Yes. I remember the first time I saw a computer in real life. We huddled around it in the CSC 200 class, while the lecturer explained the blinking dots on the screen. But by the time I was typing my 'project' four years later there was a laptop and a portable printer in the house. I opened an email account for the first time when I got to Enugu for Law School in 2002; and got my first mobile phone (yes, the ubiquitous Nokia 3310) after my Bar exams in 2003. Sometimes, it feels all too much – still hard to believe there used to be an army of commercial typists in Area 1, complete with carbon paper and Tipex – but there's a swag that comes with running with cutting edge technology; a way it makes you feel like you're rubbing shoulders with the rest of the world.
Till you remember that it is so much easier to lay fibre optic cables for broadband internet from London to Lagos than it is to extend them from Lagos to Ogbomosho; so, how then do we measure progress? By the number of Nigerians on Facebook? By the fact that traffic in town is so light now because and academic calendars have all been configured so that long recesses coincide with 'summer' in other peoples' countries? By the sense that there MUST be an emerging middle class out there, just because Shoprites are springing up all over the place, and Ceddi Plaza buzzes at night, and on the Friday before the football season, the queue to renew Dstv subscriptions goes out the door?
But I was leaving work the other day, walking out with one of the cleaners, and when I asked her, 'Where do you live?' she smiled and said, 'You wouldn't know where it is'. It's one of the many things people will assume about you if they find out that your father is a Senator. So, I've learned to look past my own assumptions. These days everyone is bent over fiddling with a Blackberry, but that does not mean we all live in Asokoro. If you go to Kuje you will see women spreading grains out to dry on the unfinished road, same as they still do in my village; and the double-carriage expressway running through New Nyanya with its neat concrete road divider actually fizzles out at Keffi.
These are the things that remind me of Dr Wada, the lecturer that came back from America to teach POS 401- Third World and Dependency- at the University of Abuja in 1999. We didn't have enough seats for everyone in class. And the Law Library was the size of a modest room. But the men and women who love what they do, and do it like they would in the most ideal of circumstances, are the ones who eventually change the world in any truly significant way. So it was Dr Wada, holding on to that cup of whatever it was he was always drinking, that made me see - we must measure progress not by the luxuries our people now enjoy, but by the privations they still suffer. He called it the 'basic needs' approach to Development. For we will never have a country where everyone lives in a N200 million house; but we can have one where no one lives in a slum. It is for this reason that I still look forward to the day I can look back and say – 'I remember the first time…' And at the end of that sentence would be something that actually mattered in the long run.
Sent from my BlackBerry wireless device from MTN