On a personal note, I have always been very interested in politics and governance. So much so, that in the last elections, I ran for the office of governor on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria, in Bayelsa State. When friends surprised at my seemingly newfound interest asked me why: I would say my interest was borne out of my vision for my state and by extension, my country as a First World state and sooner than later, a first world nation.
This vision has been as a result of a desire to answer a question that has nagged me from as far back as when I was an 18-year-old student in the United Kingdom. What is this question you may wonder? It is why are Nigerians and by extension, Africans backward? As a student abroad, I could never stop making the comparisons between Nigeria and Europe. Initially, I put it down to the fact that Nigerians were poor!
Our roads had potholes, we didn’t have running water in our homes, and we had inefficient power supply. Our schools barely lasted a generation before they became dilapidated. Open gutters were a constant eyesore. Everything about us pointed to poverty. I began to accept my lot, as being a citizen of a poor third world country (which is another name for being a poor country) and in context, I saw my privileged upbringing as the silver lining in this poor landscape.
But then, the Shagari era was a rude awakening! I was 17 years old when Shagari won the 1979 elections. My Father was a judge in this period, and an upright one at that I quickly add, and so our lot at home was comfortable, no doubt, but not in any measure ostentatious. But for his official car, my late Father’s pride and joy was his Mercedes Benz 250 bought in 1972, which served him faithfully until he passed away in 1988. So you can imagine the eye opening experience I had when I arrived the United Kingdom as a student in 1981.
This was now well into Shagariâ€™s first term. Living on my allowance, knowing the sacrifice my parents had made to have me go abroad for this coveted educational experience, I was shocked to find fellow Nigerian students driving very expensive cars and spending money as though it was going out of fashion. What was more, many of these students were not the children of the few well-known Nigerian millionaire businessmen; they were children of politicians.
On Saturdays, I worked part time in a few Department stores like Harrods to augment my allowance. In these shops, once it was discovered that I was Nigerian, I would be regaled with stories of the prodigious spending power of Nigerians in the shops, rivaled only by the Arabs.
In one fell swoop, my poverty theory was blown apart. If we were so poor, how could the children of our leaders afford to live so ostentatiously? Clearly, while some African nations could to all intents and purposes be classed as poor, we couldn’t!
To make matters worse, studying in London provided interaction on an unprecedented scale. Africans, Chinese, Indians, Europeans, Americans added to colorful cosmopolitan life that London so richly affords. This interaction provided ample opportunity for discussions about politics and the socio-economic conditions of these diverse nations. From discussions, the nation rankings would start with Europe and America at the top, Asia in the middle and Africa excluding South Africa at the bottom.
To worsen matters, the most devastating argument against my poverty thesis was the transformation of the Asian tiger economies, even under repressive regimes. These countries had been in many cases poor or even poorer than Nigeria. So, I came to painfully accept that poverty was not the issue.
Then I encountered a more pernicious reason advanced by the promoters of the apartheid policy of separate development- the Whites at the top and the blacks at the bottom with the Indians and mixed race sandwiched in the middle. Embedded in the theory of apartheid was the belief that the African was racially inferior. In the struggle against apartheid, the point would be made that African countries had made a mess of their conditions post-independence, even under passionate intellectual giants like Nkrumah, Azikiwe, Awolowo, Nyerere etc.
What better proof of the African’s inherent inability to be trusted with matters of governance? As a student of history, I sought valiantly to disprove this theory based on the great historical exploits of earlier kingdoms. Benin, Mali, Songhai, Kanem Bornu, Kano etc were lined up to disprove this racial inferiority argument. I also fought back with the theory of arrested development brought about by centuries of slavery and it’s after effects.
Somewhere though in my mind, I kept wondering, when we would get past this overhang of slavery. When would we break the chains of the past and take our pride of place among the nations of the world. No doubt, I have taken solace from the immeasurable exploits of Africans in the Diaspora. Nevertheless, the painful fact that these could not in themselves translate to dividends in governance at home was ever the stark reality.
So my desire to answer this nagging question led me into active politics. It took little effort for me to see that the biggest impetus to building a First World state or nation required active participation in the political space. My foremost example in the task of nation building â€“ Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore understood this. Like Lee, I saw that the vision required and the values to drive that vision were the lacking ingredients to breaking free from the centuriesâ€™ old shackles of poverty and ignorance.
I knew that if we dared to dream, to envision a first world nation and prepared ourselves with discipline and tenacity to build that vision on the timeless values of integrity, human dignity and compassion, we would sooner than later see the Nigeria of our dreams unfold before our eyes.
With this in mind, I want to make a call to every well meaning Nigerian that Nigeria has the responsibility to represent a new paradigm in the fortunes of Africa and by extension, all Africans across the world and as a result, service is a responsibility we donâ€™t have the luxury or option to avoid. Never before in our history has the need to serve been more glaring and urgent.