly earned for herself loud, but contaminated ovations from Abuja and the “patriots” abroad.
I fully understand the mindset at work here. A character in Prof Chinua Achebe’s novel, Anthills Of The Savannah, remarked that it is alright to praise Castro if you don’t live in Cuba. It all boils down to the deep-rooted selfishness that thrive in the very core of some Nigerians. So long as a problem does not touch them directly, they might as well wish it away. As I write now (1.45 am, Thurs. April 20), my area is enveloped in thick, blinding and choking darkness. The heat is so oppressive, and once my toy generator (humming mournfully at the balcony now and emitting killer fumes into the atmosphere) runs out of fuel and goes off now, sleep will become impossible. My children will wake up. It would then be my business to fan them with folded newspapers to ensure they got little sleep. I would probably go to the office when the day breaks, weak and drained, and nursing a headache, to struggle to earn a living in this impossible country called Nigeria.
Presently, Nigeria boasts of about $34 billion external reserve, and I am told that with just $10 billion out of that money, a huge difference could be made in the power sector, to save us this daily agony, reduce cost of production at our fast dying factories (and by implication, costs of commodities), and generally lighten the excruciating yoke placed on Nigerians by a wayward leadership. Due to perennial blackouts, whole families, especially those who live concentrated areas, have, reportedly, died as a result of prolonged inhalations of deadly fumes from gene
rators. This matter becomes even more painful and frustrating when you learn that almost every African country, and indeed, every country in the world, even the most leanly-endowed, have since forgotten what it feels like to be trapped in intimidating darkness of power failure!
Ms. Abbott talks about the unimaginable poverty and devastation in the Niger Delta as a result of oil exploration. With just $10-15 billion of this our $34 billion foreign reserve, petrochemical companies can be set up in the Niger Delta, and within about five years, Nigeria will become the industrial hub of Africa. Wealth and countless jobs will be created and the issue of restiveness in the Niger Delta would become a thing of the past, as the wealth and jobs created will make a great difference in their lives. Now, how many of these “patriots” would want to be admitted in our public hospitals. What is the state of Nigerian universities, secondary and primary schools? Who is bothered that these institutions have decayed beyond imagination? Instead, Nigerian officials are sending their children to schools in Ghana and even several other very poorly endowed, but better-managed countries. Maybe tomorrow, Nigerians will start patronizing Liberian hospitals and sending their children to Liberian schools. But let no “patriot” cry foul when that time comes and a Liberian points this out in an article in the Liberian Observer newspaper. What a pity, Nigerian leaders and their cheerleaders daily yearn for false testimonials. They hate every mirror that dares show them their real reflection. They are not ashamed that whereas democracy is stabilizing in small countries around us, we are here still yoked with a primitive quest for self-succession.
A word of prayer for anyone who has ever applauded the “wonderful achievements” of the Abuja regime, either sincerely or with dissembling lips. One: May all your children do to you and all you have worked for what the Abuja regime is doing to Nigeria. Two: If you are an employer of labour, may your workers manage all your investments exactly with the same mind and attitude the Abuja regime is managing Nigeria and its resources. And finally, may anyone you encounter in this life treat you the way the Abuja junta is treating Nigerians. Let a resounding AMEN ring out from all Nigerians. And make no mistakes about it, these prayers must be answered.