My day seemed random at first. International festival. Second grade kids. Talk about being born and raised in Nigeria. Simple. Until it began. There were all sorts of questions from minds curious about places far from home. I took it all in. Mesmerized faces eager to sail from this place to one I call home. We talked about the people, the places and things they will see. We shared 6 fun facts, like did you know the green in the flag stands for natural wealth and the white for peace and unity, something they all nodded we need right now. Especially the peace, one of them noted. I smiled. We need to begin with children.

Their walls were full of letters for the week. Pictures full of reasons for how to be second graders and more. I escaped through their eyes for a moment. Moved as we sailed from this place to another. I saw their love for my home. Smiled as they imagined how we could have so many people and so many languages when all they knew was one.

I imagine this must be what they say when minds and hearts come together as one. Questions of why you are you come to mind. Love for you rush through eyes eager to meet you just as you are. Their eyes tell stories of acceptance. Minds shares words of gratitude for times spent together, learning, knowing, meeting, sailing together from this place to one I call home.

I never thought our meeting would be so important. My narrow understanding of second grade, of minds eager to see, and know people, things and places far always. I now see for myself why these eyes and minds, so breathtaking, so authentic, so open, and unfettered, these minds of second grade boys and girls, must be celebrated always. They have buried their eyes into my soul. A treasure of happiness, resides deeply now. I never thought they would leave such an impression, but this maybe the start of something revolutionary, for this woman, fearless and free.

I see that second graders are rare beings. I see they love the world as it is, beyond themselves for themselves. I see they endlessly begin, where the words you speak end. Everything about them like the world is big enough for you and I. I see too that we should all escape from our world to theirs often. Memories of our day now sink into my soul that I just may focus more, on the stories, the places, the people, all the possible range of things that would keep this going on forever. Thank you to these second graders and all the kids I met today for being so open, so unfettered, as our minds sailed together from this to that. Diversity and inclusion need not begin only with grownups. Not when children hold the key.

I keep returning to the book The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe. It was written in 1983 and described then as a must read for all Nigerians who care about their country, who feel they can no longer stand idly by and wring their hands in anguish while Nigeria is destroyed by bad leadership, corruption and inequality.’ The year again was 1983. This trouble eloquently described by Achebe remains our trouble in 2020.

Like I noted in yesterday’s post, a country that kills its own youth, kills its own self. Nigeria is still in trouble. Nothing has changed. Bad leadership, corruption and inequality still prevails. We all still care about Nigeria and we all can no longer sit idly by and wring our hands in anguish this time in 2020 as Nigeria massacres it’s own youth. The time for action then was 1983 and it pains me to say that the time of action once again is 2020. When will all this end. When will we all join in the effort towards new social and political order for Africa’s most populous country.

The odd thing with the book is that Achebe dedicated it to his children and their age-mates in Nigeria whose future he noted warranted the argument. The inspiration and the vigor of the book come from them. In other words Achebe was writing for Nigeria’s future in 1983. If Achebe’s generation could not do it, if their labors were in vain, what then must we do so that my children’s generation will not quote me or Achebe in the future. The trouble with Nigeria remains. But given the need to end police brutality, to end bad leadership, to end inequality, to end corruption, it also needs to end now. Enough is enough. Hopeless as things maybe today, we are not beyond redemption noted Achebe in 1983. ‘Nigerians are what they are only because our leaders are not what they should be,’ said Achebe. The time for change is now. Keep focusing on the trouble with Nigeria. And this time, under brave and enlightened youth leaders, maybe we will get it right.

A country’s youth reveal its social condition. In Elliot Aronson’s briliant book entitled The Social Animal, he noted that how we make sense of our world makes a difference. And we attempt to make sense of our world hundreds of times a day. Even the most trivial or important decisions we make, are all dependent on how we construct and make sense of our social world. So for example, when a country fosters hope and inspires its youth, the country in turn is hopeful and inspires itself. When a country educates and employs its youth, the country educates and employs itself. When a country heals its youth, the country heals itself. And when a country allows its youth to innovate and thrive, the country innovates and thrives for itself. But what happens when a country attacks and kills its own youth, well then following my logic or how I choose to make sense of my world (however accurate or flawed this logic maybe-just bear with me), the country attacks and kills its own self. Such was the mayhem in Nigeria today. Today, Nigeria attacked and killed itself.

The government took it upon it’s hands to shot at unarmed protesters asking for an end to police brutality. Such moments open ones eyes to the fact that Nigeria is under siege and not open to ensuring that young people have a voice or fully participate in the country’s future. And what then is a country without it youth population, without a future. One of the reasons I mentor graduate doctoral students is because I know the significance of getting the next generation ready for research in the same way someone got me ready years ago. Nigeria is not ready to mentor its young. The actions of today, the unnecessary use of force on young people protesting for things to change, protesting to stir things up with police reform, illustrates this point vividly. We all anxiously wait for what remains to be done so that a New Nigeria, where the labors of our hero’s past are truly not in vain, arises. Until then, keep rising young Nigerians for yourselves. For when a country’s youth take it upon themselves to rise up, the country will be forced to rise up as well.

In his bestselling book “The fire next time,” James Baldwin shared a statement that perfectly describes the ongoing strife with SARS, (the Special Anti-Robbery Squad) in Nigeria today. He noted (and I paraphrase) behind what we think of as menace, lies what we do not wish to face…that fact is that life is tragic. For the Nigerian youth today with SARS, life is indeed tragic.

The past couple of days have been filled with protests from one corner to another with Nigerian youth of all ages and caliber demanding for an end to SARS. Some youth have been injured in the process, some are missing and unaccounted for, while some have been killed. But what has also been very inspiring, very remarkable to see is how within few days, young Nigerians themselves, without a leader, without even coordination to some extent, have managed to coordinate a movement with logistics and rapid response, all to eloquently convey, why the ineptitude of SARS should end.

But just when there seemed to be hope for the Nigerian youth despite all the impediments they face, I listened as a former SARS Commander and Chief Superintendent of Police, Vandefan Tersugh James shared that he knows how difficult it is for someone ages 20-30 to own a car worth N7million naira in Nigeria. He noted that if they could not ascertain the source of the youth’s wealth, their background or family background, they would not only search the youth’s property without a warrant, but they could possibly detain the youth.

Herein lies why life as a youth in Nigeria is tragic. This thinking, this type of thinking for Africa’s most populous country’s youth population is a key reason why SARS must and should end. That’s all! Otherwise life for Nigeria’s youth will not only remain tragic, but useless. END SARS NOW!

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.