David Hundeyin uses his family example to show that it is possible to be upright and yet successful in Nigeria

I talk about my dad a lot, maybe even too much. That’s because he was much more than just a father to me. He was a symbol.

I looked at him and saw possibility. His life was a story of possibility. Despite growing up in an asset-rich, cash-poor, polygamous context, he made it from Badagry to a 1st Class in Biochemistry at the University of Ghana, on the back of personal determination, hard work, and the existence of enabling factors such as Awolowo’s high-quality free education policy and OAU/Soviet Union university scholarships.

Despite entering the civil service as a teacher in 1977, the meritocracy that existed back then made it possible for him to rise all the way to Director of Lands, then into Gov. Raji Rasaki’s office without ever staining his white even once. Of course, many of his contemporaries stained their whites repeatedly, but the system that once existed made it possible for him to be a successful person without stealing, cheating, or pledging allegiance to anyone.

Yes, his clean record might have been influenced by the fact that he was a religious fundamentalist/true believer who went to absurd extents to live by his faith, but there were many other people in the same faith who committed all sorts of atrocities, so clearly it was a personal decision on his part to never dip his hands into anything that he could not reveal to the world.

Religious fanaticism aside, on the back of hard work, honesty, and integrity alone, he was able to give his family the sort of life that 99% of Nigerians have no frame of reference for. I was raised with the idea that honesty and hard work are all you need to become successful in Nigeria or anywhere, and I had a real-life example of this walking around the house everyday with his leather flip-flops and constant half-smile.

I may not have inherited his faith, but I did inherit his fanaticism. I have seen with my own two eyes that it is possible to be an upright person and be hyper-successful (by Nigerian standards) at the same time. There is no contradiction implied therein. The air in Nigeria is not different from the air in Singapore or Chile. The rules of economics are not different. The idea that you have to be a criminal or subservient to a criminal in order to live in an 8-bedroom mansion in a GRA, have 6 cars, send your kids to international schools, take foreign holidays and give your wife everything she wants, is NOT TRUE.

I know for a fact that it is not true because I am the direct offspring of a man who did all that and NEVER ONCE defrauded, cheated, or stole from anyone. A good education, hard work, access to information, smart investment, and a lot of delayed gratification is all it took. I witnessed it and benefitted from it, which is why there is nothing you can tell me that will convince me that criminality HAS to be the default setting in Nigeria.

Everytime I visit a sizeable Nigerian community in Europe, Asia or North America, I observe the same thing – a consistent trend toward respectable middle-class professional life within one generation of leaving Nigeria, even if they arrived from there as destitutes. Once Nigerians find themselves in any environment that rewards honest work and focus, the results are almost uniformly the same – they thrive without recourse to criminals and criminality.

That was once the reality of the Nigeria my dad lived in, and I cannot stop believing in something that I myself witnessed and benefitted from. That’s why I care so much, and that’s why I could never stop caring even if I wanted to.

The recent and current occupiers of Abuja have done a very good job of convincing many Nigerians that the Nigeria where a drug dealer with extensive FBI records for heroin trafficking is president and a terrorist with documented ties to Boko Haram is vice-president, is the Nigeria that has ALWAYS existed, and that everyone should give up, accept it and fall in line.

But I have seen contrary evidence.

So I refuse.

I will always refuse.

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