The other week, another great slogan was unveiled at Abuja by the National Orientation Agency (NOA). It is Nigerians“Do the Right Thing”. As usual, it was an opportunity to gather the today politicians and political appointees for talks and more talks with pomp and pageantry. They were there in many colours.
Most of the special guests were given the opportunity to speak and they spoke in volumes. Who would not, given this era of Boko Haram attack everywhere, at least to exonerate themselves from being involved in some ways detrimental to the government of the day, with the dreaded group. I heard the Petroleum Minister dish out her heart on issues relating to the Fuel Subsidy; turn around in the Oil industry and how the nation is Oil dependent. The Information Minister was his usual self, remembering his senior and past colleagues – of course Prof Jerry Gana and Prof Dora Akinyili readily came to mind. The occasion reminded me of the era of “…if you are a tailor sew well…” “…if you are a trader trade well…” and of course It reminded again me of our Prof Dora Akunyili and her slogan too, which did not sail; “Nigeria great nation …Good people”. But that also refreshed my mind about an encounter the Prof with the Venezuelan Ambassador Enerique Fernando Arrundell of the time.
The Ambassador had gone to visit Prof Dora Akunyili and used the opportunity to tell Nigerians through our Information Minister some very hard truth “on how to manage, develop and utilize their God-given natural resources for the benefit and good of all. I am reproducing the story in part for effect here.
'The envoy, who was responding to an appeal by Mrs. Akunyili to help woo some of his country's investors to come in and establish refineries under the federal government's planned deregulation of the downstream sector of the nation's petroleum industry, advised Nigeria to rather look inwards and to take full control of the industry.
Though, he acknowledged Venezuela as a prominent member of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) like Nigeria, he said his country will be willing to collaborate with the federal government to develop the industry.
'Mr. Arrundell said, “In Venezuela, since 1999, we've never had a raise in fuel price. We only pay $1.02 to fill the tank. What I pay for with N12,000 here (Nigeria), in Venezuela I'll pay N400. What is happening is simple. Our President (Hugo Chavez) decided one day to control the industry, because it belongs to the Venezuelans. If you don't control the industry, your development will be in the hands of the foreigners.
You have to have your own country. The oil is your country's. Sorry I am telling you this. I am giving you the experience of Venezuela. We have 12 refineries in the United States, 18,000 gas stations in the West Coast. All we are doing is in the hands of the Venezuelans.
“The envoy said, “Before 1999, we had three or four foreign companies working with us. That time they were taking 80 per cent, and giving us 20. Now, we have 90 per cent, and giving them 10. But now, we have 22 countries working with us in that condition.
It is the Venezuelan condition. You know why? It is because 60 per cent of the income goes to social programmes. That's why we have 22,000 medical doctors assisting the people in the community. The people don't go to the hospital; doctors go to their houses. This is because the money is handled by the Venezuelans. How come Nigeria that has more technical manpower than Venezuela, with 150 million people, and very intellectual people all around, not been able to get it right? The question is: If you are not handling your resources, how are you going to handle the country?
“So, it is important that Nigeria takes control of her resources. We have no illiterate people. We have over 17 new universities totally free. I graduated from the university without paying one cent, and take three meals every day, because we have the resources. We want the resources of the Nigerian people for the Nigerians. It is enough! It is enough, Minister!” that was hard sell in Public Relations parlance. But it was, and is still the truth.
The import of the above is not lost, in that when you want to do anything correctly, you probably should do it yourself! As a nation, we have been very cosmetic in treating any of the urgent issues of the country. Since my undergraduate days, in late 70's, the Nigerian government has been looking onto the western nations for the transfer of technology. To date nothing has been achieved in that direction. Yet, the half baked we train locally leaves the shores of Nigeria to shine as Technical Aid Corp (TAC) members! Somewhere mid way we lose them completely to the nations we send them to help and leave ourselves high and dry. The era of retired General Ibrahim Babangida promoted mass exodus of Academicians' who today would have formed the Think Tank of Nigeria, should the country had been ready to use them. As I write, over 90% of our old University lecturers who departed the shores of this country then have not had any regret for their decisions. But only few weeks ago, President Goodluck Jonathan was alarmed that 60% of Nigerian Universities lecturers do not have PhD even in Ukwani language! However, our exports have continued to do Nigeria proud, confirming that the problem is not with the people but the leaders. With good government, things will turn out for the best in no time. That is doing the right thing!
