My Nigerian Dream

A collection of personal thoughts and ideas on the Nigerian political situation.

Tag: Nigeria

Case Number 04062021: Twitter vs. Nigeria

If this incredulous situation went to court, I guess the case name might sound something like the title of this piece. Ha! But guess what? Nigerian Courts are currently on strike, so no chance of that. When we sit idly by, while our courts are not sitting, then we can be certain that something is seriously wrong. That level of irrelevance combined with a paradigm of ruling rather than leading, may well provide the causal links necessary to understand how and why we would suspend Twitter Operations in Nigeria – on…wait for it…Twitter no less! Personally, I’m no fan of big tech over/mis-stepping, but what signals is this move sending across the world?

Initially, it wasn’t clear what it meant to “…suspend Twitter operations”. Was it to stop in-country activities? Or would the platform itself cease to function on users’ devices? Well, now we know better. The knee jerk nature of the suspension bypasses the need to provide a clear basis for its own existence. It rather seems like an ego bruise that led to a disproportionate response. Borrowing from warfare, the Doctrine of Proportionality says that ‘a state is legally allowed to unilaterally defend itself and right a wrong provided the response is proportional to the injury suffered. The response must also be immediate and necessary, refrain from targeting civilians, and require only enough force to reinstate the status quo ante‘. I will now induct you (yes, you reading!) into the jury for this case; what say you – proportional response or not? As you decide, it would help to consider whether or not ‘civilians’ were caught in the crossfire.

I love history, particularly of World War II, so please permit me to use this as a parallel to the ongoing face-off between Twitter and Nigeria. This is NOT a comparison of the actors, but rather of the nature of the escalation of events. After WWI, there was the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which Germany found utterly egregious. 20 years later, Germany invades Poland and thereby flags off WWII. Then the Axis powers including Italy and Japan dig in ahead of the Allies; UK, France, et al. Other countries align allegiances, some stay neutral. However, after the Allies wobble a bit, America enters the war, and the Allied Forces go on to win, again, just as they did the first time in WWI. That’s 2-0 to the Allies, meaning if it were best of 3, thankfully for the sake of world peace, there is no need for a third match!

Twitter deletes a ‘presidential tweet’ for violating its policies; Abuja moves to suspend Twitter. Aptly put, Matthew T. Page tweets: “Shutting down Twitter is something dictators do, if I’m not mistaken” and compares Nigeria with Iran and South Korea. Is this our cohort now? Facebook also steps into the arena by deleting a ‘presidential post’. Who owns Instagram? And WhatsApp? Facebook! So if it comes to it, their allegiances are clear. How will other social media platforms align? Your guess is as good as mine. Big-tech may well be rivals and competitors, but where their interests align, I suspect it’s like NATO’s principle of ‘collective defence’ – an attack on one is an attack on all. So, is Nigeria on course for a Trump-like persona non grata status with the social media giants? We’ve seen what social media can do through the Arab Spring. Moreover, bear in mind though, that just as the Allies had the moral high ground in WWII, so now does Twitter have the market; Nigerians want to be on Twitter and they are already finding ways to keep tweeting.

More strategically, what does all this mean for Nigeria? Specifically what does it mean for Nigerian business? On the global Ease of Doing Business Index, Nigeria currently ranks 131 out of 190 countries, which is sadly beneath potential. As a strategy professional, I did a quick P-E-S-T-E-R (Political-Economic-Social-Technological-Environmental-Regulatory) mental analysis and concluded that the only dimension that the #TwitterBan may have ignored is the Environmental. I can literally posit how the ban can regress the nation’s standing on all the others, and I’m sure you can too if you consider it for a moment, so I won’t bore you with that. Needless to say that Nigeria as a nation just became a lot more risky to foreign investors as an investment destination. Between the policy inconsistency, lack of legal recourse, and apparent arbitrary nature of decision-making, the likely outcome is unfortunately capital repulsion, which will ultimately undermine FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) and consequently GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

The ongoing saga, in which the baby is thrown out with the bath water, therefore, appears to be resulting in self harm. There are Nigerian businesses that advertise and survive on Twitter, it is a news and entertainment source to millions, and even public sector ministries, departments and parastatals including the Presidency, military and the Information ministry use it as a mouthpiece to inform citizens of their good deeds including suspending social media platforms. By the way, that reminds me of President Trump sacking appointees on Twitter, perhaps wherever he is, learning that Nigeria ‘sacked’ Twitter on Twitter, he might say: touché. Nigeria is neither the first nor the only country to be in a running battle with Twitter; India and China would have lots to share about their experiences, for any Juror who may find a reference useful. Even as the Wiki page titled “Censorship of Twitter” has already been updated with a Nigeria entry, the question that remains is will Nigeria walk back its decision, and if so how can we do so and yet save face? Twitter on the other hand, stands accused of “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s (the plaintiff) corporate existence”. So, as a member of the jury, how do you find for the defendant? Guilty or Not Guilty?

Admittedly, in this piece I ask more questions than I give answers, but hopefully it encourages us all to seek consensus on the answer to one of the greatest questions of our time – the right to free speech. For now, it appears while freedom of speech is still a fundamental right (at least constitutionally), there is no guarantee of freedom, AFTER, the speech! However, at a time when our national headlines are too often being hijacked by violence, let us focus on the fact that PEACE is an endowment that God left with us, to share with one another as a gift.

Should politicians be trained or just wing it?

Personally, I posit that this is a question that not even ought to be asked! It is a no-brainer that anyone planning to do any job should be equipped to do said job. Finish! Following my chat with Ronke Giwa-Onafuwa of SPLASH FM 105.5 IBADAN, a very popular Nigeria-based radio station operating in the South-West of the country, I realised how important this question is both to ask and to answer. Ronke made me realise that there are views that being a politician should be a part-time activity (not necessarily her personal view by the way), but I disagree – vehemently!

I believe that this view has been formed as a result of the aberration we have had in Nigeria i.e. of politicians who while in office, have robbed us blind. I suspect that what the people who hold this view are really saying is that if we reduce the amount of time that politicians have to be ‘on the job’ then maybe they’ll steal less. Well, one can’t argue with the logic; it is sound. However, it falters when one considers for a second that it means that we are suggesting that those we put in charge of our public affairs should only give a fraction of their attention to the job. That sends a shiver down my spine! To those who have what should be the “honour” to hold office, what could be more important than the welfare of millions? I wonder what you think?

