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Column No.6: Can a book (try to) solve the world’s problems?

This week’s piece is a re-visitation of sorts. Released in September 2021, ‘Solved’ is a book I bought after reading the subtitle – ‘How Other…

This week’s piece is a re-visitation of sorts. Released in September 2021, ‘Solved’ is a book I bought after reading the subtitle – ‘How Other Countries Cracked the World’s Biggest Problems (And We Can Too)’. It came across as audacious, and pushed me to pick it up. The author, Andrew Wear, has degrees in politics, law, economics, and public policy, while he also has in his bio extensive academic achievements. After my first article looking at the book, he re-tweeted the link to the online version.

Now, the obvious fact is being Nigerian, anything that offers to solve large-scale problem will immediately pique my interest. I began to read it one late evening, and ended up staying awake till the wee hours of the morning, before dropping it, only to pick it up a few hours later and continue. Now do not get this wrong: This is not a review. It would not be unfair or inaccurate to say that this book has rather lofty ambitions. But if you are Superman, and feel the constant need to save the world, it appears to be well-positioned as a manual of sorts. 

I am sure many leaders of third world countries will feel targeted, but I think they should not – and simply embrace the book. It’s not a map or a to-do list, mind you, but rather a bevy of successful examples, and how they were successfully carried out. Practical inspiration, if you will. ‘Solved’, the book itself much like Superman, addresses a good number of problems being faced by nations today, and then tells us how a specific one has addressed said problem. While there is no doubt that many of the solutions are good, none of them are being touted as perfect. 

Then, interestingly, after a long time of coming across claims by many a politician that higher taxes mean a suffering economy, I felt a bit justified in my mind-set that that is not necessarily accurate. The truth is, if imposed, monitored and enforced properly, it would almost certainly result in greater social equality. An observation which immediately makes this book one I would like to buy and send to many Nigerian (ahem) leaders, if I could afford to. 

Speaking of Nigerian leaders (and I use this term loosely), is that we seem to have a collective, limited attention span, so chronic that it borders on laziness. Laziness to move, do, or even think in the direction of solving any problem, even if it’s one that threatens our very existence, like violent crime. And that’s when I became particularly engrossed in chapter three, called ‘Partners in Crime’. There, he takes a look at the United Kingdom’s history of violence and crime, as well as its present state of being one of the safest countries in the OECD. 

Wear goes on to point out how demographic factors play a large part in influencing the rate of violent crime: “Young people are disproportionately the victims and the perpetrators of violence, so where there is a higher proportion of young people in a country, there tend to be higher homicide rates.” Conversely, he continues that while cities generally have a slightly higher homicide rate than rural areas, the crime rate is decreasing faster in cities than it is elsewhere.” 

This immediately reminds me of the still-fresh horror of the 23 travellers burnt alive by bloodthirsty terrorists in Sabon Birni of Sokoto State. Then factor in Kaduna State’s Birnin Gwari, some parts of the state’s South, and the villages that dot the Abuja-Kaduna highway, and throw in any random insurgency hotspot in Niger State, and it would all ring true for us Nigeria. 

Wear still goes ahead to mention the usual suspects like small arms proliferation, and so on. In his examples of the UK, he also mentions the importance of gear and equipment – especially protective – for law enforcement personnel like the police. It is a fact which makes me ponder what the average policeman in Nigeria wears for work, even in high-risk areas, like the place where a trio of cops were beheaded and filmed by the terrorist organisation Eastern Security Network (ESN). The sad, scary, and dangerous truth about Nigeria today is that criminals are quite literally getting away with murder. But I digress. 

There is too much invaluable info in a book like ‘Solved’, such that one couldn’t possibly compress into a half-page column.  I think I did a better job of that in my first piece about this superb book last year. Even then, I focused on security issues in the book because, obviously, those are of greatest concern to me right now. But within its pages, ‘Solved’ makes a good effort into living up to its name, and I’m the richer for reading it. Or even re-reading it. 

It is quite an engaging book; one I hope those at the helm of our country’s affairs will chuck laziness aside and give a well-deserved look. Actually, after my first column, my attention was drawn to the photo of a prominent Nigerian elected official holding a copy. While I do not know if my article brought the book to his attention, it certainly brings me joy that someone that highly-placed is reading something like that. Yes, a single book cannot save the world’s problems, but it won’t hurt to try. 

Repeat

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