What is the Nigerian purpose?
Towards the end of 2015, I was privileged to be invited to one of several Presidential Town Hall meetings organised by the then fledgling Buhari administration. It was billed for the International Airport Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, with the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, an erudite scholar of law, in attendance. My invitation was courtesy of an old friend who was part of the organising committee. I immediately decided to go. I was bubbling with hope at the prospect of a new dawn for my country. And I had a puzzle on my mind which I hoped the VP would help lay to rest.
I arrived early, got myself a vantage seat and quickly picked one of the question slots. When the microphone eventually got to me, I asked a simple question: “What, your Excellency, is the over-arching vision of this administration for the country towards which we all must work and measure our contributions – beyond fighting corruption?”
The VP answered my question with trademark oratory. I distinctly remember him saying that the town hall meeting we were attending was part of a nationwide consultative process for arriving at a common Nigerian vision. I left the gathering that night crestfallen. A 55 year old nation was still searching for its bearing.
Few days ago, a lunchtime conversation with a younger Nigerian whom I met in the course of business invariably drifted towards the country’s evolving political situation. Then, straight out of the blues, he asked me the very same question I had asked the VP three years earlier. Of course, he put it in different words: “I hope you don’t mind my asking sir,” he began, “but what is the Nigerian purpose? Every meaningful project or business has a purpose. What is ours?”
For a few moments I was stupefied; hit by the sheer force of that question. I struggled to find an answer. Soon, I admitted that there was no Nigerian vision known to me. I told the young man of my fateful encounter with the VP. I too was searching.Today, the Buhari/Osinbajo administration is rounding up its first term. I do not recall the matter of a national vision or purpose coming up again. It must have been submerged under the deluge of daily challenges that face people in power. Yet purpose is the first order of business and should be at the top of the agenda of any serious enterprise.
In the absence of a clear purpose or vision, Nigeria has flown these past 58 years like a stricken airplane with neither destination nor flight plan. We are aimlessly airborne. Our founding fathers failed to construct or agree one. Their endless squabbles wouldn’t let them. Those of us who took over from them have not fared better. We have been too busy enjoying the view from the cockpit to contemplate the journey. Meanwhile, the people are sitting restlessly in the cabin wondering where this flight is headed and when, if ever, it would land.
Under these circumstances, we’ve turned into a nation at war with itself. Instead of uniting to engage the rest of the world in meaningful dialogue and profitable exchange, we’ve turned against ourselves in a primordial scramble for control. Each individual, community, state, ethnic group, religious persuasion or region simply lives to outmaneuver the other. We are solely consumed by a passion for self-aggrandizement – occupy a bigger office, take the next title, earn a higher pay, win the next contract, buy the next house, own the next car…and then die.
We have created a rabidly insular society with acute myopia and false values. We have reduced politics to the art of sharing national resources – not creating them. We have cheapened the task of leadership to mere revenue allocation. We have revised the purpose of governance to consist in the provision of basic infrastructure. So, a man wants to become president, governor or senator and all he does is promise to provide roads, electricity, pipe-borne water, schools and hospitals! Someone recently added paying salaries or “stomach infrastructure” and we applauded him. Pray, what else are governments supposed to do with public funds? What a shame in the 21st Century!
The truth is that providing basic services and infrastructure is the minimum irreducible duty of any government. It is not a privilege or favor to be bestowed on the governed. It is like parents providing food, clothing, shelter and education for their children. It is an incumbent obligation. You don’t brag about it. You owe such duties and should be sorry if and when you fail. Still you have a greater duty to fire their imagination or inspire them to loftier heights, without which all else is little use.
Leaders and governments are to citizens what parents and guardians are to their children. They create a vision. They model the vision. They nurture the children’s potentials and make investments in them for a future outcome greater than theirs. The trouble with the Nigerian paradigm of leadership and governance is that it is brazenly geared towards providing the least possible levels of support to its own citizens. Sometimes, it out rightly sabotages them!
When the British mercenary Frederick Lugard amalgamated Northern & Southern Nigeria to form one country in 1914, it was for the purpose of “administrative convenience” and “cost reduction” to facilitate the economic exploitation of the area for the British Empire. When Tafawa Balewa took over from James Robertson as first indigenous Prime minister in 1960, it was for an opaque reason we are still in search of to this day. We occupy office just for the fun of it.
The election cycle is back again, and all we hear are candidates promising to fix the economy, create jobs, end insurgency and build infrastructure. All these are well and good, but they are not fit as the purpose of a nation. They are tactical, housekeeping or routine concerns which should sit under a bigger, more universal, strategic value proposition. Over 200 years ago, The French captured theirs in three words – Liberty, equality & fraternity. The great world religions encapsulate theirs in the concept of paradise or nirvana – a blissful hereafter. There are modern and imaginative ways of distilling same today for brands, organisations and nations. What is ours?
My search reveals one option buried deep in the closing words of our National Anthem – “One nation bound in Freedom, peace and unity.” For now, those are empty words. They were penned by an idealist and with no political leverage. And no leader of significance has had the presence of mind to take them up and fan them into a genuine flame of national consciousness and action.
Which begs the questions: If at individual, family and business levels, we all are schooled to have vision and mission statements, why do we struggle to find the courage to do this simple act of due diligence for the Nigerian enterprise? Is it ignorance, willful negligence or criminal mischief? Are there those profiting from our current state of meaningless existence? Are we genuinely inclined to live by any higher ideals? Are some of us secretly afraid of values like freedom, peace & unity for all? Or are we hoping for freedom, peace and unity only in our own little corners of the country? Building an economically prosperous country is not a unique national value proposition.
Just as “making money” is not a proper individual career aspiration. Rather, prosperity, wealth or money is a reward for value creation or actualising purpose. So, what is our purpose? What is our essence? What is our big idea?
We have a fresh chance to change this narrative by tasking all those who currently aspire to lead us to clearly articulate their long term visions for Nigeria within the global community. Then, we can pick and choose the vision we most desire as a sovereign people; and commit ourselves daily to bringing it to life. Without this, I am afraid, we’re aimlessly airborne and might soon run out of fuel.
Anazonwu, is a journalist, branding expert and historian is author of the book, What Everyone Should Know about Nigerian History, Politics & Government.