Anyway, have a listen of my conversation with Ronke below; we discuss interesting subjects such as the do or die nature of politics in Nigeria, what the true problem with Nigeria actually is, and the phenomenon that is Amala Politics and how it has rendered average Nigerians subservient, helpless, and sadly dependent on the political class.

Please do let us know what you think by leaving a comment. Thanks!

GOD | Family | Country 🇳🇬🇬🇧

My #SPPG Journey (Part 1)

“Time and chance happen to them all” – a statement that exemplifies my feelings about the incredible opportunity I am having by attending the unconventional School of Politics, Policy, and Governance (SPPG), which originated from the #FixPolitics initiative. In response to the failure of the political establishment, and ultimately to foster good governance in Nigeria, Dr. Obiageli “Oby” Ezekwesili launched the initiative after her research stint at The Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.

The SPPG Certificate in Public Leadership and Policy is a 7-month intensive program with a superb curriculum supported by a world-class faculty who have so far included a former Head of State, notable Politicians, Academics, Lawyers, Activists, Civil Society Leaders, and Private Sector Executives. The experience has simply been phenomenal. Speaking of the curriculum, it is truly a marvel on its own. Someone certainly did their homework. The course design clearly illustrates that the intended impact of the school was well thought through.

The SPPG aims to develop a new set of value-based, citizen-focused, political leaders who will propel Nigeria to her rightful place amongst the league of nations. I can honestly say that the skills and knowledge I am gaining from the course are second to none. Personally, I have always known that I was built for public service, and though like many Nigerians I was on the ‘sidelines’ for a while, I have never lacked passion for it. It is however now amongst the things that dominate my thinking. Nigeria – a nation with such potential, simply being frittered away by leadership many of whom exhibit random combinations of selfishness, ignorance, corruption, and other vices that render them unfit to run the offices they occupy.

Imagine walking into a hospital and being told that the operating surgeon has never had a single day of training or preparation for the job, or perhaps stepping on an aircraft and hearing over the passenger address system that the captain has always wanted to be a pilot but has never received formal training, yet wants to take your flight for a spin. Such is the wishful thinking that undergirds the political careers of many of those that lead us. I have found that desire alone, even if honest, is not enough to lead in the political arena. In no other profession would such a low entry bar be acceptable. The SPPG is here to disrupt that and to raise the bar and hence the caliber of leaders that surface at elections in Nigeria and indeed in Africa.

With almost 3 months of the program behind me, I have learned about advocacy; written a personal manifesto; been challenged by behavioural modification ideas; readdressed my leadership styles (yet again); delved into the essence of constitutional democracy; confronted the challenges of public leadership; explored theories of politics and political systems; discussed means of effective political communication; debated the relative styles of past and present political figures; explored the evolution of the Nigerian constitution and its historical antecedents; attempted to frame a new political philosophy for 21st century Nigeria; evaluated the psychology of political leadership in Africa; interfaced with and taken lessons from the Private Sector; differentiated between political leadership and management; defined the values and character required for Nigeria’s public sector; interrogated electoral laws & systems; confronted and attempted to shift gender equity and social inclusion paradigms; traced Nigeria’s history from pre-colonial times to present day; defined pathways to inclusive and participatory governance; explored evidence-based policymaking; probed the relevance and effectiveness of our political parties; AND challenged the role of journalism and the media within our democratic structures. If you could hardly breathe through that, then just imagine 3 hours of each of these sessions and more.

Through the SPPG, I am now a bona fide Politician-in-Training and I am certain that my trajectory of learning is well on course to achieve all the promises that were made at our pioneer cohort matriculation. We were inspired by tales of how different we all would turn out after completing the program – for those that do. Yes, that was a hint, a hint that it is a tough course and intentionally so. The SPPG is designed to push participants beyond convenience, deep into the realms of sacrifice, which leads me to one of my favourite quotes: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value”. Penned by Thomas Paine, he goes on to say: “Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated”. To this I add the question: isn’t it that very freedom (economic, political, social, regulatory, legal, et al) of the Nigerian people that we are fighting for? Is there then, any battle more crucial, or cause more worthy of our passions, energy, and determination than the one for the soul of Nigeria? As the allies defeated Hitler on two fronts, so Nigerians must arise to defeat our common enemy, bad governance, on both the mountains and the valleys of our nation.

We have talked enough. It is now time to do and for starters, I am putting my brain where my heart is. I am studying, like many other passionate colleagues at the SPPG to bolster my own character, competence, and capacity to hold office and to do it justice by and for the people. Nigeria deserves better, and rather than simply sitting down and wishing it, I have chosen to be the change. It dawned on me recently, that though I dislike the word ‘Politician’, that is exactly what I am becoming. I dislike the word because of the connotations it raises, not only in Nigeria but all around the world. Politicians tend to be known for games and tricks they play, but there are and can be good ones, whose intentions are pure and genuinely altruistic. The SPPG has assured me, that even in Nigeria, such a caliber of people does exist and they are ready to serve. So, watch this space, for all we need now is indeed time and chance.

Please visit the website (https://thesppg.org/how-to-apply) if you are interested in applying to the School of Politics, Policy, and Governance.

GGMS: [Supplemental]

Are you a Star Trek fan? Not just any Star Trek, specifically the ‘Next Generation’? Well I was, and I can just hear the voice of Captain Jean Luc Picard (aka Patrick Stewart) saying the word “supplemental”. It would have gone: “Captain’s Log, supplemental…”; he would then proceed to record his message about the fate of an ‘away team’, ongoing repairs on the Enterprise, or some other dire situation he and his crew faced.

The relevance? I recently wrote a piece titled “Good Governance Makes Sense” (GGMS :-); this is a short supplement to it. The referenced article essentially dealt with strategic planning and Nigeria’s approach to the ongoing mobile sim card and National Identification Number (NIN) linkage fiasco. If you read that piece you will remember my ‘back of a cigarette packet’ (as they say) calculation, which showed the unlikely chances of the registration of all Nigerian citizens within the deadline(s) that had been specified. Well, only 3 days after publishing my article, and as though to prove my experiment right, the deadline was extended (again) by 8 weeks. The new deadline is 6th April 2021.

