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.

NIMR COVID-19 test kit.

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.

Temi Giwa-Tubuosun of Life Bank.

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!

My ongoing research work in Nigeria.

Yesterday award-winning author, Dr. Ibram Kendi lectured on ‘How to be an antiracist,’ at Saint Louis University as part of our college’s Social Justice Annual Lecture. In his book of the same title, Dr. Kendi talked about how antiracist must remain ‘fighters, tireless, durable,’ but fight in other to succeed.

There were so many questions I wanted to ask from the book but we only had one hour with Dr. Kendi so I’ll ask them here. What if we fight and still have knees on our neck? What if we fight and still get colon cancer like you did or breast cancer like your wife did all at a young age? How do you fight a system truly rotten to it’s core with tumors in some cases or no chance at life in others, not for George Floyd or Breonna Taylor and the list goes on and on? How do you dismantle the system of its racist policies with tools that are off the system, tools that are focused on self-interest? Audre Lourde said it best, ‘we cannot use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.’ Can antiracists still hold conservative views in 2020? Dr. Amber Johnson’s eloquent question still rings bells in my hears and I am not sure what your actual response was (not your fault my kids were listening too with my 8year old daughter inspired to see a real-life ‘book writer’).

You shared a W.E.B Du Bois quote where he asked Black people ‘How does it feel to be a problem?’ To that you replied and in 2020, ‘How does it feel to be a solution?’ I am guessing this is what you mean by antiracists must fight. Antiracists are the solution and the only way solutions have a chance to survive is to fight.

Antiracists fight so that opportunities and outcomes are equal between groups. Antiracists fight so that policies, not people, are blamed for societal problems. Antiracists fight so that nearly everyone has enough. Antiracists fight for power to become mainstream and ideas common sense until success is achieved. Success, Dr. Kendi noted, will be based on what antiracists are ‘willing to do.’

We can survive metastatic racism just as you survived metastatic stage-4 colon cancer and your wife with stage-2 breast cancer. It will take a fight for us all to treat racism like we treat cancer. Listening to you last night, gave me the hope and believe in the possibilities of fighting to become the solution. Fighting to transform our society. Fighting to give humanity a chance to survive. It will take a fight for us all to survive and like you, I am ready to fight.