fiction

Boarding Pass (2)

And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being Acts 17:26-28 NKJV

boarding-pass

A ‘Romantic’ Elope

Demi woke up with a very funny idea. It always amazed him how creative he was in the mornings. After a long hard brainstorming last night and some prayers (this he was learning, and so far, it appeared to work), he had a plan. He texted Shade, well he rewrote the text five times to arrive at:

Good morning Beautiful. Arise and shine. Call me when you see this.

She called back two hours later.

“Demi?!….” What kind of game is he trying to play?

“Hey you. Um…can we do lunch?” Was he asking her out on a date?

She agreed, they did lunch that afternoon. Over a steaming bowl of Amala and Gbegiri at Bukha Hut, Demi unraveled his mysterious plan: “…..And that baby is how we get out of this scheme.” He thought it was brilliant, she thought he was crazy.

But when she arrived home that night to see printed Invitation cards and her father signing them at the table, too buried in the activity to even return her greeting, she was irritated.

“Demi, uh….thanks for lunch today, do you think the plan would work?” She said with desperation when she finally settled in to make a call.

“Say what, Girl? The network over here is bad.” Demi replied with a chuckle.

“Do. You. Think. The. Plan. Would. Work?” Shade asked again.

“Ofcourse it would. Oh I heard the first time. Your American accent is gorgeous damn….”

She cut the phone, and put it down smiling. She couldn’t tell if it was the plan or the man that tickled her.

 

*****************************

Thursday afternoon, they were in Abuja. A delayed flight due to weather conditions meant that they had to spend three and half hours together before leaving Lagos’ MM II. Now they were a little more than just acquaintances.

Demi now understood Shade wasn’t obnoxious, and Shade understood that Demi was not a Lagos ‘player’ with a lot of money. They had exchanged stories.

The plan went sour the moment they found out that Shade couldn’t just buy a ticket to the US, just like that. Currency issues with the Naira meant the foreign airlines were quite hesitant with selling tickets, thus Shade was on a waiting list. If they approved, she would be given a ticket.

“You are always….always on the laptop.” Shade blurted out on Friday evening. Demi Shrugged. She wasn’t lying. “Let me tell you something Mr would-be CEO, the company would flourish in your absence, the world would move on if you God-forbid died. Take a chill-pill.”

Demi put down his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes. “This is why my father wants me to get married. Would you marry me?” He chuckled.

“Joker!” She smiled. “Hey, let’s take a selfie. If we are supposed to be on a trip shopping for the wedding, we have to make it appear so.” They took selfies: the smiling one, the pouting one, the crazy-faced one. Ten shots later, and three Instagram posts later, it was boring.

“I like this one, Bae and I…the world can wait…Are you always mysterious and introspective?” She asked curious as ever.

Truth was he just wrote something. “Um…I’d rather refer to it as being spontaneous.” his was a cheeky yet smart reply.

The evening wore on beautifully. They went to dinner, and just…talked! And with each conversation, they felt less vulnerable with each other.

“So….how does it feel to be a billionaire’s son?” She asked with a soft laugh.

“You tell me. Your father is a billionaire as well. Billionaires in Naira are just starting. When you convert the net worth to the dollar, it’s not so much anyway.” He shrugged.

“Oh please…..this is not an interview with the Financial Times, can you just be real?!”

“Ok…well there are two sides: you have a lot of fun because you can do almost anything, money is not exactly a problem. It can make you stupid because what others consider a blessing, you see it as a right. Then there’s the other side where you work crazy hard to protect your wealth.”

“….And you play hard as well?” She asked with a wink.

“Maybe in my early twenties. Straight out of college, partied hard, painted the town red. I almost got into trouble a lot. But God’s mercy, that’s what I call it, just helped me cos the moments of pleasure versus the long-term effects….” Is there something she wants to know?

Their dessert arrived just in time.

“So are there any liver problems, STDs or diseases I should know about?” They both laughed.

