BY Osita Chidoka
My In-law Nnamdi Kalu-Ezera, last week averted my mind to the growing dichotomy between Nigeria the country and Naija the creative outgrowth of our country. Nnamdi is my wife’s cousin and lives in the United States where he has been since after the Biafran war. His father Professor Kalu Ezera was an exceptional man who was a Parliamentarian and Minister in the first republic and also a lecturer at the nascent University of Nigeria, Nsukka. After the war, on his way back to Nsukka, he was killed and his body was never found. Stories of what happened to him are still subject of animated debate. His family, wife and four sons including Nnamdi emigrated to the United States during the war and heard of their father’s demise while in exile. So, like many families from the eastern part of the country, the trauma of the war remains a festering wound largely unattended to, but I digress.
Nnamdi Ezera, named after Nnamdi Azikiwe was born on 1st October 1960 at the dawn of great hope and independence. He loves Nigeria with a passion and holds very strong views about our country and its possibilities. Whenever, I visit with him in the US or he visit Nigeria we always end up discussing the trouble with Nigeria and possible solutions. Last week while he was in Abuja we had an interesting conversation on how a new Nigeria is emerging and in tune with global realities.
Nigeria the country is challenged by a convergence of issues that has marked it as moribund. Rising and unsustainable population growth has led to a youth bulge worsening the unemployment debacle. A leadership that is progressively producing poor outcomes in all areas of governance. Growing poverty rate and declining productivity stunting economic activity. High incidence of infant and maternal mortality remains the marker of a failed health care delivery system. Collapsing educational system is a sad reminder of continuous lowering of standards that the quota system has enabled. Our national bureaucracy is now a national albatross where federal character has blunted the edges of our national institutions. We now have a Police Force that can’t deliver security; an Army that can’t fight and a judiciary that can’t deliver justice.
Nigeria is now, perceived, as a major obstacle in the quest to unlock individual talents and capabilities and build a platform to realise dreams. Nigerian youths daily migrate to other countries in search of opportunities and in pursuit of their various dreams. An asphyxiating environment of government opaque processes that truncate the best plans and kills dreams is the major driver of poor civic participation and declining patriotism. The Nigerian youth is emotionally disconnected from the country and very cynical about its possibilities and potentials. Confronted with terror attacks our young soldiers refused to die for the country. Across all sectors of our nation a sense of disenchanted pervades.
On the other side of the coin we have the concept of Naija, a corruption of the name Nigeria, that has developed a life of its own. Naija is that space where youth creativity is unleashed and government meddlesomeness is absent. It is that space where there is no quota system, no federal character and no rotation. Naija is the country we don’t have. It is really the place where we unlock our potentials and spread it globally. When we talk of Nollywood, there is no government, no barrier to entry and no quota system. The Igbo movie Living In Bondage sparked off a whole new sector now dominated by English, Yoruba and Hausa movies. Nobody has complained of marginalisation or ethnic dominance.
Nigerian music is dominant across the globe and a symbol of our creativity, ingenuity and hard work. Our musicians are redefining our language, enlivening and enriching our local vocabulary and spreading a uniquely Naija beat. Our young artistes are icons of our new age unencumbered by the moribund Nigeria system and undeterred by the poor outcomes of an underperforming leadership.
On the social media space, naija spirit released a strong culture of engagement and creativity. We abuse ourselves, we laugh at ourselves, make caricatures of our leaders and express views across the spectrum of the sane, not so sane and downright lunacy. The speed at which Naija inhabitants come up with songs, videos and memes is amazing, whether it is “Oga at the top”, “na only you waka come” and “Aje ku Iya ni oje”
Where Nigeria stifles, Naija liberates. Where Nigeria obstructs, Naija supports. Nigeria is moribund, Naija is creative. What are the lessons for the Nigeria state? We need to reduce the span of control of government over our lives. Nigeria needs to learn from Naija how individuals are transformed from job seekers to job creators. Nollywood has created more jobs than 20 states combined over the past 10 years.
Naija is the future. It is a competitive state where potentials are realised and dreams given wings. Naija draws its essence from the youthful population who oppressed by a moribund state finds new outlet for creativity and boundless energy. Tapping that creativity and directing that energy is the goal of the new leadership that must emerge in Nigeria. The future, of a large and growing population; diminishing income from natural resource; weak industrial base and archaic governance infrastructure, is tied to a new development strategy that draws from the spirit of Naija. As internet spreads and bandwidth cost continues to drop Nigeria’s obsolesce is progressively assured.
The key to halting the march to obsolesce is a new leadership inspired by Naija, to dismantle the constricting hold of the Nigerian State over its citizens. The Naija inspiration and ability to commit group or class suicide are the defining qualities of the transformational leadership we need. In the absence of this new leadership inhabitants of Naija would continue to thrive in the new age while those stuck in Nigeria are doomed to destined decline and asphyxiation. Time to embrace the creative and jettison the moribund is now.