By Osmund Agbo
Jean and I crossed path few years ago, mostly out of mutual necessity. It was early in my career and I had to undergo a certain kind of training in an upscale hospital in the heart of Manhattan. As one would expect in such a highbrow setting in the US, we were part of a few sprinkles of people of color in a sea of white faces. At the time, Jean was a freshly minted nurse practitioner trying to steady his feet in a challenging work environment. I was to the rescue.
For me, he was about the only person in the entire place I hung out with and didn’t feel the need to watch my back. With Jean, I could just be me and didn’t need to censor my words or practice and choreograph my every move. It just came so natural to strike a fraternal bond with this gentleman from the Carribeans. Or as I used to call him, my African brother in the diaspora.
Jean was a history buff and every little time spent with him felt like a drop-in on a doctorate level black history class . He was an unrepentant Pan-Africanist in awe of Nkuruma and Malcom X. He was fascinated by everything African but moreso with Nigeria. His obsession with Nollywood movies was something out of this world and I often watched him rave about the stately mansions and luxury automobiles in flamboyant displays. He loved them all.
In between those blings however, Jean still managed to notice the wide disparity between private possessions (the mansions and cars) and public utilities and institutions (roads and hospitals). While he believed most Nigerians were like Akeem in Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America, he couldn’t wrap his head around the glaringly decrepit infrastructure on display.
Good public institutions and basic infrastructures were so hard to find that Nigeria could pass off as the poorest of the poor countries even by sub-Saharan Africa’s standard. He was right. Sadly enough, he was not the first to make such a startling observation.
It’s very true that poor and corrupt leadership is at the front and center of the issues in Nigeria. Fact, however, is that Nigeria’s problems go way beyond leadership. The average Nigerian hardly understands his duty as a citizen.
For him, it’s not about how to help build a better and prosperous nation but about an easier and quicker ways to profit off of his country to help himself and his family stay ahead. He places limitless expectation of what his country owes him but feels no iota of obligation or responsibility in return.
He could care less about acts that undercuts the Nigerian state and has the tendency to downplay the criminality and immorality of infractions committed against her. He fails to make a connection between his role in his society and the kind of society he wants to live in. He can’t seem to understand that the fortune of his family is inextricably tied to that of his country.
How do we explain that In 2018, Nigeria overtook India to become the poverty capital of the world and yet in that same year we made headlines as the country with the most black billionaires.
According to a recent data from the National Bureau of Statistics, more than 82 million people making up about forty percent of Nigerians live on less than $1 a day. Yet, our political leaders and their allies in the private sector brazenly collaborate with predatory multinationals to plunder away Nigeria’s wealth.
Few years ago there was the story of a very influential politician traveling from Warri to Port Harcourt in a convoy of multiple Rolls Royce. It was such a conscienceless and meaningless display of wealth that has become so commonplace in our society today.
Along the way, however, his entourage got involved in an accident. Sadly enough, he didn’t make it. Though he only sustained a non life-threatening cut to his upper torso, he couldn’t make the two hours journey through a treacherous alley on time to the nearest hospital. He simply bled to death. That was an unnecessary death that could have been avoided in any society with the most basic Emergency Medical Services(EMS) or a good network of roads.
The same could be said of the impact of Covid-19. Now that every country had closed its borders, the lethal virus is ravaging the rich with the same ferocity it’s consuming the poor. There is no question that more lives could have been saved had leaders of Nigeria made the necessary investment in our healthcare delivery system, instead of hoping to catch the next flight to Europe and America on a whim.
Truth is, the Nigerian elite is yet to realize that in a failed society everyone is a potential victim. A young Nigerian entrepreneur had it aptly stated.
“Personal success cannot insulate you from the failures of your society”
It’s time for Nigerians to start asking how they can support Nigeria. At the height of the Asian financial crisis in 1998, many South Koreans sold their personal jewelry collections to help the country repay her debt owed to the IMF. How many wealthy Nigerians would be willing to pay a fair share of taxes and not bribe their way out?
Like everything good, we cannot just wish our dream country into existence. It’s the duty of every citizen to make the sacrifices necessary to build a better nation. A strong and prosperous Nigeria will be of greatest service to Nigerians as well as offer a ray of hope to the entire black race.
*Dr.Agbo is the President/CEO of African Center for Transparency and lives in the US.