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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Monday, May 26, 2008

Open letter to my generation

This was originally an email to my Tutu Fellows around Africa but I have edited to fit an open letter mode as I feel the issues are deeper and more complex than my last emotive post would suggest. The challenge of a situation such as this is not only to SA or her leadership but the entire continent.

Dear brothers and sisters,
I wrote this almost a week ago but was unable to send it as we have had total black out in several parts of Lagos as well as attendant problems with telecommunications and Internet connections. This coupled with a stalled economy, complete lack of political direction, militancy, inflation, unemployment, rising crime, rising food and diesel price (which powers generators which we all live on, my older friend has invested over N60m in her business in the past 3 weeks 60% on power, her brand new super industrial generator exploded yesterday). I sing you this little dirge, which is just the story of our unique questionable resilience as Nigerians and perhaps one of the reasons Nigerians are seemingly so aggressive and abrasive to others. It is also the reason for economic migration and the celebrated inexcusable scam artistry and crimes (performed by a small but loud percentage of Nigerians). This state of affairs is the real reason for continued religious, ethic and class intolerance and polarization in Nigeria. The result are flash points of conflict some in the past, as graphic as what we see happening in SA (of course Nigeria does not get as intense an international media scrutiny as SA and perhaps the world's media has disaster fatigue towards Nigeria).

The point I make in usual long torturous manner is that the underbelly of xenophobia, prejudice and exacerbated crime is huge economic disparity, the inability to provide a level ground for all to pursue happiness, injustice (past and present), political brigandry, corruption and graft. This of course is long code for bad leadership although I will continue to be fascinated by the idea of bad and/or complacent or complicit follower ship. This is a global issue but Africa continues to take the cake and make the damn cake in this regard. No country is immune, I have studied Nigeria's slide from a rich, promising, functioning civil nation to this state of suspended anarchy and near total dysfunctionality (no matter what the briefcase economics analysts say with meaningless bars, charts and fancy presentations having dodged bullets and pot holes to make same presentations in a generator powered office without running water). I saw Zimbabwe in her fragile (I had noticed the huge discrepancies of class, resource, color and reality) beauty in 1995 at the All Africa Games and now this, barely a decade later. Ditto Kenya, It may sound alarmist now but no matter how glorious SA may seem now in her promise, she can quickly descend the way of others before her. This will not be a result of single incidences like the current situation but underlying issues of representative economy policies, innovative, enforceable all inclusive education, mass education and orientation on tolerance, (race, religion and nationality), economy dynamism and zero tolerance towards corruption and bad leadership as well as an educated and vigilant follower ship. This underscores the reason for an initiative like AfLI and the need to understand the depth of our unique generational challenge. I am often dismayed by the inability of gifted young people to see the errors of the past, the urgency of the present and the dangers that await us in future.

I am impressed by the debate of the past week and wish we had the kind of powerful African media platform to have raised these issues, that said I do agree that a position paper often comes across as impotent but I disagree about quiet diplomacy, in true African tradition, most of our political leaders should be taken to the village square, read a condemnation from the gods and banished from the empire:-). Yes there are well-meaning leaders but when the house is burning you must not whisper in alarm but shout. The people from whom they borrowed quiet diplomacy are known to loudly abandon it when it becomes expedient for their national or continental interest. The EU is a bastion of diplomacy and point-to-point negotiation built on lessons learnt from centuries of conflicts, agitations and wars. We cannot paper over our problems, they will become gangrenous. True bravery and ensuring progress lies in honest self examination and will to chart a better course based on the wisdom that comes from a real understanding of the non symptomatic issues. Yes I agree that the SA AfLI fellows should practically help on with aid and materials, it appears small but every life counts, beyond that what could also help is sort of like an armchair virtual advocacy which can surprisingly work to effect not only some immediate action but huge awareness and education of those reached. This must be in conjunction with organized and focused on ground country to country advocacy on areas and issues that directly affect development, sort of an ideological revolution.

Also important is the need to identify simple but far reaching policy changes, which can be championed. Finally we must continued to become enlightened and expand the circle of enlightenment perhaps one day some of us will be in the unique position to make those changes and will thus be fully prepared to be these great leaders who builds the good society. However like all muscles, leadership must be practiced at all times or it will atrophy or wear out and certainly be unusable when the race starts.

My prayers for and deepest regards to you all.


AlooFar said...


Now I'm thinking... you should have an African-focused magazine.

This is a b'tful piece, an insightful polemic on the sorry African continent.


Deola said...

I am moved to tears just reading this!!! Africa has a long way to go..

Muyiwa said...

Quoting you Funmi: "Also important is the need to identify simple but far reaching policy changes..."

We all know,what we ought to do..policy wise etc as I believe Nigerians are rather too intelligent not to be able to solve their problems.

But the big question is: who will bell the cat? If identifiable and workable policies are to be implemented, I dare ask: who are the people that will carry such out?

Waiting around the corner are those individuals WHOM we all know,will deliver but they don't have that political power.

I'd rather make some comments about my "dear" country,Nigeria.
I think the main problem in this country is rather that of confusion,misplaced values,gross indiscipline and injustice to mention a few of the elements that have been clogging the wheel of our expected progress.
All these attributes are exhibited by the affluent minorities which also include the teeming masses too.

What gave? what yielded? When? and How? and by whom?

Its after we must have answered all these questions,that we can start identifying policies or what have you...before we can start as a nation with an assured journey beneficial to all.

