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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, October 29, 2007

THE GOOD SOCIETY (be warned that it is a thesis so read the links and come to class early for top marks)

Last week I read this piece from Ebuka (big brother Nigeria heartthrob, lawyer, TV anchor and columnist), a few days later I received this link from the enigmatic thinker Wale Ajadi. He then commented. In response Tunji Lardner, who is an exceptional being added.

As read, I called up everything I had been sent or downloaded on China (buy yourself a MAC mate) and found this piece from Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealla sent to me a year ago by Hafsat Abiola Costello. So 5am I am sitting in front of my computer thinking about it all and recalling two extraordinary conversations I had during the week as well as what I hope are the system perfecting intrigues in the Nigerian political scene.

Over the weekend I had attended the opening of another posh VI based café knowing it will soon go the moribund way of many before it, just as I knew before hand that my friends lovely but upscale and unsustainable exhibition on same day was going to get a lukewarm reception. The only event that had a product with the likelihood of success was a movie premier and an album launch. This knowledge did not give me joy, on the contrary it quietens my spirit mainly because I know that the solution is a simple but collective mindset shift, such that can ensure progressive competition on a lager scale which may translate into success stories such as the Chinese. Why will those ventures and have many more before failed? They aimed to service those who have money forgetting that majority of Nigerians cannot afford a 500-naira coca cola habit. It seem to me that the question of how to get those with money paying exorbitant fees for my goods and services is counterproductive in our context because there is only so far you can milk the one cow when there are millions of lean cows in the field waiting to be fattened and milked. The question to me should be how do I get money into the hands of the poor so that I can take it back from them. Hang on I no dey crase; I'm making a point.

I have never felt rich; in my culture one rich man amongst the multitude poor is himself a poor man (olowo kan laarin awon otosi, otosi ni ohun na). There is no denying that we are a poor nation, the rich wants to bury his mother, we all get dressed in our aso ebí, risk life and limb travelling on bad roads to dirt poor villages where he has recently supplied water and electricity for the purpose of the party. As the carnival train moves through the village, take a good look at the gawking villagers in their rags. Those are the nearest relatives of the "rich" man. This is true for all of us. Where and how does my father, my grandmother, my aged uncle and my "poor" cousins live? How many people are of necessity dependent on me and naturally unable to tell me the truth or be human equals with me as a result of such dependency. In fact where do I live? Wealth is not in the possessions you have but the quality of life that sets you higher each day from an animal. By this yardstick we are all poor. Admitting that to ourselves is liberty because next time we see that school in our neighbourhood where the children move to a corner every time it rains, we would feel a sense of shame and perhaps be galvanized into action by the thought of "see how OUR children school, not see how those children school".

Once that is settled, we have learnt the greatest lesson in development and greatness. It is the backbone of true humility when one truly deeply believes that the needs, opinions and interests of everybody else is as important as his or her own. Everybody counts, there are no messiahs, no special ones, just different people with similar needs which when met on a base collective level can provide the platform for productive competition on a human level. This no post modern Miss I's pseudo marxist/socialist/thinly disguised communist theory. It is the underlining basis of development for all functioning communities and nations of the world. Our mentality of personal good over collective good is the biggest impediment to development whether we choose the Chinese model or find the unique Nigerian model. Our continuous failures as a nation whether in terms of wellbeing of the people, or growing competitive brands and services which serve majority and therefore is paid by majority is a clear sign that the personal good model is unsustainable, medieval and an embarrassment.

What then is collective good?
Shall we continue this lecture tomorrow?

Class assignment? It is right there in front of you.

Class dismissed ☺!


SimonSmethMac said...

I've been looking into the stats of Nigeria, China etc with Wale and found some interesting facts.

In Nigeria there are 95.6 million people who live on less than a dollar a day. So lets compare that to China (the great economic miracle) and India (also considered an economic miracle.)

In China 219.4 million people (more than teh whole population of Nigeria) live on less than a dollar a day and 391 million in India.

If you extend this up to less than 2 dollars a day, hardly a big difference.
Nigeria: 124.7 million
China: 617.3 million
India: 902.7 million

So which country is really the poorest in terms of money?

Ms. May said...

