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The Nigeria of my dream at 60: It is up to us, now – Part 3

By Francis Onaiyekan
25 March 2020   |   3:25 am
Elite depravity is only one side of Nigeria’s story. Every Nigerian must accept some responsibility for his largely unhappy condition and the sorry state of his country.

Elite depravity is only one side of Nigeria’s story. Every Nigerian must accept some responsibility for his largely unhappy condition and the sorry state of his country. Point one: Nigerian leaders emerge from among us, they were once upon a time, like us – but suddenly changed for the worse by power and wealth. Can it be that, given the chance, we will behave similarly?  Point two: leaders fail in their duty to lead by example and followers fail to condemn, even ostracize, their corrupt leaders. Instead, they encourage corruption in high office by their inappropriate expectations and demands. Only to complain, in unashamed hypocrisy, of corruption in high places.  

‘We remove the organ and demand the function, we make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful’ writes C.S. Lewis. That cannot happen. Nigerians are guilty of the attitude and behavior that we accuse most of our leaders of – self-seeking, hypocrisy, dishonesty, lawlessness, instant gratification, and mediocre standards. In a tragic aping of the values, attitude, and behaviour of a corrupt-and corrupting- elite, we pride in vain ostentation, host wasteful parties, and engage in conspicuous consumption of products from other lands. ‘Pity the nation’ says Khalil Gibran (1934),  ‘that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats bread that it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own wine-press’’.

Mediocrity in various ways is tolerated to the point it is a way of life in this land. We are thankful for such ‘small mercies’ as six-hours a day supply of electricity; handouts that are mere crumbs from the politicians’ tables, we do not demand with confidence from our governments what we legitimately, reasonably, deserve. In the presence of the very leaders, they elected, Nigerians behave like a people subjugated and under oppression. No wonder that French diplomat and philosopher Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) said that every country has the government it deserves. If de Maistre is right, then it is because we are not good enough, nor great enough, to deserve a good government and great leaders. We would rather be nice and politically correct than be truthful and right.  We accept from our politicians’ muddled thinking and insincere motives packaged in platitudes and empty promises and phrased in what Robert H. Fiske (2006) terms ‘dimwitticisms’.

For goodness sake, Nigerians even fail to do their duty in their own interest. Two examples of this: governments erect overhead pedestrian bridges across expressways. Many Nigerians will rather dash dangerously across the lanes of fast-moving vehicles than using the safe bridge. Governments designate and construct specific places like bus stops. Many Nigerians will not walk the short distance to the nearest bus stop but stand in front of their homes to be picked up by an equally irresponsible commercial bus driver. In an accident, that jaywalker will certainly lose much more time in the hospital than he hoped to gain.

Politicians will be politicians; they will promise a bridge even where there is no river says Khrushchev. But a political leader elected into government is no more a mere politician. Thenceforth, he ought to stop playing politics and start to lead and govern. He is elevated unto a leadership role to respond to the legitimate yearnings of his constituency. His position and role impose upon him the duty to pursue the ‘common good’ defined as ‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Art.1906). Nigeria operates a representative, constitutional democracy in which the elected government derives its authority and powers from ‘We the People’.  It is our shame therefore, that ‘we fail to exercise our power to enthrone responsive and responsible governments’. Instead, we complain about ad nauseam.

To the electorate who whine about bad leaders, Nanette L. Avery berates, ‘Talk is cheap, voting is free; take it to the polls’. I think that is how it should be.  Imagine that in the last elections, Nigerians voted into government more new and younger persons in the new political parties. That would send a strong message that the electorate is dissatisfied with the unsatisfactory performances of the two major parties. It is crying shame that we failed to do the needful. If we want our political leaders to do what they ought – lead, govern, provide ‘good governance’, and deliver ‘the dividends of democracy’ – ‘we the people’ have the power to make them shape up, or we ‘ship’ them out. Nigerians did it in 2014; they can do it again. The change we desire can come, indeed shall come, if Nigerians will it.  Every man must do his duty, be a good man, and play by the Golden Rule.  Is it that simple? I think it is.  And it is up to us.  