I may be totally wrong, but why does it seem as though dates are just being pulled out of a hat? And what is the hurry if this task is really worth doing? What is worth doing is…worth doing well! To be responsible to the public on a matter such as this, requires a delicate blend of empathy and strategic implementation that continues to seem elusive to some of Nigeria’s political class. Undoubtedly, there are numerous issues and perspectives needing balance on this project, but one constant that no good policy operative can outrun is the sheer size of the Nigerian population. Disrespect or underestimate it at your own peril. Circa 211 million people is no joke, so though this (latest) extension is welcomed, I do not believe it goes far enough, especially if for the wellbeing of all citizens, the registration process is to be conducted under covid-friendly conditions with proper social distancing. It simply needs time to get it done right and further extensions won’t be a surprise. As in my main article: a good thing with a bad plan, essentially amounts to a bad thing. Let’s make this good!

Good Governance Makes Sense

Nigeria remains a country of countless contradictions. Impressive and daring citizens on one hand, yet a shockingly unimpressive leadership on the other. When ‘we the people’ clamour for ‘good governance’, it’s not just a mantra. Why can we not implement seemingly simple yet reasonable strategies? Good governance is neither just an idea nor an elusive ideal. In its most simplistic and humane sense, it is small everyday steps, taken for the benefit of all citizens, and encapsulated by sensible action and empathy. Another way to say that is that leaders ought to develop policies and act based on a true understanding of the plight of the common citizen with a commitment to ease it. Finito! Not too much to ask, is it?

This week, for me, threw up a most vivid example of this contrast. While the very unnecessary and rather unfortunate drama around National Identity Numbers (NIN) continues to unfold in Nigeria, I came to realise that not one, but two US-based companies, both led by African entrepreneurs have announced their impressive achievements of unicorn status. This is when a company reaches a valuation of $1 billion. What do both companies have in common? Yes, you guessed it – they both have Nigerians at their helms. Having said that, Nigerians have also created local unicorns such as InterSwitch, but such organisations, despite inherent challenges, are more a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the Nigerian people than they are to the support or enablement of the state.

Calendly is a free online appointment scheduling software system, already boasting 5,000,000 monthly users, with LinkedIn, Zendesk, EMyth and the University of Georgia amongst its customers. Cityblock Health is a community-based healthcare provider that offers a total package of physical, mental, and social care with the aim of improving the experience and quality of care, all while reducing the cost to patients. Tope Awotona who moved to the U.S. as a teenager, is the Nigerian founder and CEO of Calendly. He is proof that education, opportunity and an enabling environment are fundamental to success. Might he have achieved what he now has if he hadn’t moved to the US? Perhaps! Did the move improve the odds? Certainly! Toyin Ajayi is the Chief Health Officer and one of three Co-founders jointly advancing the vision of Cityblock Health. While this son and daughter of the soil are busy beaming Nigerian pride abroad, many of us are embarrassed about what is happening at home. Should we not ask questions of the fate of the millions of Topes and Toyins that are right now in Nigeria, players on the sports field of life and capable of the same feats, but hindered by the delapitated state of the playing field?

Back to the issue of National Identity Numbers. How as a nation do we make decisions? Simple decisions first, not even highly strategic ones yet. OK, let us lay this out. Nigeria is (now) a nation of 211+ million souls. By the way, since the last time I reported that statistic in a blog piece last year (207 million), the number has increased by roughly 2.55%. Staggering isn’t it? Anyway, let’s stay focused. According to statista, the number of mobile internet users in Nigeria in 2020 was 85.26 million and is projected to reach 101.27 million in 2021. If we use this as a proxy for the number of mobile phone users, the latter figure would be approximately 48% of the current population. I have written in the past about the estimated number of Nigerians in diaspora being about 15 million, of which circa 215,000 are in the UK. The point? Some of these folks abroad, I being one, also have mobile subscriptions in Nigeria. We have 36 states. Let’s assume an even spread of people across them (ignore the FCT); that would mean 2.81 million people needing to access NIN registration services in each state. Let’s be even more benevolent and also assume half of all those already have NINs, that would still mean 1.4 million per state needing the service. That’s the data.

Now for the analysis and the policy suggestions. So, a decision is made that all mobile subscriptions, on an individual basis, must be linked to a NIN, supposedly to clean up identity data in order to reduce crime. Perhaps you buy that reason, perhaps you don’t, but it’s beyond our scope here. This requirement was initially communicated by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) on 15th December 2020 with a 2-week deadline for all registrations to be completed. Back to the data, rough as it is. 1.4 million people on average per state, to queue up at physical locations, over 14 days, to get this done? I don’t smoke, but a ‘back of a cigarette box calculation’, as they say, would have obviously thrown up the folly of this plan, and its unfairness particularly during a global pandemic. A good thing with a bad plan essentially amounts to a bad thing. Moreover, the NCC proceeded to threaten mobile operators with the withdrawal of their operating licences, based on what has now been proven and could easily have been foreseen as an impossible task. This, right here, is a typical example of poor execution, leadership, governance, or any other term you choose to call it. It is the case of an unrealistic policy devoid of empathy. Why was empathy needed? One word: COVID. Now, to mop up the tsunami that was unleashed, the Telcos, for example MTN, are having to be licenced by the NCC to register citizens for NINs. Does anyone else see the sad irony in that? Anyway, just to bring in the diaspora angle; I have diligently sought to register for my NIN in the UK, but between the dead websites and grossly inadequate number of poorly located registration centres, it is so far proving to be a nearly impossible task.

