If the question must be asked, for how long will Nigeria be stuck somewhere in between a sweltering summer of the dark ages of colonialism and the unaccountable military dictatorships and not-so-obvious autumn of freedom? If the country were in a metaphorical purgatory, whose sins is it expiating?
Where has Nigeria gone wrong? Is Nigeria atoning for our sins? If true, what are the sins? Isn’t there a dislocation between what we preach and what we practice? Haven’t many promises, political and otherwise, been broken?
Nigeria, a country with a territory of 923.7 thousand square kilometers and about 200 million people, has for long been taken hostage by its sons and daughters, who disingenuously want to see the country work for all.
Among the ruling and working class, among the filthily poverty-striken slums “survival of the fittest” is the mantra. Everyone is just hankering for a slight chance to outsmart one or another that is haplessly at a disadvantage.
At the independence, the country looked very promising. The first generation, which was the lucky one, hopefully thought in few decades the country would take the world by storm.
59 years after independence nothing has significantly changed. The deafening cry is once more that of the so desired nation-building, as if nation-building is a kind of manna to be miraculously supplied from heaven.
The standard of education has fallen at all levels. There is no stable power supply despite $16 billion the Obasanjo administration had spent on the sector. Unemployment, in connivance with grand scale corruption, has continued to create security challenges in many parts of the country.
Surprisingly, from 1999 to date, every administration has come up with one form of conference or another in so dubious an attempt to clear the ‘Augean stable’. But still things are unchanged. That is why oftentimes I ask myself, everyone should do the same, too, how sincere are our commitment to nation-building?
The missing gap is that all these years we have refused to place the contentious issues and problems this country is faced with, and which if care is not taken will be passed down to our children and our children’s children, before us. Neither the political office holders nor the masses want to let go of the old habits.
Threatening is the fact that our high institutions of learning have continued to produce graduates in a large number yearly only to be flung into the murky ocean of unemployment.
As the gap between the rich and the poor keeps growing, so we are entering a ‘new normal’ of insecurity that many fronts are gradually and steadily opening up.
Concurrently, every political party has settled for job creation, security, infrastructural and educational development as its campaign promises. As it was in the 2019 general elections, so will it be in the 2023 general elections.
As soon as a four-year tenure, or eight at maximum, ends, all the mouth-watering campaign promises and/or pledges made have outlived their usefulness. What is needed is another podium, physical or virtual, to recycle them.
What should be done? In 2004, one of the leading African historians, Dr Yusuf Bala Usman, presented a conference paper entitled “The Sokoto Chaliphate and The Nation-Building in the 19th and 20th Century” in which he argued that if Nigeria’s economy must be revived, strong public institutions for sustainable development must be built and developed democratic system of government established, the country must have leaders who are committed to justice and ready to sacrifice whatever it takes for socio-economic and educational development.
Where are we now? 16 years later, Nigerians need to convene another conference to look at their fellow Nigerians in the eye and tell them the bitter truth of where we have all got it wrong. We need to ponder, once more, on the arguments and solutions the great historian had raised and proffered, since corrupt leaders have continued to exploit the people and the natural resources, the institutions weaken and the poor device some means to maltreat their fellows.
However, a critical examination of the yearnings for freedom or a political system that will work for all leads an inquisitive searcher to that recurrent motif of blindness in one of the greatest Black-American writers, Tony Morrison’s novel “Invisible Man”. It has become the norm. Neither the poor nor the rich, neither the potentate nor the servant sees anything wrong in it. We, in general terms, “willfully avoid seeing and confronting the truth”.
Like the nameless character in the novel, who is also the Invisible Man and who partakes in a “battle royale”, is forced to wear a blindfold intended to bar his vision of the humongous exploitation being staged by the so feared white masters, we, too, have improvised a blindfold to circumvent the truth.
Who thought the ordinary Nigerians that religiously troop out en masse to vote for a party whose slogan is ‘change’ will go back to old ways; or a police officer who was nearly reduced to a church rat allegedly by the heads of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reform (who were saddled with the task of safe-guarding the fruit of his labour) would go back to that bad habit of extorting helpless motorists.
Today organized crimes thrive in many parts of the country because the perpetrators have the backing and cooperation of corrupt politicians or law enforcement agents
For instance, about four months ago, at a seminar convened by the Human Rights and Environment Development Agenda in collaboration with Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, a Nigerian lawyer-human rights activist, Femi Falana argued that while the efforts of both state and non-state actors like the ICPC and EFCC can be appreciated in the fight against corruption, they are loners as some officials openly promote corrupt practices.
Undoubtedly, there is a clear rupture between the past and present, meaning that there is an apparent cultural conversation breakdown between the past and the present informed by our collective unwillingness to change the destiny of this nation.
If Nigerians sincerely want to see this country change for the better, if they are desperately in need of a system that will work for all, they must reflect hard, ponder and go for a careful self-assessment to find out how much progress they have made at individual level and what should be done collectively to move the nation forward.
Alas! We want strong democratic institutions and good leadership whose establishment we are not ready to contribute to. Is there any person ready to sacrifice his little privilege for the interest of the country?
We all have a moral obligation of setting this country free. This is only doable when each one of us sincerely asks oneself the question: what can we do to make our country a better place to live?
Abdulhamid writes via [email protected]