The ritual is on October 1. Nigeria attained political independence on October 1, 1960. So, October 1 is a day of usual speech-making and “celebration.” This year’s ritual has attracted the most interest in years because of its “golden jubilee” characterization. I will not take up a lamentation on Nigeria in this essay. I shall rather concentrate mainly on analysis of what Nigeria is and who Nigerians are. I will talk about what we can and should do if we genuinely want to move farther ahead of our self-inflicted retarded social position.
We have good visionary and capable people. This is not in doubt. But how many of these people have political power to change things, move things, and make things happen? Not many. But why is this so? Not many Nigerians have the patience for visionary Nigerians who don’t have a deep pocket. You may as well “go to hell” with your vision if you don’t have the cash to “spray”. Many of Nigerian visionaries cannot even afford the “brown envelops” that usually go with attracting the attention or patronage of the mainstream Nigerian news media, that should play a key role in examining and giving publicity to such needed visions in order to steer up an appropriate national or regional reaction.
A Nigerian visionary or intellectual who tries to reach out to those he considers the Nigerian elite, whom he assumes would not find it difficult giving him a right hand of fellowship, having possessed the intellectual dexterity to analyze social realities and appropriate remedies, finds out by hard and distasteful experience that although many may express sedentary “support” and “agree with” him, all ends just at that—bland “solidarity”. He finds out to his chagrin that the nation is not ready for change. You don’t try to convince a truly hungry man that he needs to rise up and eat the food you have placed on the dining table. When simple invitation to help himself to the meal starts getting irritating to him, you must be wise enough to trouble him no more, for your assumption of his hunger might be one in error. In Nigeria, a professor of pragmatic visions may as well grow grizzled and die with his vision. Worst still he may attract insolent remarks such as “He is a hungry man seeking attention.”
But why are Nigerians not ready for change? Some claim that it is lack of “education”. Although this is a plausible reason to advance, and maybe I have myself given such in the past, I am not sure anymore. My problem with this excuse is that the “education” has not been defined to me. Is it the formal western education that Nigerians need in order to realize they are hungry? I have interacted with many well-educated Nigerians (so defined in terms of certified western education). I have come away with the perception that many of them don’t even understand Nigeria’s problems and cannot transfer situations by mental inference into future perspectives. Simply put, they lack realization of consequences. Is it a general orientation about our “oneness as a people” that Nigerians need? Do Nigerians need at this time persistent jarring of the eardrums about the fact that “religion and ethnicity must not divide us”? If someone steals my money, I don’t need to enquire about his religion and ethnicity before I take judicial (and maybe extra-judicial) steps to recover my money; if I do, I have by that act defined myself against the limits of nature. I have come to the realization that a man chooses to be deceived; there are always warning signals, some emanating from the natural gift of conscience. Do we need “voter education” in Nigeria? I think not, except we define that “education” in a way that does not mean sermonizing on the virtues of going out to “vote and defend” their votes. I am not sure such education is necessary when Nigerians are sufficiently hungry for good governance. This “democracy” is perceived differently by Nigerians, many of whom think it is an opportunity to make a killing from politicians’ “generosity”. How do you expect them to “defend” their votes? In the first place, how do they “defend” their votes who hardly can defend their children from kidnappers? How can they “defend” their votes who cannot defend themselves from police brutality in their country? How can they defend their votes who are not fully persuaded about the value of those votes?
Our need as a nation is hunger-reality. We, by our actions, have not shown sufficient hunger yet. If we shall seek good governance with all our heart, we shall find it. Presently, we seek it half-heartedly. We have chosen to be deceived. The very people who have shown little or no promise in positions of power, both in our past and immediate present, are those we go to listen to during inane anniversaries; we listen as they “lecture” us about our “promise” and sermonize about our “challenges”. A man uses a public office of the past to amass ill-gotten wealth. Once out of office, he uses the same wealth to launder his image through the unwholesome help of the Nigerian mainstream news media. Because we are perennially taking leave of our memories as a people, it does not take much intelligence to re-invent such individuals. We are deceived. The enemy of the people cannot fight his friends. It is becoming apparent that the doors have been shut against any resistance to the status quo, and it takes a hungry people to break down such resistance; history has taught us so.
Politicians “rent” huge crowds because the people are not hungry. You don’t get a truly hungry people to act against their true selves. Civil rights movements ride on the waves generated by the people. Now, here is the education that Nigerians need—to open their eyes to know the enemy; to tell them how much is the share the majority is permitted against the unjust portion of the minority; to draw the line so clearly before their eyes that they will awake their senses to the apartheid and socially segregating realities in our midst. But here is the truth. This is not the kind of education that those with political powers would like. But this is the kind of education that imams and pastors can help give. This is the kind of education that TV and radio stations in Nigeria can help spread. This is the education labour unions and student unions should give. By my personal experience, they will avoid those that have this kind of message. Those social power zones have collapsed; only the people—sufficiently hungry—can revive the stones out of the heaps.
Fighting corruption in Nigeria has become a sing-song in Nigeria. I see a strong deception even in this mantra. All claims to fighting corruption are a ruse if there is no connection between the so-called fight and improvement in quality of life. From 2003 (when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was established by law) to this time that Nigeria has turned 50, you cannot find a one-to-one correlation between fighting corruption and improvement in quality of life of the Nigerian. Rather, we are witnessing more strikes by Nigerian workers over poor conditions of service; we have seen more children out of school and more dying before they attain the age of 5 (not 50). If corruption denies the people of what is rightfully theirs—a good life—then fighting it must restore that good life. Until such avowed efforts accomplish this, they are yet a sham, and undue adulations should be cautioned.
As Nigeria turns 50, I have no wishes for her, I am her wish; I have no advice for her, she has not used up the helpings thereof I have served her already; I have no regrets, I expected little. But I would speak to Nigerians in her centenary. When you read all I have professed over the years fifty years later, let it be that where your forebears lacked hunger you excelled in its demonstration by deeds that made yours a uniquely pleasant story that the whole world shall take note of. I sincerely hope to celebrate with you then as a “young” Nigerian who has seen it all—both the sweet and bitter days. I always write, having you in mind, my dear children.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria and President of the Nigeria Rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org).
TEL: +234 (0)8055024356
EMAIL: [email protected]