So? What to do? As a person of faith, I find it fundamental to consider any actions prayerfully before proceeding. Once that stage is complete, I suggest the following:

  1. Consider the problem thoroughly and decide if it is really worth pursuing.
  2. If it is, empathetically think through the policy implications and what they would mean for the population.
  3. I personally love the COST-QUALITY-TIME triangle (Pick 2) framework. Use it (see below).
    • If you want cheap and high quality, then it will take time.
    • If you want cheap and fast, then it will be low quality.
    • If you want high quality and fast, then it will cost you.
  4. Decide which of the above is best for the situation (hopefully not the second – never a great option in my opinion!).
  5. Take time to create a strong implementation plan (always think digitisation!) and test it for resilience.
  6. Introduce the agenda and gauge public opinion.
  7. If favourable (based on timing, funding, optics, etc.) take decisive action and implement.
  8. Sit back, watch a good plan unfold into a good thing, and THANK GOD.
Project Management Triangle

Does this consider all the realities? Is it practical or just theory? Could it really be this simple? Perhaps not, but I think it could be – with the right people, doing the right things. Do we as a nation have such people in waiting? Clearly! Will they rise up one day en masse, in a new era of disruption in the sphere of governance? I for one cannot wait for the day, and I am writing this, as much to myself, as I am to ‘them’. If this resonates with you, then perhaps it’s time to answer the call; because good governance makes sense, but it takes good people.

GOD | Family | Country 🇳🇬

Is Societal Equity just a dream?

Equality vs. Equity
Source: Unsure (but used with appreciation)

Imagine a fixed object on any surface, say a table, with your hand also in a fixed position in which your ‘middle’, ‘long’, or ‘third’ finger just about touches the object. Well, I see “EQUALITY” as expecting each of one’s other fingers to also be able to touch the object without moving one’s hand despite all being shorter, whereas “EQUITY” is moving your whole hand toward the object such that all your fingers can wrap around it easily to grab it! So, the question is, who controls the hand?

Personally, I believe a key part of the role of government is to distribute and balance societal resources to create EQUITY for all. That vast and disproportionate distribution of wealth in #Nigeria remains a major challenge to every federal administration throughout the nation’s history.

How do we lift millions out of poverty? How do we raise the standard of living for large sections of our population who would be considered ‘working class’ or ‘poor’? What radical mass job creation strategies can we employ? What factors e.g. education, vocational training, etc. are critical to successful job creation and uptake?

These are some of the questions that ought to occupy the collective minds of any government that is truly empathetic to the Nigerian state of affairs.

To solve such grand problems though, it still goes back to one thing – the right leaders. With each passing day, I come across amazing Nigerians who are more than capable of doing the job, yet as a nation, we more often than not do NOT lead with our proverbial “best foot”. That, right there, is the change Nigeria needs – radical leaders that will deviate from the status quo in their thinking, policies and integrity.

As we exit a tough 2020 and enter into the hope laden vessel of 2021, let us resolve, as Nigerians, each and everyone, never again to compromise on our ideals, dreams and visions. Let us resolve to diligently seek out, support and follow selfless leaders, whose first concern is what they can give to their country and not what they can find for themselves. It is not impossible, and perhaps not as elusive as it seems; for such leaders do exist amongst us, but it is up to us to make it their era!

“To bless a nation undeniably with overwhelmingly vast resources, is the work of God; to employ those resources diligently for the good of all citizens, is the work of leaders”.

~ Ayobami Akinyode OLUNLOYO

GOD | Family | Country 🇳🇬

#SòròSókè is for Everybody!

When one has a passion, inspiration seems to materialise from thin air! So, if you don’t have one, or have not discovered yours, make haste to find it; for to be consumed by your passion, is a critical part of your “IKIGAI” – a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being” (see below). I’ve found mine, and it is NIGERIA. Maybe it is also my mission, however, it is neither (yet) my profession nor my vocation. For those, according to Ikigai, Nigeria would also have to be what I’m paid to ‘do’ – perhaps in due course.

Image Source: Toronto Star (via World Economic Forum)

I had planned to write about corruption this week, but as I casually for the first time read ‘PERUSE’, the weekly e-newsletter of EiENigeria, it sparked a thought. I bet you’re wondering: where is he going this time? That title? That opening paragraph? How are they connected? Well, if you’re not thinking it, I am; because as I type, I do not yet see my parking spot at the end of this journey, but I can tell you that visibility is well beyond the UK Highway Code’s minimum stipulation of 100 meters. Consequently, as far as I can always see that well ahead, this is a journey that I am confident to embark upon.

“Sòrò Sókè” {from: “So òrò sí òkè” = S’òrò S’ókè} is a phrase in the Yorùbá language of the ethnic group of the same name from western Nigeria, and if we are to be properly accurate, also Benin, Togo, and part of Ghana. The phrase means “Speak Up”. It has been ‘commandeered’ by (some of) Nigeria’s ‘Youth’ of today, to whom I wish to appeal – the aptly but possibly inaccurately termed Sòrò Sókè Generation. This is a reference to the determination of the current generation of young Nigerians not to go the way of their predecessors by being silent in the face of poor governance and state-orchestrated injustice and brutality.

A superb aspiration if you ask me, but my request is simple, that we as a nation be very wary of divisions of any kind and seek rather to resolutely promote unity, even while fighting for causes that we believe in and are passionate about. Nigeria is divided enough as it is, along religious, ethnic, linguistic, geographical, political, socio-economic, and literacy lines; we really do not need to also add a generational divide to our existing woes. It would truly be ‘a bridge too far’. The thinnest line of division, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, has the assured potential to derail visions and dreams, or at the very least slow them down significantly. Greater and quicker impact is achieved when we go together.

“#SòròSókè is for Everybody!” is my challenge to those who see this powerful slogan, frankly as ‘limited’ only to a ‘generation’. For me, Sòrò Sókè is the slogan of exchange! The exchange of silence for en masse defiance of the status quo; a new way of life that once experienced, will draw a permanent line in the sands of our democracy. Why? Because the Nigeria crisis is not a crisis solely impacting the Youth, it is a crisis impacting the entire nation, young, old and little. It is a crisis that transcends time by being both historical and simultaneously capable of embedding itself into our future – that is if we do not arrest it now once and for all! It cuts across generations and if we treat it with generational gloves, I assure you, it will return an unexpected uppercut just when we think we are winning the bout.

Don’t get me wrong, the current generation of young Nigerians deserves to be applauded for many great feats. One only needs to consider fields and phenomena such as entrepreneurship, innovation, arts & entertainment, technology, social media and of course #EndSARS to appreciate this generation’s impact on modern Nigerian society. Speaking of ‘thin air’ (opening sentence), the Nigerian unemployment rate as a percentage of the total labour force according to World Bank figures (7.96% in 2020) is ‘uncomfortable’, to say the least. However, it is the more economically and chronologically devastating youth unemployment figure (nearly double at 14.17% in 2020) that we should be more concerned about. The latter equates to 8,698,139 Youth without jobs. To put that number in perspective, according to the latest available (albeit slightly dated) figures from Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, only two states (Kano and Lagos) have total populations larger than that. Yet this generation has managed to originate jobs and livelihoods out of almost nothing.

