There is nothing that gives me so much joy like writing this column every week in The Sun newspaper. What started as a hobby has now gone on for four very interesting years and I really don’t see myself stopping soon because I am inspired, excited and empowered by the global readership and contributions from all over the country and beyond. My assistant, Bunmi Obanawu, and my project director, Mr. Onourah Aligbe, all the way from Atlanta Georgia, started writing with me from the very beginning of this journey. The editor-in-chief of The Sun newspaper, Onuoha Ukeh, once told me when I asked him how long he wanted me to write for, “Forever.” I recall busting out into laughter but he was quite serious about his response and, every week, as I write, I understand that forever is nothing more than the week after this one.
The column that began with a weekly documentation of my thoughts on the environment and my nation, Nigeria, has grown to become more than just my thoughts. When I was about to publish my last book “How Little We Are,” a regular contributor, Jahman Anikalapo, suggested the title for the book, which was a collection of thoughts from my weekly columns. Indeed, it is now a collection of different thoughts that I support. In Asaba, there is a reading club headed by Dr. Dike Okwelum that reviews the publication every Thursday and sends comments to me. The comments sometimes oppose my take on certain issues, giving me the opportunity to clarify myself or even evolve my opinion for the next article.
My daughter, Edith Jibunoh, also reviews and contributes all the way from Washington DC. Another contributor who’s been with me from the beginning is Akin Olukiran, who usually writes from London. He is presently in the country and paid a visit to me in Asaba. In my usual way, I took him to my humble village in Akwukwu-Igbo, where I reside most of the time, and we spent a long time talking about the Project Nigeria. Our conversation inspired the title of this series, which I had been working on. It seemed only fitting to have Olukiran write the third and final part of the series. Enjoy!
For anyone who is fortunate to have an octogenarian as a grandfather, father, friend or mentor, with an incredible bright mind like Dr. Newton Jibunoh’s, I implore you to, please, share in their wisdom and experiences by spending quality conversational times with them. I am fortunate to have had Dr. Jibunoh as a mentor and friend for over two decades. I spent a few days with him in both Asaba and in his village a couple of weeks ago and there was never a dull moment, touching on subjects ranging from the environment to education and the general Nigerian project.
When he woke up one morning and told me at breakfast that he had been up early, writing his next article with the title “Hope and Unfulfilled Expectations,” I jumped at it. I found the topic and subject both fascinating and apt for this moment in our country’s history and promised to contribute. It is a deep subject that every Nigerian could relate to.
Hope is usually defined as a longing, a desire, or an expectation of fulfilment. Hope, along with faith and love, is one of the three timeless and enduring eternal values. It is an ethereal quality that enables us to keep going in the direst of circumstances. Hope is what makes democracy work. It is the “hope” that the government would fulfil its campaign promises that oils the engine of democracy. In the event that it fails, the knowledge that, in four years’ time (in the case of our democracy), we can punish the government by voting them out, is what makes us endure the pain of unfulfilled expectations. The main ingredients for the effective functioning of democracy, and, by inference, hope, are time and patience. These are the most potent arrows in our quiver, Time and Patience, depending on how we deploy them in our reaction to unfulfilled expectations. Time: how much time do we allow the government to implement its strategy; and patience: for how long we endure the difficult times.
Hope is what makes the economy grow and what makes for good health. In times of economic recession, what is most important to boost consumer spending is the promotion of genuine hope, the hope of a better tomorrow. In other climes, it is referred to as the “feel-good factor.” If people feel good, they will spend more, businesses will invest more, productivity will improve, everyone will become better off and the economy will grow. On the other hand, if there is a pervading feeling of pessimism and despondency, that cycle is reversed, people become fearful, depressed and worry about tomorrow and they naturally want to hold on to what they have. People batten down the hatches and, of course, the expected happens – things go from bad to worse.
Nigerians have been living in hope for far too long. Before independence in 1960, the hope of the black race seemed heavily rested on Nigeria to be the pacesetter. There was genuine hope that Nigeria was going to be a beacon to the black race. A series of events in our history put paid to those lofty and flattering expectations, as the military struck with the first coup and then the civil war. Each successive coup was heralded with the usual opprobrious speech, justifying why they had to strike and promising us a better Nigeria. Then the cycle of hope and unfulfilled expectations began all over again until the next coup.
The situation is even worse with the politicians who continue to peddle hope for acceptance. After many dashed hopes and unfulfilled expectations, Nigerians have learnt to hope in themselves and their circumstances. This is having hope in Nigeria and not hope for Nigeria!
There is a fundamental difference between hope in Nigeria and hope for Nigeria. There has always been an abundance of hope in Nigeria, as evidenced by the oft-quoted Happiness Index of 2003 that placed Nigerians as one of the happiest people on the planet. It is no coincidence that it was the same time that Nigeria was touted among the MINT countries (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) to take the development baton from the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China).
Fast-forward to 2021, of the 146 countries sampled, Nigeria was 116th in the happiness index. Not much has changed, really, just that we had expectations in 2003 and people generally had hopes in the Nigerian project. How quickly that again has evaporated! Nigerians have always been full of hope for themselves, for their circumstances to change for the better. The most popular apophthegm on commercial vehicles in Nigeria aptly captures Nigerians’ optimism and hopefulness – “No Condition is Permanent.”
Nigerians’ hopefulness is not unfounded, as every four years, we get the carrot dangled, right in front of our eyes. Indeed, no condition is permanent – especially in Nigeria. It is perhaps the only country in the world where you could be living in penury one week and the next week you are a billionaire – without having won the lottery! A country where you could be a felon and you wake up the next day and receive unjustifiable presidential pardon, or a kidnapper/terrorist and receive amnesty and a massive payoff.
Unfortunately, these conditions that make for the superabundance of hope IN Nigeria are the same that make hope FOR Nigeria near non-existent – unfulfilled expectations!
Nigerians are one of the most resilient and adaptable people on earth. To demonstrate their adaptability, when NEPA (or whatever name it’s now called) ‘takes light’, people quickly resort to generators. If petrol or diesel becomes unaffordable or scarce, people quickly adapt to candle or kerosene lanterns. If that fails, they just calmly slip into medieval times by using clay wick holder with palm oil to illuminate their homes. They will not go out on the streets to protest! The legendary Fela called it “suffering and smiling.”
Nigerians are not asking for too much from their leaders. All they want is a prosperous, peaceful and inclusive Nigeria where every one of her citizens has equal opportunities. A new Nigeria where every individual has the right to control their own life and to share in the opportunities, enjoyment, challenges and responsibilities of everyday life. These are legitimate hopes and expectations, which can be fulfilled by any government that puts the common good at the centre of its policy.
We had hopes in 2015 that PMB would redirect our path from Anocracy to genuine democracy, to create the Nigeria of our dreams. Alas! It’s turned out to be another era of unfulfilled expectations! There is no doubt that Nigeria’s greatness as a country is latent, waiting to be released. So many abnormalities have been normalised that there is a blurring of reality from fiction. For as long as we live, we continue to hope. There is still hope for Nigeria!
•Akin Olukiran, [email protected]