Is the past the future?
Since the failure of the President Muhammadu Buhari government became intolerably manifest, a noticeable feature of discourse in the public space is its polarisation. In one camp are those who argue that the present status quo is precisely what the country needs and in the opposing camp are those who seek its replacement with a political system that existed in the past. Indeed, the Buhari’s years have been marked by the citizens’ hankering for the past and the rejection of the present. Having appropriated the past as the only means of corporate survival, they want to make it not only the anchor for the present but also the future.
Clearly, we are not witnessing this laudation of the past for the first time. Ever since the oil boom evaporated and the country has been afflicted with a governance crisis, the Nigerian people have often sought to recover a past that they consider a golden era. They do not seek the co-opting of only some useful values from the past into the enrichment of the present and the future. No, they want a wholesale displacement of the past with the present and the future. In this regard, their march to their collective destiny has often been disrupted by prolonged moments of contemplation of the desirability of replacing their present with the past.
The pains of the present often make them to forget the perils of the past they survived to reach the present. Incredibly, this is the refrain among some citizens who have been traumatised by the present: just bring back the colonial era. In those moments of seeking the recovery of the colonial past, the citizens forget the years of struggle and sacrifices to get independence. Or they want the return of soldiers in the provenance of governance. They forget the military jackboots on their heads and the loss of lives in the bid to consign the hijackers of the political space to the barracks. Of course, in the journey of life such moments of introspection are important. But this is to the extent that such moments serve to refine the template for the journey towards a clearly defined destination. Thus, the tragedy of the nation is located in the absence of such a template. The upshot is that the nation is often frozen in those moments that ought to be used for a collective introspection. How do a people progress when in their march to the future, they keep on looking back?
In the heady days of the endless political transition of the then military dictator, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, he considered it an overarching challenge to whittle down the influence of the old politicians and shore up in their place what he rhapsodized as the new breed. But what Babangida nurtured he soon killed as through his own shenanigans he did not allow this new breed to bloom.
Since then, the past has always had its hold on the present. Due to the failure of the leadership of the present, the citizens often want to go back to the past. Now, some citizens look back at the days of Shehu Shagari and rue his abrupt loss as the nation’s president. And this is despite that his government was terminated because of the charges of corruption against it. Others thought that the Musa Yar’Adua government would be better than that of Olusegun Obasanjo. But when Yar’Adua and his successor Goodluck Jonathan failed, some citizens were eager to return to the Obasanjo era. And now after the fiasco of the Buhari government, some citizens are eager to go back to the era of Jonathan despite the plethora of the allegations of corruption against him.
Still, some citizens are alarmed at the standard of the nation’s current educational system and conclude that the past is better. They are enamoured of a past when facilities for learning were available. That was an era when even foreigners were coming to the nation’s teaching hospitals for treatment. It was an era when graduates of universities in Nigeria were sought by schools abroad because they could favourably compete with their foreign counterparts.
Again, the past is privileged in the quest for the recovery of the 1963 constitution. The 1999 constitution has attracted growing opposition because it was imposed on the citizens by the military for its selfish reasons. There is the near-unanimity that that the 1963 constitution holds the magic wand to solving our problems. Almost on a daily basis, it is attracting support from diverse quarters. It is a quest that has unified villains and heroes. Babangida contributed so much to the crisis the country is going through. His refusal to run a transparent political transition programme led not only to the loss of democratic values and but also of lives. But apparently, the people are willing to forgive him his sins as long as he can pull through his putative support for restructuring. The same gesture is coming the way of Atiku Abubakar. He was the vice president for eight years after the return of democracy in 1999. That was an era that was meant for nurturing democratic values. If the government had effectively done this nurturing for eight years, the nation would not be in its current crisis. Yet, the citizens may overlook Atiku’s failures and put him among the nation’s heroes as long as he supports restructuring. Even those who truncated the democratic process by joining the government of Sani Abacha have found restructuring as a means of securing political relevance. And once the national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) Bola Tinubu expressed his support for restructuring, the people seem to forget that he is one of the architects of our current crisis. He was one of those who projected Buhari as indispensable to the survival of the country. Tinubu and other leaders of his party offered to restructure the polity but they reneged on this promise. But two years after he has been denied what he considered as his gains for supporting Buhari, he has supported the call for restructuring. And the citizens would soon overlook his failures and count him among the nation’s newfangled heroes.
For the nation to develop, it must go beyond this fixation on the past. It must get to a point where it resolutely marches to its future in a manner that its past no longer holds so much attraction. In other words, the progress of the present and goals of the future would make whatever achievements the past held to be insignificant. This is the challenge before all the citizens. In this regard, Buhari should not claim that he knows all the answers; that he is more patriotic than every other citizen. He must listen to the people and give them what they want. The northern leaders should also come out with their own proposals on how to make the nation better. It is not time for northerners to be closet believers in restructuring; they have to speak out if they think that is the way the nation should go. Ultimately, all those who are opposed to and in support of restructuring should be able to sit down together and agree on the mutual strategies to break the hold of the past on the nation.
By next Sunday, Nigeria would have spent 57 years on a journey to nowhere. Yet, the drums would be rolled out by the government to celebrate that day. But beyond the vacuous celebration, the Buahri government should seize the moment to reflect on enduring solutions to the nation’s crises. Indeed, it is incumbent on him to launch the country and its citizens on a march that would make them to be so consumed by the prospect of the greatness of the future. But he would have failed if after his tenure, the citizens are still fixated on a glorious past that they are eager to return to because neither the present nor the future offers them comfort.
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