Looking at my country at 60 – Prof. Afis Oladosu


If the fetus were given insights into the wombs that would bear them, into the land on which they would be raised, into the country into which they would become citizens, it is likely none would choose Nigeria of today. No human being would prefer to be born in a country where there is no constant electricity supply, where water is scarce, where security is a rarity. Nigeria is that country in which the moon rises at dawn and the sun emerges at dusk; this is a country where children grow grey hairs at birth.

When my attention was called to the sixtieth anniversary of this nation, I asked myself: where is the nation? Nigeria of today is like an envelope without any address on it. Except for a few, our country has had the ill-luck of producing government functionaries whose minds are like a soup dish, wide and shallow; a muskeg of mediocrity. They travel round the world, spend our national resources in profligate manner only to come back to this country fiendishly unprepared to replicate the good things they experience outside the shores of this land.

In other words, Nigeria did not suddenly become a hungry-land: hungry for food, water, shelter and security; hungry for electricity and good roads; hungry for dignity. Yes! Time it was when university calendars were sacrosanct; time it was, when Ghanaians had to come to Nigeria before they could survive. Time it was when students’ cafeterias were full of assorted meals. I equally remember with nostalgia that at a time during my teenage years, condensed milk, Uncle Ben’s rice and other assorted food items some of which have now become monuments in our national museum were within reach of the rich and the poor. But those days are long gone. The question is: how did we get here? How did those days of prosperity slipped away from our grasp?

Aside from other myriad of challenges which continue to face this country, it is axiomatic that ineffective leadership is perhaps the most fundamental cog in the wheel of progress of Nigeria as a nation. If you doubt this, compare Oshodi bus stop in Lagos State today with the one of ten years ago. The point here is this: we need a Prince who will take this country on to the golden road of Samarkand.

The archetypes of the leaders this country should have are embodied in Islamic history; examples and exemplars such as Prophet Muhammad (alayhi salam); of humble leaders like Umar ibn al-Khatab. The ambassador of Rome once came to pay Umar a visit. He said, “O attendants, where is the palace of the Caliph, that I may take my horse and baggage there?” The folks said to him, “He has no palace; ‘Umar’s only palace is an illumined spirit. Though he is famous as Commander of the Faithful, his only dwelling is a hut, like the poor”.

The leaders of today live in pseudo-prisons they call government houses. The President lives inside the “rock”; the masses live inside the “dust”; The President is “protected” by soldiers who stand at the door, by machine guns mounted at the gate and followed by armoured carriers wherever he goes. Our President is a civilian living inside the barracks.

Our governors are in the same circumstance. Once they get into the government houses, the one who was born in the village, in the backwaters of the city, would quickly forget his origin. As soon as he enters the governor’s office, the protocol officers would decide who and what he should see, what he should eat and how he should talk. All these ensure that those in charge of our affairs are disconnected from us; they lose touch with reality.

Umar ibn AbdulAziz once heard that one of his sons had purchased a valuable jewel for one thousand dirhams. So he wrote to him: “I have heard that you have bought a gem for one thousand dirhams. When this letter reaches you, sell the ring and fill one thousand stomachs. Then make a ring out of two dirhams, make its stone out of Chinese iron, and write upon it, ‘God bestows His mercy upon the one who knows his true value”. A governor in one of the states in the South Western part of this country was once told of the extravagant behaviour of one his children. He then retorted: “Please allow those children to enjoy themselves; they have all suffered with their father before; it is time for them to enjoy”!!!

Oladosu is a Professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies and Dean, Faculty of Arts,University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

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