A time to heal and begin again
At independence, perceptions of prospects were in the superlatives. Images of the first black power saturated consciousness like the elegance of the nation’s promise.
The symbols of its possibilities, its political actors, were flamboyant, yet paradoxically modest. But wicked cancer set in and aimed to cut short the glory of Nigeria dreamt by its youth, and the vision unfolded by its elders. Sixty years later many stand shells shocked, wondering the nature of the Tsunami that hit us. But I remain captivated still by the potentialities of the glory of the latter rain.
First, we must accept that all have sinned and fallen short. We should candidly seek to be reconciled one to another, endure the catharsis of the discovery of the peak of our folly, be healed, and then begin again. Nigeria can and must be made to rise up again.
There are some who may think I am overdosed on optimism but I have a view of nation-building shaped by the experience of others. When the defenestration of Prague in 1618 set off thirty years of religious wars in Europe, few would have imagined the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and how that would shape the modern nation-state. Besides, I am persuaded that despite the jaded braggadocio of those currently in power all have come to a painful recognition that the result of trying to dominate others has yielded results in which we are all worse off. In playing winner take all those who hug power as a tool of impunity, for audacious legal plunder, many have found that they have invited in cancer that is squeezing the life out of all, including those who unleashed the regime of unfair and unjust treatment of others in the class, clan, or club terms. Those who thought they oppressed can now see that even their own shadows are too frightened to walk. So, a trip from Kaduna to Abuja becomes a journey so troubling that the railway carriage is favoured over motorcades with blaring sirens and escorts. Governors are attacked routinely in Borno and bandits determine what happens in the President’s home town. Now, we know, at the least, that citizenship which is caring for what affects all, trumps being the tribesman who cares only for their parochial attachments and sees all from without as enemies to be attacked. We know was that the Greeks were right in the hierarchy of members of society; with idiots at the bottom, tribesmen above them, and citizens at the top. We know now that Nigeria needs citizens and citizen democracy.
For me, it is a time to heal and not a time to apportion blame about the past, like who started the political thuggery that led to the coup of 1966, who carried out the coup and killed who. Who controlled the economy and cornered the wealth of the people in privatization? Who looted the treasury. Who shifted the balance of local governments and the number of states and incinerated what Prof. George Obiozor calls the politics of precarious balancing, and brought us to a season of contempt for the sensitivity and sensibilities of other ethnic nationality groups, who then plead marginalization, as a result.
It may be true as George Santayana states that those who neglect history live to repeat its errors, but the greater good, for me, is understanding to facilitate setting a new course that avoids shallow waters and to erect lighthouses on rocky trails in waterways. The noble path for Nigeria is putting the sad history of injustice and collective fallings behind, becoming all born again, afresh, into a new Nigeria where we can begin again.
In beginning again, we have re-commit to public service as a people-centered endeavor in which sacrificial giving of self for the advance of the Common Good is key. Public life is a fiduciary obligation with a duty to give the best to optimize value for those served by public officeholders. When public officers use public resources for their own welfare out of proportion from what citizens who they are agents of, enjoy in their ordinary work, something is wrong. This is why Cabinet Ministers in most countries are obliged to travel economy class when on government assignment even if they were millionaires in their private capacity. The new Nigeria must embrace this. Our new Nigeria must recognize that public life is about public virtue as Montesquieu proposed and Peter Ekeh affirms in his idea of morality in politics in his seminal essay on Colonization and the two publics.
Our new Nigeria must be one in which intellect and creativity solve problems as against today’s anti-intellectual disposition of politics in Nigeria which has managed to democratize mediocrity. As Professor Atairu Jega put it recently; it is hard to determine whether those in public life are overwhelmed, grossly incompetent or simply indifferent.
It is as such that I will spend October 1 2020 hosting more than 70 of some of Nigeria’s most highly regarded elders from the Northern and Southern parts of the country in reflection, reconciliation, and healing so that spiritually and symbolically we can be liberated from the misadventures of our wilderness years unto a new beginning.
Happy Birthday, Nigeria. Sixty is Diamond. It’s time to be polished and then to shine.
• Prof Utomi is a Political Economist, and Founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership and Co-chairman of the NCFront
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