Back to Our Communities (II)

PHOTO: A flash dryer made by a Nigerian, Mr Idowu Adeoya —


My guess is that we are now at the stage Western Europe was about 200 years ago. Forced by necessity, their men and women had to use their brains to transform their society. What followed was the industrial revolution. While our black ancestors were fiddling with charms, fortune-telling and witchcraft, the white people were using their brains to lift themselves out of poverty.  For ages, they wrestled with great ideas aimed at making the world better. This hunger for improvement inspired all the inventors we have known: Alexander Bell, the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee (who founded the worldwide web), and thousands of others.

What have we Africans contributed to world civilisation? Many scholars have wrestled with that question but offered weak answers. We know the truth, however: we have been great consumers, not producers. As a result, we spend all our resources on phones, cars, refrigerators, radio sets, TV sets, computers, clothing items, cooking pots, sweets and even toothpicks made in Western nations. Let nobody deceive you: the economy of this country or any other import-dependent nation can never improve so long as the nation produces nothing for export. Crude oil will not develop this country because it is people from the West that extract the oil with equipment made in the West; we export crude and then import refined petroleum products because our refineries do not work. Ajaokuta Steel Mill has remained moribund for 45 years; electricity supply has remained epileptic or lacking. So what hope do we have for industrialisation?

Ideas still rule the world. While some of us have little influence on policymakers that could transform our nation, we have much to contribute to transforming our communities. Knowledge is power. With jobs disappearing, with the education system dead or dying (as I’ve made clear elsewhere), with youths getting frustrated in the search for jobs, spouses or the good life, I can predict the near future: they will be forced to return home – to our communities – and embrace any of these models of micro and small enterprises. Many won’t subscribe to this now, but they will at a time they will have little choice.

The allure of the city should be gone by now. Government jobs have finished – that source of easy money is no more.  And I tell another sad story: Even traders in big cities may be sent packing by modern shopping malls like Shoprite and Next; they are busy setting up hundreds of shops across the country. Would you prefer to buy things in an air-conditioned hall at cheaper prices or in an open market where touts, heat, thieves and mosquitoes harass you? Imagine the number of traders and their dependants that would be affected when the markets in Kano, Onitsha, Aba, Abuja, Damaturu, Lagos, Ibadan and Jos are no more!

Traders especially should therefore begin to seek opportunities elsewhere. Farmlands are waiting for those that can go into rice farming. Wheat, beans, fruit and scores of other crops are needed by small and medium-scale manufacturers. Nigerians also need fish for local consumption, not just for export.

Until recently, our rural communities were shielded from armed robbers and kidnappers and rapists. Now, they have lost their innocence but they are still better than the cities we know. We can transform them into decent cities.

We all should get involved in job creation and poverty reduction in our communities. In the long term, productive activities like the ones we have mentioned will rescue our people. Fixation on cheap oil money with the monumental corruption it has created is what has ruined Nigeria. But production by trained manpower will provide relief for all.  My experience in Dubai a few years ago was eye-opening. Virtually every family in the UAE city was involved in making one thing or the other. It could be bread, biscuit, key holder or shoes.

And that reminds me of one other job that could be created for youths in our communities: security, which involves intelligence gathering and how to handle different rifles. This would enable some people to work as community policemen or what is known as “neighbourhood watch” in England. Vigilante groups have become popular in our country these days, just as many security firms have been established to give jobs to young people. They could be organised and administered better.

We can do even better when we return to our senses and to our communities. Let’s help ourselves. Many have acquired textbook training; it should now be augmented with skills training. And the resource people are present even in our communities. I know many people who make a living in cities like Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Kaduna and Benin City just by organising classes and coaching participants on how to raise rabbits, snails and the like. On occasion, some government agencies organise workshops for registered primary and secondary cooperatives on some of these farming techniques.

One giant obstacle on the road to this dreamland is, of course, the kind of governments we have in Africa. This is a continent where supposed leaders fly out of their countries to treat fever with plentiful dollars but are unable to establish good hospitals in their own countries. It’s no surprise that, due to lack of facilities, infrastructure and development-focused leadership in their countries, many professionals have migrated to Europe, America and Asia in search of greener pasture. Who wouldn’t if they could?

Viable communities are lacking because, in Nigeria for instance, even cottage industries are not encouraged. Once you start a business, government kills it with multiple taxation or import waivers for similar products or services from “abroad”.

At present, in the Niger Delta several task forces are charged with destroying “illegal” refineries – and they constantly announce how they have set fire to thousands of refineries here and there. Yet, the approved refineries don’t work, and fuels produced from the “illegal” refineries have not knocked cars’ engines.

Fifty years ago, such refineries were set up in many kitchens in that part of the country, when Nigeria was fighting a civil war. That’s why Biafra didn’t import even a litre of petrol or diesel throughout the war period. Besides, Biafran scientists and technologists were making lethal weapons including ogbunigwe and rocket launchers without importing any material. Automobiles were made from scraps. At the end of the war, I’ve learned, the ex-Biafran technologists and scientists approached the federal government to assist them in championing a technology revolution in the country. The leaders’ response? They gathered the tools and materials the ex-Biafrans had assembled and set them ablaze.

The eggheads fled the country and, since then, they or their brothers have been found working in every high-tech firm available in any developed nation of the world. Those left behind in Nigeria could be seen doing wonders in mechanic workshops and computer villages across the country. The greatest thing they needed but which they never got is support from a government in Nigeria.

Hot drinks produced in the creeks of the Niger Delta are labelled “illicit” gin and sold for peanuts (say N400) while their foreign counterparts that have much less quality are sold as much as N120, 000 a bottle. Of course, “illicit” gin remains illicit (illegal) – it’s not permitted to be sold in Nigeria, but because soldiers and policemen patronise its hawkers most, it’s rarely confiscated.

If this were happening in 1960, the Lilliputians called leaders in Africa could be excused, for at that time they could be experiencing colonial hangover. But this is 2018. And we have yet to achieve economic independence, which should have been the struggle all along.  Almost every ranking government official from Africa travels round the world in and out of office, yet the supposed leaders of the “Dark Continent” don’t seem to have learned anything.

Nwamu is the CEO of Eyeway.ng

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