The atmosphere in Nigeria today is such that any Minister of Information, even if a supervising one, must start with some bush clearing. The crisis in Nigeria has assumed a discourse dimension in the sense that our sense of our situation has obviously constrained our sense of things generally. And our sense of things generally as they manifest in social and traditional media and everyday analysis certainly lack the vigour and forward looking attitude that we associate with Nigeria or MUST associate with Nigeria, no matter how bad things might appear to be. We must never tire in recognising that Nigeria is not just another country on earth. It is that single country with the highest concentration of black under one government in human history. There can be no higher uniqueness. Nothing can be more than that.
Unfortunately, the totality of our engagement with our situation is not sufficiently mindful of this. Rather, our perspectives, for most of the time, are not only aimed at destroying but lacking in transformative vigour. Yet, the way we think and talk about the country, its leaders, its institutions and so on determines, to a great extent, the possibilities we open up or block. Far from suggesting that the government, the leaders and our institutions should not be criticised, I am only saying that doing so does not contradict the need for the culture of a more critical, informed and elevated perspectives on what we see as the problems. In other words, criticising the president or the party or any institutions and practices does not amount to the perspectives or the big dreams that can ferry a country to greater heights. Where are the big dreams then? Or the ideas encompassing such dreams. I cannot see them. And I don’t believe they are there and I am blinded by any thing as not to see them.
For those who might think that I am reasoning like someone in government, let me say that this government does not actually take criticisms as something negative. To the contrary, the analysis is that the citizens would not even bother to criticise a government or its leader if they have reasons to believe that the government is of no use. The more criticisms, therefore, the better in the sense that the criticisms reify and legitimise the government. Whether the best way to do this is by hauling invectives on the person of the president is a different matter. The great thing is that President Jonathan has borne all such invectives with considerable equanimity. And some of us in this government are proud that the president does not take attacks personal. And as he himself once said in an interview, Nigeria is that unique African country you can haul every invective on the president without having to sleep with eyes half open.
But the kind of national debates that overlook the responsibilities of individuals, families, and communities in nurturing the minds of its youngsters into proud citizens is philosophically sterile. So also any such debate that minimizes the roles of sub-national governments. And equally flawed is the type that seeks comforts in the simplicity of wild conspiracy theories. The most superficial and intellectually stale of all, however, is the one that offers a cause hypothesis of corruption in Nigeria to a lack of the somewhat ‘strong’ leader, the daily unintended invitation to the president to attempt to be a dictator. God forbids bad thing!
There is so much oversimplification of the roles of rather complex social, cultural and ideological dynamics in our contemporary discourse to the point of such becoming the contradiction itself in the wheel of Nigeria’s march to greatness. And this is at its highest in the last five years of our history. Yes, there has been a lot of tension, anxiety, inadequacies and a number of things which are absolutely regrettable, for example the Boko Haram crisis. We don’t deserve it. The fact that it preceded this regime is a different matter. But even in the midst of the horrors inflicted on this country by Boko Haram, Nigeria is still able to make a global statement by overwhelming Ebola at a time more advanced countries are still battling it. Additionally, we have climbed to become the biggest economy in Africa and the most preferred destination for investors in the continent. The Agricultural Transformation Agenda have moved Nigeria close to food sufficiency while rice importation is expected to stop by 2015. A competitive and deregulated power sector which is attracting foreign and local investment has been put in place in accordance with the power road map. This same Nigeria is estimated by the Chattam Institute to surpass Germany economically in the very near future and subsequently Japan. What these examples show is that there is a bigger picture out there which we might be allowing today’s pains and understandable bitterness to blind us to.
By all means, we must bicker, quarrel and abuse each other. It will not be the Nigeria we grew up to know if anyone removes these elements from our national life. But these harmless attributes of our national life should not become a license for wide deviations from the decency required to sustain the democratic project. Already, our politics as designed and guaranteed, first by the 1979 and later 1999 constitutions, has contrary to the intentions of the authors turned too big and unwieldy, chaotic and noisy.
And this deviation is being noticed outside, not just by other countries inside and outside Africa or formal international institutions but also by folks. A chance encounter with a young Sierra Leonean, who walked up to me at the margins of a multi lateral meeting in New York and copiously shared his view about Nigeria had affected me in a very profound way. He introduced himself as an Intern with the UN System and generously thanked Nigeria for its role in the protracted civil war that tore his country apart for most of the 90s. He declared his immense admiration for Nigeria’s role and sacrifices in the sub region and the African continent. He concluded by describing Nigeria as a humanistic African power that could be the pride of the black race anywhere in the world. But that wasn’t without a caveat. To my surprise, his caveat is that we must fix our politics.
Whatever may be the cause of this political dysfunction, it can only be unearthed and mitigated by the culture of conscious, systematic, deeply reflective and thorough interrogation. Unfortunately, as at today, our politicians, media practitioners, public intellectuals, civil society and youth groups have not been living up on this. Instead, much of what we do is sowing rancour or throwing mud at people in government. And when that government goes, we jubilate for a few weeks before the new government we thought was worth sending away the previous one becomes the new devil on the cross. And yet, we don’t ask questions about the system, its cultural, economic, historical, historical and global foundations. This is what my Sierra Leonean friend was talking about in the logic of fixing our politics!
The long and short of this piece is that it is about time we take Nigeria from the mud. In other words, the negative ways we think and talk about the country, its leaders and institutions have implications for the well being of the country. I have argued in this piece that no privations, no anger, no sense of disappointment can excuse the culture of consciously or unconsciously dragging the country down. Since the end of the Second Republic, there must be very few individuals in Nigeria who have not had one personal, communal, ethnic, religious, political, business or group plan shattered by Nigeria. For some individuals that I happen to know personally, the suffering is almost unbearable. But the great thing in all this is the way such great privations bring out the best of the Nigerian people towards the victims. At the end of the day, these are the things to take away. As a Supervising Minister for Information, those are the kinds of values I would like to celebrate over and above those of discord and acrimony.
Let me apologise if I have been prescriptive. It is possible that, as a medical doctor, I have unconsciously carried that professional attribute into my analysis. But it is not what my Christian brothers would call an original sin.
Dr Mohammed is the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Supervising Minister for Information