By Tabia Prinewill
For all our talk of grassroots politicians, very few of our leaders engage with their people on meaningful issues beyond encouraging sycophancy and short-sightedness (for example by buying votes, paying people to protest or conversely, to feign support for impact less, corrupt individuals).
The poor in Nigeria are not involved in any of the conversations which determine their future, not unless violence is required by the elite to make a point to the rest of society, in which case they are the readily available cannon fodder used to enforce elite plans and views which interestingly further the oppression of the same underclass these groups belong to.
In many villages across Nigeria, especially in the North, even things such as phone signals are a luxury due to poor infrastructure, meaning that there are still places in Nigeria where the debates and conversations by egg-heads on TV, newspapers and the media more generally, simply do not register.
It is humbling as a journalist to realise that one is either preaching to the choir, to those already converted to the anti-corruption religion or to those so deeply entrenched in the system that they refuse to see that anything wrong is happening. Those who so desperately need to hear the message are simply not a part of its dissemination and discussion. Yet, it is these same poor masses who have the most to gain (or to lose) when leadership fails and corruption goes unpunished.
Grassroots’ grasp of the issues
Issues are cyclical in Nigeria: they remain and get worse over time. One must wonder, how real is the grassroots’ grasp of the issues? Outside of the cities, what do people in the towns and villages really make of governance and how much do they believe in their own ability to create change? The second question is perhaps easily answered.
If most of the poor and destitute fully understood to what extent their situation (and its lack of real improvement over the decades) is as a result of corruption and the unlawful enrichment of politicians who in their home towns are treated like demi-gods, there would probably be bloodshed.
In fact, when political figures return home and are attacked by their constituents, the violence isn’t always sponsored by rivals. It is simply a result of failure, broken promises and desperation on the part of the masses.
Aminu Kano, a former legislator and elder statesman once said: “Nigeria will know no peace until the son of a nobody can become somebody without knowing anybody”. The tragedy here is that this has happened several times. Goodluck Jonathan wasn’t the son of a rich man. Neither were most of the military generals who ruled Nigeria at various times(in fact none had Ojukwu’s privileged education).
Interestingly, if we are to be honest or historically accurate and set aside our penchant to excuse or ignore wrong-doing based on tribe or religion, many if not most of the stories of our leaders’ rise to power, don’t quite fit the bill of the “American dream”, that is, the “poor neighbourhood kid made good” idea which predicates success through hard work, real talent or sacrifice.
The military as a corporatist structure had its own agenda. It promoted officers, during the Babangida regime in particular, not based on merit but based on political necessity. In fact, coup plotting in itself, despite its self-professed motives of development for the people and economic restructuring, rarely succeeded because it was never meant to achieve this in the first place.
The military chose those who would lead (and their civilian allies) based on self-interested calculations which resulted in the disenfranchisement of the common man and the institutionalisation of corruption.
Institutionalisation of corruption
Many “nobodies” have become “somebodies” in Nigeria: no politician or captain of industry’s biography is complete without the prerequisite reminiscing over a childhood spent farming or “without shoes”.
Yet, they have all betrayed the masses they originated from. The story of what exactly happened to Nigeria, of how the intelligentsia of the 1950s and 1960s ceded the stage to the individuals who have become the power players today, is yet to be told. These “nobodies” (and their inheritors) were once looked down upon by the former elite, those Nigerians who snapped up the positions (due to their exposure to Western education) left vacant by the colonial administratorsupon independence.
Quite a few “nobodies” allied themselves with the military under the guise that only military rule could contain the many different ideas, faiths and tribes in Nigeria. It was class warfare (or the displacement of one elite by a dissatisfied underclass) masked as the search for stability and development for all. This displacement has continued and intensified in the decades following the military’s devastation of our society’s norms and values, which is why, for instance, we undervalue investments in education and so few professionals or members of the intelligentsia find themselves in politics.
There hasn’t really been a counter movement of this magnitude since then. The greatest mystery remains perhapsGoodluck Jonathan, the only man in generations who didn’t belong to the system. The other “nobodies”, from poor backgrounds did know “somebody” in one way or another who helped them rise up the ranks, contrary to the meritocratic system described by Aminu Kano. Yet, everything about Jonathan’s rise to power seems accidental. He had no army or military background and wasn’t even the generals’ first choice.
Generals’ first choice
His outsider status was the perfect rallying call to connect with the poor masses. He could have offered them a new beginning. Yet, he failed woefully.
The phrase “Nigeria will know no peace until the son of a nobody can become somebody without knowing anybody” is perhaps incomplete without specifying that what stops politicians or any human being from becoming a monster who betrays his or her origins, supporters or electorate, is a wider mass of “anybodies” (you and I, the critical mass) who watch and hold them accountable.
The problem in Nigeria remains that the masses are still too ignorant of their rights and responsibilities which is why nobodies become somebodies and continue to rob everybody.
THE former President said during the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, national convention in Abuja last Saturday, that when the PDP is back in power in 2019, “Nigerians should not think of hunger”. Should they then think about darkness?
According to a new report by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, also championed by Femi Falana, N11 trillion meant for electricity was allegedly squandered and looted under the PDP. Under Jonathan’s watch in particular $20 billion in oil revenue allegedly went “missing” and Sanusi Lamido, then Central Bank governor was apparently fired for “whistle-blowing”.
The EFCC has traced N47.2 billion and $487.5 million of public funds to one individual.
IGO Weli, General Manager, External Relations of Shell, reacting to the shut down of a gas plant by youths in the Niger Delta, said that Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, remitted $29.8 billion to the federation account and $1.2 billion to the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, between 2002 and 2016. No matter the issue in Nigeria, mismanagement or in fact corruption rears its ugly head.
When will this generation of young people, the real “nobodies” whom society has set aside, finally look beyond all that’s stopping them from making a real difference and towards all they stand to continuously lose if they don’t?
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.