Over the years, the concept of writing from abroad has increased tremendously. One major aspect of these writings is the act of criticising the government. There are many internet sites that are dedicated to news and stories about Nigeria and there are several others that accept contributory articles from Nigerians abroad. Substantial numbers of these sites are operated by Nigerians living in the Diaspora. The emergence and spread of blog writing has availed much. Blogs are provided by many ISPs and your location is not a factor. You can write from anywhere in the world, even from your bedroom.
There are many Nigerian scholars among these foreign based writers who are inspired by the contrast of the new world that they found themselves in comparison to the life that they had known until the time that they sought greener pastures far away from home.
I will exclude myself from this category because I wrote my first (but short article around 1990 in the Guardian). The title of the article was FESTAC, FHA and LAND SELLING. I don’t remember the exact date on the article and I don’t even have a copy of it. But I remembered that I complained bitterly about the spate of land selling in Festac Town. As kids, we were losing all our playgrounds to some funny millionaires. They had stolen money from the treasury and they all wanted a piece of land/houses in Festac at all cost. It was the vogue then to have a house along Cocaine Avenue as it was called. Some called it naira burial ground. But Houses were also built on almost anything including electric cables. To this day, one major reason that power fails in Festac is because of this acrimonous negligence.
Today as I sit down in my humble apartment on a Scandinavian Island, I recollect my recent sights of Nigeria in 2006 and the ruin of a village called Festac Town. It is a dull shadow of the Virgin Island and peaceful serenity that I saw as a 5 year old in 1977. Our dreams of Festac, just like our dreams of a great Nigeria have all been shattered. It is a typical scenario in Nigeria: make something and NEVER maintain it! Just destroy it to the lowest level possible. The discussion about Festac can be taken later but I wept on this issue really.
After settling to life abroad, the distinctions between the general low standard of living in Nigeria and life as it should be becomes so clear and an adept mind cannot help but seek ways to impact knowledge and hope into a sick country like Nigeria. This to me is the starting block of all the inspirational writings that emanate from abroad.
Nigerians abroad are very visible on the web, no doubts, but that does not make them wiser than their compatriots back home. Certainly, it makes them more exposed and it creates in them a better awareness of the other physical “worlds”. Their experiences go beyond academic or literature inclinations. It is also a function of participatory experiences.
In the last decade, we have seen an aggregate of a pool of knowledge and ideas. Indeed, these knowledge and ideas are expressed daily in Nigeria as well. A quick browse of the Nigerian newspapers online reveal the inundate functions of our media houses. A few of them are very outstanding. Those of them that were not founded by presidential candidates or godfathers are doing magnificent jobs of writing the whole truths.
So, what is driving this new found love of writing and criticizing from abroad? The answers may be many folds but one major factor is the standard of living as earlier mentioned. Again, those who have settled to life abroad have seen how human life is valued and treated as it should be. They have suddenly experience life changing experiences that they cannot imagine was possible. They now live in a world where power failure is historic or archaic, for example. In some countries power failures occur only as a result of disasters like storm or earthquake. Even then, the problem is fixed within hours or a few days. It does not linger.
This write up should not continue without mentioning and very quickly too that living abroad does come with challenges, shortcomings and sometimes failure. Surely, such things happen. It is also good to mention that there are evil things around us in Europe and of course very prominent in the United States. We have seen and read very bad tales about Nigerians abroad and Westerners alike. These negative things can be discussed in another article.
But generally, living abroad reveals a more acceptable way of life than what millions of Nigerians go through daily in Nigeria. Around us here in the Diaspora, we see how people live decently. Water runs in homes and the electric heaters are always functioning in the winter months. We travel on good roads and the accidents and dangers on the roads are minimal. It is not accepted to drive without going to a driving school, unless you do it illegally and you are in danger of the law. A prospective driver takes theory courses, practical lessons and practical assessments conducted by the road transport ministry officers. It is a strenuous process especially in Sweden! Without exaggeration, it is possible to spend equivalent of 500, 000 naira without succeeding in getting a driver’s license. If you fail, you fail, there are no short cuts. The concept of driving in Sweden is a pursuit towards what they have called ZERO accidents. Imagine how easy it is to drive in Nigeria without a license. We can see the result with the number of accidents daily. In advanced countries, you will lose your license if you drive under the influence. In Nigeria, you need ogogoro in your blood to be a public bus driver. They have other funny names for the concoctions and “smokes”.
Still on road and transportation, we see how the public transportations are organized. There are bus time tables! If you go to the bus stop near your home at the wrong time, you will soon learn your lessons. Basically, the bus and trains run on a schedule that will almost not fail save for snow storm or other circumstances based on local situations. There are adequate buses and additional preparations are made for rush hours in the morning and after work time. In some countries, there are underground trains to take away pressure and congestion from the roads. The Swedish underground (tunnelbana) has been described as the longest work of art. In Nigeria, the train system is a relic of the outgoing wasted generation. The road transportation is extremely disorganized. It is dangerous and operated haphazardly. It is difficult to know who runs what in the Nigeria transport industry. It is unregulated and chaotic. You can describe what I know of Lagos transport as being a menace to the society. It was not that bad in 1977 when LSTC buses plied festac. It seems that anything that is good is historic in Nigeria.
