Monthly Archives: December 2013

Nigeria: Our Future Lies Ahead and not Behind.

Today, I was privileged to attend a special screening of the Mandela movie with one of my daughters. Though I have read the book on which the movie was based, I was nonetheless moved by the Mandela story. It is generally believed that doing wrong can affect all your loved ones negatively, nobody said that doing the right thing can equally affect them badly. I was moved by the devastation visited on the Mandela family by the authorities and the human tragedies that ensued. 

But I was especially captivated by Mandela’s show of leadership in the period leading up to and after his release from 27 plus years of incarceration. With his wife and many South Africans still demanding violence, he insisted that peace was the only way forward. He went on national TV to declare to his people that they were wrong to demand violence and that as their leader; he must show them a path that is right; that their peculiar history may not even rationalise. After all, an eye for an eye will make the whole world go blind. He preached forgiveness.

This then got me thinking about Nigeria. I have seen interviews by people like Asari Dokubo relying heavily on the history of his forebears to demand autonomy for his people. I have also read writings by many politicians equally calling on the force of history to canvass a world view for the nation as they see it. But how much can we rely on history? Should the grandson of a late slave owner in American south today rely on history to demand segregation? We cannot say simple because something existed in the past it must also be made to exist now. We in the present have to chart a new future based on present day realities and a forward-looking vision; regardless of our past. We are not our fathers, and they do not expect us to be like them.

The challenges they faced and the world they lived-in was in many ways different from our own. What we now know and what we have access to, they did not have access to them. So we should rightly love and cherish our esoteric histories, but we must base our actions on what is possible and best for our people now and in the future, not based on obsession to replay or repeat history. Events in our history happened within a peculiar context and the actors did what they thought was best. I want to learn from history and not live or repeat it.

So the pertinent question therefore is what future do Nigerians want? What future is best for our people in the 21st century?  The response of many to these questions tends to be a history lesson. We don’t need that any more. We don’t need to be told how things were done in 1933 to determine how we should live together in 2013. It is intellectual laziness to only think the solution to our situation is always in history lesson of what the colonials did. Or what Chief Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sir Nnamdi Azikiwe or Sir Tafa Balewa did. We cannot progress if all we do is repeat history.

Nigeria needs a new crop of leaders who, while appreciating history, are more focused on caving a new vision based on the future our people want and deserve; even if that is not a replay of historical precedents. In the context of current Nigeria; people saying that the nation should break up because it is an artificial creation of the Lord Luggard’s  British colonial powers, is like telling a married couple to divorce after 70years of marriage (and several Children and grandchildren), because their original marriage papers were not fully in order. Who cares whether their wedding papers were in order on or not many will say. After 70yrs of living as husband and wife; certain realities and interdependencies would have set in. They are now married with or without correct papers.

Simply saying that because Nigerian regions were separate entities before amalgamation almost 100 years ago is a mute point in my view. 99.9% of Nigerians alive today, were born into an amalgamated country; hence do not know what it was to have lived in the pre-1914 Nigeria. We have to accept that Nigeria as a country is the only nation we all know. We have to accept that we have lived together for 100yrs. And we have to accept that despite our failings, we cannot make breaking a 100yrs old marriage the only viable solution to save it. We need more creative leaders, who will lead the people, just like Mandela did. We need leaders who will be more forward looking and less backward focused. Nigeria as it is now is what most practically all Nigerians know territorially. We have been played a hand by history; our job is to play it to the best of our vision and passion and not simply hand it back to history.

An acceptance of this thesis is evident in South Africa after Mandela became the first black President. South Africa became a Black-majority democracy; and not a Black-Only democracy. That is an acceptance of the reality on the ground. It is an acceptance that South Africa cannot simply return to black only pre-colonial era. It is an acceptance of the irreversible changes that life has enforced on the tapestry of the nation. It is an acceptance that while respecting history; we have to move forward based on what is possible now and the realities today.

I have a dream that such leaders will emerge in our nation and lead the people on the basis of the future possibilities and not just on the basis of the long gone historical architecture. What will Nigeria look like in 50years time? What will be our position in Africa and the world in 20years? These are the ambition-laden focus we need. Enough of these self-serving history merchants who do not at the same time give us a future vision we can safely rally behind. Life they say is for the living; let’s make the best of it folks.

I will continue my thoughts on this matter in a future instalment of this article.

