In one of several telling remarks about the state of Nigeria, particularly, as it relates to the erosion and decline in national public standards and the consequent concomitant negative effect on societal values, which has and continues, to beset Nigeria in almost unabated fashion – to the point of leaving scars of seeming permanence on the national psyche; the erudite professor of letters and national treasure – Chinua Achebe – once remarked rather forlornly, but with customary acuity – that:
‘(Nigeria) is an example of a country that has fallen down; it has collapsed. This house has fallen.’
Professor Achebe’s remarks quite apart from their memorability and quotability and the fact that they were – in partial aspect – to achieve additional prominence as the inspiration for the title of a book about Nigeria; one written by an outsider, but with the flourish and insights of an insider. His remarks were also notable from the standpoint that they were couched and veiled in vestments of beguiling simplicity which almost obscured the profundity of their deep import.
For in likening Nigeria to a house – albeit – one which in his opinion, had collapsed, he planted the seed of an idea, or at least, placed the memory of an idea, in the minds of Nigerians, that at one point, prior to its supposed collapse, Nigeria was a structural edifice fit for the habitation of her people; a notion which now appears alien or too distant a recollection to recall.
If indeed, Nigeria, was at some point a house fit for the habitation of its people; is it then safe to conclude, that at its founding, it was the output of the intelligent design of its colonial architects and, therefore, fit for purpose and structurally sound? And if it was, what became of it and its state of repair? Has it now collapsed? Or is it simply manifesting the normal signs of structural wear and tear? Or is it in terminal decline? If it is then what led to this decline and who do we blame or hold responsible for it?
As any architect or builder, will attest houses and structures may collapse or fall into disrepair for any number of reasons. But more often than not structural implosions are often due to poor design, weak, or bad foundations being in place. Equally too, the poor, bad, or lack of maintenance of such structures, will over time undermine their solidity and lead to their eventual collapse.
Since the cornerstone of our national foundation was set in concrete by colonial nation builders; is it possible that they – wittingly or unwittingly – used ‘substandard materials’ in undertaking this critical task? Thus, ensuring that whatever stood upon it thereafter would not endure. Do we blame them for their possible duplicity in lumping together a multiplicity of ethnicities without any regard for their divergent aspirations? Thereby, generating and perpetuating the ‘original sin’ of compelling and combining different ethnic nationalities to cohabit under the banner of the ‘geographical expression’ called Nigeria.
Whilst it is always advisable to consider advisedly the motives and actions of the colonials in their dealings with Nigeria, I think, it would be highly irresponsible of us, at this stage in our history to lay the blame for our decline at their doorsteps. Particularly, as it has been almost fifty years since our indigenous political ‘landlords’ were given possession of the keys to the nation’s front-door.
In truth, however, much of the dilapidation which has undermined the structural integrity of Nigeria has arisen through and by Nigerian hands. Much of the serious cracks which have appeared and continue to appear in the walls of Nigeria, right from Independence, to the present, have been of our own making. And now, so many years after Independence, these structural irregularities continue to exist, and persist in their existence, without a proper resolution of them.
Proper blame for the corruption and deficiencies within our system must be placed mainly and squarely at the doorsteps of that multi-ethnic Nigerian cabal which monopolises power without a proper basis for doing so. But a portion of blame too, must also lie at the doorsteps of much of the general populace; for we stand indicted for our collective acquiescence and inaction in allowing these multi-ethnic Nigerian predators the free rein to pillage the nation with impunity.
Whilst Professor Achebe’s diagnosis may seem conclusive, he does appear to have left the door open for prescriptions for the possible prognoses for the revivification or otherwise of Nigeria. And as part of this prescriptive process, Nigerians need to decide what to do about state of the nation’s house. If they, like the erudite Professor believe that it has collapsed; then what is to be done with the rubble of the ruins of the collapse? And if there are others who believe that Nigeria is still standing, but in a poor state of repair; what, if anything, should be done to restore its structural solidity?
Further questions also need to be asked and answered in this regard. Do we continue to inhabit it, in its current state of ruination? Or do we clear the rubble and rebuild in an act of corporate national renewal – vowing as we do so, to prevent a reoccurrence of such dilapidation in the future? Or do we revisit and redefine our existing national parameters in order to set in place new ethno-geographic, political, and economic perimeters – from behind and beyond – which we can relate to one another going forward?
As ever there are more questions than there are satisfactory answers to be found; but, nevertheless, answers must be found to them. It ill-becomes us as a people to continue to dwell in a national house which is in a state of disrepair; and this in spite of the rich and sprawling land upon which it sits; remaining bereft of the basic amenities required to make life and living a worthwhile experience for its inhabitants. We must confront and exorcise the corrupting demons from our national psyche. And there is no better time than the present to begin this process.
The serious ruptures occurring at present in the Niger Delta are in large part an orchestration and projection of the frustrations of the people of that region fed up at the state of their disrepair. The resounding reverberations of the implosions and explosions in that region must not fall on deaf ears. It is imperative that the situation is dealt with responsibly, maturely, equitably, and sensitively before it spirals out of all control.
In the past, there have been calls for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference to discuss the state of Nigeria and to determine the way forward. The time to talk is now. Let us not bury our heads in the sand in the hope that the serious issues which affect us will go away of their own accord. They will not.
It has been said of poets that they are often prophets and Professor Achebe is no exception. When he proclaimed all those years ago that Nigeria had fallen down, he did so with futuristic expression – he was ahead of his time. The passage of time has proven him to be largely correct. Nigeria is indeed in a state of worrying decline; even if it has not collapsed completely. But it is well within our competence, as a people, to arrest the decline, and institute important changes to its structure; if we so choose.
Whatever we do decide to do, one thing is clear; we can no longer paper over the cracks of the dilapidation plaguing our nation.