The United States Consul-General, Mr. John Bray, has said that real solutions to Africa’s problems can best be developed by Africans. He spoke at the three-day Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) Tech Camp Reconnect workshop held in Lagos a fortnight ago. The thrust of the workshop was to accelerate the development of innovative technology solutions and digital strategies that would strengthen democratic governance and citizen engagement.
We appreciate Bray’s pertinent observation not only as a worthwhile advice to Nigerians but it should also serve as the underlying guideline behind America’s relationship, assistance and partnership with Nigeria. The truth of his observation barely deserves any further discussion after decades of escapist victimhood in which all our travails are deposited at the feet of the colonial masters and colonialism. While the evils of colonialism cannot be discounted, after more than 58 years, it is no longer persuasive to disguise our inadequacies as a colonial legacy. It is time to get real.
Nigeria should appreciate and be thankful for any foreign assistance it gets without strings attached, except that, it almost always comes with strings attached. The old adage not to look a gift horse in the mouth must be applied with caution. But we must perish the thought of waiting for a UN programme to supply water to our cities, to build our health clinics, for the WHO to fund AIDS-mitigation programmes and to build our rural roads. Waiting for external initiative and assistance to execute such projects should be regarded as not only self-deceit but an abdication of our legitimate responsibilities. We appreciate the excellent work being done by these supra-national organisations, the UN Development Programme, UNICEF’s invaluable programmes for children. We must not wait for the World Bank Group to build our power transmission lines, its new progressive attitude to Third World and poor countries notwithstanding. We must not depend on them or wait for them, or entrust our responsibilities to them.
The full import of our independence took time to take hold and it is still not clearly understood. Our independence means that we must govern ourselves, restrain our urges, control our conduct in the absence of a police man or other enforcement agents, respect public property and be conscious of civic responsibilities like tax payment, voting during elections and the maintenance of peace. These are the irreducible minimum of a self-governing people.
Thus when highly skilled Nigerians– scientists, doctors, engineers, skilled craftsmen, energetic young people- troop abroad, it is an enormous loss. The average of $20 billion which they send back home per year is certainly a minute fraction of their value to their host countries. The money they send is useful but it is nothing compared to their brain power which the country sorely needs to develop. The slave trade was long gone. That was Africa’s first brain drain. The second brain drain is going on now and it is voluntary because of our inability to retain our most talented and skilled citizens.
Corruption, until recently, appears grossly under-stated in its consequences. Yet, it is part of the push factor, forcing Nigerians to flee. Individual wealth at the expense of societal welfare without consequences will continue to undermine Nigeria’s development efforts. As long as there is no transparency in public affairs and the prevailing gross inequality in incomes continues, so long would there be a sense of injustice.
Bray is probably not the first to point out why we must take our destiny in our own hands. His comment came at a good time when the nation is at a transition. We must end our dependencies and must vigorously substitute our imports with Nigerian-made goods. The tools for development must be exploited in full. The backsliding in electricity is a tragedy which has de-industrialised the country but crippled people’s dreams and initiatives. Yet, we must not give in to pessimism.
We must embrace our thinkers and philosophers, enlist our dreamers and prophets. That way, we can rewrite our story and change the course of our destiny.