Tomorrow would be our 53rd independence anniversary and a lot of us would be asking ourselves what really we would be celebrating. For the last two anniversaries, official ceremonies were not organised. Officialdom has been too frightened of attacks by insurgents to celebrate. We all recall that it was indeed during the 50th Anniversary Celebration that an explosion occurred just outside Eagle Square, the venue of the grand celebration. It was a strong message that what Nigeria needed at 50 was deep reflection and introspection of our failures as a Nation rather than celebrations signalling that we are still alive. This reality is even more poignant today.
We live in a country where the military have been deployed in thirty-one out of our thirty-six states trying to restore law and order. Our children are being killed regularly for daring to go to school. Our universities have been shut down for months as the ASUU strike continues. Our health system has collapsed and a significant part of savings are used to send the sick abroad in search of of medical treatment. A significant part of our petroleum is stolen and our governments are no longer able to meet their responsibilities. Even more seriously, the incidence of poverty in our society today affects seventy per cent of our people who still living below the poverty line. Daily life a perpetual struggle for the masses that live without electricity and potable water.
The key problem affecting the nation is known to all – hydra-headed corruption. We have had a series of ruling classes that have transformed governance into successive expansion of mega corruption. The scale of corruption has been so massive that it has made nonsense of our efforts to practice the democratic mode of governance. Essentially, the key narrative of the Fourth Republic has been about corruption. Elections themselves are narratives about corruption. Indeed, party nominations and elections are secured through bribes offered to those who control the party machine, security agencies and officials of the Electoral Commission. The first Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, has had to vacate his office following revelations that he had forged both his declaration of age and his degree certificate, purportedly delivered by the University of Toronto. Since then, we have had a litany of corruption which continued to grow culminating in the fuel subsidy scandal that revealed mega corruption had moved from the realm of billions of naira annually to cross the trillion naira threshold.
The combination of mega corruption and poor governance has created a situation in which the state is imploding. The Nigerian state is no longer able to play its legitimate role of imposing law and order. Those in power use security agencies for private purposes thus privatising state power. As the efficacy of violence as a tool for achieving one’s purpose increase, many who are not in the corridors of power are also learning how to use it for their own agendas. The police exist only to supply privatised security to the rich and senior government officials. Many poor people now devote their energy and inventiveness to kidnap the rich and get their slice of the pie.
The Nigerian state does not feel the need to promote the common good and its logic is essentially limited to the search for and access to prebendal offices and limiting the access of the people to power wielders. Our Constitution defines the purpose of the state as promoting the welfare and security of the people. Today, the people’s welfare and security are at their most compromised in the country’s history. As the Nigerian state loses both its capacity and its pride, it has ceded maritime security and protection of petroleum pipelines to the leaders of armed militia. Since then, the theft of our dear petroleum has grown.
Nigerian politics today is about trying to substitute those in office rather than trying to change the nature of the political game. In this context, it is not surprising that insurgency has been growing and more and more social actors are joining the fray of using the instruments of violence to achieve their objectives at the cost of thousands of lives. If the armed militants of a decade are today the guardians of state power and resources then the message is that the potential value of armed militancy is extremely high and what is good for the goose becomes good for the gander. In any case, there is no functional state apparatus to negotiate conflicting interests and pressures from the society so people seek their armed path to available resources.
Authoritarian ways of resolving conflicting interests and silencing pressure groups in Nigeria have failed. The growing insurgency in the country can have an even more dangerous impact because it can lead to or accelerate the process of national disintegration. In this context, it is clear that the bulk of our political class has no capacity or will to rescue the country from the abyss. I believe we have reached a stage where concerted citizen action is required to secure for us independence from our demons.
The greatest threat to finding a path towards mending Nigeria is the lack of inspirational leadership. People are able to compete for power because they have had access to state power or those in control of state power and stolen billions of Naira. This is the reality that makes people lose confidence in the future. This problem creates a situation in which people who are honest and sincere keep out of the political fray. This creates a bandwagon effect that makes every political generation worse than the previous one.
The political challenge facing the country is to reverse this trend. Nigeria has a large number of talented and well-trained people who can provide good leadership. We must start the process of identifying such people in out communities and convincing them to engage the political process. As these people would not have amassed huge war chests composed of billions and indeed trillions of Naira, we must find ways of supporting them so that we can begin to change the nature of the political game. As we recall the great nationalists that fought for our independence, lets begin the process of producing and reproducing a political class that works for the Nigerian people.