The Nigerian Dream

by Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA

Nigeria /na╔¬╦łd╩ĺ╔¬╔Öri╔Ö/, officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising 36 states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in the north.

– Wikipedia entry.

Main Entry: 1dr─ômalt

Pronunciation: \╦łdri╦Ém\

Function: noun

1: a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep

2: a cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal

3: an unrealistic or self-deluding fantasy

4: a person or thing perceived as wonderful or perfect

5: a condition or achievement that is longed for

Synonyms: aim, ambition, aspiration, delusion, desire, fancy, fantasy, goal, hallucination, hope, image, imagination, impression, intent, mental picture, objective, plan, purpose, target, thought, wish.

– Dictionary entry.

The above detailed extracts from the dictionary states that a dream is a series of thoughts or images occurring during sleep or a cherished aspiration, ambition or ideal. At various points in our lives, we have all dreamt. A dream could occur while one is asleep and it could also occur while one is awake. Two examples of very popular dreams that have occurred during sleep can be found in the pages of Scriptures where one reads of the Pharaoh of Egypt whose dream was interpreted by Joseph and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, whose dream was interpreted by Daniel. One of the most mentioned dreams experienced by an individual while awake is that of Martin Luther King Jr, which was revealed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 when he said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The dreams of King Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh of Egypt and Martin Luther King Jr. mentioned above are all associated with individuals. However, dreams are not only restricted to individuals. Dreams can also be associated with countries, even though individuals could dream these dreams. The most popular dream associated with a nation is the American dream. The American dream is an aspiration that goes along the lines: “through hard work, one can climb the success ladder and realize his or her full potential in the United States of America.” In 2010, Alexander Braverman, a senior Russian official in an interview with Bloomberg called the plan of the then Medvedev government to help Russians move from apartment blocks to single-family homes the ‘Russian dream’.

In the Nigerian context, there is no standard definition of what constitutes the Nigerian dream. However, in this paper, I will explore the concept of the Nigerian dream, which is the cherished aspiration of what one expects as a Nigerian citizen from Nigeria. While most people cherished and still cherish to see a Nigeria which is able to fulfil its potential and enable its citizenry fulfil their individual potential; after decades of unfulfilled dreams, a new type of Nigerian dream has begun to emerge in the last couple of years. This new Nigerian dream can be summarized in these twenty-two words detailed below:

“To make as much money as possible, by any means possible, within the shortest time possible with as little effort as possible”

While the timeframe and effort to acquire as much money as possible could be subject to debate, the overall aim of the new Nigerian dream remains constant i.e. to make as much money as possible by any means possible. I must state here that I appreciate the fact that the desire to be prosperous and wealthy is not a vice. I also believe that the wealthier the people in a society become, the better the whole society becomes. I also believe that people who work hard should be adequately rewarded. However, when the pursuit of money becomes a do or die affair and a society or people are ready to lose their identity, values and compassion in pursuit of this money - then something is not right. In short there is a limit beyond which the pursuit of money by any means necessary becomes deplorable. In the pursuit of the Nigerian dream, many of us have crossed this acceptable limit.

What are the drivers of this aggressive pursuit of the Nigerian dream? What are the characteristics of the Nigerian dream? Who are those pursuing the Nigerian dream? Who are living the Nigerian dream? What are the myths about the Nigerian dream? What traits are manifested in the pursuers of the Nigerian dream? What is the impact of the Nigerian dream on our society? Where is this Nigerian dream leading us? What is the way forward? These questions will be answered in the next couple of pages.

