Nigeria: A Wastrel’s Paradise, By ‘Tope Fasua

…the best way to rise above Donald is not to get in the gutter with him. Pride is good. It helps. But at the stage that we are, humility is better. We should also know that this feedback is important to remind us that our mandate is for the entire black race. And our failures affect an entire race too. We cannot afford this backwardness.

The world’s looniest leader so far (and he’s by far crazier than that guy in North Korea), Donald Trump, called countries like Nigeria, shitholes. That has been causing a wave of reactions. The other day he allegedly asked Nigerians to go back to their “huts”, and while campaigning, he allegedly made a statement that Nigerians should go back and fix their country, rather than come to the USA to take American jobs away. He accused the leaders of Nigeria of stealing all of their people’s monies which they stash in his country. Hear him;

“Why can’t they stay in their own country? Why? I’ll tell you why. Because they are corrupt… Their governments are so corrupt. They rob the people blind and bring it all here to spend and their people run away and come down here and take our jobs… We need to get the Africans out. Not the blacks, the Africans. Especially the Nigerians. They’re everywhere… We can’t have that! If I become president, we’ll send them all home. We’ll build a wall at the Atlantic Shore… Then maybe, we’ll re-colonise Africans because obviously they did not learn a damn thing from the British…. I went for a rally in Alaska and met just one African in the entire state. Where was he from? Nigeria! He’s in Alaska taking our jobs. They’re in Houston taking our jobs”.

Although his team tried to deny the above statement, it couldn’t have been made up. It was classic Trump. He says outrageous things like that. I could even imagine his gesticulations and facial expressions as I read the statement. But, hate him all you like, I think this guy is doing us a favour. And by Jove, he is right on all counts.

It took a microphone malfunction for us to know exactly what David Cameron thinks about us: a “fantastically corrupt” country he said, as he chuckled to the Queen of England, Archbishop of Canterbury, and other dignitaries, even as President Buhari lumbered through immigration into that country for another needless anti-corruption conference. Buhari had then agreed with Cameron, asking that our monies stashed in his country be repaid to Nigeria. No one is sure if anyone heeded his call though. Even James Ibori that was in their custody had been released by that time. No country cleans another’s mess. Certainly not without a huge fee.

I just alighted from a flight in which Nigerians displayed who they were as usual. Up in business and first class were Nigeria’s lawmakers; including some who had no pedigree before ‘winning’ elections by hook or crook. Buhari’s government made some feeble attempt to get them to be less wasteful, but he himself failed to lead by example, and now we are back to square one. The point is: What work have we done to deserve the luxuries we have now taken for granted at the expense of the vast majority of our people, who actually live, work and thrive in places that cannot be described as anything else, but shitholes?

Let me explain the term ‘shithole’. It means a dirty, despicable and depressing place. A place neglected and unfit for human habitation. Now, I can show you a hundred of such places in Abuja alone; right under the president’s window. 70 percent of Nigerians crawl out of these ghettos on a daily basis. They seem to have accepted their lots that things could never be better than this. They have no water, electricity or roads. They depend on native medicine men when ill, and if there is a fire disaster, well, they pray to God. In those places reside tricksters who further extract the little these people have, in the name of God. Shitholes are tinderboxes; it is so easy for these poor people to explode and turn on each other. Now take a pause. Can you see how many shitholes are in Nigeria? Just how many parts of Nigeria are on fire right now? Shitholes are places of immense poverty, and Nigerian leaders, while they gorged on food, wine and expensive foreign travel, have actively made a shithole out of Nigeria. I fail to be riled by Trump’s stupid statement. The man has always been a clown. I choose to see this instead, as a wake up call. For Nigeria, and for all black people everywhere. Enough is enough! We cannot continue to live like this. The world is only giving our leaders the needed and past-due feedback. Almost none of them bother to visit the real people where the live, except to ‘campaign’ and deceive them.

In every ministry, department and agency, you see these things – expensive equipment parked in one corner, usually cannibalised by lower staff when no one is looking; luxury cars which were bought because it was the ‘right’ of such agencies to do so, not necessarily because they needed them, caked in another corner, or run down and abandoned under one year.

