Christians of a Roman Catholic hue have just ended a year dedicated to a more intense building of their faith. On the feast of Christ the King when the solemn farewell to one of the causes of Pope Emeritus Benedict XV took place a woman from far away Kwara State came to visit me with her son who works for an Oil company. She had heard me speak about a favourite cause of mine, nation building in Nigeria and decided she would not leave town without a chance of urging a path for the journey of how to save Nigeria. She was clearly a woman of faith.
Mrs. Williams went through a lot of trouble to get the organizers of the event I spoke at to give her my contact because she believed there were still enough honest, committed and passionate citizens who could save Nigeria. The problem for her was that they were scattered and not networked so they feel alone and appear ineffective. She wanted to encourage me, urge not giving up and ask how a network of those who believe could be built. She was encouraged herself, according to her, by what she hears ordinary people say in such public transportation vehicles as the bus which brought her from Ilorin to Lagos.
The irony in her visit, was that the day before after teaching a heated Executive MBA, class on International Trade Policy at the Lagos Business School, I had encountered an old banker I shared my hope for the future with, the result coming from how the MBA students responded to ideas hitherto to alien to them, about purchasing Power Parity, Exchange rates, and the challenge of the Prebisch thesis on Import Substitution. The banker of yesterday had, in counsel, pleaded with me to take a good vacation, accept the standing invitation to teach a seminar at John’s Hopkins and try to enjoy what was left of my life. Nigeria for him was beyond redemption.
Is Nigeria salvageable? If you have faith, then hope is an imperative of that, and with some love in your heart, you cannot but see the silver lining. One of the most confounding dilemmas of my life of social concern has been the question of how you best add value that ultimately leads to the greater good: shout about the wrong, so that track is abandoned, or focus on the silver lining that people not fall into despair. The score, especially as it will remain matter of a factual counterpoint, a question to which a definitive answer is improbable, will continue to blow in the wind. In matters like these you have to have faith, perhaps a good reason why Kola Olutimehin titled my biography he wrote, ‘Keeping Faith’. I have to admit that from time to time I shift from being critical to showing the silver lining, attracting equally angry reaction from those who see the glass as either half full or half empty.
At a time when the internet is full of documentation suggesting that Nigeria is currently in legal limbo, the amalgamation lease having expired after 99 years in January 2013 and that what has force of law currently is the colony of Lagos and the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, as an entity quite different from protectorate of Northern Nigeria we cannot but look at the value of salvaging Nigeria.
Can we be so masochist that we are allowing a great gift, Nigeria, accidental occurrence or not, to die on our hands? My sense is that people do not connect action and consequence in nation building so easily. A good example is the much talked about corruption. A good example is the recent experience of someone I know who went to the Federal Ministry of Trade to register a product to be imported. The gentleman was calmly told the process takes months but can be done for a month for a gratification. Then the formal amount payable to the ministry was stated as N120, 000. 00. The person requested for the collecting bank and was told it was paid there at the ministry. On producing the money the person asked for a receipt but was told, the runners around would go to the bank and then have a receipt for him thereafter. Two days later he got a receipt that read N15, 000.00 and was calmly told without apologies that was the way things were. The citizen was stunned beyond his capacity to contemplate impunity. Worse still, he had no place to turn to for complaints. But he was more astonished that the wretched looking civil servant who had extorted so much money from him could not tell that someday he could be the victim and that such habits reduced the momentum of enterprise and the possibilities on economic prosperity for all.
In an environment where impunity is norm and the denominator of voice is perceived size of a bank account, what does the citizen Mrs. Williams wants to network do? Lament his fortune of place of birth, join them, fight them, speak truth to power but step gently because the system constantly seeks to deny the Maverick iconoclast oxygen.
Good evidence of my limitations is that I am not sure what the answer should be. It’s this way today and a little that way tomorrow. The only emotion I confess I have never experienced is giving up on Nigeria. ‘Nigeria will rise up again’ is my motto because I know that if Indonesia could overcome Gunnar Myrdal’s death sentence in Asian Co ‘efficient of income distribution, Nigeria can reclaim the promise of its founding fathers.
Pat Utomi, a Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship, is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.
Source- Pat Utomi