As a young girl growing up in Nigeria, many of the social, political and economic issues, now at the heart of society, were far from my mind. Life was carefree and bliss. I specifically remember giggling as my uncle lifted me up unto his back to watch as a masquerade paraded the streets. Laughter would quickly turn into high pitched shrieks each time he feigned to hand me over to it. I would gaze up at the clear blue skies watching as aeroplanes flew by, wondering what it looked like inside. All the children who lived on our road played together and we relied on one another for entertainment. We played using marbles, danced to the sounds of HipLife which emanated from an old stereo and listened to folk stories. I found comfort and security in my community and in my family. We looked after each other. Whenever there was a football game, crowds of people gathered to watch the match through our window, praying that NEPA would not ‘take the light’! I could also buy food using Kobo, the Nigerian coin currency which no longer exists. A few months before my 10th birthday, my mother revealed to myself and my siblings that we had been granted a visa to live abroad in the UK and that we would be moving to join my father who had already been living in the UK. My first thought was, ‘Finally! I’ll be able to go on one of those aeroplanes!’ but of course, I would also miss my childhood friends whom I would leave behind.
Almost 15 years have gone by since we left Nigeria. In that time, I have often heard a similar question asked among family, friends and other fellow Nigerians. Can there really be a change? The frequency and manner in which this question is asked about Nigeria and indeed Africa at large, exposes an underlying uncertainty in the minds of those who long to see a real change come to fruition. On paper, what we know to be the second largest and most populous economy in Africa (hence its nickname ‘Giant of Africa’), a country with great wealth from its oil reserves, is by contrast not what we see. After fighting to gain independence in 1960-merely 54 years ago, one could naturally have assumed that the country now under leadership of its own people would henceforth thrive. However, Nigeria has since struggled to provide consistent and appropriate levels of education and infrastructure. Perhaps doubts as to whether change is possible are not misplaced when we observe the acute lack of jobs and ineffective learning provisions for the young. Poverty levels among the majority remain high.
On the other hand, there have been a number of notable positive changes. The banking and telecoms sectors have created middle-class growth. In some parts of my state, many main roads have lost potholes and houses are being built. The development of Abuja as the a leading modern capital continues apace. Foreign investors are being attracted by the potential of a growing consumer market – set to surpass the United States in terms of population by 2050. So, perhaps all is not doom and gloom. There are still problems but having seen the small and sometimes larger developments that have been made in Nigeria, there is much hope. Might the next phase of change rest in the hands of our young people? By beginning to arm ourselves with the right values, knowledge and expertise, no matter where we are located in the world, we will have an important role to play. So, can there really be a change in Nigeria? I believe so. But first, we must become the change.
Edited by Kenny GB