For Nigeria to Thrive, It Is Time to Get Selfish by Babatunde Olaoluwa Jeje


[dropcap custom_class=”normal”] For Nigeria to thrive, we need to become selfish and be the ones who tell our own stories and take charge of our narrative. We can no longer be generous in letting others brand us as they wish. We have several vehicles for telling our own stories, including entertainment just as Hollywood and the American music industry have told their own stories and influenced the world for many years. We can influence the world through Nollywood and our music positively too.
We need to become very selfish and send out envoys who understand how to present Nigeria as a force for the greater good, rather than generously embarrassing us and providing more negative stories for the world press and their advertisers.  [/dropcap]

This article was first published on and written by Mr Babatunde Olaoluwa Jeje
We have reached a significant watershed in the Nigerian experiment. Everyone on the planet with a social media feed is aware that Nigeria is undergoing some of the hardest times ever visited upon a nation positioned within the global polity.
What went wrong?
A country where the first set of infrastructure was built from funds made through agriculture. A country where many went to learn from the “white man’s countries” and came back to work in a proud and structured civil service and contribute to the development process. A country where graduates from school had two to three jobs waiting for them. A country where labour had dignity at every level. A country where doing the best was the norm. A country where the academia stood side by side with the best the world had to offer. A country with a clear cut, thriving, and growing middle class. This was Nigeria. A Nigeria I grew up in.
Then oil happened.
Then military coups.
Then we had the quota system or federal character where merit became the last reason to get work in government and where you came from was the primary consideration. The quality that was the norm went out of the window.
Then the rise of what others have termed the ‘lootocracy’ who simply moved funds from government coffers to their own bank accounts and appropriated government assets for themselves. The hows of these acts are many and subject to debates and investigations, so we won’t worry about them.
Then democracy and politicians became part of the experiment and used federal character and religion to further divide, confuse and distract Nigerians while they did what they knew how to do best – looting! Most Nigerians became selfish and looked after themselves to the detriment of other Nigerians who did not have access to government coffers.
Why do we need to become even more selfish? Because we have been far too generous. We have been generous in donating our resources and funds to foreign countries via different channels.
What resources have we donated? The most important resource of all is our human capital. Our generosity is such that we have in the past refused to provide a conducive environment for the growth of aspirations and many young and brilliant minds went abroad to find better options.
Other resources we have been generous with are some of our agricultural and mineral resources. We have, in quite a few instances, taken raw or close to raw – after some rudimentary processing – resources and exported them to other countries where they are now converted into products that we import. See how generous we are! We give away money twice, by first of all selling unprocessed resources and secondly by buying back the finished goods! There is a lot more that can be said but I believe our generosity in this instance is clear to see.
Other channels via which we have been generous with our funds include: sending funds out to foreign banks for their safekeeping and automatically their use; underfunding our own tertiary institutions and sending our children to foreign schools along with the attendant exorbitant school fees; underfunding our health systems and going abroad for virtually any type of medical issue including colds and headaches; buying foreign real estate; and investing in offshore money and capital market instruments to the detriment of our own markets. If you doubt the latter point, ask why quite a few international investment banks have opened offices in Nigeria. Hint: it is not because they like you more than the next country they have not yet gone to.
Much of what you have just read is in abridged form and the reasons for some of the generosity we have displayed are slightly more complex. It is however easy to recognise the generosity we are referring to. The numbers tell the story. In 2014, Nigerians abroad (human capital) sent $21 billion home according to the World Bank. If we succeeded in providing a conducive environment for even half of those remitting funds to Nigeria, could we have created multiples of this value for our economy?
According to the World Trade Organisation, in 2014 Nigerian exports and imports by commodity group were as follows.
Agricultural products – 8.3 percent
Fuels and mining products – 79.9 percent
Manufactures – 3.4 percent
Agricultural products – 16.4 percent
Fuels and mining products – 17.5 percent
Manufactures – 45.6 percent
The largest part of our recorded exports are oil and mining products while the largest part of our imports are manufactured goods. We have been very generous indeed.
With regards to funds, some numbers explain our generosity even further. It is estimated that Nigerians living in the United Kingdom spend £300 million annually on educating their children according to African-British Returnees International and Ben TV International. It is not known how much Nigerians send out from Nigeria to fund the education of their children schooling offshore. The number will likely dwarf £300 million.
In 2013, the Organising Committee of the Nigerian Centenary Charity Ball calculated that Nigerians spend around US$1.6bn a year on medical treatments abroad. How generous is that!
Wealthy Africans, inclusive of Nigerians, were reported to be spending almost £4 million a week on London property in 2014. Nigerians were the biggest spenders in London, with wealthy nationals forking out £250 million on homes in the city in the last three years according to the Daily Mail newspaper of the UK. It is reported that Hausa is a language used to provide signage in a popular London store. We are truly quite generous.
Now if we look at ourselves as a country after so many years and different ways of being generous, we can see that something isn’t working. After giving away so much, the poverty rate has risen and the literacy rate fallen. The middle class has collapsed mostly and everybody and their clans are looking for government and/or political positions. The economic tale is quite obvious to all regardless of any spins of ‘growth’. Any man on the street will tell you the real situation of things.
I strongly suggest that it is time we tried selfishness. You might want to argue that we have already been selfish to ourselves and I also said so earlier in this article. You would be right. Except that there are two types of selfishness.
