By Tabia Princewill
We have all heard, time and time again that Nigerians are bad, greedy, selfish people, people who stand for nothing and believe in nothing. We’ve all heard the saying “black man, black heart”, a testimony to our self-loathing, inherited from our colonial past. In reality, although things in this country are far from perfect, it is my firm belief that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the average Nigerian.
If what seems like a majority of people do behave badly, it is simply because of the climate of lawlessness which many of our politicians have perpetuated. As social experiments around the world prove, people behave badly when they believe they can get away with it.
Rather than any innate goodness or moral compass, the average person is guided by fear of the “long arm of the law”. If the US, or the UK’s judicial system was as chaotic as ours, undoubtedly, people would not shy away from embezzlement or any other crimes, knowing the odds of their case appearing in court are slim.
If their media was as compromised as ours is, like us, they wouldn’t fear the court of public opinion, because not only would the citizenry be unaware of half of what really goes on, politicians could sponsor articles to negatively influence people’s thoughts, which is why it seems Nigerians have completely lost sight of right and wrong.
Poverty, a lack of education, where solid, moral values are taught as part of a civics programme are part of the reasons behind so many of our country’s issues. History isn’t taught in most classrooms so we have no unbiased knowledge of Nigeria and stories change depending on who is doing the telling.
Parties and interests
Most of our opinion leaders or even religious leaders are compromised, beholden to parties and interests. However, it is really the average Nigerian I want to talk about, not the elite or the high flyers.
A human being’s pre-disposition is for chaos not order. At his core, Man is more emotional than rational. That societies gradually evolved into states where law and order prevail and where rationality and fairness supersede sentiment and injustice is a choice humanity made rather than a de facto arrangement.
According to 18thcentury European “enlightenment era” philosophers, Locke, Rousseau and Hobbes, the “social contract theory” describes the contract societies formed to end the hardship and oppression which is the law of nature, or the law Man abides by in his natural state.
Therefore governments exist because people consent for them to exist: citizens are responsible, in democracies, for voting them in and in turn, elected officials are accountable to their constituents. Therefore governments are created to work for the public good. Locke in particular, defended the right to revolution as in extreme cases, governments who fail to work in the interest of all can be forcefully removed: freedom comes at a price. President Obama is sitting in the White House today because countless activists died fighting for the colour of his skin to be disregarded and for Black people to have equal rights in America.In Nigeria, we don’t fight for the things that matter. We fight each other over religion and ethnicity, while our leaders sit and dine together, oblivious to these man-made differences. We outnumber our would-be masters, but we accept anything and everything they say, no matter how wrong or ludicrous. We must have the courage of our convictions, if indeed we want change in this country. Violence is one thing, civil disobedience is another. We are on the cusp of something great, I felt it at the polling units I visited.
Different walks of life
I met people from different walks of life and so many spoke to me of change, of the new Nigeria they envision for their children. I met Aisha, who moved to Lagos from Bauchi. She came to the polling unit with her whole family: husbands, brothers, sisters and children. They left the North due to security concerns but miss their home dearly.
I met a young man, also from the North who told me he wanted to farm but that government kept the fertilizer for the politically connected. I heard so many stories, tales of wasted lives and opportunities; the elite in Nigeria often have the impression that every “poor man” is a criminal in waiting.
This isn’t so: all most people want is a decent life, to send their children to school without fear, to see them grow and to be happy. People’s desires are quite simple; all over the world, we want the same things, to feel that we are a part of something, that people care about us. No matter where we are from or how much we have in our pockets, we all want to be regarded with dignity and to live fulfilling lives.
My new friends passed oranges round. We bought water for each other. We were there 14 hours. Despite the discomfort and the initial issues with the card readers, I saw resolute, determined people. Young LASU engineering graduates who had been forced to become security guards due to lack of jobs: how could they not yearn for change, for something new, grand and different in their country?
How could they not but hope that opportunities in the new Nigeria they were to vote for would be fairly awarded, not simply because one is a big man’s child? I saw what some would call uncharacteristic orderliness. Whatever happens next, it will not be business as usual in Nigeria.
Nigerians have great expectations, which must be met by our leadership. Let us have the courage of our convictions till the very end: I believe in peace but I also believe in change, for fairness and justice for all, even those who don’t exactly pray like me, look like me or speak the same language. We are all Nigerians. We cannot allow anyone or any government to overrule our conscience; no one can make us agents of injustice without our consent. We can resist any oppression without violence if we believe our actions are justified but we do not have to cooperate with any system, if we believe it is wrong. Apathy is a great evil that we are beginning to shake: there is nothing wrong with Nigerians. Many of us still believe, as a Yoruba proverb says, “because we want to eat meat, we will not resort to calling a cow, sir”. Conformism to wrongdoing isn’t obedience to the law. We can have a country again, if we are willing to take it back.
Manipulation of results
The PDP alleges that the results released on social media by various people from their individual polling units are fake, possibly even sponsored by the APC in a bid to cause confusion and set the stage for violence. So many of our politicians have such poor, badly tainted reputations.
Some have court cases pending, others are regarded by large segments of the population as inept. How do we get better candidates? The pool that recruits them needs to be widened or Nigerians won’t get the best. We wouldn’t even be talking about manipulation of results if politicians were sure of themselves and their records: they would coast to victory.
The amounts spent on “rigging and counter-rigging” would be pointless if politicians simply did the work they were elected to do. Unfortunately, the delegates who choose candidates are themselves mostly poverty-stricken and beholden to the party moneybags; so they don’t choose the best. One can’t help but chant “change”, especially when one thinks of the brave, peaceful women protesters in Rivers State who were mercilessly tear-gased.
Global Rating agency, Fitch, has negatively reviewed Nigeria due to the political uncertainty relating to the elections. This makes me think of the widespread challenges an incoming administration will have to face: what is in fact, left in the state coffers after all that has been spent to “woo” the electorate? This election has been incredibly divisive: we must come together again as a country.