Monday, March 30, 2009

Nigeria's most valuable resource

Naija Monday Series

Life on the streets

After celebrating in my previous post about how much Nigeria is improving, this video about Nigerian’s street children lets me realize how far away we are from reaching the full potential of our country.

Where did we go wrong? How many of us have seen these children and yet done nothing about it? Is it safe to say we as a country are all to blame for the state of Nigeria’s street children? Is it safe to say many of these “area boys” started with dreams of wanting to be a pilot, doctor, or the president of Nigeria, but some how their dreams got deferred by life circumstances?

The Nigerian government has turn their back on these children by their inability to provide adequate safe havens and by not supporting them with quality free education so they can maximize their potential.

While there are many organizations that are committed to helping Nigerian children, many of these organizations are under-funded with limited or no resources. This is where you can help as a citizen or friend of Nigeria.

Nigerian children are our only hope for the future, but we are their only hope for their present and their future.

Help Nigerian Children:
Get list of orphanages and find out how to help them. The more resources you are able to provide for them, the more children they can help.
Get more information on how you can help this organisation, whose mission is to rescue deprived and destitute children from the street and give them the opportunity to develop into self-reliant and responsible citizens.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Who Takes the Very First Step? (Naija Mondays Series):

Theme: Destiny
Photo: by redbubble

Destiny is the sound of someone calling your name. That silent knock on your door, or that heavy pounding in your head. It is the sound of your own heart beat, beating at twice its normal rate. It is the feeling you get when someone confirms something that you have already thought about, or something you are already thinking. It is what happens when you meet someone, and you know instantly that meeting that person was all a part of the master plan of the universe, which already existed before you were born. But if destiny is something that will eventually take place, who should take the first step?

Mandela: His Painful First Steps

Long before he received his more than one hundred awards which include the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, Nelson Rohlilahla Mandela took the first step against apartheid in South Africa. Pretend for a moment that you are in the same place as he was, right there looking on at the various unbalanced scales in your country. Would you decide to speak out? What if no one else is on your team and you are the only one with the vision? Would you still decide to take the risk? Just like Rome was not built in a day, Mandela's Nobel peace prize was not attained in one night. It took him years of learning about Mahatma Ghandi and emulating his principles; it took an arrest in December 1956 for treason; it took years of a non-violent approach in resisting apartheid, of course until the Sharpville Massacre where he decided to go through the violent route of protesting (several acts of sabotage); it took one very bold statement in which he said, "If need be, [the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities] is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Not too many are prepared to die...

CNN Heroes: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Steps

Anne Mahlum took her first step when she decided to start running with homeless men every morning, as part of her "Back on My Feet" program in Philadelphia.

Liz McCartney took her first step as she made that decision to form a non-profit project to rebuild the homes of more than 120 families who were survivors of the hurricane Katrina.

Viola Vaughn took her first step in helping young girls in Kaolack, Senegal, who were initially failing in school, to learn the secrets to success and business through her "10,000 girls program."

Yohannes Gebregeorgis took his first step when he established "Ethiopia Reads," bringing free public libraries and literacy programs to thousands of Ethiopian children who lacked books and literacy.

So What Will Your Own First Step Be?

Would your first step be to think about a plan? To design a proposal for action? To participate in the Nigerians For Change group? To write about change? To create a non-profit organization? To create an awareness group? To be a role-model?

What would it take for you to actually make a move?

No plan is ever achieved without action. No great destiny came without an awareness of a sense of direction. The city of Lagos will remain the same if no one does anything about it. So will the country of Nigeria. The first step is usually painful and insecure, but your great destiny begins with that one step.

N4C may appear as an optimistic child with big visions and dreams, waiting anxiously for something out of the ordinary. But the truth is that this very second...this minute...this hour is crucial. The destiny of Nigeria is sure because we are taking the first steps today. Will you dare to take these steps with us? If your answer is "Yes," then you need to watch this space. Dream with us...let us make this a reality.

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's All About You!!!

