I visited Europe recently, Berlin, Germany, to be precise. It was a lovely city, organised, well planned. I have to tell you, I was impressed. Every evening, I would take a very long stroll along the street just to see the city and get a feeling of what Berlin is like – the city life, the people, and the culture.
Every time I took these strolls, I could not help but to take my thoughts back home, comparing conditions in Nigeria with what I was seeing in this lovely city. Yes I know – an unfair comparison. But that was all I could think of while I spent time in this city; as I rode the buses, took the subway trains and walked the streets, I could not help but notice how different things were back at home compared to this city.
Another thought troubled me while I was there. I kept thinking: why is my country not this way? Why can’t we have well-structured roads, proper transportation system, steady power supply? Why can’t we have cities like Berlin in Nigeria? These questions disturbed my mind. I wondered how come Germany is able to build such a great city that is so accessible to most levels of the social class.
I stayed in a friend’s place. His name is Luis, a single father, who worked at a shop that sold records. Every now and then, he would do small gigs on the side to meet up with his bills. For me, Luis represented the average Berlin resident who did not have a great income but had just enough to get by. I remember asking him about how he was able to meet up with the rent of his nice apartment that was situated in the center of the city. I would never forget his reply. He said: “the rent here is very affordable, it is not a problem.”
That struck a chord inside me because back at home, a decent accommodation is a luxury that most people cannot afford. And again, I asked myself why…why is my country not like this?
After the Second World War, Germany suffered one of the worst recessions that any country could endure, and yet, with no oil, it still rose to become one of the most powerful and richest countries in the world. I could not help but wonder how this country was able to rise from economic hardship to becoming a prosperous country with a thriving economy. How did they build this country? How much money was spent on these superb infrastructures? How did they build beautiful cities that are accessible to all? This is a country without crude oil, no precious minerals, and a very terrible weather condition, but how did Germans do it?
These questions bothered me so much until, one day, I witnessed something amazing. What I witnessed that day was as shocking as it was impressive. This experience helped me to begin to understand why Germany, probably, is the way it is, and why it may be very difficult for a country like Nigeria to achieve the same feat as this great country.
It was a sunny afternoon, the rain had just stopped and the cool breeze began to ease in slowly. We had just concluded a meeting with the President of the organisation I work for. At the meeting were project coordinators from over 30 countries where we have offices. As we all assembled outside, waiting for the rest of us to come out so that we could head back to the hotel as a group, the President, who had completed her job for the day and was heading home, waved us goodbye. Surprisingly, she walked over to where bicycles were parked, unchained a bike from the metal rail, mounted it, and off she went, cycling her way home.
I could not believe my eyes; that our global President, the overall boss of an organisation that has offices in 30 countries of the world, did not have a Bentley with a chauffeur waiting for her, but only riding a bike on the streets of Berlin. It is not that she could not comfortably afford the best of cars, nor could she afford a chain of personal assistants, but everything boiled down to humility.
I later came to understand that this kind of attitude exhibited by the President of my organisation is also one that resonates amongst the political leadership in Germany.
I was made to understand that the political leadership in Germany is guided by an ideology that encourages conservation and condemns execces. The leaders here believe that democracy is about fairness and equal opportunity, and that development must be accessible to all, and not just a privileged few.
In this country as a public office holder, one is forbidden to make financial profits with government money and projects. And to the Germans, this is not just another law, but a code they live by. It is just like the way ‘true’ religious people in Nigeria will view stealing money from the church as an unforgivable abomination.
Now I began to understand why Germany is the way it is. Then I thought about my own country and it dawned on me, as well, why Nigeria is so different from this European powerhouse, and why true change in our country is still from being achieved.
Of course, I do not expect Nigerian leaders to ride bicycles to exhibit their humility, but they are only concerned about themselves and their families alone as soon as they attain public office.
Our political office holders are also interested only in keeping their positions, and this is what they do throughout their four years in office, and because election in Nigeria is not majorly determined by the ballot box, very little of their plans and strategies would involve real development options that will be accessible to all.
- Ebii, development communications specialist, sent in this article via [email protected]