Shaping The Future You Want By Okey Ndibe

Okey Ndibe

It’s customary to mark the beginning of each year with prayers for ourselves and good wishes for our closest friends and relatives. Some pray for health, for wealth, for professional accomplishments, and for such social dividends as loving relationships and blissful marriages. But we go beyond these decidedly personal dreams. We wish for our leaders to rise to our expectations. We hope that our country would be rid of corruption. We pray that the poor should find food to eat, that our hordes of unemployed graduates should find good jobs, and that Nigeria may be a less violent place. And we wish for fewer deaths on our roads, in our ill-equipped hospitals, and by Boko Haram.

In that spirit, I’d like to wish my readers a blessed New Year. I hope that your deepest, best dreams come true in 2013.

But there’s something better, much better, than extending these good wishes to you. It is this: to challenge each and every reader to imagine a better future – and then work to achieve it. All too often, the dreams that excite us are within grasp. They merely demand that we invest time and energy in order to translate them into reality.

Achieving any kind of change, but especially positive change, is hardly ever a passive undertaking. Change depends on action and demands much more than wishful thinking. It requires a readiness to transform ourselves, to shed negative attitudes, and to do what it takes.

People are apt to understand this connection between action and achievement when it pertains to their personal aspirations. Think, for a moment, about the people you know who became excellent medical doctors, inspiring teachers, first-class architects, outstanding writers or extraordinary musicians. Often, they started dreaming at quite young ages about what they wanted to be when they grew up. And, having identified their goal, they spent a lot of time preparing themselves. They read tomes of books in their desired field or practiced and practiced until they attained mastery.

Many (perhaps most) people understand that hard work is significant for success in personal pursuits. Unfortunately, when it comes to social aspirations – for example, the lessening of poverty or corruption – many of us lose sight of their deep personal role. My message to my readers today is simple: each and every one of them can – and must – learn the art of being change agents. If we want a better Nigeria in 2013, we had better get cracking to achieve it.

Each year, I get invited a fair number of times to talk to Nigerian groups in different parts of the world. What strikes me about my audiences is their depth of outrage at the level of corruption in Nigeria. Hardly do I meet anyone who rises to defend the country’s sorry state and shape. Instead, they regale me with sad, saddening stories about their humiliating experience as Nigerians. There are the ubiquitous narratives of run-ins with bribe-guzzling officers of the Nigerian police or customs. There are stories about the virtual absence of decent hospitals back home. And you hear about the ghastly, potholed roads, and about governors who do relays abroad to buy up choice real estate and to deposit more loot in foreign banks.

I make a point of asking my Nigerian audiences to pause for a moment and think about the kind of Nigeria they’d like to see. The answers I receive are often as varied as the number in the audience, but certain ideas stand out.

Some want political parties to choose candidates with impressive ethical credentials – and then they want credible elections. Some want the Nigerian police and customs to cease their harassment of innocent citizens. Some wish that governments at all levels would be accountable to the people. Some want to see an end to Boko Haram’s incessant, hideous killing of innocents. Some desire a Nigeria where electric power is regular, citizens are spared the plague of armed robbery, and healthcare is both effective and affordable.

These are ambitious goals, especially given where Nigeria stands at the moment. Even so, they are feasible goals. Two elements are required to achieve these goals. One is a huge, dramatic shift in the way Nigeria’s public officials think and act. No question. Instead of acting like Frantz Fanon’s “contemptible fools” all-too willing to betray their generation’s mission, public officials ought to realize that the soundest policy, everything considered, is to serve the public good.

But I’m willing to argue that the second element – the force of individual resolve and personal example – is just as important. It behooves citizens, especially enlightened ones, to conduct themselves in ways that are consistent with the society they envision.

Let’s take one example: corruption. This pathology thrives in Nigeria, I suggest, because too many citizens have accepted the logic of its inevitability and vitality. Nigerians complain about the ever-present police road blocks on highways where officers hound motorists for hand-outs. We complain, but too many of us also confess to helpless participation in this rite of harassment. We’re not in the least elated by the extortionist scheme, but we perpetuate it by quickly dipping into our pockets to extend cash to the road-blocking officers.

Yet, part of the solution is for good men and women to refuse to feed a practice they find unacceptable. We must be prepared to say no! We don’t owe a kobo to police officers, and we should not permit them to intimidate us into parting with our cash.

Of course, saying no won’t be an easy walk. Let me illustrate with a personal experience. In 2002, I was driving a relative’s car to a meeting with an editor in Lagos when the police stopped me at the busy Oshodi hub. They demanded the vehicle’s registration, and I provided it. The most senior officer asked that I open the hood of the car. He peered into it and then strode over to tell me he suspected the car stolen. I replied that I had not stolen the car and I was certain its owner did not steal it either. The officers’ demeanor suggested that the whole game was about haranguing me to give some money. I was determined not to go there. I demanded that they take me to their station and have me booked if they really believed I was a robber.

