Requiem for a dream
And the virologist wept. Prof. Oyewale Tomori is distinguished. He is a statesman, international public servant and an academic. And has been a globally regarded professional with a great sense of duty and integrity. Above all the former Vice Chancellor is a patriot. But the Nigerian condition had become far too overwhelming from its corruption, and the general condition of the people so depressing, he sobs, and tears poured out unrestrained, as he tried to make a speech, recently. You would think this would shock Nigeria into a wakeup call.
Some people I know mocked him as they poured more champagne into the goblet, wondering why these academics succumb so easily to sentimentalism, a disease as they see it. In their opinion, it is an ailment like the Omicron variant of COVID-19. More painful is that these mockers are politicians or think they are.
I shook my head. Nigeria has been a graveyard for patriots and thinking people for quite some time. I wondered if I could set out in search for where the last patriot was buried, hidden away, just nearby the grand mausoleum erected for scoundrels. I could feel Prof. Tomori’s pain. Earlier in the year I had him on a zoom series I was running on policy challenges called The Nigeria History Series and his love for Nigeria was palpable as we looked at infectious diseases. Cry my beloved country.
Alan Paton’s Cry My Beloved Country was weeping from the gut and it stirred a world, as literature, from apartheid South Africa. In Nigeria today the cry is similar, the victims are people and the victimizer those who have killed the prophets and buried the patriots so that state capture may be complete, are their politicians.
The widespread pessimism among the enlightened, which has fueled middle-class exodus to Canada, seems innocuous but in truth will soon become so palpable that the trained eye can see the anemic paleness of our country from far. When blood is undernourished the colour of the skin betrays the plight of the body.
But how do you save a nation whose politicians lack a sense of shame and accountability and see politics as simply a means to grab power by bullying or means either fair or foul for the purpose of capturing the state for purposes centered on self or friends and not the common good of all. Yet same politicians run to Dowen College to protest bullying. Audacious hypocrisy.
The people, when mentioned in today’s politics, are used as abusive justification for the pursuit of power.
Yet in truth the entrepreneurs of power, a more appropriate description of Nigeria’s professional politicians, are far less worthy of blame than the businessmen who fund them, and extract favours that cripple markets, preventing the creative destruction that makes capitalism a veritable source of human advance.
As University of Chicago professors Raghuram Rajan and Luigi Zingales show with gusto, in the book, Saving Capitalists, this process, with the institutions that make them possible, is what separates the societies that thrive and grow from those that stagnate.
Nigeria’s ranking as poverty capital of the world may be pointer to what the tycoons do to our polity and ultimately to our development as a society. They may get quick personal gain but in the end they even shoot themselves in the foot.
But they slipperily shift blame for the way we are.
In truth guilt for our underperformance is shared by the educated middle-class that fail to stand up and mobilize those disconnected from the polity, to assert the will of the people on a parasitic political elite.
Same blame goes to the enlightened and journalists for failure to shift public conversation, about elections, away from big men to the big issues that bring social advance. And the civil society, the ultimate bulwark of the common man, who stood up, in horizontal linkages under the military, but is still too stunned from hoping that civilian rule would be a civil rule, that it struggles yet to recover. Talk of academia, and you find people brow-bitten by the political class that does manage to persuade the people that governing is for thugs and that people who think are idealists living a parallel universe. Yet few seem to ask if these untutored in leadership who they say can govern but have brought us to the brink of anarchy, misery, and poverty, if it may be wise to try something different.
Somehow the lesson of how Deng Xiang Ping rescued China from centuries of servitude by promoting the place of knowledge and intellect in the leadership of the new China, a gospel he spread in many speeches in 1978.
But it is a shrewd political class that dominates Nigeria. From time to time they introduce spurious issues and while the people are debating the constitutional conference or some ethnic militia, they tighten their grip on power for access to the commonwealth to do as they please.
The bottom line is the death of a sense of love and service in our culture as it collapses. I may speak a lot about the rule of law as an institutionalist but what we sorely need is a rule of love a little more than the rule of law. Steve Harvey, the celebrated African American TV host sat in Dubai recently and evaluated its stunning transformation in 50 years. He is not so much as he concluded: people who love them ruled these people. Can we say that for our leaders? Think how we fought to enthrone an anti-corruption government and end up with worse corruption than we set out to uproot. The love we see in most of them is self love, a consuming narcissism.
Why do they who seek power as do or die never pause to ask why the country in their firm grip under-perform peers by so much that their watch has been the death of a nation of promise, and a walk on the grave of patriots and those who think, and that perhaps they are the ancestors who killed the prophets and who make thinking like Etc, the singer, laments, who will save us now? So true. Where are the new politicians who must come forward if salvation is to be contemplated? They must come forward and learn to work and walk together.
And many ask: Is Nigeria redeemable? Surely it is. But four more years of the same people who have held it hostage, for 22 years, and the possibilities of redemption deem rapidly. And the people who are the victims. Will they know it is Christmas this season? With a good many dying everyday from the most curable of diseases like Malaria, Diarrhea, Cholera, and other diseases of unsanitary environments, and terror groups adding a few dozens every day to the death toll; and hunger deepening for people living with the most troubling statistics of unemployment in the world, while their leaders jet off to Europe at the sign of a headache.
The Nigerian story carries on as a sample in inequity. Will this present darkness last or will the light of Christmas force new reflection? My prayers are with all of us, including those who delegate upwards or outsource to God. Our sad requiem for a dream of greater dignity for the black man seems set to be sacrificed at the altar of weak institutions and self-serving politicians. Will Isaac be replaced with a ram? God is a mystery.
Utomi, Political Economist is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.