Hi Funmi. I hope you're well! I read all the time but def had to comment on this one especially because I'm working on my b-school application essays and i tell you, it may be hard to beleieve, but those things have forced me to be really reflective and figure out what i want to do with my life so that i can articulate it clearly enough and hopefully get in to a great school. Anyway, one of the essays I wrote had me thinking about this whole idea of personal and collective good, and i came to the conclusion that as Nigerians, that is probably our biggest failing - we do not recognize that helping the community - strangers and family alike - means helping yourself. And even moreso, it led me to think, is truly wanting to help the community and striving for the greater good something that is inherent or can it be learned? Anywa, I'll stop here before I write a paper. I'm off to read the links in your post, perhaps they'll have some answers. I hope you're well, and maybe we'll meet when I'm in Niaja this Xmas.

Funmi Iyanda said...

@ 1st comment, (cant see the name properly). my personal person, surely you completely miss the point, 1st this is not about China, the references to China is in terms of how they have continued to defy odds and break new grounds in spite of their handicaps so that we can take inspiration from that to forge ahead despite our shortcomings. Then let me get you straight, are you saying that we should glorify and cheer in the fact that we have so many poor or that having as many poor as those working assiduosly to reduce the numbers legitimizes poverty? surely that is like throwing a party for being the penultimate last. you don confuse me patapata.

@ ms may, ah, l see you have examined the issue of nurture against nature in this context. one of my friends retreats under the climate argument ie the fact that finding the collective good is central to the survival of races in temperate regions which ensures they learn it. Question is, what about non temperate properous democracies. more research abi? december is a date.

soul said...

There road in front of your house has a pothole
Do you:
a) inform and wait for the local govt to fix it
b) band together as a community to fix it
c) buy a jeep (better shock absorption), then attend a community meeting and say.. ahhh 'wetin u people dey complain about, I don't feel anytin in my jeep', This is a poorman problem.

I think unfortunately, the typical response is option C, and there in lies a big problem.

In Naija, a lot of the time, we blame the victim for the problem.

If I complain about nepa or phcn or whatever, people will laugh and say..ahh hhnnnn se u no get generator?.

For years we have had a power problem, yet we live in a country that borders the sahara.
Solar energy is at our doorstep, and what have we done?.

Why don't we issue a challenge to universities across the country. or to the public (as in the average joe/joanna bloggs).

Come up with a model or an idea, for cheap, sustainable prototype/alternative to the expensive solar panels.
This does one of a number of things..
1) it gets our creative minds thinking
2)it utilises homegrown talent to provide a home grown solution.
3)and utilises local materials to provide said solutions.

Now I have no idea how anyone arrived at the GDP of Nigerians. Especially in a country where jobs and earning can be quite fluid.
i.e. I am a teacher, I officially earn X per year, however it is expected that I have another job or another income stream.. are these things taken into account?.

SimonSmethMac said...

No I am saying no such thing. My point is that the issue needs to be changed. People talk of Africa as a poor place (and indeed there are a lot of people living on less than a dollar a day) and only as a poor place, and it thinks of itself as such. China on the other hand has hundred of millions more people in poverty but no one talks of this. Instead they talk of the success, the healthy economy, it does not talk itself down and neither does the world.

Nigeria can do great things, but as you and Ms. May so rightly put it they understand that co-operation is more powerful than competition. Nigeria is the ultimate competition society, everyone is in competition with each other, this needs to change. Nigeria's economy is booming, low goverenment debt 15.7% of GDP compared to the UK's 42.7% and the US's 64.7% and huge foreign reserves $42.3 billion dollars comparable to that of the UK and US. The challenge is how is this translated to the average woman and man on the street.

SimonSmethMac said...

GDP is notoriously unreliable, but it's the measure people use to say countries are rich or poor. GDP fails to measure the so called informal economy, so that is the street sellers, and many markets. It's estimated that 60% of Nigeria's economy is actually in the informal sector and so using GDP as a measure of the countries wealth or productiveness undersestimates by 60% or more.

GDP figures are also nearly all estimated based on IMF and World Bank models that are aimed at Western economies.

Sherri said...

as much as i agree with the issues raised, i would also like to point out that the naija economy continue to defy economic theories despite the odds. the absence of basic infrastructures is a major debacle and will continue to be untill there's a shift in the mentality of the people.
perhaps, nationalism is the step in the right direction?
regarding the companies/goods catering to the rich, the more of those we have the trickle down effect might actually make a difference.

Schools Out...Life starts! said...

GDP, PPP, Reserves etc, yes they do serve their purpose for classroom economics, newspaper captions and high end boardroom powerpoint presentations but instead of grammer, why cant we take a hint from ghandi's idea of a village based economy rather than the popular top down economic view point that india settled for (of which many young indians would say; "at its own perile")

I rush to the library on weekends to read news about home and believe me, Thisday never misses to update in pompous diction, our ever incrasing reserves (of which i have no worries with; in fact, it warms me up when i walk back to my room in the dreadful cold).