Instead, the four officers took turns persuading me to “settle” the matter there and then and move on. They sought to shake my stubbornness with horror stories of what would happen to me if they took me to their station. “Dem go so beat you, your mama no go know you again,” one said. I calmly retorted that the police had no right to beat a suspect; their job was to arrange my arraignment.

To shorten a long story, they kept me at Oshodi for an hour and forty minutes. Thanks to their abuse of power, I was extremely late for my meeting. Of course, I was irate throughout the encounter, even though I maintained an exterior calm. In the end, the commanding officer resorted to abuse. “See this one,” he told his subordinates, sweeping me with his eyes. “Make ’e carry him wahala dey go; ’im head no correct!” He and the other officers guffawed at the rustic insult.

It was bad enough that men paid by the public to enforce the law would seek to harass an innocent citizen with spurious allegations of theft. But I was more troubled, still, by the response of many friends as well as my students at the University of Lagos, where I was teaching at the time as a Fulbright scholar. Most harped on the delay that I suffered, and said I should have quickly offered twenty or a few more naira to continue on my way.

I found the counsel that I should have bribed the officers rather sickening. I could easily afford handing out fifty or a hundred naira, but the principle of not offering bribes was quite important. The police would take notice if more and more citizens declared their resistance to this culture of handing money to uniformed extortionists. Besides, there was something wacky about rewarding four officers with cash for accusing me of driving a stolen car! Finally, if the officers believed the car was stolen, why were they willing to let a potential thief go scot-free?

Instead of sitting around this year and hoping that others will make our wishes come true, let’s all resolve to be the change we dream and desire. Doctors should resolve to make the care of patients the core of their practice. Teachers should resolve to prepare well for their classes, and to refrain from selling grades for sex or cash. Police officers should enforce the law, not use force on law-abiding citizens. Students should apply themselves to their studies rather than buying good grades. Civil servants should be both civil in mien and ready to serve; they should be at their desks instead of dawdling about. Drivers should not take to the wheels after drinking themselves to stupor. Parents should teach their children, in words and deeds, that good conduct is its own reward. Legislators should think about ways to use the instrument of laws to improve society. Judges should resolve to consider cases on their merit, not on the strength of the cache of cash from well-heeled litigants.

If we make these individual acts of resolution to do good rather than ill, we are bound to come ever closer to the kind of society we can be proud of. I wish you a New Year in which positive change takes shape in your imagination and then flowers in your conduct each day.

Okey Ndibe (
Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe


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Well said Dr. Ndibe. The

Well said Dr. Ndibe. The Nigeria of your dreams is also the Nigeria of my dreams. But to resolve the various issues is not as easy as said. Nigeria is such a special country where no theory works. Except a revolution or a Ghana-like cleansing, we will continue to talk about these issues but nothing will change. Things will even get worse by my calculation. A few weeks ago, the police beat me up, broke my medicated glasses, seized my cellphone, tore my shirt for an act I did not realize is an offense in Nigeria - snapping photo shots while the police were arresting and packing dozens of okadas into a trailer. I am not a journalist but I just wanted to capture the scene, which was my undoing. My lawyer asked me to thank God that I was not shot. Who should I now report to, GEJ? Thank you all the same for your insight.

Thanks Brother Okey. The

Thanks Brother Okey. The truth is that some people have tried not to bribe poliemen and this has landed them in trouble. Have you forgotten the case of APO6? eIGHT YRS AFTER, NOTHING TANGIBLE HAS BEEN HEARED.

There are so many cases of police labelling people robbers becuase they refused to part with money. Some have died and nothing was done.

Like minds ....

Like minds who genuinely and sincerely are willing to make effort, show commitment and make sacrifices must come together and strategise to achieve meaningful and collective change. The individual approach will always suffer from the broom concept. United we shall prevail. We need like minds to promote positive Change....

dear sir. very thought

dear sir. very thought provoking. however, this is a tall order especially for my generation 'nd those coming behind. why? simple - there're too few principled individuals who are, how shall i say it... principled.

My old encounter with soldiers

I was in form-1 in 1973. After a military coup or so, I went to the post-office to mail a letter. The post-office was close to the governor's house, as such a new military tank was guarding the place with a number of soldiers.
Being a young boy, it was the first time that I would be so close to a tank. So I used the opportunity to stop and moved closer to the wired fence that surrounded the governor's house. The officers argued among themselves upon seeing me. So they called me in, and I went to them. I was not afraid because I was merely looking at the battle tank. One of the officers said I was a spy, and wanted to deal with me. So their boss asked me a number of questions about Nigeria's geography which I answered correctly, and they let me go. Today with dependents on my shoulders, I am not sure if I could make do with much resistance. But if fired up, I would, with my breathe, push back a tank!!

