LESSONS FROM ISRAEL
By Joel Nwokeoma
I was in Israel last March. I traversed almost the whole length and breadth of the nation of eight million people in the Middle East, made up of 74% Jews, 17.8% Muslims and two per cent Christians; from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (East and West), from Tiberias to Hebron, Galilee to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem and down to Jericho in the West Bank. I rode a cruise on the Sea of Galilee and visited a synagogue and some historical sites like the Tomb of David and Church of Nativity. I explored the nation’s expansive and idyllic landscape on the long journey to Jordan one humid Wednesday.
Tourism alone is a major source of revenue for Israel; in 2018, the Times of Israel quoted the Ministry of Tourism as saying it contributed NIS24billion ($6.3bn) to the economy, an all-time record. The increase is due in part to a NIS 350 million ($93 million) marketing campaign promoting Israel as a travel destination around the world, including, the US, Germany, Russia, Italy, England, China, Ukraine, Brazil, and the Philippines, the newspaper further says. Strikingly, a NIS 145 million ($38.5 million) in grants was made available to entrepreneurs to encourage accommodation options across the country leading to the construction of almost 4,000 new rooms that year, representing annual year-on-year growth of 49%.
The result is the tumultuous crowd you see at the entry points and historical sites across the country. Tourists drawn from across the world empty into the country every day to visit the Holy Land. In fact, a record four million tourists arrived in 2018, a 13% increase compared to the 2017 figure and 38% increase with that of 2016.
The crowd I saw that cold early morning on arrival, from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the expansive Tel Aviv airport was unprecedented. More than I ever saw at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport or Washington Dulles International Airport. And the ease with which the passengers were effortlessly attended to by the immigration and airport authorities spoke of the culture of efficiency in their system. I had minimal interaction with humans, as the operations are mechanised. Officials only come to your aid when you need help.
Instructively, though a Holy Land, I did not see winged angels on guard at locations. I saw security personnel. All humans. Courteous, smart and attentive. In some places, they were not visible but not in any case unavailable. Evidently, even though Israelis have a genuine claim to God, as we are told, they do not hand over everything they need to do by themselves onto God’s hand, as we mostly do in Nigeria.
Unlike us, they do not pray for economic growth and recovery, they plan and work towards it, instead. They don’t engage in vainglorious invocation of God’s name to deal with their security challenges or existential issues. And they are surrounded by hostile neighbours. Instead, they take deliberate and detailed actions, not leaving anything to chance or fate.
In 2018, for example, the budget for the Israeli Defence Forces was $18.5bn including a $3.1bn from the US Foreign Military Assistance. The evidence is in well-resourced and capable armed forces at the ready to respond, with precision and speed, at the least threat, even though The God of Israel is there for them. Even though River Jordan is there, nobody is selling the water in any corner, let alone some bottled concoctions merchandised in some corners as a fellow reportedly did in Abuja recently.
Israel is a desert nation, but it doesn’t disturb God in prayers for seasonal rain for its agricultural yield. It employs agritech to irrigate the land from the Sea of Galilee for farming. Its desert land became a fertile land, because some people acted right, investing hugely in agriculture and technology. Food, of all varieties, is in abundance. Of course, the nexus between food security and national security is not lost on its leaders, old and new. I also noticed its topography is one of the most unfriendly: rocky, and mountainous. But with engineering ingenuity, a function of huge investment in education, innovation, science and technology, and research and development, mind-blowing architectural masterpieces dot the landscape.
Interestingly, in all the time I stayed in Israel, I didn’t see any gathering of noise-emitting, air-polluting worshippers, whether Christians or Muslims; theirs is an ordered and decent society. Made possible by humans, not angels or fellows entrapped by religion like us. Honking of horn in traffic is a horrible offence. Funnily, I observed that the people that prayed the loudest and longest at Mount Tabor and Pool of Bethsaida, and other places of interest were Nigerian pilgrims. Nigeria has, arguably, the largest delegation at every stream of pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I was told.
At the Wailing Wall, I noticed Nigerians wailed louder than the biblical women of Jerusalem, even when the place is a solemn ground. We show off our religiosity at the drop of the hat, but there’s scant regard for humanity in our governance, politics and economic transactions. We wear it on our faces for all to see. For 20 years of democracy, we are not able to build one new refinery, yet China built a 1,000 bed-hospital in 10 days to fight coronavirus. Why, I ask, do we as Nigerians think that by merely pontificating and sermonising, we can get things done right or fulfil our manifest potential? We are the only country where official events are preceded with an opening prayer and ended with a closing prayer by either of the two dominant faiths; sometimes, we close events half-way so people can go and pray – this is NEVER done in Israel, the birthplace of Jesus Christ—yet, ours is one of the most unlivable corners of the earth.
Need I remind anyone that the Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index returned a damning report on Nigeria recently? We pray for good roads, strike-free academic sessions, electricity, railway project completion and the economy. The other day, I saw a photo of some engineers of a construction company kneeling to be prayed for at a worship centre by a popular pastor in order to complete the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, contracted to them eons ago. I shook my head in utter disbelief.
From many altars and shrines, we have invoked curses on Boko Haram insurgents as, perhaps, another counterinsurgency strategy since our military aren’t succeeding with the proclaimed “technical defeat” of the terrorists. Some $3.3bn meant for arms was shared by politicians while five Nigerian soldiers carted away N400m during an escort duty from Sokoto to Kaduna in July 2019. The money was believed to be meant to purchase arms, but one “Big Oga” felt it was better kept away for his personal use. The chaps he used for the diversion cut across the two major religions. Though divided by religion, they are united in theft.
We need prayers to implement our budget and equip our health centres and hospitals to treat malaria. Bill Gates said ours is one of the worst places a child can be born into. So far, over 47 have died from Lassa fever. It is caused by rats, we know. Affected states rush to Irrua specialist hospital in Edo State for Lassa fever tests, instead of building theirs. We lack the capacity to end that yearly scourge ravaging our land and exposing our underbelly. According to the WHO, Nigeria is “the country where nearly 20 per cent of all global maternal deaths happen. Between 2005 and 2015, it is estimated that over 600,000 maternal deaths and no less than 900,000 maternal near-miss cases occurred in the country”. Overall, maternal mortality rate is approximately 800 per 1000 live births and 58,000 maternal deaths in 2015. Yet, a beggarly N427.3bn, out of N10tn, representing 0.04% was allocated to health in the 2020 budget.
We are so religious, yet so godless. Yes, so godless we loot the whole of annual budgets with no one punished. Abacha loot keeps dropping every day. One big man used the money meant to feed the IDPs to cut grass in the camps. In another place, a snake reportedly “swallowed” JAMB millions in the care of someone. A friend who returned from Mecca quipped that, “Overbearing religiosity, as is our lot here, is a stimulant to our seeming godlessness! Not even Saudi Arabia lays claim to our religious pretentions!” God does not delight in fools.
The heat that greeted me at the arrival hall of the Murtala Muhammed airport, that Sunday afternoon, with its non-functional air-conditioning system and indecorous airport workers chorusing “Oga, anything for us?”, reminded me I had returned to Nigeria where we implore God to fix even the A/C for us.
Unless we put an end to this blind faith, as a nation, we will continue to be a basket case of national failure. Let’s stop disturbing God in Nigeria, He’s the God of all creation too. As someone said, Israel is a testimony to the reality of God and a good example to show the world that humans have the capacity to use their brains to make the world better without undue religious rituals. Can Nigeria learn from it?
Joel Nwokeoma is a staff of Punch Nigeria Ltd. He could be reached on Jnwokeoma@punchng.com 07085183894