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Nigeria is a 59-year old toddler

For years now, every October, I’ve been publishing this same message to celebrate our independence. And every year, the major word that requires changing is…

For years now, every October, I’ve been publishing this same message to celebrate our independence. And every year, the major word that requires changing is only the age in the title. I hope that one day, this message will no longer ring true. For now however, it is as fresh as the year I first wrote it. Enjoy. And happy independence!

Some years ago, I had just had dinner with a South African lady when she said: “I really enjoyed the enlightening conversation that we’ve had.  Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. But thank you,” I joked, “for having the aptitude to understand the insights of a Nigerian brain.”

She looked at me “one kain”, as we say in Nigeria, then she asked, “Seriously, why do Nigerians think they’re more intelligent than others?”

“Honestly,” I replied, “I don’t know!”

Because, I explained to her, there’s no evidence whatsoever whether founded on science or logic that we’re more intelligent than even fellow Africans, let alone smarter than everybody.  In fact, you’re more likely to find evidence to the contrary.

We often cite as evidence how well Nigerians are doing in the diaspora, but so are other nationals.

As a foreign correspondent, I was always happy to write such stories of our feats abroad. But I wasn’t deluded.

If a Nigerian was awarded the best scientist this year in a particular university, who earned the award last year or the year after? Probably an Iraqi, Iranian or Indian.

It’s my opinion that intelligence is equally distributed among all people. Its outputs depend on how the environment nurtures it and how the individual employs it.

Yet, however intelligence is defined (and many theorists of recent, such as Howard Gardner, have been quite generous with their conception of intelligence), you will find that we are actually not at all smart as a nation.

There’s what is called the national intelligence.  Every country has one.  The last time I checked ours, I soon came to the realization that if Nigeria were a human being, its intelligence would have been so low it wouldn’t have been able to go to the bathroom without help.

That’s the intelligence of a mere toddler.

Howard Gardner defines intelligence as the ability to solve problem or fashion useful products.  But we’ve not solved any problem in Nigeria for the last 30 years.   We don’t even have a national identity card, and it isn’t for lack of trying; it is just that we’re incapable of succeeding at something that technology has made ridiculously simple.

India, with one point three billion people, has done biometric national identity for over 90% of the population. Almost one billion people have been registered into Aadhaar, the national database.

Bloomberg reported that “Aadhaar is saving the government billions of dollars by better targeting beneficiaries of subsidized food and cash transfers…”

It was such a massive success that India has already moved on to the next challenge: how to keep the database secure.

Here, however, starting from when Obasanjo was military head of state until he became a civilian president, and the administrations in between, all tried to give Nigeria a unified form of identity, they all could not.  The last jab at it was by former President Goodluck Jonathan with his NimC and other related nonsense.

Buhari has continued with it. When I went to do my own in Minna, I had to underwrite the fueling of the generator before they captured me. Which means after 59 years of independence, besides buying petrol for my family’s generator, I also had to buy petrol for a government’s generator before the government could serve me. (Although I’ve learned that the new leadership at NimC now is doing well.)

In all these decades, Nigeria achieved only one thing: they came together and elected change and then voted for the leader they thought would give them that change.

But even that had the makings of a divine intervention, not because we’re smart; because the same people who elected President Muhammadu Buhari were the ones who turned around and asked to be paid before they would elect their governors.

Indeed the entire leadership recruitment process of our dear nation is flawed.

And if the incumbent national leadership would do only one thing, it should be the removal of the kinks in the leadership selection process at the party level and the general elections. But the ruling party squandered that opportunity in 2019.

Talking about intelligence necessitates that we start with the premise that reasoning or thinking is an important component; for, if Gardner’s definition holds, you can’t create or solve without the ability to think.

However, when it comes to thinking, Nigerians are still in their diapers.

Here are some examples:

Economics of appointments

In 2015, I received messages on a daily basis requesting information on when the governor would appoint commissioners.

These messages were from unemployed youths who should be asking me the government’s plans for job creation and youth empowerment.

One politician said to me during a phone conversation that people were experiencing hardship because the government had not appointed commissioners.

How so?  I asked, thinking that the reasoning would be that with a cabinet in place, the executive council would approve projects including public works which would generate jobs and therefore income for the people.

But I was wrong.  He said the appointment of commissioners means, they, the commissioners, would share money to the people and that money would go around!

For a thinking person, the moment top government functionaries start sharing cash and not jobs, is the moment he realizes that the government has lost its way and the people are in big trouble.

Education economics

Many attribute the un-employability of our graduates and lack of creative entrepreneurs to the quality of instruction our students receive.

This is in turn blamed on the dismal preparation and ignorance of their teachers.

Also, our universities are overcrowded.  Therefore, to solve these problems we need more universities and more PhDs to expand the capacity of our higher institutions and to train better teachers and other professionals.

This understanding is unanimous.  But even the National Universities Commission (NUC) does everything it could to block the solutions.

For example, among many requirements, to establish a university in Nigeria, you need to put it on a land measuring 100 hectares.  It completely escapes NUC that many universities in other countries planted on smaller land outrank the biggest universities in Nigeria.  In fact, to measure the quality of a university, the size of its land does not count among the criteria – in Nigeria, it obviously does!

(I was told that this land requirement has been reviewed, but I couldn’t confirm it.)

The universities also agree that they need more lecturers with graduate degrees, but they do everything to prevent their own staff from attaining such qualifications even when they get free money from TETFUND!

Election economics

It’s in Nigeria that we extract money from anyone seeking an elective office to the point of bankruptcy.  And when he wins the election and starts embezzling money to repay his debts, the people are puzzled and curious as to why he’s stealing from them.

I was in Bida in 2018 to help with the primary elections of the APC.

During which youths insisted on being paid before they would line up to cast their votes.

These are just a few instances that show that 59 years on, we’re not as smart as we think we are, we are not as smart as we should be and therefore, we are not as productive.

So, to think that we’re more intelligent than others  is to crap on intelligence itself.  But it is not too late.  There is hope still, even for 59-year old toddlers.  Happy Independence!

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