“I love my country I no go lie. Na inside am I go live and die” – Wole Soyinka
Yes, yesterday, our country Nigeria reached the veritable old age of 60, but the consensus in the land is that we are yet to mature. We wasted our youth and adult life so there is no surprise that at sixty we find very little 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. For years, our leaders were too frightened to even pretend to celebrate and they resolutely stayed away from Eagle square for a decade. Today, we ALL feel even less safe.
Yes, the overwhelming mood in the country is one of despondency. For years, we have lived in a country where the military have been deployed in virtually every State in the Federation trying to restore law and order and failing. Our children are being killed regularly for daring to go to school, most of which have in any case have become leading centres for the reproduction of illiteracy. Our universities are regularly shut down for months as government refuses to adequately fund them and ASUU in its anger thinks the only possible response is the permanent strike. Our health system has collapsed and a significant part of savings are used to send the sick abroad in search of medical treatment until Covid-19 came and told us – you have a country, stay there. Our leaders took the decision to rely almost exclusively on selling crude petroleum for our external revenues until the point where bandits were stealing a significant part of the resource to the extent that our governments are no longer able to meet their responsibilities. Even more seriously, the incidence of poverty in our society today affects sixty per cent of our people who are still living below the poverty line. Daily life is a perpetual struggle for the masses that live without electricity and potable water. Today the challenge for too many of our people is to get enough food to eat. Certainly, we Nigerians do not deserve this.
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, officials of the Electoral Commission and directly to voters.
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. Today, kidnapping your neighbour is the reality and no one is safe.
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.
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. The Boko Haram insurgency, militancy in the Niger Delta, growing conflicts between pastoralists and farmers, cattle rustling and widespread kidnapping for ransom all ensure that public safety has all but disappeared. 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 our 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, let us begin the process of producing and reproducing a political class that works for the Nigerian people.
Let our resolve be that we cannot allow those who want Nigeria to continue along the path of self-destruction to be the winners in Nigeria. Today, opponents of Nigeria are using fake news and photos to deepen our divisions and fan the embers of sectarian strife. They are succeeding because President Buhari’s Government that came in with such great expectations has not lived up what it could and should deliver. The President is aloof and is not addressing the crisis around insecurity nor is he responding to the deep identity divides that are growing deeper and subverting national unity and cohesion. The aloofness of President Buhari has become a real problem and we cannot make progress until he engages with the growing insecurity directly, shows more concern and empathy and above all responds and acts more decisively.
Government must act but ordinary citizens who want to build Nigeria must also act. We must begin to reassure ourselves that with 200 million people, half Christian and the other half Muslim, it’s impossible for one to destroy the other. We must become less gullible and question the conspiracy theories circulating today. We must remind ourselves that although we have been playing ethnic politics since the colonial era, the exercise of ethnic supremacy has not held sway in our country. We should always remind ourselves that at the epicentre of the current crisis that confronts the Nigerian state is bad governance and not bad tribes and religions. Bad governance manifests itself in the form of corruption, exclusion and state capture by the elites of all ethnic and religious groups, which have led to increased poverty, unemployment and deprivation of citizens, thereby creating conditions and incentives for violence in the country.