NOT AN OPTION: Why I’m Not Giving Up on Restoring Nigeria

It was one of those afternoons in Lagos. The sun was up in all its might, as if to prove a point to air cooling units. Traffic was bumper to bumper, with enough frayed nerves to light up any tiny dispute. And then, a wrong turn that led into the unforgiving Mushin traffic. In between forgiving the driver and worrying about how to apologise – again – for arriving late for a discussion with the Carrington Youth Fellows at the US Consulate in Lagos, I read a tweet announcing that an icon of change had given up on trying to restore Nigeria into at least the semblance of something worthy of the adjective, nation.

(S)he’s not the first to do such. Many more will give up after trying so hard to draw honey from the rock. Stop. Don’t be quick to blame anyone for giving up. How many times have you been reminded of how erratic Nigeria is, just after a meeting where you were encouraging young people to change Nigeria or die trying? These things get to you. One of those days, I pulled out my passport, headed for the airport and paid for a date change just to get on a flight before my veins would burst. Once in a while, you get the chance to get on a flight – inwards in thought or out of town – just to draw enough energy to continue.

In this matter of changing an outrightly insane society, many have been wounded. Many more have found an alternative pathway that solves personal misery but adds to the communal hopelessness. But how long will a nation once known as a giant continue the act of burying her head in the sand? Change agents come, change agents go, but the sore livelihoods remain. So, what must we do?

Just before we throw up our hands and/or begin to plot permanent escapes – in mind or action – maybe it’s worth considering the fact that giving up on change is a win for the minority that benefits from chaos and rot. They know that warfare principle quite well: get your enemy to believe they can’t change their circumstances while suffering loss, and the battle is over. Mohammed Ali stung like a bee; many times with words before the punch that drove home the victory.

That’s the plan. “Make sure they’re frustrated enough to give up on the thought of change and we’ll stay winning,” are the words of the few who benefit from circumstances that lead to what eventually snowballs into a nation with extremely low life expectancy and near non-existent expectation. But what about the small gains of change efforts. “Make sure they don’t ponder such. Keep their eyes on the wrong ball. Distract them.”

Few years ago, not many people reading this would dare write comments that called out government even at the height of ineptitude. Ask folks who were tucked away in the heart of foreign cities and their colleagues, here at home, who literally watched their back every minute, what it meant to live in Nigeria during the dark days of the military and you’d at least appreciate the citizens that fought for democracy – and never gave up. In few states across Nigeria, you’ll see traces of what it means for citizens to demand change. Let’s not forget the small gains. Change takes time, though change agents must remain impatient in order to avoid excuses that slow the process down.

It took about 2 generations of hard work to destroy Nigeria’s promising existence and fixing it may not take less than a generation’s deliberate hard work. Of course, I’ve taken the liberty to equate one generation to about 20 years. Each time we slow down or lose folks on the frontline, we delay the process or stand the risk of resetting the counter. It is true that the darkest hour comes before the appearance of dawn, simply because the apparent darkness masks even the most noble of on-going efforts at bringing light. Hence the tendency to often assume that nothing is working when the most visible thing is darkness. As you take those small strides of faith in the midst of darkness, don’t ignore the fact that others are doing the same and it’ll soon come together if you keep on. Of course, you can’t see them because it’s dark all around. But it’ll soon be the turn of the brightness of daytime to shine.

I am also reminded of the theory of the cracked glass ceiling. Everyone knows about the legendary glass ceiling because most people tell the tales of how their fate was altered by the limitation the glass places in the way. However, each time someone struggles to break through the glass, a dent is left. Small, but a dent all the same. After several attempts by different people, the material that glass is made of knows that few more cracks will make the ceiling give way. There are already many dents in the limiting glass of the Nigerian promise, don’t spare us your attempt at hitting the spot that may just make way.

Exit, the all-time reaction of (wo)men to unsuccessful attempts or unfriendly circumstances, has been with Nigeria since the days of “Andrew”. Exit, expressed in many ways, does not fix all responsibilities. In fact, the reason many are able to retreat to spaces or places is because some people didn’t exit those spaces or places in the days when change looked impossible. Think of today’s most celebrated destinations, and you’ll be reminded of the folks who persevered to make change possible.

If every changemaker, regardless of present location or place on the Discouragement Curve, will own their space and make a dent, maybe our eventual islands of sanity can come together while we also maximise the principle of enlightened self-interest to recruit others for the noble task of nation building. In 2001, when I saw a much smaller picture of the change that could come to Nigeria, I wrote:

I see a new Nigeria emerging, one that will be built on the labours of our heroes past, hewn out of the debris of the present waste and engineered by the strength of the future leaders: the youth. These young men and women will adopt Information Technology for the purpose of personal development, nation building, regional cooperation and global participation. They may be unknown today, but in the secrecy of their abode, they master the tool that will change their lives and that of their nation. They’re building the nation’s tomorrow today.

It’s now 2012 and I still believe in what I saw at the time. Only that it’s much bigger now and the tools available to people are much more diverse.

We may fall, fail or falter, but we will learn a new way of not restoring Nigeria. I once joked with a friend about my decision of fighting to restore Nigeria or die trying. Actually, I wasn’t joking. Life expectancy in Nigeria is low, anyway, so one could as well live wisely and without regret. I will not give up on restoring Nigeria, and while I engage in the often therapeutic activity of cursing the darkness, I will continue with the tough task of lighting a candle at the same time.

Every weekday all through my early days at St. Peter’s Demonstration Primary School, Akure, and Federal Government College, Idoani, we recited the National Pledge. So help me God! I will be true to the words that spoke to me: to serve Nigeria with all my strength. So help me God. Many of us did the same, also singing the words of the National Anthem. Remember the line that says, “Arise, O compatriots, Nigeria’s call obey”? How about, “…the labour of our heroes past, shall never be in vain”? Let’s move on to the less known second stanza. If you give up now, who will fulfil these words: “Guide our leaders right, help our youth the truth to know.”

Don’t give up. Give others the permission to believe in the value of their contributions, even if no one will celebrate the seemingly unknown efforts that you invest in the nation’s future each day. Recruit numbers for the threshold! We are making a dent in the glass of corruption, government’s “I-don’t-give-a-damn” attitude, and many more evils of the day. Giving up is not an option. On Nigeria or other efforts at which you’ve trained your hands, giving up is NOT an option.

This post originally appeared in YNaija.

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