By Tabia Proncwill
It is no secret that the average Nigerian politician and even many of those who indulge in public debate have often chosen small mindedness over rescuing our country’s soul or our general sense of purpose as a nation. Nigeria has no long term cultural, social or economic plans or projects to boast of.
Our last truly significant cultural event was probably Festac ’77 and one could argue its success. Economically, what the high priests of the World Bank and the IMF in the person of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala celebrated, was debt relief which really, in simplified terms, amounts to foreign banks granting us reprieve from loans they forced (or conned) us into taking in the first place.
We celebrated retrieving the Abacha loot, yet we have little to show for it as our road networks, health care and educational system remain abysmal. Our ports don’t collect import duties and many businesses, particularly under the past administration, were granted tax waivers.
So at a time when oil prices were high, our government made a lot less than it should have. I think that we are now in what years to come we will call the turning point of our collective experience as a country, even as corruption fights back and the cynics who either hate Nigeria, despise the idea of a level playing field or have not taken the time to study the facts, refuse change.
Infinite realm of options
At this junction between the old and the new order, where possibility and its infinite realm of options timidly peak behind the bleak, dark reality of economic strife, I believe President Muhammadu Buhari has the opportunity despite and because of Nigeria’s many challenges to do something extraordinary.
Our president exists for and because of the common man, or all those who were ahead of their time enough to think of a post ethno-religious society where hard work and talent determine success rather than the will or the ability to bend the law.
I must confess that whenever I myself am discouraged by the Nigerian system, where only the same set of people seem to vanquish, where evil has long triumphed, laughing in the faces of good men and women, I am reminded of the confidence, temerity and audacity of a man who unsuccessfully ran for president a number of times and was mocked and ridiculed for it.
His victory restored my faith in the system and in our people. If we can love and appreciate someone like Buhari, because of what he stands for, then there is hope for us yet. When I think of the generation that grew up in between the Babangida and Obasanjo eras and what they must think of public life, what their values must be, raised by a moral order of subsistence at all costs, of cheating, underhandedness and double-dealing, to think that these same people voted for Buhari makes me incredibly happy. They know, like every human being witnessing good and evil that there are consequences to every wicked or criminal action. The current economic climate is simply one of them.
When we cast our votes during the past elections, many felt Nigerians were fighting for this country’s soul. If you believe your part in the battle is over simply because the war against corruption has begun, you are sorely mistaken. Nigeria once promised, the way America did, that if you worked hard and followed the rules, a bright future awaited you.
But over the years, what happened to the young people who watched their parents play by the rules and totally miss out on the wealth and opportunities the gangsters among us amassed? It is those young people that I wish the president could speak to.
His story is simply what one could call the Nigerian dream, if there were such a thing. A dream where honour and sacrifice are rewarded, a fairy tale many of our youth no longer believe in. Unfortunately, no one is telling them this story or feeding them a narrative they can hang onto when things get tough.
Many people are pariahs, second-class citizens in their own country because they dare to believe another way is possible, or that money is no god.
The Jonathan years were painful for such people when cheats, murderers and destroyers of our commonwealth were awarded national honours and some were forced to conclude Nigeria wasn’t for them, that it had nothing to offer a mind knowledgeable of freedom, one that refused to bow to the dictates of corruption and sycophancy. Buhari needs to tell young people they will be ok. We might be in for a bumpy ride but our prospects will be better for it. However, it’s not enough to talk tough about corruption.
Buhari needs to help us find or reconnect with the buried, forgotten and maligned greatness within the Nigerian character. A leader can shape his or her country’s identity and Buhari’s political communication has the power to do so, to re construct the Nigerian self by interrogating all that is currently wrong and explaining to Nigerians what it is he (therefore we) are fighting for.
“The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty.” These are the words of a French philosopher, Rousseau that aptly explains the subjugation of the Nigerian people to the political elite, in a state at war with itself. We need to think of corruption as an ideology rather than an aberration or the hallmark of a small mind. Corrupt people know exactly what they are doing and how evil it is. So this war will not only be won by prosecuting people (although it is essential to re-establish norms of behaviour) but by re-organising the Nigerian mind away from disorder and dishonesty. I truly believe only Buhari has the moral authority to lead this and to thoroughly engage society in such a conversation. Corruption has been a successful strategy to undermine our togetherness and destabilise the polity, a context within which much money is made.
So Buhari must help us recognise our interests once more by awakening our consciousness to the truth.
Presidential aides have unfortunately reduced his speech to small press releases on trifling issues rather than engage the public on the fundamental problems destroying Nigeria which many misunderstand or are simply unaware of. Richard Neudstadt, an American political scientist said “presidential power, is the power to persuade”.
Nigerian presidents have not used rhetoric or arguments to convince the public of either their good intentions, the usefulness of their policies or to explain what said policies are about in the first place. Buhari has enough good will to do something different by truly communicating with Nigerians. The campaign isn’t over, it really started, in effect, on inauguration day. In today’s world, leaders are activists who enable and encourage change, a new world order. Buhari has the power to do this if he gets his communication right.
As #DasukiGate unfolds, Bode George, upon being accused of receiving N100 million from Bashir Yuguda, a former minister of state, reportedly excused himself by saying he “only” took $30,000. Is this meant to make Nigerians feel better? This is laughable.
Zahra Buhari’s shoes
Ask Chelsea Clinton or Zasha and Malia Obama: it isn’t easy being a president’s daughter. Social media has been obsessing over a picture of Zahra wearing “expensive” shoes. Nigerians now zealously support the fight against corruption and waste but let’s not confuse issues.
The President might not have made his full asset declaration public but legally he is in no obligation to do so: it’s available under the Freedom of Information Act. Zahra’s dressing is the least of our problems. There are bigger fish to fry (or try, in court).