By Dr. Israel Ovirih
Who will bail us out?
Who will damn the consequence (and the consequences)?
Who will bell the cat?
Who has been sent?
Who has sent himself?
Who has the much-sought code?
Who understands the issues? Who has the depth?
Who knows the breadth?
Who? I ask…WHO?
These were the questions which troubled my mind, as I listened to the great leader, Lee Kuan Yew in a video.
Contrary to the widespread belief that some marriages are made in heaven, I believe all marriages are made on earth, not in heaven. Likewise, I believe also that leadership, like the Singaporean one led by Lee was made on earth and not in the heavens, nor in any religious or pious realm.
Having listened to the leader’s very frank, thought-provoking and nakedly honest speech delivered at his last Singaporean National Day, I could see Lee Kuan Yews’ speech was very transparent, honest and spot-on to the issues facing the nation. This last public engagement with his people, Singaporeans, made me weep for Nigeria. I wept for myself and, indeed, my generation. Hardly do you hear any speech, worth its salt from our political leadership today, laden with passion, truth, zeal-to-deliver and commitments.
Hear him, “the difference in Singapore was that a group of men in 1963, 1964 and 1965 while in Malaysia decided there is no other way in which they can live. We are going to live only one life, if we have to die we will die for a cause – that’s what made Singapore possible. we couldn’t be placated and settle for less” He went further “On the eve of the national day, I told my colleague that lets get our best and ablest men into politics, let’s avoid hypocrisy and let’s do this thing honestly.”
As you ponder on the last statement, he declared further “if you try to get government on the cheap, you end up with a cheap government and you will be sorry for yourselves” See how today, as Nigerians, we are sorry for ourselves!
One of his messages that was very apt for Nigeria was when Lee said “the first job of government is to equalize opportunities, not equalize results. You equalize results, you are done for! You end up with “iron rice bowl” where nobody works, everybody does their minimum, and you end up with “very little rice in the bowl” and finally “if you vote in jokers, cranks, weak men, and charlatans with some gift of the gab, you run a very serious risk of losing everything that you have”
So a nation must face its problem squarely and cannot decree its solution into existence. “As a leader if you know that the problem is going to get worse, it is totally irresponsible to leave, without solving it because the recognition that there is a problem, means that there is a solution”
In my few years in this clime, I have dined with the proletariat. I have also been privileged to wine with very powerful men and political leaders (of all sorts), from 1995 through to 2020. Quite frankly, from these close engagements, I could’nt see men who saw the future, and acted with the future in mind. I didn’t see light and fire in the Nigerian political leadership, for the advancement of the nation. I could not feel the fire and will for development in their thoughts, body language and deeds. All I saw in the bone of their bones and the thought of their thoughts were deep-rooted ignorance, aggravated nepotism, systemic intellectual laziness, omo-onile mindset and self-aggrandizement. For me, in Nigeria… even after years of pushing away the military, it has been the blind leading the blind and all sounds of fury signifying nothing.
When I read how Singapore triumphantly transited to become part of the First World or, better put, become an advanced country in the committee of nations, I was persuaded to agree to the postulation that, perhaps, there is something inherently wrong with the black man (and maybe the theorists are just right) that the Black Man, alas Nigerians like me, are offspring of the generation of Esau and the White Man sired from the loins of Jacob!
After almost 60 years of independence and trillions of Naira expended by successive governments, military and civilian, we can barely feed ourselves. We import virtually everything, including the furniture, cutleries and matchboxes in our homes. It has even been widely circulated that the toothpicks used by our presidents and peasants alike have been coming from faraway China. Our currency, the Naira, has suffered disastrous knockouts from the US Dollar, despite our huge earnings in dollars (from the exports of crude oil, which we barely have the capacity to refine). When a Nigerian State Governor receives the monthly allocation from FAAC, or better put the federation account, you need to see the rush to buy dollars from the black market, by politicians and contractors alike, and within 48 hours, millions of dollars have been transferred overseas through our banking system. Why won’t a Dollar sell for N480.0 with this our omo-onile mentality?
We complain about money laundering on one side, while our banks and financial institutions are heavy collaborators and pipe-drains for these illegal operations on the other hand. We all complain and pretend as if some unidentifiable flying objects (UFOs) are behind these transfers; many of which have no direct value to our motherland!
