Nigeria: A Unique Nation or an Oddity?

The late maestro and patriot Fela Kuti once observed during a non-musical moment, that it mattered not whether a person had driven a vehicle in every major city of the world, if such a person came to Lagos; he or she would have to learn to drive all over again. Fela, I am certain, was well versed about Lagos and its network of roads, and I think he also knew a thing or two about motoring skills. He even, and quite memorably too, named one of his albums ‘Overtake, Don Overtake, Overtake (ODOO); such was the man’s genius! And as with most of the titles of his music albums they were often in, and of, themselves master pieces in social and political commentary.

But returning to the late musical philosopher’s astute motoring observation – in which he was spot on – just as he was on many other issues affecting Nigeria. If one were to extrapolate the main thrust of his observation, amplify it and then reapply it to other aspects of Nigerian life, one could very easily conclude, depending one one’s frame of mind – charitable or cynical – that Nigeria is a nation – which is at best, unique, or at worst, an oddity; a nation operating seemingly outside the global grid of nations.

There is something about the way Nigeria operates that often seems to defy proven theoretical assumptions and the working patterns of most of the rest of the world. Take for instance the workings of our Stock Exchange and its listings; you will notice that for sustained periods, its performance regularly defies global trends. Just like the present time, when Western markets are threatening to implode upon themselves in reaction to global credit crunch tremors, barely a movement has registered on Nigeria’s economic Richter scale. This leaves one with the impression that our stock market, in distinction to others across the world, is immune to systemic shocks.

Against this background, there is the temptation to think, if one did not know Nigeria well enough, that its trend defying performance is due to the unparalleled expertise of its talented citizenry in government and business circles. Or better still, that it is due to the exemplary business strategic nous of its pace setting business schools and their compendia of business formularies, which make them the envy of other more notable business schools across the world.

Somehow, however, I doubt that the Lagos Business School, the Ebonyi State University Business Faculty, the Bayero University School of Business, Ladoke Akintola Business School, or even Zamfara Tech, and others of their ilk, are at the cutting edge of international business thinking. But then again, I could be wrong.

But to buttress the point of our operating outside the global grid of nations, I recall an incident from many years back, when the Bank for Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) hit the buffers and derailed in spectacular fashion. The wreckage of that bank left many an investor – corporate and personal – across the world, out of pocket and financially damaged. However, in spite of this upheaval, the Nigerian arm of the bank remained standing. Whilst the financial last rites were being pronounced upon BCCI in accordance with international banking liturgy by the monetary priesthood at the Bank of England and others across the world, the Nigerian subsidiary merely underwent a swift ritual of re-christening; emerging there from with a new name to continue in business as if nothing had happened.

Perhaps Nigeria is in the world, but not really of the world. Perhaps our existence is merely or purely holographic in relation to other nations. A Nigerian friend, who has long since relocated from Nigeria, observed that Nigeria is the only country on earth where one can transplant a system which has worked successfully everywhere else for a hundred years or more and see it fail!

Our ability to turn things on their head is not limited to Nigerian airspace or territory or its economic organs. For if you are Nigerian and ever have cause to visit London for whatever purpose, and require Consular services, then you will need to visit Nigeria’s Fleet Street based Consular Offices. Right near to the Consulate building is a Bus Stop, and a Post Office; both of which are integral to either getting to the Consulate or getting things done inside it. At both of these places orderly queues of people (Nigerians included) are to be found waiting their turn to access whatever services are on offer.

On the occasions that I have had cause to visit the Consulate, I have noticed some compatriots move out of one of these orderly queues and into the Nigerian Consulate, and by so doing undergo a transformation of sorts. Somehow, in going through the doors of the Consulate building, they appear to undergo a form of teleportation which transports them back mentally, if not bodily, to Nigerian airspace.

Once inside the building, all caution is thrown to the wind; and the behaviour of some of these people becomes increasingly animated and their language coarse. You get the feeling that you are either, on the set of a rowdy Nigerian home movie or in the thick of things at Ojota Motor Park. But strangely enough, as soon as they leave the Consulate building, a mist appears to lift from upon them and they once again revert to being orderly and courteous. I suppose it’s a case of when in Rome, behave like the Romans.

I don’t know why we are the way we are or why it is that our nation is able to defy global trends in the way that it does. Perhaps we need to commission a study and get our sociologists, anthropologists, and historians working to discover why we are the way we are; and how it is that our nation can repeatedly buck global trends. Maybe such an exercise will provide light on the issue and help us to use our peculiarities to our common advantage.

And while they are at it maybe they can also discover ways in which we can extract order from our chaotic existence. A venerable gentleman of the cloth, once opined when reflecting about Nigeria – that in Nigeria we abide in a state of happy confusion. It seems that he was right and his insight divine.

And so I end as I began, with another astute observation by the late maestro and patriot, Fela Kuti, who in one of his musical moments declared back in the 1970’s that our people are ‘Suffering and Smiling’ and on a daily basis. Sadly, thirty or more years hence, since the musical philosopher captured their plight in song, our people remain suffering, if not smiling, but in a state of happy confusion. And, I guess, that makes all the difference in the world.

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