Thursday, July 8, 2021 12:02 am
By Chris Anyokwu
When we describe our dear country, Nigeria, as a nation, many of us might be blissfully ignorant of the fact that it is nothing close to that phenomenon. In the words of Ernest Renan, a nation “is therefore a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past, it is summarized, however in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation’s existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as an individual’s existence is a perpetual affirmation of life” (Renan, 1990, 19, italics added for emphasis).
Considered, therefore, in the light of this description of what really constitutes a nation, it would be wildly speculative at best to characterise Nigeria as a nation. In a word, Nigeria is NOT a nation, yet. Rather, Nigeria is a country or a state. Hence you have a Head of State or, most optimistically conceived, a nation-state. Whilst the nation in that hyphenated entity bespeaks the mass of the citizenry, the state refers to the political class who through some forms of coercive authority lord it over the largely servile, pliant and long-suffering nation. The nation-state, thus, is analogous to a ship which is controlled by a tiny device like a steering-wheel, in a manner of speaking.
So, semantically speaking, Nigeria being referred to as a nation is incorrect and, therefore, when people, including the most politically – cerebral and enlightened amongst us, refer to Nigeria as nation, they are attempting to will the country into a spurious status of nation as some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. But you cannot give what you do not possess. It’s wearisomely trite knowledge that Nigeria’s genesis as a political experiment created by colonialism/imperialism for administrative convenience has, indeed, condemned it to an eternity of fractious and fissiparous co-habitation. The fiercely-irreconcilable differences in terms of culture, religion, worldview, etc., among the constituent ethnicities known as Nigeria have made it practically impossible for Nigeria to be a nation qua nation.
On a lighter note, however, it is instructive to recall that the land mass geographically designated as Nigeria derived its name in an epiphanic trice of coital delirium a la Flora Shaw, Lord Frederick Lugard’s good-time girl. Could there be a genealogical curse on us arising from the country’s rather incontinent roots? Well, no matter. Naysayers as well as wrong-headed champions of invidious counter-arguments are welcomed to enter the affray to duel to the death over this innocuous supposition. There’s no point crying over spilt milk.
The British colonial masters have come and gone. They have left us to our devices. Sixty-odd years after independence, we have been on our own, running our life as a country, but we have made a huge mess of it all. Whether civilian administration or military regime, Nigeria has been the worse for wear as power-wielders/holders in every epoch have displayed all the qualities of feudalistic autocracy. Sadly, the most important ingredient in a democracy, i.e., leadership has been missing. This anomalous state of affairs has forced political observers, commentators and analysts to characterise Nigeria as a civilian autocracy and not a democracy even when we are under a civilian administration. This is so because, rather than build strong institutions that will endure as impregnable ballast against the egregious over-reach of unconscionable power, we have either by design or default built “Strong Men”. Thus what we have always had all through our political culture is the Big Man as president around whom everything revolves, including the two other arms of government, i.e., the legislature and the judiciary.
Such are the overarching powers of the office of the president under the Nigerian Constitution that he is the envy of every other president or Head of State around the world. Nigeria’s president wields such enormous powers as though he were next to God Almighty. Like a two-edged sword, these awesome powers of the office of the president can be put to both remedial and transformational use and, by the same token, as is usually the case, unfortunately, to extremely retrogressive use as well. The president can thus elect to be a statesman by leveraging the statutory rights and privileges of his office to lift his fellow citizens out of the doldrums or be a dye-in-the-wool dictator and plunge the country under his watch deeper and deeper into the morass of political auto-decapitation or national liquidation. Truth be told, there isn’t anything PMB is doing today that his predecessors didn’t do. The only difference is, perhaps, the scale and degree which is evidently greater coupled with the fact that the masses’ coping strategies are completely gone.
Nigeria’s president wields such enormous powers as though he were next to God Almighty. Like a two-edged sword, these awesome powers of the office of the president can be put to both remedial and transformational use and, by the same token, as is usually the case, unfortunately, to extremely retrogressive use as well.
The electorate has always been made to hold the short end of the stick. They have always been sold a pig-in-a-poke. Like yoyo, they are made to dangle between hope at election time and despair thereafter. In the intervening years between elections, the masses dissipate themselves spewing vituperations, venomous maledictions and swear-words at the powerful authors of their unending miseries and woes – the politicians.