The inequalities between the haves and the have-nots is rather alarming, that statistics have confirmed over eighty percent of our people live below $2.0 a day. Come to think of it, if Nigeria’s public sector spending annually is $30.0 billion, Nigeria and Nigerians barely derive twenty percent real value for these expenditures! This is because the missing eighty percent value is either stolen openly or diverted quietly into illicit bank accounts in Europe and China with connivance of our professional bankers. What a people? It has taken over 20 years by successive civilian governments to fix the less-than-120 kilometer Lagos-Ibadan expressway…and by the records, we are one of China’s largest debtors in the continent of Africa.
Our infrastructure is in comatose, while our hospitals have become mere consulting clinics. With billions of dollars expended on our military, our soldiers are barely brave or bold enough to confront terrorists, due to the higher firepower of the boko haram terrorists.
We have spent the last thirty years struggling to get our abundant iron ore out of the ground and process it for industrial uses, (to jumpstart the much-talked about industrial revolution) not for lack of technology. The ugly truth about Ajaokuta for the past forty (40) years is that, our politicians and civil servants have turned the Ajaokuta project to a hole-in-the-pocket pipedream, from which successive governments and their foreign collaborators steal state monies into their private pockets. It is rather very very sad.
The CAMA 2020 Act, meant to ease the culture of doing business has over- empowered the corporate registrars – CAC with so much power that it can literarily commit suicide openly and get away with it. Our CAC is now a prosecutor and judge in its own case. God help corporate Nigeria!
Please pray, that I do not mention the rot, at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC); for which the forensic administrators, administrative ministry and the lawmakers are all culpable, or have fainted. I won’t just weep, but will also faint, and “please off your mic”. Quite sadly, the nation’s political leaders up to the presidency are not only culpable over their total continued silence, but also for the hypocrisy displayed so far over this official-ized corruption.
My studies on the history of economic development globally enlightened me that formulating and executing an effective development agenda that will take Nigeria to Eldorado is not rocket science. Rather, it is simple: it must be built on the fundamental pillars of commitment, knowledge, handiwork (and hard work) and honesty in our leadership and indeed, the followership. All these vital ingredients to greatness are totally lacking. Pathetic enough, our youths have become active emigrants, and forced “desert citizens of the UAE” even in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic which ravages Africa and the rest of the world.
A long-held belief in Africa is this: if the head of a fish is rotten, you can be sure that the rest of the body will be affected. Sadly, this is the story of our youths. The youths are not different from uncontrollable wine drinkers, drunken in their ignorance and the addiction to the sins of their fathers, the gerontocrats. Who then will bell the cat? If the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous indeed do?
Of course, this is why I wail and shed tears on a daily basis, having lost hope in the gerontocracy that has been our lot, directly or indirectly, since 1999.
I am on a journey. It is a maze of a journey in which I ponder, think and re-imagine where our help might come from. Who will help steer this ship of our nation (that is daily heading towards the rocks) to safety? I am even in doubt if these so-called elders realize at all, we are entrapped in this perpetual drifting, the aimless and rudderless perambulations to the right and left…and then, to the front and the back. Perhaps the elders, yet enwrapped in their smug antiquity, are not even aware!
One of my good friends, Lai Labode, recently concluded that “the journey to a greater Nigeria is inundated with the weed of illiteracy, paralyzed by the poison of corruption and bedeviled by the littleness of ambition in its youth.” Hmmmm….
Maybe the solution is in our youths; maybe there are saviors yet among our youths; maybe there are fertile minds around, lurking somewhere, waiting to save this sinking ship. Who knows? I hope we all are not seen, at the end, to have labored in vain.
A Chinese proverb says “Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” with the over-religious, over-zealousness and get-rich-quick culture in this clime, our people, governments, youths and religious leaders are all cursing the darkness, and not lighting the candle! So sad!
The yahoo-yahoo culture and the drift towards hush-puppism by our youths in the “not-truly-real-instagraming world” is of great concern to me. Thank God for EFCC, FBI and their collaborators in stemming the increasing tides of internet fraud and business email compromise crimes. By the way, for how long shall we remain ignorance of what truly works? and what will never work in the race to individual, corporate and national prosperity. Even God is only committed to blessing the works of our hands, and not committed to what we decree into existence, without work.
The Igbo people in Nigeria say echi-di ime – meaning the future is pregnant and in the throes of labour. Yet, we do not know if the baby will make us excited with the shrill cries of life, or remain quiet in stillbirth.
May my tears stop. May our tears stop and may Nigeria and indeed, Nigerians survive. Viva Nigeria!
Dr Israel Ovirih is an investment banker, Serial Entrepreneur, and Tech-Evangelist