Beyond corruption (and closely related with it) is a serious problem though – wastefulness. All that is going on with us is as a result of a shocking, unmindful and heartless culture of waste. We seem not to care about the value of our resources. A single person gets into political or bureaucratic positions and empties the treasury. For the average top civil servant or politician, no amount of money is too big to grab and waste. They send the monies abroad using several schemes, and use the rest to acquire properties that are wasting away locally; unoccupied. Yet they steal more. Much of the stealing that goes on is because the initial loot was wasted; taken from them – usually – by smarter Alecs, home and abroad. Nigeria pays for the tardiness of its ruling class. No matter how much they steal, there is still more to loot to compensate for losing what was initially stolen. Nigeria’s ruling class cannot believe their luck; superintending over such an infinitely docile people. They even got smarter. Sending their children to the best schools abroad is the best form of money laundering. I read an interview by an House of Reps member who stated that many of his 22 (and counting) children don’t know him apart from Adam. All these children are being raised on Nigeria’s taxes and will soon grow up as Aristos, heading for the best universities because their father was a politician who reckoned he is of royal breed just because of access to political power.

Nigeria is a place where we embark on harebrained projects with public money, and abandon them for fun. More than 10,000 of such projects dot the country. It is a country where there is no need to have a proper plan for spending the commonwealth, and where people grab as much as they can from people’s taxes, rates, duties and fines, including proceeds of wasting natural resources, just because they are close to such monies, and have the power to. Every yearly budget is a charade and a joke, with people inserting all sorts of nonsense for their own fancy. In every government, there is a tight click of people, who can do and undo. They have no mercy on the people. Nigeria is where we can buy things we do not need just for the heck of it, dump it somewhere and look for the next scam to undertake.

In every ministry, department and agency, you see these things – expensive equipment parked in one corner, usually cannibalised by lower staff when no one is looking; luxury cars which were bought because it was the ‘right’ of such agencies to do so, not necessarily because they needed them, caked in another corner, or run down and abandoned under one year. It is nothing to smash a government car or property, dump it at a mechanic workshop and move on like nothing happened. Nobody accounts for anything here. Buildings are acquired in a fancy because one big man or his mistress felt entitled to them. Vouchers abound for fancy trips to where Nigeria was not required to make any input. Nigeria is a country with no sense of urgency, and no value for money. And we have become unteachable. Many of the people who administer Nigeria have never done a day’s business before, and so they cannot be business-like in public administration. I believe that for someone who hasn’t done business before and doesn’t know how tough it is to make money in today’s world, suddenly being exposed to billions of dollars and trillions of naira can run them insane. And insane they’ve become.

When all this situation is combined with village-induced senses of entitlement and some spiritually-infused senses of superiority, a disaster stage is set. A modern mindset is needed in every stage of leadership in order to achieve progress… a mindset that understands the value of things and the difficulty of creating, inventing and innovating – the very essence of global progress.

I believe Nigeria has gone beyond its Marie Antoinette moment; that moment that angered the French into a revolution because the Queen asked them to eat cake if they cannot find bread. Nigerians are not just tolerant, we are ignorant, we are permissive, we are nepotistic, we are often primitive. We don’t care who is bleeding us to death. We only want to know if he’s our brother, our tribesman, and if we pray the same way. Otherwise these things ought to have stopped.

Nigeria has drifted beyond the pale. We have gone over the bar. A nation that should have measured its progress in real terms since 1960 has evolved into a nation where less than 5,000 people (politicians, top civil servants and a handful of private sector cohorts) live in unimaginable, unwarranted, unaccounted-for luxury; another 50,000 may be comfortable (but usually with no sound, productive basis to their comfort); a few thousands more live from hand to mouth on paltry salaries, while the vast majority are lost in a wilderness of despair, existing in, well, shitholes and not knowing that they’ve been hit.

We cannot afford 15 million children out of school. That is a classic shithole. We cannot afford having 60 percent of our people in extreme poverty. That is another shithole. We cannot afford non-availability of the basic necessities of life. We cannot afford for a few to colonise all our resources. We cannot afford not to be able to produce anything worthwhile. We cannot afford to be a shithole country.