Nigeria at 60 is in debt to better governed, more productive countries. According to the Debt Management Office, it was $26.941 billion (N8.271trillion) as of September 2019. For those who have ears, Thomas Sankara (1949 -1987) warned not too long ago that ‘debt is a cleverly managed re-conquest of Africa’. Endowed with educated and skilled manpower, nearly one million square kilometers of land littered with numerous varieties of minerals, plants and animals, our country should be a lender, not a borrower. If those who live on the riverbank wash their hands with saliva, it is a bad omen says an African proverb. The present condition of Nigeria and its people is indeed a bad omen. Notwithstanding this chronicle of disappointments, I am hopeful for my country because, as Maxime Lagace puts it, it is through the hope that you will change things.  In spite of much that I still see around, I have chosen (you may term it a coping strategy) to not submit to undeniable failures, to not look back in anger and brood over past losses, and, given the power of both thought and tongue, to avoid confessing negative about my country. I have chosen to look forward with hope, to dream of and for a great Nigeria that attains its long-awaited leadership of the Black world.

Walking by faith than by (physical) sight, I have chosen to dream that by October, something will have happened to re-direct my country on the path of its delayed greatness. My spiritual education tells me that if I have faith enough, miracles do happen for those who believe. ‘You’ll See It When You Believe It’ writes Dr. Wayne Dyer (1989).  Granting that the making of a great nation is ever work in progress, by faith I know that sooner than later, this country will be great. However, we must not be deceived into unearned miracles. Miracles, it is said, start to happen only when you give as much energy to your dreams as you do to your fears. We are not to just sit on our butt all day ‘waiting on the Lord’. Nothing good and worthwhile will miraculously come to you. Well, except what nobody else wants.

English author, George Eliot, advises that ‘We must not sit still and look for a miracle, up and doing, and the Lord will be with thee. Prayer and pains, through faith in Christ Jesus, will do anything’. Mao Zedong is even more succinct: ‘Once all struggle is grasped, miracles are possible’. In sum, Nigerians must assiduously do what they ought, character, attitude, and more in order to bring to pass the greatness we believe that our country deserves, and is indeed destined for.

Then leave the rest to the higher powers. ‘Duty is ours, event is God’s’. Mr. Segun ‘Mathematical’ Odegbami, exhorted recently in The Guardian that, in the New Year of a new decade, Nigeria ‘must change its attitude to the past failures and eliminate the spirit of despair. [It] must journey into the future with renewed determination, a new spirit of fresh ideas, a new approach, new leaders with new paint and brush in hand, ready to artistically create a new and better country’. I cannot agree more.

As I dream of a Nigeria that is great in every consideration, I accept that ‘No nation can be really great, unless it is great in peace, industry, integrity, honesty. Skilled intelligence in civic affairs and industrial enterprises alike; the special ability of the artist, the man of letters, the man of science, and the, man of business; the rigid determination to wrong no man and to stand for righteousness – all these are necessary for a great nation’ said Theodore Roosevelt.  So, ‘we the people’ must ‘stand for righteousness’ as well as live by it. Righteousness? In this generally sinful world?  Oh yes! For, it is the righteousness that ‘exalts a nation’ says the Holy Book.  I restate: the first step that Nigerians must take on the path to Nigeria’s greatness is a spiritual one, a spiritual awakening. Not a religious awakening; we have enough of religion and religiosity. Not to mouth righteousness from the religious pulpit, the political podium and the lecture room. ‘The test of religious belief is not in pious platitudes and cautious charity, but in positive and creative action’ says former Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings. Nigerians must seek righteousness, live it and stand for it.

Our country is today enmeshed in a moral degeneracy rooted in the spiritual. Spiritual darkness envelops this country, foisted upon it and its hapless citizens by powerful forces that thrive only in the dark when, as Shakespeare would put it, evil is most free. The intractable shortage of electricity in Nigeria creates an environment of darkness and is, in fact, a physical manifestation of spiritual darkness. I have written on this in another essay titled ‘Light, the Bible, and Nigeria’ (see  Nigeria’s ‘human quality problem’ manifests as spiritual emptiness, moral depravity, integrity deficit, and unbridled materialism. If our country will be great, we the people must solve that defining flaw – spiritual debility – that holds us and our country down. But we can redeem it. If we have the will ‘to stand for righteousness’. It is up to us, now.

To be continued tomorrow
The full paper can be accessed at