“All you have to do is write one true sentence,” Ernest Hemingway advised a stuck writer. “Write the truest sentence that you know.”
3 weeks ago Sam Amadi wrote a thoughtful piece titled ‘It is time to think’. I have not stopped thinking ever since and I confess, I am not done yet. The article used the backdrop of a workshop on terrorism-sponsored insecurity to call for solutions and ended with a warning about the lack of good ideas and intellectual policy discussions in dealing with Nigeria’s problems.
According to Amadi, “…deep thinking (that) is sorely missing in Nigeria today and that needs to be urgently popularised. Since the bombs started to go off in Abuja and elsewhere…we have not heard any insightful exposition by the dozen scholars and social critics that populated the cyberspace on the depth of the crisis and the sort of institutional adaptation we need to steer clear of the landmines. This is a clear evidence of the death of public reason.”
How and why should one respond? Should the response be limited to the security issue where one’s expertise is severely limited, but still informed enough as a Nigerian? Or should one apply the criticism to all facets because it is applicable to every sector of Nigerian policy and governance: health, education, power, aviation, technology, research & development, infrastructure, law enforcement, the judiciary, financial services, politics, election management; everything.
The accusation that we are not thinking enough and are not focused on innovative and creative solutions that Nigeria needs may not be unfounded, but it is not the whole truth.
In order to drive public reason certain conditions have to exist. Public reason is vital to policy and intellectual discussions because it is the starting place – the assumption that despite the differences of any society (and God knows we have many in Nigeria) there are common areas of agreement. However to have this common agreement necessary for public reason, Nigerians must overcome burdens of judgment which include everything from value conflicts and conflicting evidence to different experiences. If we take value conflicts for instance – will the majority of Nigerians agree on what constitutes abuse of office using the Nigerian Governors Forum election and the Rivers State debacle as recent examples?
And in a country notorious for lack of data and information it is extremely difficult to satisfy the ‘no conflicting evidence’ requirement. Especially when, for instance, questioning the indisputability of the information we have on the state of our refineries can be framed in ethnic and religious terms.
I have a few theories. I think the issue in Nigeria is less about the dearth of intellect and bright ideas and more about the lack of courage. We lack the courage to be truthful. If we cannot be truthful about what really matters and what is really going then it affects policy analysis and policy implementation. For instance, if it is true that ministries, agencies and departments remit millions in cash to the Presidency and legislators, then how useful is any report arising from intellectuals on how to curb corruption or on more efficient implementation of the 2013 budget? And if intellectuals and civil society are privy on a constant basis to this and other types of energy sapping information concerning the leadership of the country, what does that do to one’s sense of possibilities or interest? If we don’t, won’t or can’t say what and who the problems are, how honest and useful are intellectual discussions?
The second is the holey bucket analogy. Nigeria is a bucket riddled with holes of varying sizes all across the top to the bottom. Civil society and other committed Nigerians have their fingers blocking as many holes as they can but there are more holes than there are fingers. Sometimes, people are blocking more holes than they should but some feel more obliged than others, they get stretched, their fingers are not fully blocking the holes, the essence of the country is still leaking out and we are all the worse for it. Thinking is a luxury in Nigeria because there is so much to think about, too few thinking about what matters and the proper conditions in which to think rarely exist.
Another explanation for why ‘the Nigerian intellectual and civil society actors have not done well in engaging with the challenges of nation building’ is what I call the elders in the nest problem. The Nigerian elders – who have been in leadership positions since the 60s and 70s are sitting in the nest when eggs hatch. Instead of flying out of the nest to make room for the young hatchlings or teaching the chicks to fly, they sit on the wings of the young. It is a double tragedy. To sit on the wings of the young, the old cannot be productive themselves and because their wings have not been developed, the young never learn to fly. In terms of intellectual discourse and analysis and respect and reverence for knowledge, innovation and creativity in policymaking and implementation this situation is important to acknowledge. The wisdom (and dignity) that comes with age cannot be disputed but sadly this is in short supply in Nigeria particularly when it comes to our political leadership and discourse.
This takes me back to the beginning of Amadi’s article and his praise for Ambassador Maduekwe’s counter perspective that changed the discourse on terrorism in Nigeria. Apparently, the Ambassador chastised the West and pointed out that after the allied forces smoked terrorists out of Afghanistan and the Sahelian region, the terrorists had to come to Nigeria ‘a country with the most attractive options for displaced terrorists’. It would have been more honest to tell us why or how come Nigeria has become the type of place for terrorists to breed in. We would find that the answer is not too far from why there isn’t enough intellectual discourse in Nigeria.
References to Emmanuel Kant and John Rawls work is included in this article. Read It is Time to Think at http://bit.ly/14dERFg