By Pius Adesanmi
Now, that is funny.
There are two types of Nigerians: those in government and those awaiting their turn in government. Forget all the talk about the size and potential of Nigeria’s economy. Forget all the talk about business, entrepreneurship, innovation, and the rise of a vibrant new demographic of creators defying the odds to crystallize into a 21st-century transnational elite.
That is all puff and powder for there is really only one business in Nigeria and it is called government. Everybody is just really waiting for and on government.
Every other sector and sphere of Nigerian life and all the players in all those private spheres and sectors are merely waiting on and for their turn in government. In Nigerian life, there is no creativity, no aspiration, no vision, no mission, no genius, and no dream beyond “joining government”.
The sum total of national life is nothing but an endless footsy playing between those in government and those outside, hoping to cajole them to be let in or scheming to shove them out and take their place. Either by election or appointment, a Nigerian has no greater definition of success and life fulfilment than a political office, no matter how paltry and insignificant.
This atrocious national sociology of course has consequences. It is at the centre of the Nigerian tragedy. At the personal and national levels, it stifles growth, initiative, and development because the citizen and his nation are defined exclusively by prebend. The citizen destroys all regenerative and innovative possibilities because his creative energy has only one purpose: profit from government prebend (if he is already in government) or aspire to profit from government prebend (if he is awaiting his turn in government).
Nigeria is the only place where the path to building a global business brand, powered by genius, innovation, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and drive can be abandoned midway to serve as a Special Assistant to a Special Adviser on Miscellaneous Matters in the Presidency. The owner of a flourishing innovation hub or a growing e-commerce outlet will drop all that creative energy and suddenly become a Special Assistant to a Governor or a Senator.
In Nigeria, do not be surprised to wake up to news that Dangote is abandoning the Dangote Group to run for even governor. Instead of joining Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos on a panel in Davos, do not be surprised to hear that the owner of Konga.com or Nairaland has accepted an appointment as a Special Assistant on New Media to a state governor.
In essence, any Nigerian great news on the innovation front is only great until government appointment happens to it because every other sphere of agency in Nigeria is tentative and aspirational in a move towards government and mediocrity and corruption.
Take a look at Rochas Okorocha. He has been busy ruining Imo state on the platform on APC and change. His destruction of Imo is a greater tragedy because it is collective and affects our fellow citizens.
However, there is also his self-destruction. He had a robust business brand that could have become an Africa brand on its way to the global level had he continued to devote his creative energies to it. The Nigerian thing happened to him and he decided to aim for the sun of Aso Rock Villa before ending up with the consolation moon of Government House in Owerri.
It is true that many of these people abandon potential global brands for life in government because of the belief that they will loot with impunity, and divert public funds and government patronage to their businesses.
They forget that all their stealing and looting has never taken any of their businesses to a truly global dimension because no truly global brand can be built on a foundation of such brazen rottenness. The money they steal and infuse into their businesses is only Pyrrhic victory.
Obasanjo Holdings is one of the greatest beneficiaries of loot, corruption, nepotism, and government patronage in Nigeria. Baba stole Nigeria black and blue and poured everything into his business. Obasanjo Holdings is not a recognizable African brand, let alone a global brand. It is a local champion in a local field where Baba is doing gragra and harassing people. When he gallivants the world stage, it is because he ruled the largest concentration of black people for 8 years and not on the basis of his entrepreneurial brand. In Davos, he will have to book an appointment with Zuckerberg and Bezos.
There is also of course the story of Orji Uzor Kalu’s Slok – another innovative business brand that government office happened to and destroyed. The business people are not the only class affected by this Nigerian disease. Generations of the country’s brightest minds go to government, when they leave government, they do not return to any worthwhile ventures and activities that could uplift the country because they understand that life in Nigeria is divided into two strict phases: life in government and life spent awaiting life in government.
I live in a part of the world where people have time for short spells in government appointments before returning to other spheres of nation building. Academia is a very popular destination for people after government office. They come and join us in training the next generation. Look at journalism and mass communication schools in the US and Canada. Very often, people quit influential government spokesperson positions to become Deans or Chairs of such schools or programs. They don’t have to be academics. Universities negotiate with them on the basis of their profile and experience.
You come to Nigeria and you get Reuben Abati – a brilliant first class mind that any school of journalism or mass communication in Nigeria should be privileged to engage and Dean or Chair. What is he doing? He is roaming social media to maintain relevance in preparation for any possibility of returning to government in 2019. One of Nigeria’s best minds now understands that there is only life in government and life spent awaiting a return to government.
The Right Reverend Wendel Simlin, also known as Reno Omokri, falls into this category. Before he discovered the tragic duality of Nigerian life, he was actually a bright mind on the rise in the United States. Now, he too is roaming social media, carefully curating his nuisance value to maintain visibility ahead of the possibility of a return to government in 2019, accompanied by fellow vermin, Femi Fani-Kayode.
Think of Abati as Head of Mass Communication in Unilag; think of Omokri in some innovative new program in any of our Universities. No matter what you think of them, they would serve Nigeria’s future excellently in such stations. Sadly, they are like fish out of water, unable to conceptualize agency and nation building outside of the sphere of government crumbs.
I have used Abati and Omokri to illustrate the crematorium of talent and innovation that is Nigeria. Once you leave government, you are pretty much useless to Nigeria because your brain is colonized by the singular desire to return to government. You cannot even sustain a business after life in government. Look at Senator Smart Adeyemi, thrashing around like somebody high on paraga because there is no life for him outside of government. He is desperate to return.
I have been preaching that the restructuring of the polity is not something that should be done outside of the restructuring of the psychology and the socializing narratives which frame the Nigerian mind. And we need to revamp civics to achieve this mental rewiring.
You may well get your Biafra Republic. You may well get your Oodua Republic. You may well get your Arewa Republic. However, I pity those three putative Republics for they are going to be peopled by psychologies and mentalities shaped and nurtured by Nigeria. If you must have your three separate Republics, that is fine.
I am a supporter of legitimate claims to self-determination and maybe I have read too many books to subscribe to the silly myth of the indissolubility or indivisibility of any nation-state that Professor Osinbajo and the Nigerian elite are peddling.
However, do not go to Biafra, Oodua, and Arewa and continue to believe that life outside of government is life not worth living.
Remember: that tragic sociology destroyed the Nigeria you are fleeing.
Restructure your psychology before you leave.
As for me and my house hold, we shall remain proud Nigerians.
Prof. Adesanmi teaches African Lietrature at Carlston University in Canada.