Underachievement Has A Face Draped In Green

Achievements are an extremely subjective sphere of discussion; so nebulous that any attempt to discuss them should first try to define an acceptable framework, yet whatever framework is crafted could still be argued as unfair by some. This applies to almost everything, including countries, though for sovereign confines, we may borrow from businesses to define “national imperative” as the requirement for nations to perpetually seek the betterment of their people to match or exceed other nations with similar endowments and constrictions. It is on this basis that we will judge Nigeria at 62.

Children scooping diesel from a fallen tanker in Nigeria

A few days before October 1, while on a road trip, we came to the scene captured in the featured image. As I steadied my phone to take the picture, it dawned on me that this scene represented Nigeria in many ways.

First, we have a tanker laden with diesel lying on its side, further disrupting the flow of traffic on a bad road. This resource-filled tanker on a mission to deliver a needed product to some people had its journey [temporarily] derailed. The driver, seemingly helpless, was nowhere to be found. The police and other agencies who would be expected at such a scene were unavailable. We assumed that the tanker’s fall was orchestrated by the bad road, but there was the possibility that under saner conditions, the tanker and/or its driver might have been deemed unfit to be on the roads.

While rain drops reduced visibility, inhabitants of the community that straddled the highway were engaged in a free-for-all to scoop the fuel leaking from the disabled tanker. At least two fights erupted among the scoopers as some protested their right to scoop to the exclusion of others, as if they were the legal owners of the resource. Considering the high price of diesel, these scoopers were oblivious of the dangers associated with scooping their loot despite prior fatalities from similar occurrences in Nigeria. For many of the children dripping diesel in the rain, one could see the commingled stench of poverty and illiteracy, and I wondered if we could truly blame them for wanting to survive.

As the looters scooped their prized resource, other travellers were rather preoccupied with getting past the slow-moving traffic to get to their own destinations. Whatever happened to the tanker, its owners, customers, or the scoopers was not their business. In retrospect, even I failed to at least dial the emergency services in hope of expediting the calvary’s arrival. Rather, I expended neurons computing the potential magnitude and impact radius of a blast wave if the tanker were to explode. But then again, I am part of this allegory that represents the Nigerian situation.

To mark the 2020 Independence Day, I posted an article comparing Nigeria with some selected peers. Two years later, the selected metrics have not enjoyed any improvements, rather, some have worsened due to a combination of economic underperformance and population overperformance. But some might argue that we have no right to use “metrics defined by the West” to judge Nigeria. For example, I have seen someone protest using the global definition of poverty because they point to rural farmers in Nigeria spending less than the designated benchmark to “eat well” each day. Then, I wonder if such an apologist understands that someone with less than US$1.5 or US$2 per day is unlikely to be able to access quality healthcare services or purchase fertilisers to increase their farm output or get tractors for higher productivity at lower impact to his or her body or even get quality education. We may then argue against using literacy as a benchmark, ignoring that many persons who cannot read or write are less likely to have bank accounts (financial inclusion) nor have access to certain services, more likely to be unaware of their rights and obligations, and as is seen across Nigeria, more likely to perpetuate generational poverty by having more children than they can provide for, and also more likely to become foot soldiers for violent acts.

Any way we look at it, there is a credible basis for judging Nigeria. The ethos of the national imperative have not been delivered. We have the potential, backed by immense human and other resources to compete at the highest levels in the comity of nations. Taking a cue from the fallen tanker, we would need to address whether the tanker and the driver are fit to handle the resource properly for delivery to the promised land. All the other issues can be fixed or might not even exist once this basic issue is resolved. For me, while I would commit to playing my part, I do hope that when the time is doubled and I become like Nigeria, we would have fixed our self-imposed problems and moved on to newer challenges like whether a dog is a cat.


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