Systems; Not Messiahs, By Dele Agekameh
The search for Nigeria’s messiah is endless. It is devoid of consistency or any deep thought. It is almost as if Nigerians give in to their yearnings like toddlers, whose only focus at any time is escaping the discomfort of the moment.
Dissatisfaction is a leading sentiment in most sectors in Nigeria. Irrespective of ethnic or political affiliation, the consensus is that we have under-achieved in all our 58 years of independence. Because our system is not running the way it should, people in Nigeria feel short-changed by constituted authority, by the individuals who are custodians of that authority and by everyday people they encounter in the normal course of their lives. The combination of the dissatisfaction and general paranoia has created a victim mentality that has led to an endless search for messiahs.
In their hundreds, ‘messiahs’ appear on every plane in Nigeria. They come as religious leaders, community elders, influencers of thought, philanthropists, and, most commonly, politicians or government functionaries. For a dissatisfied people with trust issues, it is easy for these messiahs to rouse sentiments against the status quo at any point, using the promise of a better future as bait. Therefore, in our search for El-dorado, we have forgotten that our supposed messiahs are just as much a part of the system as we are. We all are parts of a system forged in the furnace of exploitation and oppression, and chronically resistant to change.
In 1999, when Olusegun Obasanjo was to become president, just out of prison, he was likened to Mandela by some people. He was charged with a mandate to lead us on from the loosened shackles of military oppression. The retired general ended up leading the nation with an iron hand. In the end, he turned out not to be the messiah that we sought after all. He left after a failed attempt to become another long-term “African strongman”. When he left, in his own wisdom, he installed a not-so-strong man in power, who was reportedly reluctant to fill his shoes. But the sickly Umaru Yar’Adua appeared to be the God-sent saviour of the masses, as his activities during his brief stint in Aso Rock suggested.
As fortune would have it, Yar’Adua succumbed to illness mid-tenure, and Goodluck Jonathan, his deputy, became president. The could-be messiah from Otuoke in Bayelsa State, South-South Nigeria, ran into difficulties of his own. Accused of weakness in many respects, he survived one election in 2011. By 2015, the country was already in need of another messiah, and thus, the man from Otuoke was ousted by popular vote for a percieved strongman, in person of General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.).
Next month, Nigerians will go back to the polls. Surprisingly, Nigerians seem to have developed the appetite for a new messiah. The search for Nigeria’s messiah is endless. It is devoid of consistency or any deep thought. It is almost as if Nigerians give in to their yearnings like toddlers, whose only focus at any time is escaping the discomfort of the moment. We have not learnt to become political adults, who know the value of endurance and peserverance.
There are no victims and no messiahs. We are products of the system we have allowed in Nigeria. We must seek to build a system that is stronger than any individual, and we must do so with our eyes open and our long-term thinking caps on. There is no short cut to development and efficiency, as every cog in the wheel must be accountable.
Truth is, the status-quo is again being ultra-criticised and this creates the perception of an unbearable atmosphere in the country. Although there are grave concerns at the moment that threaten our future, none has developed overnight, nor in the last four years. Our problems have evolved consistently over the years and through many administrations. This is because of our misguided criticisms and messianic obsession as a people.
Our past democratic leaders have not deserved all the criticism they got. Yes, they have had their shortcomings, but our criticisms of them very quickly leave the realm of objectivity and descend into subjective and less analytical realms that do not help progress. Olusegun Obasanjo intoduced the likes of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nasir El-Rufai and even some of the more popular candidates for presidency in 2019, Atiku Abubakar and Oby Ezekwesili, into governance. Although attitudes towards these people are diverse, their good qualities are credit to the eye of the Egba man. Even Akinwunmi Adesina, Nigeria’s golden boy at the head of the African Development Bank was nominated by Obasanjo as minister of agriculture.
It was always said that Goodluck Jonathan had good intentions, despite the appalling bazaar of corruption that people in his administration engaged in. One cannot speak to his culpability in the massive looting in his administration, but the groundwork for many policies, including the Treasury Single Account (TSA), were laid before he left. President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has also made impact in agriculture and introduced policies that place the country on better footing than previous years. Although there have been missteps atimes, there is not enough to justify the sometimes potent hatred that has been cast at his person and the office since his election.
The point is that, in concentrating on being victims, we have gotten lost in the labyrinth of our problems, so much that we have missed the little victories and progress, in every administration, that could have been converted into success. Our so-called messiahs are similarly strapped into the same system of thoughtlessness that encourages short-term thinking and mediocre results. The populace has been conditioned for a life in mediocrity, where the victim mentality feeds the machine of corruption.
For context, high-handed troops of the Nigerian Army may be products of a military establishment that gives poor training, leading to over-reaction in the field. The poor campaign against Boko Haram in recent times may also be a result of the allowances afforded bad elements within government and military hierarchy to exploit the imperfect system we run, resulting in ill-equipped troops of low morale. That is not to say that the military has been completely ineffective. Nigerians may be more indebted to them than we realise, but we have to tackle the problems that limit success, instead of searching for messiahs.
We must not develop short memories to accommodate our yearning for a messiah in 2019. We must stop searching for the candidate with a magic wand, because there are none. The business of nation-building is a painstaking process of building and rebuilding, sometimes of trial and error, but always about peserverance.
This can be a good starting point for consideration ahead of the general elections, for caution in decision-making and short-term thinking. There is evidence of our affairs all around us, and history is replete with the antecedents of intending office holders. We must not develop short memories to accommodate our yearning for a messiah in 2019. We must stop searching for the candidate with a magic wand, because there are none. The business of nation-building is a painstaking process of building and rebuilding, sometimes of trial and error, but always about peserverance.
In the United States or the United Kingdom, there is a system that works, mostly independent of whoever occupies the White House or Number 10, Downing street. Of course, their decisions matter for business and other things, but the machine of state spins on, based on a foundation of efficiency that no doubt was painstakingly laid years before. If Nigerians wish to reach that level of efficiency, then we must act like participants in the project of development, instead of victims, and seek efficient systems instead of messiahs.
Government functionaries like Babatunde Fashola, former governor of Lagos State, are clear examples of how the system can constrict even the greatest talents. As minister of power, works and housing, he may have learnt that marshalling the affairs of a country of close to 200 million is no picnic. The opposition now ridicule him with past comments he made about fixing the power problem within a short time. The power of individuals in the mammoth that is Nigeria is exagerrated. We ought to be working towards developing a good system, rather than finding a messiah or playing victim.
Based on the evidence of many years, the writing on the wall is clear. There are no victims and no messiahs. We are products of the system we have allowed in Nigeria. We must seek to build a system that is stronger than any individual, and we must do so with our eyes open and our long-term thinking caps on. There is no short cut to development and efficiency, as every cog in the wheel must be accountable.
For comments, send SMS (only) to 08058354382.