However, to anchor on the present alone is to unavoidably and erroneously negate ‘the labours of our heroes past’, many of whom had Sòrò Sókè moments dating back to pre-independence Nigeria. “Double AB” as I will call them (Awolowo, Azikiwe, Balewa, Bello) spoke up for independence (along with many others). Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti spoke up for independence and women’s rights. Her son Fela ‘sang up’ for citizens’ rights and against military rule. Eedris Abdulkareem subsequently borrowed a popular Fela phrase by referring to us as the “Republic of Suffering and Smiling“, but not before reminding us how “jagga jagga” (disorganised) Nigeria is. As we can see, each voice built on the harmonics of predecessors, and there have similarly been many other loud and distinct voices throughout the history and struggles of Nigeria. Perhaps what they lacked, however, was the necessary chorus effect that can only be generated by a backing mass – the Nigerian population. This is what we must now get right, rather than slip into divides, even if ‘merely’ generational.

The subtle difference between the ‘generational’ paradigm and that of total ‘exchange’ is that the former, even if effective for a time, will pass away; the latter is intended to be permanent and passed on. I could not find the right word to replace ‘generation’ (in the phrase Sòrò Sókè Generation) but I am more concerned about your understanding than I am about finding the perfect sounding slogan. So call it whatever you like, or better still forget a second word and let us all just Sòrò Sókè however young or old we are, whatever language we speak, and whatever traditions we hold dear. Being Nigerian is the only and most important common thread that we have and that matters. It is the factor that unites us as one and gives us the combined legitimacy to confront all that is wrong in our society and to continue to challenge those who have or should have the power to make the changes we need.

So, what must you and I do? We must remember (or realise) that official or state authority is not a right to harass, oppress or intimidate. This is the case in any situation where power of any sort is being (ab)used unfairly to the detriment of citizens and for the benefit of the power holder. Be it sex for grades in higher education institutions, the police extorting danfo (bus) drivers, or the blatant denial of rightful public services if one is not ready to pay a bribe; we must ALL speak up, we must ALL Sòrò Sókè. If not for ourselves, then we must do it for our children and theirs. Whatever we do, we must all increase our individual capacity as holders of the #OfficeOfTheCitizen and resolve to NEVER DO NOTHING, for the moment we do that, evil triumphs.

End.

Still Unconvinced? :: Why Nigeria’s Diaspora Matters

As I considered how to begin this piece, a few thoughts raced through my mind; many of them about the approach rather than the actual message I hope to convey. Interesting huh? I don’t fancy myself as a writer in the class of the field’s well-known A-listers, but I do seem to be finding a rhythm that I quite enjoy. I find that having a fundamental driving message at one’s core is the single most important factor to being able to develop a next piece of writing. It is unto such a message that seemingly humdrum facts can latch and potentially become a collection of words that is hopefully worth reading.

“Still unconvinced?” is my question to anyone who is still sceptical about what I see as the critical role of the Nigerian Diaspora in shaping our future. It follows from my recent post titled: ‘Homeland vs. Diaspora :: Which Nigeria?’. It is becoming abundantly clear that as a catchphrase, “#EndSARS”, like many before it, is carving its place in our nation’s history and vocabulary. Some of its predecessors, in order of historical age from younger to older include “June12” (1993), “AliMustGo” (1978) and “OperationWetie” (1962). If at the times of these sad incidents in Nigeria’s past, the internet and social media were what they are today, each of these ‘tags’ would surely have been among the highly trending hashtags of their day.

Sad as it is though, I believe history will judge this current time as a watershed moment, the impact of which is not immediately apparent. However, only a non-realist would fail to see that with time, its impact will indeed be felt, perhaps and hopefully in the general population’s attitude to politics. If that does happen, I believe it would be a win, but one that only just begins to dignify the sacrifices of so many heroes who took part in the October 2020 protests, especially at the Lekki toll gate.

So, back to the diaspora. The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates with a confidence interval of +/- 22,000 that there were approximately 215,000 Nigerians in the country as at 2019. Let’s ignore the interval and stay in the middle lane. To put that number in context, park it for a moment while we understand what petitions are and how they work in the UK. The dictionary definition of a petition is ‘a formal written request, typically one signed by many people, appealing to authority in respect of a particular cause’. In the UK, any British citizen or UK resident can create a petition on the government’s website, and if they can get 5 people to support it and it meets all necessary requirements, it gets published by the government, making it available to all citizens and residents who wish to sign. At 10,000 signatures, a petition will get a formal response from the government. At 100,000 it will almost certainly be debated in Parliament.

It seems that exactly on 20.10.20, ‘a date that will live in infamy’, a petition was created by one Silas Ojo who is clearly of Nigerian origin. Like an ominous prison number, it was assigned “554150” in its web URL and was (is) titled “Implement sanctions against the Nigerian Government and officials”

The signatories on this petition had further increased since the above was captured.
Source: UK Parliament Website

As an experiment, I thought to play with the URL petition number and went +/-1 to see the petitions either side of Silas’. The results were very instructive and highlighted that Silas had pulled off quite a feat. Let me explain.

This was petition Silas -1 (i.e. 554149, submitted just before Silas’); it was rejected.

Source: UK Parliament Website

This was petition Silas +1 (i.e. 554151, submitted just after Silas’); it had not yet gathered the 5 supporters needed to publish.

Source: UK Parliament Website

Meanwhile, our protagonist, Silas, and his avatar, Petition 554150, galloped away speedily in cyberspace. His petition reached and passed the 10,000 mark on a date I can’t tell you. It then proceeded to conquer the 100,000 barrier and it did; finally gathering no less than 220,000+ signatures. Remember, Silas is a single individual who spoke up (#sorosoke). He kickstarted a process, and his petition became the channel through which 220,000+ other voices will also be heard through a UK Parliamentary debate – about Nigeria. The system did what it was designed to do.

