Look again

Nobody was prepared for the bombshell that came from the teacher. The decibel of the graveyard would have resonated louder than that in the class as she announced, “Get ready everybody and bring out your pens. We are having a test.” For many of the students, she might as well have said that they were going to the slaughter. “What kind of teacher gives a test without prior notice? This one must be a witch!” some of them began to murmur as they snapped out of the eerie silence that greeted her announcement. Before anyone could recover from the shock, she had started distributing the question paper, placing it face-down with a specific instruction that nobody was to open it until she gave the instruction.

When done, she asked them to turn the paper face-up. There was nothing on the paper except a black dot placed at the centre. Then she asked them to write an essay on whatever they saw on the paper. In a frenzied rush that seemed to let the teacher know that this was a piece of cake, everyone started writing. At the end of the allocated time, she stopped the students, some of whom were still busy writing. Then one by one, she looked at the papers they turned in. Every single person had written about the black dot. Some questioned the rationale for its presence. Others talked about how it was a stain on the white. Some had written two or three pages to defend their position on the black dot. Nobody wrote about the expansive white portion of the paper. Only the small black dot at the centre!

Then the teacher spoke, “Look at the test paper again. Everyone focused on the small black dot even when the rest of the paper was white. More often than not, we focus on the little things in our lives that don’t seem to be working to the exclusion of the thousand and one things that are going for us. The dark clouds appeal more to our sensibilities than the silver lining and attendant blessing of rainfall. In our focus, we amplify the minuscule negatives more than the abundance of good in the circumstance”.

Acting on a divine instruction, a prophet told a king in the Holy Bible to get his house in order because he was soon going to die. Bad news. The king believed it without question and set out to repent and pray for God to avert the calamity. His prayer was heard and God sent the same prophet to give him the positive answer, a fifteen-year extension to his life. Good news. But he did not believe. He asked for a sign to be sure that God was serious!

I know the feeling. Several years ago, my body system practically shut down on me because of oxidative stress. After running several tests, everything came back normal. The doctors told me I was fine. They gave me no medication except tranquilizers because they all concluded I needed rest. But because of the way my body was feeling, I became anorexic and sleepless because I was convinced that the doctors knew something that they were not telling me! It took a total mind reprogramming for me to come to terms with the fact that I was well!

As a people, our predilection for negativity about our nation and environment is assuming worrisome proportions. The way Nigerians speak about Nigeria on various platforms is to say the least denigrating. Anyone reading things on social media today would think that there is absolutely nothing salutary about this clime. We seem so preoccupied with negativity that we actually sneer at anything that appears positive. When a Nigerian commits a crime in another nation, say the USA, we are quick to accept the narrative that Nigerians are the patrons of blue collar crimes. But when we hear that a Nigerian excels in the same environment, we are quick to say that it happened only because that environment was convenient and he could never have excelled if he was here! Unfortunately, this narrative has been latched on to by the international community which simply coal-tars every Nigerian with all forms of criminality even when only a negligible proportion of our population is the aberrant lot. The way Nigerians jump at every available opportunity to jet or sail in rubber dinghies (even at the risk of drowning) out of the country to seek asylum in other climes under the guise of persecution from refusing female genital mutilation, or being gay or for being a Christian in Boko-Haram or Fulani herdsmen infested communities, you would have thought that everything in the nation has collapsed. It is for this reason that the United States of America and Canada have recently reviewed their visa policies towards Nigeria.

Every society has its deviants no doubt. The black spot exists. Kidnapping, bombings, general insecurity, economic depression are some of the depressing black spots. But every society also has its fair share of bright lights.

In Nigeria’s silver lining, we still have people like Yvonne Ike who is Managing Director and Head, Sub-Saharan Africa at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Sandie Okoro is Vice-President and General Counsel for the World Bank. Adebayo Ogunlesi, lawyer and investment banker, is a member of Donald Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum. Global Infrastructure Partners, which he is Chairman of, holds controlling shares in Gatwick Airport as well as Edinburgh Airport. Mark Essien is the 34-year old founder of Hotels.ng which is the largest online portal for booking hotels in Nigeria. Linda Ikeji is one of the most successful bloggers in cyberspace. So is 34-year old Uche Pedro, founder of BellaNaija, an online fashion magazine that attracts over ten million visitors monthly! How about Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, 26-year old founder of Andela, a global talent development company that trains young Africans to become world-class developers and then helps them to secure jobs with reputable brands worldwide? His enterprise has attracted support from Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, AOL and EBay.

In 2016, we read of Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, a Nigerian medical doctor based in the USA, who led a team to perform a surgery that entailed bringing out a 23-week old foetus from its mother’s womb. They removed a tumour from it and returned it to the mother’s womb from where it was eventually successfully delivered at full term! I met the young man in December of that year. He is an alumnus of the Obafemi Awolowo University here in Nigeria. He is the first doctor worldwide to hold professional certifications in Nephrology, Cardiology, Neo-natal surgery and two other medical fields. Yes, five specializations! And he is a Nigerian! The Volt, General Motors flagship electric vehicle was designed by a Nigerian! And just this week, a Nigerian teenager Tobechukwu Phillips made history in her school Alvin High School Texas by becoming the first black Valedictorian since the school was established in 1894.

So when you are tempted to focus only on the dark spot on our test paper, remember that around it is a whole expanse of white. Let’s give attention to that!

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!

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