By Adeola Aderounmu
In several of my essays on Nigeria I have made references to what my parents told me about Nigeria. I remember one story about my mother walking about Lagos in the middle of the night. She told me there was nothing to be afraid of living in the old Western Nigeria. People lived like normal people and go about their businesses round the clock.
There was 24 hours a day form of existence, transportation was uninterrupted and life was full of hope and happiness. The future looked super bright. When she told me stories about Nigeria in general, she brought the good olden days in Western Nigeria to life in my imaginations.
Unfortunately for Nigerians the future is here now and it turned out super bleak-full of extreme hopelessness and frustrations.
Invariably Nigeria was once upon a time a paradise on earth until some people decided to reverse the gear of progress. Greed and outright madness took over the people-both civilians and military-entrusted to manage the affairs of Nigeria. Sometimes these people have not been chosen, selected or elected; they took over governance by force or through violence. Then they enforced their own rules and mode of governance.
Nigerians lost their paradise when they could not take back the control of their regional and geographical areas from the tropical gangsters who strangely are somehow still in control of the affairs of the land until today.
My mother told me that security especially took a turn for the worse after the civil war ended. In general, evil rose after the war as weapons remained in the hands of the people. Greed and selfishness set in at different points during pre and post-independent Nigeria.
In many ways too numerous to describe here, Nigerians lost a paradise
This conical stone is from Cross River State. It stands in front of the National Museum in Lagos. One of the things that went wrong in Nigeria was the drop in the standard and value of education. How many Nigerians visit the museums to learn about their history? Today the ignorant people who run Nigeria’s education have suggested that history should be removed from the curriculum. Nigerians will forget their history totally and the magnitude of historical distortions 100 years from now will be better imagined than experienced.
This is a man doing his work. That was Brass smith in Bida. We always say there is dignity in labour. Today that expression belongs to the dustbin in Nigeria. Several Nigerians just want to be part of politics so that they can steal and accumulate money and wealth for themselves, their families and unborn generation.
Those who are not stealing in politics are also looking for ways to cut the corners in whatever they do. In public and private enterprises the “make quick money syndrome” has taken over almost everybody. People now believe more in “if you cannot beat them, join them”. Such is the low mentality of an average Nigerian today.
Honesty is now a disease in Nigeria. People who are honest and trustworthy in Nigeria have joined the list of endangered species. One day somebody told me that I cannot be a politician in Nigeria. When I asked him why, he told me that people working with me will either kill me or poison me if I prevent them from stealing in politics.
He said they might even cut my head off. He was trying to emphasize that I cannot do politics in Nigeria if I am not ready to steal. From what we see and know about Nigeria today, that illustration is correct. It’s very sad, disheartening and a piece of the evidence that the paradise may be lost forever.
Here above is an image of a girl selling decorated pots in Sokoto, Northern Nigeria. This must have taken place at those times that my mother described to me and what I will call Nigeria’s golden years. At that time when there was still dignity in labour. Some of the pots are not decorated but they look so beautiful you want to have them for your next party or family cooking.
Western Nigeria was part of the regions that made up the Nigerian paradise of the olden days. It is hard to miss the blend of even development and environmental preservation. Look at the beautiful trees among the industrial revolution of old western Nigeria.
One cannot miss the hard work and the quality of the products that this craftsman is making. The image did not say where the man comes from but he was well dressed in native agbada. Interesting I have at least 4 of the items in his production line in my possession.He was not only selling cultural products, he promoted his culture as well by representation.
The woman carried healthy fruits. She was also well dressed in Iro and Buba. She looked healthy and happy. She was probably selling the pineapples or just on her way from the farm. Agriculture was the backbone of the Nigerian paradise. Crude oil later became a curse.
This is another beautiful image from the time when Nigeria was a paradise on earth. It was at that time that it would have been proper to describe Nigerians as the happiest people on earth. Some recent global reports describing Nigerians as the happiest people in recent years when the security is low, the roads, schools and hospitals resemble monuments of catastrophe, the economy is good enough on paper only and at a time when majority of the people are living dangerously from hand to mouth, are not only misleading but also irony of the highest order.
In my recent but last essay I described religion as one of the greatest problems in Nigeria. Religion is one of the reasons why Nigeria went from paradise to hell on earth. These are people worshipping peacefully at the famous mosque in Kano. People worshipped peacefully across Nigeria in the olden days. But the agents of prosperity in the face of dwindling economic fortunes changed the mode of worship in Nigeria forever.
