Dr. Gabriel Adepoju and Dr. David Akanji have made my personal list of heroes. The two gentlemen were among the speakers at a symposium organized by the Kwara State Association in Washington, DC on November 29, 2003. Incidentally, their engagement as speakers at that august occasion was not the big deal here.
Born in Erin-Ile several decades ago, Dr. Adepoju was almost 3 years old when he became deaf. As for Dr. akanji, who was born about 48 years ago, he became blind at infancy. Again, there is really no big deal in this, as many hapless children all over the world, are victims of these same unfortunate circumstances of births.
The big deal here however revolves around the revelation of how these two physically challenged men struggled to overcome the many obstacles that stood on their ways to get to where they are today. These feats were accomplished in a country where many others in similar physically challenged situations were (are) persuaded by their people to live a parasitic existence by turning their disability into a “credential” for begging for alms.
Through sheer determination and by dint of hard work, Dr. Adepoju tore through many barriers to obtain a Ph.D. He went on to pioneer the first government-owned/funded school for the deaf in Nigeria. Dr. Akanji, on the other hand, completed his first degree in 3 years and went on to obtain a Masters degree within 3 semesters.
I had always detested symposia more so, those with specific emphasis on economic developments either at state or federal level. This was because presentations at such gatherings were always long on theories but short on substance. As I noted in my observations (in a private discussion with a fellow guest), it is always convenient for speakers at such occasions to launch into a long epistle on “what the government should have done and what the government has not done”. Ask what the theoreticians would do if they were to be in government and they would either go blank or go into some meaningless mumble jumble. Yet, our nation has, in the past, been unfortunate to have its affairs managed with disastrous results by some of those so-called experts.
One has often wondered when individual Nigerians, (including those “experts” who go posturing in public with “answers” to all our national problems), would begin to ask themselves questions such as “what can I do?” or “what can we do?” to solve the nation’s myriad of problems and realize its great potentials.
This was precisely the bottom line of almost all the discussions at the Washington DC symposium. And that alone set the Kwarans in the diaspora apart from some other groups of Nigerians. From the physically challenged speakers (Dr. Adepoju and Dr. Akanji) to Dr. Femi Ajayi, Dr. Peter Ogunbiyi, Dr. Ropo Sekoni, Dr. Bolaji Aluko and Dr. Segun Gbadegesin (Alarape Aiyegboyin) of the Radio Kudirat fame, all placed emphasis on concrete, practical routes to Kwara State’s realization of its many great potentials in agriculture, tourism and resource generations through individual and corporate investments.
Even the Special Guest of Honor, in spite of his being a politician and Minister of Communications, Chief C.O. Adebayo, delivered an impromptu but well-articulated speech on the need for an urgent economic restructuring of our nation. And to cap it all at the subsequent Gala night, the Under Secretary-General, Special Advisor on Africa, UN, Ambassador Agboola Gambari spoke not only eloquently but also from the deep recess of his heart on the need for a peaceful co-existence among all ethnic groups in Kwara State and the nation as a whole. According to him, without stability in the polity, all efforts by the government to improve the lot of Nigerians would be hampered.
Kwara people do not shy away from making their stands clear on any issues of national importance. Yet, they are never known to be habitual whiners. And neither do they ever exhibit traits of persecution syndrome, as it is now common among some other groups in the country.
All through the activities of the day, not once did anyone, either among the Kwarans or the honorary Kwarans such as Dr. Sekoni and Dr. Aluko, cry over some “marginalization”, tribalism or some other popular “jingles” of the perpetually paranoid among some of our fellow citizens.
Rather, everyone at the august forum was essentially interested in identifying problems and the practical solutions in the attainment of educational, economic and political growth of our dear Kwara State. And to this end, we all brainstormed (with emphasis) over what was expected of us as individuals instead of gnashing teeth over the stereotypical question of what “the government” should do.
Many of us in the audience could still remember, with a strong sense of nostalgia, the various vigorously pursued, self-help and community projects embarked upon by our people in the period between 1960s and 1970s. It was through those projects that several high schools, rural electrifications, health centers, road networks and other social amenities were provided. Only God knew what would have become of many communities in Kwara State today if those self-help projects were not embarked upon.
In those days, people had the habit of pre-empting the government by embarking on those communal projects. In fact, one good example was that of the Ijagbo people. Their pleas for a government presence in form of a high school in the village appeared to fall on the government’s deaf ears. By refusing to be victims of the State government’s apparent “policy” of neglect therefore, the people levied themselves mercilessly to build my alma mater, Oyun Baptist High School. Oyun is the river that runs through the village. And to show their solidarity, many Kwarans, with the support of the Baptist Mission, decided to send their kids to the school in spite of its outrageously high school fees. The fees were later reduced when the school was grant-aided by the government.
