A lady that called into a TV program said, “My father told me that during the colonial era, everything that works in Britain, also worked in Nigeria”. This is a fact. Yes, power, water, schools, railways, health care, law enforcement, etc. all worked in Nigeria. It was after our independence that, in our crudity and dishonesty and un-patriotism, we destroyed the institutions built, and standards set, by the British. And lamentably, in our self-deceit, we blame our problems on colonialism and the legacies of colonialism.
I was told about my grandfather’s beautiful handwriting, and his exquisite writing style, especially, in Igbo. He had a number of years of primary school education. In that short time, the colonial educational system taught him enough to read and write well, not just in English, but also in his native language. Disappointingly, most Igbo, from my generation and beyond, that went to school after Nigerian independence, can barely read and write the Igbo language. Is it not supremely ironic that the colonialists, with all their “evil” designs and the “viciousness” of their evil mission, developed our language, from the scratch, and emphasized its teaching and learning? But, after independence, Nigerian (Igbo) educators, in their patriotism, and loyalty and service to the fatherland de-emphasized and almost destroyed the study of Igbo language in our schools?
Before the civil war, my senior brother was a second year secondary school student. In addition to his textbooks, he read other books and Time Magazine to broaden his knowledge. He studied French in school. So, to improve his knowledge of the language, he tuned to Radio Cameroons and Radio France to listen to the news and other programs in French. That is, a Class 2 (JS2) student craved knowledge to the point that, in addition to his studiousness with his school work, he also strove to widen his intellectual horizon and become truly educated. It was a legacy of the colonial education system. As the erosion of the colonial legacy in education continued, students started studying not for a well-rounded education, but merely to pass their exams. With the total Nigerianization of our educational system, students now desire to “pass” their exams without studying for it.
My father was nostalgic about his visits, as a child, to the Iyi Enu Hospital, Ogidi, The hospital was built, staffed and managed by British missionaries. The British doctors and nurses were professional and humane. His visits to the hospital were in the 1920s and1930s. Ironically, I remember, with disgust, my visits to the General Hospital, Enugu, especially, one particular visit to its Emergency Unit. My visits to the General Hospital were in the 1970s. The Nigerian doctors and nurses at the hospital were mostly unprofessional, and downright arrogant and mean; their indifference and callousness towards their patients were heartrending. Evidently, after independence, we destroyed the professionalism and elevated ethics the colonialists established in our health delivery system.
Across board, Nigerians ran down and, in some cases, totally destroyed institutions built, and standards established by the colonial masters. The list of what deteriorated and/or completely collapsed after our independence is endless: electricity, rail services, rule of law, accountability, roads, etc. By the yardsticks of the time, the British built superb institutions and established the state-of-the-art benchmarks in Nigeria. Many countries, like India, Malaysia and Singapore, used the institutions and touchstones established by the colonialists as springboards to economic prosperous, political stability and decent societies.
But in Nigeria, we refused to uphold either what Peter Viereck called, “the standards of conduct which civilization, over so many years, imposed on human nature” or what the ancient Greek writers called “taming of the savageness of man”. Thus, we luxuriate in our crudity, greed, anarchy, obscurantism and buccaneering depredation of our country and her wealth. Not surprisingly, we wrecked the foundation the colonialism built for us and squandered the opportunities our enormous national wealth and massive natural and human resources provided for us, which is lamentable.
Even more lamentable is our refusal to take responsibilities for our actions. Many Nigerians blame our self-inflicted problems on the determined, deliberate “destructiveness” of British colonialism. Taking responsibility for your actions is unpleasant but most salutary; blaming others for your problems is gratifying but most destructive. Blaming others for your self-inflicted problems is falsehood. It is a unique form of falsehood, where the individual lies, not to others, but to himself – which is self-deceit – the most deleterious form of lying.
Are the injurious effects of our self-deceit not pervasive and palpable? An oil producing and exporting country that imports refined petroleum for its local consumption is lying to itself. A country with four refineries and spends billions of naira every year servicing and maintaining them, but does not refine a drop of oil is deceiving itself. It is self-deceit to mob and beat a pickpocket to death, but celebrate public officials that stole billions of naira from public coffers; pay out trillions of naira for fuel subsidy that does not exist; budget billions of dollars for the war against terrorism, order soldiers in droves to their death in the fight against terrorism, but then, sympathize with the terrorists, and give them amnesty and integrate them into the military.
A people that have distinguished themselves globally across the entire spectrum of human endeavor but continually choose ignorant, inept, corrupt, vicious brigands to rule of them are deceiving themselves. The list of the disgraceful consequences of our self-deceit is endless. Not surprisingly, Nigeria is, in steady and perceptible gradations, lurching towards a failed state.
*Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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