By Ikechukwu Amaechi
TODAY, Thursday, January 7, 2021, is exactly one week since Nigerians, together with the rest of humanity, ushered in with gusto, a brand new year.
Certainly, 2020 was the archetypal annus horribilis – a terrible year of disasters and misfortune. A year many wished never was.
In the past one week, many people have eloquently recounted what made 2020 a horrible year and I don’t intend to travel that route here. Some of these disasters are country specific but the COVID-19 pandemic was and still remains a global tragedy and has not disappeared because we bid 2020 farewell.
So, while Nigerians joined the rest of the world to say good riddance to 2020 on December 31, none of the problems plaguing the country disappeared. Coronavirus is still ravaging. The second wave is deadlier than the first. We may be in for harder times in 2021.
None of the debilitating political and social crises, most especially insecurity, afflicting the country has been addressed. Herdsmen, bandits and all manner of terrorists are still rampaging, killing and maiming. Farmers are chased away from their farmlands and famine looms.
Even if the government insists, as it stridently does, that the country is not tethering on the brink of a failed state, there is no denying the fact that Nigeria is a fragile state going by the 2020 Fragile State Index compiled by Fund for Peace, FFP, which ranked the country 14th out of 178 countries.
When a country is the 14th most fragile state in the world, we only deodorise its dreadful status when we deny that it shares borders with failed states. It only needs a small push to tumble over. So, if none of the socio-political and economic anomies that made 2020 an annus horribilis has been addressed, what then makes Nigerians think that 2021 will be better than 2020?
Hope! We are a prayerful people. Optimism oils the wheels of everyday living. We pray and hope the pandemic will vanish, just as outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump, who on July 23, 2020 – as 147,915 Americans lay dead – said of the virus: “It goes away, and it goes away quickly. The key is, we want it to go away without a lot of deaths, without a lot of problems.”
The reality is that though Trump has, since February last year, declared at least 40 times that COVID-19 was going to vanish or actually vanishing, the virus has become more lethal with well over 21.1 million cases and almost 360,000 deaths in the U.S.
Let’s be clear: It helps when a people are having a rough patch, as Nigerians are right now, to look on the sunny side of life. That is where hope, which simply means being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness around us, comes in.
Nigerians believe in the wise saying of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the English Baptist preacher, that “hope is like a star – not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity.” That sentiment was amplified years later by Martin Luther King Jr., the American Baptist minister and civil rights icon, who said “we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Most Nigerians wake up every morning, like Will Smith – the Grammy award winning American actor, rapper, and film producer – believing that today is going to be better than yesterday. And Nigerians faced with all the challenges that 2020 presented cannot but be hopeful. For them, hope is transcendental, a powerful force and the most important factor to overcoming life’s biggest challenges.
Without hope, for most Nigerians, everything is lost. But while hope should work for most Nigerians, who, in any case, don’t have a choice other than to be optimistic, it becomes problematic when it is a governance mantra because hope is not a strategy, the same way the promise of ‘change’ which swept President Muhammadu Buhari to power in 2015 has proved, unfortunately, not to be a destination.
In his open letter to former U.S. President Barack Obama in January 2009, titled “Hope Is Not a Strategy,” Dr. Benjamin Ola Akande, an economist, scholar, and Dean of the Business School at Webster University in St. Louis, wrote: “The fact remains that hope will not reduce housing foreclosures. Hope does not stop a recession. Hope cannot create jobs. Hope will not prevent catastrophic failures of banks.
Hope is not a strategy.” Obama hearkened to Akande’s advice and the rest is history. Though an apostle of hope and change, Obama rolled up his sleeves and marshalled out plans and strategies on how to turn the fortunes of his people around. America was the better for it.
The same advice should be given not only to Nigerians who are hopeful that 2021 will be a much better year than 2020 but also the government because hope is neither a plan nor a course of action. Action is more important than words and careful planning is more valuable than lofty ideas.
Unfortunately for Nigeria, Buhari is no Obama. He has neither action nor lofty ideas. Anyone in doubt should sit back and read once again his New Year speech. It was flat as usual and pedestrian. There are no new, bold ideas that can address the myriad challenges that confront the nation. The speech was just a regurgitation of hoary rhetoric already overused and stretched thin.
Strategies that only espouse high ideals without at least laying the groundwork for turning those policies into reality are fruitless at best and hazardous at worst. It remains at best wishful thinking or hallucination at worst.
While hope in the absence of nothing else works well on a country’s dopamine – feel-good hormone – it can only get us so far. We cannot just wish away our country’s problems. The need for a concerted, palpable effort to reduce problems and to increase positive opportunities cannot be overstated.
It is illusionary to be hopeful that security will be better in 2021 when Buhari said recently that Nigeria’s 1,400 kilometres border with Niger Republic, from where most of the terrorists killing and maiming Nigerians come through, “can only be effectively supervised by God.”
To be hopeful that 2021 will be a safer year for Nigerians when the same institutions that claimed, falsely, that Boko Haram had been technically defeated turns around five years later to say, unashamedly, that Africa’s most populous nation will most likely continue to suffer terrorist attacks for the next 20 years, as the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, who has clearly overstayed his welcome, did in December, is to dwell in fantasyland.
Sitting around thinking about how Nigeria’s current parlous situation could be better cannot change anything without consequential action.
There is no indication that the Nigerian leadership has any idea of how to create jobs for the millions of the unemployed and underemployed. Creating a so-called 774,000 jobs for youths for three months, paid N30,000 a month, which in any case has been hijacked by politicians, is no way to pull millions of Nigerians out of poverty.
Hoping that Nigeria would be food-sufficient when there is no strategy to contain armed herdsmen that have chased farmers away from their farmlands is forlorn. Hoping that 2021 will be our annus mirabilis while doing the same things that made 2020 an annus horribilis smacks of insanity.
For 2021 to be better than 2020 for Nigeria and Nigerians, actionable policies is the only pathway. Unfortunately, I can’t see much on the horizon.