The most gracious of my English friends sent me a note last week about a depressing conversation he had with a Nigerian Uber driver. The Lagosian with whom he spoke in London was clearly dissatisfied with life, just as are many Nigerians. But instead of looking in the mirror, the fellow blames everyone but himself and his people. For him, all the problems of Nigeria are the fault of the North and northerners, aided and abetted by Britain. British colonisers caused this first by conquering what is now Nigeria, then by ‘merging’ the North and the South, then by not intervening to stamp out corruption since independence, nor intervening militarily to secure Nigeria’s security now. In his mind, all of Nigeria’s problems are everyone’s fault other than that of Nigerians collectively.
I too have met quite a few such Nigerians. One would think that people born and raised in Europe or America wouldn’t buy into such nonsense, but that is not the case. My first such encounter was with a Masters student at the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), who was originally from the South East but grew up in the United States. At our very first meeting, she talked me through how the “northern power brokers” created Boko Haram and are holding Nigeria back. But I was dumbfounded when a professor of law told me that one of his colleagues genuinely believes and vehemently pushes the theory that President Buhari has a body double called ‘Jubril’. What, if not years of self-indoctrination, could make a professor of law into such an ignorant bigot?
Blaming Britain or other western countries for the selfishness and corruption of our own sons and daughters – which many of us do – calls to mind the story of the lazy hunter. He was too lazy to go out hunting when he needed to and coming back empty-handed, he would spend the rest of the day criticising Adam and Eve for his troubles. “If only Adam and Eve had listened to God, I would not have been in this situation. If only they had not eaten the forbidden fruit, we would now have been in the Garden. If only they had controlled their hearts’ desires, I would not have needed to hunt for food and would have been devouring whatever I wish. If only… If only…”. That was his routine.
One day, a wealthy merchant overheard the hunter’s rants. The merchant sent for the hunter and appointed him Master of the Household. He collected the hunter’s bow and arrows and handed him his hefty bunch of keys. The hunter was put in charge of the man’s palatial mansions including all the rooms, the gardens, the pools, the kitchens, the stores… All the domestic staff – the cooks, the pages, the footmen and the housekeeper – were at the hunter’s absolute command. Even the man’s children and relatives passed through the Master of the Household. The hunter had free reign – apart from one tiny room, which was the only place he was forbidden to go. “That’s pretty easy”, thought the hunter.
He lived for years eating, merrymaking and lazing about, until one day a thought entered his head. “Why did this man prohibit you from opening that room? How can you call yourself the Master of the Household if there is a room outside your authority?” The hunter decided to take a quick glance into the tiny room. The room was empty. It contained nothing except his aged bow and arrows. But as he was shutting the door again, his employer’s voice rang out: “Pick up your things. You are fired!”. And as the gates were closed behind him, he was left with an admonition: “Never blame Adam and Eve again”.
Blaming British colonisers for the woes of today’s Nigeria over six decades after independence is no longer tenable. We can debate the good, the bad and the ugly of colonisation and what might have been achieved had it not happened until the end of time. But the undeniable reality of today is that the colonialists have left. We may peddle theories about neo-colonialism or globalisation, but we cannot dispute the fact that not a single of our heads of state, governors or chairmen in the last 60 years was English, Western or white. They were all from us and of us. What stopped them from developing the country they governed? Who caused them to enrich themselves and their families to our collective detriment? The Whiteman?
The truth of the matter is that our rapacious politicians and elites – regardless of their tribe, region or religion – have been the authors of Nigeria’s misfortunes ever since independence. Black leaders born of black parents raised in Nigeria are the ones stealing our resources and stalling our development, not Europeans. In fact, they collect billions of dollars in aid and loans from western countries every year. Instead of investing in our country’s future, they misappropriate the funds to their pockets. And just as neither the leaders nor the rank and file of our repressive security agencies or corrupt civil service are Westerners, neither is Boko Haram, IPOB or the bandits. All are Nigerians killing Nigerians with their guns or their pens.
I wish my friend had asked my Uber driving brother how exactly the North alone or Britain is responsible for our country’s crises? In what way have they prevented the South from fighting corruption, criminality, poverty, inequality and diseases at the regional, state and local levels? Are Southern politicians more honest, visionary or servant-hearted than Northern politicians? In what way were Shonekan, Obasanjo and Jonathan better than Abdussalam, ‘Yar’Adua and Buhari? How is Awolowo, Zik or Ironsi better than Sardauna, Balewa or Murtala? How are current governors of Southern states any better than their Northern counterparts? Is it northerners that are stealing the billions allocated to each southern state every month?
But this is not a defence of the North. Just as the South cannot blame the North, nor can the North blame the South for its problems. As Nigerians, we must face our problems together. Crooked Christian and Muslim, Southern and Northern politicians are united when it comes to scheming to take power, distributing positions and building good lives for their families to the detriment of the rest of us. Their children live in the same exquisite neighbourhoods, go to the same expensive schools, party at the same exclusive clubs, visit the same foreign hospitals and marry each other. Meanwhile, ordinary Nigerians are brainwashed to trade blame and hate one another. Consequently, we are blinded to the fact that all of our communities contain both the best of us and the worst of us.
There is so much talent in Nigeria, but the killer to a good future is this conspiratorial idea that there is nothing that we can do as everything is someone else’s fault. Pointing fingers at our individual and collective failures may be easy – even soothing – for the moment. But the end of that road is frustration and devastation. Taking responsibility and working to improve things is hard, but it is the panacea to our private and communal woes as Nigerians. Nigeria will never work – not even for our great-grandchildren – until we each take responsibility and play our small part in this gigantic project. If we keep blaming others, the only result will be further miseries.