Rather than guide the people to demand good governance and accountability, the foreign religious institutions in Nigeria headed by the new-age Nigerian overseers told people to pray. At the same time the people whose actions and activities contributed to converting Nigeria from paradise to hell were active members of various religious organisations.
The situation remains the same today as looters parade churches and mosques every Friday and Sunday. Nigerian looters are popular faces at religious crusades. Religion became a means to wealth for the religious rulers and many young people today are religious fanatics especially after years of joblessness. Politics in Nigeria got contaminated with religion and the outcomes including terrorism and mistrust in the society remain devastating to this day.
Nigerians love to chase shadows. Oh! How they enjoy denying the knowledge of basic truth! Apart from the resurrection of regional governance (the possibility of which is already being thrown away at the “organised” national conference) another hope for the restoration of the Nigerian paradise will be the total eradication of religion(s) from public service.
Issues like pilgrimages for example need to be taken away from government functions. Churches and mosque in/around government establishments need to be demolished. People need to just do the right thing rather than hide under the umbrella of religion while they ruin the state or country.
People don’t need to pray for good roads, good schools, and good hospitals and so on. What Nigeria need across all her geographical regions are the good and honest people who will use the budgetary allocations to do these things. Prayers don’t build roads or schools when the funds have been stolen or embezzled. That is common sense and application of the knowledge of the truth – that which always set people free.
In this picture we see some of the things that millions of Nigerians today have no experiences of. There was a functional train in service. The roads are clean and motor-able. The cars were in the correct lanes-2 lanes and no mad driver on an artificial third lane. There are no LASTMA people on the road; people had a sense of belonging and responsibilities.
On the right side the area is enough for pedestrians and cyclists and on the left side, there is a bicycle track along the major road and also there is a pedestrian path with adequate distance to the train tracks. Life was good, normal just like in a paradise. The street lights are standing upright and there is a stretch of beautiful garden in the middle adding glamour, peace and tranquillity to the streets of Lagos in the old western Nigeria.
Apart from air travel, all the other modes of transportation are depicted in this image. There are no ferries in the image but the idea was to state that they were all available in the old Lagos.
This is the type of image of Nigeria from the past that some people will never know about. Millions of Nigerians have lived and died within the period that the paradise was lost. This means that they actually, sadly enough, passed through life without the experience of a good life or the taste of the real meaning of life. If nobody talks about these things and if nobody makes reference to the things that existed under regional governments millions of Nigeria will live and probably die not knowing that there entire future and happiness were stolen from them even before they were born.
All of my life time in Nigeria, I do not recall the privilege of taking a ride on the train. One day however I took the “Baba Kekere” ferry service from Mile 2 to CMS. It must have been some time in the mid 80s. But as a young boy I remembered the many rides on the LSTC buses in the late 70s and early 80s. I know the number on the buses and their destinations from Festac Town. Those were the end of the good old days.
In today’s Nigeria the paradise is lost. This lose will be permanent for several millions of Nigerians living in Nigeria unless radical political changes and turnarounds occur today.
The paradise will remain lost if one man or a group of people can steal 20 billion dollars and walk free. In the 1970s we saw a man making brass in Bida, in the 80s we saw a man from Minna who stole more than 12 billion dollars of Nigeria’s oil money. He walked free! How did Nigeria go from promoting dignity to embracing criminals? The answers will shed light on how to lose a paradise in 20 years or less!
Nigeria lost their paradise because they allow military juntas and politicians to handle public services and politics like profitable businesses that is devoid of probity and accountability. The paradise will remain lost in the face of non-sensitive rulers and non-functional political structures.
The negative outcomes that follow a lost paradise are too numerous to elaborate but they are largely visible on a day out in various parts of Nigeria. Nigerians need orientation in almost all aspects of their lives. Social studies, moral instructions and history were part of the foundations and orientation in primary education. They still cannot be overemphasized in a society with solid foundation in education.
In a lost paradise, pensioners are crying, students are not getting the correct education, graduates are jobless and the society is on a free fall. In Nigeria, a country heavily polluted from all angles, good health is a luxury. There are almost no consequences for political and economic crimes. There is no sense of belonging and the first and the last law is the same: the law of self-preservation.