Nigeria is an unequal society in which wealth is unevenly distributed. The wealth of the land is concentrated in the hands of a few people, whose individual wealth exceeds the combined wealth of millions of Nigerians at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Along the economic ladder are a growing number of so-called emerging middle class Nigerians who are able to live a comfortable standard of living. At the bottom rung of the Nigerian economic ladder are tens of millions of Nigerians who live on the margins. Furthermore, Nigeria is a society where people derive pleasure in flaunting their wealth and letting the world know how high up they are on the economic ladder or the progress they are making in moving up from one level of the ladder to another higher level. In short oppressing those who are less fortunate than us is the name of the game. The boss oppresses the subordinate; the clergy oppresses the laity; the landlord oppresses the tenant; the lender oppresses the borrower; the teacher/lecturer oppresses the student; the rich oppresses the poor, the governor oppresses the governed and the ruler oppresses the ruled.

In addition, Nigeria lacks a social safety net for its citizens, as a result citizens have to become a government to themselves, by sorting out their own healthcare, electricity, water supply, social care, security and education. Also Nigeria is a society in which there is an excessive level of imitation. People go out of their way to imitate the lifestyle of those higher up the economic ladder even if they do not have the resources to maintain such a lifestyle. Keeping up with the joneses is a key motto for many of us.

The uneven distribution of wealth, the oppressive nature of our society, the lack of an adequate social safety net in addition to the follow–follow mentality has fuelled an inconceivable, indescribable and incredible quest for money by any means necessary. The pursuit of the Nigerian dream is not only limited to corrupt politicians who use their political power to loot the nations resources for their individual benefits. Rather it is chased by many of us along the whole spectrum of the economic ladder irrespective of religious, ethnic or professional affiliation. The Nigerian dream is a dream to have money beyond ones widest dream. This dream is also not restricted to adults, as secondary school students are not immune from the pursuit of this dream. Sometime ago, I visited my former secondary school to discuss with the vice principal of the school about the progress of the current students. I was shocked when the principal told me that most of the students were not interested in their studies. She explained that even though the state government had put structures in place to help the students by providing books etc, the students were more preoccupied with achieving money via dubious Internet scams. Some may argue that this is an isolated incident limited to one school, but unfortunately, this trend is prevalent throughout the country.

The love of money is deeply rooted in the mental buckets of many Nigerians. As a result, we have come to see money as an ends to a means rather than a means to an end. We therefore crave for money like it would soon disappear or run out of circulation. Perhaps to understand our insatiable longing for money, we may need to turn to psychology. The human brain has a compound called Dopamine, which Psychology Today Magazine describes as: “a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.” A number of scientists have reported that addictive drugs like cocaine cause a flood of dopamine in the brain. This they argue creates pleasure and results in addiction and the craving for more. Perhaps our lust and longing for money starts in the neurochemistry of the brain. As the dopamine is released in the brain, it gives us pleasure when we acquire or pursue money and in order to derive more pleasure, we are willing to do anything necessary even at the expense of our convictions, believes and values.

Despite the pursuit of the Nigerian dream, very few are living the dream, instead most of us are actually living the Nigerian nightmare. However, we have this inner conviction that even if we are currently experiencing the Nigerian nightmare, very soon, mother luck will shine on our side and we will experience the Nigerian dream by having so much money that will enable us satisfy all our needs. The Gospel of the Nigerian dream tells us:

  1. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of Naira and its injustice and all these things (cars, mansions, friends, fame, contracts, influence) shall be added unto you.
  1. The Naira is my shepherd, I shall not want, it maketh me to be happy and leads me to sleep in my houses in Dubai, London and New York.
  1. It is profitable for a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul.

Essentially, the Nigerian dream of ‘wealth at all cost and by any means necessary’ is a dream rooted in wickedness, roped on foolishness and roofed on selfishness. In the pursuit of the Nigerian dream, many of us have lost our conscience, lost our souls and lost our values. Many of us are willing to sell or have already sold our souls and birthright for a bowl of porridge. People are willing to kill, steal, lie and maim in order to put Naira into their pockets. Our hunger for money at all cost has led us to do what Martin Luther King once described as “maximize the minimum and minimize the maximum.” Values such as honesty, hard work, family unity, genuine friendship and godliness have been sacrificed for money. We are willing to sacrifice the future for the present; honesty for dishonesty; quality of living for quantity of living and others for self. Although we pride ourselves in being a religious society (a society, which is almost evenly spit between Christianity and Islam), upon further examination, the reality is that there is another religion whose members far outnumber the combination of Nigerian Christian and Muslims and that religion is called Nairanity. The god worshipped in Nairanity is the money, who many of us worship with all our heart and all our might and all our strength. Because of our love for money, we find it difficult holding a normal conversation without making reference to money. We have a low attention span on many things unless it results in monetary benefits.

