Expect more

I’ve been trying to avoid writing this post for about two weeks, hoping that the impetus for it would have dissipated and faded into memory. However, the nagging feeling is still there, so I’m resigned to sharing my thoughts. Part of my reluctance is that I feel I may have covered some aspects in previous posts: ‘Self-hate: real or imagined?’ and ‘Just another Naija day’.

In ‘Self-hate’, I had mentioned the contempt some leaders in post-colonial societies have for their subjects, as they gather the countries’ scarce resources for themselves while dispensing sub-standard education, healthcare and other vital services to the masses. And in ‘Naija day’, I described the frustrations and joys of living in a dysfunctional society. I guess there are similarities but this is more about taking control in the circumstances.

I returned to Nigeria a little over two weeks ago and attempted to slip gently into the system, trying not to notice things that I hadn’t experienced for at least a month or so. But they were hard to ignore, especially when there was no apparent reason why they had to happen. Let’s take the simple matter of luggage delivery. After disembarking, clearing immigration and collecting my bags within 30 minutes at 6 different busy airports, why did I wait for nearly 2 hours for the same procedure to occur at Lagos International? Considering that we landed at 5am and were the only flight being processed, it was perplexing that even flight crew and upper class passengers had to wait for at least an hour. 

It’s not that the delay was particularly unusual – it has happened many times before. In fact, it’s far easier to remember the three occasions that baggage has arrived in a timely manner at that airport – that’s three times in the last six years or less than 10% of the flights I’ve been on!  What struck me was the complete lack of an explanation, apology or any other communication, save for an annoying recording welcoming us to Lagos every twenty minutes. I know I should be used to it, but somehow my tolerance had been lowered by the quiet efficiency and reassuring messages I had been experiencing in other environments. Translation: I had been away too long

By the time I got to Calabar a couple of days later, things were even worse. The city had been in darkness for three weeks and there was no running water, unless you had your own borehole. OK, so that’s a long time to go without electricity but, again, I have experienced similar blackouts before. What was amazing was that no one seemed to know why. No explanation from the power company, no government statement, no media frenzy. Just a calm indifference to the plight of the suffering. Those who could afford it simply fuelled their generators, cranked them up, pumped water from their boreholes, bought more buckets and carried on, unquestioningly. 

The day after I returned, power was restored for 3 hours and the following night for 12. By the next day, hand-delivered bills arrived! I was fascinated by their audacity. And yet, no written apology or explanation for why October had been so dark. If you live outside of Nigeria, you will find this quite unbelievable – because heads would have rolled, apologies would have been made, bills would have been discounted and the minister for utilities would have made a statement. If you live here, you would have been amazed if any of that had happened. 

This leads me to wonder: which comes first – accountability to the public or the expectations of the public? Which creates the other? Let’s go briefly to another developing country and look for clues. 

When I arrived in Jamaica a few weeks before, the island was coming to the end of a very long and devastating drought. With almost no rainfall for months, water restrictions were in force and everyone was concerned. However, there were media reports daily about the crisis, with the minister and the Water Commission issuing regular statements about efforts being made to improve water supplies. There was plenty of public debate about measures the government should take to prevent a reoccurrence; and, most importantly, there were daily notices on radio, television and in the newspapers, advising when water would be turned off in different parts of the island. For those communities with no water at all, tankers would truck supplies in. I heard no complaints. 

Conversely, there was a spate of unexplained babies’ deaths in a Kingston hospital and there were loud calls for the health minister to resign or for the Prime Minister to sack him. Both were savaged in the media, the ruling party dipped in the opinion polls and the PM’s popularity sank to an all-time low. In both cases, their ultimate crime was a lack of communication and an apparent disregard for the public they were elected to serve. It will be interesting to see if either recovers for next year’s general election. Already, there has been one casualty – the CEO of the hospital has resigned.

It is clear from the Jamaican examples that public expectations can keep politicians and providers of public services in check, especially if aided by a vigilant and independent media. However, in Nigeria, the public has been battered into submission by decades of military rule, autocratic leadership, vindictive governance and a submissive media that dances to the tune of the highest bidder. I find it fascinating that the underlying problems in each country are so similar, but the responses to them are as different as night and day. 

As Jamaica grapples with its issues, I’m always optimistic that they will find a way; because civil society and the media never stop pushing back against the dark forces of corruption and declining values. It appears, for now, that they can hold back the tide. Here in the motherland, a glimmer of hope has arrived in the form of a new president, hell-bent on prosecuting the most prolific looters of the public purse, reining in corruption and restoring Nigeria’s image abroad. 

