Perils and promises of an impatient nation
Nigeria is currently passing through difficult and challenging times, politically and economically. Our economic managers have finally confessed that we are in a recession, and they locate the root of the problem in our profligacy and prodigality as a nation. We made a lot of money from oil in past years and squandered everything, without saving for the rainy day. Now the rainy days are here. Sadly enough, there is nothing we are going through now that we have not experienced in the past. But as it is customary, what Nigerians learn from history is that we never learn from history, and that is why we keep repeating the same mistakes of the past.
We are a very forgetful nation, and not only forgetful but also impatient. This amnesia and impatience have simultaneously contributed to diminishing us as a people. About Nigerian amnesia, Wole Soyinka has this to say: “We are a nation of short memories. The season changes. Rain falls and blood is replaced by mud on our walls, our streets and – alas – even on our minds. Mud settles on the eyelids of memory. Nothing lasts in this nation, nothing.” We see the effects of our amnesia and impatience in our blunt refusal to defer gratification. We want to enjoy everything here and now, often without making the necessary sacrifices through hard work, discipline, and commitment to duty. Nigeria is one country that very well typifies the Seven Deadly Social Sins spelt out by the Indian sage Mahatma Gandhi: “Wealth without Work, Pleasure without Conscience, Knowledge without Character, Commerce without Morality, Science without Humanity, Religion without Sacrifice, Politics without Principle.” These are the social habits that have crippled our march toward greatness.
Another brand of typical Nigerian impatience is the impatience of road users. More than three decades ago, the renowned Professor Chinua Achebe in his monograph, The Trouble with Nigeria observed that Nigerian roads are the best places to observe the trademark indiscipline and organised anarchy that have become a signature of Nigerian life. It is because of the maelstrom of frenetic energy, rudeness, noisiness and pulsating pace of rowdy road usage in Nigeria that made a British journalist to describe Nigeria with the sobriquet: “a land of no tomorrow.” People here are in a mad rush as if the world is coming to an end today, and they live as if the future depends on what they can grab today.Life in Nigeria is just a frenzy of hustling humanity scrabbling for survival.
There is also the impatience of Nigerians to follow queues in an orderly manner and to respect protocols of social civility and decency. Nigerians have a penchant for corner-cutting and queue-jumping at virtually all levels of society. Those who claim to live above the law have a rather arrogant manner of expressing their chutzpah and right to impunity when security operatives accost them. With over-bloated sense of personal ego, they ask: “Do you know who I am?” People in this category either have an inborn repugnance for order and sanity, or on account of their immaturity, mental incompetence, sheer devilry or even innocent exuberance, are unable to impose the internal brake of self-discipline on their desires and actions. They seem to function very well and profit more in times of anarchy, confusion and disorder. Their sheer reluctance to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right place, and in the right proportion, only to respond with a show of their perceived might and raw power, is what has accounted for the collapse of social values and the season of anomie which we are now plunged in.
There is also the impatience of young students who have a cerebral disdain for bending down to study hard in school. Many students today have come to accept the corrupt and perverse culture of patronage and gratification that says that, “It is not what you know, but who you know that matters.” These students, even while in school, are constantly aiming for a cosy life of luxury, ostentation and comfort at the slightest opportunity, because they see no correlation between their performance in the classroom and what happens after school. The impatience to suffer before enjoyment also reflects in the daily choices that many students make about what really matters in their lives. That is why today millions of new entrants into the Nigerian labour market have been called ‘unemployable graduates’ and ‘certificated illiterates’ to show how serious their persistent lack of the critical tools to connect, collaborate and compete in a globalised work environment has become. That is also partly why patriotism has died in Nigeria. Even for those in public service, the infamous sobriquet, “Government work is no man’s business” has become the canon of workers’ relations with the Nigerian state.
