In This Same Country…

Dr-Reuben-Abati

Abati

There is today in Nigeria an entire generation of Nigerian-passport wielding men and women who do not actually know, to borrow Achebe’s words that indeed “there was once a country”. These children born in a season of austerity, and raised during the years that the locusts ate, have become angry citizens. They are angry because they live in a country that makes them feel less worthy than the human standard. The only Nigeria that they know is a country that makes them feel ashamed of their own origins. Many of them have enjoyed the privilege of foreign education and exposure to some of the best traditions in other parts of the world, but when they return to their own country, right from the airport, the snow of failure and inefficiency strikes them in the face, leaving them with no option but to wonder quo vadis Nigeria? It is the same question that their parents asked and the tragedy is that their own children except something else happens, are likely to ask exactly this same old and vexed question.

The angst of this young generation is made worse when they are told that Nigeria was not always like this. In their late 20s to thirties, these children have only known that Nigeria where fuel scarcity is a fact of daily life, and part of the mechanism of survival is to know how to draw fuel with your mouth, or negotiate black market purchase of fuel, while lugging jerry cans, either at the fuel station or a roadside corner where you cannot be sure of the quality of fuel – all of that in a country that is the world’s sixth largest producer of crude oil. These children have only known a country where the roads are bad, services are sub-standard, people are mean, criminality is rife, and electricity is available once in a blue moon.

What they know is a country where the pastors and malams are better known for lying, swearing, cheating, calling the name of God in vain. In their Nigeria, public and private officials are lazy, and unproductive, they just want to reap, and they have sucked the country so dry, her glands are wasted, flat, going South and no more presentable, the balloon has suffered a blow out, even the blind can see that this is so. These angry children are no longer proud of the green passport; because the Constitution allows dual citizenship, they’d rather grab the citizenship of another country, and remain linked to Nigeria only by blood, and that is the case because they have parents who would not want them to de-link completely, but if they don’t, their own children and their own children after them, are already being lost to countries where things work, where the basic necessities of life are taken for granted and where the future is not a distant, unknown, and impossible destination.

The anger and the nonchalance of this generation of Nigerians is the pain and the agony of an older generation that knew a different country before all things went kaput and Nigeria became a byword for the unhinged, the dark, the ugly and the regrettable. Our generation and the generation before us knew a different country. And because that is so, memory is an affliction, a source of torment, nostalgia and regret, more so as that distant past now seems so unattainable not because distance often makes the past look better, but because in Nigeria, the past is sorrily idyllic. Those who lived in that other country and are still alive could not have forgotten so soon, because to forget something that important is to self-deny, it is to pretend, it is to abuse, it is in all, an act of pitiable abnegation.

How could we have forgotten? How can anyone possibly forget? That this was once a country where Nigerians felt at home in virtually any part of the country. Igbos lived peacefully in the North, and Fulani herdsmen were at peace with other Nigerians, and there was no issue with the planting of yams or the grazing of cattle. In this same country, Southerners lived for decades in the North, acquired property and spoke the language of their hosts. We grew up knowing Baba Kaduna, Daddy Kano, Mama Kafanchan, Uncle Porta, just as persons from the East and the South South contested for elective positions in the West and won. There was a civil war yes, and things began to change but even after the war, it was never this bad. Nigerians from the South still went on national assignment in the North, Christians and Muslims tried to live together in peace, but today, things have fallen apart.

There is no open civil war, but this country is at war on all fronts, the worst fronts being the ethnic, the religious and the political, and these post-civil war children just can’t understand why the generations of their fathers and grandmothers can’t run an efficient country. They have been taught in school that every nation has problems, but leadership is about managing those problems and building a happy nation. They hear about the big names of Nigerian history, the statesmen who fought for independence, the Amazons who defended the place of women in national decision making processes, the accomplished scientists, the literati and cultural workers, but the historical figures who have made the biggest impression on them are the ones who ruined the nation with their acts of omission and commission.

