When in the 70s, Juju music legend, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey recorded a song ‘Ajala travels all over the world’, he was eulogising the reported feat by Adebisi Ajala, a Nigerian, who according to folklore, travelled around the world on a scooter. Ajala only just took the pastime of Nigerians before him to a whole new level. Because of this, in Nigeria, when you like touring, you are referred to as “Ajala”.
Nigerians are arguably the most travelled, most exposed, and most enlightened people from the African continent. We might even be up there on the world league table. We are everywhere, been everywhere (minus space) and seen it all. Nigerians are well known all over the world. When a Nigerian speaks in a foreign country, even in Africa, he stands out. You immediately know this one is an omo Naija. This is a fact.
On Rodeo Drive, a street in Los Angeles where you find top global fashion brands, and by extension the A-list of world celebrity, there is a store named ‘Bijou’. It is an upscale, main street boutique. On the store’s window are names of its biggest customers. Smack in the middle of this scroll of affluence is the name of a former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipriye Sylva. For you to be mentioned on this store window you are a heavy spender and friend of the store. He is just one out of about five Nigerians on that window. This kind of presence is found in many more places across the world.
Ask them at the gold souks in the UAE. We are the darlings of Deira in Dubai, we go there and laulaulate to the glory of God. Nigerians are noted for loving the finest things, the best things. We are very worldly, no doubt.
When a Nigerian goes abroad and sees something, maybe furniture, building design or car; if he has the means, he is sure going to bring it home.
Herein lies the crux of my beef. The exposure and wide travel of the Nigerian, and the love for the best things in life has done not nearly enough to help mainland Nigeria.
Here is why I think so. Our leaders, who are Nigerians too, have been travelling abroad since the beginning of time. They have visited some of the best planned cities in the world. We have even run into some of them on the streets of London, NY, and other marquee cities. They use the metros. They see how it helps modern cities cope with population commute. They have used the subway in NY, and London, and Dubai. They have taken rides on prams in Warsaw, in Dubai, and some American cities. They love it, they even take pictures and use on postcards they share to their friends during Christmas – “Chief Archipelago, with love from Paramaribo”. You would expect that when they return to Nigeria, they will try to replicate it and make their cities, states, and country great like they have beheld abroad. No! They come back and invest in Keke, Alakoto, and Danfo buses. And then celebrate them as modern mass transit.
Even rich states like Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, etc, that should have the financial muscle, have nothing to show for it. The governors, past and present of a state like Zamfara, also go abroad, as if it is pure water. At least they go to Saudi Arabia on hajj. Doesn’t the governor of Zamfara see what the facilities in Mecca & Medina look like? Doesn’t he see how public facilities work there. Doesn’t he love the beauty? What stops northern states from taking a cue from those kinds of places that share same religious slant with them and replicate in Nigeria? They go abroad, see beautiful, working infrastructure, as soon as they come back home, they take a cue from the Notorious B.I.G and sing “it was all a dream”!
Let us even leave the leaders and come to us citizens. We have equally let the fatherland down.
When in London, we dare not urinate by openly by the side of the road. It is like a taboo in our minds, even if the bladder is at risk of exploding. We pull major stunts to manage to do it out of sight.
Under normal circumstances, when we return from such travels, we are supposed to hate the practice of open defecation. But no way; we start lining up in large numbers, behind fences, to urinate into the bushes right from outside the airport, while discussing how we paid for excess luggage at Heathrow airport. We insist our behinds need the fresh air of home.
We travel to the United States of America and keep an eye out for pedestrian crossings and bicycle lanes. Here pedestrians are at our mercy. Bicycle lanes ke? What is that?
Our exposure has done nothing for mainland Nigeria. Travelling is a process of learning. It is supposed to make one more enlightened. It provides a chance to drop barbaric habits and archaic attitudes. Seems like we are immune to such. Whatever we see and appreciate abroad, fades as soon as we step back into the Naija heat and katikati of life. Our leaders become vision-less and idea-less the moment they return to Nigeria. We learn nothing, we internalize nothing. We travel for nothing. So we do next to nothing, in terms of forward looking things. The Malaysian came here to visit our grandfathers. They saw many things they liked, went back home and replicated them. Today we sit on our narrow behind and glorify how well “Malay” has done for itself. This is sad.
Henry Okelue is a writer, IT practitioner and social commentator. He lives in Abuja, Nigeria.