By Tabia Princewill
The idea of a 39-year-old President would probably make a lot of Nigerian politicians laugh. Ironically, because Emmanuel Macron, the French President-elect is Western, one can already imagine any Nigerian leader or public office holder who might meet him, fawning over him, while any 39-year-old in their own home country would be ignored if not demeaned for daring to even attempt to get their attention (unless of course he or she was the son or daughter of a close associate in which case he or she would suddenly become “brilliant” or a symbol of “hope”).
The same way Mark Zuckerberg and Malala Yousafzai were treated to a hero’s welcome when they visited Nigeria, Macron would probably come away from a meeting with Nigerian officials with a warm, positive feeling, encouraged by the smiles and outwardly friendly demeanour of our politicians, to believe that we are a country that cares about the aspirations and talents of young people. I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg or Malala realised that Nigeria is a country where technology, entrepreneurs, women and girls (issues of great importance to both the Facebook CEO and the gender activist respectively) thrive in Nigeria not because of government intervention but in spite of it.
Emmanuel Macron has achieved what remains impossible in Nigeria. I won’t go over the significance of his win in a post-Brexit world where liberals, supporters of open borders and free trade desperately needed a win: my articles following Brexit and President Trump’s win (available online) have done enough I believe to summarise my thoughts on the dangers of populism, xenophobia, etc. What interests me about Macron isn’t even his African policy: it is still quite vague and who can blame him. As Africans, we continue to fail, through our own greed and small mindedness to occupy the world stage in a manner which is advantageous to our societies as a whole rather than a few well-connected families and foreign companies. So, for the time being, I shall focus on the new President’s age as it relates to the African conception of “experience”.
Social media is replete with jokes about Nigerian or African would-be youth leaders who are in their 50s and 60s. The idea of “paying your dues” in our context claims to favour “experience” while in effect simply side-lining a different sort of capability or skill. Experience in Nigeria very often amounts to knowing how to do the same thing, the same way it’s always been done, regardless of whether this strategy or practice has worked or not. “Experience” is preferred even when it yields no progress or positive results. It amounts to knowing how to play the game in Nigeria, which means skirting the law, artfully dodging the truth, scamming the system and all those of a lower socio-economic class than oneself.
Experience in Nigeria, is lawyers, SANs, famed for getting powerful people out of “sticky” situations, accusations of economic sabotage or corruption allegations. Experience, in Nigeria, is knowing how to manipulate the twin demons of tribe and religion to sell inferior ideas and candidates to a gullible public. Experience isn’t talent, creativity or fresh ideas. Experience isn’t always the best man (or woman) for the job. It often amounts to cronyism, an old boys club which maintains itself in power by any means, citing federal character, zoning and other archaic rules which don’t allow the best to rise.
Experience has little to do, in today’s Nigeria, with hard-work, which is no longer required to gain the “experience” tag. It has much to do with special interests and secret meetings between generals who’ve already failed Nigeria yet continue to believe they should determine the fate of millions of unsuspecting people. Perhaps what most frightens “the old guard”, the custodians of the illegal, unpatriotic, wrongful way things are done in Nigeria (i.e. the systematic refusal to adopt global best practices and overall honesty or transparency), is the thought of being displaced.
They know that in a society with a level playing field many would be unable to compete, faced with better educated, worldly citizens with age, talent, creativity and novel ideas on their side. Tradition has its place. Experience, when it is real knowledge rather than just a cover for the longevity and entrenchment of special interests, or systemic failure masquerading as expertise, is useful.
Nigeria constantly has its eyes on the past while the whole world looks towards the future. Nigerian citizens are refused their autonomy, their right to self-actualisation, personal growth and happiness, all in favour of people who have proven time and time again that their leadership is a misadventure. Yet, we allow them back into our midst, allow them to pontificate over their time in office, allow them to re-write history and to pose themselves as heroes rather than the villains who’ve destroyed this country. When do we finally learn from our mistakes?
The tragedy of Nigeria is our short-term memory. We too quickly forget our benefactors and all too rapidly embrace those willing to betray us, all for a few short-term benefits. Loving Nigeria is difficult at times, it’s an enterprise filled with disappointment, possibly even resentment, every time one wonders if one was wrong to believe in truth or justice, or whenever one wonders if it wouldn’t simply be easier to be like everyone else and betray honour and conscience. However, legacies can’t be bought. Neither can history. The subject of how we shall all individually and collectively be remembered, when Nigeria’s story is finally told, is important and grandiose enough to hopefully steer us away from temptation.
So, we shall have our own Obamas, Macrons and the like and quite frankly, it won’t matter how old they are if only they can come to equity with clean hands, a most arduous task in Nigeria.
The Department of State Services has explained its reasons for detaining a former Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam. Intelligence, the agency stated, has it that Suswam is affiliated with an alleged militia leader in Benue, TerwaseAkwaza, alias Gana, who is allegedly involved in the acts of terror and overall violence which have rocked Benue recently. The DSS claimed Suswam promised to make the state ungovernable for the current governor, Samuel Ortom, and that it was in the best interest of peace for the former Governor to be detained until his arraignment by the Attorney General. Too often the sponsors of violence in Nigeria are known to the government and the security agencies. Although the public still doesn’t know for sure who the sponsors of Boko Haram are, government knows, yet, politicians hardly ever pay for the horror visited on innocents for political gain.
Africans, Nigerians in particular, are very good at making all the right noises in public while refusing to take much action in private. Lake Chad is shrinking and it’s an environmental disaster, which contributed, in no small way, to the rise of Boko Haram. Drought, poverty and unemployment are linked to the rise of terror groups in a way Boko Haram has come to exemplify.
The African Development Bank, AfDB, has approved $1.1 billion for five African countries, including Nigeria, to fight climate change and famine. Where will this money go, and will it be properly used when it gets here? Little has been said about the billions the World Bank and other donor agencies have pumped into the fight against HIV and AIDS subsequent to the Ministry of Health corruption scandal which occurred during the last administration. We are also yet to get conclusive answers about the use of the ecological fund in Plateau State and its alleged diversion by former governor Joshua Dariye.
Without convictions for guilty persons, we will continue to waste funds meant for development. The AfDB can call on Africa to embrace mechanised farming and to combat drought in order to increase food security, but who are the officials who’ll implement these plans?