“Girl, are you like out of your mind? Oh wait you’re a doctor, I forgot that. I’m sorry I can’t provide my medical history….” Another laugh. “….But as far as I know, I had none of those. I consider that to be a miracle in itself.”

The marriage issue was the elephant in the room though and as they ‘washed down’ dinner and desert with a glass of wine. Shade decided to ‘hunt the elephant’:

“I have being dying to ask a question..” Shade started.

“Shoot.” Will the questions ever end? He played cool though.

“This marriage benefits you more than me. You become CEO, you lead a Billion Naira company into the future, and I give you kids. You can play along and have an affair outside, like some side-chick or something like most African men….why aren’t you going along?”

He sighed, and took a long sip from his chapman; The grilled Chicken was to die for!

“First of all, when you say MOST African men cheat, that’s an accusation without empirical evidence…..”

“….I apologize”

“…..Second I don’t want to do this to you to me, to us…this….arranged thing where we have no commitment, and we are almost being forced….”

“Who says we have no commitment? We’d say vows in front of a pastor or priest in front of God?!….” She protested.

“…more like lying. Because we haven’t made up our minds to…or more like I haven’t made up my mind to. I’m not sure this is how God intended marriage in the beginning.” Demi made his case with the most serious look she had ever seen of him.

There was a silence brief but meaningful and her next words came right out of her heart. “You are a godly man. Are you religious?”

He gave her a look that made her clarify her question: “Mercy….miracles…..now…marriage and God’s intention?!”

“Well I am a Christian…..” He replied afraid that all his street-cred was about to be burned yet at peace with his confession.

“Jesus-follower Christian? or Christianity as per religion?” Shade asked her voice slightly lowered.

“Jesus follower Christian!” Demi said even more sure this time. She was quiet. He did not know what to think.

“Karl Max said religion is the opium of the masses. Most people around here need God for blessings, miracles and breakthroughs, why on earth do you need God? C’mon you know I’m right.” She had to speak a bit louder above the sound filtering from a Jazz band playing on the hotel foyer across the room.

“Shade, the point of Christianity is not getting blessings. Man’s ultimate purpose is to worship God. Without it, life is empty and meaningless. This applies whether you are rich or poor.” Where did that answer come from?

“Wow, well I wouldn’t call myself religious. I am sure God would be very mad with me at the very least.” Shade forced a laugh. He was straight-faced.

“Why?”

“Let’s see…one….I partied hard in college, alcohol, some drugs in my freshman year. And oh…sexperiments in my sophmore year. I was sober in my Senior year” Shade winked. Demi mouthed ‘wow’. She laughed.

“….oh one more…” She looked away. “..Early on in my medical practice, I lost a child, a patient, due to neglect. I mean I misdiagnosed his condition, and prescribed a drug that killed him. My supervisor swept it under the carpet and the hospital paid a very heavy fine to keep the family quiet. I was fired to avoid the scrutiny of a medical board which could revoke my license. And to this day, I live with a guilt nothing can ever take away.”

“…..But the blood of Jesus certainly can! And before we had our crazy life moments, God was ‘crazy’ enough to send his son to die on the cross so that anyone who believes in Him via His son Jesus can have their sins paid for, thus they are forgiven and free. Nothing we have ever done is bigger than what Jesus did on Calvary. But we have got to accept and appropriate the grace freely given.”

There was silence! Like one where no one is sure exactly what should be said. He took her hand and squeezed it gently but firm. Are you even supposed to do that? Demi Focus. He cautioned himself.

The night was getting windy and it was their cue to hitch a cab to the hotel. “Demi, did you just preach to me?!” she said once they were in the cab. She had switched moods almost instantly.

“Yup. I think I might have. Was it good?” Demi replied attempting to sound upbeat.

“I don’t know…But if it was I’m supposed to be crying and converted. But since I’m not…oops sorry.” She laughed in a way that if he hadn’t known better, he’d call her drunk.

“You are evil.” He said with a grin.

