Throughout the history of man and society, there have always been moments of introspection – when patriotic men and women pause, gather, and ponder issues bothering on the social contract between the rulers and the people on the one hand, and the peoples themselves on the other. The fact is always taken for granted that societies evolve out of the conscious, deliberate and willing submission of the majority to the dictates of the few, and the rule of the law. Formation of civil societies is thus man’s response to the chaotic state of nature where, according to Hobbes, “life is solitary, nasty, brutish and short.” In civil societies, the “I” consciousness is necessarily made subservient to the “We” awareness. In other words, the wills of the self, to the extent permitted by both the law and the rules of ethics and morality, are subjected to the desires of the teeming majority.
Professor Pius Adesanmi touched on this important aspect of the social contract when he spoke about the communal responsibilities of the individual in even such ordinary matters as fetching water from the communal river or stream. It is the sense of communality in the individual that makes him exercise due diligence of care to ensure that the serenity of the stream environment is not so disturbed that the ability to fetch clean potable water would not preclude others coming after. When the principles of the social contract are wittingly or unwittingly violated by either the ruler or the ruled, patriotism requires that people of good will rise up to the occasion, and point out the inference so that the wheels of society can be set back on the course of progress. The Save Nigeria Group (SNG) lecture series on the State of the Nation are commendable attempts at righting the wrongs of misleadership in our country.
At the 2nd SNG lecture held at the NECA Headquarters building in Ikeja on Monday 12 November 2012 with the theme “Reparations: What Nigeria owed the Tortoise,” Professor Adesanmi was at his quintessential best, delving into the realms of traditional folklores and idiomatic existentialism to deliver a brilliant rendition of the problems besetting our great country. Greed and selfishness, he opined, are at the heart of the problem. Unfettered greed on the part of Nigeria’s rulers (or what he called, “the desire to out-tortoise the tortoise” in craftiness and asinine opportunism) is the reason why corruption festers despite various efforts, though mostly hypocritical, to douse its cinders. This short article is an attempt to articulate my response to the submission by one of the contributors and a member of the high table – Mr. Monday Ubani. In his short thesis at the occasion, Barrister Ubani – the current chair of Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association was emphatic in his submission that Nigeria is a failed state. I have a slightly different conclusion to the same analytical discourse from which the learned gentleman’s conclusions were derived.
No, Nigeria is not a failed state; not yet. If it was, the SNG conference would not be necessary. If it was, there would be no presence of people from diverse cultures and languages in attendance. If Nigeria had failed, the situation would have called for a clarion call “to your tents, Oh Israel!” it is because Nigeria is still very much salvageable that we all gathered from different corners of life to fathom holistic solutions to the problems besetting us as a nation. Yes, Nigeria is sick. It is true, Nigeria is failing. It is empirical; Nigeria is on the precipice of collapse. But it is not yet a failed state. That is the only good part of the story.
My optimism is not a blind one; it is well informed. If only we can come together as this critical junction in the history of our dear country and rebuild it from scratch. Most of our national discourses in recent times have focused largely on the actions and inactions of the rulership elites. We never get tired of talking about what they do wrong and what they fail to do right. It is true that the rulers have failed Nigeria; but it is also true that we did nothing about the tragedy of leadership failure in our country. A Yoruba proverb says that the absence of the cat makes the whole house become the domain of rats. I surmise that it is the deliberate self-removal of good people and the non-interestedness of the educated elites from politicking that has led us where we are today. Like Pastor Bakare once famously noted, we have become a nation of jokers where “the worst of us are ruling the best of us.”
We all have roles to play in nation building. The political process starts well before the votes are cast and carries through to the next polling periods. We must be overtly and covertly involved. We must ask questions. We must proffer constructive solutions. We must force our representatives to respect our wishes. Some people I spoke to express the pessimism that votes will never count; they opined that since the machinery of state is always poised to finagle the wishes of the privileged few on the rest of us, elections is a waste of time. I beg to disagree with that apologetic argumentum.
The Yoruba wisdom submits that when a child stumbles, he looks forward; but a stumbled elder looks both backward and inward. We know that it is the lack of historians for lions that make tales of the hunt always glorify the human hunter. But we have history; and we have historians. Most of us were part of one epochal history or the other in the march of our country towards statehood. It is a fact of history that when elites - especially the educated elites - of the country gets actively involved in politics no power on earth can subvert the wishes of the majority. June 12, 1993 provides ample evidence and is an attestation to this fact. The reason why electoral riggings are successful is because of our laisses-faire attitudes to the political process. We all contribute to the failing state of Nigeria in so many ways:
1. If your vote is secured by a congo of rice, you have failed Nigeria. Your own congo may not be food per se; it may manifest in the form of the promise of appointments, juicy contracts and/or other vacuous oddities.
2. If you are one of those who take election days as time to take a deserved rest from the hustle and bustle of life, you have failed to live up to your civic responsibilities, and you have ipso facto contributed to the failure of Nigeria.
3. If you take no interest in knowing the names, faces, and the backgrounds; and if you take no interest in scrutinizing the manifestoes of those seeking elections in your local area, you are part of the rot that has eaten so deep into the fabrics of our burgeoning democracy.
4. If you support a candidate based solely on inconsequential factors as state of origin, ethnicity, gender, and those other knife-edged factors that more likely tear us apart than cement our union, you are the biggest clog in the wheel of Nigeria’s progress.
We must be decisive in actions. How would they know if we have not told them? For those whose guarantee of feeding for the next day is anchored on those congo and de-rica of rice, some of us who have the financial capability can buy say 5 bags of rice around election times, distribute to people in our family, and advise them not to accept the ones brought by rogue politicians.
Nigeria can rise yet again to reclaim its rightful place in the comity of nations. We are the hope of the black race, and we cannot afford to fail those who look up to us for direction and fulfillment. The revitalization of our political will must start with the mental and psychological reorientation of all and sundry. Like Chinua Achebe rightly advised, we must deemphasize the things that divide us and emphasize those things that positively define our destiny as the most progressively diversified black nation on earth. We can get there; but the march to greatness must start with small but patriotically calculated steps by you and me.
*** Dr. ‘Leke Otunuga, a former Social Secretary of the University of Lagos Students Union, is currently the President of The Ijebu Community Association of the United States of America (Washington DC Metro Area) and a Senator of the Yoruba Alliance organization in Maryland, USA.