The telling and re-telling of Nigeria’s history is an ongoing phenomenon. A story often told with ethnic, religious and political biases, motivations or agendas. Oftentimes, this story is told with a diplomacy that leaves out the truth and yet not completely remain a lie.
The amorphousness of such histories leaves people bereft of facts and incapable of forging a vision to a clearer future. I am not a historian by profession but I understand the nature of reality and its intersection with reading history right in view of a reconstructionism of a damaged and fragmented society.
I present my thought in this essay as hard facts facing a nation born entrapped and entangled in its own umbilical cords, and almost six decades later, it is still struggling to disentangle itself from its restraining cords. I claim no dogmatic truths, or some form of all-encompassing know it all. Rather, these reflections are born out of total frustration with a system that could be so much more yet grounded in an unbridled mediocrity and lack of direction.
The ontology of Nigeria’s dysfunctionalism is often located and placed solely at the feet of the British colonial masters for creating a nation of many unwilling bed mates, that the British created a geographical space, mapped and named it without consulting the people.
While this narrative might be true, I relocate our nation’s original sin to the hubris of our founding fathers. They firmly engendered a regionalism that was only concerned about itself to the detriment of the whole.
This moral failure on the part of these initial nation builders inadvertently became a culture that has thrived and innocuously, over time, has damaged any possibility of building one united nation.
We have had enough time to repair this faulty foundation, but the majority of players in the political history of the nation have only used this disunity as a veritable tool for oppression, usurpation of power and the continuation of a politics of ‘federal character’ with no respect for ability, character or suitability.
This is the classic case of ‘the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are on edge.’ It suffices to submit; after the British created Nigeria and handed the country into the hands of Nigerians, Nigerians failed woefully to build a united nation.
The attempt at an amalgamating of the extraneous regions led to the first military coup! Whichever ways anyone will chronicle the history of Nigeria in the 60s, there is no story telling that will not link the military coups with the civil war. Young officers in the Nigerian army for a multitude of reasons created an archetypical savior’s syndrome.
This attitude will thrive well into the next three to four decades. The civil war itself remains a blot on any contrived notion of a united country. Millions, especially those of the Igbo extraction were massacred in the name of keeping Nigeria as one. That civil war has never really ended; we still are dancing around ‘Biafra’ and the cyclic pillaging and murder of Igbos in the north.
The Igbos remain the most ingenious in commerce and industry yet somehow are schemed out of leadership roles and the politics of rotational presidency. The Igbos are in every nook and corner of the country, contributing by sheer hard work to the growth of the economy.
Why their sojourn and contributions to the economies in other parts of the country are often times repaid with unbridled violence is befuddling to any right-thinking mind.
The so-called South-South has also experienced the perfidy of a nation’s cash cow, milked but unfed. There are other ‘minorities’ in the same or even worse conditions. Somewhere in the national psyche, we delude ourselves that we are building a nation.
There is no telling of our nation’s history without recourse to a string of misadventures in leadership. Unlike the ideas of democratic leadership from Plato to Rousseau, we have as a nation been cursed with leaders who lead by military fiat, native intelligence or religious feudalism.
Within contemporary political systems, nations seek diplomats, technocrats and leaders who understand the art of politics and international diplomacy. In the rare case that a leader is not endowed with these qualities, then the legislators provides the intelligentsia needed to provide stability in the nation’s politics.
As a nation, Nigeria has failed to provide credible, intelligent and patriotic political class. The nation’s attempt at democracy can at the very best be described as puppeteering, inept oligarchs, sectionalists, unlettered godsons of thugs and miscreants.
Elections are simply a matter of recycling of the same caliber of persons hell bent on enriching themselves at the expense of the nation’s wellbeing. It is permanently the same script, different actors, different days. The very few who may possess the required qualities for true statesmanship have become prisoners in the hands of uncouth barbarians strutting around in the places of power. Nigeria’s political class are a special breed.
They excel in every conceivable act abhorrent of development or common good. They legislate laws to protect themselves or legislate laws incongruent with modern times. At the hands of such ‘elected’ leaders we seek to build a sovereign nation, united and vibrant. Here, a nation is building a sand castle deluding itself that it is building a fortress.
It is confounding for rational minds to see a nation guided by an ill-conceived, partial and unrespected national constitution especially by its own legislature and judiciary. The ruling class is populated by many who are above the laws of the land and enjoy immunity from crimes against the nation. The day to day survival of Nigeria is based on making it up along as we go.
The creators of Chaos Theory will marvel at how malleable Nigerians generally interpret the law, openly and unapologetically disregarding laws and worse still use the law to oppress her under privileged citizens. The ruling class seems often times confused when it comes to protecting the rights of the citizens. They are brilliant when it comes to proposing bills that are evidently self-serving.
It is impudent for elected officials either during elections, while the various legislating house sit or when they interact with other arms of government to be so glaringly trivial with the fate of an entire nation.
The constitution of any democratic nation must be the heart that drives and keeps that nation alive. The constitution must be sacred and be held as such both by the leaders and the people they govern.
There is no need for a crystal ball for any honest Nigerian to acknowledge that over time, the nation’s constitution has not been accorded the kind of respect that it deserves.
Then, there is the elephant in the room no one is willing to address; that the north is a dead weight on the entire nation. In the first instance, the north is years behind in acquiring western education. This has been made possible by a brand of Islam which is orthodox and extreme.
In the ongoing global struggle between an Arabic/Islamic east versus Christian west, the fall out of this kind of radical extremism from time to time emerged. Various sects are formed to pursue the establishment of a new caliphate or a brand of Islam that is intolerant of ‘infidel/unbelievers’ – which will be about one hundred million Nigerians, including Muslims who do not belong to their sect.