“Sorry! But seriously I would think about it.” She said with a smile.

“I have to write that letter to my Dad tonight.” Shade said a few moments later, bringing their minds back to the plan. He agreed she should. They needed to stay focused.

The plan was for her to go to the US and email her father vowing not to return until the whole marriage was cancelled. Abuja was also Demi’s secret part to see if he was right to dismiss Shade. Only he knew that part though. So far, he wasn’t sure if he ever wanted to let her go though.

It is so hard to say Goodbye

Saturday moved so quickly. In the morning, Shade got a call from the airline:

“Yes ma’am your ticket purchase was approved and we even have a flight to New York you can be on tonight, if you want?”

“I’d take it !” She replied quickly before she changed her mind. Demi wasn’t sure if he liked the plan anymore.

All afternoon, they shopped. She wanted to take away as many Nigerian memories as possible: Sandals, hats, hand-made shoes, books, Kilichi, bags, clothes, etc. By early evening there was a full box, scratch that, two full boxes.

In the evening, she was ready to go and when they got to the airport, neither wanted the plan anymore but neither had the courage to opt out.

She checked in and thereafter they had some time before she would finally disappear. They shared a Coke, just one can, with plantain chips. They were barely talking now.

“Shade, you are beautiful and smart. A doctor with prospects and a bright future…..”

Oh God please let him beg me to stay, not to go. I won’t even move. Wait Shade you’ve got to have a response. Focus.

“….Get a job in the US! You have lived your life with your father’s decisions, now you live! Live the life you have always dreamed and don’t you look back.” He closed his eyes meaning every word.

What?! Is he pushing me away? Is he even serious? “What?!” Shade blurted out.

“What?!” He replied. She stood up suddenly. “Are you sending me away? Demi? I live where I want, I do what I want! My decisions are my decisions. Yes my father has directed them, but I made those decisions. Don’t you tell me what I can or cannot do with my life!” Now Shade was raising her voice as tears welled up in her throat.

What did you just do Einstein? You just ruined a perfect moment Demi. Why are you just stupid?  “Shade please don’t take this the wrong way!”

“How am I supposed to take it?” He begged. This wasn’t happening. “I was…….” He was interrupted by the airport announcer.

“Passengers boarding Emirates Flight A630 to JFK, New York, please proceed to gate 3 immediately! Passengers boarding Emirates Flight A630 to JFK, New York, please proceed to gate 3 immediately.”

Shade turned and left. Demi stood wondering what in the world had just happened. It would be a long trip to Lagos in the morning. He would take the bus.

*****************************************

Somewhere midflight across the Atlantic, Shade recalled the entire situation and cried her eyes out. Did she overreact? Was Thursday, Friday and Saturday a romantic scam? For one moment, she had felt he was very sincere but why did he push her away? “Get a job in the US? Who is he to tell me where I am to live. If he didn’t want me, why didn’t he just say so..?” She gathered herself and she wondered if she hadn’t created a scene already. Thankfully she hadn’t.

Her eyes travelled across the aisle to a Hispanic couple. The man appeared to be in pain and what appeared to be a nebulizer on his nose. The woman, his wife seemed to reading to him from a tablet. Was she speaking English? Shade strained to listen for some reason:

She could hear the woman reading in English above her accent: “….I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.”

Was God trying to talk to her?

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Nigeria, Opinion

The NIS Recruitment Nightmare: A Portrait of Nigeria and Nigerians

a cross-section of candidates for the NIS recruitment exercise

The Nigerian Immigration Service recruitment exercise incident is a tragedy. Asides from the lives of 13 young promising Nigerians lost (as at the time of writing), our nation should mourn for many reasons: unemployment, corruption, gross mismanagement, and the list is endless.

It is very unfortunate that a minister has come out to say that the innocent people who died were impatient. I’m not surprised, the average Nigerian politician thinks through the anus not the brain (please don’t ask how that works).

