Ah.. Yes our favorite trope. As a young man this ‘conversational gambit’ as I described it used to drive me up the wall. The other one, popularized in my reckoning by General Ibrahim Babangida and beloved by all incompetent and negligent leaders/rulers is ‘the situation in which we found ourselves in.’ The former exposes the lack of critical thinking in much of the public intellectual space and the latter is a clear abdication of responsibility. No one wants to be held accountable not the rulers, not the followers. We now have a generation of young people for whom the laws of cause and effect do not apply because they have been acculturated to expect and accept impunity because bad behavior is rewarded and seldom punished. The problem with Nigeria is..  Enjoy


How many times have you heard that? Many times I’m sure; it’s almost become a classic conversational gambit. Each time you engage in a general type conversation about Nigeria, your interlocutor would most certainly narrow down the conversation, until he gets to that statement. The problem with Nigeria is…and then he would go on, with an air of superior knowledge, to enumerate the numerous problems facing this country —as if you were not aware of them. 

Everybody seems to know the problems of this country (at least as they affect them as individuals), but nobody seems to have any clear ideas about how to solve them, and even if they did have ideas, are not in a position to implement them and if they were in a position to do so, would not, because their own selfish interests would be affected. 

So what we have, is an unwieldy system of checks and balances, with the retrogressive constantly cancelling out the progressive; an unfortunate catch- 22 that doesn’t seem to have a beginning or an end. 

It is all too easy to regress infinitely in search of the causes of our multifarious problems. But are our problems that protracted, or more precisely, are our problems endemic to us alone? 

I don’t think so, although it can be argued otherwise. A lot of people believe that the problems of Nigeria, caused by Nigerians themselves, are peculiar to Nigeria herself. There is nothing absolutely wrong with Nigeria, she is a beautiful country, and I love her. But the problem lies with her peoples… Nigerians. Maybe their own problems are endemic. 

But problems, whether peculiar and particular, or pervasive and universal, are problems, nonetheless, and we have plenty of them. 

The most insidious being this question of tribalism, or finer still, ethnocentrism. There are, I believe, over two hundred and fifty languages actively spoken in Nigeria today, alongside a considerable number of ancillary dialects. What this suggests, is that there are over two hundred distinct ethnic groupings in the country, each with its own discernible identity.

And with such vast diversity, it’s easy to understand why we have prevalent ethnic problems. And it is also clear why people sometimes use this argument to justify the nuisance of tribalism. But Nigeria is not the only overly heterogeneous country around. There are many; the Union of Soviet Social Republics and the United States of America are two interesting examples. 

The Soviet Union, with so many Republics, each as ethnically diverse as Nigeria, has still managed to weld itself solidly as a Union of Republics. 

It’s ideological counterpoint, America, a bustling mélange of virtually all races, and the bulwark of capitalism remains a cohesive nation. What is our own excuse? Whose fault is it that we fail to develop our individual consciousness beyond our village boundaries? Or get swept away by the demagogy of our parochial leaders? Whose fault is it? 

Another favourite ‘problem’ of Nigeria, is the ubiquitous twin-headed monster, repetitively called ‘bribery and corruption’ (as if the two are separate). But corruption, be it a kickback, graft, ten-percent, or the seemingly innocuous “dash”, is a major problem facing the country today. It is not enough to look at them as malignant tumours in the organs of society without considering the purulence of society itself. 

It is because society is itself sick, that there is such widespread corruption and not so much the corruption afflicting the society, as we are made to believe! And so, if we as a society prefer to remain constipated by corruption, without sensibly taking some purgative, who is to blame? Definitely not Nigeria! 

It is so easy to be trapped in the bog of… “the problem with Nigeria” syndrome and to look for geographical solutions to psycho-political problems. Forgetting that “Nigeria” is just a geo-political identity tag. 

The multifaceted and interlocking problems that plague Nigeria and Nigerians in all spheres of their existence are not endemic, and neither do they originate from extraterrestrial sources; the problems are us — you and I …Nigerians. 

Oil boom, Oil gloom, and Oil doom; the problem is with us, and not necessarily with scheming multi-nationals. 

Bribery, indiscipline, corruption, and armed robbery; we all contribute actively by indulging in it, and passively by condoning it. 

Tribalism, nepotism and partisan politics – we all have voted for. 

Illiteracy, mismanagement, and poor economic planning; we all (at least the educated and enlightened ones among us) have played a part in their proliferation. So the problems you see, my friends, lie not in the stars or Nigeria, but in us… Nigerians!

The Punch, 

Saturday, July 17, 1982 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *