Last Sunday, Nigeria made another bloody bid for global infamy as bombs detonated in churches in Abuja and elsewhere in the country. At the time of this writing, the death toll stood at more than twenty-five, and was expected to rise. That’s a staggering loss of lives. Once again, Nigeria earned the world’s attention for the wrong reason.
As the rest of the world exchanged Christmas cheer, Nigerians reeled from devastation and death wrought by rabid terrorists.
At a time like this – and the story of Nigeria is increasingly a collection of times like this – one confronts the ultimate question of whether Nigeria makes sense. And whether there’s ever a cost-effective way to make the incoherent entity called Nigeria work after all. Those who planted the bombs are doubtless opposed to the idea of one Nigeria. They also disdain the basic idea that all lives are sacred.
Just as disturbing is the sense one gets that President Goodluck Jonathan has no clear path or plan to take Nigeria out of this devastating maelstrom. The man and his deputy were reportedly partying at the time the bombs went off, wreaking havoc. As the world recoiled in horror, Mr. Jonathan and his coterie continued to gyrate! It took numerous hours before he deigned to speak to his bereaved, battered fellow citizens. That’s simply appalling.
To be an attuned leader is to recognize that you must rally to comfort your people at their moment of distress. It also means being able to spell out what you’re going to do to arrest the reign of senseless violence. Instead, Mr. Jonathan told Nigerians to brace themselves for the burden of death by Boko Haram bombs – until such a time as the group’s hideous militancy “fizzles” out.
Mr. Jonathan’s initial silence – his missing voice – brought him no credit as a leader. When he spoke, he hardly impressed the nation that he understands the scale of the crisis – or that he knows his way around it. Instead, it was easy to detect alienation, disconnection and bewildered. Nigerians deserve much better from their leadership.
Several people came to me at mass on Christmas to voice their dismay, shock, and sympathy about Nigeria’s latest entry in the world’s harvest of shock-and-awe acts. It is nothing short of depraved for any group to think that God sanctions the taking of human lives, even the lives of so-called infidels. Let’s make no mistake: there’s no redeeming feature to the killing of innocents. Nothing excuses the assaults on worshippers.
The terrorist acts were callous, cruel, and senseless. They seemed calculated to trigger the kind of sectarian bad blood that may push Nigeria into the cauldron of a horrendous war. Inexcusable and cowardly, the bloody attacks – and their toll of deaths, injuries and destruction to property – bode ill for a country where cheer is already a scarce commodity, hope disappearing fast.
Each day, Nigerians are forced to accept new depths of crudity and violence as the norm. We are in danger of becoming a country where the slaughter of hundreds, even thousands, of defenceless citizens is deemed a normal fact of life. We have come to a stage where horror has become as familiar to Nigerians as humane, life-affirming practices are to people in much of the world.
Nigerian officials protest vociferously whenever any foreign governments or their agencies suggest Nigeria’s fragility, or predict that its continued corporate existence is highly endangered. Nigerian officials insist that the Nigerian union is solid, fortified, well cemented.
Yet, it doesn’t require a clairvoyant’s flair to realize that the official proclamations of a healthy Nigeria are based more on wishful thinking and delusions than reality and sound logic. Nigeria is a troubled, and troubling, polity. It is an unexamined concept; it is, above all, a creation of British fiat that we love to pretend is viable.
Socrates famously contended that an unexamined life was not worth living. One must stipulate that an unexamined nation is not worth preserving.
President Jonathan may not have done much to ameliorate the nation’s problems, but the problems predate him. In fact, the tragedy of Nigeria is rooted in fifty years of failed leadership, betrayed dreams, foregone paths, and squandered opportunities. In fact, part of the solution must entail an admission by Mr. Jonathan that Nigerians have not settled the fundamental question of whether they wish to coexist, and on what terms.
There’s little chance of the Nigerian police and military winning the war against Boko Haram. How do you win against an unconventional enemy that believes it operates under divine commission and guidance?
In the end, we must come to terms with the real prospect that Nigeria is a dying idea. Each bomb that kills and maims innocent citizens propels a fifty-year old country that doesn’t know itself towards doom.
Downsize Greed For A Change
Last week, President Goodluck Jonathan held a media chat to defend his government’s determination to remove fuel subsidy early next year. I thought it was a flop in the sense that the president did not come close to clinching the case. If anything, he came across as a political magician seeking to offer the abracadabra of fuel subsidy removal as the one-answer-fits-all recipe for tackling all of the nation’s crises – from corruption through unemployment to infrastructural wretchedness.
In some sense, Mr. Jonathan was arguing that his policy was essential to creating jobs, developing infrastructure, and slaying the monster of corruption. How one wishes that governance could be reduced to such formulaic simplicity. Then, assured that they would live happily ever after, Nigerians would overwhelmingly support the removal of fuel subsidy. Alas, alas, that’s not the case – and President Jonathan, as far as the majority of Nigerians are concerned, has not had an impressive say, even though there’s no question he’s determined to have his way.
Yet, there was one statement that Jonathan made that resonated. In perhaps his most high-minded statement in a long time, Mr. Jonathan said that Nigeria was not broke, “but as a responsible father, you save for your children.”
That’s exactly the standard that Nigerians should hold their president – and other public officials – to. At its worst, the tragedy of Nigeria has to do with a palpable indifference to the idea that there’s a future, and we’re at once responsible for shaping it and answerable to it. Too many Nigerians, public office holders as well as the Okoye, Musa and Segun on the street, behave as if there’s no tomorrow, no future.
It’s comforting, then, to hear Mr. Jonathan voice an interest in the future. Still, one wonders if this invocation of the future wasn’t just a mere rhetorical trick.
Nigerians are rather familiar with the deceptive art of leaders who ask them to make big sacrifices in order to reap heaven on earth – in the future. Former General Ibrahim Babangida promised us great things from his structural adjustment program (SAP). The wonders never arrived, but that didn’t stop Mr. Babangida from retiring to a swank hilltop mansion.
If Nigerian leaders were concerned about the future, their actions would show it. They would spend more of their waking hours thinking up solutions to the nation’s myriad crises, rather than concocting schemes to steal public funds. They would downsize their greed and upgrade their vision. They would invest in schools, libraries, healthcare, and seek to improve their people’s social indices.
Does Jonathan have it in him to seize the opportunity and become the first Nigerian president to take the future seriously? Does he hav
e the wisdom to realize how immoral it is to ask Nigerians to endure a certain rise in petroleum products when Nigerians will be paying for his and his family’s fuel needs for the duration of his presidency? Does he have the capacity to see how downright indefensible it is to ask Nigerians (including those on minimum wage) to spend approximately one billion naira on feeding him, his vice president and their respective families?
Mr. Jonathan’s best shot at convincing Nigerians to endorse his removal of fuel subsidy lies in his leading a crusade to drastically reduce the perks of his office and those of the small band of “privileged” Nigerians. If he’s dead set on saving some goodies for the future – a laudable idea – let him start by saving from his own bloated budget.