In 1983, Chinua Achebe wrote a very short book entitled ‘The Trouble with Nigeria.’ In it he suggested that the trouble with Nigeria then was ‘simply and squarely a failure of leadership…the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility which are the hallmarks of true leadership.’ A student asked one day, why Nigeria, why are all my National Institutes of Health (NIH) research grants focused on Nigeria. My response to her and to others who ask is why not Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. If we succeed in Nigeria, we can succeed anywhere else. Nigeria is full of people who have the will, the ability and the vision to lead health, it’s discovery, it’s innovation.
As the country celebrates its 60th independence today, the question for me is whether Achebe’s sentiments remains, whether the failure of leadership still prevails, or whether Nigerians with the will, ability, and vision to lead health will ever emerge. At some point, thoughtful Nigerians have to rise up so those leaders emerge to make an impact on the nation. Nigeria and Nigerians all over the world have the ability to facilitate innovation with health. With the exception of few, the fear that should nightly haunt its leaders, Achebe noted (but does not) is that those leaders (for health in this case) are not assuming or fulfilling that destiny in Nigeria.
For me personally, as I reflect on this day about Nigeria at sixty, with Achebe’s words in my mind, I would have concluded that the trouble for Nigeria sixty years from today will not only be a failure of leadership but also a failure of innovation, a failure to provide the opportunities for a critical mass of Nigerians to do something different that adds value.
The ongoing pandemic alongside the zeal of some Nigerians have changed my thinking. Many Nigerians have risen and continue to rise to the occasion to lead health in ways often not discussed, shared, highlighted or praised. From the molecular test kit for COVID19 developed by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research that can produce results in 40 minutes, to the life-saving work of Temi Giwa-Tubosun who delivers medical supplies to hospitals in Nigeria, or to my ongoing research I-TEST-innovative tools to expand youth friendly HIV self/testing for Nigerian youth led by Nigerian youth.
The simple, the very serious, but simple solution for Nigeria today and beyond is innovation. Whether it’s sustaining, whether it’s disruptive, whether it’s breakthrough, it won’t matter. For Nigeria to facilitate mankind’s advancement, doing its part to create something different that adds value is its destiny. At sixty, to Nigeria, my hope for the future, is that we keep unleashing innovative solutions, particularly with health. Today, it is time to take a hard and unsentimental look at the critical question of innovation for Nigeria by Nigerians. Happy Independence Day!