Monday, 3 December 2012

Is Nigeria the Problem?

As another year comes to an end and the world continues to witness the many wondrous actions of her inhabitants, certain things have remained constant. 

The world still looks the other way as crises engulf Congo, Mail and Somalia (the other way being the Middle East). Barack Obama has ensured the Republican Party has been made to accept the errors of their ways, after they stubbornly stuck to the latest blueprints of the Tory and Labour parties in 'how not to choose a leader'. 

Putin still has an iron grip on Russia, the Politburo do same in China. North Korea still has a comical buffoon in charge (albeit a much younger and chubbier version), Brazil and India are still on course to justify their 'nations to watch' statuses, and yes, the answer to Nigeria's perennial  problems is still blowing in the wind.

I must apologise, but due to my inherently narrow-minded and selfish instincts, only one of those issues has any resonance with me and as such, I would like to unapologetically move on to the crux of this piece. So, to paraphrase a song from that ubiquitous film from my childhood; how do you solve a problem like (Maria) Nigeria?

Clearly, this has been a conundrum for many greater minds than mine and if sheer effort invested in writing about the country's malaise, were a guarantee for the nation's progress, then our dear country would probably be on par economically, with any of the BRIC nations at the very least. 

That of course is one of the downsides of criticism - it does not always achieve what we crave for it to do. Not everyone reacts positively to it. In fact, in some extreme cases, it often exacerbates the unacceptable behaviour and a kind of ‘siege mentality’ style of government ensues. A leadership pattern reserved solely to a class of people who believe they have an almost divine right to dominate others, without question. 

Don't get me wrong, I am quite willing to have a Nigeria where there is a form of dictatorship, as long as it is steeped in benevolence....a country (not much unlike Putin's) where our rulers have a fierce nationalistic streak which means they push Nigeria forward, but may break the rules every now and then. 

Don't pretend you don't know what I mean...look at China. Opaque, repressive, but committed to an unassailable greatness.

The People's Congress will let you conduct your business and do all they can to provide security and a viable social terrain, just as long as you do not question their authority. It seems to work for them and judging by the amount of us who can't wait to jump on the first plane to Guangdong in search of the next big thing, it definitely suits us too.

Unlike when a foreigner plans a business trip to our country, a Nigerian going to China doesn’t have to review his or her Will, or place security at the forefront of their fears. The governments in Brazil, China and India have ensured (well, maybe not so much Brazil) foreigners are considerably safe in their countries. 

They have taken steps to guarantee constant supply of electricity, adequate security, relatively clean and non-violent surroundings. Basically, environments where business can be conducted in comparative peace. Not so in our so-called giant of Africa.

If you ask me, the systems of governance in place in countries like China, were not much different from the systems in place prior to the arrival of the colonialists in Nigeria. We spoke our own languages, worshiped our own gods and most of all, we had our own nation states. The difference of course, is that the Chinese have stuck to their identity and have made external influence, virtually impotent.

Before the advent colonialism, what we now call Nigeria was a collection of proud and subsisting societies. Fast forward to 2012 and tell me exactly what we have. 

National pride - zero, Cultural pride - zilch. Can somebody please tell me:

1. How highly can you rate a country where speaking a foreign language before your mother's tongue, is   considered a status symbol?

·    2. How seriously can you take a people who leave their shores and start to change the spelling of their names to fit into their new environment?

·    3. Are we victims of extreme assimilation or colonial mentality?

·    4. Finally, why are we the ones always changing to fit in?

Could it be most of us are acutely aware there really isn’t much to be proud of?

So, yes, I would favour a divine rewind which should at least guarantee a semblance of a worthy society. Say what you will about the Chinese and Russians, but at least their countries are not tittering on the abyss, nor are they somebody else's diplomatic bitch! 

Of course the irony in all this centres around the fact that unlike China and Russia, Nigeria in its current state, may have slipped past her expiry-date. Like a bumbling, senile patriarch burdened with the wear and tear of juggling 36 children, it appears the game is up. In most sane environments, the havoc wreaked by the 36 children should make Nigeria stop conception and more child birth. But, on the contrary, some regions clamour for creation of more states.

We have moved from the relatively proud spot of 'developing' nation and achieved in reverse, catapulting ourselves to the golden standard of 'underdeveloped,' with the wanton relish of a deranged and reckless prince who threw it all away. 

That recklessness, which ensured that in spite of a quarter of a trillion dollars in oil exports, Nigeria's leaders have somehow managed to fritter most away and keep the rest in spurious Western banks. Banks that then went on to do everything in their power, not to return the money to us when the illicit funds were tracked down. It beggars belief and this is why I believe that perhaps, it is time to start to rule Nigeria with a different approach. 

