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How we can accomplish Nigeria’s mission, by Wole Soyinka (2)

Do we need to point out that as a nation we are covered with shame that it took an external court of justice, of the former colonial masters, to finally put an end to the costly shenanigans of another of your former brother governors, one who held the forces of anti-corruption at bay, led them a merry dance all the way to Dubai until he was plucked out of his imagined sanctuary?

And what of that judge, the judge who freed him of over a hundred and fifty criminal charges here, in this very nation, pronounced him innocent of blasting the very future of the generations under his watch by a career of systematic, unconscionable robbery? Why are we surprised therefore to find ourselves faced with a future where all sense of community has all but evaporated and only predators roam the streets, making their own laws of survival as they proceed.

Yes, they make their own laws, for even these know that without law, written or unwritten, there is no community, and without community, all talk of nation is vain. Nations are built on the palpable operations of community, otherwise they are empty, artificial and hollow. They collapse with the tiniest pinpricks of unrest, they drift into oblivion with the slightest winds of external pressure.

So, that learned judge held the strings of community in his hands, the judge who pronounced our elusive governor free of all blemish, that custodian and administrator of justice,  our question today is – is he still passing judgment in this nation, or has he proceeded on retirement leave to Dubai?

Permit me to recall an  exercise in a minor key in one’s seeming obsession with the future which, of course, I continue to see as the immutable responsibility of the present, otherwise, what is the present all about?  In the early years of the return of the nation to civilian rule, I was invited to take part in a rather imaginative form of mentoring, initiated by a Japanese Television station, loaded with the grandiose name – Super Teachers.  It involved having a selected group of teachers – not necessarily teachers by profession – take a group of school pupils under their wing for a number of weeks.

Those teachers were selected on the basis of having attained some prominence in their disciplines. They were free to decide on a school, and from that school extract a class, or a group of pupils across classes, then expose them to aspects of their own calling. Science, technology, architecture, the performing arts etc – virtually all disciplines were represented, and the entire mentoring interaction was filmed.

What I privately relished in that project – this is just by the way – was that it enables me till today to boast that, for a few weeks at least, I was on the same payroll and salary as Bill Gates. I know that he would not have touched his honorarium – if at all they dared offer him such pittance.

However, as a man whose field is virtual reality, he would be the first to concede to me when I claim that, virtually speaking, we were earning the same salary from a shared project! So much for vicarious living. The programme, I was about to elaborate, allowed for the pupils to be taken anywhere that related to, or could enhance the imparting of knowledge – within the station’s budget of course.

Thus, in the process of selecting a school, that school understood that it was obliged to release the pupils to accompany the mentor wherever – I recall that the American pupils were flown to some part of North Africa where the archeologist in the Super Teachers team was working on an excavation site.

In my own case, the producers agreed that I would travel with my students to other parts of the country –  it was an opportunity to  expose the pupils to the nation’s diversity – religion, culture, history, the arts – whatever came under the rubric of Humanities. Now, as It happened  at the time, I had also received invitations from two or three legislative houses to address them, and so I seized the opportunity to induct my pupils into the work of law makers.

We began with Lagos where I off-loaded them on the public gallery of the House of Assembly. Afterwards, they were free to ask questions, make observations, and we would exchange views on their experience. I want you to listen carefully to the following extract from my address to the Lagos House of assembly: “I invite you, honourable members, to look up at that gallery. You will observe that you have some rather unusual visitors. I have brought them here to observe how law is enacted, but more importantly, to see how their future is being shaped.”

I proceeded to provide the house a brief summary of the Super Teachers  project, recommended it to the them as a possible model for emulation on some level or the other, but then I went on to say, and again I quote my very words on that occasion, words that placed my mission in the context of the nation’s realities, the context of some portentous events that came to dominate the news at that very time.

I said: “Now imagine if we had gone, let us say, to Kaduna state just about a month ago, during those days that are for ever branded on the memory of this nation, days of horror when some of the desperate politicians of this nation fomented an artificial upheaval in the name of religion, a conspiracy that led to the loss of over a thousand souls all over the nation, some in the most gruesome circumstances, both from the initial execution of meticulously planned massacres, and in retaliatory acts that took place in scattered places across the nation.