There are several other reasons why we write as Nigerians in the Diaspora. Many of the reasons are associated with our pains and frustrations with the way things are going on in Nigeria. Based on our new (or old) experiences and encounters out here, we are quick to draw comparisons with what we see. We make jokes of most of these things but in reality, we are disappointed and hurt by the system in Nigeria. Sometimes though, we wished we were back in Nigeria but the decision to return is one of the hardest to make. Despite some shortcomings here abroad and some humiliating moments, one is not quick to make a U-turn to MMA. Imagine returning home and NEPA “taking light” as we use to say. Is it their light? Are people not paying for the light? Imagine the pain of looking for job if you make a polite return!
It is quite disgusting that many Nigerian politicians and policy makers have spent some parts of their lives abroad at one time or the other. Some of them studied abroad while some of them have been travelling abroad since they got into influential positions. Many of them have children abroad studying or squandering away stolen wealth! But their experiences have not been impacted into positivity in Nigeria. But of course, the impact is obvious in their own personal selfish lives. We can see that.
I have not stopped wondering what happened to NITEL. All of a sudden, all the telephone lines in Festac (and in other places of course) especially the analogue lines stopped working since around 2002. If they will be replaced by digital lines, maybe the project will commence tomorrow. After 5 years, no one has given us any explanation why our telephone suddenly became dead boxes. All the ills of NITEL were swept under the carpet as soon as General Street Madness (GSM) crept in. It was a BIG shame for NITEL! There are 4th generations of mobile phones in the world now and the use of analogue telephone lines has not diminished. Why is Nigeria so different and special?
Writing from the Diaspora will continue to indicate that in Nigeria:
- The people are not properly housed as government has become negligent of this function since Festac 1977.
- A lot of infrastructures are missing. Infrastructure with a broad meaning!
- There is no social security for the unemployed and there are no provisions for old people or pensioners. In some parts of the world, pensioners drive the best cars and lived in the best houses. Show me 10 railway pensioners in Nigeria or their counterparts from the Nigerian army or NIPOST and tell me how they live if they have not been involved in looting by government! What if they didn’t have children who are grown up?
- Our health delivery system is very faulty; Nigeria has one of the highest infant mortality rates worldwide. The incidences of killers like malaria and respiratory diseases have not become a source of concern to the Ministry of Health yet or those who are concerned with the task are embezzling the funds. Who knows? Yet Nigerian doctors ranked among the best in the world and they are found in the best hospitals worldwide.
- We have not fully utilized the strength of our work force (more than 140million) to a positive end. Hence some idle minds have taken to robbery and assassination as occupations. They are not justified but the system has created heartless citizens.
- In a similar vein, we have not used our natural resources to the fullest. All eyes are on the Niger Delta to get the oil to lubricate Nigeria. This is not fair to the Niger Deltans at all! We are destroying their environment and giving them little or nothing back. Anyway, the madness of the leaders in this area in the time past robbed the indigenes a lot of their progress. OMPADEC and co…what happened? I have expressed an opinion (which needs review by now) on Niger Delta here:
- There are myriads of problems in our country but our leaders build mansions abroad and cart away billions of dollars for themselves, their friends and family.
On a different note, it is possible and quite easy to highlight the thousands of problems that face us as Nigerians. But how can we begin to make a difference and change things for the better so that we can pull back all the brains that have been drained and encourage progress and success under the conditions in Nigeria?
The first step towards progress in Nigeria is a change of the prevailing conditions; we need a purposeful leadership. Leadership that can show good examples and positive actions and not empty words only. We need complete abolition of the dreadful combination of greed and corruption in both public and private places. Until we take this first step, we may not be able to move Nigeria forward.
A sovereign national conference may not be the issue but there is a need to sit down and draft a purpose for the entity called Nigeria. What I have learned about Nigeria is that nothing has worked. Babangida openly admitted that all what he tried to make Nigeria work defiled all known logic. SAP just like Shagari’s Austerity Measures made Nigerians poorer. It diminished the purchasing power of the naira and made a mess of our lives. But I would say maybe if Babangida hadn’t been corrupt, perhaps things would have worked. If he hadn’t stolen the money that Nigeria made during the gulf war, maybe he would have succeeded. I am still looking forward to Babangida returning that money so that we can build Malaria Research Institute at the College of Medicine of the University of Lagos, for a start at least.
The need to sit down and talk is again amplified by the failure of Obasanjo administration. We were told that we have foreign reserve and less debt. Thank Heaven for that! Yet, the level of suffering in Nigeria today is worse than in 1999. The implication is that we still need the brains that will discuss and move the country forward. It is an exigency! It is not optional because we need to discuss about our lives without relying on the opportunists and thieves in power.
Finally and again, I will never fail to emphasise my gospel at this opportunity. I am an advocate of “common good”. If we seek the common good of ourselves and our fellow Nigerians, this great country will move forward. The good old GLORY days will come back and the better days that are ahead will seek us. Nigerian writers at home and abroad and the real civil society will continue to emphasise the need for proper governance, adherence to the rule of law and the promotion of the welfare of the states for the benefits of all and sundry.