The whole country was bursting with pride some thirty-five years ago when Professor Wole Soyinka became the first black man to win the Nobel Prize for literature. Therefore in a vantage position to witness the buzz that swept across the country.
Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, a Soyinka protégée who became his friend and confidant, was then at the Guardian. He leveraged his considerable connections with the press in giving the award as much mileage as possible. He could also not be more enthused and energetic in co-ordinating some of the many receptions held for Soyinka.
Our own WS we proudly labeled him. We had found a literary answer to the legendary William Shakespeare! We had matched the best our colonial master ever produced. The way the Wole Soyinka award resonated right across the country left no one in doubt that it was the kind of thing we wanted to be identified with as a country. He was who we wanted to be.
Some five years later, the country again stood still as we watched what was to be dubbed ‘The Miracle of Damman’. That was when our lads came from 4-0 down to win a soccer match. It was a demonstration of courage, determination, and resilience. It positively demonstrated the ‘can-do spirit’ we know Nigerians possess but which is oftentimes used negatively.
Again, the buzz and the inner feeling of joy cut across socio/political zones. After all, the boys had just shown the world who we felt we were. And till today, football always reveals a part of us that otherwise hides under divisive clouds.
These days, I always feel an overwhelming pride each time I see Chimamanda Adichie speak around the world. The content and depth of her speeches, the delivery, the eloquence, and the diction reflect an educated, cosmopolitan mind.
Her refusal to speak with a foreign affectation after years of schooling and living abroad speaks to a confident personality. Her willingness to identify with Africa demonstrates her pride in her heritage. Her achievements will make any parent – white or black – proud. But she has chosen to remain a Nigerian. She represents who we will want to be.
Many scientists all over the world are beaming lights into the dark, destructive world of COVID 19. One of the leading lights belongs to a Nigerian who is co-ordinating one of US efforts to find a vaccine.
We were all filled with pride when a man with an obviously Nigerian name and an obviously Nigerian diction, was shown on CNN as leading groundbreaking team. ‘He is one of us’ we chorused proudly. He represents the Nigerian aspiration. There are many Nigerians like Dr. Babafemi Taiwo dotted all over the world who are performing feats in their different fields.
One is Adebayo Alonge, a Pharmacist, who was last week recognized by Justin Trudeau, the Canadian PM for co-developing an Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can detect fake and expired drugs which will save thousands of lives. These people show a glimpse of what Nigerians are capable of. They are also a worthy and credible counterforce to the ‘other Nigerians’ who tarnish our image. But are they who we are?
Their efforts unfortunately are somewhat obscured by our reluctance to give prominence to them. Instead, we seem inclined to follow the Western media in echoing the arrest of criminals. And when it comes to National Awards, we ‘forget’ them and choose instead, the politicians and the Civil Servants. People who abuse their positions and loot the commonwealth. People who have no known industry or factory. Or contribute anything meaningful to humanity. Do we, in rewarding these people, reveal our values?
At indigenization in 1973, Nigeria had many multinational companies. Many of them were doing extremely well. We often cite a lack of infrastructure and a conducive environment for the progressive collapse of these companies. But is it a mere coincidence that the collapse started when management was handed over to Nigerians? When these Nigerian managers stripped company assets and sold them to themselves?
When they inflated invoices so they could buy houses and live like lords in the UK? When their succession plans were based more on tribe than merit? There is a recent news report that says the Kaduna Refinery is generating zero income. Yet a refinery that was set up around the same time in an Asian country is now three times bigger.
Meanwhile, the penance, or reward for this CEO or the CEOs of the other refineries is that they would want to be the Governors or Senators of their respective States. In these political adventures, their people, starting with the Monarchs, elders and religious leaders, would loudly endorse them knowing – and not caring – where the campaign funds have come from. Is this an indication of who we really are?
Companies, private and public, are being sabotaged every day. It starts from the gateman who diverts customers to rival companies, to marketing executives who market identical products from rival companies, to managers who moonlight openly, to CEOs who steal as if there is no tomorrow. And indeed tomorrow is always bleak for these companies.
In our industry, the newspaper business, the avenues for fraud are so many that it is a small wonder newspaper survive at all. From printers and circulation executives who collude to sell a certain number of copies every day (we sometimes call it the printers’ edition).
Or the accounts officer who knowingly counts rough copies or other newspapers as ‘unsold’. Or the advert executive who convinces a client to pay cash so he could claim a discount he is not entitled to. I could go on. But the one I will always remember was a staff I trusted so much. One of the few who came to my house to clear technical faults. One that I regularly passed my clothes to. I sent him to inspect a 265KVA generator we were trying to buy.
He knew his opinion would help make my mind up. Yet he colluded with the other side to recommend a seriously defective generator. This issue of trust in a business where everybody wants a cut, where we often confuse scams with smartness, where there is no loyalty, raises a poser as to who we really are.
Finally, in the week a conman was arrested in Dubai, another Nigerian did us proud by returning a huge sum of money in Japan. One represented darkness. The other represented light. One lived a flamboyant life mixing freely with the political elite. Yet none wondered how a 27-year-old came about so much money.
The other a quiet, studious man, preferred to put a premium on values that money cannot buy. Many there are, including those in the religious, who would have called him a fool. Now, which of these two extremes approximates the Nigerian of today? Which better describes us?