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Where did we go wrong?

By Tabia Princewill

THERE have been many moments where we’ve abandoned our collective responsibility towards this country to the most unqualified among us. Our collective sin, this time, was believing that all we needed to do was to elect a “saviour” who would magically fix this country without our input.

No society develops that way, not without ordinary people pressuring their leaders to live up to their expectations, or without realising and, therefore, condemning the mistakes or behaviour patterns which precipitated the need for change in the first place. Instead, we embraced the sickness and sided with our enemies: when suspects of corruption whip up ethno-religious sentiment, we fail to look at the facts.

We buy into the victimisation narrative forgetting we are the real victims of corruption, not anyone who is being investigated, charged to court or asked to account for the huge sums allocated to their office for the development of all Nigerians. We’ve always caved into sectional interests, betraying one another, refusing to stand up for what is true and what is right.

The EFCC spokesman said in a statement dated March 19: “It is sad to note that the corrupt, using sponsored people, claim that they are being prosecuted because of their religion or their ethnic identity. They do their utmost not to answer the all-important question of whether or not they were guilty of the corruption allegations against them. Who, among the corrupt and those engaged in financial and economic crimes, does so in the name of his or her religion or ethnic group?’’, he asked.

“What we see before us are men and women who have done something wrong and who should answer before the law courts. Each and every person we have interrogated and prosecuted cornered resources meant for their people for private use. But they turn around and appeal to those same people they  have  impoverished – whipping up ethno-religious sentiments”.

Therein lies the irony, or the tragedy of it all. We do not seem to appreciate the basic link between corruption and our underdevelopment. As we gush over the luxuries of elite weddings on social media, the middle classes would do well to realise or to remember that when the poor are finally fed up of our excuses in favour of politicians or their associates, when it finally dawns on them how much they’ve been left behind, they will lump us all together (even those of us who’ve only but managed to get by) and the results will be terrible. By then, those truly responsible for these dire straits would have fled. The rest of us will be here. Do you think the poor will be satisfied with our excuses then?

We are not ready for real change, a change of system, one which challenges the way we operate in this country. Even the poorest member of our society has a stake in the defence or upholding of Nigeria Inc. a corporation that exists to profit a tiny few at the expense of others. These others, although in the majority, are the biggest intellectual shareholders of the company: they benefit nothing in real terms, yet they are the first to argue in favour of this oppressive system, using every tool enabled by twisted logic.

The fiction that Nigeria can’t fail must be examined. Nigeria isn’t Sudan, or the Central African Republic but aren’t private militias funded by politicians already going off on a rampage carving  this country into violent enclaves they control? Boko Haram, the herdsmen vs. farmers conflict, are but results of the failure of leadership and governance. Since independence, we’ve toyed with the idea of creating cattle ranches.

Failure of leadership

Why wasn’t this done? Politicians prefer to keep people in poverty so they have an army of ready and desperate individuals whom they can use to do their bidding. We keep bailing out states who show no signs of resolving these issues. Corruption is the central Nigerian problem but so few of us are ready to make a difference.

One of the first things any Nigerian does when he meets someone who works with government is to jokingly inquire about contracts. Most have no intention of bidding or preparing a proposal. They simply pressure the official into giving in to them, beg or promise to give them a cut. The real problem in Nigeria isn’t the poor and destitute whose votes are easily bought. It is the elite and middle classes who know better, who know the long-term effects of all this and who side with people who turn us all into beggars.

From the lawyers who help corrupt individuals literally get away with murder, to the sycophantic media that doesn’t expose the truth, to every single one of us who in a myriad of ways defends or excuses wrong, we are all to blame for the Nigerian condition. But we can reverse the trend by setting realistic benchmarks for ourselves and showing the one percenters that there can be a middle ground between complete paralysis or anarchy and a relatively well functioning state, to begin with.


Emir of Kano

FORMER governor of the Central Bank and current Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, made an interesting comment in an interview recently about one of his daughters whom he says wants to be the Emir of Kano. “She’s disappointed I’ve not yet appointed a woman to the Kano emirate council,” he said.

When asked if his daughter could become emir, his response was indicative of our concept of change while it also showed how the Northern elite views itself: “perhaps my granddaughter or great-granddaughter”, adding: “It (change) has got to be incremental, without necessarily turning the society on its head… That is the greatest challenge for us. How are you a custodian of a legacy, of a history, of a culture? And how do you also serve as a guide as that culture navigates its way in a modern world?”

There is little recognition that today’s status quo is actually, already, upside down. Our society was literally turned on its head because of a warped interpretation of religion, all to the benefit of certain political and religious actors. From the female Obas of the Owo in Yoruba kingdom, to Queen Amina of Zaria and others, female leadership has never been a taboo across Nigeria and Africa.

In fact, if African cultures appear archaic or oppressive today, it is due to the misinterpretation of our traditions by our leaders’oppressive tendencies which have no real justification in our indigenous knowledge. Pre-Islamic Northern culture is different from middle eastern culture. All over Nigeria, we’ve abandoned our identities for political reasons, of which the “One North” narrative reflects.

Interestingly, pre-colonial Arab culture already had seeds of modernity (one only needs to research how many inventions attributed today to the West come from the Middle East). Colonisation and extractive industries (especially petrodollars) warped the minds of developing countries, forging the ultra-patriarchal, oppressive societies we find today. Many of us could do with a few history lessons.


Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah

THE Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto recently said that despite its years in power, the North is still the poorest part of the country. This proves the lack of correlation between supporting someone simply because he or she speaks the same language as you etc. and his ability to deliver progress.

“It is sad that the Northern Muslim elite has used religion to hold on to power to the detriment of even their own people and the larger society. The world is changing and we have a country to build. Even Usman Dan Fodio said that a society can live with unbelief, but no nation can survive with injustice,” he said.

He also stated that whether Buhari is in power or not, the issues we currently face will remain, until Nigerians get involved and make democracy work. What we need are workshops and campaigns to explain to people how to do so in concrete terms.


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.

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