Monday, 02 August 2021 06:58

[OPINION] A Stalled Nation, Bottled Destinies And The Migration Aperture - Wale Adeniranye

In his book, ‘Giving - How each of us can change the world,’ Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, wrote: “In every corner of America and all over the world, intelligence and energy are evenly distributed, but opportunity, investment, and effective organisations aren’t. As a result, billions of people are denied the chance to live their lives to the fullest, and millions die needlessly every year.”

Earlier in the month I met a Nigerian senior citizen. It was a chance meeting that I expected to last two minutes at most. Someone I was to deliver an item to at an agreed location called to inform me that his neighbour would pick it from me. Apparently, the item was for the senior citizen as he remarked that he would be sending it abroad where he lives. Just as I was about taking my leave, he said, “There’s no hope for this country.” Of course that got my attention and before I could say anything, he added, “I am a Pastor.” With that said, I was no longer in a hurry; I needed to hear his story.

My acquaintance is in his mid-sixties. His wife, a former senior management staff of a tier-1 bank, relocated from Nigeria 22 years ago. After relocating, the wife kept asking him what he was still doing in the country. His response to his wife’s constant prodding was to affirm his belief that he sees a better Nigeria. Without a doubt, he had reasons for his optimism. Born to a polygamous family in which the father educated one child from each wife and left the other children to their mothers to sort out, he was raised by his uncle. He never slept on a bed until he was sixteen years old! In spite of his challenging upbringing, his country, Nigeria, gave him many opportunities. For instance, he got the Federal Ministry of Education all-expenses-paid scholarship to study abroad in the late seventies. This was after he applied for a foreign scholarship programme advertised in the newspapers. He knew nobody in the Federal Ministry of Education at the time! Upon completion of his education in the United Kingdom, this senior citizen returned to the country in the early eighties, got a job and started his family.

With his wife’s relocation in the late nighties, he started making a comparison in the living standards between his wife’s country of residence and Nigeria. In Nigeria, life and living shifted from bad to worse. He finally had to swallow his pride and join his family less than three years ago. Since his relocation, he has assisted a few people in realizing their relocation goal. One was a female manager, a Masters degree holder, in a food company. After observing the commendable work ethic of the lady, one day he told her, “Young lady, with a salary of #100,000 a month, no man will marry you. They will only take advantage of you!” When I quizzed him on the logic behind his assertion, he offered, “Finance is a vital ingredient in a marriage. ‘Ti o ba ‘sowo, e ma maa ja’ (When there’s no money you’ll be quarreling).” The female manager is now an office cleaner in her country of abode earning an equivalent of #1,400,000 per month. She’s doing this job pending when she’s able to sort out her residency and seek better job opportunities.

When I asked him for his mission in the country, he said he is arranging to sell off his properties and leave the country permanently! To say I was transfixed would be an understatement. All I could tell him was that he should pray to know if that is the will of God for Him. Though he thanked me, the expression on his face showed my advice didn’t quite strike a chord with him. I didn’t blame him. A man who had no tangible hope in his nuclear family was given opportunities for a better future by his country. He seized the opportunities and made something remarkable out of his life. Ironically, in his lifetime he has seen such opportunities vanish resulting in destinies of countless citizens being bottled.

The meeting with the senior citizen was a reminder that intelligence and energy are truly evenly distributed across geographies. This holds true wherever you look. For instance, the difference between residents of Banana Island (one of the most expensive places in Africa) and Makoko (home to the lowest of the low) - both in Lagos, Nigeria - is neither intelligence nor energy. A story reported in the newspaper sometime in June 2021 lends credence to this point. It was about a boy, Ferdinand, who suffered spastic cerebral palsy. Ferdinand’s infirmity earned him mockery by his peers in the slums of Makoko. The organisers of a Chess training programme for children without access to education in Makoko saw Ferdinand’s ordeal first hand. Ferdinand was brought to the training centre and introduced to Chess game for the first time. According to the organisers, “few minutes into learning board arrangement and pawn movements, he outperformed everyone in his class.” It was reported that Ferdinand spoke no English word and had never been to school before! Despite his handicap, he displayed a rare understanding of Chess through pattern recognition.  After two intense weeks of chess lessons in the slums of Makoko, a tournament was held to test the children’s understanding of the game. Ferdinand won with a phenomenal performance. He’s indeed a star whose shine had been covered in debris of poverty. The organisers concluded that he’s a savant after he ‘thrashed’ a complex Knight move geometry he was given to solve few minutes after teaching him the basic movement! Ferdinand later met the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; his Chess game with the Governor ended in a draw!