(Naija Mondays, Theme: Destiny)

If you are a heroes fan like me, you’ve probably heard Mohinder Suresh ask the million-naira question: “Why are we here?” I’ve asked myself this question a number of times. And since nothing happens by chance, I believe there is a reason for everything. To that effect, I always ask “why?”…

Answers don’t always come back to me but the process of reflection is sometimes as helpful as the answer itself. So I ask why? Why am I here? Why am I female? Why did I come through the Nanna family? Why am I Nigerian? Why does one patient have diabetes and the other a perirectal abscess or whatever else?

Have you ever felt so different from everyone around you even though you manage to fit in? Have you ever wondered why YOU are here, why YOU are Nigerian, why YOU have your parents, why the cock crows and the horse neighs? You may be skeptical and asking yourself now, “Who cares?!!” But believe it or not, there is a purpose to everything, including your life which you value so much.

I wish I had all the answers. By the way, if you’re still reading because you think they will come toward the end, you may as well stop now. The purpose of this post is not to give you answers but to raise relevant questions. To open your mind to possibilities that you may have never considered.

I remember when I first came to the US for college. I was so homesick. I felt so displaced. What on Earth was I doing on this side of the planet? I decided I had to go home as soon as I had a chance. So I got a part-time job, saved and got the chance to go home two summers later. Looking out the window during liftoff, I marveled at the beauty and obvious planning that went into building the District of Columbia (U.S. capital). Flying into Lagos, the scenery was completely different. Buildings were jumbled with no planning whatsoever. Air pollution made it hard to even identify some structures. Hmm…is that a car or a horse-driven carriage?

But hey I was home!!!! So I was excited anyways. I hugged my parents like I had never seen them before. I had a blast, reconnected with old friends and managed to have the time of my life despite NEPA, horrendous traffic and all the other woes that I don’t need to mention. I felt a sense of fulfillment. However, I couldn’t help but wonder what I had been missing in the first place. “Is this the Nigeria my heart had been desperately longing for?”… I mean for a 3-week vacation, it was wonderful but this is someone else’s reality all year.

There are Nigerians all over the world, doing well in different fields of life. In the new environments in which we find ourselves, we manage to work hard and blossom. So why is our very own Nigeria so bad? Are we products of our environment or is our environment a product of our actions?

In the parable of the talents, God gave different portions of talents to different people. When He came back, the man He gave the most talents had made the most out of them and was rewarded by God. On the other hand, the man with the fewest talents decided to be unproductive and was rebuked.

Sometimes, I think of Nigeria as a talent that we have been given. Even though a good number of us were not born during its glory days, there is still so much potential in our country. So many resources dying to be tapped. Bright young Nigerians. Intelligent minds. Wise elders. Natural resources- crude oil, natural gas, agricultural potential (cocoa, rice, coffee, palm oil etc). Tenacious, fun-loving people. Diverse cultures. When the talent-giver returns, what will we present to Him as our product? Will we hide in shame? Or will we boldly present a country that we can be proud of?

As a reward for reading this long abstract post, I have some suggestions. Maybe it’s really all about YOU!!! Maybe YOU are the sleeping giant that Nigeria has been waiting for. In what field are you a student or an expert? Are you constantly seeking to improve yourself to become an asset to the world you live in? Or are you satisfied with mediocrity and just getting by?

Wherever you decide to settle in the world, do you plan to use your expertise, your voice, at least some of your time and money to effect positive change in Nigeria? There’s a reason you are Nigerian. There is a reason you are intelligent, rich or otherwise endowed. Our destiny as a nation is to be great. Unfortunately or should I say fortunately, the missing link just might be YOU!!!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Visiting Lagos!

Theme: Destiny
My 2008 Visit to Nigeria (Lagos)

My People
Leaving for Nigeria from London, I felt like I was already in Nigeria by the time I got to my terminal at Heathrow Airport. I was hearing the different wonderful dialects and felt at home already. My feeling was accentuated when the call for boarding was made, and everyone rushed to the gate as if the plane won’t fit all the passengers…Naija mentality! After alighting from the plane at Murtala International Airport in Lagos, the heat wave overwhelmed me and served as a sharp contrast to the cold in London (or the US for that matter). I was officially home. I waited for my luggage for over an hour and couldn’t reach my dad because the phone network kept failing. One would expect all this to diminish my excitement but I was just too happy to be returning ‘home’. I guess you learn to embrace certain faults within the system with the hope of progress. Ironically, I was amazed when I didn’t have to bribe any of the customs officials to exit the airport.

