When I took a cab to the hotel on Monday afternoon, the driver looked too familiar for me not to be curious — but I was too tired to ask questions. The floor of his cab was littered with books, and it was obvious that driving was for him a second passion — accounting obviously is his first passion, as all the books revealed. A few minutes after the car took off, he popped the question I was longing to ask, “where are you from?” “Nigeria”, I replied, and of course, it was time to glance at his name plate — which revealed a name too Nigerian I didn’t have to bother asking. When I asked where he was also from, it was only natural that we would discuss for a few minutes. His meter was already on, so there was no way our new “friendship” would make any difference. 😉 He dropped me off at the hotel, I paid and he zoomed off. To my mind, I had seen a Nigerian and that was cool enough to prove the usual statement, “if you go to the moon, you’ll likely find a Nigerian there”.
Tuesday was mostly an online day for me (sorting out the backlog and enjoying the wireless access in my suite), but I had to step out in the evening for the first session of the meeting — along with registration. Either it was a wrong map, or the JJC in me was just playing up itsreal stature, I used the Sheraton building as a major landmark for my supposed “few minutes of walk”. After walking a few meters from the Sheraton I thought was the right one on my map, I discovered that either of the planners or map producers had made a mistake — or was it me? I saw two cab guys by the corner and knew they were the best people to ask. While asking the first man (in his late thirties or early forties), I thought I heard the other cab driver speak my local language, Yoruba. “Na wa o”, was what my thought sounded like. And just as I set out to move in the direction that Yemi (even though his name plate carried a very different name) advised, I heard my name, “‘Gbenga”. He called me back, explained that his colleague was also of the same tribe (Yoruba), and then he offered a free ride to Hyatt Regency.
During the twenty minutes we had together in the cab, we talked about almost everything Nigeria. Apparently an historian, he had written a thesis on why Nigeria could not become a better place. 🙁 He asked me, “which state are you from”. When I answred, “Ondo State (South West Nigeria”, he laughed and said, “which state in the US”. It was then I got the message: he wanted to know how I was faring in the US. I answered that I just got in. He said, “congratulations”, and when I told him when I was returning on Thursday, he literally shouted “why?” I explained that I was here to speak at a meeting but he was not impressed. He went on to explain why I shuldn’t make the same mistake his friend’s son made of returning to Nigeria and getting stuck after the 9-11 experience. To him, Nigeria would never become a better place because Western influence due to our natural resources would prevent a possible revolution that we desperately need.
He was well-spoken, sure of his thesis and fairly considerate of my “plight”. To him, my little brief on what my plans were and the need to have Nigerians deliberately change things within their sphere of influence was merely an untested theory that would fail over time. But in all, I’m glad he submitted that “if” the leadership question of Nigeria was solved, things would look up. However, he failed to admit that leadership was individual and would be provided by everyone as much as they could within their various spheres of influence. He admitted that he drove the cab when there were no academic projects (especially during the weekend) as a better option that allowed him to declare less than what he grossed annually (tax reasons and following some matrimonial issues that could cost him thousands of dolloars), and I’m glad we exchanged numbers so I can call him up when its time to call the Nigerians abroad back home — when the New Nigeria will be visible for everyone.
Our encounter meant a lot to me, and just shows the fact that we can not deny how much work needs to be done, but it will be done. Sacrifices will be made, hard work will be turned in, but we’ll get there. The journey is that of a thousand miles, and its already started. It may look like 2 miles is so short in a thousand-mile target, but it gradually gets closer to a thousand miles after consistent steps are taken even in the face of tired feet. Yemi hinted on some issues that would better stay off pages of blogs — naming names in the process — but his sentiment could have heightened the sadness in the facts. From the ashes of the ruins of today’s Nigeria will rise an enviable nation that many will seek to call home. The goal is clear — a New Nigeria — and the task is obvious — moving things from a terrile state to an enviable model. The good news is that when other nations will need to understand how Nigeria was able to spearhead the “African Miracle”, you and I — as professionals who are sowing our time and energy into the weaving of a New Nigeria — will be the consultants and story-tellers. Get ready to write, talk, sing and share The Nigeria Story… I see a New Nigeria.