My parents and I, for instance, had different reasons for subscribing to the school. As a “Lagos boy”, I just wanted an adventure and going to school in such a “far-flung” place offered me the opportunity. And I had to jettison admission letters from Lagos based CMS Grammar School and Apostolic Church Grammar School to do this. My mother (God bless her soul) actually wanted me to attend Erin-Ile Secondary School in her hometown. But as the school was already filled, she managed to persuade my father to send me to O.B.H.S. in Ijagbo.
I will never forget how the “local” students and villagers, who considered the Yoruba accents of some of us few students from Lagos too weird, soon turned us into objects of idle curiosity. This usually got worse whenever someone like me complained bitterly over the harsh manual labor, which I had never been exposed to in my life until I got to the school. I did remember rambling on in anger with my usual “mi ni, mi de” in the dining room one afternoon and oblivious of a special attention of one of the teachers in charge of manual labor, Mr. Boye. He finally approached me with a curious, wry smile to tell me “this is the right place for a Lagos ‘agriculture’ boy like you to be turned into a real man.”
It’s been over 3 decades since the establishment of the school with Mr. (now Chief) Sayomi (former Deputy Governor of Kwara State) as the principal. The school has since turned out several ladies and gentlemen who are contributing their quotas in all fields of human endeavor to the development of our nation. And the nation has only God and the vision-filled people of Ijagbo to thank for this feat.
This same vision has become the much-cherished tradition of the people of Kwara State as a whole. It has been responsible for the high production, by the gateway State, of several Ph.D. holders, professionals in the private sector and technocrats in the public sector. Some other people in the shoes of those Kwarans of old would rather languish in self-pity while pushing their future generations into “trading”, houseboys/girls and other degrading “professions” that earn them nothing but scorn in the nation at large.
While waiting for “the government” to perform its responsibilities, a community has no moral justification for folding its arms in shameful indolence at the expense of the educational and economic growth of its future leaders.
Unfortunately, these days, drug pushing, 419 operations, prostitution and many other vices at international level have become the “great export programs” of some Nigerian communities. And instead of displaying a sense of remorse, it is quite sad to read or hear descendants of those communities pass the bulk for these shameful practices to “the many years of neglects by the government.”
Governments come and go, whether for good or for bad. The legacies of education, for instance, sustain a race from one generation to the other. What legacies would some Nigerian communities pass on to their upcoming generations? Mere “stories” that “IBB was corrupt”, “Abacha looted the treasury” or “Obasanjo was arrogant”? Better (or worse) still, would they pass on the baton for drug pushing, international prostitution or any of the other vices in the name of “bad governments” to their future generations?
Like many in the Third world, our dear nation has been a victim of corrupt military regimes for much of its 43 years in existence. It is however grossly unfair to lay all the blames at the foot of the nation’s military. There were some professional officers who journeyed through their entire military careers and even rose to become Generals without the slightest involvement in political appointments.
Whereas, almost every successful coup in our nation had been directly or indirectly inspired, encouraged and welcome by the civilian populace. It was always from among these same “civvies” that Ministers, Special Advisers, Board Chairpersons and other “appointees” were selected. And these political “appointees” were duly seen as representatives of their people. Accordingly, they were always encouraged by the same people they “represented” to get their own share of the “national cake”.
The most terrible aspect of this ugly situation was that, as “representatives” of their people, one would have expected those civilian collaborators in every military regime to invest their loots in the development of, at least, their sections of the country. No way! They would rather buy mansions, exotic cars and other objects of vanity in foreign lands where their cash loots were also stashed.
It is high time people started to ask some pertinent questions from our nation’s treasury looters in general and not just those in the military alone. Some of these looters are now governors, senators, legislators, council chairmen and “power brokers” in the present dispensation. Shamefully, they were elected into power out of silly sentiments by the same people who will rather make a sweeping condemnation of the nation’s military. These were individuals who did absolutely nothing to improve the lot of their people in their previous outings in governments. And unfortunately, they are getting off “scot-free” because many of the critics out there are too engrossed either in their obsessions with former Heads of State or making a scapegoat out of the present president.
Kwara people have had their own fair share of the many problems that other Nigerians face in the hands of irresponsible governments both at the state and the federal levels. The only difference here is that instead of crying themselves hoarse or languishing in self-pity and paranoia, they insist on equipping their future generations with appropriate legacies through individual or (and) communal efforts.
Right at the Kwara State Association symposium, for instance, several individual Kwarans, including the physically challenged, volunteered to invest their personal expertise, services and other resources in the educational, economic and political repositioning of the gateway State. These are the lessons from Kwara State. Fortunately, there are some other groups of Nigerians that are already engaged in similar positive activities. Those that have not got the impetus can borrow a leaf from the Kwarans.