In this same country, the Naira used to be at par with the pound and was for many years stronger than the dollar. So strong was the Naira that many Nigerians, including the lower middle class could afford to travel to London on Friday evening, attend a party in London on Saturday, attend church service on Sunday, check out one or two mistresses in paid-for flats in different parts of London, and return to Nigeria early enough on Monday morning to be able to go to work. All that was no big deal. Everyone in London knew the Nigerians. They were the biggest spenders and they threw the best parties. There was Nigeria Airways; owned and operated by the Nigerian government and it was one of the best airlines in Africa. Its pilots were rated among the best in the world. Its safety record was superb. And it was affordable. It was the pride of the nation. Within the country, Nigeria Airways was also efficient. A trip from Lagos to Calabar in those days was just N44! Students enjoyed rebates too.

In this same country, once upon a time, public transportation was impressive. In Lagos for example, the public transportation system was almost exactly a version of what they have in London. This may sound like something being made up to the younger generation, but it is nothing but the truth. The railway system worked too, and one of the most prestigious jobs was to be a railway staff. That same Nigerian Railway Corporation that is now a parody of its former self, used to link up the entire country and it helped to build cities and villages, as the various major train stations became commercial centres. Today, railway transportation looks like something we are trying to reinvent.

Once upon a time in this same country, those who sent their children abroad did so majorly out of choice, not necessity, because Nigerian schools were among the best in the continent and the world. Teachers from different parts of the world, the best and the brightest, sought employment in Nigerian schools. The Naira was strong, investors-both commercial and intellectual – trooped to this country in droves and they enriched us in many ways. The schools were well-equipped; they attracted students and teachers based on their reputation.

Parents sent their own children to their alma mater out of loyalty, and regard for tradition. That pattern of grandfather, father and son attending the same secondary school seems to have ended; the public schools in Nigeria have failed, the missionary schools of old have been destroyed by hostile government take-over, back in the hands of the missions, the destruction is yet to be fully corrected. The younger generation reflects on all this: mostly products of private schools, they can’t understand why a country that still prides itself as the giant of Africa cannot run a decent education system or provide jobs for the products of its school system.

In this same county, we used to have industrial estates. In Lagos, Apapa, Ikeja and Isolo were industrial estates. In Kaduna, Jos, and Enugu, manufacturing companies created jobs and wealth. We had uncles and aunties who used to do shifts in many factories and this country produced things: from refrigerators to bulbs to vehicles to metals to books, to textiles to shoes. Sad: many of those factories have become churches! In those days, if you went into a bookshop, you could not miss the mint-fresh smell of the books on display. I miss that smell. There are fewer bookstores today and the books no longer smell the same, because by the time they are imported and passed through dirty containers and the hands of thieving handlers, the books lose their soul.

Once upon a time in this same country, there was so much hope about tomorrow. Salaries were paid as and when due. State governments offered students bursaries and scholarships. School was attractive because the teachers were dedicated and they were smart. At the university level, the government provided subsidized tuition and feeding; the rooms were kept clean by staff, the libraries were well-stocked; there was light and water and town-gown relationship was just fine. In the larger society, the present regime of no water, no fuel, no electricity was unheard of. You may have heard of the British standard, there was in fact at a time, the Nigerian standard, and this was the standard that other Africans looked up to. This same country dominated the continent, morally, intellectually and culturally. Financially too: so rich was Nigeria that a former Head of State reportedly boasted that our problem was not money but how to spend it!

But, sorry, we lost it all. And the rains began to beat us. The victims are the younger ones who have not known any other country but this new one. The danger is: they may never know how to make a difference when they inherit this poisoned chalice called Nigeria.



30 Comments
  • Tayo Akin

    Yes, in this same country where a former ideologist, social critic and respectable writer with many followers suddenly jumped ship to become the defender of the most corrupt and criminal government in Abuja. In this same country when the same man turned his eyes from truth and became a pun in the hand of corruption ridden politicians. In the same country where money can buy the best of minds to do the unthinkable.

    • adejoke

      You will soon see that the government you referred to is not the most corrupt. Your eyes will soon be clear that the devil you know is better than the one that pretend to be angel of light and are more devilish than the devil.