I know that,all the questions I have raised,suggestions and postulations have been proffered by concerned and humane Nigerians across various divides in this country.

But those who have been holding the jugular vein of this country in their soiled hands, will not let go.

It can be frustrating!
And I also believe others have joined out of frustration following the adage if you cant beat them, you join them.
What has this resulted to?
Of course both the oppressor and the oppressed are all living in perennial fear of the future and we should not all pretend about this reality.

Let Nigerians sheath the sword of corruption and embrace more love, the suffering is getting too much!!
(I havent got light in my office and home since January..my generator is tired of me..as a Nigerian...haba)

Finally our case can be likened to that of a Yoruba proverb that says " A chicken perching on a string is neither steady nor the the string itself,both will be in an uncomfortable continuous motion"

Across Nigeria,our people are in continuous agitation like the test tube in the hands of a lab technician.
May God save Nigeria.

But I know nature does not work to yield beautiful dividends the way we are going....

Bisola said...

Funmi, what can I say? I am tired. I am tired of waiting for this country to get better. I am tired of running a business and trying to hold it all together, when I know the challenges I face are all due to the lack of focus and vision of our leaders, past and present. I am tired of this president 'go slow', who hides behind 'rule of law' and 'due process' in order to hide his confusion and lack of vision.I have said it before, if indeed Yar'adua left N800 mil or whatever amount he claimed to have left in the Katsina kitty, it's because he really had no clue as to what to do with the money and since he's not as greedy as his counterparts, he just left the money, not knowing what else to do with it.

I am frustrated. Frustrated because I do not understand why, if we all can see what is needed to get this country on the right track, our leaders cannot. What is it about the seat of power that makes men and women lose focus and get disconnected from the harsh realities of life in Nigeria?? As you wrote, they can bring all the colorful graphs and carefully edited essays they want, they can quote all the figures they want, they can point to all the influx of foreign investment (oh that 'Nigeria is getting bigger, it is exploding' refrain makes me mad!!!), ask the man on the streets, look into his eyes, you will see in equal measure, despair, hopelessness, anger, hunger and most frightening, hatred. Nigeria is NOT getting better, if anything, the pervasive sense of fear and despair is just as bad as the Abacha years.

I am enraged. Enraged because i am wondering why our leaders cannot see this. Surely it cannot be an easy task running a country like Nigeria but neither is it an impossible one!!! I sincerely believe all it takes is one person with a vision for this country, who is man or woman enough to take a stand and surround himself with like-minded individuals and run with the vision. Is that so hard? Fashola is showing that it can be done in Lagos state. The man still has his work cut out for him but at least, we can see where he is headed and we are willing to support him. But the others???? What is this? There are corrupt men and women in almost every society (America has its fair share), but, as in the case of American, the concern for the common good is often times greater than the concern for the individual's pocket!

I am tired. How many times and in how many ways can i say it? I am tired!!! Running a business that is totally dependent on constant electricity and yet a huge percentage of my income goes to generating same myself!! How am i expected to survive? When i tell people i have no intention of leaving the country and extol all the wonderful attributes of Nigeria, I recognize the lie within myself. The only reason i cannot leave Nigeria is because 1) It is my comfort zone; 2) The business has not grown to a level where it can easily be replicated in another country and 3) After running my business with a modest measure of success here, how can I go to another man's land and start hustling? Where will i start from?
But trust me, as soon as i am able to successfully branch out into other countries, I'm outta here! I've always loved Europe, I'm thinking Rome.....

Beyond writing Funmi, what can we do? Does anyone know what we can do? How can we make our voices heard? How can we force our leaders to act, how can we hold them accountable for their actions and inactions? How do we tell Yar'adua to get off his blipping ass and DO SOMETHING???

Anonymous said...

I am often dismayed by the inability of gifted young people to see the errors of the past, the urgency of the present and the dangers that await us in future.
I confess I'm one of those people that reached a point in life where it was survive any way or die.

Anonymous said...

I frustrated like u do and like other Nigerians.
The only thing which can work for US and for the govt to be on their toes is to march to the state capitals and Aso rock. All of us should sleep their for days and let them know the pains we have been going thru.

Until we tell ourselves the truth, Nigeria will neva move forward. Our religious leaders needs to tell us the truth and not using us to acquire wealth.

Chika said...

Very well written,will come around a bit more often.I'm loving Aunty Funmi's blog!

Nne said...

Music men pop champers and have an undeniable glow...
the leaders say one thing and we all follow follow
i'm sooo far away and cant really really know
so God bless Nigeria, My people, My home.

Complacent, Frustrated, Angry, Tired, Sad, Scared, Charged, Passionate, Hopeful and Hopeless.......Tired of using her words and waiting on the world to change.

naijaleta said...

What is happening in SA is a real shame. What's gone into their heads. Thabo Mbeki is playing the Ostrich as usual.

TinTin said...


i'm speechless!!!

the problems nigeria and africa as a whole has never been so eloquently laid out!

Anonymous said...

good post Funmi.
I believe the main problem with Nigerians is the fact that we are too tolerant of the Government. We as a people have come to the stage where we take total BS from the administration. No light and we sit at home and sigh and then go ahead and get some diesel for the generators. Weak education system, we sigh again and send our kids abroad. Confused health system, yet again we mumble and fly abroad for ur treatment (those who can afford it). And so the Government gets away with everything. We have come to learn to live in a corrupt,unfair and abusive system.
As I always say I can not imagine a NYC without light for 5 mins. The good people of America I know would burn down the White house.