In Nigeria, everyone is a victim. The rich, the poor, the welder, the banker, and everyone. The rich citizens believe they have paid taxes and nothing is returned through government services. The not-so-rich citizens believe the nation has rigged opportunities against them. From the north to the south, east and west, everyone has a problem with Nigeria.
Take a trip to Bayelsa State’s Kolo Creek. You will see wealth out of the sands, but walk few kilometers from the flow stations, you will see poverty. As an intern for Shell, I slept inside one of those Kolo Creek buildings. I had the best food possible, but was troubled in the evenings when the villagers would gather looking for crumbs to gather for dinner. I wept; it was painful to see mothers with daughters eating from crumbs in the midst of unbounded wealth in their lands.
Then I was sent to an Akwa Ibom village close to the aluminum smelting company. We had gone to mount telecom equipment. As far I could see, the waters were polluted. Yes, waters everywhere but not a single drop to drink. That day, we went through Ogoni, connecting with boats to Akwa Ibom. The villagers needed water, but could not find any, even when living nearly on top of water. Very painful.
Then I left the East/South for NYSC, and went to the North. I was stunned. What I saw in southern Nigeria was even manageable. As a student that grew up in the East, the mindset was that North was a paradise and the Southern part was marginalized. I am not saying otherwise here. I saw small kids begging for food, at scale, in Bauchi. That was not a possibility in Owerri. My heart broke because everyone is really marginalized in Nigeria. I had a different perspective of Nigeria.
Yes, everyone is a victim, in Nigeria. The difference is the form. The kids I saw in Bauchi were marginalized just as the villagers in Bayelsa. Nigeria needs to work for them. Let men and women be selfish enough to fix our commerce and markets even as they get rewarded for doing so. Let the greed of capitalism work in the land. We are positioned and we have opportunities, far ahead of many of our people. If things are this bad now, imagine the post-petroleum era when our small national budgets cannot even be funded.
Our Moments Now
Nigeria needs a new campaign on nationalism to enable us achieve great success through societal energy. It must be based on substance, and fueled by visible economic roadmaps for all citizens to connect. Nationalism will deliver the energy to build our nation. From everywhere, internally and around the world, government must mobilize our citizens. These citizens will help to develop a national pride and confidence and geopolitical strategy with skill and effectiveness to harness our national power for national purpose by using our cottage of intellectuals, artisans, professionals and patriots. Today, we are fighting: APC vs PDP. East vs North. Ekiti vs. Kaduna. It is a shame.
The economic, political and institutional evolutions in Nigeria since oil became the mainstay of the economy remain largely non-core-market parasitic gains fueled by high oil prices worldwide. Our nation has not decoupled her fate from oil. The progress we have made in agriculture before the dawn of petroleum is equivalent to the progress made in our traditional African medicine which remains largely lost. So while we have knowledge, we have destroyed the process of our learning and experience.
Our economy must be diversified towards evolution of potential synchronous regional growth sources across all states of our nation. This will drive an efficient, business-friendly regional system that will support the present effervescence in our economy. A system that will move us from potentially episodic and ephemeral achievements of the present capital markets to a diffused learning that will transform artisans, traders, sculptors and farmers and move them up to learn and apply at higher levels. It also has to offer programs in form of support for small and medium enterprises (SME).
The Change Initiative must not just plan for the adjustments necessary within the next few years, but must develop strategic and tactical visions required for the economy to maneuver any upheaval which would occur as the oil wells dry and our foreign earnings draw down.
The military has ranks and they enjoy opportunities associated with the ranks. Today, every educated Nigerian, at least to OND, has opportunities to lead and act. Most of us here are positioned, ahead of many of our compatriots, and we have this moment to lead. The poverty in the land is huge. It is not just a political problem. It goes beyond the politicians. It is a national problem. This is our moment to unlock trade, to give sons, daughters, mothers and fathers opportunities to work, and build not just today but the future of the nation. I want to wish everyone happy Independence ahead and do hope that Oct 1 will bring a new spirit of unity in the land.