There is also the impatience of many business people to start small and grow steadily in their businesses. The craze to get rich quickly has led many otherwise hard working, energetic and passion-driven Nigerians to the doorsteps of criminal behaviour, such as cheating, bribery and corruption
We also see the typical Nigerian impatience with following the cause of justice in adjudicating on perceived wrongs. Here, jungle justice often trumps reason, common sense, and the rule of law. Instead of patiently following the law in the search for justice, many Nigerians would prefer to do it their way: burn the offender to death! Ironically, the same people who burn a suspected hungry-thief to death immediately turn to kowtow and pay respects and obeisance to the politicians who loot the treasury and live big on filthy lucre.
Aside these perilous forms of typical Nigerian impatience; there is one promisingly positive instance of impatience that has become part and parcel of contemporary Nigerian life. Nigerians, like everyone else, have a fundamental irritability for bad leadership. They detest a state that fails to work, even though they are responsible for their woes. They are impatient with poor power supply, with bad-roads-turned-death-traps, with poorly equipped hospitals and clinics that end up being killer healthcare centres, with poor sanitary and environmental conditions, and with the lack of potable water. They are also impatient with poor telecommunication services. However, instead of demanding accountability and transparency in the management of their affairs from their leaders, many Nigerians have become governments unto themselves in the attempt to find a way out of their problems.
As a result of poor power supply, many Nigerians have their own private generators (even if it is the “I better pass my neighbour” type). With bad roads, many Nigerians have resorted to 4-wheel drive to withstand the drudgery of our roads. With lack of potable water, we dig our own borehole in our compounds.
With insecurity, we employ our own private security guards, build high fences with electrified barbed wires and buy our own bulletproof SUV. This is why Nigeria has been described as a failed state that works. It is a game of survival of the fittest. “The secret,” according to the British journalist, Richard Dowden, “lies in the layers of millions upon millions of networks, personal ties, family links, ethnic loyalties, school fraternities, Church connections and scores of other unrecorded, informally organised bonds of trust that make things happen. Forget the government, the formal structures. What makes Nigeria work is a matrix of social, political and economic connections that ensure most people get food and shelter.”
Really, how can Nigeria be great again? How can we put patriotism, accountability, and respect for the rule of law and servant leadership at the centre of our national agenda? If you ask the ordinary Nigerian what the problem of Nigeria is today, the first thing you’re likely to hear is “corruption.” The intellectuals and the political elite will likely say, “leadership.” The truth is that there are as many opinions on the problems of Nigeria as there are people. Assemble all the 180 million people that populate the Nigerian landscape and you’re likely to get as many answers about the trouble with Nigeria.
There are many problems with leadership in Nigeria, and one of them is the pervasive predisposition towards corruption, mediocrity, tribalism, ineptitude and deficiency of vision. However, these problems are not restricted to those who occupy the high rungs of the leadership ladder.
Yes, it is leadership. Our typical Nigerian impatience must reach that point where we face up to the leadership dilemma of our nation. There is a given moment in a people’s history, usually when they have reached rock bottom, something comes along to rouse them into action and propel them in the direction of self-deliverance and redemption. We must get to that point, where we collectively are able to say, “Enough is enough!” Unless this happens, decades of pent-up anger and frustration with the quality of our national leadership might become combustible materials for social explosion. The last 50 years can be truly said to be half a century of bad leadership for Nigeria, but we can avoid a spontaneous uprising of the people in response to the excesses of our leaders.
In his lecture at The Platform Nigeria of October 1, 2015, in Lagos, Pius Adesanmi, a Nigerian professor of English and African Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa, argued that “Hating a nation into greatness means that you hate the idea that things function at less than an excellent level.” Only when we reject mediocrity, nepotism and ineptitude in all facets of our national life will Nigeria stand a chance of being great. Hear Achebe’s verdict: “What I am saying is that Nigeria is not beyond change. I am saying that Nigerian can change today if she discovers leaders who have the will, the ability and the vision. Such people are rare in any time or place. But it is the duty of enlightened citizens to lead the way in their discovery and to create an atmosphere conducive to their emergence.”
We cannot resign ourselves to fate. What we need is the capacity to develop a policy for leadership and governance backed by an extraordinary combination of visionary idealism and sober realism with respect to our present predicaments, not some spurious and hollow “Change-Begins-With-Me” mantra that is devoid of content, critical thinking, and direction.
Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja
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