I’m not waiting to hear from the presidency. Mr Abati and President Jonathan live outside the reality of the terrible state Nigeria has become, so their statements are very ‘formal’. When was the last time you found comfort, inspiration, hope and encouragement from a presidential statement, address, or media chat? Thank you, we can move on now.

A great man once said “we have found the enemy, and [alas], it is us!” I can’t agree more. The surface tension of insecurity, corruption and needless deaths in Nigeria are results of a fundamental problem: we lack compassion in Nigeria. A compassion-less system that places no value on human life is why we are where we are.

This doesn’t explain all our problems, however it does point out many other misgivings on which the Nigerian state runs.

Before we gathered thousands of youth in stadiums and other venues across the country, did somebody not think about crowd control and a work flow to avoid a stampede? No! In a compassionate country, the Fire Service will have determined if a fire code permits such gatherings, the police would understand that crowd control requires a large personnel on ground and it may be too difficult a crowd to manage, therefore tell the organizers to call it off. Even the irresponsible Nigerian Immigration Service would have known that since the number of applicants is huge, the test can be conducted in a very different way, instead of causing a chaos.

The Nigerian people aren’t left out. There is a lesson for us here.

We are so used to disorder and frustration that we would rather struggle for something than form a queue. And when there is a queue, there will always be one ‘idiot’ who thinks he or she is smarter than everyone, trying to jump the queue. In fact if only this attitude is corrected, life will be very different. Imagine if with a sizable crowd, there was order yesterday, we won’t have a tragedy today.

And the large number of unemployed people? Finally the truth is out. We continue to chide ourselves on a ‘growing economy’ with a very nice media campaign about how Nigeria is thriving economically courtesy the transformation agenda yet our unemployed youth are an enormous number. Unfortunately, we would rather go to the World Economic Forum in Davos, dash all the delegates a green-white-green scarf and take our finest musicians to entertain our prospective ‘foreign investors’ (who won’t come anyway because they know the truth), than take care of our mess at home. But then isn’t that what a lot of Nigerians are about, a public display of affluence even when some of the show-offs are genuinely broke?

Some have hinted that our youth should dream and create businesses. Well we are! And yes quite honestly the government supports through heroics like Youwin and Bank of Industry (BOI) SME loans, but come on, much more can be done! The essentials for doing businesses must be in place: Electricity, for example. Besides not everyone will be entrepreneurs. A good number will be part-time business owners, others full-time employees. No nation in the world has an economy where everyone is an entrepreneur. A good economy must cater for all, regardless.

Finally let APC and PDP, just shut up. This is not the time to throw political missiles. So the statement from the All Progressive Congress saying that PDP’s irresponsible rule caused this incident, is needless. May I point out that a good number of APC Members were once in the People’s Democratic Party? Changing political parties doesn’t redeem you from your previous wrongs. Therefore we don’t blame a party, we blame elected people who have not led well, both in PDP and APC! Besides for all APC’s noise, I still don’t know what their manifesto is.

At the end of the day, 13 young promising Nigerians (or more) have died and their families have been thrown into mourning, we must not forget them like we have forgotten the Aluu four or the 25 young women abducted by insurgents a few weeks ago. By the way, will the families of these departed ones be compensated?

 

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Inspiration, Leadership, Nigeria

November 2012: Let Americans Decide, Nigerians Just Observe

My first encounter with a US election was very early in my teenage years. With a blue Walkman player (in the days before ipods and mp3s) I had discovered the Voice of America on short wave, and it was thoroughly fascinating that issues and happenings from faraway were now in my ears as real as someone standing next to me speaking to me.

That was election 2000, George W. Bush vs Al Gore. Eight years later, I was an intern in arguably one of Nigeria’s finest multinational Accounting & Business Advisory firms. It was my first real exposure to the corporate world, the corner office and office bureaucracies. It was spiced by meeting lovely ambitious people, young and old, intellectual discussions over lunch over sumptuous meals and appetizing deserts.