Individual Nigerians have done the country proud in more ways than all government efforts put together. When in the mid 80's Professor Wole Shoyinka, who is now a citizen of the World won the Nobel Laureate award, whose head was raised in accolade more than that of the then President Ibrahim Babangida? Didn't the government of the day roll out the drums and in fact sponsored delegates to join the professor in bring the award home even at a time the government and the Prof were in stout enemies? What about Professor Chinua Achebe, whose book 'Things Fall Apart' was recently rated as one of the 50 most read books in the last 50 years as the book celebrated its 50th year of publication! How much did the government pay for that?
I have passed through many academic institutions of higher learning in my quest for knowledge and the one I accept as my Alma Mata is Federal Polytechnic Idah now in Kogi State. in that school, during its early day, one engineer who exemplified doing the right thing was Engr. Moses Awodi. Engr Awodi was the Chief Engineer of the school, and had the task of inspecting all the ongoing building projects there. As an engineer, he went to work in short Knicker not Coat, Trousers and Ties! One day, I asked him why he was always so dressed and by the time he finished tutoring me in Engineering Code of Practice, I could only concur! Not like Prof Barth Nnaji, who in the face of Eletricity quashioko, is still competing with Bank Directors in Corporate dressing. That is not how to Do the Right Thing desired by Nigerians.
Comorade Adams Oshomole has never been lost in the crowd anywhere despite his diminutive stature. As a Nigerian doing the right thing, he is on the site even in his bed room and the results are showing in every village of Edo state! Any wonder that he is always seen in labour toga? He is practicing what he preaches and the results are in their hundreds!
Who are the Nigerians doing the right thing that can be co-opted to join NOA in this new drive? It is not civil servants looking for corners to cut and slice into their pockets. At less than no cost many citizens are riding high in promoting the Nigerian dream all over the world in the literary and entertainment industry. The export of late Fela Anikulpo Kuti remains fresh, same is late Rashidi Yekini of the 1994 World Cup fame. Kanu Nwankwo and the entire footballing greats like Stephen Keshi the Ocho Uzor 1 of International Football.
In music which is the food of our soul, we have won laurels through Nollywood. Nigeria has effortlessly scored the third position among the comity of Film producing nations. We have continued to dominate Africa in music scene. Our writers return with awards from every international competition. And when we do not get any, the question usually how come? By now the task before Nollywood actors and actresses should be an award to the best Film that promotes Nigeria in the desired light. Same would go to Musicians – the best composition that can sway Nigerian like Nicco Mbaga “Sweet Mother, Shoky's “If you see my Mama” and of course we have an array of writers who can, if encouraged, write Nigeria back to relevance. I was shocked the other day when I saw a book on discipline written by a National Youth Corp Member. For me that day, was reminiscent of the story of Elijah who thought that he alone was left among the honest prophets, but God opened his eyes to see more than four thousand praying prophets! There are still people dreaming the Nigeria we desire and they will surely manifest if given the slightest opportunity.
The National Orientation Agency should as a matter of extreme urgency, draft their men to the villages and begin a thorough grass root orientation from the schools. Most of the adults we see today may be willing but are too challenged to be real. The children are the Nigeria of tomorrow. Let us nip them in the bud and now is the time. By the use of this approach, the re-branding of Nigeria shall begin from the heart and mind and soul of everyone and sooner than later, we shall have a country we desire. We are still marching on.
Mike O. Akpati is a Public Affair Analyst based in Port Harcourt