Remember I asked you to ‘park’ our estimated 215,000 number (of Nigerians in the UK) so we could better contextualise it? Well, let’s retrieve and analyse that now. You’ve probably figured out my intended point. With 220,000+ signatures, Silas’ petition was signed by more people than the total number of Nigerians in the country as at 2019. This is like saying that every single Nigerian in the UK (and more) signed this petition. If you ask me, that is quite a statistic, and though I expect that not all those signatures were by Nigerians, I would assume that a large chunk were, or were directly influenced by Nigerians. Either way, the Nigerian diaspora in the UK has certainly spoken…and will be heard!

Their voices were so loud, that there does not seem to be a single constituency from St Ives in Cornwall (the southernmost tip of the UK) all the way to Orkney and Shetland in Scotland (the most northerly of the UK’s 650 constituencies) where there wasn’t at least one vote for Silas’ petition (see official map petition below). If it were an election, it would probably have been a landslide.

Map showing spread of signatories for petition ‘554150’ across the UK
Source: UK Government Petition Map Website

As I wrap up, let’s move away from the macro data and drill down to an individual perspective. Below is the email I received from the UK government, informing me that Parliament is going to debate the petition on 23.11.20. The email confirmed that my voice matters and that is a feeling that is crucial to true democracy. The debate will take place with the backdrop of a damning CNN report that implicates Nigerian authorities in the alleged atrocities that supposedly took place at the Lekki toll gate. Words like ‘alleged’ and ‘supposedly’ are not necessarily ones I would personally use to describe the incident; they sound more like the ongoing official narrative. However, thanks to impressive investigative journalism and in view of available evidence, it appears most reasonable people will conclude different.

As we approach 23.11.20 when the UK Parliament will debate this petition, one thing is clear about the influence of the Nigerian diaspora; it can cause a foreign power to take notice and potentially to act. Act how?…you may ask. Silas’ petition was clearly NOT directed at the Nigerian people but rather at individual government officials who may be complicit in or whose passive stance may have given tacit approval for the actions of SARS, the now disbanded ‘Special Anti-Robbery Squad’ of The Nigerian Police. I cannot speculate on what the UK government will or will not do, but it would be interesting to see what happens at the debate. At the very least, a light is being shone on these alarming occurrences at home, and where light appears, darkness must recede!

So what are we to take from all this? First, we now ought to be convinced beyond doubt that the Nigerian diaspora is here to stay, is relevant and has a role to play in (re-)building the nation. Second, Silas is one chap, he raised his voice and 220,000+ others followed. Where and how can you and I raise our voices against injustice and for the rule of law, especially on behalf of so many who do not even have a voice? This could be in our responses to and interventions for the poor, underprivileged, vulnerable, children, widows, unemployed, etc. Don’t limit yourself to any particular sphere of life, especially the usual family, faith and employment; expand your horizon, think deep, think wide, and you’ll surely see many areas you can impact society. Third, I played a small part by signing the petition. By so doing, I added a single drop to what eventually became an ocean, so always play your part, because (borrowing the slogan of TESCO – the UK’s largest supermarket chain), “every little helps”!

End.

For the Love of 🇳🇬 #Country…

I often say (to myself) that the best songs in the world have already been sung. This is my own personal way of appreciating truly iconic and classic songs and elevating them to a status of “untouchable” when compared with more recent songs. I do however acknowledge that this is a matter of preference and taste, and that great music will always evolve greatly. You might wonder about the relevance of these opening statements to a blog entitled ‘My Nigerian Dream’. It’s simple, just like one of my recent blog pieces, this one has also been inspired by a song. In this case, it is a song by an artiste who left us a rather clear message; one that is deeply relevant to societal events in Nigeria today.

Whitney Elizabeth Houston (1963 – 2012) certainly came, saw and left, but not before she conquered the R&B, pop, soul, gospel and dance music scenes. One of her most iconic songs is “Greatest Love of All”, the lyrics of which I saw in a totally new light on a fateful October evening. As I drove back home late at night with my wife after an all-day outing, the song came on and for some reason, this time, unlike the usual subtle blend of musical instruments and voice, the lyrics seemed to jump out at me more than the melody. It wasn’t the usual characteristic sound one would associate with an A-rated artiste like Whitney; except it actually was, and it was my ears that were just playing tricks on me, or better put, they were decoding a hidden message that was there all along. I can only suppose that this was one of those moments when one’s mind was acutely focused on one’s most recent thoughts…and indeed that day, up to that very moment, Nigeria had been heavy on my mind.

And so, my analysis of the lyrics and subsequent drawing of parallels with Nigeria’s situation began. Permit me to modify the lyrics ever so slightly to make my point. Original lyrics have been kept in and struck through while additions are underlined in bold CAPS. Other emboldened text are sections I would like to emphasise. I shall focus on three key stanzas of the song, and leave you to enjoy the rest of it via the video below. Here we go…

I believe the children YOUTH are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's THEIR laughter remind us how we used to be

First of all, you’ll notice that I replaced the word ‘children’ with ‘youth’. Clearly, I’m steering clear of a Desmond Elliot style social media onslaught. Having swiftly jumped over that messy puddle, let turn our attention fully to the above stanza. It is a clear validation of the desires of Nigeria’s youth population today. They are indeed the future, and we all as a nation must not only believe it, we must accept it. More precisely, the government must accept it. It is a responsibility for seasoned leaders, NOT to try to maintain ‘power-for-life’, but rather to develop following generations at the appropriate time. To do otherwise is not only irresponsible, it is also a dangerous dereliction of duty that upsets a delicate balance and creates a needless gap. Today’s youth ought to be encouraged, galvanised, empowered, and ultimately unleashed. They ought not to be referred to as lazy, looked down upon as having nothing to contribute, and they certainly ought not to be underestimated. Despite the absence of a common enabling environment, they have shown, repeatedly, that they have all it takes to flourish in the most trying of circumstances. This is as true for the young vocational worker learning a trade as it is for the entrepreneurial founders of Paystack. It is true for the young commodities hawker as it is for the passionate, intelligent and well-intentioned organisers of the recent #EndSARS protests…the ‘official’ protests, not the mayhem and chaos that followed. Rather than our leaders to show the youth ‘the beauty they possess inside’, Whitney’s words have been overturned to the extent that it is the youth who have so far had to scream to get themselves even noticed. That shouldn’t be; their journey should be made easier by all of society singing in unison about the greatness of our youth, willing them on, and thereby instilling a sense of self-belief and patriotism in them. Then when our youth have come into full bloom, the ‘elders’ can sit back, enjoy the view, and watch the nation progress into its next era and an assured future in trained, tested and trusted hands. This is how it should be.