Even as I hope that he succeeds, I pray even more fervently that the citizens of this great nation-in-waiting begin to expect more from each other in every sphere of life – at the airport, in the supermarket, with our utilities, at government offices, in restaurants and hotels, and at their children’s schools. They should start asking for the manager, complaining to the owner, letting staff know they deserve better, and stop excusing mediocrity at work and celebrating it in public life.

You can never get more than you expect in life. Your expectations determine your outcomes. They limit what you are prepared to tolerate. They shape your very future. 

Expect more. Demand more. And always believe that you deserve more. Your very life depends on it. 

23 thoughts on “Expect more

  1. Wow! Michael you just shook me back to consciousness. Truly we have sat comfortably expecting little or nothing from each other. The average Nigerian is built for the odds and we often take pride in this. But this tolerance of mediocrity, silence & patience, lack of expectation is exactly why Nigerians are not pushing those in authority to do better. We are content with finding a way around the situation and staying hopeful for the best but continue in our old ways. We also forget that in our little corners we bask and contribute to this dysfunctional society we live in. So we are quick to point fingers at those in authority, forgetting to look inward first. Awesome piece, Michael. Welldone.

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    1. Hi Confidence, I’m always happy to hear from you. You’re correct – Nigerians are rightly proud of their resilience. However, it obscures the responsibility to treat other Nigerians the way they would like to be treated. There is a tendency to blame politicians but they are just a reflection of the electorate. Otherwise, governance would be an exception to the rule and national life would function normally. The airlines would fly to schedule, customer service in shops and banks would be excellent, and the mobile networks would function like those elsewhere in the world. When I get poor service, I’m usually the only one making an official complaint – everyone else, similarly affected, has shrugged their shoulders, said, “Ah, Nigeria!” and moved on. I’ve had refunds, complimentary tickets, free meals and hundreds of apologies, just because I refuse to accept the status quo. Domestic airlines are known to compensate foreign passengers because their expectations and awareness of their consumer rights are much higher than the average Nigerian. Make a stand and encourage others to do the same. Much love xx

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  2. Yea Michael, you hit the nail on the head. With all our protests etc in Jamaica we need to follow up with concrete action, to put into play some of the suggestions we hear every day.  Thank you for bringing such concerns to our attention and for that timely reminder that we all should expect more and teach our children likewise. Love, 

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    1. Thanks, as always, Clover. It’s true, Jamaicans don’t stand for nonsense but we don’t always get the best solutions for our problems, which are quite deep in origin. We need bold leadership to take us on a braver and more decisive path, otherwise we’ll keep getting slightly better or worse versions of the same results. Love to the family xx

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  3. Michael, as usual a nice piece. Nigerians have come to accept poor service as normal service. Dirty hotel bathrooms or toilets are accepted without complaint. Rickety taxis barely capable of self propulsion are placed at the service of the public and we use them without complaint. When I sprained a muscle during exercise my coach offered to massage it for me. I told him to wait till the next day. Next day I brought water, soap and towel and insisted he washed his hands in clean water before the massage. People felt I was being fussy but this is standard hygiene; I had to enforce it myself. Orientation is more important than we realise. Most people don’t even know their entitlement to better service; that a hotel bathroom can be cleaner than it is, or that a clean taxi is not a privilege. We need to raise our standards by knowing that there is better and that we indeed should expect more.

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  4. Ahh Michael I hear your frustration with the lack of accountability of Nigerian officialdom and the lack of complaint or indeed action by its populace. This is frequently the topic of conversation with my many Nigerian friends. But nothing seems to change, which leaves me angry and in despair of Nigeria ever fulfilling its potential of becoming the land to which Black people around the world can look to with pride and establish us at the top table of nations.

    i am glad that you are being signs of some change, lets hope the new president will initiate the fundamental changes that are so desperately needed, especially by the multitude of Nigerians that are living in abject poverty.

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    1. Yes, Charles, there are signs of hope, especially when you look at how hospitality is improving and expanding in Lagos, and the retailing revolution that’s exploding with the building of modern shopping malls all over the country. The area of greatest concern continues to be public services – electricity, water, telecoms, airports, public transport, roads and other infrastructure. Imagine a country of this size and population without one good highway between two major cities like Lagos and Abuja. It defies belief. Like no highway between Washington and New York, London and Birmingham, or Montego Bay and Kingston. But here, these things are accepted without question. That’s what has to change.

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  5. Well said.The essential point however is that in Jamaica there is confidence in the electoral system.politicians dont want to lose power hence sensitiviyty to unpopularity.public and media therefore believe that speaking out can have an effect.So thumbs up for democracy and free speech.