This has often led to countless violent clashes and wasting of human lives and property in its wake. We have tens of thousands of street urchins who roam the streets of our northern states. We have even more of girls, uneducated and given away in marriage as early as twelve years old.
For a very long time, the north has been unable to contribute substantially to the nation’s GDP. Conversely, the north takes a good chunk of the entire nation’s resources to service its basic infrastructures.
As history has continued to evolve, certain northern avant-garde and proponents of northern hegemony have grown bold as to make claims of resources found in other territories as part of the landmass making up Nigeria. The north and its people are a part of Nigeria, and rightly so.
However, there is a dangerous rhetoric that places the north against the rest of the nation. Unaddressed, the entire nation is sitting on a keg of gunpowder while smoking a pipe.
I find it painfully disconcerting when I see my own compatriots wallowing in abject poverty while they could do so much better. Sadder still is the realization that our people have been so oppressed that like the negro slaves on colonial farms of the old south, the subjugation is so total to have come to terms with misery and suffering thereby accepting it as the way things are.
When the majority of people have been so psychologically traumatized to the point of accepting ignominies, they are not only reduced to less of their human dignity, the future of their offsprings is already in chains.
It is heart wrenching when one takes stock of the number of illiterates we graduate from our universities annually. It may not be far fetched to surmise that this is from a play book by those who stand to gain; to destroy a nation, first destroy its education and intellectual class.
Produce mediocre, nincompoops, incapable of critical reflection, then you have a nation incapable of holding to account those who steal from their commonwealth. We have seen Nigerians sell their votes for Ankara, for a miniature size bag of rice and money which will not last them a week. Perhaps these are the every day run of the mill people.
Staggering still is when I engage the supposedly educated middle class elite who does not only think things are okay but are optimistic that things will improve. Nigeria will never be a nation in the true sense of the word if there is no social reconstruction of the citizens’ collective psyche.
Unfortunately, those currently at the helm of the nation’s affairs neither possess the natural acumen nor the will power to pursue such an agenda. There are more issues that divide the nation than ones that are foundations for unity.
How the country still exists in its tattered state is confounding for political scientists and proponents of the democratic system. However, no one can accurately foretell the direction of Nigeria’s failed attempt at democracy.
From the Greco-Roman world that gave the world the idea of democracy, and through its evolution to modern times, two rules, and two rules only make democracy workable; first rule, the people vote and elect their representatives. Second rule, the elected leaders are intellectuals (philosopher kings); people who are versed with the art of politics, international relations and economics.
People who are of high level of moral probity and patriotic nationalists. After the fathers and mothers who fought for and birthed our nation’s independence, how many such characters can we point at? Nigeria has wasted time wondering in circles, years eaten by the locust.
If this nation will not end up in perfidy of the making of its current political class, then the younger generation will have to rise up and take their own destiny in their own hands. The old brigade has failed and can take the country nowhere except to collapse. They have provided for themselves and their cronies through their ill-gotten wealth.
They will not be here when the ordinary citizen will scavenge for food and the lucky ones will be refugees in neighboring nations. The future belongs to the young who will carry the vision of today to a new tomorrow. It is time to change the status quo!
The old scoundrels will not give up without a fight. Nigeria is their cash cow and they have become accustomed to sating their thirst based on the milk that flows off of her abundant resources.
If the Moghalus, Durotoyes, Ekwesilis, Dukes and their likes refuse to form one formidable front, a strong coalition to fight the tyranny of our task masters, then the dream of a future for Nigeria and our nation might as well be forgotten.
These new breed politicians have what it takes to turn Nigeria around quickly from plunging over the edge of a cliff into chaos and perdition.
One only wonders if they have the patriotic and nationalistic altruism that places the welfare of the nation before personal ambitions. From their coalition, they must show clearly that they desire to serve the people.
They have to abandon the old system where politicians accrue to themselves obese and over bloated remunerations and retirement packages that can only be conceived by twisted and demented minds.
There is no reason why public servants should not be put on the same salary levels and scales, each retiring to the same amount of retirement benefit due to the level at which they retire in the civil service.
They must show the commitment to cutting down on an unnecessarily large government with offices that are completely irrelevant and not only sustained but are backed up by several special advisers and staff.
They must have a willingness to fight a hydra-headed monster created by fickle mindedness and named ‘federal character’ where appointments are made to suit ethnic and regional interests at the cost of ability or suitability. For a change, it is time for a new generation to repair the damages of their forbears.
We should never forget, that what one does not have, one cannot give; a surgeon is not a pilot, neither is a pilot a surgeon. Nigeria is bigger than Sandhurst education or leading by trial and error.
For Nigeria to move from being the poverty capital of the world and take its rightful place among sovereign nation states, we need politicians with manifestoes for sustainable human and natural resources development.
There is a need to cleanse Nigeria from a mixture of religious indoctrination and domination of the constitution. We may keep the ethical dimensions of all the religions of the land, but not arbitrarily use any religion to inform policies or the rule of law.
These are hard facts. They stare right into our eyes. We can choose to continue to play the ostrich or live in denial.
I can assure you that this façade will crumble soon enough. By our inaction, we shall unleash on our children and the future, a fragmentation they may never be able to recover from.
It is time for the younger and intellectual class to raise a new dawn for Nigeria. It is a project which is still redeemable, only if you can carpe diem!
Rev. Fr. John Segun Odeyemi, PhD
Pittsburgh, PA. USA.