The motivation for this piece is the incredible exploits of Giannis Sina Ugo Antetokounmpo - the 26-year-old Greek-born Nigerian. Giannis’ story is a lesson in parental care/love, providence, mentoring/coaching and self-discipline. He powered his team, Milwaukee Bucks, to victory in the 2021 American NBA finals and won the MVP (Most Valuable Player) in the process. Writing in The Guardian, Oliver Connolly, captured Giannis’ extraordinary performance in the NBA finals this way: “On a night where no other Buck was able to score more than 17 points, Giannis produced a masterpiece against the Phoenix Suns. Fifty points. Fourteen rebounds. Five (!) blocks. Seventeen-of-19 from the line. Hellacious defense. Violent attacks to the rim. He was everywhere and did everything for his team. As close-out performances go, it ranks among the finest in NBA finals history.” Winning the NBA championship meant the Bucks achieved their dream after 50 years, having won it for the first time in 1971. Milwaukee Bucks obviously knew the value of their star player considering that he signed a US$228 million contract with the team in 2020. The contract sum was adjudged the richest contract in NBA history. This was after the expiration of the US$100 million he signed in 2016.

Things hadn’t always been easy for Giannis. Born into a family of seven, he’s the third-born among five boys. His parents, Mr. Charles and Mrs. Veronica Antetokounmpo (Greek literal translation of ‘Adetokunbo’) relocated from Nigeria to Greece in the 1990s in search of a better life for their children. To survive, the father worked as an odd-jobber and the mother as a babysitter. Even though they worked so hard, it was tough feeding the family on their income alone. So Giannis and his brothers sold watches, handbags and sunglasses in the street in Greece to support their parents. Unfortunately, as it is common with most hardworking fathers, Giannis’ father suffered a heart attack and died in 2017. About his father, the great basketball player said, “Losing someone you love is tough. Losing someone who’s been there since day 1. Especially for our family, because we’re so close. Day by day, we’re getting better. It’s OK to be sad. We loved our dad. My mom loved her husband. But at the end of the day, I think, he did what he was supposed to do in this world. He had five kids and raised us right. That’s the most important thing. I hope one day when I leave this world too that I can leave to my kids the impact that my dad is leaving now.”

The circumstance that resulted in the discovery of Giannis at the age of 13 was nothing but supernatural.  Spiros Velliniatis, the man who found him, was riding a bike in Giannis’ neighbourhood when he saw him running around with two of his brothers in the playground. Mr. Velliniatis stood transfixed when he saw potentials of a great basketball player in Giannis that only a trained mind could have seen. About what he was looking for and what happened when he saw Giannis, Mr. Velliniatis said, “The most important thing is to have perception, street smarts. I look at people’s eyes. Are they active and engaged? This is my scouting report.” On the day he saw Giannis in the playground in Sepolia neighbourhood, Athens, he remarked, “I could see that Giannis had real skills in changing direction. He had huge hands and a frame that looked poised to grow. It was like something stopped me from the sky. The moment I saw him, lightning struck me. I had a discussion with God in this moment. You can call me crazy, but this is the way I felt. I said, ‘Father in Heaven, am I seeing correctly?’ And I said, ‘Why me?’ And the answer that I got was, ‘If not you, who?’” The next challenge for Mr. Velliniatis was securing the approval of Giannis’ mother to let him join the basketball academy. Knowing that Africans prefer football to basketball, he basically ‘bribed’ her with €800 payment per month so secure her consent! This was in 2007. Giannis later played professional basketball in Greece before he was drafted to the American NBA by Milwaukee Bucks in 2013 at the age of 19.

