There is a fire of optimism among many young Nigerian returnees. A good number of them are filing through Lagos’s Murtala Muhammed Airport with grand optimism. A few months back, this was my reality. My optimism was kindled first by the electoral results which asked Nigerians to risk hoping again. Also, the opinions in many business dailies which detailed the business opportunities in Nigeria could not be discarded. Caveat: the purpose of this piece is not to challenge these views, instead the piece begs for nuance regarding the problem areas still in need of change. This is important for it is left to ‘we the people,’ to advance solutions to these problems.
Let me explain. I arrived in Bwari, a town in the middle of nowhere, for my law school, in June. Upon arrival, I was rudely reacquainted with the very real challenges that exist in Nigeria. In my halls of residence, we had no running water. This problem was ameliorated by virtue of the informal industry of paid helps who did jobs ranging from; fetching bathing water, cleaning our rooms and if required, washing our laundry. Although paid workers, I was struck by the palpable signs of poverty plastered on their faces.
I will present the case of “Omo Miracle.” Omo Miracle was my “support staff” at the law school. I paid her a competitive rate for her services (often chided by my peers as being excessive). I took interest in her work and soon noticed how she carried out her duties. For instance, she will balance heavy buckets of water on her neck. I could not help wondering how she could achieve this feat. Surely, her neck, once fragile, had been toughened by several years of undesired but imposed neck exercises, such that the task was normal for her. The sheer indignity of her job got me thinking; where do people such as Omo Miracle fit within a ‘Nigeria rising’ story? Heart-breaking.
I cannot help but wonder whether Omo Miracle will ever be able to afford sending her children to the Nigerian Law School – an expensive institution even by middle class standards. The more enlightened in society should therefore demand an explanation from our leaders, as to what exactly change is? When we obtain this definition, we must vigorously guard its execution. Beyond the government, what steps can private individuals take to better the plight of the Omo Miracle’s in Nigeria - people who have an enviable capacity for hard work but have not been met by opportunity.
Nevertheless, Omo Miracle motivated me while at the law school. You see, despite the opulence around her, well exemplified by some of the students she served, she found dignity in her labour. I hope she finds satisfaction. I remember when I was leaving Bwari for good, she was saddened. She went on to pray for my success – even though she is unsure of what success resembles for her. This touched me. It showed the beauty of this Nigerian spirit. Those who have been dealt a better deal in life, in my opinion, have a responsibility to work for the success of those less favoured by mother Nigeria.
I do not pretend to have the perfect analysis of my experience with Omo Miracle. Neither can I postulate on the exact lessons to be learned from her life. However, I think one must remember that, moving back is not and should never be for selfish advancement alone. If one has been privileged to get an education or advance their station in life, I think the more pressing question is what steps you are taking to empower others to also climb their personal ladders. It is then and only then, that we can say that Nigeria is truly on the rise. I fear that if we fail to empower the Omo Miracles of this world, we fail also to empower Nigeria and our lives herein.
Mitchell Aghatise is a lawyer-in-training. He holds a Master of Laws degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He writes primarily to spark conversations which provide solutions to social problems. He can be reached on: Twitter @mr_mitch_a and email via firstname.lastname@example.org