Everybody's searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfil my needs
A lonely place to be
And so I learned to depend on me

This next stanza could easily be a letter from today’s 207 million Nigerians directly to every level of our government. This is not a youth-only message; if you think about it, it’s “our” story. We’re searching for th/at(ose) heroic leader(s) for whom ‘we the people’ will be the priority. Leaders of integrity, who are great role models, who exhibit deep empathy and who stand up and relish the opportunity to serve, not to be served. Instead, Nigerians have been subjected to a cycle of disappointment as we continue in search of the elusive front runners who we desire to follow. What a lonely place for such a huge population to be; and while the coming of Nigeria’s ‘messiahs’ remains delayed, Nigerians are simply left to do what we do best – to survive – against incredible odds. As a people, Nigerians have an exceptionally resilient spirit, which I believe to be both a blessing and a curse; the former because it’ll get us out of any jam, the latter because it causes us to accept what I call ‘injustice by bad governance’, rather than confront it. We excuse it, we adapt, we settle, we compromise, but we also neither fix the problem nor start the process. However, the tide is shifting, and it isn’t so much a ‘generation’ as what I would rather call a ‘wave’ of Nigerians of all ages, faiths, genders and ethnicities, that are coming full steam ahead, no longer willing to sit by and accept the status quo.

I decided long ago
Never to walk in anyone's shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I'll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity

Rather than depend on themselves for provisions and services that ought to be provided by the state, they will build structures, design systems, and define processes that will help shape an innovative #newNIGERIA. These Nigerians will not walk in the shadow of (many of) our leaders past, but they will acknowledge and appreciate the labour of our true heroes past and present. They are willing to try, even if those that ought to guide them neglect to do so. At least they would be held in honour for lending their hands to the plough when their nation really needed them. They are the sort who would tell anyone who expects that they can be intimidated, harassed or bought out of their convictions, to perish the thought, for this is a ‘wave’ of Nigerians who will not sacrifice their dignity, integrity or vision.

So, what do we take away from all this? First of all, that Whitney Houston sang a phenomenal song – make sure you catch it below. More relevant though, is that it is time for youth all over Nigeria to take responsibility for the change that we want to see as a nation. I believe that elections are really contested and won on porches and at front doors. The hard work of pulling off a great win is performed door to door, hut to hut, and shack to shack. If we are to change Nigeria, the vehicle of choice is and must be our politics and particularly at the grass roots. Moreover, there are many ‘movements’, whose combined efforts will be key to getting there. These include non-partisan civil society organisations such as “Enough is Enough” and the “#FixPolitics” initiative, which was publicly launched earlier today. Why support such? Because when we amalgamate the impact of all those ‘movements’, the result will be that ‘wave’ that will defy precedent.

A constitutional amendment has lowered the age of candidacy, meaning that individuals as young as 25 years old can run for office. Please read Nigeria’s 1999 amended constitution to find out more. In Nigeria’s public sector, official retirement is at age 60 or after 35 years of service. It has been 37 years since the termination of the 2nd Republic; by that logic, for example, anyone who has been involved in our politics since then, perhaps ought to have ‘retired’ from active service by now. Maybe this could be a practical guide for how we decide on candidates and for whom we choose to vote.


A tribute to a great artiste who left sooner than the world may have liked; enjoy “Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston – Greatest Love Of All (Official Video)

So, to conclude, and repeating the title of this piece, ‘for the love of country…’, to all leaders of yesterday, please heed these words and allow the natural circle of life to propagate itself, so Nigeria can benefit from fresh minds, opinions and perspectives. There comes a time when all “good” things must end, and it is ideal that power is relinquished and passed on to the next generation. There are those who would say that my appeal is pointless and perhaps even naive because it will fall on deaf ears; perhaps so. However, on the odd chance that someone is actually listening, and also especially because as Whitney sang, “the greatest love of all is easy to achieve“, is it not worth trying? For the love of country…because right about now, we all as a nation, could do with the greatest love of all happening inside of us!

End.

Homeland vs. Diaspora :: Which Nigeria 🇳🇬?

The world is a “global village” – a phrase you almost undoubtedly have heard, but let’s think about it for a moment. Under ‘typical’ (who knows what is ‘normal’ these days?) circumstances, the words “global” and “village” are probably two that have no business sitting side by side. How can anything have ‘global’ presence and yet resemble a ‘village’? I picture or rationalise this with the analogy of an octopus, or a spider. What do these have in common? A central body structure from which multiple ‘limbs’ extend. For the Arachnologists (who study spiders) and Teuthologists (who study cephalopoda e.g. octopus, squid) amongst us, I know this is quite an over-simplification, sorry. However, borrowing from your fields of study has greatly helped to articulate my passion for the subject of this piece, which by the way was inspired by two good friends of mine, SA (the accidental protagonist) and MO (the willing dissident). Their identities have been protected here for privacy, but to them both I extend my profound appreciation.

So, similar to how Christ revealed the meanings of His parables, you’ve probably guessed it; the octopus, or spider if you prefer, is Nigeria. All citizens who are currently based in the ‘homeland‘ (by choice or otherwise) form the central body, and all those who are based abroad, the ‘diaspora‘ (by choice or otherwise) are the extended limbs. You see, a key point in this analogy is not just that these limbs are numerous, it is that they have a long reach relative to the body’s position at any point in time.

Bringing these two principal ideas together, I have an argument, and it is this; there is only ONE Nigeria and there is only ONE set of Nigerians. Why? Simply because the body of an octopus or a spider cannot move 2 feet without the limbs, and vice-versa. If the limbs were to go their separate ways from the body, it would mean the destruction and death of both! The limbs extend the capability of the body and represent its will, by reaching out to surroundings far and near. However, at no point do they ever become two separate entities, and that, dear reader, is the reason the ‘village’ (of our nation) can also have a ‘global’ presence. Otherwise, Nigeria would be worse than the most reclusive state you could imagine; the diaspora plays a necessary function in avoiding that.