Calling my mother on the other hand, i get the "Down town Bariga to Eko", struggling single mum picture of things. Doesnt it make sense for us as a people to work at effectively empowering these Hoard of millions poor, and as Miss I said "get this money back" to build the economy? I mean, reserves are in accounts and only help to make the so called co-operate Nigerians to get richer!

I admit i'm the "studying abroad" crew which some argue is ignorant of homeland issues but isn't my suggestions logical?

soul said...

"GDP fails to measure the so called informal economy, so that is the street sellers, and many markets. It's estimated that 60% of Nigeria's economy is actually in the informal sector and so using GDP as a measure of the countries wealth or productiveness undersestimates by 60% or more."

Exactly Simon, exactly!.
Again, this is an equation which does not fit us but which is being used to measure us. Of course the results themselves will not be in our favour....

Anonymous said...

there are so many things wrong with nigeria and this is just one of them. another issue to contend with the idea of a thriving maintenance culture - the notion that things can break and they need to be fixed so these eventualities must be taken into account well in advance. if there's a problem with the London Underground, it gets fixed. if there's a pothole on a Nigerian road, it expands.

moving on, let's imagine that a considerable chunk of the well-off or well-meaning do what they can to improve schools, roads, amenities, etc. who's going to bear the financial burden of maintaining them? what constitutes 'doing your bit'?

to refer back to soul's example - it's more convenient to buy a generator (assuming you can afford one) if you have a problem with irregular power supply. at least you know the costs involved (diesel, maintenance, maintenance, maintenance) and you're prepared to pay the price. how do you manage that on a larger scale? you can't distribute generators to your neighbors - who's going to pay for their upkeep? it's difficult to overhaul the (pathetic) energy industry (if we want to attack the root of the problem and not just lop off one of its many branches) so how do you even begin? how much will it cost? if we had cost analysts saying we need 3bn to improve on the energy industry with a proposal for its sustenance, i would readily give my 2 kobo. as it is, i don't know where to give or who to give.

the 'every man for himself, God for us all' mentality is very much at play here. but it makes sense, doesn't it? it's going to take diligent, persistent people to see Nigeria through. we can't expect the well-off to be the saviors because their money/time isn't really an investment if there are no schemes in place to foster whatever it is they're devoting their money/time to. nigeria's problems are interwoven and complex. it's not simply a matter of wanting to improve on education and offering it for free. who's going to help poor students pay for their books? uniforms? food? transport?

where is the bloody government in all this, anyway?!


Naapali said...

Collective good and personal good are not mutually exclusive. If anything personal wealth is often enhanced by collective wealth (the corollary to the yoruba axiom of the solitary rich person being poor also). I believe short sighted greed and instant gratification plague Nigeria to near death. No one who should cares about the lack of an education system, or healthcare system. The rich think they can afford to fly abroad. Until they or their kin die in a car accident from easily treatable wounds. What use is a Ferrari on potholed roads?

Funmi Iyanda said...

@simon, got you, we are on the same page just different paragraphs as yet. Yes we must stop the self flagellation which is just a convenient excuse for our cowardly apathy. the mentality that might work would be "so we are poor, so what? just you wait and watch as we fix things and kick your ass too whilst at it". However, me l don tire of bloody economic theories which do not understand our unique challenges and the duplictous, irritant econo-political numbskulls with cloying accents who regurgitate them whilst colluding with political retards.

@sherri, l must share an interesting anecdote by lee kwan yu concerning Nigeria and Okotie Eboh in 1968 with you so we all lay to rest once and for all that model of tickle down. It never has, it never will and the idea of a multitude waiting on the trickling droppings of an over bloated entity is one of the reasons we are were we are. who will tell the king that he is naked when the next pittance is at his whim?

@soul, For me it is about working with as many people as possible to get into a different frame of mind perchance one such might end up in a position of leadership to perpetuate such changes. better still we can begin to grow strategic power and resource base to position and police such people. it is a long shot but hey...meanwhile surely if more and more of us adopt these principles in our work and personal lives, isint a conciousness growing?

@lekan, chop knuckle jo! Na reserve we go chop? Person no get work pass government, no get industry, no get trade, e dey declare trilloins in assets and tell me about GDP. Ewu tief, na becos una neva no stone am for market square.