The wrong type of selfishness is the one that reduces the footprint for your own existence when people are driven to higher and higher levels of enrichment by any means to the detriment of others in a quest to compare with, compete with and outdo peers in the acquisition of houses, cars, children in schools abroad, etc. You are in effect creating a larger share of a shrinking environment – creating more poverty and further trying to insulate yourself from that poverty with whatever wealth you have ‘acquired’. Yet, you have no productive facilities and you have not employed more people. You are creating a future that will consume you and yours when the poverty stricken realise the only things they have left to eat are the few ‘rich’ living in the gated communities they are not allowed to approach.
What is the right type of selfishness then? It is a simple concept known as enlightened self-interest. it is a form of selfishness that considers the long term good of you and the people around you. So let’s look at a couple of examples to ‘open our eyes’.
Singapore is the first one. We love to travel there from Nigeria and make the “ooh” and “aah” noises attendant upon seeing an amazing society at work in terms of both the people, the infrastructure and culture, even with the three dominant extractions of Chinese, Indians and Malays. The summary of what Lee Kuan Yew did was to transition Singapore from the “third world to the first world in a single generation” under his leadership. Lee and his cabinet oversaw Singapore’s transformation from a relatively underdeveloped colonial outpost with no natural resources to an Asian Tiger economy. In the process, he forged an effective system of meritocratic and highly efficient government and civil service.
Now imagine Nigerian natural resources overlaid with an efficient and meritocratic civil service and my heart almost stops at the possibilities…
The second example is a place we also love to travel to and is a regular December destination for many well heeled Nigerians – Dubai. What makes Dubai interesting is its transformation from a sleepy fishing settlement and the discovery of soon-to-finish oil into an economic powerhouse. In 1959 Dubai embarked on a bid to become a major trading hub and millions of dollars were lent to the then-leader Sheikh Rahid by the Emir of Kuwait to renovate the city’s creek, to enable it to accommodate large ships. Everything changed for Dubai with the discovery of oil in the Gulf in the late 1960s, bringing a soaring economy and an army of traders who flocked to the emirate to settle. As it began to export crude oil, the petro-dollars flooded into Dubai and by 1973 the Dirham became the official unit of currency. However, by 1980 the annual oil income dropped to an all-time low, forcing the emirate to think of other ways to make money. By the mid-1980s it began its reinvention as a tourist destination and the Emirates airline was established. The emirate’s continued status as a tax-free haven brought even more ex-pats to settle in Dubai and in 1999 one of the tallest hotels in the world opened, cementing the city’s reputation as a tourist destination.
Both the leaders of Singapore and Dubai were quite selfish for themselves and their people. They thought about what would benefit their countries in the long term and made it happen. The pathways they took are different because they are different in culture and composition as people but their results are similar. This is the benefit of enlightened self-interest and defines the concept as long winded explanations never can.
So if we want a conducive environment for our children to thrive in; to attract real investment rather than vultures and build a long-lasting and powerful economic growth engine with attendant educational institutions of excellence, we need to become enlightened in being selfish.
The type of selfishness that says:
No, we won’t steal government funds;
No, we won’t convert government assets fraudulently into ours;
No, we won’t celebrate mediocrity over meritocracy;
No, we won’t accept half-baked results and ‘allow’ as we say colloquially;
No, we won’t block the allocation of funding to the needed areas of health, education, security and important government services;
No, we won’t accept bribes to assist or compromise anybody’s education;
No, we won’t do shoddy work when we execute contract jobs/infrastructure projects in either the private or public sector…
We simply keep saying “No” to anything that compromises the future of this land that we love so dearly.
We need to become selfish and embrace that we are Nigerians and have a vested interest in standing together against every storm that has threatened to break us apart regardless of the type. We need to understand that only we have the most to gain as a united force. We need to speak with a common voice against any other alien interests.
We must also recognise that we have a great leadership role to play in Africa with many other African countries looking up to us and what we do next will influence the pathway of those countries for good or bad.
We need to become selfish and be the ones who tell our own stories and take charge of our narrative. We can no longer be generous in letting others brand us as they wish. We have several vehicles for telling our own stories, including entertainment just as Hollywood and the American music industry have told their own stories and influenced the world for many years. We can influence the world through Nollywood and our music positively too.
We need to become very selfish and send out envoys who understand how to present Nigeria as a force for the greater good, rather than generously embarrassing us and providing more negative stories for the world press and their advertisers.
We need to become selfish and develop other areas of our economy to employ many such as agriculture from cultivation to processing and finished products; mining; and services while also paying taxes so the government can do much more for us as a people.
We need to become selfish and not allow our right to choose the next generation of leaders be stolen from us through simple offerings of T-shirts, food and N2000 bribes!
Most of all, we need to rally around the government of the day and selfishly assist them in achieving their goals to reawaken both the economy and the psyche of Nigerians for the long term growth of Nigeria. We can do this by emphasising the positive about Nigeria in the media – popular and social – even as the battles are fought for the soul of the country on several fronts, battles that must be won by Nigeria for a truly great future. When we are negatively selfish, we do the best we can to run down the government of the day and yet expect them to bring the best results out for us. There is certainly a place for critique, but we can no longer be generous and provide the rest of the world a platform to ridicule a country we want to be proud of. Charity begins at home – a very intelligently selfish concept too.
So join me in being selfish for Nigeria. It is long overdue.
God bless Mr Babatunde Olaluwa Jeje for this profound article.
I happen to be privileged to know Mr Jeje and I join you sir in being selfish for my Country, Nigeria.
God bless Nigeria!

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