How the ambivalent middle became complicit
We are in an election year, or are we? Surely this is 2019. This is the year we go to the polls to hire new agents to steer the rudder down the path of our preferred collective well-being. But somehow, everyone, well, at least many people I know, seems numbed by the process. What are the issues facing us and how are those offering to save us from the darkness of now are planning to do so?
I admit that I can see effort on the part of some, in civil society, to bring some light, albeit a small beam, into “this present darkness”, as an American’s (Stephen Ellis) recent book on Nigeria is titled. But in the main, the effort to organize debates seems more like entertainment at Rome’s Colosseum than an ideas “beauty parade” from which choice of accountable agents are made.
Anyone looking in from outside sees a failed Democratic process and a failing state in which the citizens are spectators; angry, worried but seemingly immobilized and unsure how to engage. At least that is what foreign friends tell me.
The trouble with Nigeria emerges in sharp relief as you scope the Gestalt. It is citizenship failure. Surely it is easy to blame the politicians. But the person doing the blaming already knows that most current politicians are just adventurers, bounty hunters with different primary interests with no sense of shame, but united by self love, an unbridled narcissism. So why expect much? The people with the most to lose, often unprotected by the rent the “big men” can, and have extracted, from the system, the educated middle somehow fails to see how to engage. The ambivalent middle inadvertently encourages the adventurers who in pursuit of very narrow, clearly unenlightened self-interest, push Nigeria towards collapse, in this present uncertainty. The ambivalent middle, without doubt, became complicit in determining the Nigeria condition.
I have played significant roles in trying to shake up the sleeping middle at different stages in my life cycle. As a Youth Corper/Journalist hiding student leader during “Ali Mun go” uprising against the Military in 1978, and liaising between them and Chief Gani Fawehinmi just down my street; As the one that challenged the middle when the 1993 elections were annulled and provided the pathway to founding the Concerned Professionals in 1993; and lately, in “Occupy Falomo” in January of 2012. I have seen enough of this complicit middle, that I have become convinced they deserve more of the blame for where Nigeria is, than those doing the actual damage. With pride, they hold politics and politicians in contempt, or fear consequences to their personal comfort for speaking up against evil. And sometimes their submission to instant gratification makes them look away from wrong, thereby aiding and abetting impunity.
The ease with which they allowed the ‘adventurers without conscience’ despoil their lives and the future of their children, beggars belief. When thoroughly exhausted, they join the generation that left town, as Canada warmly welcomes our best and brightest in this new emmigration wave.
I have lately been interrogating these issues and the trouble with Nigeria, more broadly, in a three-volume book project. The first book, already set to go into circulation is titled, Why Not – Citizens, State Capture,
Creeping Fascism and Criminal hijack of Politics in Nigeria; will be on book stands within days. The second; In the Devil’s Den – How politics underdeveloped countries, should be available in a few months. And the third by the end of the year. A good portion of the 300 odd pages of *Why Not* deals with the complicit middle, and one chapter, titled the *Complicit Middle*, is deliberately offered in both books.
In the first book, I toyed with the idea of lumping together the complicit middle with the adventurers, in what I called the “incestuous Oedipal” of the rape of a loving mother by children to whom she had been extremely generous. Indeed, in the opening chapter of Why Not I evoke what I called a metaphor from Heaven, even though Hell would have been appropriate. The metaphor was injected as a gift from Heaven because as I was to start writing the book the newspapers published the story of a young man who was arrested sodomizing the corpse of his murdered mother. Apparently, he had been told that the path to riches was to kill his mother and violate her body going through rigor mortis.
I thought this bestial episode in many ways captures the Nigerian story. The people who had received most from mother Nigeria have subjected her to serial rape and are getting ready to despoil her remains.
But the real trouble is that the other children are turning the sordid deed into a spectator sport. As Retired Primate of the Anglican Communion in Nigeria, Dr Peter Akinola put it, “politicians in Nigeria are doing things with impunity because Nigerians are docile”. The Complicit Middle, in failing to be true citizens, are the very manifestation of this docility. They even laugh at those who dare on their behalf.
The problem with the complicit middle is that time is running out on them. Let’s take the issues facing Nigeria: becoming the Grand Central Station of Poverty; emerging as a country of slow grinding Civil Wars called all kinds of other names; sliding into strategically irrelevant status in World Affairs; establishing the woeful example of where not to be on the SDGs scale; locating strongly as the corruption capital of world; and misery central where to be sick is almost a death sentence. How about an infrastructure nightmare where factories are closing down near our great Iron and Steel City, Ajaokuta, because the great trans Nigeria highway is immotorable for miles along that stretch.
The challenge of today is about statesmen entering a war cabinet room, citizens compatriots and true leaders, not people overcome with partisan bickering when the ship is sinking. Nigeria is in a moral equivalence of war but the complicit middle seems to have forgotten who the major victims of war can be.
To go to school and not use the education to save yourself is the ultimate failing. Nigeria’s complicit middle is managing to snatch misery and anarchy from the jaws of potential demographic dividend. But like Paul Ejikeme, Etcetera, sang in “Raise the alarm”, we will probably blame it on Mickey Mouse. Who will save us now? The Middle better rise to save itself by listening to Primate Akinola.
Prof Utomi, Political Economist and Entrepreneurship teacher is founder of Centre for Values in Leadership