Making Peace With Nigeria, By Kenneth Amaeshi
…the lesson for me here is that sometimes some people can find meaning through oddities. In my own case, I have bracketed Nigeria, as a mere geographic expression. I do not find the current socially constructed dominant nationhood narrative inspiring, at least for now. I have come to accept we should not be victims of colonialism.
To say Nigeria is a convoluted place is to be very mild. It is an extreme mixture of many odd things: charming friendliness, promising entrepreneurship, happiness in poverty, crude ethnic politics, fanatic religiosity, and mind-boggling criminality. No one can ask for more oddity. If you take the words of Awolowo seriously, you will fast come to the view that Nigeria is a mere geographic expression – a diverse group of people loosely hanging on to a precarious thread of national unity; and therein lies the danger.
Despite this oddity, some individuals still have a firm belief that Nigeria would one day become a great nation and country. As much as I salute their belief, I find it extremely curious at the same time. I often wonder what gives them this rare insight or where they draw the inspirations from. Thinking more about it, I suspect it could be their own way of making peace with Nigeria. There is nothing wrong with that. We make sense of the world in different ways.
Between 2008 and 2015, I was attracted to finding solutions to Nigeria’s many problems in my own little way. Shortly after my PhD at the University of Warwick in 2007, I participated in the Nigerian Leadership Initiative (NLI) programme, modelled after the Aspen Institute Leadership Programme. NLI was for young Nigerians with leadership potentials. It was a way to socialise them to think of Nigeria and be the change they want to see. A fantastic initiative started by Mr. Segun Aganga – long before he became the minister of Trade and Investments in President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. The programme seems to have yielded some good fruits.
In my NLI class, for example, we had colleagues like Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, the former director-general of the Pension Commission (PenCom); Hadiza Bala Usman, the managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA); Solape Agagu Hammond, the newly appointed special adviser to the Lagos State government on the Sustainable Development Goals, amongst other professionals who are today very successful in their chosen paths. We read inspiring texts and discussed philosophy. I particularly remember The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, a 1973 work of short philosophical fiction by American writer, Ursula K. Le Guin. At the end, I was further motivated to act.
However, in between, I thought one of the challenges of Nigerians is our collective inability to critique and question the status quo. We take our cultures, institutions, and practices for granted, as if they fell from the heavens. We do not question our political system; we do not question the type of capitalism we practice. We do not question our production and consumption patterns. It seems we are just walking through life as disempowered actors who are left to the whims and caprices of our inherited institutions and cultures. I strongly felt that something should be done to change this way of life and one way to do that is to change our mind-sets, because progressive change is often the product of deep ideas. As the saying goes, everything is born twice; first as an idea and then in reality.
Regionalism is about the regions that make up Nigeria. Instead of taking Nigeria as a whole, one can contribute to solving regional problems. Every region in Nigeria has its own fair of challenges. As they say, charity starts from home. I have found this strategy soothingly peaceful. I now spend more time thinking and acting for the South-East, South-South…
In response to this self-imposed challenge, I started the Thought Leadership Forum (TLF) with a former colleague and mentor – Mr. Kehinde Sogunle – the former commissioner of finance in Ogun State under Otunba Gbenga Daniel. TLF was an online discussion forum. We had Nigerians from every corner, religion, and profession. We discussed almost everything. We wrote. We talked. We fought. Unfortunately, it did not survive the weight of the 2015 elections. The rest is now history. However, the TLF experience changed my view of Nigeria and my expectations. It was a very enlightening and worthwhile experience.
One of the key lessons for me over this period was to always pause and listen. In doing so, I have unfortunately developed a paranoiac phobia for anyone or group of people who wear(s) the toga of “Nigeria at any cost” on their sleeves. Unfortunately, too, I no longer see Nigeria as a whole. The challenges of doing that are disempowering and numbing for me. The Nigerian problems are many. Where do you start? What can one do? The temptation of relapsing into learned helplessness is overwhelmingly alluring.
Nonetheless, hope is a virtue; and life without hope is as good as death. No wonder religion, as an elixir, is a booming business in Nigeria. I have mine too. I call it escapism through regionalism and globalism, as I shall explain in a minute.
Regionalism is about the regions that make up Nigeria. Instead of taking Nigeria as a whole, one can contribute to solving regional problems. Every region in Nigeria has its own fair of challenges. As they say, charity starts from home. I have found this strategy soothingly peaceful. I now spend more time thinking and acting for the South-East, South-South, and the Niger Delta. I think of how infrastructure could be developed in these regions. I think of security. I think of education and literacy. I think of entrepreneurship. I now encourage people to think homeward – wherever they see as home.
These thoughts do not necessarily exclude other Nigerians. They are also not antagonistic towards the outsider. They just reflect the desires of a man or woman trying to remove the plank in his or her eyes, first, so that he or she can see well to remove the log in others’ eyes. It has worked for me. At least, the challenge has reduced in complexity.
Deep down Africapitalism and at its core is what I call Africonsciousness – a form of awareness or consciousness that seeks to prioritise Africa’s interests above national and international incursions… This view of Africa helps me to rise above the artificial boundaries created by colonialism. It changes the narrative for me. It helps me to make peace with Nigeria…
Globalism, as a coping mechanism, is to see Nigeria in the world – especially in Africa. The more I travel in Africa, the more I see we are one people divided by the sad experience of colonialism. Whether in Lusaka, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, or Dakar, one feels at home. Africa is our home. This view of Africa is at the heart of the Africapitalism agenda, championed by Mr. Tony Elumelu. Africapitalism is the desire to solve Africa’s problems and meet her needs through responsible and society-aligned entrepreneurship.
Deep down Africapitalism and at its core is what I call Africonsciousness – a form of awareness or consciousness that seeks to prioritise Africa’s interests above national and international incursions. It sees Africa as one in many ways. A continent of human beings keen to improve their living standards and societies. This view of Africa helps me to rise above the artificial boundaries created by colonialism. It changes the narrative for me. It helps me to make peace with Nigeria in Africa and in the world.
Notwithstanding, the lesson for me here is that sometimes some people can find meaning through oddities. In my own case, I have bracketed Nigeria, as a mere geographic expression. I do not find the current socially constructed dominant nationhood narrative inspiring, at least for now. I have come to accept we should not be victims of colonialism. We should rather fashion a future we want with courage, and do that peacefully too.
That’s how I make peace with Nigeria these days! What’s your story?
Kenneth Amaeshi is a policy analyst and professor of business and sustainable development at the University of Edinburgh. He contributed this piece from Harare Zimbabwe. Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org (email) and @kenamaeshi (twitter)