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There, but for the grace of God, go I

To our dear Minister of Works, Chris Ngige, who once rationalised that the two out of every three doctors our nation produces, flee to other countries, not because of the poor working conditions, obsolete facilities and hugely inadequate remuneration they receive here, but because we have more than enough doctors already; I would love to have your thoughts now sir. Now that every country on earth, including ours, needs all the health workers it can get, does the “exportation” of Nigerian doctors, which he had then celebrated as a worthy “achievement” seem like such a great idea?


Because of the desperate need for more hands, the UK government gave a clarion call for retired National Health Service (NHS) staff to please volunteer their services, in the interest of the nation. As robust as their health service is, bolstered by the multitude of Nigerian doctors now plying their trade in the Queen’s own country, the British government is still worried about it becoming overwhelmed. Similarly, the Trump administration which almost from the onset, gained global notoriety for its unfriendly immigration policy, is now beckoning on doctors of other nationalities to apply for working visas to the US. Like I’ve often said, both actions and inactions will always have consequences. The fact that it may not always come immediately doesn’t mean it won’t come. It always does.


I believe there are at least two types of ignorant people in this world. One class is of those who simply don’t know. They just don’t possess the required knowledge. The second are those who, surprisingly, don’t lack the knowledge, but somehow lack understanding. So our leaders cannot be accused of a lack of “education” in the first instance, nonetheless, some may still be regarded as uneducated, evidenced by their often flawed reasoning.


One thing I have heard time and time again during interviews of US citizens, whether they be doctors, nurses, government officials or the average Joe, since the current coronavirus pandemic began to hit the USA hard is, “this is America”. Though the way each has said it has varied, non-have uttered it in the manner we say, “this is Nigeria”. None has offered it as an excuse for non-performance by government or anyone, for that matter. It’s in fact the direct opposite. This is an America they all believe in, and a country which they’re ever so quick to proudly remind us, is the greatest nation on earth. Although this repeated reminder hasn’t slowed down, the recent intonation betrays a sense of disappointment, rather than one of pride. To the American, “this is America” is the very reason why they don’t have any excuse for things not to work as they should.


The politicians continue to utter it in an effort to reassure their people that as a nation, they are up to the task. They have many past victories to point to, which demonstrate their ability to overcome whatever comes their way. To the average American, “this is America” means there is every reason for them to have high expectations and it’s a call for their leaders to live up to it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, “this is Nigeria” were to mean to every Nigerian, “we expect nothing short of the best” rather than, “you should know better than to expect anything more”?


Unfortunately, we find ourselves lumbered with the cross of having political leaders who to me, are like modern day Pharaohs. I’ve asked myself and those close to me if they think our leaders will have a rethink during this period of global crisis and change their ways. Fair question, don’t you think? Will facing a problem which they have no power or control over, force them to put away selfish thinking? Unlike the myriad of the nation’s problems which they have used their own hands either to create or exacerbate, while believing in the ability of their filthy war chest to always provide them with alternatives; money this time around appears to be no defence. With this dire situation staring us all in the face, it matters not your tribe, religion or social status. There remains no equivalent like installing two or three generators in your house to provide the electricity you refused to use your position to provide for the populace. Neither is there an equivalent like chartering an aircraft, to avoid plying pothole infested roads you refused to repair.


For all intents and purposes, their ill-gotten loot has been rendered largely useless as they can’t on a whim, decide to fly themselves or their loved ones to their beloved Western safe havens, to escape the imminent coronavirus explosion in the country. Coronavirus has quickly become an uninvited leveller. But will they learn? Since the preferred nations are far more interested, at least for now, in protecting their own, than gaining from anyone’s filthy lucre, will our leaders learn? Will they finally recognise the futility in squirreling away the commonwealth and leaving the country comatose in the process? Especially as nation after nation has closed its borders to non-indigenes.


Will they, as many of their oppressed compatriots have done, see it as some sort of karma catching up with the leaders? Do you think they will in any way, wisen up? To be honest, I very much doubt it. Much like the Biblical Pharaoh whose heart was so calcified, and only thawed briefly when calamity came crawling to his doorstep as a result of his refusal to change his ways, I don’t see our leaders changing unless they feel the full force of their actions directly. As long as it remains remote, they will learn nothing. Human beings are fundamentally creatures of routine who so often revert to their old modes of behaviour once the moment of crisis passes; particularly when they’re lucky enough to narrowly escape any damaging consequences. It’s only when they find themselves victims of their own callous actions that it may dawn on them that no amount of money can make any man invincible. The surest protection against calamity is to obey God and to do right by all.


Does this crisis which quite clearly exposes our precarious nature as human beings, present us with a possible watershed moment in our socio-political history? It certainly provides us with a golden opportunity to reflect, with the hope that common sense and more rational thought, inherent in a less self-centred attitude, will be allowed to float to the fore. Will the harsh reality of closed national borders impel or even compel our leaders and regular folks alike, to conduct themselves differently? Will it conduce positive social behaviour? Will it expose the foolishness in relying on the material defences we put so much trust in? A battalion of policemen as security provides no immunity when a viral disease comes lurking. If anything, it only increases one’s chances of contracting it. A functioning and robust health system, on the other hand, just may.


Are we going to be smart enough to recognise this moment of remarkable global uncertainty for what it is? An opportunity, even if of sheer providence, to set ourselves on a completely different trajectory that will ultimately lead to good and conscientious governance? Time, as always, is sure to tell. As for me, I won’t take the risk of holding my breath. One thing I do know though is that things could turn the corner for the better, post these terrifying times that men are literally dropping like flies, if only we etch these simple but heavily pregnant words on our hearts, from this time forward. These words could serve to counter any temptation which may come our way to hoard for ourselves that which is meant for all, in a vain attempt to live forever, at the expense of others: “There, but for the grace of God, go I”.


Changing the nation…one mind at a time.


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