Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.The three desires that inspire every American to dream. They stand as the pillars of individual, family and society life. These words, skilfully crafted by the designers of the American declaration of independence, birthed to life what would become the greatest civilization the world has ever seen.A national dream serves to focus the minds and energy of a people towards a collective goal. The French are devoted to liberty, fraternity and equality: a national purpose of freedom and equality that was birthed during the French revolution. The Japanese are united by the attainment of individual and national honour, a strong theme that makes them one of the most productive groups of people on the planet.
In this article on the Nigerian dream, one needs to really understand that first there has to be a nation before there can be a national dream. As a people, we began our tortuous journey to nationhood in a rather haphazard manner. Those who united the protectorates did so without recourse to the peoples they were amalgamating. So, peoples of varying ethnicities and religions woke up one morning in 1914 to the news that they were now part of a larger, more diverse nation.One can not even begin to imagine the culture shock experienced by people as they moved around their new improved ‘home country’. The nation was born merely out of administrative convenience, and its constituent peoples left after independence to dream for themselves. But there was barely time to dream as shortly after her birth the lines of division buried under an inch of sand quickly emerged, and a country with about the finest combination of human and natural resources the world has ever known became a place where people care only about individual survival.
But the question really is, who is responsible for crafting a national dream? Is it a leader? Or the people? I am of the opinion that it is the responsibility of any citizen who can come up with, and effectively articulate, a vision that raises the spirit of a people to be better than they ever imagined. I say any citizen because true great leaders aren’t made in the offices they occupy, but in little places of selfless service in whatever capacity. Offices become mere platforms for a wider demonstration of things they have already known and done in small measure.
The national dream starts by one asking, “what could be possible if we all dropped our petty differences and came together to really achieve something?” We see glimpses of this future in our sports: five-time world champions in football at the U-17 level is no mean feat. The fact that most citizens are prouder of their ethnic identities than of our collective identity shows where the root of the problem lies. The solution is not in disregarding our uniqueness, but in creating a new identity that guarantees every citizen an equal shot at happiness, plays down our differences, magnifies our similarities, rewards hard work and merit, and inculcates these qualities in the coming generations.
A national dream is a success story in which we all should want to play a part. It should make us want to leave behind individual differences for its attainment. The most inspiring speech I have ever heard by a leader in Nigeria is ‘The Spirit of Lagos’ speech delivered by Gov. Fashola on Oct 1, 2014. In it he painted an excellent picture of what we could be if we all came together. It is quite sad that the leadership of this nation is built on a system of ‘power sharing’ which is in actual sense a flawed way to govern. The rationale is to give each part of the country a sense of belonging, but the truth is, that is about all the people ever get – a mere sense of belonging without ever actually belonging. I believe for government to work for everyone, those who can do the job must be sought without mention of where they come from or how they worship. This is the only way a successful nation can be built and one that really gives her people belonging.
The Nigerian dream is about not knowing anyone before you get into a government institution. It is about not being a top person before the police answers your call. It is about not choosing which pot holes to enter as you drive. It is about not seating in overcrowded classrooms with poor facilities for learning. It is about not hearing stories when it is time to be paid your salary. It is about government being held to account for each kobo spent. It is about elections being conducted with no tribunal after-party. It is about citizens being able to travel to different parts of the country with ease, and feeling at home. It is about a father not having to choose which child to educate. It is about a justice system that is blind to all and works for all. It is about a society where your rights are not determined by your social standing. It is about an ambulance not being held up by a governor’s motorcade. It is about having leaders that are mandated by law to source healthcare locally. It is about not being told to meet a higher cut-off mark because you are from the wrong part of the country.
The older generation sometimes talk about the good ol’ days when things functioned properly, from education, to railway, to electricity, to health care, but somehow they have bequeathed the younger generation a dysfunctional system. Now it is up to the youth of this generation to dream and pursue a new vision, so that we may give our children beauty for the ashes we have received.