Having established the obvious presence of these two groups, and hopefully having convinced you that they are in fact two sides of the same coin, we should discuss why this point had to be made in the first place. It is worth reminding you at this juncture, that by reading this piece, you are essentially accepting an invitation into my mind and personal thought processes. In there, you may find some things that resonate and others that do not; that’s fine, just remember that it is the mutual exchange of ideas that enriches us both, not so much whether or not we agree or disagree. OK, let’s carry on.

We are here because I have heard it said, perhaps more often than necessary, that Nigerians in the diaspora, for whatever reason, are not placed to feel about or speak into matters pertaining to situations on the homeland. Often cited are reasons such as ‘you don’t know what we’re going through’, and frankly it is tiring. From my perspective, we as Nigerians, have simply found yet another way to divide ourselves. Why must we? Is it ingrained in us or do we train, or perhaps even force ourselves to see differences? It is a genuine wonder of mine. Lest we restrict this phenomenon to mere citizens, let’s think about one of Nigeria’s greatest human exports – The Super Eagles – our men’s national football team. When they are not giving us good reason to unite (and hopefully rejoice) as one nation, even they have squabbles about ‘home-based’ vs. ‘foreign’ players. Yes, I realise there is more to it than that, especially in a team sport like football, but on a simplistic level, is it not possible that we as a nation just try to blur the lines of division and get on with it?

We are definitely stronger as one, but more to the point, if we are not one, we do not exist at all. Any other perspective is not only flawed, but baseless. Nigeria’s diaspora encapsulates her various outposts around the global village, each one as unique as it is diverse on its mission to integrate our nation with the wider world. If every Nigerian were in Nigeria, where would our voice be? Who would protest at the UN, Downing Street, etc.? How would thousands of Nigerians have prayer walked the streets of Central London at the peak of the #EndSARS protests, possibly helping to add volume to the many voices against police brutality in the homeland. If we have a government that ignores the groans of the people, who would be aptly positioned to bring this to the attention of the international community, to whom such a government might listen?

Rather than think of Nigeria’s diaspora as a group of long-lost children who are perhaps even on the verge of losing their culture and language, think of the diaspora as millions of ambassadors, globally positioned to champion the interests of the nation. According to a 2019 PwC report titled “Strength from Abroad – The Economic Power of Nigeria’s Diaspora“, Nigerian emigration to the United States and the United Kingdom stood at 280,000 and 210,000 respectively in 2017. More recent estimates put the figures as high as 400,000 and 215,000 respectively, which means that for every 1,000 Nigerians, 3 are either in the US or the UK (based on a current population estimate of 206 million by the United Nations). That’s without counting other ‘hotspots’ such as South Africa, the UAE and Canada. Additionally, unofficial estimates put the total number of Nigerians in the diaspora at up to 15 million. This is roughly about the same number of people who voted for the winner at both of Nigeria’s last two Presidential elections in 2019 and 2015. Considering the relatively narrow margins of victory in both elections, if diaspora voting was not unconstitutional (which is a whole other discussion), then even if only half of that number voted, and they all voted for the losing candidate, they could have swung the election potentially to the extent of a landslide.

Nigeria boasts a well-connected, highly achieving body of so called (but wrongly called) ‘foreigners’ who have surely proven their economic worth and commitment to the nation. According to PwC, remittance flows to Nigeria in 2018 stood tall at US$23.63 billion, which equated to 83% of Nigeria’s Federal Government Budget, 6.1% of total GDP, and 11 times the Foreign Direct Investment into the country in the same year. Who says Nigerians abroad are not committed to the homeland? It is mindful to mention that unless you’re a parent supporting a child in education abroad for example, monetary flows between the diaspora and the homeland tend mostly to go in one direction, and we have Nigerians’ sense of family to thank for that. Surely, a recognition of the strength, impact and importance of the diaspora must have something to do with why the Nigeria Diaspora Commission (NDC) headed by Abike Dabiri-Erewa was established.

It may be true that many Nigerians, more than ever today, seek an ‘out’ from the nation of their birth, in search of pastures green, but this was not always the case. Like me, my father, as a young undergraduate, also had the privilege to study in the United Kingdom, but unlike me, not a second later than he finished, was he on his way back ‘home’ to commence his professional and family life – because back then, Nigeria was where the greater prospects lay. Life for me took a different turn, as by God’s grace, I met my darling wife in the UK and we stayed to work and had our daughter. However, my father and I do have one thing in common in our journeys, our final destinations are the same – the homeland – for to our mission, we must stay true.

As a nation, we have real and serious battles ahead, all of which are against common enemies, against whom we must unite – for example, corruption, the forerunner of poverty (at least in our context) – and such major battles are not even worth attempting without the fundamental basis of unity. Until we realise that every limb is required to move the octopus or spider forward, then we better be prepared to stay put. I choose however to end this piece on a positive note, for what else is the purpose of hope? So, let’s end it this way…I have been encouraged and challenged (via amazing feedback for which I am deeply grateful) to always draw out the “call to action” from within my written pieces. Well, here’s one for you, yes, YOU. How about you make it a personal goal and decision to erase those mental, cultural, ethnic, religious and …wait for it… ‘geographic’ lines of division that often plague us as Nigerians? If I do that and you do that, I dare say we would both have taken a step closer to ‘Our Nigerian Dream’. Besides, if you’re currently on the homeland, one day you may become the diaspora, but sometime soon, I fully intend by God’s grace to be exactly where you are, for to be truly at home, is to daily walk the land of my fathers. Most importantly though, even if we swap places, you and I will always only ever be ONE Nigeria.

God bless you and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

End.


Sources and further reading:

Strength from Abroad – The Economic Power of Nigeria’s Diaspora // https://www.pwc.com/ng/en/pdf/the-economic-power-of-nigerias-diaspora.pdf

Nigerian Diaspora and Remittances: Transparency and Market Development // https://imtconferences.com/nigerian-diaspora-remittances/

What makes Nigerians in diaspora so successful // https://www.ft.com/content/ca39b445-442a-4845-a07c-0f5dae5f3460

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