The topic most often up for discussion was Barack Obama vs Hillary Clinton. Clearly CNN on the plasma TV in the dining room fuelled the debate. It was exciting, educative and strange at the same time watching staff argue over the black candidate or the female candidate. Their knowledge of issues in the United States were deeply rooted in either an educational background in the States or Canada, a living experience of some sort in the US, a passport stamped over and over with a United States Visa, or hours spent watching CNN and reading Time Magazine.

It felt strange though as I couldn’t understand how an election in another country could resonate in many ways in Lagos, Nigeria even almost leading to factions existing in the firm. For some reason, I don’t remember Nigerian issues debated over lunch. I do remember vividly however, Nigeria being a butt joke for not winning a Gold medal at the Beijing Olympics despite carrying a plane load of athletes, however ONE man, an American, Michael Phelps had won eight gold medals, or so the joke went.

Looking back now, I do understand. I am now older, and I have seen enough to realise that Nigeria’s urban culture thrives on a sort of escapism. We are too ashamed to confront the realities before us, so we escape with our minds to ‘foreign issues’ and every four years when the US elections come around, we become Republican or Democrat. We hold our own small debates with our ‘elite’ friends over a drink, in office hallways, and even in church.

Anand Giridharadas wrote about this in his The New York Times article of October 08, 2011 titled: ‘In Lagos, Putting The Frills Before The Basics’, saying: “The prosperous have their ways around these burdens. Today they are as much a part of a global conversation as a Nigerian one, thanks to their technologies. The pockmarked, flooded roads beneath their feet toss them up and down inside their cars, but on their phones and iPads they can be somewhere else. The Lagos elite, I found, have more interest in, and knowledge about, the latest twists and turns of the U.S. presidential race than many Americans. One way to escape the afflictions of your own place is to preoccupy yourself with another’s.”

We all agree that US Election 08 was historical, with a worldwide effect. A Black man, Senator Barack Obama became President Barack Obama. I still remember being roused from sleep by boys screaming: ‘Obama! Obama!! Obama!!!’ around the University hall of residence, as they made a mad rush to the common room to watch the highlights on CNN. I was too tired to join as I had stayed up following the numbers on the Internet until I finally gave up and retired to bed.

This time in 2012, I have begun to follow the elections again but this time, my mind switches back to Nigeria with each thought. Last week as I watched a bit of the Republican Conventions, I wondered if the politicians in Nigeria watched this sort of thing. The organization was superb, keynote speakers were lined up to endorse Governor Mitt Romney. The speakers addressed ISSUES not PERSONALITIES. No foul words were used, intellectual arguments were put forward in an orderly manner and even the Obama campaign team know that they have to address certain issues, reassure Americans or get voted out.

Have we all noticed that no one is talking about rigging? That every address by everyone who has spoken at the Republican or Democratic Convention primarily addressed ISSUES?

I am especially impressed at the number of debates that go on before the election itself. Governor Romney debated severally with other candidates before he was nominated on issues around the economy, Defence Budgets, Tax matters, the Stock Markets, Job Creation, Health Care Issues and more. Nigerians do candidates within PDP or ACN have debates before their primaries?

Now you would also observe that both national conventions were attended by everyday people and not only rich politicians. The average American has a political allegiance rooted many times in family values, and upbringing. A huge percentage of Americans are Republican or Democrats, and take these loyalties seriously. How many ordinary Nigerians are devoted PDP, ACN or ANPP members? Aren’t our party meetings dominated by money sharing schemes, and dirty talk? Party meetings have few intellectuals and more touts and so what do we expect?

Nigeria needs to observe and learn from the US in this context. The average Nigerian is illiterate on issues surrounding governance in this nation and so it is easy for politicians to manipulate the populace. The common assumption that a government is bad, and only in power to steal, has made us as a people unwilling to hold leadership at any level accountable. If you disagree with me, I challenge you to tell me the name of your Local Government chairman, your State and Federal constituency ward of the place you reside in and your representatives at both levels. Many of us don’t know and this is where it begins.

