“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
The above quote was made by John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States of America. It’s a quote that has been used in various forms to effectively whip up patriotic sentiments with much success around the world. As Nigerians, we nor dey carry last! That quote has been used indiscriminately in Nigeria by leaders and followers alike. The question is, can we really use that quote in Nigeria? Does it apply to us? I have to confess that I have always maintained that that quote is not applicable to Nigeria.
Some weeks ago I travelled to Abuja, a beautiful city I must say. I went by road and I saw Nigeria. Not that what I saw was new to me but it got me thinking. There is this thing about traveling by road in Nigeria. It exposes the country to you. It disabuses your mind. All those rosy notions you had about certain places are slapped out of your mind by reality. You begin to wonder where all those projects politicians commission every day on television have run to. Like someone is playing a rude joke on you; a sort of disappearing acts.
Saying that the roads are bad is an understatement. In fact, the Ikom-Ogoja road is so bad that vehicles refuse to take that way to Abuja though it is shorter. They prefer to go through the Ebonyi-Enugu-Ajaokuta-Lokoja roads. There is this section along the Calabar-Ugep road that is particularly bad. The main landmark there is a police check point. It is a death trap (During the raining season, people actually spent more than two days just to get from Calabar to Ugep, which usually is a 40 minute drive). I thought I had seen the worst until I got to Ajaokuta, close to the famed steel mill, where the road has failed completely. Of course police officers were still doing what they know how to do best: extorting money from motorists at gun point. The bad road helps their ministry. Ever wonder why policemen setup checkpoints at the worst sections of the road? They know you must slow down. The police are fast becoming synonymous with failed roads. That Ajaokuta road is a disgrace to this present government and all the other governments before them. It shows great insensitivity for the government to cause Nigerians to risk their lives on such roads. It makes you wonder how politicians are able to keep canvasing for votes during elections given their dismal performance over the years. And they keep a straight face while at it! It just shows how depraved they are.
While on that road the thought that came to my mind was “What do we really benefit from our government?” What is their usefulness in our lives? Really, what can we point to and say, this is what we are getting from our government? What can we depend on our government for?
We cannot depend on the government for electricity supply; rather, the electricity companies in connivance with the regulatory body, NERC, force Nigerians to pay for electricity they do not supply with their criminally exorbitant bills.
We cannot depend on the government for security; the police are so poorly equipped and unprofessional that their presence bodes trouble. Their number one priority seems to be devising means to extort Nigerians. And the military? Those ones have an over-bloated sense of their importance and see every other person as a bloody civilian. They only know how to terrorize Nigerians.
We cannot depend on the government for education; with poorly motivated and trained teachers and incessant strike actions, sending your child to a public school has become a faith project. The best description is “…who against hope believed in hope,” that your child will be taught well.
We cannot depend on the government for clean drinking water; if we did that, many people would have died, either from the lack or inadequacy of it, or from poisoning due to poor treatment of the water. I mean, back in the university, drinking the water pumped to us in our hostels was certain suicide.
We cannot depend on the government for good roads; every day, hapless Nigerians die on potholes-laden roads which are just deathtraps.
We cannot depend on the government for healthcare; Nigerians die of things that are taken for granted in saner climes. Meanwhile, our leaders travel abroad for medical treatment at the slightest sign of headache.
What can we really depend on our government for? It seems we can only depend on them for bad news!
You see, no amount of whipping up of patriotic sentiments will make a people love their country. They must believe that their government is on their side. Right now that is difficult to believe in Nigeria. With the way Nigerians are treated by government agents and politicians, accepting any form of kinship with the government is madness. No Nigerian trusts the government. None believe that the government is trying to make their lives better. And consequently, none is willing to do the government any free favours.
Whipping up patriotic and nationalist sentiments is not bad in itself, but it must be backed up with the right actions. What Nigerians have gone through, are going through, and continue to go through, is a mockery of government. It is like those who run our governments do not yet understand the purpose of government. They think it is about themselves, about getting rich, an opportunity to escape poverty forever. So they steal up monies for themselves, their children, and their children’s children up to the tenth generation. They forget that it is about service; it is about the collective; making life better for everyone. No matter the amount of personal wealth you acquire, you are poor if those around you are poor. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. By extension, a society is as poor as its poorest class.
When you make things better for everyone, the society prospers and develops. You will not need to worry about your children and children’s children. That is because all the ingredients for success will be present in the society. Your only job would be to train them on how to take advantage of available opportunities. As members of the society, they prosper as the society prospers. However, if you decide to take the monies meant for projects that will benefit the society, and store it up for yourself and your children, where will they spend the money? The money will only help you if you are planning to uproot yourself and your children abroad, never to come back. But there, they’ll be immigrants, or at best, second-class citizens.
If you decide to stay back, your children will live in the society that your actions have made worse and they’ll be worse off for it. Of course the stolen money will confer some advantages, but that will only be temporary. After you are dead, some of the monies will be lost since they will remain hidden forever. And your children with their privilege mindsets will spend the rest recklessly and eventually run themselves into poverty.
Of course this is just one of many likely scenarios, but I believe it deserves some ruminations. Even if your children also learn to act like you and continue with your thieving prowess, the day the society decides it is time for a revolution, who do you think will be their target? Your guess is as good as mine.
Sorry for the digression. Let’s get back to my original discussion.
The quote at the beginning of this article by J.F. Kennedy does not apply to Nigeria. That’s because nobody believes it. Not even the politicians saying it. That statement is only true in America. I don’t think J.F. Kennedy had Nigeria in mind when he made those utterances. That statement only applies in a country with a proper government; a government that knows the purpose for which it exist; that sees its people as its greatest asset. Do you know the implication of an American dying in a foreign land? The government of that country will have to give an explanation to the American government. And the explanation has got to be good. That’s why Americans can believe and act on such quotes. They know their government is for them wherever they are. Not so in Nigeria. To the Nigerian, that quote is a lie from the pit of hell. It’s absolute rubbish. Every Nigerian who has done, or aspires to do, something for Nigeria is as a result of love for family and friends, rather than love for country. Given what we hear and see on the news every day, you begin to wonder, how does a sane person love Nigeria? It takes the love of God to be able to love Nigeria. Nobody wakes up one day and loves Nigeria. You have to “against hope believe in hope” to do it. It’s a miracle!
But, can J.F. Kennedy’s statement become true in Nigeria? Can Nigerians benefit from the government? The answer is YES! And it’s not by appealing to politicians to do the right thing. That’s like begging the tiger to become an elephant. We can only achieve that when their continued stay in power depends on our whims and caprices. When we take charge of our votes, we’ll take charge of our destiny. You may have noticed that I’m always talking about our votes. That’s because I believe that our vote is our power. If we don’t like those we have as leaders, we can change them with our votes. Only then will our leaders listen to what we are saying. And we should start asking questions from our leaders. They are not doing us favours by being in power. They are supposed to be our servants. Let’s start preparing to vote massively in the next election. It is not as far away as it seems. We deserve a government that benefits us! Make your vote count!