Our land soaked in blood, gloom, South-East Bishops wail

By Ikechukwu Amaechi 

TODAY, Thursday, January 6, 2022, is almost one week since Nigerians, together with the rest of humanity, ushered in with gusto a brand new year. Certainly, 2021 was the archetypal annus horribilis – a terrible year of disasters and misfortune. A year many wished never was. To be sure, 2020 was not better. So, we have had two years, consecutively, that, to borrow an idiom, tried men’s soul. 

In the past one week, many people have eloquently recounted what made 2021 a horrible year and I don’t intend to travel that route here. Some of these disasters are country specific but the unending COVID-19 pandemic was and still remains a global tragedy and has not disappeared because we bid another year farewell. So, while Nigerians joined the rest of the world to say good riddance to 2021 on December 31, none of the problems plaguing the country has disappeared. Coronavirus is still raging. The third,  or is it fourth, wave is as disruptive of the global social order as the first. 

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Truth is, we may be in for harder times in 2022 because none of the debilitating political and social crises, most especially insecurity, afflicting the country has been addressed.  Kidnappers, bandits and all manner of terrorists are still rampaging, killing and maiming. Farmers chased away not only from their farmlands but also ancestral homes in the past two years have not gone back and may never.

Even if government insists, as it stridently does, that the country is not tethering on the brink of state failure, 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. The 2021 ranking may even be worse. When a country is the 14th most fragile state in the world, we only deodorise its dreadful status by denying 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 2021 an annus horribilis has been addressed, what then makes Nigerians think that 2022, the eve of consequential elections in 2023 when every pretence to governance will finally be sacrificed on the altar of ill-tempered politics, will be better than 2021? Hope! We are a prayerful people. Optimism oils the wheels of everyday living. We pray and hope the problems of Nigeria will go away. 

Nigerian Catholics, I am one of them, have been praying for “a Nigeria in distress” for decades. But rather than reducing, the problems are increasing by the day and have become hydra-headed. I have since stopped joining in the prayer not because I no longer believe in the efficacy of prayers but because it is delusional to continue doing the wrong things and believing we can pray our country out of the deserved comeuppance.  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 believing that today is going to be better than yesterday. And Nigerians faced with all the challenges that 2021 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 2022 will be a much better year than 2021, 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. Our President 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. For instance, it is illusionary to be hopeful that security will be better in 2022 when Buhari said in 2020 that Nigeria’s 1,400 kilometres border with Niger Republic “can only be effectively supervised by God.” And nothing was done in 2021 to correct the anomalous situation. 

To be hopeful that 2022 will be a safer year for Nigerians when the same institutions that claimed, falsely, that Boko Haram had been technically defeated turned 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 former Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, did in December 2020, 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 as was done in 2021, a project which in any case was hijacked by politicians, is no way to pull millions of Nigerians out of poverty. It is a sham.

Hoping that Nigeria would be food-sufficient when there is no strategy to tame the menace of terrorists that have chased farmers away from their farmlands is forlorn. Hoping that 2022 will be our annus mirabilis while doing the same things that made 2021 an annus horribilis smacks of insanity. Of course, some Nigerians will be better off in 2022 than they were in 2021. After all, some people made their first million, bought their first car and built their first mansion in the year that just ended.

Some businesses will blossom this year. Undoubtedly, 2022 will be the year of “Chartered politicians” and their cousins, political thugs.  This year, dirty politicking will trump governance. Nigeria’s treasury will be raped unconscionably preparatory to 2023 polls. Should we then lose hope? No!  But, for 2022 to be better than 2021 for Nigeria as a country, something more tangible than mere hope must be placed on the leadership table.  There must be actionable policies and programmes. That is the only pathway.

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