By Ahmad Sajoh
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”
This morning my concern is about the progress of my country Nigeria. Throughout last night I was agitated by what I was seeing all around me. The more I see and hear of our supposed differences as a people, the more the same I see us. And there is no where that sameness manifests like in our pace of progress across Nigeria. I checked the meaning of the word progress all over definition providing platforms and what was common were concepts like forward movement, positive change and making situations better. I then sat down and reflected deeply. Then tears began to fall from my eyes. Reason? What I see around my country does not represent any of these concepts. Alone in a very big and cozy room at Best Western plus Hotel in Enugu, I felt sad, lonely and wirried. Definitely humanity had made progress all over the globe. But has my country really made progress? Without sounding despondent or over pessimistic, I see little progress in the land. I have traversed the length and breath of Nigeria. Our supposed differences are only in the natural factors such as ethnicity and regional climatic conditions. But in our thinking and mindset we are more the same than different. The concerns are also the same. Most citizens are their own municipal governments. You provide your own electricity, your own water, your own security either through maigadi or community vigilante, you repair your road or manage bad roads. In addition you send your kids to paid schools or they manage delapidated schools with absentee teachers. For your health care herbal doctors get more patronage than government hospitals that metely provide consulting services. And this situations manifest all over the country.
The reason I hurried to Enugu was the fact that a person I stayed with in the same group and in the same Hotel at Ado Ekiti for the swearing in ceremony of the new Governor had an accident on his way back to Enugu. His right leg was badly hurt, flesh torn apart and bones broken to pieces. The picture I saw was touching. He was first admitted to University of Benin Teaching Hospital, but later referred to the National Orthopedic Hospital Enugu. I was moved and as the leader of the group I just had to go. It is often said that “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success” So every time I am opportuned to lead a group I ensure we move towards success in achieving our goals. For me Leadership is a responsibility, not a title or a trophy to be won as we take it in Nigeria. The Enugu I visited this time around is not different from the Enugu I knew quite well. But you could read the change in attitudes and behaviors. People I interacted with have lost hope in the future and possible progress of the country. The Governor of the state had barricaded a whole section of a road as a security measure. Ordinary citizens are locked up in their homes on Mondays while the high and mighty are allowed to move freely and even fly out on Mondays. How some touts had imposed an additional work free day for over one year in a region of the country still baffles me. The people I interacted with fell abandoned by their government. Those who bear the brunt are mostly informal sector workers with little or no means of daily income without going out to work. Formal sector workers are even glad to have additional weekend day. Treating the whole matter as work normal is what I find disturbing.
The National Orthopedic Hospital Enugu is a place I have been to sometimes in the past. I knew that hospital very well. Many years ago I visited someone there. But today I was shocked. The Doctors and Medical staff were typically Nigerian highly competent and willing to utilize the poor equipment and facilities creatively. Yes, some of the attitudes are poor, sometimes even rude. But I can understand. The environment around the emergency ward is a sorry sight. I noticed that some of the beds were donated by Youth Corp Members who served there or elsewhere in Enugu in the year 2010. They are old and rickety. There are no seats for patient relatives. The areas around the ward are dirty and most of the facilities are non-functional. As a National Tertiary Hospital meant to address referral cases across the South East and South South, there is a lot left to be desired. It’s really sad that our attitude towards our people’s welfare can be this appalling. Unfortunately, it is not just a matter for the hospital in Enugu. It is a Nigerian thing. A new normal of some sorts.
Two things immediately came to my mind when I visited that hospital. One is the reason why most of our medical professionals migrate. Theirs is the most humane profession. And I don’t blame them if they seek the most humane environment to practice it. Secondly, I now understand why this country has refused to progress. Nations evolve and progress only when there is some “elite consensus” around positive values. In Nigeria our elite consensus is around negative values. The situation at the National hospital in Enugu can be found almost exactly the same way in Kano, Damaturu, Ibadan, Calabar, Lokoja, Akure, Sokoto, Awka, or any other Nigerian town or city. We have developed a unique National elite consensus around all the negatives such as corruption, nepotism, promoting social inequality and living in dirty environments. Why did we alliow ourselves to descend so low? How can we ever progress if the key ingredients of progress are not adopted as part of our National consensus? That’s the key challenge. We need to couple some elite consensus around positive values including some of our inherited African values such as honesty, mutual respect and sense of community. If we can do that, then we will restore our humanity and perhaps advance a step further towards enthroning equity, fairness, justice and empathy all of which are long forgotten in our country. We are a country no doubt. We have defined geographical boundaries, but that does not make us a nation. A nation is made up of a collection of people who share common values, visions and aspirations. A nation represents a collective identity.
So as patriots what do we do to advance the cause of building a progressive nation? Anyone capable of reading this write is part of the growing number of national elites. An elite consensus building is one of the most important steps in building national consensus. Why can’t we start building our own consensus around our own positive values. And what is our best starting point than our neighborhoods and communities? Like I always tell my children. “My father was born in a thatched round hut in our village, he gave birth to me in a mud house with a zinc roof, I gave birth to you in cement brick houses with long span roofing, I expect you to give birth to your children in a glass house” that’s progress. The children we are giving birth to, and the families we are raising today, deserve a better life that we are willing to let them have, otherwise no progress has taken place. And to commit to changing Nigeria for good is a commendable thing, but let us first start somewhere on a very small scale. After all champion swimmers do not swim across oceans. They swim across small pools. Changing our communities and changing our outlook to humanity are some of the little ways we can engender progress in our little ways. An elite consensus around these positive values will mean progress in our lives.
As always I come in peace