Dear Okey Ndibe (2)

....... i quickly produced my international passport, my office ID Card and my bank cards when they claim my passport could have been forged, next thing i was asked to declare all the cash i had with me and justify how i got the money, to cut the long story short we were arrested and taken to the police station and labelled 419ners, the DPO on duty threatened to shoot us if we dont cooperate and my inlaw and i were locked up for possessing about $6,700.00 in cash after i had been cleared by customs @ the airport (note, i just got in from US for my wedding). It took the effort of several family members some of which were journalist before we were released the next day. I dont think I'll be looking forward to visit Nigeria again.

Dear Okey Ndibe (1)

I wish you a happy new year, I will like to point out that I am a believer in your vision for Nigeria. I respect most of your write ups and give you kudos for speaking about (wiriting) what you believe in. After reading your personal experience in 2002 (2002?, that was ages ago sir.. the police were not as brutal as they are right now),  I'd say  you were VERY lucky. I exprienced something similar in 2007, I just flew into Nigeria from the US to get married to my childhood sweetheart, i was picked up from the airport by my new brother-inlaw who worked in a bank, we were stopped along the airport road by the police mounting a road block in broad day light, after requesting for all the documents you can imagine, i was asked to prove my identity,........

Simply brilliant. I hope each

Simply brilliant. I hope each one of us will realize that we are the change we so much desire. We are also the agent of the change. It is not complimentary for us as a people to keep condescending to these I moral behaviour and at the same time complain that we are not move forward as a nation. Our major problem is that we are too individualistic and simplistic to major issues bordering on crime and unity. This is why at the beginning of the Boko Haram menace, everybody looked at it as a Jonathan problem until it became a national disgrace and an open sore.

Thank you Sir. I´ll keep that

Thank you Sir. I´ll keep that in mind.


I share your ideas Okey. I'm inspired by your words as usual. Let each of us play his own part well and things will be better for us in Nigeria. We should endeavour to do good and resist evil. Thanks!


I don't know you man. I've never red anything that you've wrote but I can see good in you from your word. yes, a lot of Nigerians do have very nice word, they write very extraordinary but from what you wrote here I feel what you fee man. is not the matter of saying the country should be change but is the matter of walking the talk. saying and not acting is rather fucking not giving a damn what is going on. you really inspire me thank you a lot. i hope all of your student would take this good heart of yours and open minded. and at last i hope you are the person in your word.


I don't know you man. I've never red anything that you've wrote but I can see good in you from your word. yes, a lot of Nigerians do have very nice word, they write very extraordinary but from what you wrote here I feel what you fee man. is not the matter of saying the country should be change but is the matter of walking the talk. saying and not acting is rather fucking not giving a damn what is going on. you really inspire me thank you a lot. i hope all of your student would take this good heart of yours and open minded. and at last i hope you are the person in your word.

The Governance Fantasy

There is need for us all to change. We ask for this one thing from president Jonathan. That is the need to change his ways this year. We want him to stand up to the looters devouring our country. We want him to be clear about his plan for Nigeria in the new year. When people fantasize about governing Nigeria, all ideas flow through. as soon as they are given the opportunity, they fantasize about getting very wealthy.

Crux of the matter!

We all know what we are supposed to do, but we're just used to doing the wrong things. And that's why we're where we are.

In your example, most of us won't be ready to go to the police station because of what we'll face there. The officers there will make sure you're detainde, you won't be able to contact your family, etc. How many of use are ready for such trouble - more so if we can pay our way out of it?

Here's the crux of the matter!!!

Bribe, You delve straight

You delve straight into the crux of the matter.
How many of us would rather lose an air flight than quickly part with a N20 to a bunch of rogues in police uniform?
How many students would rather suffer another extra-session in campus rather than cave into the demands of the lecturer for cash or in-kind?
How many of us would rather go through the rigors of a driving school and patiently apply for a drivers license without going through the "back door".

Seriously, the systems makes it near impossible to play the good conscionable citizen without suffering one form of loss or the other.
The reason why leadership must take up the gaunlet to make this change process have dramatic impact.
After all, the fish rots from the head.
Capsize, I'm done!

Okey, you have goofed in so many ways in d write up

Okey my Okey, you hav gooffed in so many ways in dis write up. Cud it be age dat is setting in?
These are ur "gooffings"
1. Of d many wishes of 'Nigerians' is a very important one whic u chose nt to mention - that continent Nigeria disintegrates into its component countries.
2. U refuse to give 20 naira at d cost of a bullet. I wud prefer d risk of receiving d bullet at the camp of MEND or any other noble secessionist group.
3. Ur belief dat 'Nigeria' is a country is sad nd strange. It is not. Its a continent. Until we deliver ourselves from dis spirit of self delusion, we wil continue to hav continental problems like Boko haram,corruption,dollar in cap senators etc.
Long liv d United Republic of the SS&SE


very interesting write-up, I love it.

Meaty Advice

I wish most Nigerians read this well-written article and make action-backed resolutions for 2013 and beyond.

best thoght

okey may God continue to lift you upper for your useful thought to your readers, happy new year!!

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