By Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin
In 2006, I was only hoping to get out of the shores of this country – for good. Maybe I would win a Globacom ticket to watch the World Cup final in Germany, get there and flee. Did they not say a messenger ‘abroad’ is better than a Professor in Nigeria? I was fed up with a country rife with so much poverty and pain, and commonplace ethnic mistrust and hostilities. A country foisted on us by one thoughtless white man. A gathering of some incompatible tribes held together, in the words of Niyi Osundare, by “the oil from the Niger Delta.” I knew my coming to the world was no mistake. I was only too convinced coming to Nigeria was the blunder.
Who cared about a country that sanctify gerontocracy? In a country where the major political actors in the 70’s and the 80’s are still the ruling class today, what could I possibly contribute as a youth or the leader of a tomorrow that may never come?
I was stuck in the lamentation, scrambling for a way out of the conundrum…until something happened. I read a quote – a simple quote – that had no ordinary effect on me: “if you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” Dalai Lama’s words came as a real game changer for me. I realised it’s a cheap, vain thing to simply lament about the darkness without fixing the lamp. That leadership is not tied to offices or positions; I could remain myself, take small steps and make a huge difference.
I realized I’m a Nigerian and my unrepentant allegiance should go to my nation. If the ‘white’ man deserted his country when she was downtrodden as every nation was at some points, would her splendor and living standard allure me today? So I stopped asking, like John Kennedy counseled, what my country had done for me. I became interested in what I can give to her.
This is 2013. Nigeria is struggling, but what am I doing about it? Just lament? Not again. If a single man can make an impact, I have to be that man. I’m a young leader, not just a future leader. I must start contributing my quota now … not waiting to get to one office or position first. Indeed, Mohamed Bouazizi and Duran Adam needed no office or positions to make a difference. They didn’t just take solace in lamentation. I shouldn’t either.
Nigeria has huge resources and great beauty. But some people don’t see the beauty. She has about 37 solid minerals in commercial quantities, the 6th largest gas reserves and the 8th largest crude oil reserves in the world. She has a sizeable population of over 160 million people of which 80 million are youth. Those are the resources everyone sees.
But beyond that, and equally important, Nigeria is the third most ethnically and linguistically diverse country in the world (after New Guinea and Indonesia). She is blessed with over 500 languages, 550 ethnic nationalities and historical kingdoms such as the Oyo Empire, the Benin Empire, the Kanem-Borno Empire and the Sokoto Caliphate. She has a magnificent mix of culture including the Nok Terracotta Heads in the North, the Igbo Ukwu in the East, the Ife Heads in the West and the Benin Masks in the Mid-West.
Like a giant rainbow bestriding the cloud, the beauty in Nigeria’s diversity is inherent. Imagine that your best food is the only food that exists, and you have to eat it 3 times a day, 7 days a week and 52 weeks a year. How distasteful would that feel? God forbid that we should all always look alike, think the same and hold the same views. The world would be all too monotonous.
As Nigeria clocks a century after the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorate, it is meaningful that we pause and reflect deeply on our many challenges as a people. Yes, some people enslaved us for many decades. Yes, the politicians plunder our resources. But is lamentation the only thing we as ordinary citizens can do?
If our motto is “Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress,” we should glorify our heterogeneity, harness our different strengths to foster national cohesion and end ethnic mistrust. We should see the poverty, unemployment and national security threats that damnify us in common and unite to combat them … not the religious, language or ethnic differences that make us diverse.
There’s no pretension that problems don’t exist in Nigeria, but contributing my quota towards positive change is the right first step, not allotting blames. Nigerian youth suffer a dearth of access to opportunities. I reasoned I could help alleviate that. So in August, 2012, I started the free online writing resource, www.NaijaWritersCoach.com – announcing essay competition opportunities daily, providing timeless writing tutorials and promoting literacy through literary activities. Over 10,000 Nigerian youth have been inspired and empowered by the initiative. That wouldn’t materialize if I had simply embraced lamentations.
Nigerians, especially the youth, today have become what Reuben Abati derisively called “collective children of anger,” taking pleasure in blaming others for the country’s woes. This can only increase hostilities. We should each sweep our compound and Nigeria would be clean. It won’t happen overnight, but if I sit up and you do same, others will be inspired and follow suit.
Most Nigerian youth channel their creativity towards negative engagements. This became obvious to me in March, 2013 as Nigerians innovatively designed images, videos, t-shirts, souvenirs and games, mocking the gaffe of the then Lagos State NSCDC Commandant, Shem Obafaiye – an incident now popular as “My Oga At The Top”. It is high time we started using these energies and talents to develop critical ICT software, create jobs and solve other challenges Nigeria faces.
Nigeria’s our home. “Arise, O Compatriots…To serve our fatherland.” It’s our duty as no one else will champion our cause for us. Shall we do it today and rule the world tomorrow? Or shall we lament forever?
*Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin is a freelance writer, writing coach and the author of Your Right To Write and Vertical Writing. Find him on Twitter @Oxygenmat. This essay won a prize in the 2013 National Orientation Agency (NOA) Essay Competition.