As a consequence of the pursuit of the Nigerian dream, Nigeria has become a narcissistic society. Everything is about me, myself and mine and we have become less concerned about those on the margin of society. As we aspire to get more and more money, we have increasingly become not only self-centred, but also self-seeking, self- conceited and self-important. Like the queen in the fable snow white fairly tale, we look into our mirror and vainly say: “mirror mirror on the wall, who is the richest of them all?” Unfortunately, we fail to realize that these short-term traits of self-centeredness, self-importance and self-conceitedness, will in the long run translate to self-contemptuousness, self-hatred and self-animosity. Nigeria has also become a society in which a man is judged by the number of digits in his bank account rather than by the content of his character. The measure of a woman in our society is measured by the size of the number of cars she owns or the geographical spread of her real estate assets.

Despite Nigeria’s recent macro economic success, the country faces a number of challenges including but not limited to corruption, inadequate healthcare, frequent plane crashes, deplorable road conditions, ethnic strive, declining education standards etc. When one critically examines the many problems confronting our great country, one would notice a recurring theme at the root of many of these problems. This recurring theme can be summarized in four words: THE LOVE OF MONEY. In his letter to Timothy, Apostle Paul wrote: “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Could Brother Paul have had Nigeria in mind when he penned these immortal words to Timothy? As I have stated earlier, the desire to be prosperous is not a vice. Money is not evil, rather it is the love of money that is bad. I guess this could be why Paul said that the ‘love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’ rather than ‘money is the root of all kinds of evil’. When one loves money, one will do unimaginable things in order to get money. It is the love of money that will make a person steal, it is the love of money that will make a person kill his wife for ritual purposes, it is the love of money that will make a person have no compassion on the poor, it is the love of money that will make a person divert funds meant for the maintenance of roads to his pocket.

Because of the people’s love of money, Nigeria has become a shapeless, shallow and sadistic society. As we acquire more money, more cars and more houses, the more we have become heartless, clueless and mindless. In short Nigeria is gradually becoming a very sick society. When I say sick, I don’t mean sick in terms of health, but I mean a deeper form of sickness that prevails in most aspects of the country: Nigeria is becoming sick structurally, sick mentally, sick morally and sick spiritually. Unfortunately, many of us have become accustomed to this misalignment and so we live in denial. We have anesthetized ourselves with money and so remain insensitive to the problems confronting our country and the sufferings of others. A review of some of the news relating to Nigeria highlights an emerging pattern of things almost unheard of in the past and most of these sadistic headlines can be tied to our love of money. Below are some examples:

  • Some Nigerians were believed to have demonstrated lack of love and insensitivity towards the dead when Dana Air Flight 992 from Abuja to Lagos crashed in Iju-Ishaga, Lagos, recently.…. Rather than rescuing those who might be trapped in the wreckage, particularly the residents on ground, thousands of youths surged towards the wreckage, taking snapshots and recording the scene with their phones. Ironically, there was so much excitement in the air as if it was some kind of carnival… it became clear that miscreants, popularly called area boys, had invaded the crash scene purposely to loot. - Tell Magazine
  • “One Mrs. Gladys Emafuru, female, of Okunu village Jesse, reported that at 15:10 hours, while sleeping with her eight-day- old baby girl, the child’s step father (names withheld) 24 years old, walked into the apartment and killed the baby with a cutlass, opened the stomach and collected the intestines and other vital parts…..the suspect after collecting the vital parts of the baby, concealed them in a black cellophane bag” - Vanguard
  • Twenty-five oil firms are currently under probe for claiming about N61.2 billion fuel subsidy that either did not exist or "were somewhere else in the world," a statement from the ministry of finance said yesterday. - Daily Trust

