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Tomorrow, tomorrow: Reflections on marketing hope

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President Muhammadu Buhari


The political leader and the religious leader have one thing in common. Both market hope. The man of God markets hopes in paradise in the after-life to persuade us to behave properly here on earth, as in not coveting our neighbour’s stunning wife or his stately mansion or his exotic cars. It is not easy to rein in covetousness because it is purely instinctive. Not to worry. What heaven loses, hell gains.

The political leader markets hope in a better tomorrow. Because there is always tomorrow. So long as there is tomorrow, there is hope for the man addicted to football pools winning the jackpot sometime, provided he denies his wife chop money in pursuit of his dream. The political leader and the religious leader rely on one strategy: the exploitation of man’s weakness and vulnerability. Combined, they drive one man to the arms of another for hope and succour. One of the ironies of life is that no man is powerful enough or rich enough or wise enough to be an island unto himself, even if his wealth creates an island of opulence for him.

For 59 years since the British returned home and left Nigeria to the Nigerians, I have heard our political leaders make the same promises of a better tomorrow. Independence promised a better tomorrow; military rule promised us a better tomorrow; civilian rule in the second republic promised us a better tomorrow and, to put a fine point to it, the dividends of democracy.

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And I wonder, why have we been living on well-oiled promises all these years? Why are the promises not realised so that we could move from point A to point B in our political, social and economic development? Why do we seem to rise and fall and allow less endowed third world countries to leave us at the starting block?

I know I am raising questions that are difficult to answer. But part of the reason is that this nation takes things for granted. We take our unity and cohesion for granted; we take our development paradigm for granted. We take it for granted that being the giant of Africa with economic and military muscle to match, our place in the podium of great nations is reserved and assured – for tomorrow. Given our faux religiosity, we take it for granted that with divine hands in our affairs, the devil’s ambition to throw sand in our national bowl of gari is effectively denied him; not merely abridged.

This being the occasion of the celebration of our independence anniversary, our political leaders are out there doing what their high offices oblige them to do: invite us to believe that they have the capacity to make Nigeria a better country. Tomorrow, of course. Always tomorrow. President Muhammadu Buhari, not for the first time in his life or since he became president in 2015, assured us that “Nigeria will emerge from our present challenges stronger and more resilient than ever” with the caveat, “but only if all of us join hands to entrench good governance, foster inclusive economic development, and defend and protect our nation from those who would wish us ill.”

That our country made it to its 59th year of independence from British colonial rule is, in my humble view, a greater achievement by Nigeria and the Nigerians than you might think. This country is a poster child for political survival. At various forks on the treacherous and tortuous and weary road to transforming this mere geographical expression into a nation, we were confronted with critical and existential challenges that taxed our souls and our faith in the continued existence and progress of our dear country. We fought a 30-month civil war to save Nigeria and keep it one; we endured years of military dictatorship with each general convincing us that the gun is not just mightier than the ballot box but also that he who wields the gun and wearing khaki is wiser than he who wears agbada and spews a political ideology.

But each time we pulled through – for 59 years. I think our luck has always held because the goddess of luck loves us. May she never run out of patience with us.

We never seem to be out of the woods because challenges define, re-define and re-position nations. No nation makes progress without confronting the demons of its peculiar challenges. Every challenge that confronts a nation offers a golden opportunity for it to learn and apply the right lessons for responding to its problems.

But I do not think we have done a good job of learning, let alone applying, the lessons from our challenges, past and present. I think it is unrealistic to promise a better tomorrow without taking the necessary steps towards planning for it; otherwise when tomorrow comes, we would still be where we are and running around in circles. Time, I think, to break out of that vicious circle. Running around in a circle creates the illusion of progress.

When a Nigerian leader takes over government, he believes he is taking over a virgin country unsullied by previous hands. He begins by replacing the existing system in order to create his own system he believes would best serve the country he wants to remake in his own image. We watched as each military regime desecrated our system of doing things. The blight still hovers over the country like a dark cloud. No nation can function properly without a system that everyone understands and respects.

Let me point out for the nth time in this column, that our country is burdened by many fundamental problems; all of which revolve around our myriads of unsettled issues that have followed us like the shadow for 59 years; or at least since the generals took it upon themselves to legitimise the gun as an alternative to the ballot box.

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It is in the nature of human societies that one man should lead, and the rest just follow. This places on the people the challenge of a transparent leadership recruitment process to ensure the emergence of a leader the people can believe in and trust to lead them aright. Our leadership recruitment process still makes the tribe the focal point. We are sold on the idea that for the nation to be united and seen as one, leadership must rotate among the big tribes at the expense of competence and merit. It is so flawed that anyone who emerges from that process is instantly seen as a Godsend but still regarded as a tribal champion rather than a Nigerian leader de jure and de facto. Can we continue to build our hope for a better tomorrow if we cannot recruit the leader we deserve today? I doubt it.

I cannot think of a nation that is as burdened as we are with unsettled issues and still expects to make a leap of progress. We keep running away from settling such fundamental issues as the structure of our federation and the nature of our federalism; our security and policing system; the apportioning of responsibilities between the federal and the state governments captured in the exclusive and concurrent legislative lists with the exclusive legislative list weighted in favour of the Federal Government; the local government system as a third tier of government, de facto and de jure; the separation of powers among the three arms of government; the rule of law defined, not by an incumbent president or by exigencies but by the constitution and the laws of the land; the revenue allocation formula and the continued dependence of 811 governments on one source of revenue – crude oil. Nor should we forget that running this strange hybrid system that combines a unitary system with a federal system is a clear recipe for shackling us in our honest ambition to move forward.

To clear the path to a better or greater tomorrow, we need to engage in a national conversation over these and other unsettled issues. The Nigerian state should initiate and promote a national dialogue or conversation at regular intervals. Nigerians need to talk to themselves outside twitter and other social platforms. We are reduced to talking and acting at cross purposes. This is deleterious to the health of our nation. If we do the needful, I believe we would have the right to expect that the next 59 years would free us from the unproductive labour of hacking at the granite of our challenges with a table knife.

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In this article:
Muhammadu Buhari‎
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