I do not like the feeling I am feeling. It is neither patriotic nor amusing. Yet it is a feeling I cannot deny. I’d really rather not put it into words but how will you know what I’m feeling if I do not tell you. So here it is: I do not think God created us equal. I do not think the white race and black race are equal. I do not think Nigerians are created as equal race to other races.
We may be tall, smart, and eloquent but definitely not as tall, smart and eloquent as other people.
Ordinarily, I’m one of the most optimistic Nigerians you can find around and each time I went outside Nigeria, I always fell in love with my country afresh.
I visited China last year and returned with a lot of questions. I returned again this year with just one big question: do the Chinese truly have the same brain as the rest of the world or perhaps have a pair instead of a single one? Are they plain smarter just play un-smart? I’m really trying to measure my words here but I think you get my drift and why I’m not proud of how that country makes me feel; I swear, but then it isn’t their fault really, is it? Why is China so big and beautiful in so many easy ways while my country seems to be forever struggling with the easiest of tasks? Why does China make development look like Candy Crush Soda, my favorite android game?
I’ll explain my unpatriotic exasperation, at least as much of it as I can within this given space.
How is it that you can drive 18 hours through different cities and not find a pothole? The roads are wide and marked, hedged beautifully by trimmed trees and flowers. The tunnels are real tunnels. There are electric cars and scooters everywhere. There are so many trees in the cities and flower planting is as much an art as it is a science. The planters do it on their knees, cradling the plants like babies, their faces close to the soil as if they are crooning sweet lullabies to the hibiscus. They never forget to prune and shape. We actually parked to take photographs of the devoted gentle flower men in Zhuhai.
But the devotion and focus with which China plants roses is the same one deployed in building their infrastructure. Buildings that threaten to touch the sky everywhere in different shapes and shades of beauty and architectural arrogance and show-off. All these giants, planned, spaced and competing as if in a beauty pageant. Nobody builds short buildings. How would you, when the ones around you are already 50 and 70 floors long in the air? Lilliput not allowed. China seems to be forever in a Big Building Big Brother house reality show where each structure must outdo the other in size and beauty. It is at night that you see the competition. The cities are like Christmas trees at night, all the colours of rainbow and a bit more glorious.
The second world tallest building is the Shanghai towers, all 118 floors and we reached the last floor in less than one minute on board the fastest elevator that doesn’t even hum. And while the world is still oohing and aaahing about all that, the building that will dwarf the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is already under construction in China!
The bullet train that ferried (or is it flew) us from Shanghai to Beijin, sped through the 1,318 kilometers in 4 hours, 30 minutes at 330km/hr. Lagos to Maiduguri 1,227km! Do the math. And the train stations (Shanghai and Beijing) are bigger than our biggest airport.
Do you begin to see why I’m feeling this feeling? Why does Nigeria not have trains that can do long distances in comfort? I’m not even asking for a bullet train, just regular trains that work would do. Train stations that are functional, clean and comfortable. Why does China have leaders and political leaders who through the years could conceive transportation systems that will take care of their growing population? How did they know that the country’s growing size means that traditional train would have to graduate to bullet trains? And our own leaders through the years have moved on from what to what? Good old train to rickety old train or what?
How is it that the buildings in China get taller by the year like trees while we can’t even maintain the few we inherited? And don’t even attempt to talk about the Abuja buildings. Government offices, just offices. Not profit- making conglomerates or commercial entities doing great stuff but the Abuja massive civil service are a matter for another long day. For now, let us worry why countrywide rail network that works has remained rocket science in Nigeria.
Away from tall buildings and bullet trains, check out the story of the city called Shenzhen.
Thirty-nine years ago, it was just a small fishing village called Bao’on county with a population of 30,000 people quietly fishing and selling their fishes. It had only one major road, an old street with a few inner roads leading off it. A few shops and restaurants were Bao’on’s claim to modernity. Today it is called Shenzhen, a generic city that has moved in less than two decades from a countryside village to a major industrial and commercial hub on the world map. By 2008, the population had grown to 12 million with migrants from all over the world putting their tents and businesses in different corners.
All it took to establish this uncommon transformation was one leader whose trees don’t just grow until seeds are planted, that greatness does not happen to men who think it and then sleep all day. Deng Xiaoping had a dream and dared to wake up to bring it to reality. When everyone saw a tranquil cluster of fishing villages, Xiaoping saw a sprawling city of manufacturing giants and skyscrapers rising from the ground. And he made it happen. This once-upon-a-time-village is today the city of technology entrepreneurs and start-up hubs. Whatever Deng Xiaoping saw 39 years ago has today surpassed his dream of creating China’s first special economic zone. This is the home of Huawei, Tencent, IBM, ZTE and hundreds of other technology giants.
This beautiful transformation and the years it took, of course, will leave a girl like me gaping and gasping. Why not? I’m older than Shenzhen. Nigeria’s independence is older by almost two decades too!
In my gaping and gasping movements, I still held on to my optimism about Nigeria. No big deal, Nigeria can do it too. I shut my eyes and imagined a governor in Nigeria announcing that he was going to build a new city from from bottom that would be a commercial and industrial hub, to accommodate investors, inventors and manufacturers. Can you imagine it? Good, can you also see what will follow such an announcement? A lot of noise, protest, court actions, restraining orders and threats to go to The Hague.
‘The land he wants to take has been in our family for centuries.’
‘Our ancestors were buried there.’
‘The governor just wants to acquire the land and share it to his friends, political acolytes and we won’t let him.’
Then all kinds of groups will put together placards and t-shirts and call reporters as one of them delivers a rehearsed speech of disjointed adjectives. That would be followed by full-frontal attack from the league of professionals, the ones that really went to school and ought to know better. Mostly they would be indigenes (yes, that term is still being used in 2018) of the state capital and or people in the opposition parties. Those ones would not wear T-shirts or march through the streets. They would take their offensive directly to the newsrooms and headquarters of television houses. They would huff and puff.
‘The governor wants to destroy the legacy of our past leaders. ‘He wants to move the state capital somewhere else.’
‘He has an alternative motive. Forget all that talk about creating an industrial city. This is a democracy and we will approach the court.’
And that is how the suit-wearing, self–righteous, all-knowing group rolls. Before you can say `hello’, they would have procured a dozen court injunctions restraining the governor from everything, from peeing to even thinking the project thenceforth.
So, sometimes our leaders have ideas and we the people already pissed off by many things I’d rather not list just yet, just shoot down even the innovative ones. Don’t blame us, our policy is all jammed up with investors, who pretend to be leaders and politicians who do not deliver on their promises.
Everything is all messed up here but we can undo so much right now. All we need do is just copy-and-paste. The governors and ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who accompanied President Muhammadu Buhari to these same cities some months ago, can they just replicate something, just one thing even if it is the mowing of lawns and planting flowers? Just copy and replicate.
You didn’t even ask me what I was doing in China. On the invitation and support of the Chinese Mission to Nigeria, yours sincerely led a delegation of editors to China as part of fulfilling one of the promises of the current EXCO of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.