By Pini Jason
Last week’s celebration of our 52nd independence anniversary offered us another opportunity for national moaning. I consciously avoided joining the bandwagon to pontificate ex-cathedra about our shortcomings. Rather I took a copy of my book: A Familiar Road and I read titles like, Thirty Years Ago; 33 Years In The Wilderness; 35 And Still Bed-Wetting, etc and I came to the conclusion similar to my 2006 conclusion about the Niger Delta crisis. Soon after the abduction of eight foreign oil workers in the Niger Delta, someone in the Presidency asked my views about the crisis. I told him that everybody knows what is wrong in Niger Delta; what we needed to do was to discuss a development roadmap for the region.
In the same vein, we all know the things wrong with our nation. But how about spending a little time and ink to articulate how to solve our problems? To dwell perpetually on what is wrong with us amounts to what mystics call mental poisoning. It perpetuates and deepens our national trauma. There is no greater witchcraft than the one in our mind! Our country is nothing but what we think, do or say about it. Waziri Adio made a wonderful anniversary submission he titled: “Lets Start By Fixing The Mind”(Thisday Monday October 1, 2012). I recommend that article to every Nigerian.
Those who peremptorily excoriate Nigeria may believe that they have discharged their patriotic duty. When I read Sera Pallin’s book, America By Heart, I realised how little we love our country. For sure, there is no country without problems. There are still people who, out of frustration, burn the American flag. But patriotism, as Pallin argued, is unconditional, for the very reason that there is always the “other” side of a country, even when we think all is lost. For example, when traffic was diverted on the Third Mainland Bridge for repairs, it caused traffic snarl. Lagosians wailed and cried as if their world had come to an end. But, as Igwe Alex Nwokedi observed to me, those wailing completely ignored the sacrifices of the men and women of the Police, LASTMA, Traffic Wardens, Civil Defence and Road Safety Corps who left the comfort of their homes and family to deploy on the bridge day and night to minimize the inconvenience of the road users; they also forgot the gains that await everybody at the end of the pains caused by the repairs.
Today we are all concerned about insecurity in our country. The spate of killings despairs us all. It seems as if the country is going to break up. Indeed anybody who wants to sound knowledgeable these days starts by writing off Nigeria. We cannot pretend that all is well.
No. But, you see, even as we lament our national woes, especially as they directly affect us, there are men and women of the Armed Forces and other security organisations who are laying down their lives to provide a perimeter of protection for us. Today about 1000 of them have paid the supreme price for our protection. So when we write off our country because of the activities of terrorists and violent gangs, we unconsciously write off the sacrifices of these “other” Nigerians.
There is this mentality that we are not responsible for what our country has become or what it has failed to achieve. “They” are the problem, and not us. For example, many Nigerians mindlessly dispose their refuse indiscriminately and some of them end up in the drains. When this results in flooding the typical Nigerian cry is that “they” should do something about it! “They” owe us every answer but we take no responsibility! Who really are “they”? “They” are us! At every point you locate a failure, there is a Nigerian who has failed to hold his forte! Ivan Illich, a Viennese priest/philosopher, in his book, Celebration of Awareness, said: “Every one of us, and every group with which we live and work, must become the model of the era which we desire to create”.
My friend Chidi Amuta in his anniversary piece: “How Country Now?” pointed out that: “China, India, Singapore, Brazil, Malaysia, Dubai, Qatar, Indonesia, etc, are typical examples of positive transformations of nations that were all Third World countries less than three decades ago into First World ranking” (Thisday Oct 2, 2012). What people who invoke the examples of other nations cleverly leave out is the fact that the transformation of some of these countries took place under authoritarian rules! For me the single most debilitating obstacle to our transformation is our attitude to law and order! We never adjust to obey laws, rather we fight. Look at the hue and cry over Lagos State’s new traffic laws! Even senior officers of the Armed Forces went to the Governor to ask for the law to be changed!
In 1993, we stopped at Phuket, a holiday Island of Thailand. A notice posted at the airport caught my attention. It itemized the people not allowed into Phuket: Hippies, people with dreadlocks, people with pierced ears, faded jeans, etc. The obvious intent was to preserve the Island’s ability to attract tourists. If you made such laws here, our democrats and human rights activist will go to court on behalf of the suffering masses!
Whereas citizens of other nations have borne the brunt of their transformation, we choose which laws to obey; we even choose and insist on how we want to be governed. And for 160 million people, that is another name for anarchy! As Mallam Adamu Ciroma said: “We adopt the path of self-selection of the rules we want to follow, of the general order we want to follow and the laws we want to follow. Once you do that, the consequences become bigger and more serious as the years go by”. In our case those who are loudest are really not those who bear the brunt of our laws!
In 1983, we coined the phrase, “Ghana Must Go”, when we threw out economic refugees from Ghana. Kwesi, Asamoah and Adjua went home to build Ghana. Whereas every Ghanaian in diaspora repatriated his income home, in our case we loot our country to stash in foreign banks! Today Ghana is a destination for shameless Nigerians for education, holiday and residency! It is often said that when a Nigerian enters a place, you do not mistake the fact that he is a Nigerian. This speaks of our swagger! Are we too big to build our country?
FROM MY MAILBAG
Greetings Mr Jason,I’m writing with regard to your View Point column in today’s Vanguard, The Mugging of Sanusi. Your commentary is a timely intervention and I hope many Nigerians would read it. I applaud the intelligent insight and objectivity in your commentary, two ingredients which have become rare in the latest pastime called “Sanusi-bashing”.
Even my big brother, Dele Momodu whom I respect very much, could not help jumping on the band-wagon despite aptly capturing the history of fickle sentimentality within the wider society.
It is inevitable that when people are oppressed, poor, hungry and angry, in the absence of heroes who would lift them out of despair, they look for villains at whom to point the finger for all their woes. Unfortunately, in such climes, they become easy fodder for political hoodwinkers.
It is possible that ‘Sanusi-bashing’ is a well-choreographed project by indeterminate adversaries whose aim could be to exact revenge and/or to gag a fearless truth teller. Sanusi is no saint, but is he really the villain in the big picture of the numerous problems in this country? For a while now, the Sanusi adversaries have leveraged every CBN policy move, whether positive or controversial, to perpetuate this culture of personal abuse and serve him up as the focus for the people’s frustrations. Sadly, they have used the media with some measure of success.
Therefore, Mr. Jason, I’m paying you my respect for staying true to the core tenets of your profession which some have abandoned in favour of jumping on easy band-wagons.
Please keep up the good work.