There is a man who did not plan to be the subject of public discourse but whose name is appearing in virtually all newspapers for the right reason. He is called Musa Usman. Musa is a common name in northern Nigeria and so is Usman. So, there is nothing unique about his name, but he has made it the name on everybody’s lips. The Daily Trust reported some days ago that an Indian employer of Musa, Mr. Verghese, was so very happy with Musa, his employee, that he offered to build a house for Musa in his village. But instead of jumping up and grabbing the offer and thanking God for his good fortune, Musa did the unthinkable and the memorable. Instead of a house for him he asked his boss to sink a borehole for people in his community because there was no source of good drinking water. Amazing, altruistic, selfless. Hear his boss’s testimonial: “Musa has served me diligently for 25 years. We would travel to India and leave our house under his care and behold we would meet everything intact. He is indeed an honest Nigerian.”
Musa is not only honest but also honourable, more honourable than most of those who answer “honourable” in Nigeria’s polity today.
What job does Musa do? He is a gateman, what we commonly refer to as maigadi, a man who stays at the gate, opens and closes the gate for visitors and his employers. He opens his gate instantly for his bosses but has to use his native intelligence to deal with the others. If you drive to his gate in a small car a gateman may take a second or third look at you before opening the gate. If your car is a jeep and is dripping with fresh paint, a maigadi thinks you must be a big man and flings open the gate without questioning the driver. That is the conventional wisdom in Nigeria, even though many armed robbers and kidnappers now use these big cars to wear the toga of the big man whose big car gives him easy access where maigadis do their duty. Perhaps hordes of these fraudsters in big cars may have met Musa on his duty post but he used his sense of honest duty to keep them away. That is why his boss, Mr. Verghese, is speaking about him in such glowing terms.
Being a maigadi is not a high-paying job. Even though he worked for 25 years, I don’t think Musa is a millionaire, otherwise he would have built a beautiful house for himself or sunk a borehole for his community. The amazing thing is that Musa’s boss did not offer him two choices, just one, a house for him. The idea of a borehole was Musa’s, an idea that set aside his own problem, his own comfort, and went for solving the problem and providing comfort for his community. Such a sense of altruism is rare, especially among the deprived, lowly educated and poorly paid. These make Musa a true philanthropist, an exponent of altruism and a merchant of selflessness. These are the true community leaders, nation builders, because communities and nations are built block by block. Musa is laying the blocks by one single act of altruism.
In terms of project prioritisation, Musa is ahead of most of our leaders. If our governors knew the benefit of clean water no governor would occupy office for eight years without giving water to every village in his state. Poor access to improved water is said to be a major contributor to high morbidity and mortality rates among children under five years, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). About 67% of the people are said to lack access to clean drinking water in Nigeria. In northern Nigeria, only 30% are said to have access to pure drinking water. Musa’s village falls within the unfortunate 70% of the people without good drinking water. Now Musa is set to bring the agony of his people to an end by his humanitarian gesture. That means that only 33% of Nigerians have access to clean water. That is why we now have water manufacturing as a growth industry. These water factories are in two classes (a) pure water, which is put in dirty cellophane paper, and both the water and the wrapping equipment are impure. The other one is put in bottles and manufactured by big companies, including the large beverage manufacturers. The water is pure but the price is high. So, you are forced to make a choice between cheap, impure water that delivers to you cholera or typhoid fever or the expensive bottled water that can give you peace of mind. Your choice depends on the size of your pocket and your view of what is important for your health.
If all the state governments in Nigeria provided clean water for all their citizens, they would reduce their primary health bill by at least 50% because many diseases that their citizens suffer from are water-borne. Such diseases include diarrhea, cholera, guinea worm, typhoid fever, dysentery, hepatitis and gastroenteritis.
It is estimated that water-related diseases claim at least 3.4 million lives yearly. Since Nigeria is a country without reliable statistics, we do not know how many of these millions are killed in Nigeria yearly but my guess is that they must be many. Why? Because both poverty and illiteracy, which constitute a fatal cocktail, are present on our soil. These twin demons combine to compound every development activity you can think of in Nigeria.
Water is man’s most vital resource because everybody needs and uses it. We use it to bathe, cook, slake our thirst and water our gardens or crops or to kill the dust on our unpaved roads. Every industry uses water for their manufacturing process. So water is useful both for domestic and industrial purposes.
Why does it not receive the unstinted attention of our lawmakers in the states and the centre? When the legislators talk of constituency projects, it is obvious that their attention does not go to such “minor matters” as water because water is not a mega project for which they can spend billions. Projects that are calculated in billions also yield rewards in many millions to those involved in it. Sinking a borehole may take less than N1 million and there will be nothing in it for anyone to chop.
Musa, a poorly educated man, is showing our educated and political elite that he has superior knowledge of what should constitute societal priority. This is a quality that most of our leaders lack. They start gigantic, white elephant projects that they will not be able to complete. They leave them uncompleted. Their successors come, look at those projects scornfully and move on. They think the predecessor had made money on the project so there is nothing in it for them. That is why they move on and our landscape is littered with the corpses of abandoned projects, projects that were started and not completed, or completed but not utilised.
Musa is clearheaded about what is important for his people. Many of our leaders are not because they are chasing shadows, chasing projects with marginal utility to their people but which have in-built chopping items for them. That is why water is not a priority in many states. That is why our primary health will continue to grow.
The other quality that Musa has exhibited is the ability to resist temptations, big and small. He must have been tempted to do certain things that would have compromised him. He could have arranged with armed robbers to burgle his boss’s house or for kidnappers to kidnap him, his wife or his children. These are scenarios that we witness every day in Nigeria but Musa stayed away from it. I’m confident that Mr. Verghese, who had the good heart to do Musa a favour, will still build the house for him in addition to the borehole for his community.
Some people have recommended that Musa should be given a national honour by government. Nigerian governments give national honours to people who hold high office, not people who exhibit high virtues. If you look at the people that are being chased by the EFCC, you will see a string of national titles behind their names.
Musa, never mind. We, the common people of Nigeria, have honoured you in our hearts. You are one of the uncrowned heroes of our country.