Among the victims were innumerable schoolchildren who were led out of their schools and slaughtered like rams for the very guilt of innocence. Imagine if I had led these innocents into such an inferno – tell me, just what kind of explanation would I have made to their parents. What treasure of the learning experience would I claim was worth such a horrifying ending to promising lives?

“It was a period that brought out the worst, the worse than bestial from our human landscape, but also the best – let us note this carefully – it also brought out the best, thanks to  a handful of that same humanity, who risked their lives to protect their fellow beings from the initial mayhem, and from the retaliatory rage that was being exercised by their own kin and neighbours. Yes indeed, this did happen – as is the case wherever the outbreak of the virus of insanity is recorded –  but how pitifully meagre is this consolation beside the depravity that overwhelmed the entirety of the nation.”

And who are have been the gang-bangers of the nation’s future? We can bypass the military – we know them already. Those are defined, not only by their uniform, but by their uniform arrogance, their unbridled rapacity and their uninformed propensity for sterile interventions. Are there no others?  Of course there are, and because they tend to lack open identification, they are especially dangerous.

But we do know them, and so do you. They are the ones who, even while claiming to defend the rights and entitlements of their own constituencies, do little more than defend the rights and entitlements of their privileged existence. They are the generator contractors in whose interest it is that the national electric system never works. They are the minority who conspire to run down the health system of the nation, since they can divert its allocation to their own, and their families’ excursion to Wiesbaden for annual checks and fly to New York to cure a toothache.

They are the ones who systematically destroyed the educational system which we took for granted throughout our own past that has engendered this present. They are the petroleum moguls and long-haulage monopolists who have ensured that this nation has never enjoyed the cheapest form of transport ever invented by humanity –  the railways.

These agents are the ones who see government solely as livelihood, and who engage in every dirty trick in the books to ensure that government remains in their hands since they know of no other way to survive, have never understood that a nation’s economy must be generated, not printed at the Central Bank or simply diverted from the oil wells and central handouts.

These enemies were the inventors of the Rice Importation Scheme, the Cement Importation Scheme, the Import Licence Scheme, the Counter Trade and numerous other scam schemes that were designed not to generate productivity and ensure employment for generations, but to amass, in the hands of a few, the entire wealth of the nation, from which they dole out pittances to a zombie followership. But sooner or later, zombies turn, recognize that they are also creatures of flesh and blood – then they demand their pound of flesh.

They call themselves leaders and claim to fight for their people but, today, they are indeed afraid. They have sat long upon the masses but today, they go about in fear. And such is the nature of this fear – it is no longer those who were routinely denounced as outsiders to, and hate filled critics of their way of life that they fear, but their own restless masses who have seen through their deception, their hypocrisy, their incontinence and their will to dominate.

For this minority, serving a constituency means, not the elevation of the social condition of their people, but the enclosure of such a constituency within the walls of dependency.  The sense of existence of such leaders is fulfilled only if, on sauntering out of their homes, they are surrounded by a constituency of beggars. Their self-fulfillment lies only in the non-fulfillment of their immediate, impoverished community. But their lies have been exposed and they have become frightened.

And this exposure has taken place despite the pogroms that they periodically launched against scapegoats and innocents – in preliminary softening-up surges on their environment, based on manufactured or distorted incidents – utilising their armies of zombies whose horizons are firmly, deliberately limited from birth to a meagerly space, horizons whose circumference was, quite simply, the rims of their bowls of beggary.

The demand – and here come my last words on the subject, a necessary summary of the past – the demands from multiple and varied directions for a National Conference is as old as political consciousness. Nor is it a demand that has been solely born out of a crisis.

It is a demand that is born out of the recognition of an unfinished business, and that business is the business of nation-becoming. Many people have acknowledged, in various forms, that Nigeria is not yet a nation. It is therefore only intelligent to see the demand for an encounter among peoples as a response to this awareness, one that is shared by millions but is often conveniently camouflaged.