The US is certainly not perfect, neither is the on-going Election perfect, however Nigeria has a lot to learn. Let Nigerians leave the debates to the Americans, let us only observe, learn the lessons and then we can debate Nigerian issues and hold our government accountable.

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Leadership

When The Young become The Restless

A popular TV Soap that has been on the screen for many years is titled: “The young and The Restless”. I cannot give you its plot because I’m usually lost when it comes to TV Soaps. But I do know another drama currently being played out in Nigeria as we speak.

A few weeks ago a certain bank in South-West Nigeria was robbed; eyewitness accounts have it that the robbers were young people, basically teenagers and a bit older.

In September 2011, a certain bank in Osun State was robbed, the miscreants who carried out the dastardly act that left one person dead and the entire community where the bank is located in a state of shock, were said to be young people estimated to be in their early twenties.

Most reports of the recent bombings in Northern-Nigeria have it that the said suicide bombers are usually young people and sometimes teenagers. Early this week a certain news website reported an averted bomb attack at the FCTA Complex in Abuja, it was said that the female suicide bomber who attempted the attack when interrogated was found to be twenty-one years old.

We all remember receiving reports of a group of young people who were bribed to chant support for the fuel subsidy removal for as low as N1,000 in Abuja during the nationwide strike in January.

I’m sure we all remember the post-election violence last May in Northern Nigeria said to be carried out by youths aged fifteen to nineteen.

It does appear that The Young are becoming The Restless in Nigeria these days as from north to south, reports after reports point accusing fingers at the young people as perpetrators of evil. The above is debatable as many times, the real people behind the trouble remain the shadows and the naïve young people are the foot soldiers for the evil schemes.

In my opinion, a greater truth is that for every one naïve young person who sells his or her soul to evil, there are three people who are on their way to greatness via a legitimate means. I have sat with this people, interacted with such people and been where these people are, and the young people of Nigeria overall are very enterprising as a collective set.

The January 15th edition of the popular Nigerian syndicated TV talk-show Moments with Mo, as relayed on Africa Magic featured some young Nigerian entrepreneurs like Bukunyi Olateru-Olagbegi ACE Magazine publisher who started the magazine along with his friends in his room at the Redeemers University, Dr Ola Orekunrin a twenty-four year old medical doctor who runs Flying Doctors West-Africa’s first Air Ambulance service company, the CEO of Jobberman the revolutionary online job-recruiting tool, Ayodeji Adewunmi and a host of other entrepreneurs.

Surely there are many others like these ones who haven’t made it to the limelight yet but are making a difference in obscurity around Nigeria in all six geo-political zones.

But the truth is that victory in the battle between good and evil is in influence not numbers. We all know that to poison a pack of juice, you do not need a pack of rat poison as only a little is required, the same goes for seasoning a pot of soup with salt.

The underlying issue is that we the Nigerian youth are raw materials of some sort, and we can be made into poison or salt depending on what influence we are exposed to.

I have often wondered what the future of Nigeria would be like, and I sometimes shiver in fear thinking about it looking at the seeds we are planting now especially in the children and young people the future citizens and leaders of Nigeria. Education is just not a priority in this nation as I see it. We have witnessed ASSU and the Federal Government play chess over the heads of innocent students with a strike that lasted a little over 6 weeks.

A visit to many schools, private and public in this country would reveal a very dull place where learning is forced and very little imagination is engaged. Nothing wakes up the mind, and very little inspires students to attain greatness. It’s not a question of curriculum or infrastructure alone, it is a total package from Curriculum to infrastructure to teaching methods, learning aids. Our schools need to go beyond the norm. Our schools from Nusery, to Primary to tertiary institutions should be the finest places in terms of infrastructure, organization and discipline all around Nigeria because there the future hinges between good or bad.