I remember a few years ago, Lauryn Hill of the celebrated band, the Fugees, released her debut album; a Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. It was a remarkable eclectic collection of styles and genres, laced with heavy social commentary and spiritual lyrics. I played it non-stop in my car for a few months and believe it or not, these three lines in the last track always stayed with me:

"I look around my environment
And wonder where the fire went
What happened to everything we used to be…"

They are poignant lyrics that continually invoke the sorry state of a country destined for greatness, but one that is now defiantly heading for mediocrity. So:

·         What happened to put Nigeria in perpetual reverse?
·         What happened to our purpose?
·         What is so defective in our DNA?
·         Why is chaos and anarchy our watchwords?

Well, a millions words detailing our ills have not changed anything, so perhaps we should concentrate on how to move forward. Yes, Mr So and So is responsible, and this and that have to be done. All of the verbal and written decibels ala Shakespeare has been full of sound and fury, unmistakably signifying nothing.

Our current system of government is evidently unfit for purpose. There is too much power in Abuja (in a few hands) and that centralisation means it is inevitable for people feel marginalised and out of the loop. What we have on ground today is an 'us and them' scenario where certain ethnic groups feel they are not genuine stakeholders in the idea of Nigeria.

In his much heralded book; "This House has fallen - Nigeria in Crisis," Karl Maier, that obsessive observer of Nigerian affairs concluded the following:

“One of the most eloquent arguments for redrawing Nigeria’s map to collapse the currently unworkable federation of thirty-six states into six powerful regions from an unlikely source: northern businessman. Their fundamental premise is that simplification would be more efficient; six regions would mean leaner, more efficient government. As long as you keep that structure going, you are going to have problems in Nigeria”.

Yes, Mr Maier is often seen to be prone to hyperbole, but I think he hit the nail on the head, on this one. Let the regions take care of each other's affairs. It is time for the autonomous region discussion. All the BRIC countries have it and like us, they possess many ethnic groups and endless resources, so the least we can do is use them as viable templates.

It cannot be worse than what currently subsists and admittedly, it will not stem the generational plundering of resources. But it will surely move us all closer to the various seats of power and induce our sense of involvement. An audit trail from Lagos to Ibadan is clearly easier to track than one from Onitsha to Abuja. 

If there are those amongst us, who are worried about the six-region idea leading to the end of Nigeria, please do not fret. I am aware there are some who propagate the break-up of the country, but I am not in that number. I don't want Nigeria to cease to exist. I am not suggesting any form of secession. We all live with the lingering effects of the last time that occurred - no one truly benefits in the end.

I have no fight with Nigeria as an entity. Clinically, as far as I am concerned it is a word that just distinguishes us from the guys in the Republic of Benin, Chad, Niger and Cameroun. In my opinion, we need to start seeing it as nothing more than that.

Maybe Maier is not completely right....maybe the house is not collapsed, but may I be allowed to announce that the house is definitely fragmented. 

Nigeria itself is the problem.

It may not go down well in some quarters, but it is time to accept we do not have the organisational capacity to handle Nigeria in its current form. It is too big to govern for our short-sighted way of doing things. 

We need to take off our cloak of self-denial, so we don’t end up like the derided family down the street, who harbour their carjacker son and tell their neighbours their child is a successful mechanic. 

To paraphrase the Yorubas of Western Nigeria; "the pungent smell is currently emanating from our own garments". 

In essence, we are the victims of a self-inflicted wound. More importantly, nobody is coming to save or deodorise us. We have to sit together, stink each other out and tell each other the grim facts. 

We are not a great nation. What we are is a potentially great nation. A nation that can lift itself if only it observes the first rule of conquering an addiction….we need to own up to it and say yes, we have a problem.

Our problem is not corruption or nepotism or Boko Haram - All great countries have similar niggling delinquencies. 

Our issue is not division or hatred or backwardness - We have all the resources beyond imagination, we have individuals universally recognised as leaders in their respectively fields, we have highly competent people backed with first-class education and social exposure. 

We have all the equipment to stop; breathe and reprogram our stuttering polity.

Our problem is Nigeria.

Can anyone really justify why we have so much political power at the centre? Federalism's strength is surely in the summation of its many parts. As noted earlier in this piece, China, Russia and even India have it. Are these not the countries we are trying to outstrip? 

Why can’t the Eastern, Western and Northern regions have their own Police Forces? Why do we have to rely on Abuja for every meaningful aspect of our lives? Why do we have to wait until the big boys in Abuja decide to repair the Lagos to Ibadan expressway, before we can sort it out ourselves? 

Granted, we are not going to resolve all our ills with a sole panacea - no other country does. The difference though, is they know how to manage a bad thing. They know how to break down responsibility and delegate power. The simple truth is; we are not at that point yet, but we can at least begin the conversation.

We can begin by admitting that maybe after all is said and done; Nigeria, in its current arrangement and state, may indeed be the problem.

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