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Nigeria: Worn nation, worn destiny

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Writing about Nigeria in these days of a menacing or threatened enactment of a Hate Speech law can be irksome. The writer may be unable to properly delineate the terrain of a possible infraction of the law even as he attempts to give rein to free speech or truthful exposition. There is also the difficulty of plotting the graph between transcendental truths and the fraying of irritable nerves or temper of persons in authority. An accustomed tendency to be infatuated or be deprived of judgement regarding the passion to speak the truth about the actual state of affairs in the country is thereby unfortunately hampered or put on hold. Inimitable Prof. Wole Soyinka, in expressing his moral opposition way back in 1984 to the Buhari regime’s strange jurisprudence which un-dialectically posited that truth was not enough to uphold or situate one’s judgment of issues, has reminded us of the ornate character of truth. Said he, characteristically:

“Truth is unambiguously ethical
and here is a regime which decrees
that the presentation of truth does
not suffice to validate one’s ethical
commitment.”

Here we are talking about a country that may only be held together or rebuilt by open, truthful discussions, insightful analyses of issues and no-holds barred denunciation of cant regarding her desultory affairs. Chinua Achebe has morbidly described Nigeria as “an example of a country that has fallen down; it has collapsed…” Nigeria may therefore be rebuilt or re-positioned from its present state of chaos, poverty, corruption and of the paradox of “a nation conceived in hope but nurtured by its own leaders into hopelessness.” She may be helped only by a sustained commitment to the values of morality, responsibility, truthful discourse and ability. Even as writing about Nigeria is a most engaging assignment, it can be confounding or frustrating.

Nigeria’s most intractable problems include ethnic or regional tensions, religious bigotry and an officially-rebuffed requirement to negotiate or find solution to the Nigerian national question. Nigerians need to negotiate how they want to govern themselves and equitably share nature’s abundant and other resources. The people need to interrogate the facile presumption of a “one, indivisible country.” A supercilious official position insisting that Nigeria’s unity or future is not negotiable is flawed or untenable. A process of sincere reconciliation among her component units is a desideratum for the resolution of the perennial debilitating crises afflicting the country. Questions are now being openly, and sometimes impudently, asked whether Nigeria itself is a worthwhile venture or enterprise. A cacophony of plaintive voices for a greater share or control of the wealth from the natural resources found in the belly of the respective lands comprised within the component units of the federation has since 1999 taken a vibrant twist in their discussion or disputation.

Many ethnic groups’ perception of marginalisation from the national political arena is a continuing source of tension, agitation and unease.Nigeria has been gratuitously credited with or lulled to sleep regarding a presumed propensity of an uncanny ability to pull back from the brink each time i.e. ability to rebound from adversity even in the face of contrary reasoned postulation or prediction. But it must be recognised that the various recurring strains and stresses that are the characteristic afflictions of the Nigerian nation are sure to make her fabric tear, wrinkle, rumple or crack at the seam. Some have jocularly found metaphorical analogy for the situation in the popular local parlance or lingo of ”one day, one day, monkey go go market, e no go return,” to suggest that the country may run into brackish waters or out of luck some day.

Nigeria’s tremendous wealth holds out the hope that a stable, clear-headed government could harness the bristling energies and egregious talent that thrill or throb in the varied ethnic mosaic. The resilience of the country’s citizens is proverbial. Nigeria’s human capital – both potential and real – is enormous and is capable or skilled enough to help resolve the many problems bedevilling the country. The hubris or vain pride of those in government to think that they alone hold the ace or possess the answers to the country’s myriad of difficulties is a bar to the effective mobilisation or pooling of requisite resources in knowledge and skills for an acceptable resolution of Nigeria’s conundrum.

The Nigerian political system’s inability to deal with its fiscal challenges, for instance, is compounded by the absence of a Left-Right ideological polarisation of the National Assembly or of the country’s politics generally; and also by the un-exercised power of entrenched interest groups. Trade unions, the organised private sector, civil society organisations, etc. are unable to exercise an effective veto on legislation that are injurious to their vocation, take-home packets or their bottom-line. Even as it is legitimate for citizens to defend their interests in a democracy, it is important that at certain points this defence should be pursued with reasoned combativeness or “aluta”. The rising level of populist anger is truly reflective of the social reality that is conflictive with the government’s own legitimating objectives or principles.

It is the consequent result of the chasm between the ideals of governance and the practical reality of increasing income and wealth inequality. Our system has remained illegitimate as the values of hardwork and honest living are generally held in derision or scorn. It has failed to ensure a growth pattern or a steady development of the community or individual. Research has shown that a society that fails to confront a major fiscal or political crisis, through serious institutional reform is tempted to resort to a host of short-term fixes that eventually corrupt its own institutions. Many examples confirm this position. There is, in Nigeria, a gnawing institutional inertia compounded by the present government’s slow-witted or slow-moving approaches to urgent issues of state. There is a worrisome emergent or creeping delegitimisation of the Nigerian state.

The problem of implanting modern institutions in the Nigerian society is made even more exacting as political choices do not revolve around ideology or policy. Voters by and large make their choices based on parameters other than programmes and policy positions. The result has been chaos as voters do not vote for political programmes; rather, they support their kith, tribesman or his comprador agent who is believed to be able to use his influence to direct government resources back to their homeland. Despite the existence of a national government, with all the trappings of seeming sovereignty, e.g. a flag and a standing army, few Nigerians have a sense of belonging to a larger nation outside of their tribal homeland.

The on-going scenario of decamping of notable politicians from one party to another, particularly those in the National Assembly, has added a new dynamic to the process of social change that will have huge political consequences. This Nigerian experience is one of the ways political development occurs in the contemporary world. It should not be decried as primitive or backward simply because of its occurrence. Political development itself implies movement beyond patrimonial relationships and personalistic politics. Practices like we are currently witnessing have survived in many places and are sure to have a strong foothold in this clime.

Serious difficulties encountered in the effort to construct a modern state should not be shied away from but must be confronted headlong. Our weak political institutions may well be headed for a major test of their adaptability.

A system that was conceived around a diffident conviction that concentrated political power constitutes an imminent danger to lives and liberty of citizens, can ill-afford the absence of a range of checks and balances symbolically represented by an alert official opposition. Different parts of the government have been constitutionally fashioned to prevent any of them from exercising tyrannical control. This, it must be noted, does not dis-allow the exercise of state authority when the need arises as there is always the existence of a social consensus on political ends. In the horizon however is a dreadful emerging elective dictatorship in the form of an over-bearing or imperious Executive.Our present dreary situation is rooted more in the immediate sense of our exigent political practice even as the country’s fortunes, future and destiny appear irreparably impaired, weary or worn particularly under a desultory, rambling or loose government.


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