In spite of our challenges – by Tolu Ogunlesi


There’s a lot that Nigeria needs to get right, no doubt. There’s often plenty around that can dampen the spirit. As a country we face lots of challenges, many of them historical, many with no quick wins or silver bullets. There’s no denying that.

But there’s also more to the story than an unrelieved litany of negative news. Our STORY is not a ‘single’ one – it’s varied, it’s multifaceted.

Amidst all of the many challenges, there are just as many instances of positive, inspiring news, that confirm to us that
at Federal and State levels, and in the Private Sector, much is being done right — even as there’s still plenty that needs fixing.

I do my best to share some of these stories everywhere I can, not to claim that all is well with Nigeria, but simply to undermine the dangerous and sadly pervasive myth that nothing is working; that nothing is being done right.

It’s not my fault — or anyone’s really — that some people do not want to hear any good news about Nigeria, really. (And you can spot them very quickly, these ones whose emotional fuel is bad news, always roaming these streets looking for the positive news they can attack or extinguish or dismiss).

Nigeria belongs to all of us, nobody has more of a claim to this country than anyone else. Even for those who have multiple citizenships, Nigeria will continue to be a very important part of your lives. Just look at how people relocate to Canada or the UK or US or elsewhere and still spend all their time Social Media time obsessing about Nigeria. Living physically in Canada but mentally / psychologically in Nigeria.

Nigeria is a condition, it appears, that no “treatment” can permanently cure anyone of, regardless of how much distance they seek to put between them and the country. It feels almost impossible to give up on it, especially in this age of Social Media, in which the country has mastered the art of stalking.

I share these positive stories because inspiration is a necessary fuel for progress. Because, cynicism, while it has its place, can far too often be a double-edged sword, wounding the wielder while not contributing anything to fixing external circumstances.

Because cynicism can very quickly go from being manageable to being excessive and debilitating, with nothing in-between. Too much cynicism closes the mind, constricts your ability to see and take advantage of opportunity, and dampens your energy and enthusiasm.

It is in these stories of governments and organisations and people pushing against odds to make stuff happen that other people find the energy and the inspiration to pursue their own dreams. That’s how we keep the energy going; how we try to guarantee that tomorrow can be much better than today.

Have people realised, by the way, that not everyone will get a chance to leave Nigeria. That this is a reality we must all accept. As many as can find new lives elsewhere should be encouraged to pursue their destinies, but not all who wish to leave will get the chance – especially not legally. And there are also many who have left now who will someday consider returning home.

Because this will always be home. And because two home options are always better than one. (Why have the best of one world if you can have the best of two?) And because the conditions that have forced many out (or have welcomed them in, elsewhere) will not always be the same.

Things change, situations morph and evolve. Nigeria will always present certain opportunities that may never be available elsewhere. Take the examples of many of the Diaspora Olympians flying our flag today and doing us proud.

Being Nigerian (in addition to being something else) means they can always have the chance to compete for global honours under the green-white-green banner. For many, that chance will only ever exist in/for Nigeria.

It’s why my philosophy is – wherever you go, whatever you do, don’t burn the Naija bridges. Or the passport, LOL.

Don’t turn yourself into someone who’s overly excited by negative news about/from Nigeria, while ignoring/unlooking anything that looks remotely like good news. If you’re that kind of person, it’s not Buhari or Nigeria that you’re ‘doing’ – best believe you’re only ‘doing’ yourself.

And for all those whose default retort, when any news of progress in Naija infrastructure is shared, is to blurt, “Eh, but security” – let me explain something.

Yes, security continues to be a challenge. But no rational/sensible government will pause work on infrastructure simply because security is an ongoing challenge. It’s not done anywhere in the world.

It is possible — and advisable — to work on both simultaneously. It is possible to be working to fix infrastructure AND security at the same time. One may of course end up progressing at a slower place than the other. The progress in infrastructure may be easier to see and communicate and celebrate, while security stubbornly remains a more formidable challenger, ebbing and flowing, altering pattern.

But no government will wait for security to be fully fixed before it works on other equally pressing issues. It’s okay if infrastructure is improving well ahead of security; when security also improves (and I have no doubt it will!), it will come and join and amplify the impact of the improved infrastructure.

In any case, a significant part of the security issues we are facing are the logical outcome of decades of lost economic opportunity on account of underinvestment in critical infrastructure.

Which of course means, to any right-thinking person, that you can actually also tackle insecurity by tackling the infrastructure deficit. In fact you cannot sustainably fight insecurity without building the roads and rail and ports etc that will facilitate the investments and jobs that we need to move people out of poverty and unemployment and crime, and give them the hope that the future can be better!

Summary: Infrastructure will go on (much of it stuff that those who came before failed to do, sadly), and the fight against insecurity will also go on – in multiple ways, some short- and medium-term (investing in new weapons, fighter jets, drones, etc) and some long-term (investing in infrastructure – a necessary backbone for economic prosperity).

Thanks for coming to my TEDTalk. If you don’t have anything sensible to contribute, or can’t find a respectful way to disagree, silence is always an option.