    • Highflyer

      “…most corrupt and criminal government …”? By what authority and what empirical standard do you judge? You voted in government who’s leader could not read and understand something as simple as a budget before public presentation and you have nerve to point fingers at doctorate degree holder for serving his country when you should be hiding yourself in shame.

  • Uchenna Ugokwe

    Abati forget your past euphoria. Not once in this soulless article did I see a solution. Even now can’t you see that there was no plan in place during your so called Eldorado. And now there is still no plan in place. At this rate 30 years to come if we are still around we shall still tell the younger ones that 2016 was heaven.
    Those who still believe that Nigeria is one are either gullible or mischievous.
    A PERSON WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHEN THE RAIN STARTED BEATING HIM IS NOT LIKELY TO KNOW WHEN IT STOPPED.
    In Nigeria fundamental things like justice are swept under the carpet. Until we courageously deal with it we shall be going round in a circle endlessly.

  • Onyebuchy Hookz

    Nigeria was never a nation and we’re not ready to be one. The earlier we realize that the better for all of us. Those things that worked before were systems created by our selfish colonial master which they knew will not work whenever they leave and it happened so.

    • adejoke

      Who will bell the cat ?

  • Stephen

    His senses are getting back, if he accepted his position in order to make a difference he failed. Just confirmed that he was and is still part of the problems .

  • Ahmed Isah

    Cried my beloved country….justice and peace shall reign one day.

  • Ademola Oni

    This is also a country where government funds looters are hailed as heroes, a country where almost all the politicians are morally bankrupt. The senators including the Senate president are best suited for prisons, they are in a simple term; celebrated rogues. Nigeria is a country where civil servants , politicians and our lying and cheating pastors owned multiple planes. Nigerians steal government funds with impunity without any consequences. The judges in Nigeria are so corrupt that criminal cases are adjourned forever because they have been bought and paid for like a commodity. The Nigerian judges are worse than the criminals they are prosecuting because they know the laws they are deliberately breaking. The sad part is the Nigerians themselves both literates and illiterates alike even the ones living in Europe and America are so gullible that they support criminals called politicians based on their political and ethnic affiliation without regards to the truth and common sense. Nigeria top military are thieves in khaki, lack discipline and very unruly. They enriched themselves with money meant for the purchase of arms and ammunition in fighting the terrorists. Nigerians need to rally round Buhari and take Nigeria back from these corrupt men and women by any means necessary. This is our only chance before Nigeria goes down the DRAIN.

    • adejoke

      In the beginning it was not so . These guys are the calibre of people that cause our problem in the name of Sai baba and the holier than thou attitude and believe. Yet to learn your lessons.. ” e fi ete sile enpa lapalapa, you are celebrating the descendants of devourer who devour this nation.. Awolowo that has cleaner record was not given chance by you people. Otan nbi otan ?

      • Ademola Oni

        I am talking about reality of today, Buhari is currently the president of the country and we have the chance to support him to correct the past mistakes and move the country forward. Awolowo (RIP) was a great leader that cannot be compared with any present day politicians. The truth of the matter is Awolowo is no longer with us, we need to concentrate on how to improve the country for the next generation instead of wallowing in the past. Nigerians should rally round Buhari to improve the lives of the average Nigerians.

        • adejoke

          Where is the improvement. ? A FAILED PROMISE OF TURNING THINGS ROUND IN THREE MONTHS , nine months in to the wilderness of Tekoa . Eyin na Ni , ajala tan na oo ! Enu lajo wa yen Ti Ki b’olowo ninu . Mo palu fun yin , oju gbogbo lo ma jaa . Eku rabaraba !

          • Ademola Oni

            I thought I was having a discussion with an objective open minded Nigerian. Its a waste of time with you. Have a nice day

        • Uchenna Ugokwe

          The reality of today is that ‘one Nigeria ‘ is an expensive aberration we cannot afford anymore. Jesus accused the Jews of having there ear waxed gross. That’s an understatement for ‘Nigerians’ today. We need not sleep in the same bed in other to cooperate with each other. A peaceful dissolution of this luggard abomination will be in our best interest.