What's the situation?
Having been to Lagos in December 2007, returning in December 2008 didn’t bring much expectations regarding progress. Some ills are still overwhelmingly present: traffic, NEPA, corruption, poverty-stricken neighborhoods, etc… However, as I assimilated the state of affairs, I realized a paradigm shift in the way things were being done. It seemed like someone woke up and decided to revamp Lagos. Governor Fashola should be commended, and Tinubu deserves a part on the back just for selecting Fashola. I heard a young kid from Ogun State on TV (during one of those shows where they ask them to give shout-outs) say Fashola was his idol...I can't recall when last I heard a Nigerian say a politician was his idol. Obviously, there is still plenty of room for improvement, but I was just utterly impressed by the amount of positive change that had taken place within a year. Would I dare say “Lagos is now in alignment with its destiny”? I wish I could speak for the whole of Nigeria, but my experiences were limited to Lagos State.

I had a chance to reunite with some old friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in almost a decade…it was a thing of beauty. Attitudes just remain upbeat even in some very disturbing circumstances. I heard some good stories and some bad ones. However, just from my interactions with these people, I couldn’t have discerned who was going through hell and otherwise. I guess that’s why BBC reported a few years ago that Nigeria had the happiest people on earth.

We are bankers!
Maybe it’s the fact that everyone’s a banker that makes them happy…lol! Seriously, it bothers me that so many talented individuals who studied engineering, medicine, biology, and other ‘non-commercial’ majors in university work at banks. Although the pay situation encourages such, it doesn’t bode well when people aren’t practicing their professions. The problem will arise if the banking sector dies down, which is possible; in that case, the nation will have a bunch of intelligent individuals with virtually no experience in their educated fields seeking employment. How can people fulfill their destinies if they can’t even explore their passions?

Naija Music
The first thing that got me hooked in Lagos was the Naija music. The radio stations seemed to play more indigenous music over foreign ones and it was refreshing to have some originality in the local music scene. In fact, I hadn’t listened to hip-hop for a while before my trip to Nigeria; that changed once I heard music from a certain Nigerian artist called “Mr. Incredible (M.I.)”. The guy is Naija’s version of Kanye West in the diversity of his style and the deep message he delivers. In addition to the better Naija music being produced, the quality of the music videos has improved dramatically. I’m now a proud fan of Naija music. I believe it’s time for Nigeria to start exporting some of its music…it’s time to align with our entertainment destiny!

Party like Rock Stars...
I quickly realized how much partying ‘Lagosians’ did as there were multiple wedding / birthday invitations every weekend. In fact, some parties were held during the week because locations were overbooked on weekends. Some of these weddings were so elaborate that I wonder how much sense it makes to spend so much money on a wedding. Does it make sense to spend upwards of N20 million (approx. $125,000 depending on the exchange rate) on a wedding? I leave that to the families involved to decide. I just think it would serve the couple well if they received some of that money to start their family. A portion of that money could help propel a newly wedded couple into their destiny.

I attended a conference here in the US where a panelist said Ethiopian food is the best. Although I haven’t tasted Ethiopian food, I was confident that he was wrong. I must confess that I am biased toward Nigerian food. Even at parties, where the food is mass-produced, the delicacies are impressive. The fast foods also present very well-dressed and delicious meals.

On to some more serious issues!

‘Nigerian Electric Power Authority (NEPA)’, the term many are familiar with to mean “Never Expect Power Always” has now been transformed into ‘Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN)’. While the idea to privatize the Electrical entity is great, the implementation of the idea has been lackluster. Power still fails Lagosians daily as many people have to rely on generators and candles to light up their homes. In fact, when I approach our estate at night, I can’t determine from afar whether or not there is Power because everyone seems to have a generator. Now, imagine how much noise pollution is generated at night when everyone has their generator on. I don’t even want to imagine how much air pollution is taking place with all the fumes from the exhausts of the generators. But then again, the Power issue is actually a national issue. The idea of Independent Power Plants (IPPs) seemed plausible, but for reasons beyond me, it is a dead horse. The whole idea was to create independent plants to power regions as opposed to the National grid. However, since so much has been invested into the dysfunctional national electric grid, the Federal Government obviously has reservations towards the IPPs. Alongside education, I believe Nigeria’s destiny is tied to consistent supply of electricity. So as long as this issue is not fixed, we cannot tap into our true potential in terms of industrialization, small-business development, and growth.

