There will still be a Nigeria after Boko Haram; it just won’t be the one that we used to know.
The same way that Boko Haram has haunted Nigeria for the last five years, I have been haunted for decades by a quote attributed to the Economics magazine. It says that “Nigeria is the only country in the world where the best is impossible and the worst never happens.” The possibility of Nigeria existing in such a limbo troubled me. It meant that all our nation’s maladies that should otherwise be unsustainable could persist in perpetuity.
The events of the last few weeks have encouraged me to dare to think of Nigeria after Boko Haram.
In the midst of the outrage over the abduction of Chibok girls, I noticed several shifts in the psyche of Nigerians and the world that has indulged us. How we interpret these shifts and manage them would determine where Nigeria will come out after this conflict.
The first picture that emerged was that of a people united around a cause. It is a powerful picture that said to the ruling class that all bets could one day be off. Despite pockets of denials and criticisms, it was a beautiful thing to behold. It may be a trial run. It may be a prelude to something bigger. It may be a turning point where enough is really enough. It may also fizzle out. It all depends on the next thing we do. But for the ruling elite, the danger signal was blinking.
Another picture that emerged was that of a fowl whose behind was exposed. The international media’s focus on Nigeria was like a wind. Whenever Nigerian government officials appeared before the press, from Labran Maku to Doyin Okukpe and even the Harvard-trained Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, their performance betray their mediocrity. Nigerians who before now have not had the opportunity to see these leaders outside their Sunday uniform, were shocked at the poor level of leadership they exhibited. Their disappointing performance in front of the world has triggered a desire for higher standards and higher expectations.
Then, of course, there was this picture of the international community that has known our leaders’ corrupt ways but has rather indulged them. The crisis freed them to speak out. For the first time they appeared to have decided that the continuing flow of oil to their shores should not be the only interest they should have in Nigeria. In public they loosened the diplomatic language to give a jab at our government. In private, flogging of some sort must be going on.
For these government officials there is private panic even when they put up a calm face in public. It is not enough anymore just to show up. Nigerians are beginning to see that there are benefits in having people in position who are prepared for the task associated with their jobs. Nigerians are beginning to see that the nation is underserved, if not embarrassed, by those in positions they are least qualified to hold.
The new generation of Nigerians driving the current conversations are young men and women who are too sophisticated to be held down by the excuses of yesterday. They are connected to the heartbeat of the world and have expanded their measures of success beyond their immediate environment. They are impatient to see Nigeria claim its rightful place in the world. They were bred in bad government, so they could smell one from afar and are conversant with the cost it has exerted on them. They cannot wait for something different.
When on September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda attacked America, the decisions President George W. Bush made determined what happened in America in the next ten years and even beyond. For instance, President Bush succeeded in securing America at a huge cost to individual rights and American reputation in the world. Where Bush failed so woefully was in the sacrifices he demanded of Americans as their contribution to the fight against terror. He demanded none. Instead, he asked Americans to go shopping. And shopping they went until the great depression of 2009.
It’s great that Nigerians have rallied around the cause of #bringbackourgirls. But to win the war, Nigerians need more weapons than just hashtags. Nigerians need to make real sacrifices if they must reposition their nation. They must demand a just society. It is not a mere feel good action. It is the foundation needed to build the three beams of every great nation- accountability, pursuit of excellence and compassion.
There will not be unity in an unjust society, neither will there be peace. These are often the two important virtues Nigerians have on their wish list. To move them from wish list to checkout point, hard work is needed. The good thing is that the ideals of Nigeria have not been tried and found wanting. Instead they have been found difficult and left untried. To try the ideals, to establish a just society requires sacrifice. Without sacrifice the backwardness of Nigeria will only continue.
Former US Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis noted that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Openness and transparency will be vital in any revival. The pus on the neck of Nigeria can no longer be covered or ignored. It needs to be opened up and drained. It may smell. It may bleed. It may need few painful drops of iodine on it. It may need cleaning and dressing. But those are cleaning and cleansing that we need to go through.
The North will never be the same after Boko Haram. The people of the North will have to make hard choices. Will they hold their leaders accountable or still allow them to educate their families and leave the rest behind? If the leadership continues to fail like those in the Southern part of the country, the people of the North, on their own, must come together to decide if they want to pull everyone in their society up or simply continue to point at the people that those they left behind should blame? The North will decide how best it wants to be part of the nation without feeling slighted by that membership or superior in that membership.
For the rest of Nigeria, the Boko Haram that started the national conference on their own has also overshadowed our national conference. What they have not done is to remove the need for a serious examination of the structure of Nigeria. While some nations are constantly working to have a more perfect nation, the design of a perfect Nigeria has not yet started.
President Jonathan said that Boko Haram’s abduction of the school girls of Chibok is the beginning of their end. In the same way, this pivotal point is also Nigeria’s crossroad. It could be the beginning of an honest and sincere revival of our nation or the end of that pretention. The choice is ours. Are we on the road to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia, or are we on the road to Brazil, Malaysia and Singapore. And as we have seen in the last few weeks, things can turn bad so fast and the consequences can be so dire – even for those who are innocent.