By Tabia Princewill
I CAN’T quite find the words to qualify the sadness I’m currently experiencing. It is often the cross of decent, well-mannered people to have to defend, in this era of dangerously uninhibited, provocative opinions, the right to still believe in intelligent discussion and analysis as opposed to fear-mongering and bigotry.
It is also a shame that rational minds eventually run out of steam when arguing with irrational, xenophobic people while said racists or ethnically obsessed persons seem to possess unending reserves of energy with which to spew out hatred.
Britain, like Nigeria and the United States, is in danger of losing its soul to racially or ethnically prejudiced, intolerant politics and politicians. Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Goodluck Jonathan are three different characters who witnessed and some might say aided their countries’ veering towards what every 21st century citizen, with all the opportunities for knowledge and shared experiences this era possesses, should refuse: close-mindedness, disassembling rather than bringing people together, breaking down bonds and unions rather than building a better future as one.
Division for selfish motives
Boris Johnson and Donald Trump have shown the sort of opportunism which is unfortunately too common in politics and we as Nigerians are all too familiar with their style, which preaches division for selfish motives: Trump uses terrorism, the idea of America being overrun with Mexicans and Muslims the same way Johnson used migrants to spread fear, hatred of difference and of the unknown.
They hope to be voted in by those looking to blame others for economic downturns and unemployment. The Brexit referendum was an ingenuous ploy by Johnson to force a plebiscite whose resultshe might never have had any intention of upholding (he must have studied at the Babangida school of politics).
Boris Johnson seems less sure and even less specific about the UK’s future without the EU, leading many to speculate his attempt to seize power on the heels of the Brexit vote might fail or that it was, as we say here in Nigeria, “dead on arrival”. Even Trump, realising the need to appear “presidential” is attempting to temper some of his statements about Muslims. Nationalism, separatism and chauvinism feature heavily in politicians’ playbooks when they have little else to contribute beyond manipulations of popular frustrations and romanticised notions of a country’s pre-eminence during a fantasised racially pure past.
Comparing Brexit to the agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra is only possible in this context of similarities between economic collapses which callous politicians would rather not address, calling instead for political breakaways which resolve nothing. The regions of the UK which voted “out” of the EU are underdeveloped in comparison to the regions which voted “in”. The states of the South-East in Nigeria are not nearly as developed as the States of the South-West, yet Igbos have been unwilling to query their governors as to the spending (or overall whereabouts) of the huge sums received by their states as their monthly allocation. Instead, they continue to look to the Federal Government for solutions to local problems, manipulated by their home-grown leadership which has done little for them.
The idea of self-determination is a well-orchestrated propaganda created to build-up resentment against the rest of Nigeria, therefore shielding the real perpetrators of underdevelopment, state governors, from investigation. It is corruption which makes the Nigerian case dissimilar to the UK one: Brexit and Biafra might both be pro-home rule but only one of these autonomist movements has its roots in corruption. Corruption, first of all, of the federalist dream of local governments bringing development to the people and then, of the 13% derivation, or agencies such as the Niger Delta Development Corporation and others, which, without good leadership to make use of these advantages, haven’t done much for the people.
If the 36 states of Nigeria had utilised their budgets for their true purposes over the years, one would be in a strong position to wager that the Niger Delta Avengers would be too busy going to work to “avenge” their political patrons’ fall from grace, Boko Haram members would be too busy farming to fall prey to the political machinations of their sponsors and pro-Biafra supporters would also be gainfully employed and thus too pre-occupied with the business of making an honest living.
Consequences of isolationism
Those rejoicing due to the Brexit vote don’t see the far reaching consequences of isolationism in our globalised world where trade is a network of complex agreements or where students and all manner of people benefit from the accessibility and inclusion institutions such as the EU enable. As for the Biafra agitation, it is the result of political competition between ethnic groups, where the idea of marginalisation is used by elites to lobby for federal jobs and contracts. It has nothing to do with the common man who remains poor no matter what ethnic group is in power.
Nigeria is greater together: with our federation intact, our land mass and population, we stand a chance of becoming a world power, if we begin to elect talented and resourceful people, rather than the unimpressive, unskilled individuals we’ve had so far. The United Kingdom’s time as a world power might be over: like Russia, the UK has gone from empire to federation or “union”, which couldn’t withstand the onslaught of individual ambition. Now let us consider the role, in all of this, of the third politician I mentioned earlier: Goodluck Jonathan.
Under him there was little to no public agitation for Biafra so one must wonder how much of today’s demonstration is authentic. After all, a South-South president might have been the perfect person to understand feelings of neglect.
Feelings of neglect
The small-minded might wish to see the South-East or the South-South secede, they might confuse the UK leaving a political organisation such as the EU with the debilitating act of a nation losing one of its territories. The Nigerian political elite have been irresponsible. They’ve taken advantage of our collective naiveté and our greed. Jonathan squandered the opportunity to rid us of ethnic politics.
As a representative of a minority group, he could have built something incredible for this country which no one before him has done: a meritocratic system where the best and brightest are called to lead or to serve not because of their religion or where they come from but because of what they have to offer. Jonathan could have been in the history books. Sure, he conceded defeat (Cameron just resigned voluntarily and no one in his country is calling for him to receive a Nobel prize) but he could have gifted Nigerians something greater: a country free of separatist tendencies, if only he’d awarded less contracts to militants and done more to develop ordinary, law-abiding people.
EFCC and Nigerian banks
The EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu, recently pointed out the complicity of bank MDs in the corrupt acts perpetrated by generations of politicians. Indeed, money laundering can’t occur without the aid of the banking sector. With Governor Fayose naming Zenith Bank as one of the alleged sponsors of his campaign, it is definitely time to beam the search light on our opaque banking sector.
What is most surprising is that the governor doesn’t seem to realise that his revelation is self-incriminating. Corporations can’t sponsor politicians: this is illegal so Fayose just inadvertently helped justify EFCC freezing his accounts. After all, the Constitution grants governors and presidents (not any lawmakers mind you) immunity from prosecution but not from investigation. As a matter of fact, politicians aren’t gods.
In this day and age? Corruption is fighting back. Nigerians, remain vigilant and remember that corruption kills, regardless of ethnic and religious differences. The guilty are a united front, forget the squabbling on the pages of newspapers.
They’ve taken advantage of our gullible nature. Let this fight be the last, the final showdown, where we retake this country from those who’d see it divided rather than accept there is only one power block: the undivided, unconquered and uncensored Nigerian people.