SIR: What is Nigeria's biggest problem? This is the question my son asked me on a beautiful morning, April 12, 2008 after breakfast in Springfield, PA. He promptly followed this question with another, even before I answered the first. "Well dad, if you were the Nigerian president what would you do?"
This line of questioning, discussion, debates, a huge arguments on politics, race, history, education, religion - you name it, we battle over it - is commonplace in our home. But for whatever reason, instead of launching into the usual diatribe of possible flawed but well meaning reasoning, I actually paused for thought. My mind wandered, as I recollected the many discussions I had with countless Nigerians at home in Nigeira and in far away places in divergent circumstances and settings about what ails Nigeria.
In the opinions of most Nigerians I have encountered, the issues the country faces are those of oil, corruption, religion, ethnicity, infrastructure, poverty, hunger, disease, brain drain, civil liberties, etc. so with very broad strokes I pigeonholed all the people I have had discussions with into three groups. Group one the naysayers. They've lost faith and believe the problems are so entrenched in the national psyche that the country is without hope. Group two - the optimists. This set of folks believe the country is on the upswing. They quickly point out their successful family members and friends. The proliferation of cell phones. Nollywood, the Nigeria stock exchange, expensive cars on the streets, expensive foreign imports, or sprawling mansions owned by the few. And the final group - the opportunists. This is the set that doesn't really care whether the country moves forward or backwards, but is more interested in gaining a piece of the giant pie of ill gotten wealth.
The reality is that most of the problems that Nigeria and other African nations experience plague other developing nations too. We can look at history and point to colonialism tyrannical rule by dictatorships, mass exploitation, and corruption. But the original question that got me reminiscing is Nigeria's biggest problem.
In my opinion Nigeria's biggest problem is the mind-set of the average Nigerian. For there to be real change, people have to want change and a re-education of sorts. Expectations have to be realistic. Nigeria is a country of 130 million people plus people with 80 per cent reliance on less than $100 billion in oil revenue. Nigeria's yearly income is less than that of two major cities in the U.S. with 20 per cent of Nigeria's population, yet most cry foul for not receiving their piece of the black gold.
As Nigerians, we all need an attitude readjustment. Although, materialism is deeply interwoven in the national fabric. It is indeed possible to break away from the various cycle of trying to acquire wealth at all costs. As a youngster, I marvelled at people, who would borrow money to have block parties to celebrate one event or another. I also shook my head in disbelief at people who drove expensive cars but lived in a single room with 10 people. It is actually funny to see owners of fancy cars navigate their way through endless potholes and bad roads. I was even more amazed to see people vie for government contracts, receive payments and not perform any part of the contract.
There is no doubt in my mind that Nigerians are a hardworking, industrious people, so given the right mind-set and focus they can overcome their economic, political and social issues. With the right attitude the naysayers can again have faith, the optimists can be even more optimistic and the opportunists will have the occasion to work hard.