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For a long time I have been critical of the Nigerian political landscape’s lack of ideological characterisation. I have complained that our political parties are all the same regardless of the name they are called. And the ease with which politician cross carpet to other parties is Nigeria_politicalevidence of the lack of ideological coherence in any of the parties. Implied in this critical thesis is that there is no point engaging with any of them as they are all same. But I have been thinking lately and I now believe the political ideological construct in Nigeria is actually not as much of the problem as I had believed. I now believe that it is impossible to have an ideologically-driven polity without an ideologically-driven or classified citizenry.

Nigerians are not ideologues in the main. Most want the basic essentials of life; Security, Jobs, Infrastructure, Economic development, good Education, and so on. But I found that Nigerians are not really fussed on how these goals are achieved. They just want them done. Nigerians are not yet at that level of political sophistication; where they will choose based on political ideology, who can better deliver the essentials of life they seek. They have been worn down, exhausted and frustrated by decades of bad and corrupt political reality, that they will be happy for anyone, any party to deliver the goods, regardless of its political ideology. It is therefore unrealistic to expect the political parties in Nigeria to be divided along ideological lines as that does not reflect the priorities and existential expectations of the people.

My thoughts have been focused on this issue in recent weeks with the mergers of political parties going on in Nigeria and high profile defections from one party to another. Some have criticized the mergers and defections as showing lack of “principle” by the political players. But what principle are people talking about? When all the parties lack any coherent principles, then it is safe to conclude that you can only clone a pig out of a pig.  It is true when people say all the parties are more or less the same. A confluence of power seekers who will do anything, say anything and join anything that will give them power or allow them to retain the power they already have.

Nigerians in diaspora are particularly guilty as I was, of expecting the Western level sophistication in out polity. They expect to see parties forming based on ideological divide that will give people clear options. But for now, Nigerian are not really ideological people. They know what they want from government, but are not really prescriptive on how it is done by the government. If you have been starved for weeks; you will not be in the mood to dictate how your food is cooked. You just want food period. Nigerian just want a government that will deliver, period. Whatever political label or ideology a party espouse will not matter as long as it delivers on the people’s priorities.

So our political collage will continue to be bland, colourless and ideology-free for some time to come. And that may not be a bad idea. Democracy, like capitalism is self-adaptive and can mean different things in different places. Even the old Greeks that created the concept of democracy initially believed that leaders were born not made. The ancient Greeks had set characteristics that if you are born with, then you are a leader. Pointed nose, Blue eyes, Light skin etc are for them at that time pointers to a born leader. But we all know how racist and discriminatory such narrow definition now is in a modern society. My point is that even the creators of the democratic model did not expect a uniform look and feel. They had to adapt and change too.

So let us stop obsessing or viewing our political parties and its actors from an ideological prism. Let us adopt a simple test: What have they done (or will do) to improve the lives of the people and develop the nation. Ideological cohesion will come later. We are pragmatists in Nigeria and many do not believe there is only one way to do things in the political sphere. In fact many do not have the passion to pursue a single political ideologue, if their interest is not fully protected. 

Illiteracy and Poverty has made political ideology a luxury for most Nigerians. Ideological pursuit requires you to do what you believe is right, even if you don’t personally benefit from it. It requires working for the collective good even if that means subordinating your personal interest. Nigerian are not at that junction yet. Personal/tribal Interest seems to trump all other considerations. And people will move to any political invention that seems to advance that personal interest regardless of ideology or worldview of the party.

Political parties in any nation cannot develop more than its people’s ability to engage with it. So let us all focus on a set of simple tests for our political parties that reflects the priorities of the people and not be distracted that they lack coherent ideology or seem doctrinally indistinguishable from each other. That will allow us to focus on what matters and put pressure on the politicians to deliver; rather than engaging in futile debates about ideology.

Lagos NigeriaFinally, there was a piece in Vanguard newspaper this past week on an interview with the former South African President, Mbeki on his views about Nigeria. A portion of the article stated: “Making democracy work… requires informed and active citizens who understand how to voice their interests, act collectively and hold public officials accountable. Democracy’s credibility and sustainability depends, to an important degree, on how it works in practice, and on what it delivers.  Bad governments thrive in Nigeria, or elsewhere for that matter, because “the leadership does not feel pressure from the people. It therefore follows that if Nigerians desire the dividends of democracy, they will have to fight for it. They must decide whether to continue with the way they are being governed or become active in demanding transparency and accountability from government. Democracy’s efficacy and legitimacy are predicated on an informed citizenry; without active and knowledgeable citizens, democratic representation remains empty; without vigilant, informed citizens, there is no check on potential tyranny”.

So it is the people that will dictate when the nation is ready for ideologically driven polity. Right now, we should all focus more on intent and actions of our leaders; and demand result, regardless of ideology. At least we hope we can start from there.

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