Sometime ago, the president of Nigeria launched a pet project, which by now is long forgotten and dead. It is dead because even the person who initiated it probably used it as a popularity stunt and never actually believed in it himself. He called the project; “I see Hope”.
The “I see Hope” project was conceived from the memoir of the then General Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo who was making notes from his prison yard experiences. The “I see Hope” phrase was lifted by the Africa Leadership Forum, a Nigerian think-tank NGO in Ota. It was expanded as a sense of motivational inducements for the up and coming generations of Nigeria. The inherent message in it was that there is hope! In the shadow of our rotten nation, there is hope. In the prevailing inclinations of corruption and nepotism, there is hope. In the rebellious and nationalistic personality of Wole Soyinka, in the dedicated, humble and hardworking personality of Olukoye Ransom Kuti, and so many other personalities of the classical generation of Nigeria who were just, bold, dedicated, truthful, industrious, hardworking and honest individuals, the author sees hope.
From the substance of the “I see Hope”, it is more of a wishful project of a hanging substance called Hope! It is a substance that is unreal, yet omnipresent. It is a mental expectation of desires, goals or aspirations, yet it is a thing “out of my dream” but visible only to those privileged few or the “die hard(s)” who refuse to give up to the challenges of life. Hope is that which takes the mind away from the analysis of the present reality, into the mirage of a wishful future! The project was presented in this manner. Strategically, it was presented on October 1st 2002, the day Nigeria marked her anniversary as an independent State from the British Colonial Rule. This invariably means, hope was meant as a directional guide to a new beginning for a nation in transition!
It is quite a noble thing to …see hope. The author, unknown to him was not saying anything new from what has always been a deep part of the modern Africa and indeed the developing nations. In these parts, hope is something of a mythological necessity and a folk reality within the labyrinth of day to day frustrations. I will come back to these later. Some might argue, and very rightly too, that it is not only peoples in developing economies that see hope, others see hope too. While it is a common thing in developing countries to see hope, in actual fact, others are living with hope and it is more concrete than a mythological view of something-physical yet unseen- hope. But let us leave things as they are now and concentrate more on this Hope, a myth or a reality?
The author was right in thinking that there is hope. Even though it was in the first person description of centrifugal wishes; “I see Hope”, but in reality, peoples of developing economies have nothing else either from their elected representative, their families or the society they live in other than Hope. Whether they, like the author, see hope, or they live with it, the final analysis is, that Hope is all the majority have. The reason for this is the following; the nations of the world, both politically and economically, are so rotten that there is nothing else but hope to see. It is hope, in the wish that the future will be brighter. To these ones who, in “darker days” have nothing concrete to hold on to, their allegiance laid in a hardly obtainable utopia! This unreachable goal becomes opium. And this hope, is comparable to a female gender “She”. However, to citizens of developed economies, attributes to a foreign, unseen and mythological allusion has been discarded in social thinking. Nevertherless, they have hope, theirs is not a symbolic gender “She” of a fathomable entity; theirs is what I call, Uncle Hope!
The author of “I see Hope”, Olusegun Obasanjo, was right in expressing the people’s unequivocal illusion as Hope. From the world of a woman whose husband is shameless, unreliable, alcoholic, unreasonable and irresponsible, matters are not so completely hopeless that she has to give up. The only substance remaining for her in the horror of her failing marriage was and is hope! Hope that things will be better and that fate will turn around and make things right. Similarly, to the husband whose wife is an opposite of what he expected, hope becomes the motivation to keep away from committing more crime in order to make the other right. The five years jobless post university graduate sees hope in the Tuesday Guardian as he looks into the pages in search for job vacancies. His or her hope lies in the countless applications sent to organisations that are themselves already moribund! Times are hard and only hard people can blend without resolving to crimes! “I see Hope” therefore, that perhaps there will be invitation to interviews and job offers even if the pay is below the international poverty lines!
People attend churches on Sundays and other week days not, in the true sense of it and in the actual critical analysis, to seek God! They attend religious communion with the view that “…faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen” (bible quotes Hebr. 11:1). To the faithful, church offers hope; hope of spiritual redemption (from the world of sin to the paradise of re-birth). It also offers faith in a better future- “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… blessed are the peace makers for they shall be called Sons of God … (bible reference Matt. 5:3-9)
Other needy individuals see hope in the round bottles of beer and alcohol, in the sticks of cigarettes, women of easy virtues and in other opium that takes their minds away from their realities! In whatever forms, hope is alive, but it is in the object that keeps different beholders away from the hurts of the reality, which each run from! And so, when all is lost, in the midst of economic woes and social failure, in the futility of an unrepentant agony, within the lasts of breath, all is not lost but hope! And therefore, “I see Hope”! What else is there; no job, no home, no spouse, no money, unpaid pension and allowances, unspecified payment of salary arrears, bounced checks, unreliable legal systems, frustrating judiciary and murderous executives? There is nothing else remaining but to flirt with the lady call Hope! She is available for anyone who seeks her lusts. And she is for the highest bidder! With the “she” Hope, all is forgotten (or postponed to later time) until hope finds rhythms in the hands of other desperate bidders and she leaves.
