By Tabia Princwill
EVERY time Nigeria’s size or ethno-religious diversity are used as excuses to explain our country’s lack of development, I am forced to argue that many other countries across the globe have experienced these same challenge laced opportunities and yet, have not continuously sacrificed the common good on the altar of political greed. The United Kingdom just held its general elections and the Conservative party emerged victorious, despite political pundits and pollsters predictions.
Notably, neither the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the British equivalent of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) nor public office holders predicted the death of any contestants, as they have no prophets or astrologers in their employ. Some in Nigeria have reduced the UK election to a fear Conservatives will be bad for immigration. The West does not improve its society and its services for us to come make use of them. When do we develop our own? However, what I find interesting are the hidden parallels between the questions governance raises all over the world; what differs is leadership and the will to do the right thing, which Nigeria, till date, has been sorely lacking.
Look and feel same candidates
One complaint during these past UK elections has been that most of the candidates “look and feel” the same, all products of elite institutions with privileged financial backgrounds who seemingly, would further entrench the status quo.
In Nigeria, our bias, “ageism”, sexism and political recycling favours older, cynical candidates who believe mobile phones are not for the poor. Even when we favour younger candidates, they famously “don’t give a damn” about declaring their assets or tell us stories about yams, goats and the philosophical differences between stealing and corruption. Unlike the UK, where privilege when it exists is born from good “breeding”, the pride and pleasure of having a good name, where those who are rich have actual jobs and businesses to justify their wealth, Nigerian politics is an all comers affair where one could be a petty criminal one day and suddenly graduate to billionaire status.
Unlike the UK where policy differences determine electoral outcomes (e.g. the conservative concept of a welfare system that catches citizens when they fall but also enables them to rise), in Nigeria we do not care to see that our elected representatives limit our horizons by enshrining a system where the unproductive parts lord it over the productive elements.
Politics, an elite affair
Politics all around the world is often an elite affair but good governance is about redistributing wealth in the short term and in the long term, creating the sort of society where coming from a poor background does not condemn one to a life of poverty. However, in Nigeria, those who call themselves elites often do not qualify: neither by birth nor by achievement. Indeed, closeness to power and the fraudulent gains from said association would not be celebrated in any other country: it would, in fact, be interrogated. Although General Buhari belongs to a generation of Nigerian politicians whom I am not necessarily enamoured with, he is a rare breed in our political arena and the single person, I believe, with the moral standing to reform this country. Those who voted for him voted for the man, not his age, the same way constituents who voted for the youngest UK MP since the 17th century, Mhairi Black, regarded her talent as far more important than the exterior it was delivered in. She ousted a long serving Labour Party heavyweight, in the political equivalent of what it would mean here for a 20 year old to win David Mark’s senate seat. Talent, in most other countries is not sacrificed to “zoning” or whatever excuse we want to give our very Nigerian fear of fresh, bold ideas to change the status quo. Elite interests are not threatened by the rise of the common man or by anyone who is not part of the system, because, not only is there truly enough to go round, all parties realise there is more wealth to be made and shared in a society where things work for all. Although the UK must also conduct a balancing act between all regions that make up the kingdom (it makes one wonder if in today’s Nigeria the Niger Delta and the South East, like oil producing Scotland, would vote to “stay in the Union” if given the chance), unlike Nigeria this balancing act is not solely based on power sharing agreements but on proposals to develop the common man.
UK’s ethnic and regional bias
Indeed, ethnic, or regional sentiments exist, even in the UK. Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon has been advocating for a clear Scottish voice in parliament. Talents from the South-South who could have brought real development to ordinary people in the Niger Delta were sidelined by the Asari Dokubo’s and Tompolo’s of this world, who besides loud often comical pronouncements, have not, like their principal, lifted their hometowns, their people or Nigerians at large, out of poverty.
The Scottish too, feel alienated from the metropolitan elite who from London, decide about their affairs. But in Nigeria, the federal government system means that state governments are directly responsible for the welfare of their citizens: we must ask what governments in the South-South have been doing for 16 years. This question applies all over Nigeria as the gains from democracy have been merely cosmetic, except for the political elite who have reaped huge benefits by turning governance into contract sharing. Why is it that even with the creation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), one still finds such poverty in the South-South? The Niger-Delta in particular must face some hard truths about its leadership and eschew sentiment. I sincerely hope it takes a Hausa, Muslim, and Northerner to bring development to the regions where he got the least support. This will show that the will to do the right thing is stronger than any ethno-religious bias.
Nigerians in the Diaspora
I AM saddened by the many young talents Nigeria loses to un-investigated accidents involving Nigerian students in the diaspora. Yesterday it was Aisha Falode’s son who died under questionable circumstances in Dubai.
Now I have just been informed that my own cousin, Tobi Smith-Fadahunsi perished in a hostel fire in Russia where he was studying for his medical degree.
He escaped but went back in to save a classmate. Such heroism and strength of character in America for instance, is celebrated on a daily basis.
Here in Nigeria, we prefer to acclaim the very people who are the sources of our problems. I wonder if the Nigerian embassy in Moscow, in protection of its citizens, will ask Russian authorities the right questions.
I dream of a Nigeria where, like in the West, only intellectual curiosity moves one to leave their country, not financial necessity or in this case, the pursuit of higher education. Some of Tobi’s age mates in Nigeria are probably yet to graduate, due to incessant strikes and the corrupt nature of our educational sector. In Tobi’s memory and the memory of all those the Nigerian project has sacrificed, change must not be just on paper.
On Nigerian origin of new MPs in UK parliament
WE praise the UK for electing MPs of Nigerian decent yet we are obsessed with indigenization and federal character. Looking at the social origins of these new British MPs I see that yet again, the West shows us what it means to be a country, not a paper assemblage we call a federation.
In the UK, children of immigrants who do not come from privileged backgrounds have been called to serve their adoptive country. Nigeria did not clothe and educate these people. Britain did. We have no claim to their glory. We now have an opportunity to claim our own glory by promoting policies that work for the common good, not elite or ethnic interests.
We could start by awarding presidential scholarships based on merit: the reasons are obvious.