The Tourist's Perspective...
So as I took pictures of basically everything I thought was fascinating (which was pretty much everything), it made me more aware of my surroundings. I noticed that many of my friends had come to terms with certain inadequacies and I constantly heard “you know I never thought about that.” Basically, many of them had reached a point where they now considered abnormalities to be normal.

On the flip side, many good things are happening. In fact, my overall impression of Nigeria is that it will model after Lagos and progress is already inevitable. Forget corruption! The Lagos State government is performing in spite of it. The state roads are in drivable conditions, the highways were beautified for the holidays, street lights were functioning, traffic lights were operating and obedience enforced, waste management efforts are purposeful, coordinated public transportation system has been implemented, and dedicated public transport (“BRT” – Bus Route Transit) lanes were effectively utilized. There were also less noticeable elements such as the “meat carriers” that transport perishable meat products under ideal temperatures, “emergency response locations” that are strategically placed on certain roads, a revamped fire department, the publication of government officials’ contact information to create direct communication with citizens, plans for light-rail, and plans for a “commercial island (Eko Atlantic)” to act as a business hub.

We want development, but where's the money?
One thing many people forget is that each state has a budget and with the enormity of issues that need to be dealt with, there are insufficient funds. However, Lagos is being creative with fundraising by partnering with private entities and selling bonds. While this is a plausible way to raise funds, there is obviously risk involved because the government now has to pay the interest on the bonds. Let’s not also forget that some of these private entities are foreign institutions (mostly Chinese) that have ulterior motives. In my opinion, these foreign entities should partner with local organizations, or at least hire a certain percentage of local staff so that our own people could be employed and learn. In the name of growth, we can't sell our destiny to the Chinese!

With all the good, I still had to deal with the exorbitant amount of money spent on calling cards and the spotty networks that cause many to patronize multiple phone service providers simultaneously. I also witnessed a mindset that said it was ok to litter since there were state employees that cleaned the roads. The dumbest thing I witnessed was the federally mandated rule that stated that all passengers on motorcycles needed to wear helmets. The problem with this rule was that it didn’t take into account the fact that helmets are not conducive for sharing (and passengers can’t carry personal helmets around since they may not even anticipate utilizing motorcycle transportation). Another gaffe in the rule is the fact that it didn’t provide any clear guidelines regarding the helmets; this meant people using construction helmets and hard hats, which probably pose a greater risk in the event of an accident. While the initiative was sound to try to protect motorcycle riders, it is a very ineffective policy.

When it was time to return to the US, I felt very reluctant...but money was running out fast so I made the long trip back. I started hearing the saying “Eko o ni baje; o baje ti” meaning something like “Lagos will not go bad; it never will.” I say “Amen” to that and add that “Nigeria will reach its destiny!”

Monday, March 2, 2009

Naija Mondays: Fulfilling Destiny- Nigeria's Past, Present and the Future

God does not carve out a Destiny He hasn’t equipped us to fulfill....Seleipiri Akobo

"We know that where poverty, disease, injustice and misery abound, they exist solely because some people manage to regulate the personal and commercial lives of others." Fred Stitt.

Questions to Ponder: Do you think Nigeria has fulfilled its destiny, is fulfilling its destiny, and/or is capable of fulfilling its destiny?

Before I delve into my views on Nigeria’s Destiny, I would love to define the concept of destiny. The Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines destiny, a noun, as a predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency. Destiny also happens to be synonymous with the word fate: The will or principle by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are. While dwelling on this definition, I would take into consideration what a friend of mine who happens to be a political scientist said to me about the issue. She said it would be unwise to throw such words around, and opined that destiny is unchangeable and is what a people (organization, group, country etc) make for themselves.

