Don’t Switch It Off, Just Yet

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A picture illustration of an official of one of Nigeria's electricity distribution company reaching up to power cables.
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By Dapo Akande

Many years ago in the Uk, The Sun newspaper, a very popular national daily, openly identified as a Conservative Party sympathizer, did something on the very day of a general election which had looked as good as won for the Labour Party victory; and it nailed the coffin of all predictions. Neil Kinnock was the Labour Party’s flagbearer and after all the years he had spent knocking on the doors of No.10 Downing Street, it looked like it was finally going to let him in as Prime Minister. The Sun newspaper had other plans.

On that fateful day, its publication carried the mischievous headline, “If Neil Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights?” Shortly after his defeat at the elections, Kinnock gave a farewell speech to announce his resignation as Party leader. That one action, almost singlehandedly, put paid to his long political career and equally long held ambition. He pointedly blamed The Sun newspaper’s headline for this loss.

With the way Nigerians have been trooping out of the country in the last few years, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a similar headline here soon. The most popular destinations are known to everyone, with Canada being the hot favourite for some time now, due to their inviting immigration laws. Sadly though, even the most unlikely destinations now appear more attractive alternatives to staying put in Nigeria for many of our youths. We’ve lost count of just how many of our most productive age bracket have lost their lives to the unforgiving elements of the desert or the treacherous sea in desperate search of hope.

But if one was to run a similar headline here, what would it say? Asking the last person to leave the shores of Nigeria to switch off the light may only confuse the poor fellow. From which power source, the electricity supplier or generator? If it’s a generator then I can understand but if it’s the electricity supplier, is there any need? That would simply amount to what bankers call “double entry”. Or maybe the headline will make more sense to ask the person to turn off the water tap. But in a country still struggling to provide adequate supply of potable water, that too may not make too much sense.

If statistics gathered by Aid agencies are anything to go by, 60 million Nigerians, or 33 percent of the population, still don’t have access to clean water. Environmental and water experts insist this is a highly conservative figure. Aha! I’ve got it. The last person to leave should be asked to lock the gate. That sounds more appropriate in a nation where the state of insecurity is such that everyone who can afford to, lives in fortress-like conditions and moves around ensconced in a battalion of policemen.

According to The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, about 64,000 Nigerians are murdered in Nigeria annually with the North East suffering the biggest losses due to rampant terrorist activities there. In its Global Study on Homicide 2019, the agency listed drivers of homicide to include inequality, unemployment, political instability, prevalence of gender stereotypes in the society and organised crime. It was Mike Leavitt who said, “There is a time in the life of every problem when it is big enough to see, yet small enough to solve.” I sincerely hope we haven’t passed this point.

However, a nation sincere about rising from an economically comatose state, a primary cause of the current distressing state of insecurity would neither run away from it’s obvious challenges, pretend they don’t exist nor bury it’s head in the proverbial sand with the hope that it will go away. Instead it would man up to face it’s very real and current realities.

As if speaking to us directly Abraham Lincoln once warned, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Just as another great leader, Lee Kuan Yew, also remarked on the futility of looking for an easy way out. “A soft people will vote for those who promised a soft way out, when in truth there is none” he once said.

Equally sound advice can be found in Jim Collins’ life transforming book, Good To Great, where he prescribes facing up to the brutal facts. In tandem with what he calls the Stockdale Paradox theory, he says such entity (or individual) must “retain faith that it will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties and at the same time confront the most brutal facts of it’s current reality, whatever they might be.”

I cannot with good conscience say our governments see this as necessary to succeed. A nation where we thought we had hit rock bottom in 2007 when statistics informed us that with a figure of 8.6 million we had the largest number of out of school children globally but by 2019 we clocked yet another unenviable record by shamefully hitting the 13.5 million mark, according to a survey conducted by UNICEF.

With these number of children denied basic education and the nonchalant attitude by government to reverse it, how do we hope to improve in the poverty index talk less of building a robust nation? A continent where 40% of the population over the age of 15 and 50% of women above 25 are illiterate will remain what the oyinbos like to call it, the dark continent. And there’s little point in raising dust over what oyinbos say as we are wont to do. If we don’t like it we should face the issue squarely so we can change our story.

The role of infrastructure in general and that which a social infrastructure like Education in particular plays in nation building cannot be overemphasized. Without it, reduction in poverty, desired economic growth, improved standards of living and an increase in life expectancy will forever remain a pipe dream for our dear country.

We read for knowledge, we study for understanding but we memorize, meditate and personalize scripture for wisdom. This wisdom becomes self-evident when we value what God values and devalue what God devalues. God made his thoughts on education quite clear where He said, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God”. If we’re indeed sincere in our quest to rebuild the nation then we must as a matter of urgency redesign our educational system to impart knowledge, imbue understanding and inspire wisdom. With this, hope can yet be rekindled.

Also this, I believe is a good a time as any to correct the erroneously held belief that where there is life, there’s hope. I beg to differ. It’s only where there’s hope that you’ll find life worth living. Where hope is absent, desire for life can rarely be found. Ironically, as religiously correct as this often spouted mantra sounds, the Bible itself corroborates my position where it says, ”Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is like a tree of life.” Unfortunately, the ever fading vision of a meaningful future has turned many of our people, hitherto known the world over for our joyful and positive disposition, into latter day alcoholics.

Forced to wake up at 3.30am in order to make it to work on time and rarely making it back home till 11pm throughout the week, has effectively rendered life close to useless. Little time to rest. Even less time to enjoy the company of family and other pleasant things life has to offer, has driven many to seek and effortlessly find perhaps the cheapest form of escapism for now. Something to dull the anguish and to temporarily fill the emptiness; N50 sachets of “hot” drinks. A gift which the manufacturers of such have so “thoughtfully” made available at a price within the reach of just about everybody.

At any given time, whether that be early in the morning or in the afternoon we’ll find our people taking their “pick me up” shot. The unemployed who resorts to it to drown his sorrows may be foolish because I don’t see how this can possibly help him to get a job or even think creatively to create a job for himself. In a macabre kind of way one may see where he’s coming from though. He just wants to forget his predicament, even for a moment. But the driver who needs to have his wits about him or the policeman manning his post in possession of a gun? That, I can never understand.

Unfortunately, we have an ecosystem which not only encourages people to misbehave but enables it. And that brings me to the morality of the companies whose innovatively priced products enable this behaviour and who are subsequently making a fortune from our people’s increasing sense of hopelessness but that’s an argument I’ll leave for another day. For now I’d rather reserve my comment than comment on my reservations.

Changing the nation…one mind at a time

Oladapo Akande is a Surrey University (UK) English graduate with a Masters in Professional Ethics. He’s an alumnus of the National Institute for Transformation and a two time author; The Last Flight and Shifting Anchors. He writes from Lagos.