A Tribute to Nigeria at 54

Happy independence to all the proud Nigerian folk out there! I wrote a tribute to Nigeria which was published yesterday at connectnigeria.com in celebration of our independence. Funny thing was that as I got to church today my pastor preached along the same lines so I knew I had to share it here too. Happy reading!

I once heard a joke that went like this; As God created and furnished the nations of the earth, he was careful to balance out the qualities he put in each. As he made the United States of America with their rich economy and super power, he also balanced it out with a bit of tsunamis, tornados and what not. And when he made the oil rich Middle East, he balanced it with much desert and scorching sun. The Asian countries received technological advancement along with lots of earthquakes and little land space. This went on as he created country after country until he started creating this particular country called Nigeria. It had it all, perfect weather, fertile soil, no natural disasters, rich with natural minerals and resources, and abundance of food. The angels who had silently been watching raised an outcry, “that’s unfair Lord, how can you make a nation so perfect, it’s next to heaven. You didn’t even give them some natural disasters to keep them humble”. And at this God laughed and said “calm down guys, let me create the people first, you’ll see there’s no advantage at all!” The joke had every listener rolling in laughter, but not me. In my mind, I asked the question “Have you met Nigerians?”

Every country derives its personality and meaning from the nature, behaviour, culture and values of its citizens. These are the qualities that when prevalent in a society form what we call national character. That is why the saying goes, ‘a lizard in Nigeria cannot turn into a crocodile in America’ (meanwhile someone should tell that to some of these expatriates who were only street labourers in their country but come to Nigeria ‘to form’ professional construction engineers on our major roads). Nigeria has been brutally stigmatised over the years for its national character, so much so that it has become an embarrassing experience to appear at international airports with the green passport. You are kept by the side while others are attended to because an extra time is required to search the holder of the green passport.

Nigeria is famous for her placement on the list of top ten most corrupt countries in the whole world, usually coming in first –third like a bright child or an accomplished athlete. She is renowned for the display of indiscipline by her citizens in every nook and cranny of the world, and then there is the shameless parade of stupendous ill-gotten wealth by her leaders and top citizens. Nigeria is a paradox of monumental proportions. She is so rich she can support ten starving countries without feeling the effect but majority of her citizens live on less than a dollar a day. She is ornamented with almost every natural resource known to man, but lacks virtually every basic amenity necessary for conducive living. She is made up of almost a quarter of a billion people but can’t seem to produce a set of credible leaders. Nigeria is indeed a rational paradox. I guess that is why the originator of that joke could sell it as a truth.

Nevertheless, I have come to understand that most of the time stigmatization is a function of perception. I see a different Nigeria and much different Nigerians than our poor short sighted comedian and I would elaborate in two points.
First, every society has its pros (good qualities) and cons (bad qualities), and even though it is said that society is judged as a good society when the pros exceed cons and a bad one when the cons exceed pros, I have come to realise that the truth really is that a society is defined by the amount of spotlight beamed on either its good or bad qualities.  When the bad qualities get more attention than the good qualities, it is a bad society when the pros get more, it is good society. Nigeria as a nation has had its share of bad publicity, which has distorted our impression of our nation even in relation to nations with worse criminal records than we have. Impression is based on what you wish to see and if you wish to see only that which is negative about a nation then no nation on the face of the earth would be habitable, trust me.

The second reason I see Nigeria differently, which is also what I love about Nigeria is the Nigerian spirit or what I would like to call ‘The Naija Spirit’.  It is an innate quality that seems to reside in every Nigerian which distinguishes them anywhere in the world.  Regardless of the fact that we are almost a quarter of a billion in population, have over 350 ethnic groups and as many political parties as individual families, the Nigerian, whether male or female has ‘The Naija spirit’. What is this Naija Spirit? The Naija spirit is an innately intelligent soul with a need to get ahead at all cost, a resolve to overcome any and every challenge, the ability to find humour in the most painfully excruciating trial and the chameleon ability to adapt to any situation. It is a fraternal and fun loving spirit that finds union in the slightest similarity and joy at the flimsiest excuse yet can draw out individuality from any given difference. I am talking of an enterprising nature that makes selling and negotiation part of his original make up.  It is an attitude that identifies what is basic in human nature……survival.

Where do I see all this in the Nigerians I know? I’ll tell you. It’s in our potentials. Every good or bad skill is a result of developed potential, so if you want to know what someone is capable of, look at the potential, not the behaviour. Behaviour can always be changed, just discover the potential and build a desired skill from it. World class criminals are sometimes used by the police to crack difficult cases because of their ingenuity which means that there is the potential to be a smart detective in the criminal. In that way, I see a world of potential in Nigerians which I would tell you about.

It is not only in corruption that Nigerians comes first-ten in the world. Nigeria once topped the list of the world’s happiest people. If we can still qualify as the happiest people on earth with all our challenges then we are a happy people indeed. Our ability to find humour in the most severe issues has not only created a multi-million naira comedy industry, (even though some might rightfully point to that as one of the reasons things have remained the way they are) but I believe that it is why we have very little cases of suicide, psych-related crimes and the kind of civil degradation we have in some other parts of the world.

The Nigerian’s propensity to cut corners, shunt lines and give bribes at every opportunity, is only his potential and drive to get ahead in life. It is this determination that enables Nigerians to get ahead of the pack. The Nigerian’s ability to painstakingly, through arduous and rigorous planning and labour, defraud people and even government of money is but the spirit of hard work gone badly. It is the same attitude that has put a Nigerian on every professional and intellectual platform in the world. There is hardly anywhere in the world that you don’t find a Nigerian in a leadership capacity.  Be it in medicine, law, engineering, economics or the arts. That same spirit that pushes the Nigerian to overcome challenges will push him to seek greener pastures anywhere possible, which is why you will see a Nigerian on every country, state or inconsequential minor community on the face of the earth irrespective of weather, colour or discriminating laws. The Nigerian spirit will successfully sell ice to an Eskimo, bottle of sand in the Middle East and even convince you to pay for sunshine. This amazing marketing and entrepreneurial spirit is central to us, a gift from our maker.

I can go on and on, an endless array of amazing potential, which is the Nigeria I see, the Nigeria I love. The question then is, how can we turn these potentials into actual useable positive skills and behaviour? That should be the aim and desire of every well-meaning Nigerian. For me the answer God would have given the angels when asked about the unfairness of his creation would have been “… if you think the land is blessed, wait till I create the people, then you will see ‘blessed’”.
Happy Independence!

Kanayo Aniegboka

Kani is a Nigerian born and based minister, public speaker, entrepreneur and life coach. His keen and unique perspective to life issues makes him a refreshing voice to listen to. He currently serves as the Executive Coordinator of House on the Rock - Word House and sits on the board of a number of companies.

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