Countries that understand productivity – that actually produce stuff – understand the value of things. But Nigeria is the worst-governed country in the world; a country where senators also earn money as ex-governors, where ex-governors write into state laws, millions of dollars as pensions, where ex-presidents – old men at their very twilights – see nothing wrong in collecting luxury cars every four years (or huge cash in lieu). A country of grab, grab, grab. A country where people feel no shame acquiring blingy things of life with the resources that should have been spent to make the lives of their children better, or even to save for those coming behind. A country where the poor are being rammed down deeper into poverty, where the big men claim to be unable to pay the paltry salaries of workers for months, while they revel in byzantine opulence. A country where people have no conscience, such that they plunder old people’s pensions, to buy what they don’t need just to impress those who they don’t like! A country where many decision-makers, and those who get reveled, are merely concerned with showing off because it isn’t given to them to think and imagine the world broadly.

We are nothing but a wastrel’s paradise. As you read this, new wastefulness is going on. Hopeless projects that were not thought through will be approved, started and abandoned. We see nothing wrong with that. People who should never come near our commonwealth will gain access and empty us out some more. Perhaps Trump was right. Try and see through his racist eyes. Transport yourself to a streetside in New York or anywhere, even the poor areas. Look around you and imagine the effort of putting that place together; the inspiration? Imagine how long the things you see have endured. Then come to Nigeria. Go to even the ‘rich’ areas. What can you see? Dilapidation that’s what. Yes, you can see filth where it shouldn’t be. You can see that we as a people have no time for maintenance. You must even remember that absolutely nothing of what we use to brag in life today, is made by us. Not the cement with which we build, or the shiny facades we put on our houses. Not the coal tar on our roads, or the railings on our bridges. Not even the clothes that cover our nakedness. Nothing! Are we humbled? No. We want the most luxurious of all luxuries. We are entitled by every means.

And so when we compare this place to the measurable progress other lands are making, when we consider what it takes to actually put working nations together – the concentration, presence of mind, determination, technology, precision and what have you, and see how we throw money into the Atlantic here on a daily basis, it is difficult to disagree, not even for patriotic reasons. What Trump and his likes have told us is that it is high time to get dead serious. He has told us just how far we have to catch up and how fast we have to move; from shithole to basic human existence. By his statement he has informed Nigerians that it doesn’t matter how much phonetics you speak, how much foreign schools you attended, how much money you’ve made and how many degrees you acquired, how many friends you have abroad and how fantastic your looks are; it doesn’t matter what title you hold in Nigeria, you’re from a dirty, depressing country which became so because of your omission, or commission. This is another moment – which we are most likely to waste as usual – for us to learn some humility. We would get angry and forget to do the work. We will fail as usual to think for the collective. We will continue along our selfish lines. We will continue to amass and oppress.

While all this was going on, I came across the name that the Chinese called the USA. No, they don’t call it USA or America. They have their own names for everything. They don’t even call their own country ‘China’. They call it ‘Zhongguo’ (the middle country). They believe their country is in the centre of the world (well all countries are in the centre of the world depending on where you view things from. They call USA, Menguo, translated to mean ‘the beautiful country’. During the second World War they called Germany ‘the virtuous country’, even though they were on the opposite side of the war. If there is something the Chinese have that we need, it is not their technology or their rails. It is their humility. Calling USA, the beautiful country, on a daily basis for more than 100 years has not stopped the Chinese from turning theirs into an even more beautiful country, even though the average Chinese man will tell you today how they are still struggling, while a Nigerian man puts his pride upfront and announces to the world how he has arrived; how his is the giant of Africa, blah blah. You will never catch a Chinese leader refer to any other nation as a ‘shithole country’, and so the best way to rise above Donald is not to get in the gutter with him. Pride is good. It helps. But at the stage that we are, humility is better. We should also know that this feedback is important to remind us that our mandate is for the entire black race. And our failures affect an entire race too. We cannot afford this backwardness.

We cannot afford 15 million children out of school. That is a classic shithole. We cannot afford having 60 percent of our people in extreme poverty. That is another shithole. We cannot afford non-availability of the basic necessities of life. We cannot afford for a few to colonise all our resources. We cannot afford not to be able to produce anything worthwhile. We cannot afford to be a shithole country. We need to un-shithole Nigeria.

Can we then take the lessons and make amends? Starting now?

‘Tope Fasua, an Economist, author, blogger and entrepreneur, can be reached through topsyfash@yahoo.com.

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