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Monday, April 15, 2013

Nigeria: Same Country, Same Problems

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
George Santayana

In February, I went off Twitter briefly. I had seen my Twitter archive and wasn’t particularly impressed with some of the crap I had spouted since I joined the social network in 2009. However, I found something I had said earlier that caught my eye which I felt was still apt. In March 2011, I replied a tweet that was proposing that Nigeria went for the most experienced candidate standing in the 2011 Presidential elections (Muhammadu Buhari, in this case). Over two tweets I said “Rubbish. One of the reasons we’re yet to progress is ‘cos of this myth of experienced leaders.”

In 2009, I tried to get familiar with some of Fela’s music. I had been socialized into accepting his greatness and had read a couple of biographies but I sought a greater understanding of the man and his music and why someone like my father who is neutral on such issues was so passionate. One particular record ‘Army Arrangement’ stood out. As I listened, I was pretty sure I had heard him attacking Obasanjo and Yar’Adua. I replayed it to be sure I wasn’t hearing things and received confirmation. What stuck out to me was the fact that the record sounded very recent. The year before, after failing in his term elongation bid, Obasanjo had foisted on us from nowhere the very frail Umaru Yar’Adua as Presidential candidate, preferring him to the more popular candidates like the suave Donald Duke and the scheming Peter Odilli.

There’s a theory that goes round that Obasanjo went with Yar’Adua knowing that his ill health would leave him vulnerable thus allowing him maintain a stronghold on the seat of power. It is worth noting that the Yar’Adua who earned Abami Eda’s wrath was Umaru’s elder brother and Obasanjo’s deputy, Shehu and the song was performed during their first run at power in the late 70s. The fact that the same names spoken of during Fela’s hey days are still at the helm is surely proof that the notion of us having experienced leaders is a social construct. To underline how many years we’re talking about, my brother was born a few months before Fela died and he’ll be done with secondary school in a year. Surely, what we require are capable people regardless of whatever experience they might have had being allowed to determine how we move forward.  The ‘experienced leaders’ have had their go and theymissed. Yakubu!

Last summer, I read Chinua Achebe’s ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’ and it touched me in more ways than one. It showed me that the Fela incident was not an anomaly. On the other hand, it inspired me to write an essay collection along those lines, which God willing; I intend to see through over the next two years. Achebe’s collection was written in 1983 but a lot of the points raised are still salient in present day Nigeria. The third chapter of the book is titled ‘False Image of Ourselves’ where he used the binary opposition technique on quotes by Obasanjo (when he was Military Head of State) and the then German Chancellor, Helmudt Schmidt over a three month period. Schmidt said of Germany “Germany is not a world power; it does not wish to become a world power” whilst Obasanjo said of Nigeria “Nigeria will become one of the ten leading nations in the world by the end of the century”.  Achebe went on to write “the contrast between the two leaders speaks for itself- a sober almost self-deprecatory attitude on the one hand and a flamboyant, imaginary self-concept on the other hand…. One of the commonest manifestations of under development is among the ruling elite to live in a world of make-believe and unrealistic expectations”. Applying that to contemporary Nigeria, I would argue that Dora Akunyili’s rebranding attempt when Minister of Information under the aegis of ‘Nigeria: Great people, great nation’ proves this right. It’s not rocket science to figure that if a system is working, there is little wisdom in employing self delusion in a bid to increase one’s sense of self-worth.  I could also call on Goodluck Jonathan’s embarrassing debacle on CNN over the effectiveness of the electricity system. In Achebe’s recent ascension to his maker’s side, one of the feelings has been that his genius lay in the way he was able to touch on the psyche pervading society whilst capturing it in the simplest terms. A run through the titles of the chapters would convince you that we are a people still making the same mistakes today; Tribalism, Leadership (Nigerian Style), Patriotism, Social Injustice and the cult of Mediocrity, Indiscipline, Corruption, and The Igbo Problem.



Making the same mistakes serves as an indication that we have stood still. It suggests that by not rejecting the things which got us here in the first place, we have taken them on board as defining who we are. Obasanjo’s 1979 assertion smacks of a man suffering from delusions of grandeur and it is this lack of acceptance of where we are as a nation that detracts us from moving forward as we should. Instead of devising ways to attack the problems, we’re doing our best to deny their existence. It is time for us to accept the truth, realizing we are definitely not as great as we like to think. Let’s humble ourselves and engage in some self-searching. Then we may begin to take meaningful steps towards the famed Promised Land. Nicholas Okoye argues that “If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.” This suggests that we are culpable for this lack of evolution in the sense that by sitting back and watching, we have allowed this cancer to fester. My prayer is that we seek to become more proactive in our thinking and decision making. Don’t vote the candidate that claims to have the most experience if his political trail does not lead to a legacy of good governance.  We should use the ballot boxes to teach them a lesson. The 2015 elections are crucial and the onus is on us to seek the best hands possible to address these problems. It's time to start bucking these trends.

Published by the African Youth Journals


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