In more developed economies, where rule of law is supreme, where judicial processes are the bases of people’s rights and freedom, where the police is not allowed to shove guns at the people as though they, the police, are the kings, Hope is not a gender “She”! In the nations where guarantee of social infrastructures are the key invitation to investments and not the president jetting all around the world pleading with investors to come, Hope is a gender “He”; the Uncle Hope! Hope resides in the states’ social welfare packages, pension schemes, retirement benefits, tax cuts by different governments, black on white contract papers that guarantee employment and salary. These are hopes. And so, when all is lost; no more expectations within reasonable reach, hope is seen in the social welfare package of the state for its citizens, in the prompt pension payments for her faithful retired workers, in the infrastructural system which is in perpetuity reliable! This is more masculine; it is written down that it is real and touchable! “I see Hope” in this concept will be a wrong wish, hope here is living and concrete. Let the world come crumbling, hope is in what the paper says you will get at the end of the day.
However, there are those, even from the western world, who still hold hope in the form of illusion and wishful thinking. This form of hope will lead us to differentiation between the two types of hope there are.
There is hope that Hope will be hope. This is the type of Hope, typical amongst people who are really not too sure about something but they hope that assurance will, one day materialise and be more concrete than illusion. This is the type of hope that is within the control of the person concerned. If you hope to have a good grade at school, then it is up to you, to study well, achieve what you will like to achieve. This is not, in the final analysis, out of the control of the person involved.
There is another hope: hope that tomorrow will be better than yesterday. Yesterday is already gone and it did not bring the desired paradise. Today is not ended yet and even if today ends like yesterday, Hope is that tomorrow will be better than yesterday.
This second hope is what the author, now President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has. “I see Hope” that tomorrow will be better than our yester years. This by itself is not a bad idea. It is in the final analysis, true that once there is life, there will always be hope. Whether a “She” Hope or an Uncle Hope, there will always be Hope. However, the reality of the Nigerian populace does not need to see hope, they need Uncle Hope! There must be a more liberalised economic policy such that the market is more flexible than what it is; more operators in the economic enterpreneuralship so that there could be more job opportunities and hope for a better power motivation. It is good to protect the local industries and farmers from the fears of globalisation and direct foreign investments. However, unless the numerous governments’ policy initiatives such as SMIES, bank of commerce and industry, micro-credit facilities are transformed beyond the paper work into practical Uncle Hope, the president will merely see Hope until his vision is blurred. No one wants to see Hope if they can afford to look away. The roadside mechanic, the vulcaniser, the groundnut sellers, the shoe makers, the traders, the market women, all who need perhaps NGN50, 000 loan to improve their enterprenuralship need not see hope, they want Uncle Hope. Uncle Hope they can touch, they can feel; Hope which is “out of our dreams and into our lives”.
But opening up the market for more investors, both locally and internationally is, in itself, not the El Dorado, it is only one of the necessary items within the network of other initiatives such as a sound Rule of Law, Human and Property Rights and a more Liberal Democracy. A transparent Rule of Law will guarantee speedy access to Justice, make the Nigerian Police a public servant rather than public nuisance, allow the due process of the law to accuse and any business conglomerates who are acting contrary to trade and investment agreements. Rule of Law will put the parliament in check of the executives and not a mere camouflage of the president’s extended office because of the One-Party scenario that we find ourselves under the PDP-led government. A more decentralised democracy will bring government closer to the people, guarantees popular participation, enhance peace and stability and most importantly, promote easy and quick access to justice. In the final analysis, peace is not only the absence of war or conflict; peace is also the presence of justice! If the president is not merely using “I see Hope” as a political campaign to win election, then he must follow the footsteps of his predecessors who had, in the past, seen the same hope. Martin Luther King Jr. saw hope; he had a dream, but every step he took until he bowed out, was towards taking the Dream out of his illusions into reality. The one million-man march, the Montgomery bus
standoff, the civil cases in courts and the mass protests were towards bringing the dream closer to Uncle Hope. One 4- year term had gone by. The Nigerian peoples had once again invested their hopes in a re-election. Now, President Olusegun Obasanjo ought to know that “I see Hope” must, before he leaves the office get closer to Uncle Hope otherwise, we will be back to where we started; hopeless and frustrated.
However, is Hope outrightly hopeless? It cannot be so! The joy of life is also in the faith that there is a hope somewhere to keep life going. There is need to be alive and to have Hope that tomorrow will be better than the previous days.