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Nigeria At 53: WIIFME By Sonala Olumhense

Do you know what WIIFME is?  Let me unveil its colours.

Case in Point 1:

A friend of mine, a senior official of an American university, obtained a considerable grant for education in Africa.  Naturally keen to make an important contribution to the sector in Nigeria, he made preliminary contacts with the Federal Ministry of Education.

Do you know what WIIFME is?  Let me unveil its colours.

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Case in Point 1:

A friend of mine, a senior official of an American university, obtained a considerable grant for education in Africa.  Naturally keen to make an important contribution to the sector in Nigeria, he made preliminary contacts with the Federal Ministry of Education.

Subsequently, he arrived in Nigeria for planning meetings with federal education officials.  The first surprise was to find them dressed in an admixture of impatience and coldness, barely interested in the proposals he had discussed with them. 

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Despite meetings having been scheduled, they were not ready when he arrived.  They were dragging their feet, asking for postponements, and requesting to be briefed afresh. 

“They repeatedly made it clear they wanted their share of the money before they could show interest in the projects,” he told me. 

When he demonstrated his horror, they told him that his most realistic approach was to hand them the money, as they knew Nigeria’s education programmes and challenges better than he did. 

After a second fruitless trip to Nigeria, and with time ticking on the grant, my friend went to Plan B: Ghana.

When he got in touch with the Ministry of Education, it was an entirely different world, he said.   Officials of welcomed him warmly, were deeply grateful that their country had been considered for the opportunity, and pledged every cooperation to ensure that Ghana education was enhanced by the effort.  He went ahead. 

Case in Point II:

An old school mate of mine, who was enjoying tremendous professional success abroad but whose wife was unable to have a baby, decided to adopt a Nigerian child. 

It was a long, difficult process, during which he and his wife had to visit Nigeria repeatedly.  Eventually, they were successful, and a judge granted their application.  That was a particularly happy morning, and they were ready to go out and celebrate.

There was only one problem: the judge’s order needed be typed out for him to sign.  That meant they had to wait for the secretary to type out the official document.  They sat down in the office to wait for her to type out the few lines of information.

And waited…and waited…and waited. 

The lady looked at them, looked away, walked away, and walked back.  She ate, she drank, and she chatted with colleagues.  She clapped, she sang, she prayed. 

The one thing she did not do was lay a finger on that document, as she waited to be approached and “persuaded.”

“I was determined not to part with a penny,” my friend said.  “I knew all the tricks.  Now, if she had been nice, I would certainly have expressed my appreciation because I was so happy and relieved, but to embark on blackmail over her own responsibilities, she was not going to get a penny from me!”

Hours later, when it was clear she was dealing with the wrong customers, she grudgingly began to type.  It was when she got to the bottom of the page that she began to wail. 

“What?  You are an admissions officer in this American university?  Why did you not tell me…I am very sorry…Oh God, my son is looking for admission there…?”

Case In Point III:

I was once approached by a brilliant teenager in Lagos who wanted to become an inventor.  He had come up with a design for processing a local product, and I introduced him to the State government for support purposes.

They showed tremendous interest in his work, but after the initial excitement, he was routinely asked to “come back tomorrow,” or “come back next week.”  By the following year, I had begun to fear that his work was being taken from him, so I had him slip them some information that the work had already been patented.  They threw him out and warned him never to show up again. 

Case in Point 1V:

As I undertook departure formalities at Murtala Muhammad Airport during my last visit to Nigeria, I was accosted for money not once or twice, but nine times.  It seemed to have become established that airport and security officials are free to separate travelers from their money. 

The airport barely functioned.  The Customs area was a mess when I arrived; the luggage conveyor belts barely working.  The place was full of touts.  There was no airconditioning. 

 “Oga, we never chop o!...Oga, you nor give me something?  Oga, do you have anything left for us…”

It is the concept of WIIIFME, that is, What-Is-In-It-For-Me?  WIIIFME defines Nigerian public life and is responsible for our failure to rise.  The country is an ephemeral concept, we think, which can wait.

As Nigeria celebrated her 53rd Independence anniversary last week, somebody asked me if I thought a celebration was in order. 

My view is that it depends on whether you accept the WIIIFME concept or not.  At independence, Nigerians sang lustily a National anthem in which they celebrated their brotherhood and their country.

We sang:

Our flag shall be a symbol

That truth and justice reign,

In peace or battle honour'd,

And this we count as gain,

To hand on to our children

A banner without stain.


That country does not exist anymore: truth and justice, like merit and honour, or character and integrity, are now laughable concepts.  

We asked of God:

Help us to build a nation

Where no man is oppressed,


On the contrary, today, we are happy to oppress whoever we can.  The hopes of that Nigeria are buried in the pestilence of the present where we trade in hypocrisy. 

We claim we want “To serve our fatherland, With love and strength and faith… heart and might…” but we invest in self.  We do not say, “This is for Nigeria and that is the only justification,” we think, WIIIFME?

When you think about it, airport officials as well as policemen on the highway who fleece travelers the whole year through ought to be rich, but they never are.  They are like the politicians who lie and cheat and steal, but then flee into hiding behind armed guards and equally corrupt policemen, denied of peace. 

Watch “top” Nigerians at public events say with a straight face:

“I pledge to Nigeria my country
To be faithful, loyal and honest
To serve Nigeria with all my strength
To defend her unity and uphold her honor and glory…”

They lie.  They know they lie.  They know you know they lie, all the time thinking of their offices: WIIIFME?

To be faithful, loyal and honest?  Really?  What about the Nigerians dying on our roads everyday while we fly?  What about the Nigerians flooded out of their homes and villages last year whom we dumped in alien shanties and abandoned?  What about the families and communities shot to pieces by Boko Haram or the students who spend more time at home than in school?  What about Nigerians who cannot find jobs, or even decent hospitals?

But it is not only about public officials.  How about parents who try to smuggle their children into certain schools or age-group teams knowing they are unqualified?   How about people who refuse to participate in determining those who would best serve the public interest, but who complain endlessly about how bad things are?  What about Nigerians who neglect their own efforts, preferring to wait on handouts from relatives abroad?

The truth is that while 1960 was a major landmark in our story, Nigeria will never make progress until Nigerians stop being hypocritical about the concept of public interest. 

Are you WIIIFME?


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