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What happened to the Nigerian revolution?

I QUESTION whether the necessary psychological conditions exist for us to address Nigeria’s problems or to implement the necessary solutions to them. This skepticism stems from the relative ease with which those in power restore the status quo after Nigerians have appeared to have awakened to the need for change.

For instance, when the late President Umaru Yar’Adua flew to a Saudi Arabian hospital in the middle of the night for emergency treatment of his heart condition and Nigeria was left without a functioning government for months, Nigerians were visibly and vocally angry.

The Nigerian media published many articles that suggested that Nigeria was at the verge of a revolution. Such headlines as “The Nigerian Revolution Has Begun”, “What the Nigerian Revolution is Not About” adorned Nigerian newspapers.

Although this was just a few months back it feels as if it were ages ago. Those of us who believed then that Nigeria had turned the corner onto a revolutionary highway are now wondering what happened to the revolution that we were cheering on so recently. It seems as if the Nigerian revolution was dead on arrival. The relative ease with which those who control the status quo kill the desire for change makes me contemplate the possibility that Nigerians are experiencing a case of collective Stockholm syndrome.

The phrase Stockholm syndrome comes from events connected with a 1973 Swedish bank robbery. Thieves Jan-Erik Olsson and Clark Olofsson held four Stockholm bank employees at gunpoint in a vault for six days. When the police rescued them their reaction shocked the world: They kissed and hugged their captors, even declaring their loyalty to them as the police took them away.

Since that incident many more examples of victims of maltreatment showing unusual loyalty to their captors have occurred. For instance, in 1974, a gang calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army abducted heiress Patty Hearst.

She famously became their accomplice, took an assumed name, and helped them to rob a bank.

Generally speaking, then, Stockholm syndrome refers to the paradoxical psychological situation in which kidnapped people or prisoners begin to see things from the perspective of their captors, causing them to switch sides. Some have also applied this phenomenon to political trends. For instance, many psychologists and election experts have concluded that Americans re-elected President Bush as a result of Stockholm syndrome.

According to Dr. Ian Schroeder of the University of Chicago, “Stockholm syndrome generally occurs with the kidnapped person or prisoner begining to identify and feel the pain of their captor. It causes them to switch sides, as it were, and begin identifying and enlisting in opinions and activities that they would otherwise ignore or fight against.”

He went on to explain that after the first four years of the Bush administration many American voters actually started to espouse such Bush-administration values and tenets as loss of personal freedom and civil rights, dishonesty, and duplicity. They effectively started identifying with their kidnapper and helped to put him back in office.

In the absence of any other logical explanation I am tempted to use Stockholm syndrome to explain what happened to the Nigerian revolution. It seems to me that after many years of abuse and captivity, Nigerians have started to espouse the tenets and opinions of their captors, who are the corrupt and dishonest politicians.

Nigerians allow them to retain office instead of having an all-out revolution to bring about personal freedom, civil rights, and accountability.

In any society where the people desire change, the first step is always for them to realise the need for it and to stop taking their captors’ side. I have always argued that Nigerian politicians are so brazenly dishonest and corrupt because so many years of abuse have made Nigerians as a people lose their sense of right and wrong.

As much as Nigerians decry corruption and unaccountability, the country’s politics will remain unchanged as long as the people remain debilitated and lack the will to force it to change.

As Dr. Schroeder explained in regard to the Bush phenomenon, politicians in even highly developed societies take advantage of people who have Stockholm syndrome.

Interestingly, Nigerians tend to look to the politicians to lead a revolution that they have worked so hard to stifle for many years. Leading revolutions, however, has historically never been the role of politicians in any society.

Sometimes people may consider honest and upright politicians to be revolutionaries, but revolutionaries have historically been unbiased and uncompromised fighters for justice, people whose interest in fighting for ordinary people is uncompromised by political aspirations.

Martin Luther King, for example, was a revolutionary. His interest in changing the United States went beyond politics. He was never interested in any elected position because he knew that the goals and aspirations he had for his people would have been compromised. It would have been easier for the white people against whom he struggled to stifle the revolution if he’d had any selfish political interests.

I have always argued that the person who will revolutionize Nigeria will not be a politician. He will be someone like Martin Luther King who will take the pain and risk of counseling Nigerians out of Stockholm syndrome without having any interest in personal political power. What happened to the Nigerian revolution is that we have yet to see such a person.

Mr. Odunze, a journalist, writes from Lagos.


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