Therefore in retrospect, I perceive Nigeria to be a great country. From our natural endowments to our diversity, our innate resilience and desire to succeed, our phenotypic make up and our potentials as a nation, I would not hesitate in stating categorically that we as a people are destined for greatness.

I am however perturbed by the goings on in our country: The epileptic power situation which serves as an impediment to the growth and development of many small businesses, the lack of security which deters foreign investors from coming in to the country to help increase our GDP and per capita income thus driving us farther away from the iconic developing country tag, and instead making us an industrialized nation exporting more manufactured products than we import. Poverty which affects about 80% of the populace is the order of the day in the face of abundance in natural resources and trained manpower.

Nigerians pride themselves in their preternatural ardor for education, but what happens to the youths who after spending years in impoverished educational institutions called colleges and universities are eventually let out into the job market ill prepared and not trained for what they should expect. With unemployment rates above 30%, I can’t help but wonder what extrinsic motivations exist for the average Nigerian youth. Why would they rather sit in class and study hard than become truants who carry guns and disturb the peace of the universities? Why focus on making good grades when god-fatherism is the order of the day in the real world? Lots of Nigerians in Diaspora hope and pray for the day they return home, with choice education that cost their families their life savings to acquire. They hope that their acquired knowledge would be put to good use in their country and that they too can feel good about making a change in their homeland. But like all other dreams of average Nigerians, these people are made to regret their decisions, some of them actually go back to their lives in diaspora swearing never to come back home.

The above and many more crises have arisen because of the people who are meant to be in charge of our day to day affairs. The very ones who make decisions about how much money reaches the poor farmers in the villages and how much is used to renovate our schools, build new roads, renovate the failing structures that aid our existence; they are our leaders.

Our leaders are more concerned about enriching themselves and feigning ignorance to the deplorable and dilapidated systems we see in the education, health, information, cultural, transportation, and financial sectors of the country. They also are very ethnocentric that they put a deaf year to the plight of those whose cultural views or religious convictions are different than theirs. Nigeria’s resources are siphoned into foreign accounts and are used to purchase industries that add to the GDPs of the countries where they are lodged instead of providing for jobs that would ease the rate of unemployment in our own country.

The mauling of innocent people, the burning of houses and cars, churches and mosques seems to be the modus operandi. It is a pity that we engage in barbaric acts in the name of religious and/or ethnic affiliations. What happened to National Pride, what happened to solidarity and love for ones’ nation and country? What happened to loving all of mankind irrespective of our various heritages, languages, differences in height and girth? What happened to simply being Nigerian?

Inspite of the negativities, Nigeria has been labeled among the Next 11(N-11), countries identified by Goldman Sachs investment bank as having a high potential of becoming the world’s largest economies in the 21st century. These countries were chosen because they had promising outlook for investment and future growth on Dec 12, 2005. In addition to being a part of the N-11, projections have been made that would place Nigeria’s GDP as the 11 largest in the world by 2050 right below The UK and Germany, an incredible leap from where we are right now; nowhere near the top 50 GDPs.

These feats cannot be achieved until we as a people decide to work in unity and be selfless in our approach to life; we have to imbibe a penchant for corruption and theft of public funds. Our daily existence should be hinged upon National pride and cohesiveness and like President Barack Obama stated in his inaugural speech, public office holders need to be accountable to the people they serve, and be very transparent in all their dealings.

In conclusion, one day Nigerian parents would not be reluctant to send their kids to school in Nigeria, one day Nigerians who graduate from our Universities would be confident enough to compete with their peers from all over the world, and one day Nigerians in Diaspora would be proud enough to pick up their suitcases and walk into Murtala Muhammed airport without months/years of consideration and careful planning of what ills may befall them. One day.........

That is the Nigeria I believe in, The Nigeria whose call I would gladly obey and happily yield, whose course I would serve and whose story I would tell with gladness in my heart and no quivering in my voice. I believe in the stripes of our flag and the color of our entity. That is the destiny I believe in. I see a Nigeria whose IT capabilities would exceed that of China, India and the United states as well. That is a destiny we can make for ourselves and despite our short comings, work hard to achieve.

Written by: Seleipiri Iboroma Akobo
Theme of the month: Fulfilling Destiny