By Pini Jason
I CAN imagine that the question on everybody’s lips now is: is this the beginning of the end prophesied for Nigeria? Can Nigeria make it to 2015? If Boko Haram has infiltrated the government and the nation’s security agencies, as President Jonathan admitted, can the nation hold together?
Who can we trust when it seems the enemy may be your next door neighbour and that inviting can of soft drink may be a deadly explosive? Apprehensions like these are hardly misplaced. But as Nigeria seems to be hurtling drunkenly towards a foretold crash, the surprise for me really is that Nigerians, including the President, are surprised at what is happening!
At war with self: Let us face it; Nigeria is a nation that has constrained itself since independence. Nigeria was born with its hands and feet tied! It should, therefore, be obvious to anybody sixty years and above why Nigeria has never worked. It was never structured to work! What did independence mean to us? Let the British go. If there were other purposes independence was supposed to serve, they were never discussed, negotiated or agreed upon.
No wonder, therefore, that barely four years into independence, Nigeria began to flounder as those un-negotiated issues—like power relations, the terms of federating and political space for every federating unit—began to cause problems for us. We did not form a federation based on the principle that power must be through consent, not coercion. We were left with a nation where power is grabbed by any group that can muster enough of what Prof. George Obiozor calls “credible threat”.
Thus, Nigeria has been at war with itself since independence, a war caused by those unresolved national questions.
Often, “experts” blame our national crisis on rampant corruption and economic deprivation. Perhaps that is true. But Boko Haram, for example, demands to be ruled under Sharia and they repudiate Western education.
An economically deprived Muslim still prefers a Muslim President or Governor and will wage a jihad to get that. The question is: are they saying that economic prosperity is only guaranteed under the conditions violently demanded by Boko Haram? Martin Luther King Jnr. reasoned that if you wanted more jobs, you don’t burn down the existing factory!
With the infrastructure deficit and poverty in the South East, the Igbo will sing deliriously happy if their son becomes president in 2015! But an average Igbo will tell you that an Igbo President is the only way to show that the civil war is over, not that it guarantees him prosperity. A purely sentimental reason!
The point I am making is that our criteria for leadership selection are not competence and the ability to create prosperity, but primordial. The politicians know this and do not bother to address economic deprivation, but rather play up these primordial sentiments for their survival.
This condition is made worse by fear – fear that we cannot trust our affairs in the hands of anyone who is not from our tribe or our religion, suspicion – suspicion that the other group is trying to dominate us and hatred – hatred for anyone who is not one of ours. Corruption is another reason adduced for the upheavals in our country.
For me, corruption derives from the unworkable structure of Nigeria. It is another form of self help (like military coup and armed violence) people resort to maximise their advantage in a country that does not guarantee justice and equity.
But whether the underlying problem is corruption, economic deprivation or primordial sentiments, we need to find out what Nigerians really want, when they want it (their priority) and how they want it.
The only way to find out is unfortunately the path those at the helm of our affairs have decided to avoid. Call Nigerians together and find out what their preferences are and how to address them.
Well, they called it National Conference, and some hawks prefixed it with “sovereign” and frightened many leaders! Nigerian rulers are scared stiff to take the only sensible option for holding this country together and freeing it to fulfill its destiny. Every ruler thinks of himself and his tenure and murmurs to himself: “Am not the one to preside over the dismemberment of Nigeria”.
To think that a National Conference will dismember Nigeria is mischievous. Not many countries have had the luck to negotiate the dissolution of their unworkable union in a conference. Nations just slip into disintegration by not taking steps necessary to stem an obvious slide.
Negotiate the union: Why do we think that these problems will just go away? Has Nigeria enjoyed four years (that is a tenure of a president) of uninterrupted peace since independence? South Africa, a nation of amazing diversity, has enjoyed 18 years of uninterrupted peace since independence. It is not because there is no corruption or deprivation in South Africa. It is because South Africa’s constitution is a product of intense negotiation, compromise and agreement among all the groups in South Africa.
Any nation would have learnt all the lessons it needs from the events that led to the Biafra-Nigeria war. But has Nigeria learnt anything? Why are we surprised that Nigeria has simply declined over the years in spite of its enormous potentials for greatness? I want to be told of any nation in history that has made progress under a condition of constant war!
Love of country and the many lies: It is funny the way we lie to ourselves and proceed to believe and live the lies. Nigerians bleat about their love of their country. Is it among those who steal the country blind, or those who shoot their way to power or those who run commercial kidnapping rackets or those who sell adulterated goods or those who throw bombs or among the vendors of false miracles that we can find Nigerian patriots?
It seems that we strongly believe that liberty is licence, freedom is anarchy and democracy is the same thing as nihilism. Every day Nigerians write and enforce their own codes; laws that make exceptions for them.
We all want a nation that endorses only our own code of behaviour, not one that enforces a common law. I see falsehood becoming the new religion. What we hear and what we believe form our national psyche. I see self interest overriding public interest and I ask myself, how on earth can a society so dysfunctional make progress? Yet, the fault is not in us but in someone else!
With all the eggheads in Nigeria, including those extracted from Fortune 100 companies abroad, how come our economy has defied solution? The cacophony of “economic experts” has constrained our development even more than corruption! Given that we take ourselves too seriously as democrats, we, the motor park economists (apologies Dr. Alexander Ashikiwe Adione-Egom) have not been left out of our economic debate. We, the proud and vocal motor park economists are actually filling the void created by our politicians who have shied away from leading the debate as in other countries.
We have ensured that what worked for other countries never worked for us. All that it takes to obfuscate an economic debate is to tar a policy as “an IMF/World Bank” prescription for our re-colonisation! Excuse me? Isn’t the world so tired of us that they would prefer we put our country on our head and took a walk?
We have a cynical phobia for our citizens who have worked in IMF or World Bank (we never really know which one is it they worked for), even when they have helped other economies to succeed.
Read this: “Ezekwesili (that is Oby, our own Madam Due Process) has been known to have actively supported African countries in pursuing core development goals and often praised for her personal zeal and knowledge in advancing a series of policy options for the continent’s leadership, causing even the Economist magazine to recently review its previous doomsday prediction on Africa, and declared that Africa is indeed rising based on the upward growth rate on the continent”. That was The Guardian of Tuesday 17 January 2012, paraphrasing the praises heaped by World Bank’s President, Bob Zoellick on Ezekwesili who ends her tour as Vice President of the World Bank in May this year.
Notwithstanding Oby’s feat at the World Bank, the greatest mistake she would make is to return to public office in Nigeria; ask Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala or Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu! She will be abused and any policy she touches will be viewed with suspicion because she is a virus unleashed on us by the evil World Bank to implement its neo-colonial agenda here! While we abuse her as if she is not a Nigerian, government is heckled into taking political decisions where it ought to take purely economic decisions.
Thus, while other countries take advantage of these institutions, we avoid them like plague and constrain our access to cheap funds and run on the spot every year on the Millennium Development Goals programmes. Mozambique and Angola recently emerged from decades of war. Today, they are preferred tourist destinations. Angola even once kicked us out of the World Cup. We have since degenerated to not even qualifying for the African Cup of Nations! Many nations in Africa are getting their acts together and moving on. But I believe we can sober up and remove the constraints holding us down.
To start with, President Jonathan should listen to Nigerians calling for a National Conference and convoke one NOW. It is no use dialoguing with Nigerians piecemeal. Give Nigerians an opportunity to sit together, air their grievances on every matter under the sun, concerning their association in the union. They say if a child is crying and consistently pointing at a particular door, either the mother or the father is certainly behind that door!