When I think about the issue of electricity in a lost paradise, I can’t recollect much from Obele Odan in Surulere but it has always been a pain to recount what we went through in Festac Town. We got a beautiful town with our own transformers and local power system.
Everything went down the drain right in front of our eyes. Growing up in Nigeria for my generation was a traumatic experience. Yet we were not given any social or psychological help by the state or the federal system. We fend for ourselves.
At that time (when I was growing up) the system was under the management of the wasted generation. These are the words of Wole Soyinka, as he aptly described his generation, my parents generation unfortunately. Until this day in Nigeria, the mis-management of Nigeria remains largely in the hands of mostly crooks, criminals and idiotic people who cannot manage their homes. How they got to the positions where they have to manage public services and government institutions summarises the story of Nigeria as a lost paradise.
A paradise can be reclaimed. Nigerians, you lost your paradise when you gave up your sense of belonging in the various regions and allowed a powerful center to destroy the entire system. You cave-in and followed a “rotten head” all the time. The paradise lost is actually the sum of all your negligence and attitude to work, environment and life.
It’s going to be a hard fought battle, but you need to bring back the paradise for the sake of your children and children’s children. Take another look at the images in this essay; you’ll see there’s a need to do away with the rotten head or any rotten head for that matter.
Do away with the center altogether. Claim back your regions, do the right thing all the time when it comes to public service and dedication to local and regional development. Be selfless and content. Start your charity (in this case your love of humanity) again, from home. It will spread. It will bring the paradise your children deserved.
Akwashi Conical Stone (from Cross River Area)
(By Elisabeth Seriki)
Brass Simth Bida
By John Hinde F.R.P.S
Decorated Pots, Sokoto
Famous Kano Mosque
Photo by E, Ludwig, John Hinde Studios
Lagos, Meeting of the Ways: Water, Rail, Road
By The Railway Printer, Ebute Metta
5 thoughts on “Nigerians, You Lost A Paradise (A Photo Essay)”
Adeola, this was a very good piece, there are some things I’d like to point out.
At first when I read that it was a photo essay recalling history, I was thinking, here we go “a nostalgia trip”, nevertheless I read on and thought about what you said.
I do agree that history is very important, because:
1) With no sense of history, the mistakes of the past are going to be repeated. Nigeria is a land mired in history. Nigeria is a land where it is not uncommon to hear people say “dont you know who I am,? I am the so-and-so of the so-and-so, you’d better mind yourself!”. Without a well documented history, all sorts of revisionist and selective interpretations can be widely disseminated unchallenged to the public.
2) Every significant nation has scholars who study history, not merely for the sake of it, but because it has pracitcal benefits for society and especially the government, in order for it to chart it’s progress in today’s world.
3) What your piece illustrated that Nigeria is capable of being a land where people would want to live voluntarily. Things can be better. It’s not just idle talk. At the vary least that is a standard, people will know for a fact that it was achievable.
You say Nigeria was a paradise, hmmm, I don’t know about that, but as they say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Nigeria is a unique land with a unique mix of peoples (like any other country).
What you were advocating was a return to regionalism. In today’s world, one would argue that centralisation, is more efficient and less costly to maintain than de-centralised system, but I do agree that in the case of Nigeria, the people have managed to make what works elsewhere to be unworkable amongst themselves. That in itself does make a case for regionalism.
My major question is this, as you have already pointed out honest people in Nigeria are like an endangered species (which made me laugh). So merely advocating going back to a regional model and “doing the right thing” is not enough. You yourself have pointed out that corruption and mismanagement are pervasive. An extreme case is in the Niger Delta where the local governments and state governments in addtion to the Federal government are all corrupt. So simply telling people to form local governments won’t work. We need to put the practices, structures and protocols in place to ensure that the new system will work, that way we are more likely to guarantee a favourable outcome.
I would even say that some of the reasons why regionalism (resource allocation) worked. Were due to a unique combination of circumstances
1) Nigeria was relatively new to Western Civilisation, and was relatively naive to corruption.
2) Contrary to the popular myth that Nigeria was designed to fail, it can be seen that it was designed to succeed. Nigerians have so far managed to drag defeat from the jaws of victory.
3) Easy money hadn’t been discovered, ie oil.
The combination of these factors, meant that Nigerians were in a honeymoon period with nationhood. This period is well and truly over.