Last year, I had different opportunities to interact with students in Junior and Senior Secondary School and two Universities, and my discovery was that in Nigeria we have an enormous and precious resource in our youth. The missing link in the puzzle can be found in our national anthem, beginning at the fourth line of the second stanza: Help our youth the truth to know, in love and honesty to grow, and living just and true, great lofty heights attain, to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.

An entire section of the anthem is dedicated to the message of positive mentorship and leadership which has not been given priority as it ought by the Nigerian Society.

By the way, The Nigeria – Next Generation Final Report as compiled by The Next Generation Task Force chaired by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (the then managing director of the world bank) convened by the British Council in 2010, states as its first key finding:

Nigeria stands on the threshold of what could be the greatest transformation in its history. By 2030, it will be one of the few countries in the world that has young workers in plentiful supply. Youth, not oil, will be the country’s most valuable resource in the twenty-first century.” 

2030 is only eighteen years from now. Eighteen years is: two years plus the defunct 6-3-3-4 system of education. The two years can be ASSU strike, internship or post-UME wahala. It just has to be.

We cannot dissolve ourselves as Nigerian youth from any form of responsibility in this matter. We are the future and we need to decide for ourselves what Nigeria would look like in our time. If the greatness of Nigeria is what we desire, then we must wake up now, every one of us!

If we wait for all infrastructures to be in place, and for all conditions to be perfect before we move towards greatness, nothing would happen! We might not be able to control the way things are in our nation, but we can control our minds and apply ourselves to make a difference for good and start building a great nation.

To change the plot of the unfolding drama, two ingredients must be introduced: faith and patience. We just must believe in the Nigerian state and the possibilities for rebirthing a nation for greatness, then we must be patient for nation-building is a very long……process.

It’s only a matter of time and the drama would end. The credits would roll through the screen of history and our names would all be written for good or for bad.

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Inspiration, Leadership

A Tale of Two buses

One of the most interesting places in the world to live is Lagos, Nigeria. It is Nigeria’s commercial capital and as one financial channel on satellite TV would put it: West Africa’s Commercial Hub.

Life in Lagos is no stroll in the park; you have to be born sharp to survive the everyday intricacies of the common man. But we can’t afford to discuss Lagos and not discuss public transportation. Every mega city has its commercial lifeline hinged on the efficiency of public transportation, every city apart from Lagos that is. I cannot really say why but something along the lines of not planning the city properly by various past governments could be blamed.

Thank God for the Bus Rapid Transport, an initiative initiated in the twilight years of Governor Ahmed Bola Tinubu but has risen on the wings of success by Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola. Every time I sit in one I enjoy sanity. Usually I like to take it from the outskirts of the city to Lagos Island and considering the distance, I do two things on the bus: relax and imagine. The relative silence allows me to do that. At least no one is preaching a half-truth gospel, or selling a drug that does everything from curing a headache to identifying your HIV status. Most thankfully, no elderly salesman is selling a quick action sexual performance enhancing mixture with tales of his own sex life, how he is fast becoming an outstanding athlete in bedmatics with a tired wife and a growing battalion of children as his medal of honour. The silence is supposedly golden until you sit with a fellow with poor telephone matters or a loud discussion is going on among some passengers.

The secret behind the success of the BRT is a completely franchised system from ticketing to employment of Bus drivers.Private enterprises run different routes, properly supervised by the government, call it a private-public partnership and you won’t be wrong.

The story of public transportation is incomplete without the ‘danfo’, those precious buses coated in yellow with a touch of black along the body symmetry. They’ve surely outlived the ‘molue’ the symbol of public transportation in Lagos in the not too distant past, but which has become very rare these days. A ‘danfo’ bus ride is anything but pleasurable, as many danfos are old with worn out engines and terrible upholstery. A vast majority of ‘danfo’ drivers and conductors have an attitude that presents a case study in terrible customer service leaving many commuters more tired and offended than before they boarded.

Today I boarded a danfo from Surulere to Ikeja, two popular suburbs in Lagos, midway into the journey the driver (who was without a conductor) began driving crazily, engaging many of us passengers in a curse-match when we cautioned him. The journey was darted with brief stints of insanity and mischief here and there including stopping to fill his radiator with water.

