This Boiling Cauldron, By Dele Agekameh
Almost everywhere one turns to in Nigeria today, there is strife, hunger, and mindless bloodshed that leaves people feeling helpless and vulnerable in their own ancestral homes.
In 1847, the Commonwealth of Liberia was declared an independent state, making it Africa’s first republic. Formerly a cluster of colonies created by the American Colonisation Society for the absorption of freed slaves from America, Liberia avoided subsequent colonisation by the Europeans, with support from America. 171 years on from that point, Liberia is worse off than many younger African nations that were still colonies when it was considered an independent state.
The Liberian example counters the view that Nigeria’s young democracy is the reason for the failure of governance that we are accustomed to in this country. After all the years Liberia has functioned as an independent state, the United States’ dollar is its de facto currency and the standard of living compares with the poorer countries in Africa. Nigeria’s lot is not much better, even as we sometimes record fractional growth on increasingly unreliable development metres like the GDP. Our real problem has been one of leadership and this problem is a collective fault in a democracy.
Almost everywhere one turns to in Nigeria today, there is strife, hunger, and mindless bloodshed that leaves people feeling helpless and vulnerable in their own ancestral homes. Many suffer amidst the splurge of affluence by a few, who co-incidentally make up a large part of the ruling class. Their wealth mostly comes from immorally acquired riches, through legal and illegal means, enabled by their positions of authority and their wealthy friends/collaborators. The National Assembly is the biggest representation of despicable legal plunder of Nigeria’s commonwealth, but the law books provide no practical way to stem the immorality that pervades that institution.
Spurred by the need for a more inclusive and sustainable model for growth and development, the World Economic Forum (WEF), releases an annual assessment of the performance of 103 countries called the Inclusive Development Index (IDI), which some consider as a better rubric for measuring progress than other methods. The index uses the three “pillars” of growth and development, inclusion and inter-generational equity as indicators in assessing each country’s progress. Nigeria ranks 63rd out of the assessed 74 countries under the emerging economies category for 2018. The index rightly notes that economic growth has not benefitted Nigerians, and identifies geopolitical instability due to religious and ethnic factions as the key impediment to inclusive growth.
The people rage at the antics of sketchy politicians like Saraki and their would-be tormentors, then at each other, because we have been conditioned to be unable to see beyond our differences. We look to a government that seems unable to see the cracks that push us further apart, even deepening those cracks by its own outrageous management of crisis.
However, what the index does not say is that the privileged few hijack the machinery of government for their own benefit, and the growth of the economy is likely a reflection of their personal enrichment. This is why poverty rate in Nigeria stands at 77.6 per cent and the daily median income level is $1.80, at a time when economic performance is on the increase. This is also the reason the average Nigerian complains bitterly about the harshness of life in every administration, despite the boisterous announcement of favourable economic statistics by successive governments who seem to be clueless about how to translate this into tangible results in the pockets and stomachs of the 77.6 per cent.
The index also notes our ethnic and religious divide. What it does not say is that politicians have mastered the art of using this divide to their own ends, and that the further deepening of the divide is to their advantage. This is why seemingly faceless herdsmen, of no identifiable masters, lay waste to human lives and property with impunity, and identifiable associations like Miyetti Allah make reckless comments in support of the carnage, to no consequence. Perhaps emboldened, factions of the same cattle breeders association have gone on to defy the seat of government by threatening to forcefully eject the Senate president from office. The comical irony of the affront is that the Senate president himself is a controversial public servant who has displayed telling signs of the selfishness that oozes off our supposed representatives.
The people rage at the antics of sketchy politicians like Saraki and their would-be tormentors, then at each other, because we have been conditioned to be unable to see beyond our differences. We look to a government that seems unable to see the cracks that push us further apart, even deepening those cracks by its own outrageous management of crisis. This was the case when the only Christian girl out of many kidnapped school girls, was left behind after a deal was made by the government to free her friends and co-captives who all just happen to be Muslim. The outrage continues, as this monumental oversight still remains uncorrected many months after the release of her friends.
The government is said to be beset by geopolitical instability, but the individuals that make up the government propagate this instability through their own unstable allegiances and whimsical political decisions that leads to division of the people. We have seen it in Kano, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Imo and many other States and in the rash of defections that have almost become a source of entertainment. The polity is boiling, and the quality of leadership is sinking to new lows at a time when we need it to be at the highest possible level.
Events are unfolding right before our eyes that can put our feeble union at risk. Now, is the time to fast and pray, since we like to pray, before a politician or religious leader “implores” us to do so. The future is in the hands of people who take responsibility for their lives and our responsibility to ourselves should not be subject to manipulation.
We invite strangers into our home through calls for foreign investments, while we have not settled our differences. We deceive them with statistics and the superiority of our jollof rice, while we keep our machetes hidden under our chairs and mattresses in readiness for our own neighbours. It is an unsustainable image, as the trouble that is boiling beneath the surface can burst into the open at any time. Our politicians socialise and shake hands in public with their neighbours in highbrow areas of Lagos and Abuja before going behind to sabotage each other through the agency of gullible men and women in shanty towns and villages.
Democracy is not a system that needs to develop; it is an already developed system that ought to ensure freeness and fairness if practiced conscientiously. Our social immaturity as a people is the real problem and the road to maturity begins with social awareness and responsibility for our actions. The bulk of Nigerians let so-called religious and political leaders control the narrative and set the tone for their personal interaction with others. This is foolishness as everyone should be responsible for their own choices.
Our problems are not partisan, contra-religious or contra-ethnic. They are a collective pain that we share, through which we are connected, and oddly so. Our ability to unite and solve these problems will be the mark of our social maturity. From there, our democracy can blossom and we can begin to hold each other to greater standards than we already are and be comfortable to have high expectations of those we elect to serve us. We cannot be divided as a people and expect our chosen leaders to work together for our collective good.
In this light, we can see the rancour between the presidency and legislature clearer, and we can understand why the political parties are so ideologically porous. Our politicians are pre-occupied with other divisions and differences that are not ideological or at all logical, sometimes influenced by the intolerance of the people. Without an ideological foundation for their candidacy in most cases, they comfortably nudge ethnic and religious sentiments without thinking about the wider consequences. Being a deeply religious country, this is not difficult, especially as the lines of religion and ethnicity conveniently cross in most parts of the country.
As our politicians and office holders often implore when met with a tough problem, we must now work and pray for a quick attainment of social and political maturity so that this country can move forward from the pit of irresponsibility we have been stuck in for decades. Events are unfolding right before our eyes that can put our feeble union at risk. Now, is the time to fast and pray, since we like to pray, before a politician or religious leader “implores” us to do so. The future is in the hands of people who take responsibility for their lives and our responsibility to ourselves should not be subject to manipulation.
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