“Heaven helps those who help themselves” is a motto that holds true in every story of human success. Giannis is well-respected in the NBA league for his work ethic, skills, and speed. These attributes are a product of self-initiative and agency. About the work Giannis has done on his body, Ricky O'Donnell, under the caption, ‘Giannis Antetokounmpo represents everything great about sports,’ wrote: “The biggest factor in Antetokounmpo’s development was how much bigger he got: he had grown at least two inches to 6’11 and was on his way to adding over 40 pounds of muscle. Giannis put in the work to change his body and he was able to carry the extra weight without losing his quickness or explosiveness. He was starting to play with immense force on every possession — not just offensively, but defensively. Antetokounmpo became a terror in the open court, busting out Eurosteps to unsuspecting defenders as they pleaded for travel calls. Defensively, Giannis’ length and newfound strength added burgeoning rim protecting ability to an already strong perimeter defender.” In conclusion, Ricky O’Donnell penned, “Basketball is now a global game, and Giannis is a global icon. He represents the dream of how sports can change anyone’s life. He plays the game the right way, giving all he’s got on every possession. He doesn’t run away from challenges. A championship was always going to elevate Giannis into the land of legends, and the way he did it will define his career forever. What a story, and what a player. For once, something that always felt too good to be true actually lived up to the hype.”

Success, they say, has many friends. Giannis’ incredible achievement is now celebrated in Greece, not minding the fact that he was given Greek citizenship just before he left Greece for the USA to ensure he didn’t leave as a Nigerian. Not only has Giannis’ accomplishment brought him personal success it has also sparked a social movement in Greece. Young African immigrants see a role model in Giannis. Moreover, the fervency with which they are discriminated against by their Greek contemporaries has lessened.

Giannis’ story and other less spectacular stories are the reason young Nigerians continue to seek ways to get out of the country. For obvious reasons their expectation of the outcome of their continued stay in the country is gloomy, at best. Interestingly, the way to reverse the massive exodus of our youthful population is to influence their expectation positively. This can be achieved by creating opportunities for them, making massive investments in the public service and becoming better organised as a nation. These are the conditions prevalent in the countries our citizens run to. Unfortunately, with nepotistic allocation of resources and job opportunities, diversion of public funds into private schemes and poor organisational ability, we are going on the wrong path. A friend’s remark recently was, “Nigeria is now a warlord state - economic, financial and political warlords. Everybody is festering evil within their own space yet pointing fingers at others.”

It is noteworthy that migrating abroad is no longer what it used to be. To start with, the hurdles an intending migrant has to scale are several and increasing. For instance, there is the menace of those who are out to exploit migrants. In a lot of cases, the migrants are defrauded of their money and they end up in worse position than where they started from. Some migrants fall victim of organ traders while others end up in the web of prostitution rings and many others perish at sea or in the desert. Those that make it to their destination face a different kind of challenge. Overseas countries have tightened their immigration rules and policies such that obtaining residency can be likened to forcing a camel through the eye of a needle. Without legal residency, life for migrants can be very miserable. To a large extent, for the intending migrants, the choice between staying in Nigeria and migrating abroad is a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea (Nigeria being the devil). Interestingly, a lot of Nigerians are choosing the deep blue sea!

Are you thinking of migrating abroad? It is not a bad idea. However, before you take that step I implore you to seek God’s will regarding the plan. “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail” (Proverbs‬ ‭19:21‬ ‭NLT‬‬). God knows what’s best for you and when you seek Him, He will reveal His will in every area of your life to you. Don’t do desperate things because you want to migrate abroad. “Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs‬ ‭16:3‬ ‭NLT‬‬). In the meantime, “Whatever your hand find to do, do it with your might…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).‬‬‬‬

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