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    1. You’re so right David; it is so essential to preserve free speech. In Nigeria, voters are just finding their voice again, having ousted someone who seemed certain to get another term as president. Up until that point, the perceived wisdom was that you cannot unseat an incumbent president or governor because they control the electoral machinery and the security forces. Also, people have been afraid of being too vocal in their criticism of such people, for fear of reprisals; something attributable more to the military era which ended in 1999. Lastly, the media is the Achilles heel in all of this, as journalists are very poorly paid and are expected to charge for writing their stories. The result is a media loyal to the highest bidder and of little use in the defence of democracy. We should count our blessings.

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  6. Michael, this piece I would recommend to my Nigerian friends. I do not believe Jamaica is anywhere near what it should be but as you stated about Nigeria, it seems they are light years ahead. I guess living in a society where certain services are expected and provided I take it for granted that this is an inalienable right for all.
    I cannot understand a country like Nigeria with its oil wealth and multitude of great minds, cannot create a system that benefits the people of the society. In my life I have come across so many brilliant Nigerians and yet they cannot find a solution to corruption and indifference within its leadership circle. It’s a sad state of affair.

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    1. Hey Taylor, nice of you to check in. There are lots of brilliant Nigerians – they take learning very seriously and will excel, given the chance. The problem is with the system of governance which has been corrupted at every level in every department. Then there is a very powerful private sector that facilitates the corruption on a massive scale through bribery, illegal partnerships and the sharing of ill-gotten spoils. The scale of this rotten enterprise is so huge that very few can resist being co-opted into various schemes, especially when wages are punishingly low, leaving people desperate. It will take massive political will and a sense that there are consequences for corruption before we see any change. At the moment, corruption pays in Nigeria and the level of impunity encourages people to be ever bolder.

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  7. You are so right sir. When the oppressed remains silent, it gives the oppressor a convenient justification for her action. While most Nigerians are ignorant about their rights as citizens, the few that are aware lack the moral courage to challenge the status quo.

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    1. Hi Michael, I know that you are quite aware of this issue, given recent events. For me, fear should never be an option when it concerns your life, your future and the future of your children. But it’s no longer fear when you can’t even ask the power company or the water board why there is no supply; it’s just a quiet acceptance that you have no rights as a citizen or as a consumer.
      At the airport that day, I asked for the baggage manager but, of course, he wasn’t even at work! I can’t even imagine that happening at any other international airport but it’s possible here because no one else is asking for him.
      MTN refunded N2,500 to me yesterday because I complained about poor service. However, a friend laughed at me last week when I said I was going to complain, because she was sure that nothing would happen. She was right but I persevered until they gave in – I must have spoken to five or six different advisers until I got a result. Very few Nigerians are prepared to do that.

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  8. Hi Michael

    It was really nice to see you again. And I’m glad you’ve been able to analyse the ‘naija situation ‘ that those ‘who do not want to be mentioned ‘ have skillfully avoided. I think we can at this point comfortably add the state of our roads to the list. As for me and mine, we have decided to speak out because even if you try to make yourself comfortable, how long can you manage to do that. What of our academic environments that have been personalised? We have so called Professors who have left professionalism for sentimentality. It is no longer about students’ development. I believe it all comes down to the good old saying that ‘charity begins at home ‘. I’m always greatful for the reality checks you instill.

    Best

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    1. Hi Justina, it was good to see you too. Sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk much.
      The truth is that these problems are everywhere but I’ve never been anywhere before where they are accepted so easily. So, that’s why I believe nothing gets solved and why standards are so low. Most of the time when I complain, the situation is affecting others but they remain silent or shrug it off. They only start shouting if they feel personally insulted.
      Remember my reference to the 18 babies who died from hospital infections? The Prime Minister removed the Minister of Health yesterday and replaced him because the pressure from the public and the media never let up. In addition, she had ordered a health audit which has been published in the newspapers. Already changes are being made in public hospitals.
      Now get this – Jamaica has one of the lowest figures for infant mortality in the world and yet this one incident prompted the Minister’s removal and the resignation of two top hospital administrators. Does anyone even know how many premature babies die in Nigeria every week?

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  9. Hmm…. It’s a sad situation Michael. The Nigerian mentality is a factor that has been widely accepted in the country. The funny thing is that it can be tuned to suit any situation and embraced as satisfaction. I believe if more people read more of these pointers, we will realize how much we’ve lost

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    1. I agree with you, Temi. Most people don’t realise how much they accept without even questioning it. When I explain it to people in other countries they find some of it hard to believe how little Nigerians expect from their leaders, businesses and each other. It can change, I know it can, but each person needs to take responsibility.

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  10. “Every country has the government it deserves and In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.” – Joseph de Maistre
    Low expectations is a moral hazard.
    Nice write up Michael.

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    1. Thanks my brother, you’re quite right. If someone gives you money during an election campaign, why are you expecting an honest leader when he is elected? If we expect more of them, we can hold them and ourselves to a higher standard. Thanks for supporting my blog!

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