  • AriseNigeria

    I applaud his description of a Nigeria that perhaps once strived economically but he failed to mention the fact that the past he was describing had oil that was then a golden product sort by many countries which attracted and brought in many industries in Nigeria. of There were fewer graduates and population, and fewer balkanization of states which meant more consolidated resources and manageable governments, instead of 36 states we had 13, then 19 states, so resources were utilized more effectively then. It is also important to note here that we inherited a working system from Britain because we have just a decade ago obtained our independence from great Britain, so most of our accomplishments and sense of order then was our ability to imitate and recycle what our British colonial masters as left for us but as imitators we had limits to our to the use of own brain powers, we had limits on self-expression and limits on creativity and innovation, so as the modern world was changing, those in power mostly Hausa/Fulani, largely in military, and largely uneducated failed to learn to changing with the evolving modern world system. So the failure was predictable and inevitable. Yet in 2016, we have elected another uneducated Fulani past military leader of the same destructive era to lead us in a fast moving modern train, and sadly people expects a miracle. but that is by the way.
    Here is what I have problem with his article. To start with ethnic and religious conflict has been part and parcel of Nigeria. Muslims has been intolerant and merciless in killing Christians in the North, and that has been part of Nigerian history. However, Islam has become more radicalized, more trained and the global terror network has become more coordinated and sophisticated and we can see what Boko Haram is doing in Nigeria. Muslim dominated States declared sharia laws in a secure nation, and Your current President supported it. Today, Buhari has signed Nigeria as an Islamic Counter Terrorist Countries along Muslim countries like Quatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and etc, despite the secularity of Nigeria.
    Mr. Abati failed to mention that from 1960 till 1967, Nigeria had regional governments and that more than anything else made Nigeria a bit safe, because citizens who live outside their home domain live their when the British people were still in power, and regional arrangements meant prevented lots of conflicts we are experiencing today.
    Lastly, it failed to mention the economic and political marginalization of the former Eastern region, the fact that 85% of oil block in that region belongs to Hausa and Yoruba groups.
    After the war, nothing was done to mobilize and reintegrate, and to rehabilitate the former Eastern Nigeria, but the people were largely marginalized and their oil and other resources were savagely pillaged and were used to develop the North and the Western regions, and people of Eastern region were discriminated in all these regions and were treated with disdain, disrespect, and like outcast in what suppose to be their own country.
    Abati stated that Nigerians born outside Nigeria and educated outside Nigeria are the most trouble about an epileptic Nigeria, and he is right, and no group is more angered than the Igbos, why?
    Igbos are proud people who believes that based on history and facts on the ground, the Islamic dominated North cannot co-exist with the Christians in a peaceful Nigeria, it has not worked and it will never work, because Islamic ideology is incomparable to Christian values and ideology.
    Igbos also feel, as a people, if giving the chance and opportunity to govern themselves as an entity they will achieve same civilization as those of the countries of their foreign births, because in the world stage we are competitive with Europeans in all fronts.
    Igbos believes in Equity, Fairness and Justice, and neither Yoruba or Hausa believes in that but only when it affects them directly which has never been the case, and that is another irreconcilable difference.
    Igbos has always believed that for Nigeria to function as entity, restructure of the country is inevitable and the only solution to let peace and prosperity reign-A confederate system, with that allows each group to work at their own pace and ideology is the best way forward, but again, Yorubas are not sincere towards this commitment and Hausa has feared the may loose something, which they have not pointed out.
    So, we now saying bye bye to Nigeria, we only want Biafra, and by God’s grace WE WILL GET BIRFRA

    • Uchenna Ugokwe

      Presently Nigeria is populated by three kinds of people :
      1. Gullible minds who chant the one Nigeria mantra without understanding.
      2. Mischievous minds (divide and rule)
      3. Those who are neither gullible nor mischievous and do not even in imagination believe in the luggard LIE. I unapologetically belong here.