If you dey run, you no go drink water? If you go drink, motor sef go drink when ’im run finish.” He said justifying his latest stint of insanity.

Commuters like me have given up when it comes to the issue of Danfo buses, but the disparity between danfos and BRTs goes beyond a mere difference in service delivery or types of vehicles, it shows the difference in mentality and attitude between public and private enterprise in the Nigerian society.

In Nigeria, the word Public before anything automatically qualifies it for mediocrity, and poor treatment without a second thought. Just visit a public toilet, public school or board a public bus, you wouldn’t be shocked by how poorly maintained the facility or vehicle is. The same is the reason why many Federal and State Ministries around Nigeria are mediocre in terms of organisation, service delivery and strategic Management. Many Civil Servant arrive the office late, chit-chat away the day, deliver little and can’t stand a minute longer once it’s closing time. Who can blame them when their bosses are not any different and office equipment in many governmental organisations are out dated or non-existent altogether. We all don’t care: “This is government work, after all how much are they paying me sef?” the average civil-servant would say.

I was told by a friend of mine who was posted to a state in North-Central Nigeria to serve in a Local Government Secretariat during his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme that the staffs in the secretariat do not show up at work at all until payday. On payday they come, form a long line, collect their pay and bid each other farewell until another payday.

For a little over a decade, my parents lived in a rented apartment in Bariga, Lagos. It was in that apartment, I was born and raised until we moved, when I was nine years old. In the compound, was a public toilet that served a barbing saloon, a rental shop, and a store located in front of the house. I do remember my mother always quarrelling with the barber for using the toilet without taking care of it. Not that it was her business after all we had our own toilet in the flat, but the stench sometimes could be smelt in our rooms. It was often a terrible scenario of ‘the evil that men do, lives after them’. The barber was just doing what the typical Nigerian does with anything public: do your bit, take care of yourself and get out without a second thought about taking proper care of the place for the next person.

Nigerians often forget that those in government are not aliens who invaded the nation, they are products of the society, it only follows that the average Nigerian attitude is carried into governance.

Officials elected and appointed do in public office, what Nigerians do in public toilet: get in, relive yourself, wipe your butt clean and get out. The problem with our nation is not limited to those in government, it’s a collective problem of the Nigerian society in the context of attitude and societal values and no election whatsoever can change it. It’s up to a national transformation sparked by Nigerians one by one.

This is not to say that private enterprises are perfect. There are many private companies that are landmarks of corporate corruption but a limit is placed because of the compelling vision and desire not to be swept away by the competition. Corporate governance, strategic plans and industry rules well adhered to, make private enterprises what they are and the Nigerian people as staff and customers comply well. You don’t walk into a banking hall and see a teller attempting to sell puff-puff and Fanta to a manager behind a desk reading a newspaper with legs on the table. Customers are not seen crowding the teller demanding money without a line, discipline and order is glaring.

Is the solution to Nigeria’s national dilemma to privatise everything? Yes, is the answer it seems but we are quick to forget that not everything can be privatised! Can we privatise the Nigerian Police Force? I wish we could. Can the Nigerian Armed Forces be privatised? It is obvious that The Office of Governor of a certain state or The Presidency cannot be outsourced. Privatisation while commendable and an important factor in National Development is not a total solution.

If this flaw in our thinking and attitude is going to be corrected, it’s going to take collective effort. Every individual is going to have to accept that Nigeria belongs to all of us. And anything public is something belonging to all of us and must be treated responsibly, efficiently, diligently and excellently from public toilet to public office. This is the new Nigeria, we seek and no amount of occupying would take us there if we don’t decide as individuals that it is up to all of us, one by one to begin this change in thought and attitude.

When all is said and done, it’s all a tale of two buses, plying the same road transporting commuters from one destination to another but we know which bus wins with commuters every time.

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