Before discussing the way forward, I would like to address two possible grounds for contesting the validity of what I am saying. Those contesting the validity of my argument may say: Why all the fuss about the love of money in Nigeria, after all greed is a global phenomenon and people in other countries want to acquire wealth at all costs and by any means necessary?” In response - yes I agree that in many other societies, people can do extreme things to acquire wealth, however, where Nigeria differs is that this love for money is endemic throughout the society. Those who trivialize the issues raised in this paper because it happens in other societies should note that what is wrong is wrong irrespective of where it happens. The second ground for contesting the validity of what I am saying is that I may be accused of committing a fallacy of composition by making a general conclusion about the whole of Nigeria or Nigerians based on the characteristics of a few Nigerians. Yes I acknowledge that NOT ALL Nigerians have an unreasonable love for money, however, the fact that 150 million Nigerians do not all love money does not nullify the fact that our society has a problem caused by the love of money by a number of Nigerians.

In order to make our society a better society, it is important that we reappraise our definition of the Nigerian dream. The Nigerian dream will have to become less self-centred and more others-centred; less about me and more about us and less about money and more about progress. In order to move away from the insane love of money, we may have to take heed to the words of a letter penned almost two thousand years ago. In his letter to the people of Rome, Paul wrote: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Perhaps it is about time that we renew our minds from the belief that money is an ends to a means - to the belief that money is a means to an end. We must also renew our minds away from the notion that money is the measure of a man or woman. In the quest of achieving the Nigerian dream, we must consider what impact our actions are having on others especially those on the margins of Nigerian society. We should learn to be our brothers and sisters keeper, because what affects them affects us. After all, Obama was right when he said, “if any child goes hungry, that matters to me, even if she's not my child.” Martin Luther King was right when he said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.” Jesus was right when he said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” We must also get rid of the notion that those who are less fortunate are deserving of what comes their way.

The Federal government would need to provide adequate social safety net for its citizens. As explained earlier, one of the reasons for the craze for money in our society is due to the fear of what one could face if he or she slips further down the economic ladder. The government should invest in education, healthcare, electricity, roads etc. While some may argue that the government might not have the funding to embark on building a robust social safety net, I beg to disagree. There is enough wealth in the land to make everybody have a comfortable live. All what needs to be done is close the various loopholes in which illicit funds flow into the pockets of some of our government officials. Imagine what the government would have been able to accomplish with the estimated $130 billion financial illicit outflows that occurred between 2000 and 2008, as reported by Global Financial Integrity.

Our religious leaders could also play a significant role in transforming the country from a money centric society. Every Friday and Sunday, at least 100 million people go to the various mosques and churches every week to hear from the preachers. As moral guardians, the religious leaders should use the pulpit to preach sermons that would transform the society, as we cannot have a transformed Nigeria, if we do not have transformed Nigerians. Furthermore, the gospel of materialism preached in a number of our religious institutions needs to be re examined.

In conclusion, for Nigeria to be transformed, we must consider re examining the current Nigerian dream that suggests that we must aspire to make as much money as possible, by any means possible, within the shortest time possible with as little effort as possible. Perhaps we could dream a new type of dream; a dream rooted in love, roped in humanity and roofed in compassion. A dream that sees others as ourselves, a dream in which wealth can be acquired through hard work, a dream in which no child will have to go to bed hungry, a dream in which a woman can give birth to her child without fear, a dream where one can take a plane ride between Lagos and Abuja without a morbid feeling of the plane crashing; a dream where one can safely live in any part of the country irrespective of tribe or religion.


Ahmed Sule, CFA

August 2012

The views stated in this article are personal to the writer and do not represent the view or opinions of any company or organisation with which the author is or was associated.

┬ę Ahmed Sule 2012


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