What we have today in Nigeria, is that with the discovery of oil, people have mostly forgotten about any other endeavour to make money and solely rely on government revenues. Successive governments have done nothing to dispel this lazy, corrupt and short-sighted notion.
Oil is not a resource curse, it appears that only in the hands of the blackman it has been so mismanaged that it now seems a curse. (Because oil attracts a relatively high price, government has been wasteful, careless and thoughtless – because they have the attitude that “there is plenty more where that came from”). Everyone else by and large has been able to benefit substantially from the discovery of oil.
Nigerians have become very lazy in their thinking and attitude, some how oil is the answer to everything. It clearly isn’t. If Nigeria is to really move forwards, then a sustainable, measured and controlled approach needs to be adopted. This is not something that should take a very long time, as time is what Nigeria doesn’t have with a rapidly exploding population.
Banding about the undeserved and unqualified myth “that Nigeria is the giant of Africa”, and basing this on doubtful and questionable statistics about the economy, will be revealed in due course to be complete lie.
What Nigerians really need is a serious reality check. A proven framework has to be adopted for national governance and resource allocation. Each region should have commonly agreed standards it is working towards, so that we don’t have massive discrepancies which leads to imbalances, migration and further instability.
The way for the economy should be diversified, agriculture needs to be taken seriously (failure to be self-sufficient is courting disaster especially in a region where climate change will have a devastating affect). Over-reliance on oil, or any other natural resource should be discontinued as soon as possible. (Nigeria should try and emulate the Norwegian model ie think of the future). Exploitation of other resources should be planned , controlled and managed in a sustainable way. Attention has to be paid to power generation & manufacturing, hygiene, healthcare, the environment, security and education, the civil service needs to be stream-lined and be made more efficient (ie dissolve the 36 states and replace them with larger and viable units).
There is no get rich quick scheme for a durable democratic and developed society. The short-sighted corrupt, lazy and self-serving ways that have gained widespread popularity should be ditched. Unqualified success is not sustainable. The sooner this basic lesson is taken on board the better.
I would like to see in a future post detail on how you propose to make regionalism (and resource allocation) work. The idea is viable, but details on this crucial matter are lacking.
There will be no magic dose if Nigeria is to be reclaimed. There are crazy and corrupt people in every region. Nevertheless, If we get back Western Nigeria, I think we will be able to deal with our own locals who try to mess things up while we rebuild. It’s not going to be an ABC process, but we can get there.
It’s too difficult to control the mad rulers controlling everyone and everything from the center when Nigeria remains a general plundering ground.
I know the nonsense that the useless rulers they called leaders in the Niger Delta have caused their people but again if their destinies are not controlled by one fool in Aso rock or Dodan Barracks like they had before, I think it is still a step in the right direction and a glimpse of hope.
You take your steps in water one at a time. That is the situtation with Nigeria. But the idiots in power want the status quo and that chain must break.
Regional govt will create healthy development and competitions among the regions. Nigerians will avoid this situation where everybody is heading back to the Stone Age.
Nigeria is in a dilemma and the earlier they resolve the political dilemma and restructure the better for all of them. If there is no Abuja or any useless central capital for corruption and political jargons, Boko Haram would have no claim in their present bloody struggle.
Thank you Adeola.
I truly enjoyed reading your article.
Although I will say that many of your examples and conclusion are based on a nostalgic ‘golden age’ in Nigeria that is oversimplified, reactionary and viewed through rose colored glasses.
Having said that, I do think that you are right about to point out that so many people are unaware that life in Nigeria has not always been as difficult as it is today. I also think your recognition of the very idea that Nigeria has rapidly deteriorated but can be restored (and possibly improved?) must be taken seriously. That kind of thinking is necessary in the face of the widespread despair and complacency we are encountering today.
I hope you do not take my criticism of this article as a personal attack, I simply do not agree with your recollection of golden age that wasn’t so golden in my understanding of our country’s history. Let me end by saying that regardless of our differing opinions of Nigeria’s past, I find your blog to be informative as well as inspirational and I look forward to reading more of your work.
Adeola, This is a great piece. This is a enough to trigger a revolution in the mind, putting petty young Nigerians on point. I enjoyed reading your essay. The images were not only captivating but has a direct link to your mind provocative write ups.
keep writing with the focus on Whom we have become from Whom we were. People! Turn off the News and read! read! read!