A Time To Stop Dreaming

There were two men, both seriously ill, who occupied the same hospital ward. One of the men had his bed next to the room's only window. These men talked for hours on end every day.

They spoke of their families, their homes, their jobs, and their aspirations for the future they still believed lie ahead whenever they recovered from what ailed them. Every afternoon when the man in the bed next to the window could struggle to sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside that one lone window.

The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake, the man by the window would say as he begins his story. Ducks and swans played on the shimmering water while the children sailed their model boats. Lovers walked arm in arm amid the blooming flowers of every color of the rainbow. Grand old trees graced the landscape, and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance. As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the beautiful scenes, longing for the day he would be out of the hospital as he felt motivated by what was described for him and that was helping his healing process.

One morning, the patient by the window died. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window so he could begin to enjoy the scenery. The nurse was happy to make the switch and after making sure the patient was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly, the man propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look. Finally, he would have the joy of seeing it all himself. To his horror, the window was surrounded by a blank cement wall. Apparently shocked, the man pressed the button to call the nurse and agitated, he asked "What could have compelled my deceased roommate to describe such detailed and wonderful things outside this window? There is nothing to see. Is this a new and recent wall? Why did he give me such vivid details if they don't exist?"

The nurse answered his questions with a shake of her head, “Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you and make you happy. You see, your roommate was totally blind”.
Of course many of us have read different versions of that internet story but the moral of it really is that we all see whatever we want to see. Today, there are Nigerians who see in their country nothing but a failed state; a nation which, in their imagination, would cease to exist by next year (and they will cite a non-existent American prediction to buttress their point). For this people, there are no positive dreams about Nigeria to inspire them, regardless of the fact that they may have played no small role in the degeneration of our society. Yet there are also other Nigerians who see endless possibilities even amid the difficulties and challenges we face and their dreams consist of what our nation could be if only we can harness our resources and the incredible talents of our people. While these Nigerians don’t live in denial about our numerous problems, they are nonetheless willing and ready to play their part in rewriting our story and bringing to reality their dreams. I guess the organizers of this summit belong to this latter category.

I thank the officials and members of the United Nigerians Forum for inviting me here this morning to share briefly my dreams for our dear country, Nigeria. For sure, we all dream in one way or another of what we envision for our country. So, I also have a Nigeria of my dreams, like everybody else in this room. I am sure every one of us would love to see Nigeria achieve its aim of becoming one of the 20 most developed countries in the world by the year 2020 and I am talking of development that we will all be able to see and measure in shared prosperity rather than the product of another statistical efforts in the name of rebasing.

Speaking for myself and perhaps many other people in this room, I believe Nigeria of our dreams would be one that is scientifically, educationally, technologically and agriculturally advanced; a Nigeria where logic and ideas, rather than blind faith and fanaticism, rule; a Nigeria where there is no threat of violence associated with terrorism; a Nigeria where girls can go to school without the fear of being abducted by some criminal gangs who would turn them to chattels of pleasure. For most, if not all, of us here, the Nigeria of our dreams would be a country that is self-sufficient in food and can take care of the health needs of citizens such that our people would not have to be going on medical pilgrimage to India. The Nigeria of our dreams would be a nation where the gap between the rich and the poor is not so wide.

I feel emboldened to take the liberty to say that for the greater majority of the people in this room the Nigeria of our dreams would be one with an excellent net work of roads and bridges connecting even the remotest parts of our country from North to the South; a Nigeria where sustainable growth and development go hand in hand; a Nigeria where there is no corruption; a Nigeria where there is no crime like kidnapping, armed robbery or ritual killings; a Nigeria where market places and roads are spotlessly clean; a Nigeria where teachers are respected as much as any other professional; a Nigeria where citizens are not superstitious.

From the website of the United Nigerians Forum which I checked yesterday, I can see that the Nigeria of your dreams is a country with a robust political space that will enhance democracy and civic consciousness; a Nigeria that is peaceful and that can fulfill its economic, social and political potentials; a Nigeria that caters for all its people regardless of status or position; a Nigeria whose citizens demonstrate complete religious tolerance across all divides. These are some of the things you want to see in the Nigeria of your dreams from what I could deduce from your website.

So, there is a Nigeria in our consciousness that we want to see, a Nigeria that would take her rightful place as the leader in Africa and a global power. Yet as lofty and legitimate as those dreams are, I regret to say that nothing will change in our country until we stop dreaming and begin to take responsibility as citizens. Therefore, my message here this morning is simple: No country gets changed by a bunch of dreamers who do not match their dreams with positive actions. The Nigeria we all envision will only come about through the actions of everyone in this room and not necessarily by our dreams. Nations don’t develop by accident , they develop because there are men and women who are determined to leverage their talents and the power of community; and are ready to face the challenges that come their way in pursuit of the actualization of their dreams.

Mr Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, please don’t get me wrong. I love dreams and I am a fan of ideas. They are the fuel for change in the world. But dreams by themselves do not change any society, it is the people who do through positive actions. My point is that it will never be enough to just dream about the change we want to see in our country without thinking of how we would make it happen.

I am well aware of the failings of people in authority just as I know the critical role the government needs to play before we can actualize our dreams but since the gathering I am addressing today is one comprising ordinary citizens, I have deliberately tailored my remark in that direction. I know we all have our dreams of a developed Nigeria that would rival the mythical Eldorado but the first and foremost quality asked of a good citizen is patriotism. The question each one of us should ask him/her self is: Am I patriotic enough not only to have genuine love for Nigeria but also to get involved in day to day affairs that would aid its enhancement? In this regard, we must note that there are many jobs which if correctly performed add to national progress. A farmer, a teacher, a journalist, a civil servant, a driver, a soldier…each one is important in his own role and he who loves his country puts his heart in his job and does it to the best of his ability.

Besides, a good citizen stays away from anti-social activities, including, if not especially, corruption. Yet it is not only the passive virtue of not being anti-social that is important but the positive quality of asserting oneself, being fearless enough to point out and face the anti-social elements of our society. It is not enough to slink out of their way and say that we are not concerned because courage is not only physical but also moral.

In conclusion, I can see that the primary purpose of this organization is to propagate and support the visions, ideas and philosophy of good democratic practices in our country. These are lofty ideals but they would take commitment and sacrifices on the part of all of us to realize them as we seek to build a better society for Nigeria. So for that reason, I want the participants here today to go home with the following take-away: Be honest and trustworthy; Obey the laws of the country; respect the rights of others; volunteer to be active within the community you find yourself; be compassionate and take responsibility for your actions.

Mr Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, our country is today at a most critical period in our history. The challenges are enormous but so are the opportunities. Yet for those of us who still retain our dreams of a prosperous Nigeria that will fulfill all its potentials, the only way to achieve those dreams is to take deliberate and faithful actions. And the time to begin to do that is now.

Thank you once again and God bless.
Text of a presentation by Olusegun Adeniyi, Chairman of THISDAY Editorial Board at the “Nigeria of Our Dreams Symposium” organized by the United Nigerians Forum in Abuja on May 19, 2014

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