Sunday, 26 May 2013
Building And Equipping A Prepared Citizenry By Leonard Karshima Shilgba
In the first inaugural speech of President Dwight Eisenhower of the USA on January 20, 1953, as he came to the conclusion of that speech, he said those memorable and insightful words:
“We must be ready to dare all for our country. For history does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid. We must acquire proficiency in defense and display stamina in purpose. We must be willing, individually and as a Nation, to accept whatever sacrifices may be required of us. A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.
These basic precepts are not lofty abstractions, far removed from matters of daily living. They are laws of spiritual strength that generate and define our material strength. Patriotism means equipped forces and a prepared citizenry.” The underline is done by me for emphasis.
Few days ago now that I write this essay that you are reading, I received in my university office a son of a past senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He told me that based on what he knew of Nigerian politicians from his privileged position, Nigerian public officials would only buy into my ideas of development if I could make them see the personal benefit they would derive from such lofty ideas. On my hope that the Nigerian youth with whom I am resolved to engage for the future that I envisage would get the intended epiphany, he attempted, probably without intent, to pour cold water, with those words which I paraphrase: “Sir, even if what you seek to accomplish would be to the ultimate benefit of the Nigerians, they must expect material benefits from you in order to sustain their interest.” This young man had very low opinion of politicians from my part of the country, about whom he revealed very discouraging facts.
It has become apparent that President Jonathan, many of our governors and other public officials (elected or selected) in Nigeria do not lack knowledge of the good things they must do in order to equip the Nigerian citizens with both the knowledge and external resources required for adequate productivity on which societies thrive and survive. The exhibits are the numerous “vision” statements and “transformation agendas” that litter the shelves of government department offices across Nigeria. What they lack is the will or boldness required. Most importantly, they are afraid for embarrassing exposures because most of them are morally bankrupt, and without good conscience.
Let us seek to understand our common leadership tragedy through the common utterances and expectations of the Nigerian on your street, in your towns, at your place of work, and at your school.
“We must celebrate your political appointment. God has provided food for us,” (or its variants) is a common statement by Nigerians. They view appointment to a public office as an opportunity to make a living rather than to serve the people. The senator’s son told me about “compensation appointments”, and invited me to Abuja during the Christmas break because, as he informed me, President Jonathan would reshuffle his cabinet and bring in new faces, obviously, to take their compensating positions at the feast table. You had better believe that millions of naira would be spent by those “lucky” fellows on festive parties to celebrate their “achievement”.
The Nigerian who complains against the “corruption” of public officials would eagerly accept similar opportunities to engage in the same graft they complain about. When a friend of mine took leave of absence from his professorial position this year to become an “Adviser on strategy” to the governor of his state, a non-Nigerian professor colleague of mine asked me, “Is it better for him to leave his professorial position to take such position in his state?” I must confess that I did not know how to answer the question. It is dignifying to serve as an advisor to the governor of your state or president of your country, if your advice would be useful and accepted most of the time, and if you have access to those who have appointed you, rather than being invited into the club simply to feast at the table when the employer does not truly have need of your “advice”.
We have hundreds of advisors in some states, and only 365 days in a year or only 260 work days in a year (assuming there are no holidays). How many minutes would a governor have to spend quality time with those advisors in a year? I saw on news hours before I sat down to write that President Jonathan had asked for “prayers and advice” from Nigerians. The president does not need more advice; he must have the courage to work with the many pieces of advice many of us have freely provided on education, revenue generation, accountability, smart governance, job creation, provision and maintenance of infrastructure, fiscal responsibility, etc. In fact, a patriot, Dele Momodu has lately volunteered a sequence of free open letters to Jonathan to help him improve on the quality of leadership he is not providing. On prayers, I request Nigerians to ask God to bring strategic discomfort to Jonathan, to ruin the cordial relationship he has maintained with his evil godfathers and fellow thieves, and to bring him public humiliation. And if these would not force him to action, then, that God would send him on exile far away from Aso Rock. Jonathan deserves neither pity nor advice. He deserves hard times that force a timid president to throw off fear, and a corrupt president to repent, make restitution, and resign.
Are Nigerians ready for a new nation? When, out of curiosity, I read through some of the comments by some Nigerians on my essays about Nigeria, I am sad at how some of them think that the solution to our social decadence is the splitting up of Nigeria into smaller units. Even if that is the ultimate destiny, unless and until we have mutually enlightened ourselves and prepared our people on the two principles that President Eisenhower spoke about, we may only thereby succeed in spreading the concentration points of social conflagration and unease, and not cure the ailment.
“History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid,” said President Eisenhower. This is the first principle Nigerians must learn about. Freedom cannot be sustained by the weak and timid. Our resolve is very weak. I have received numerous text messages and mails from readers assuring me of “support.” I am not sure I need “support.” Rather, Nigerians need the social orientation that will strengthen them, for a man of knowledge increases in strength. One reason why the political opposition in Nigeria has remained weak is because of its impatience and lack of investment in social education. While the opposition is distracted by the simple pastime of excoriating attacks on the government, it lacks coordination in social education of the people—What resources are available to the governments in Nigeria; what percentage of public resources is spent on a few public officials; how much inflation of public project costs there is; what powers under the constitution do the people have, etc. These are some of the questions that the opposition needs to assist the people answer. I also know that millions of Nigerians do not have access to the internet. But the opposition has an opportunity here.
The vacuum of neglect created by ruling parties across Nigeria must be quickly filled up by the opposition. Irregular conferences in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, or Kaduna by some opposition parties and “civil rights” activists will not be enough. Along with rallies and town meetings in towns and villages across all local government areas in Nigeria, the opposition must put together professionals such as medical doctors, environmentalists, civil rights lawyers, and social workers to provide services and assistance to the people free of charge well before elections and in spite of electoral fortunes. In these revolutionary efforts, informed and principled scholars and columnists can be invited to educate the people and address questions that the people may have. There are no short-cuts in social transformation of a people. The various social groups on social media circles provide veritable recruiting grounds for volunteers. The opposition, putting together germane resources will do better than individuals like us planning and holding rallies. An individual is an easier picking than an organized group. I speak from experience. Gani Fawehinmi was a one-man soldier. Such tactic cannot succeed in Nigeria. Numbers! Organized numbers! That is the game.
The Hamas in Palestine won the heart of the Palestinian people by saving lives where Yasser Arafat failed. Eventually, the Hamas won the confidence and votes of the people in 2006 and formed government.
The second principle I would like to discuss is what President Eisenhower said: “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”
The frequent criss-crossing of politicians from one political party to another and the usual betrayals of “social critics”, “principled columnists”, and “progressives” have given away the Nigerian elite as unstable people that treasure privileges above principles. This is a national tragedy. We are engaged with a deadly squad that has got executive powers, legislative powers, judicial powers, military powers, and business monopoly, all with the blessings of the compromised traditional and religious leadership.
We are in a long marathon to equip our people with both the knowledge and strength that they need to resist injustice and corruption intelligently, with stamina and staying power. If the presently disorganized opposition wishes to wrest power from the corrupt and inefficient national ruling party, it must look beyond a mere merger of political parties for the puerile purpose of winning elections. The opposition must give the people a reason to trust it. For now, nothing else will work, and the people hardly can find a substitute for the ruling national party. But the people are being confused by the unstable behavior of the opposition that dines with the ruling party at their nocturnal feasts only to scream invectives against it at noon.
If the Nigerian people want a better country, we must invest in ourselves. For only when the people and their politics is purged shall there be a better future.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria (www.aun.edu.ng) and chairman of the Middle Belt Alliance (www.middlebeltalliance.org}
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