The other Nigeria we have created
By Samuel Akinnuga
I present to my readers the views of a 25 year old young man I am very proud of and a former student of ours in Redeemer’s University, Ede and president of the students union in his graduating year.
No better time exists, to tell the truth than in a moment where silence in the face of glaring injustice is a politically correct choice. This moment is one of such times. If Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive, he would have considered it appropriate to rephrase his statement about dark moments and bright stars, particularly in the context of the realities in our country. It was he who declared, and quite profoundly so, that “only when it’s darkest can we see the stars.” And this statement bears far-reaching significance. Darkness is symbolic, often a metaphor for a period of distress and despondency. On a bright note, it represents the calm after the storm and so there is the urge to keep hope alive with the expectation that a glimmer would be sighted at the end of the tunnel. Would MLK be as bold to make the same declaration in a time as this when every bit of sanity is drained from anyone who is so emotionally attached to the dismal state of affairs in the country?
These times are dark, and with all that has happened recently, one is frustrated enough to think that there is a fault in our stars. From all indications, everything that can go wrong has gone wrong. We are gradually becoming inured to accepting an anomaly as the norm. People can just be whisked away; students from their schools, travellers on their way, and nothing will happen. These days, no one is really shocked that a kidnapping happened. It’s sad news but no one is shocked. What comes as a shock is something different. One, the number of victims involved each time, details we are mostly unsure about. Two, the nature of ‘negotiations’ with the kidnappers, bandits, or whatever we choose to call them, details of which are utterly ridiculous from what we are made to believe.
In between the kidnapping and the ‘releasing’ or the ‘rescuing’, we don’t miss the trail of statements with a huge tact-sensitivity deficit left by those who appear to defend the aberration rather than bolster confidence in the body politic that public safety is being sought as a matter of critical national priority. We have somehow adopted the uncanny habit of justifying madness and stifling patriotic passions. We have become so adept at misdirecting state force, misplacing national priorities, and majoring in minors. We have simply developed the unbridled penchant for missing the mark.
There is no denying that these are not the best times for our country further worsened by rising anxieties and tensions. You’ll be practically frustrated at almost every noble effort to eke out a decent life while some misguided elements who have continuously unleashed terror on vulnerable Nigerians have continued to enjoy government attention, unabatedly. Nobody needs to tell anybody that the crisis playing out before us is a most unhappy culmination of the years we paid lip service to the ideals of fairness, equity, and social justice; a society where some are more equal than others; a society where a criminal is called by a more dignifying name because, in the words of some people who should know better, that criminal is being ‘marginalised’.
Are we now supposed to accept this ‘marginalisation’ as a pardonable justification for the killings of innocent people in a country that has laws and leaders? That would be unfortunate. We now defend criminals and hound those who speak truth to power. We negotiate with criminals and come hard on those with genuine grievances, and who go about expressing such grievances peacefully. This writer has lost count of attempts by the powers that be to shut the mouths of those who have dared to be critical of the government. This is sadly often the case with many others with whom it seems those in government have scores to settle.
With every passing day, we lose the credence to lay claim to being a sane democratic society. What kind of society is ours, where people are suddenly treated as criminals when they speak against the obvious failures to deliver on the most basic expectation of every government? The other day in Lagos, some young Nigerians were practically submitted to suffer indignities for choosing to demonstrate within the constitutionally-guaranteed limits. That show of force was patently misplaced and most unfortunate. If we approached the insecurity crisis and many other failings in the country with the level of determination we deploy to intimidate citizens, we would have recorded outstanding gains.
A society where the vulnerable are victimised and criminal elements justified is not headed for a good place. Worse still, the posture of the leadership, and particularly the president, in the bigger scheme of things, has been largely untidy. No one seems to know what we’re doing or how we’re going to get things done. There’s really no sense of direction and we honestly can’t keep making excuses for below-par leadership in a most critical time like this. The consequence is that many Nigerians, obviously helpless, have resorted to ‘carrying their cross.’ The ‘cross’, for most Nigerians, is simply not to have any decent expectation from the political leadership while they are routinely exposed to uncertain degrees of harm by criminals as they go about their daily lives.
The sense of duty of most has become so blunted by affiliations to political actors, aspirations, and tendencies rather than a commitment to the cause of the country. And by all indications, this trend would not be reversed in any short time to come. The general state of affairs in the country, with the insecurity crisis being an awry watershed, begs for a renewed, honest reflection on the situation of Nigeria. It is becoming increasingly clear that we have two ‘Nigerias’. The first is a Nigeria created of the political class for the political class; a Nigeria where all is well as long as political interests are protected; a Nigeria where the welfare of the masses of Nigerians doesn’t matter as much as the pockets of the political class; and one in which the body language of the person in power is more pervasive than the patriotic deference to the spirit and letter of the constitution.
And there’s the other Nigeria where the overwhelming majority of Nigerians find themselves. A country where ethnic affiliations are more relevant than credentials of competence; a country in which the lives of most are in the hands of God rather than in social institutions that work; a country where citizens are constantly subjected to economic, ethnic and religious tensions stirred by an unpatriotic bunch to advance a deleterious agenda. The other Nigeria is the one that has made living a nightmare for those with no means, where poverty, illiteracy, and deprivation are the only things many have known all their lives. Not necessarily by these names but by the unmistakable manifestation of these maladies on their lives and livelihoods. The other Nigeria is the one in which you must know someone to stand a chance of becoming something. It’s been said too many times that who you know is far more important than what you know. That is the other Nigeria. The other Nigeria is sadly the place where the principles of social justice and fairness are alien concepts in reality. And as long as the other Nigeria is the only one majority of Nigerians would continue to know, we should jettison the idea that things will get better. They will not. And this is the sad reality of a Nigeria we have created.
Ours is a nation in dire need of salvaging. Anyone who is anything has said something about the ugly state of affairs. Any attempt to gloss over the issues or look for quick fixes without a deeper look at the big picture would amount to a waste of time and other resources expended. The nation’s best chance of ‘bright stars’ lies in its investment in the younger population. There’s got to be a marked departure from the usual shabby disposition to youth empowerment and the joke we’ve made of constituency project like we are doing the people a favour. We need to activate a public-spirited commitment to a Nigeria where unity and faith, peace and progress are not merely symbolic good-to-haves.
May we find the courage to save this country from the brink. And may God bless this republic.