This is a question that popped up in my mind sometime ago while having an intercultural discussion with a Canadian friend. I informed her during the discussion that Education is very cheap in Nigeria when compared to Canada principally due to its subsidized nature by the government. I further stated that most Nigerians, especially in Canada, are highly educated as a result of this and that an average Nigerian in Canada probably holds a minimum of two degrees. I buttressed my point by stating that I attended public schools from primary to University level and earned a Master Degree in Nigeria. The total cost of my formal education, I stated, would probably be under One Hundred Thousand Naira, which is less than $200 (CAD), whereas an average cost for a Master’s Degree program in a Canadian University is about $40,000 (CAD).
During our discussion, a call came in from a childhood friend who is a medical doctor based in the US. After ending the call with my US friend, I informed my Canadian friend that my US friend and I attended the same University of Ibadan and that he was already a consultant at the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital (UCH) before relocating to the US some years ago. This is the point where my Canadian friend asked the question:
“So, who is going to pay back the educational investment you guys benefited from your country since everyone is leaving without paying back”?
This got me thinking for a long time after the discussion. The realization hits me that the question of who pays back what we owe even goes beyond educational investment. It covers the whole sequence of our formative years growing up within the Nigerian environment. It dawns on me that perhaps we have not been giving enough credit to this system that nurtured us into maturity and made us qualified to function as adults both at home and abroad.
One hears it daily, especially form Nigerians resident abroad, ceaseless denigration of Nigeria while praising their host countries and giving it all credit for what they become. But could they have achieved what they achieved without the nurturing and education (formal and informal) that they received as Nigerians in Nigeria? This irony makes me remember a very salient Yoruba proverb which goes thus: “Ogede wo koko ye tan, o wa di igi buruku” (Banana tree was denigrated and outcasted after nurturing Cocoa seedling to maturity).
I’m aware of the fact that our country faces a myriad of difficult and fundamental challenges which spread through the gamut of our daily existence. I’m also aware that most people genuinely have reasons to be angry and disappointed with the way things have turned out in our country. But, be that as it may, we also must be circumspect with expression of such anger and disappointment. Denigrating and cursing our country, as many love to do, is certainly not the way to go about it. I’m personally tired of hearing such poisonous remarks from some Nigerians, especially those in diaspora, who never see anything good in the country. The fact remains that most of us in the diaspora are model citizens in our host countries. We religiously obey their laws and go out of our individual ways to be good people. I always wonder if Nigeria would have turned out the way it is if we all had demonstrated in Nigeria the same level of responsibility we demonstrate in our host countries.
Even though many would not want to admit, the fact remains that we are all responsible, to varying degrees, for the current situation of our country. We have been irresponsible to contribute our quota to the development of Nigeria. Part of that irresponsibility is enjoying the goodwill the country offered to nurture us to maturity without us giving back. We love to claim that Nigeria has not done anything for us, yet most of us enjoyed subsidized education at ridiculously low costs when compared to what obtains in our host countries. We conveniently gloss over the consideration that the well eventually runs dry, no matter how deep it is, if we continually draw from it without replenishing it.
For instance, here in British Columbia Province of Canada, the government would be willing to sponsor a willing applicant for certain professional courses but with conditions. Part of those conditions includes the person necessarily serving the BC government by practicing within the province for a specified number of years after graduation. And this is how it is in most organized systems. But many Nigerians simply relocate abroad after graduation from public institutions without staying to give back to the system. What this means is that while Nigeria invests in human resources, other countries reap the benefits.
Many of us Nigerians possess a rather destructive and retrogressive free lunch and entitlement mentality. We believe the system must always give to us without us realizing the necessity of a give back mentality to balance the system. How many of us ask ourselves how we can give back the quantum of support the country has given us in the past? We are always quick to point out how organized things are in other countries without mentioning the prices being paid by people living in them to realize and maintain such organized system. Those people pay taxes, they obey the laws, they do not blackmail the government for trying to maintain law and order. A seemingly simple act of intimidating a policeman here in Canada carries very stiff penalties. Such was the case of a group of Indians who were recently deported over a seeming act of non-physical intimidation against a Canadian policeman. But in Nigeria, we daily harass, intimidate and physically assault policemen without any incidents.
If we have not been getting it right by continually focusing on what the Nigerian system has done wrong and what it could do to right the perceived wrongs to our persons, maybe it is time we started focusing more on what the system has done right. Maybe it is time we started focusing on how the system has nurtured us and enabled us to function as adults living in Nigeria or outside Nigeria. Maybe it is time we start to acknowledge our indebtedness to the system and appreciate it for nurturing us. Maybe it is time we started focusing on how to pay back the debts of social and cultural investments we all owe the system for a start, before we start asking for more investment from the country.