A crisis is merely the immediate triggering cause for the resurrection of the idea, but a crisis is not the underlying motivation for such a recourse. We do acknowledge however that after a civil war, after military interventionism that has interrupted, and virtually subverted the creative tempo of true national building, after the inordinate consumption of a hegemonic but vastly tentacular minority – and I repeat – a minority that has destroyed trust among the peoples of this nation, it is time to resume our quest towards nationhood.

To all legislators, and indeed executive heads who are so jealously protective of their so-called sovereignty, may I end this reprise by reminding them that the call has always been: carry on the task for which you were elected. Nothing in what was ever proposed contradicted such functions.

Simultaneously with such functions however, the people demanded a forum for a mutual encounter among those who do not have an eye to the next election, who are not fearful of losing a luxury existence that bleeds the treasury of its life-blood, those who are not constrained by horse-trading and back-room ‘settlement’ for the passage of some bill upon which the functioning of the nation depends. Let us bear in mind however that it has always been within the rights and prerogatives of any group of people to engage in strategies for facilitating such an assemblage of minds.

All that has been said, all that has been argued and, in my view, there need be no further call for such a conference, only a clear understanding of the multiple causes for its constant resurgence. It is however time to stop barking up a wrong tree, and envisage instead what motions would have characterised such a conference were it to have taken place. In other words, it is time to act the national conference, not summon it. And I believe that this is what we are participating in today, a continuation of former initiatives, in the ongoing encounters of regional groupings.

There was the earlier one in Lagos a few months ago and, hopefully, these will be followed by others, all the way eastward and northward all the way towards Maiduguri and Kano when those beleaguered sectors have ridden themselves of the horrors of the mindless insurgency. My reading is then is as follows:

Central to these gatherings will be the very antithesis of that word ‘central’ – decentralization. Engaging in policies and strategies of development that progressively renders the centre reduced in its ability to impede – for this is what has been the norm – impede the pace and quality of development of the constituent parts of the nation. The constitutional envelope that currently holds the parts together should be pushed as far proves possible without it actually bursting, leading to a vibrant competition – and collaboration – among its constituent parts.

It is then left to the courts of arbitration to interpret those areas where it might appear that the envelope has been pushed too far. And let no one imagine that this is still the aberrant season of that Third Term Desperado and Denier who defied the courts in their decision over the illegal seizure of the statutory revenues of Lagos and some other states.  The people now know what to do, and have proved it.

Lagos stood firm. Leadership is half the battle but followership must also prove its mettle. Each regional grouping should, by its policies, declare an uncompromising developmental autonomy – I repeat, Autonomy – leaving the centre only with its competence provenance – foreign policy, national security and inter-state affairs – including peace subversive Peace Advocacy – but minus its propensity for inflicting heart seizure on productive human concourse.

There need be no further calls for a national conference. Let each regional grouping with compatible ideas of the ultimate mission – the future of the humanity for which they are responsible – begin to call the shots, and relegate the centre to its rightful dimensions in any functioning federated democracy.

Let each state call its own conference of peoples to articulate in just what direction they wish to direct their leaders and relate to the centre and other states. Let each regional grouping and its member states single-mindedly project and pursue their strategies for the enhancement of the quality of life and the dignity of their peoples, quarry into their resources to extract the material required for their very existence, material that they can exchange among one another based on their spatial developmental advantages – in short share among themselves areas of specialization, substituting strength for the weakness of their partners, expertise for deficiencies in one member or the other.

Such collaborating states need not even be contiguous, what matters is a community of interests, no matter how  physically distanced from one another.  Nigeria has proved too large and inefficient for the centralized identification and management of such human skills and material resources, the centre having become self-aggrandizing, bloated, parasitic and alienated.

Now is the time to put into practice that ancient saying: Small is beautiful. We must return to the earlier days of creative rivalry that pronounces that vanishing past an interrupted project of promise, creativity and productivity. Then, it may be possible for your generation to say contentedly, even while the harvest is still distant but the soil is cleanly prepared, the seeds implanted and germinating: Mission Accomplished!


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