Interestingly, these very sentiments are shared by millions of Nigerians.
As for me, I will be voting for Nigeria but I first need to use two examples from our Kenyan brothers and sisters to showcase how governance can make real change and transformation happen.
First came the Fire
On Wednesday August 7, 2013 Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), East Africa’s largest hub experienced a devastating fire outbreak that damaged the arrivals hall of the main terminal building. It was also the hub of Kenya Airways.
Coming during the high season (the period where Kenya experiences the highest influx of tourists), it was a serious economic blow. Besides, the airport is pivotal to transporting key export products like flowers, tea and coffee.
Kenyans largely condemned the new government of President Uhuru Kenyatta for what they perceived as its lame duck approach to putting out the blaze. This was about his first major test and President Kenyatta vowed his government would do “everything to resume normal operations”. Planning to leave Nairobi to Lagos a few days later, I wondered how the nation would recover from this immense loss.
For days, flights were disrupted. Then the cargo terminal was converted to handle domestic flights. Canopies were set up for departures and arrivals. It was pretty hectic waiting to board my flight. I could see officials of Kenya Airport Authorities (KAA) and Kenya Airways working tirelessly to make life as comfortable for passengers under the circumstances. I was really impressed with the way Titus Naikuni (the immediate past CEO of Kenya Airways) walked around the make shift departure canopies supervising operations. I was really impressed!
Years earlier, KAA had started building a new set of terminal buildings. These were not due to be ready for a number of years. With the fire, the viable option was to accelerate the completion of at least one of the terminals so it could be used for international arrivals. I returned to Nairobi months later and was one of the first set of passengers to use the new half complete terminal building.
Fast-forward to a year later and that new terminal building has had a complete transformation. In my December 2014 trip, I was able to print out my boarding pass in one of the mobile ticketing machines at the airport. Business/first and economy class passengers entered the departure hall from separate designated locations. It looked very unAfrican! Particularly intriguing was the fact that the Ebola screening service on arrival was completely computerized. When it was my turn, I walked up to the screening point and looked at a screen some ten or so metres away. Using what appeared to be heat sensors, it read my temperature and displayed it on the screen. The single official there simply took my completed Ebola screening form and wrote down my temperature. No fuss, no hassle and so seamless. A fellow Nigerian on the same flight remarked that only two weeks earlier, hand held thermometers were in use at the same airport. That is how transformation and change should take place. It should be apparent, unequivocal and new every time you get there. I wonder what will be new when next I get to JKIA.
Then the Travel Ban
Prior to May 2014, the bulk of Kenyans tourism market was from Europe. However following an increasing number of travel advisories issued by several leading western nations, the amount of tourists dwindled astronomically in 2014 as tour agents canceled already scheduled trips and diverted tourists to destinations like Tanzania, Zanzibar and Seychelles. Initially the Kenyan government and Kenyans were livid. It suddenly dawned on them that there was an urgent need to grow the domestic tourism market for Kenyans.
The Kenyan Tourism Board (KTB) responded by launching the “Tembea Kenya’ (Visit Kenya) campaign as part of its tourism recovery strategy. It recognized that the Internet was the leading source of tourism information about Kenya (accounting for 40% of tourists). Determined to capitalize on the success of its Magical Kenya campaign, KTB launched an integrated media campaign. It engaged industry stakeholders – hoteliers, tour operators, transporters, media, etc. and invoked a nationalistic fervor. It was now or never! These operators caught the vision and pretty soon, the hashtag #TembeaKenya was trending on social media and even on Kenyan radio and television stations. A dedicated page on Magical Kenya’s website listed special offers stakeholders had for Kenyans. Thousands including my friends shared photos of the trips they made within Kenya in support of the campaign.
#TembeaKenya worked and has become a rallying point for that nation. It dawned on many ordinary Kenyans that they could do more to support the economy. The secret was looking inwards and not begging for external assistance and patronage.
Nigeria’s economic state is no laughing matter. However the political campaigns have been lean on the issues and heavy on sentiments. What are the parties planning to do about the very institutions and structures that continue to enslave and exploit with impunity the very citizens they are meant to serve? The problem with Nigeria is as much the fault of the followers as much as it is our leaders. Are we ready for REAL CHANGE and TRANSFORMATION? The answer seems obvious to me. People are not planning to vote for Nigeria, Transformation or Change. Nigeria and Nigerians deserve more!!! It took travel advisories and a fire to turn two aspects of the Kenyan economy around. Irrespective of whoever wins the Presidential elections, what would it take to turn Nigeria around at last?
P.S: This article was also published in the 7th of January 2015 edition of the Punch Newspapers. Click to Read