      • AriseNigeria

        Biafrans will not be distracted, deterred or discouraged, we are fully focuse and fully engaged on the task at hand. We are gifted with the spirit of of discernment, so we are not swayed with pathological Yoruba lies. There are three men entities in Nigeria, what Hausa and Yoruba have in common is the greed for oil, and partners in crime, we have nothing to do with them. All Christians anywhere in Nigeria is welcome to the Biafran land if they come with a clean heart and with a clean hand. Biafra is noble men of valor. We have morality and our cherished judio-christian values. Biafra cannot coexist with Islamic Nigeria.

  • AriseNigeria

    I applaud his description of a Nigeria that perhaps once strived economically but he failed to mention the fact that the past he was describing had oil that was then a golden product sort by many countries which attracted and brought in many industries in Nigeria. There were also fewer graduates and population, and fewer balkanization of states which meant more consolidated resources and manageable governments, instead of 36 states we had 13, then 19 states, so resources were utilized more effectively then. It is also important to note here that we inherited a working system from Britain because we have just a decade ago obtained our independence from great Britain, so most of our accomplishments and sense of order then was our ability to imitate and recycle what our British colonial masters had left for us but as imitators we had limits to the use of own brain powers, we had limits on self-expression and we had limits on creativity and innovation, so as the modern world was changing, those in power mostly Hausa/Fulani, largely in military, and largely uneducated failed to learn to changing with the evolving modern world system. So the failure was predictable and inevitable. Yet in 2016, we have elected another yet uneducated Fulani, a past military leader Muhammed Buhari of the same destructive era to lead us in a fast moving modern train, and sadly people expects a miracle. but that is by the way.

  • AriseNigeria

    Here is what I have problem with his article. To start with ethnic and religious conflict has been part and parcel of Nigeria. Muslims has been intolerant and merciless in killing Christians in the North, and that has been part of Nigerian history. However, Islam has become more radicalized, more trained and the global terror network has become more coordinated and sophisticated and we can see what Boko Haram is doing in Nigeria. Muslim dominated States declared sharia laws in a secure nation, and Your current President supported it. Today, Buhari has signed Nigeria as an Islamic Counter Terrorist Countries along Muslim countries like Quatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and etc, despite the secular nature of the constitution of Nigeria.

  • AriseNigeria

    Mr. Abati failed to mention that from 1960 till 1967, Nigeria had regional governments and that more than anything else made Nigeria a bit safe, because citizens who live outside their home domain live there when the British people were still in power, and regional arrangements meant prevented lots of conflicts we are experiencing today.

  • AriseNigeria

    Lastly, Abati failed to mention the economic and political marginalization of the former Eastern region, the fact that 85% of oil block in that region belongs to Hausa and Yoruba groups. After the war, nothing was done to mobilize and reintegrate, and to rehabilitate the former Eastern Nigeria, but the people were largely marginalized and their oil and other resources were savagely pillaged and were used to develop the North and the Western regions, and people of Eastern region were discriminated in all these regions and were treated with disdain, disrespect, and like outcast in what suppose to be their own country. Abati stated that Nigerians born outside Nigeria and educated outside Nigeria are the most troubled about an epileptic Nigeria, and he is right, and no group is more angered than the Igbos, why? Igbos are proud people who believes that based on history and facts on the ground, the Islamic dominated North cannot co-exist with the Christians in a peaceful Nigeria, it has not worked and it will never work, because Islamic ideology is incomparable to Christian values and ideology. Igbos also feel, as a people, if giving the chance and opportunity to govern themselves as an entity they will achieve same civilization as those of the countries of their foreign births, because in the world stage we are competitive with Europeans in all fronts.

  • AriseNigeria

    Our problem as a nation stems from the fact that we have a forced marriage of strange-fellows. We have cultural, religious and political differences that is simply irredeemable. Igbos believes in Equity, Fairness and Justice, and neither Yoruba or Hausa believes in that but only when it affects them directly which has never been the case, and that is another irreconcilable difference. Igbos has always believed that for Nigeria to function as an entity, restructure of the country is inevitable and the only solution to let peace and prosperity reign and that only achievable through a confederate system Yorubas dubiously calls it “true” Federalism. An arrangement which should allow each regional group to work at their own pace and based on their own political ideologywill be the best and only way forward, but again, Yorubas are not sincere towards this commitment and Hausa has feared they may loose something, which they have not pointed out or told the nation.
    So,what we are saying now is that we want Biafra, we are now saying bye bye to Nigeria, we only want Biafra, and by God’s grace WE WILL GET BIRFRA