Yet, like children cajoled and wheedled with cookies and candies, the people, amnesiac in nature, readily absolved their traducers of all blame in spite of the serial betrayal and shattering of their cherished hopes and aspirations. The same political actors are voted into power and the game goes on, ad nauseam. This has been the pattern right since independence in 1960. Now it’s sheer stupidity for us to try to fade our faults regarding our present predicament. Nigerians have never had it so bad? People have adduced a host of reasons for this. Some cite the growing influence or role of ethno-religious factor in the determination of political leadership, especially at the national level. Others say our glorification of mediocrity has done us in as a country. Cognate to this last factor is our aversion towards appropriately rewarding virtue and punishing vice. The popular belief in town is that Nigeria is good for bad people and bad, very bad for good people.
This perception of our skewed sense of value has spawned a massive social orientation towards criminality and recidivism, more so when those in power have never shown good example. Any wonder that we as a people have to cut corners, indulge in sharp practices and pooh-pooh hard-headed logic while favouring maudlin sentimentality? This celebration of mediocrity elevated to the level of national philosophy has given rise to a rash of pseudo-leaders and sybaritic lotharios, all self-serving “leaders” at every level of governance. Now, the chickens have come home to roost.
These fly-by-night pseudo-patriots should be reminded that they are no more Nigerian than the rest of us. All we are saying is: let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch. Translated: justice and equity must be enthroned in our public affairs and no one or no section of the federation must be made to feel marginalised or persecuted for whatever reason(s).
The culture of seeking public office just to feather your nest; to milk the people dry rather than put your body and soul into the onerous task of nation-building has finally caught up with us. Right now, it is practically impossible to point to one, just one person in public office, from top-to-bottom, whose heart beats with altruism, with empathic concern with the people’s welfare; with how to inaugurate real change in the way of doing government business. It’s all self, self, self! How do I become a multi-billionaire by carting away the treasury? This is the cargo mentality (apologies to Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born) of our ruling class. And this has remained the motive force of political leadership in our country. At present, Nigeria is burning; it’s bleeding, it is on life-support.
Hate speech rends the airwaves as ethnic champions, secessionists and anarchists are having a field-day sabre-rattling, threatening Apocalypse. From the north to the south, the southeast to the southwest, middle-belt to the south-south, it’s utter bedlam. It would seem everybody wants out. We recall that there used to be a group of highly respected Nigerian Elders drawn from the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria known as The Patriots. Where are those Wise Men now? How about the Nigerian Council of State whose main function is to advise the president on policy making, inter alia? Do they advise Mr. President at all? And what is the quality of their advice and how positively has their advice impacted the polity? Is it that they advise PMB, but he just doesn’t pay heed to their counsel? Is it too late in the day to reconstitute another pan-Nigerian group of patriots driven solely by the desperate desire to salvage Nigeria from the precipice? Where are the statesmen and women, retired military top-brass, respected traditional rulers, business moguls, academics, etc? This is the time to stand up and be counted; time to speak truth to power; to stand with the people in the fight for equity, justice and fair play. This is the time to rise above the divisive rhetoric of ethnic separatism, religious zealotry, and allied parochial considerations. We should all root for One Nigeria rather than fan the embers of sectarian hate and animosity. Justice is the first condition of humanity. If we enthrone justice, trumpeters of Balkanisation will fall silent. At bottom, what everybody wants or prefers is for us to stick together, one indivisible entity
However, merely mouthing anodyne shibboleths about “Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable” and such like inanities only betrays a shallow appreciation of the confounding complexities of the National Question. Such hypocritical genuflection at the altar of political correctness will not do. It’s an alt– right stance that’s bound to go awry, sooner than later. These fly-by-night pseudo-patriots should be reminded that they are no more Nigerian than the rest of us. All we are saying is: let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch. Translated: justice and equity must be enthroned in our public affairs and no one or no section of the federation must be made to feel marginalised or persecuted for whatever reason(s). Let the wielders and holders of power think Nigeria rather than their section of the country. Small is beautiful but big is strength. One love.
Chris Anyokwu, PhD, writes from University of Lagos.