In my last few articles, I started with a big question, ‘Is Nigeria too big to fail’. I have since received criticisms from a number of readers telling me that the country had already failed. As a student of politics for almost 60 years, I have taken a very careful and painful study of all the political adventures that we have undertaken from independence to date. Looking through the landscape, my findings are showing me a very gloomy picture of a fractured entity, in disunity and unstable for a viable nation to thrive.
Right before our eyes, despite the privileges of having the better of two worlds, the foundation of our nation, though largely influenced by the British, was crashed and the immense resources that flowed since independent rule was achieved were mismanaged or outrightly stolen. We excelled in tearing the country apart and dividing it in the name of state creation that promised to bring development to the grassroots but was rather patently designed to fan the embers of tribalism and nepotism. We swiftly arrived at a point of no return so that all that is now left is the transition from one crisis to another, which only serves to hold back the emergence of the nation’s once great potentials.
It is, therefore, not out of place to ask the dreaded but mandatory questions about the past and future of our country and the way forward. I will make reference to an experience I documented in a chapter of a book I published two years ago. I was in Accra, Ghana for work and I witnessed a citizen’s arrest. It happened when a taxi driver had lost control of his vehicle and rammed into the pole by the roadside. The impact caused a lot of people to gather, and members of the public arrested the erring taxi driver till the police came for him. This is very different from the mob action of lynching or assault that is against the laws of the land. The main lesson for me here was the respect people had for public property. As far as the people were concerned, the cable pole belonged to everyone and so they had a responsibility to safeguard it, or like this case, ensure that the situation was adequately attended to and managed.
A few decades ago in Nigeria, I would have expected a similar scenario and possibly a similar reaction from the public. However, this is no longer the case. Today, it will be a case of ‘hit and run’. The taxi driver would have taken off immediately because as long as the pole is for the government, no one cares. Worse still, if the knocked-down cable pole hurt anyone around there, jungle justice/ mob assault would have been swiftly carried out on the taxi driver. Although there is a law against vandalization and careless destruction of public properties, there would be no one to arrest or prosecute the driver, especially if he can ‘settle’ the authorities. Finally, onlookers may take videos and pictures of the incident for their social media posts and no more.
Which brings me to say that most of us lack a sense of belonging and it is not easy to be patriotic when you feel like you don’t belong. The Majority of the Nigerian population feel let down by the system with its constant disappointment which ultimately has become a recipe for disaster. Before we became the nation Nigeria, each group of people had their own identity that was unique and each respected those of the others; there was inter and intra ethnic trades and each group looked out for its people.
However, we seem to have forgotten so quickly that the game being played today by political actors is looking more like a rehearsal of the events that took place in some parts of Nigeria soon after independence. Most of the political actors of this post-independence war period have passed on but their vestiges in the form of students, sons and daughters are knowingly or unknowingly trying to act out the same drama without any scripts. That is so because most of them were either too young and do not want to remember the precious lives, the best any country can muster, that perished in the various political crisis, coups and wars. The philosophy that it is now their turn to chop and not to fix the crisis that those before them created is their main driver.
A part of this philosophy is fuelled by the idea of segregation or feeling of indifference from the Nigerian project. We do have a Nigerian project, specified in our first National Anthem. Unfortunately, that project failed to become our mantra because the confused state of anarchy suited our selfish politicians and the soldiers who came in to ‘course-correct’. A lot of people still live with the trauma of the civil war and the events that led to it. A lot of people born a few years to the civil war or a few years after still hold on to the pains of tortuous birth because the wrongs of the sixties have not been addressed but ultimately left to multiply. Still more traumatized citizens are being created by their legions by successive governments and their indifference towards the plight of the governed. Our leaders are anti-democratic. They do not see themselves as servants for the execution of the programmes they electorates voted them into office for. This is because their entire campaign is a sham, designed to deceive the casual observer. Having bought and rigged himself to the office, the opportunistic leader does not see himself beholden to the people.
Currently, only very few Nigerians that witnessed and participated in the initial crisis are still around, but not so willing to engage in a crucial conversation unless we are ready to lead properly. We must find them, to tell the unadulterated story of how the country started to fall apart. Without the full story and the evidence of the very many mistakes made, it will be almost impossible to begin the process of fixing Nigeria. It is very evident that all of today’s crisis can be traced to the early 60s, pre and post-independence. I have written about them in my previous articles in this very column, and for my own sanity, I will try to repeat some but must add that those that made the mistakes must admit their mistakes and possibly ask the nation for forgiveness. I have spoken to a few of these actors, some now in their 90s and 80s. A few have agreed to participate in this conversation because they too are very worried about the legacy they will leave in their wake and the continuing destruction that looms.
In a recently published book, Nigerian Historian Max Siollun, observed that many Nigerians have a rose-tinted memory of colonialism and although, many former colonies have negative feelings towards the countries that colonised them, some Nigerians have a nostalgic reverence for British rule. His book ‘A Short History of Conquest and Rule: What Britain did to Nigeria, discusses parts of our history that we have failed to address which is British colonialism and its influence on the current problems that modern Nigeria faces.
With some of the best brains in the world coming from Nigeria, how come we have not begun the process of fixing our country? Instead, the mentality of tenured appointment, the issue of geographical spread and quota without merit, the lure of a bogus lifestyle guaranteed by a federal appointment to the centre of governance, fill the heads of these somewhat brilliant minds, replacing intellectualism and equity with corrupt thoughts, maladministration and failure, destroying the national structure in the process. The sharing mentality adopted by those clamouring for positions in the centre is the main driver of corruption in Nigeria. The centre was made strong and juicy through the balkanization of our federal structure. It was a perfect coup that destroyed democracy in Nigeria. The chop I chop mentality has eaten into the political blood cells of our citizens at all levels as a result of our personal and ethnic disconnect from the idea of a Nigeria that should function as a whole. We just want a person that we can relate to ethnically to fill a spot even if such a person is unqualified for the position. We have gradually made it evident that in any election conducted in Nigeria, we have to abide by the unconstitutional pattern of eight years for the North and eight years for the South.