  • Maigari

    Very succinct and perhaps illuminating. Illuminating i =n the sense the “lost Nigerian: Dr. Abati talks about were precisely placed in that “a country where the pastors and malams are better known for lying,
    swearing, cheating, calling the name of God in vain. In their Nigeria,
    public and private officials are lazy, and unproductive,” by th4 very generation Dr. Abati represents. They inherited what your generation spewed to them, taught them and fed them on. That should have been your closing paragraph Dr. Abati since you have had the chance to make a difference but flowed along with the river current and tide.

  • Patrick Nrialike

    I am crying reading this. Abati thanks for this nostalgic piece. I remember the 999 calls we were able to make when I was a child in Enugu, and how a police landrover will appear within 10 to 15 minutes, or an ambulance from the modest but functional general hospital. I remember the street lights, I remember the 2 pence bus rides when I was in primary school, the 1 shilling and 9 pence I paid for my train half ticket from Enugu to my secondary school in Afikpo road. After the civil war how I changed the dollar my aunty sent me from US for 35 kobo for $1, the 5 kobo bus ride from UI to Dugbe for shopping as a medical student in Ibadan. How we as University students went on summer vacations to UK with our Nigeria passport, then a visa only on arrival to Heathrow airport. Oh Nigeria, who has bewitched you. Yes I am retired now and stuck in Britain afraid to come home to my Country Nigeria, not to talk about my children who have lost faith and hope for their fatherland.

    • Uchenna Ugokwe

      Sir blame your shortsightedness then. You and your generation failed to realize you were living on borrowed time. As bad farmers we ate up our seed yams for the next planting season. If you ask me I will say there was never a time we had a life. Few elites then were just enjoying the resources of many and living in denial.

  • Babajide Michael Segun

    Is this the same Abati who was a part of the immediate past democratically elected and democratically ejected government?

    NO!

    I think there are two Abatis. The first Abati we used to know on National Dalies has just reincarnated after his second died with the last administration.

    I will propose that this first Abati be given a national contract to read this beautiful piece as a once upon a time storybook in Nigerian Primary Schools. It is too late for those in the Secondary and Tertiary school levels because they are already meshed in this new Nigeria and are not caught up for this Romaniticism of a Nigeria that was. But those in the primary school levels may still have their innocence intact (though I am not too sure) to embrace this Romantic Narrative; A Romanticism of the Nigerian Past.

  • AriseNigeria

    Biafrans will not be distracted, deterred or discouraged, we are fully focused and fully engaged on the task at hand. We are gifted with the spirit of of discernment, so we are not swayed with pathological Yoruba lies. There are three men entities in Nigeria, what Hausa and Yoruba have in common is the greed for oil, and partners in crime, we have nothing to do with them. All Christians anywhere in Nigeria are welcomed to the Biafran land if they come with a clean heart and with a clean hand. Biafran are noble people of valor, pride and integrity. We are governed by Christian morality and our cherished judio-christian values. Biafra cannot coexist with Islamic Nigeria.

    • Iskacountryman

      ifonly the biafrans would leave…and soon…we just may get out country back…

  • apinofiga

    I entirely agree with the sense of reasoning in Adejoke,Tayo Akin,Uchenna Ugbowe,Yahaya Balogun and Babajide”s comments.What is really the purpose of Abati”s article.For me it is simply history and should have been in an historybook.People of his generation already know all these and we are indeed past all this.We need solutions not complaints.It is also very sad that when he had the chance to serve he contributed nothing.In fact Abati would be remembered mas a very indecent,abrasive and inelegant media assistant.He was not an example or model to any young person.To now begin to pontificate and talk as an outsider is a misnormal, a parody of sorts.Thank God Nigerians know who he is very well.

  • Bashoris

    Abati is crazy with his ogogoro lectures

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