We need a Nation, not Leaders or Programs

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

You cannot flip the pages of the hundreds of Nigeria’s newspapers, and millions of websites dedicated to analyzing the problems of Nigeria without coming away with a sense of knowing what is required. But somehow, the nation manages to elect the most unqualified and unpatriotic individuals to high offices, ensuring these common sense solutions never see the light of the day. Somehow also, the people never get angry enough to overthrow the status-quo. Somehow, the people get easily sentimental and dribbled at election time to vote against their own interests!

A careful introspection will reveal we may need to get to the bottom of Nigeria’s personality to get an answer into this seeming schizophrenic tendency to get it wrong when it is patently obvious to simply do what is required. Does Nigeria have a national character to even chart point A to B on the path of development?

See, when other nations talk- you hear love of country, you hear national pride, you hear adherence to certain sacred principles. In Nigeria, even when these claims are made they’re hollow, because we know they’re simply not true. Is Nigeria a nation? What is the basis of Nigeria’s nationhood? Have we enunciated a set of national objectives worth aspiring to, aside from that of the glorifying the god of money, looting and debauchery?

A reading of a recent interview of Pat Utomi tracing his journey about his quest to forming a unified opposition front for the 2011 elections before he ultimately decided to fold his tent to join the Action Congress of Nigeria reveals the sad reality of Nigeria’s geopolitical being. Somehow, even when the prize was nigh: opposition groups found the North vs. South dichotomy impossible to overcome! If we cannot act in self-interest to actualize a national goal, then we might be in for a long crawl towards development

Every decision by Nigerian politicians is first filtered through sectarian lenses, which invariably impact the electorate: ethnicity over merit, sentiments over logic. Politicians quite willingly exploit the poor and ignorant to somehow enhance their own personal interest while claiming some ethnic or religious constituency that doesn’t even remotely benefit from their position but is sucked in by their claim. Even ballot box decisions of the electorates are swung by such jejune matters like who had shoes when growing up and who was “ordained” by God because of luck! Such idiocy! (http://nigeriavillagesquare.com/sonala-olumhense/my-mumu-don-doyour-mumu-don-do.html)

While it may not be originally patently obvious, there is a direct connection between the clannish and divisive mentality of Nigerian politicians sans the people, and corruption because it encourages a “me first” mentality. Only in Nigeria will the President of a country announce he owes his benefactor- an international jail bird, who came back to a heroes welcome just like another President’s friend (a la Bode George), irrespective of the fact that he looted his state dry!

Certainly, there are many common sense solutions to Nigeria’s problems that do not require a constitutional amendment; some don’t even require new laws! Take for instance the incessant problem of security. One can see how redeploying policemen currently housed in needless and ill-maintained barracks across the land into the local population will fix 50% of the security challenges we face. Another is corruption; does it take more than an elaborate and sustained sting operation to net all Nigeria’s pen thieves? Or is it the urgent need to right size our bloated civil and public service for the benefit of our infrastructure? Why are we not doing these?

Perhaps because our so called “leaders” are simply intellectually incapable of selling and working on these solutions, or simply because there is no nation to believe in every man is really in this first for themselves, or any move they make will always be analyzed through ethnic and pecuniary interest; most of our “leaders” prefer to just do nothing! Indeed, since they’ll be acting against their own self-interest to implement these solutions because they’re a product of a failed state, it makes some sense to do nothing!

No doubt, the contractor that will lose the police barrack contracts who is the ex-President’s cousin will be quick to read ethnic oppression to any policy in this direction, and fan the emblems of division to achieve his unholy goal of keeping such State rent. As a result, lethargy then becomes the preferred tactic of governance in Nigeria. The recent grumbling in the military over routine retirements and its ethnic dimensions reveals this reality. We’re the ethnic rent seeking nation, driven by ethnic rent seeking interests! There is a direct link between wanton corruption that approximates public property to private loot, when there is no larger national project to believe in and work towards.

Hence, the real solution to Nigeria’s under development, corruption problem, structural issues and seemingly unlimited bad news is not just electing few honest men, or somehow landing a courageous, patriotic and smart leader (all very necessary prerequisites for leadership in our country) to implement some lofty programs, but to actually make sincere movements towards becoming a nation.

This will not be achieved by one instant conference be it sovereign or otherwise; it can only be done by an open, honest and sustained dialogue by the leaders, elites and people about what it means to be a nation. Fact is the current distrust among Nigeria’s ethnic nations runs far too deep, and defies geographical boundaries. Hence, why any quick fixes like a Sovereign National Conference or a separation as suggested by some will not achieve anything!

Distrust in our country runs at federal, state and local levels. No matter the number of new nations created from this mess, the distrust will continue to fester unless we fix the original problem: the lack of national philosophy and coherence, or reason for common existence. Unfortunately, the current leadership has no incentive to fix the problem. A new Nigerian nation will abhor its worst to rise to leadership.

A nation where merit and not ethnic considerations is the key will abhor the rise of Obasanjo, Atiku, Yaradua, Adedibu, Omisore, Ibori, Igbinnedion, Uba, Odili and Goodluck Jonathans of the world. Fact is these individuals are dregs of any decent society that are better fit for a reformatory than a government house. But in a society where distrust reigns, they’ll exploit the status quo to gain power since that is what opportunists do!

There are only three realistic paths to become a truer nation if we review the recent history of the world. Option one is to continue in this decadent way until we’re forced to beat back invasion like China after 1,000 years of getting it wrong. Wars and oppression you see have a way of making nations out of discordant constituents: ask the Americans too! Or, we may have an opportunity for a bloody revolution like France if it gets out of order. Or finally, we may depend on elections as a feasible and optimum alternative.

For this optimum solution to happen though, we somehow have to hope that the people discard sentiment (quite unlike the current situation, where sentiments are more likely to get you elected than logic) and vote for a candidate that has central to its manifesto a desire to sustain a national discourse and plan to achieve a negotiated nationhood rather than a forced one.

This is why throwing the current People Democratic Party (PDP) government out of office on as many levels as possible has to be central to anyone seeking true change in Nigeria. It is the only one shot starting block to turning around the mess as simpl

e as it sounds.

It is not because the opposition will be any better in actual governance, but because perhaps during their very immediate arrival on the scene we’ll have our greatest chance to make movement towards a true nation. Of course, since the PDP have sworn that making Nigeria a truer nation is not in their plans, and that a forced relationships between Nigeria’s 250 ethnic groups, built on distrust and bloodletting (they’re rightly presided over in the last 13 years while having their fill of the treasury) that produce their worst is the way to go- it can never hurt to throw them out! Let them eat cake!

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