“My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” – Carl Schurz
By Dotun Adekanmbi
For folks tired of Nigeria, the 2020 Henley Passport Index, which is regarded as “the most rigorous and sophisticated measure of global access,” is another good reason to believe that Nigeria ‘is not worth it.’ According to the report, our passport, which has been ranked as the 97th most powerful in the world, is only good to visit just 46 countries visa-free or obtain a visa on arrival or be issued eVisa by destination countries like Afghanistan, Suriname, Antigua, and Barbuda, Micronesia, St Kitts, and Nevis or even Tuvalu. Never heard of some of these countries? Well, I am not kidding.
By contrast, nationals of Japan, Singapore and South Korea, which placed first, second and third on the index can respectively access 191, 190 and 189 countries visa-free. In Africa, citizens of Seychelles at 29th position can easily enter 151 countries while South Africans can effortlessly access 101 countries by virtue of their country’s 56th placement on the index. If it is any consolation, it needs to be said that although Nigeria’s rating went down by 19 spots between 2010 and 2020, the most by any ranked country, we still fared better than Sudan (102), Somalia (105), Syria (107), Iraq (108) and Afghanistan, which came last at 109th position. Citizens of the latter two countries can only enter 28 and 26 countries respectively without a visa.
But things have not always been this way. Years back, we had reasons to be proud of our nation, even as we passed through difficult times. The bitterness of the Civil War did not keep us down, though the scars are still very much noticeable. Citizens embraced various forms of ‘austerity measures’ particularly in the 1980s and early 1990s when the profligacy of successive military and civilian governments took a heavy toll on the economic health of Nigeria. Our resilience found voice in our belief that ‘e go better’ and ‘Nigeria go survive.’ That hope was rekindled each time our sportsmen and women made Nigeria proud in global and continental sports festivals.
We recognised the unifying factor of sports, which helped us to set aside our individual and collective differences. In the field of sports, we never pushed for ethnic quota equilibrium; we never queried religious affiliations and we never bothered about age and allied matters. We simply settled for excellence. And we got results, as exemplified by our winning the 1985 FIFA-Coca-Cola Under-17 World Cup; the 1996 summer Olympics football tournament as well as gold medal in the women’s long jump won by Chioma Ajunwa and, by default, the gold medal in 4 x 400m relay in the 2000 summer Olympics.
Our decline was also as swift as our rise after we began to politicise all aspects of national life. Our value system changed dramatically after citizens saw that the leadership had loosened its belt whilst urging the masses to tighten theirs. Some of our ‘small girls’ began to have ‘big gods’ and several ‘benefit Papa’ whilst the ‘smart boys’ savaged the internet, with ‘Invictus Obi’ and ‘Hushpuppi’ as poster boys. The rest invested their time in watching ‘Big Brother Naija,’ content with letting the old brigade alter the masterplan of their destiny.
Where we hitherto pleaded with ‘Andrew’ not to ‘check out’, citizens quickly embraced brain drain. Doctors and other professionals left our shores in droves. Ministers lied to us that we had enough doctors to cope with medical emergencies and it took the outset of the Coronavirus pandemic to burst the bubble. But for COVID-19, only God knows how many more people would have left Nigeria. Or how much of scarce foreign exchange would have been lost to medical tourism. At the heart of these challenges is the absence of purposeful leadership.
Contrary to what many Nigerians tend to believe, our country is not difficult to govern. All that is needed is a partnership of visionary leadership and a followership that is not awed by ephemeral power. Both need to truly ‘pledge to Nigeria,’ not submit to the whims of individuals or political parties. Both need to recognise that public service is a social contract that makes a clear distinction between ‘national’ and ‘self’ interest. Much of the responsibility to enforce the contract, however, reside in us, the people, rather than in the leadership.
Time and again, the leadership cartel in Nigeria have remorselessly demonstrated strong belief in the doctrine of taking from the poor to comfort the rich. By the same token, the masses who are the real repository of power need to be guided to vigorously exercise their franchise to demand good governance and accountability. ‘Ask and ye shall be given,’ the good book says.
The viewpoints of the leadership and the followership are, however, not necessarily antithetical as the late Premier of the Northern Region and Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, demonstrated when he echoed similar sentiments, saying: “I’m convinced and I want you to be convinced that the future of this vast country must depend in the main on the efforts of ourselves to help ourselves. This we cannot do if we do not work together in unity.”
In a similar vein, the late elder statesman, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, outlined a simple treatise on the route to purposeful leadership. Said he: “It is only when the minds of men have been properly and rigorously cultivated and garnished that they can be safely entrusted with public affairs with a certainty and assuredness that they will make the best of their unique opportunity and assignment.” The import is that Nigeria does not suffer a dearth of good leaders. But we need to be rid of the rancid air of the political space, which keeps good people away from public service to avoid asphyxiation.
The point in all of this is that if, as individuals, we demonstrate love for Nigeria by being a lot more alive to our civic responsibility, much of what ails Nigeria would be correctly diagnosed and treated. Just the other day, I travelled to Dubai with an Indian professional colleague to attend an all-agencies public relations conference for a blue-chip multinational company. While on the queue to clear immigration and customs, we both noticed that Nigerian travellers received extra- attention from airport officials. My friend whispered to me: “see, we’re brothers. Your passport and my passport, nobody likes them.” How true! Today, with India at number 85 and Nigeria at 97, we remain ‘brothers.’ This makes me sad. And angry. Tell me, who wouldn’t be?
But rather than put my country down, I choose to see the good in Nigeria. Just like a man deeply in love, I will rather find that one good reason to stay in a relationship even when there are hundreds of persuasive reasons to leave. I choose to side with the people who counsel others “not to forget that the first duty of every global citizen is to set right what is wrong in our country.” I love Nigeria.
But I will no longer settle for leadership that promotes blind patriotism; I will not allow anyone to “piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.” If, as a leader, you must earn my respect, then you must heed the paraphrased immortal words of Chief Awolowo: ‘you must be prepared to grasp the nettle, set a worthy example in probity, unselfishness and self-sacrifice and the people will follow all too readily in your footsteps.’ Makes sense.
- Dotun Adekanmbi is a Lagos-based media relations practitioner.
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