@bunmi, it doesnt make sense o, it is the ostrich burying its head in the sand to ward off danger. We must stop looking at the poor as an entity that must be pitied and assisted, the poor are our relatives, our communities, ourselves. We must engage the poor, we must engage ourselves, then we can remove the issue of poverty and begin to see viability. That is what China is doing, what India is doing, yes they have a majority poor but they are also engaging all their people, poor, rich and middle rich (shrimp language) to increase productivity and grow enterprise. They have miles to go but they are on the way. The only people they are not engaging are the proven frandulent as you know with China, they execute those and me l say good on them. We must start out on a similar journey. The government? no be our brothers and sisters? wich day we wan call them to order?

@all, l however do think that somehow, out of all these will emerge something great. l am constantly interacting with more and more people who give me hope but then that my yeye id asks, are you sure you just dont attract that type. c'mon get thee behind...:-)

Anonymous said...

FMI Intl Plc...(Phd???)

Fantastic piece.. Great responses. Maybe u should get Charles on here to get some perspective. Adoring ur writing more by the day. I want to come home jare.

Iyaeto said...

Funmi. Off point again. Finally the "hairdresser" has resigned!!!

Onibudo said...

Albert Einstein's view that we cannot fix todays problem with the mindset with which it was created comes to mind. There is a level at which we elevate victimhood and encourage cynicism to excuse our fear of failure. We think our country ought to be great but we only want to sacrifice what is convenient. The Nigerian project is a phenomenal experiment that needs not just passion which we have in abundance but well thought out ideas and yes discipline of being able to use all at our disposal, sometimes competition, other times cooperation. Simply in my own Ibadan languge, 'Mo Lo' . Until we understand what the Mo Lo is it will be taken from us . I applaud the heat in our passion but we too often do not have the light to see new ways. We are in a Multi Polar world for the first time in generations, a powerful opportunity to redefine Global standards to fit African conditions and requirements. It is time to move beyond lamenting our present condition to working to make sure coming generations never have to live the same way.

soul said...

i read what you wrote and it just sounds like science from a big book.

'Nigerian project is a phenomenal experiment'...

People, their culture, their attitude, their reactions, their way of life are not part of some project.
And people do not respond well to anything that treats them like a project.
They play for it, they even dance for it, but behind the project owners back.. 'won yi n imu si'. (they wriggle their nostrils at it)

I fundamentally disagree that we do not have the light to see 'new ways'. It's the light to see new ways that go us in this bloody mess in the first place.
Rampant cosumerism was a new way to us, Abject homophobia was a new way to us, christianity, islam all of these were new ways which we have whole heartedly embraced
we've even embraced the thug life culture very very rapidly.

IMO the problem is not in seeing the light in new was, it is more about 'which new ways we choose to adopt'. The difference is very important.

Could you or anyone explain what a 'multi-polar' world is?

Onibudo said...

Nigeria has always been a project whenever you pull a country together with over 250 different ethnic nationalities without their consent it is a project. A country which has had over 4 constitutions which are completely different not just in substance but also in ideals is a project. a country which continues to use a language which most of its people cannot fully speak or understand as its official language is a project. When i talk about project it is not the culture or authentic expressions of who we are but the designed efforts of all those who are engineering a society with little respect to the character of the many peoples of the land but never mind soul. One day we would stop debating whether it is science or metaphysics but simply how do we play this hand to make sure those who come after us have a greater chance than we have done.

Multi polar world is one in which the world have has many poles of power especially in this case where the West represented by US and EU with the nominal success of Japan shaped the world economy. Now we have China and India along with other members of what is known as BRIC including Russia as well as Brazil. In Africa we can use similar growth polars in our case there is one called SANE i.e. South Africa, Algeria , Nigeria and Egypt. It is time to do something different and produce rather than consume. I disagree with some of the things you say but guess what , our energies are better spent building around on what we can agree upon like choosing new ways that work. That is what I mean by Mo Lo. Yoruba for effective use. Rock on Soul.

soul said...

thank you very much for the explanation Onibudo. (smile)

I now have a better understanding of what you were saying.

I have one more thing to say, I cannot think differently if I am not exposed to different thoughts and ideas.

I agree that it is time to do, I believe that's what we are doing right here and right now.
But at the same time, if you did not make your point and if I didn't question you because I didn't understand.
I would be left in my ignorance of the thinking behind 'polar worlds'.

My broda, there is value in discussion. there is value in disagreement.
Thank you for enlightening me and at some point I look forward to working with you.

Onibudo said...

The feeling is mutual my sister, Soul. Lets have more arguments for the clear the head and strengthen our ideas but when it comes to action lets act as one with the effectiveness of a well sharpened cutlass. As my people say .

Ire O!