The Truth Be Told
As we mark Democracy Day today in honour of the struggle for the botched 3rd Republic, we remember the winners of the elections (the duo of MKO Abiola and Baba Gana Kingibe) - human beings with their own weaknesses and imperfections but together perhaps achieving something unprecedented in Nigeria’s history.
The annulment of the election was sad on many counts, but the worst was the fact that before June 12 and after, June 12, politics in Nigeria was always driven by ethnicity and religion. On June 12, Nigerians from across the country voted for what looked like the ethnically and religiously incorrect duo - Two Muslims in a country whose politics has always been about balancing Christianity and Islam. It is against this backdrop that I think we all need to do some soul-searching and deep #criticalsocialthinking - The Truth Be Told!...
One thing that is abundantly clear to all forward-thinking Nigerians today is that to create the Nigeria of our dreams we need to break away from some of the ideas and practices that constitute the conventional wisdom that has kept us in this mess for a very long time. Nigerians need to hear the truth, and this truth has to be spoken by its political leaders, interrogated by the people and used to spark the renewal and rejuvenation of our broken hearts and minds. Unfortunately, rather than talk about these inconvenient truths, our politrikcians continue to sow seeds through their words and utterances that represent the old entrenched way of thinking that leaves the majority of the country morally and economically impoverished, and the political class towering above us. So, what are these truths, why are they so important and what difference will they make in renewing our country?
I will like to start with one that is perhaps at the heart of everything that is wrong with Nigeria. We have thoroughly failed to accept that all human beings are created by God, equally – that God has no favourites based on race, ethnicity, or religion, and that in the words of Abraham Lincoln, rather than being obsessed with the fact that each group believes that God is on their side, we should all be concerned about the extent to which we are on God’s side (doing God’s will). Religion plays a very important role in our country and there is no better place to start than there. Adherents of the major religions in Nigeria – Islam and Christianity need to be aware of this truth, and actually be more concerned with doing God’s will rather than trying to out-do each other. The truth is that both religions are evangelical, i.e. seeking converts is part of their spiritual duties. The truth I have come to see is that true conversion is deeper than just having nominal adherents and followers, but lies in a deeper spirituality, which is clearly lacking in Nigeria. Our practice of these two divine religions have no doubt fallen short and failed. If they haven’t, then Nigeria should not be in its sad and decadent state. The reason is simple – we have neglected the core messages of our faiths and are too busy posturing and trying to out-do each other as God’s favourites (having God on our sides). Whereas, what we should all be concerned with is being on God’s side (through a deeper sense of spirituality and actions that reflect this spirituality).
Closely related to religion is ethnic bigotry, ethnic nationalism and the practice of Ethnoism in Nigeria. Having a sense of pride of one’s tradition and culture is not a bad thing. In fact, it must be encouraged. It creates a sense of belonging and community that gives people balance and stability. Many people believe that it is the lack of such strong culture that is the bane of the African-American community in the United States today. So, let’s take pride in our ethnic background, but we must draw the line between that and the common practices of ethnic bigotry and nepotism (discrimination based on ethnicity); ethnic nationalism (promotion of one’s ethnic agenda ahead of the larger common good); and Ethnoism (the constitutionalized system for the allocation of national resources based on ethnicity – quotas, Federal Character, etc). These three things are wrong, and as a political leader, I stand strongly against them. If we had more political leaders sincerely engaging on these issues, we will make more progress as a nation. Rather, in their public and private utterances, they betray their deep ethnic biases, and they even use these biases to promote their political agenda and aspirations, pitching one group against the other.
Another wholesome truth that needs to be told is that Nigeria’s leaders have completely failed us and that the practice of leadership needs to be re-examined in our country. We have a warped sense of the principal-agent relationship that should exist between leaders and their people and this has been created and exacerbated by our legacy of slavery (perpetuated by our leaders themselves); colonialism (that occurred because of leaders were weak); and militarism (that was the result of our failed early attempts at democracy). This is why Nigerians still believe and act like we are in shackles, afraid to speak up, act, take responsibility - leaving politics and governance to a handful of oppressors reminiscent of the slave merchant-princes; colonial masters and military dictators. We haven’t really accepted DEMOCRATIC values and the people in power prefer it that way so that they can continue to undermine our freedom and wreak havoc on us while lining their pockets and bank accounts. A new breed of political leaders needs to emerge and start to engage Nigerians about these failures and demonstrate how they will be different from this cabal. The problem is that devastated by this legacy, Nigerians are very circumspect and cynical, that they will actually stick with the “devils” they know that tell them the same lies each electoral cycle, than the “angels” they do not know who will come preaching a new message. May God help us!
There is a basis for Nigerian unity – do not be fooled by those who tell us about our colonial history and how we were merely put together as a contraption of colonial convenience, and therefore the basis for our unity does not exist. There are many examples of countries all over the world who evolved through conquest, colonialism and their own choice from hitherto heterogenous groups to form one homogenous society. They have and have had their challenges but have learned to focus on the basis of their unity rather than on the things that divide them. Thankfully, after 58 years of mostly inept political leadership that has come from every corner of the country, there is a basis for our unity – it is our collective deprivation and suffering that does not discriminate or leave any part of the country un-touched. For those who claim that certain sections of the country have had more access to political power to the detriment of others, I will not argue with the arithmetic of your calculations, but I will only pose two questions: 1) Are those parts of the country any more developed or prosperous than the parts of the country that have been under-represented in political leadership? Do they have better education, roads, hospitals, power or water supply? My second question will be: In the last 20 years of democratic rule, have your local communities been “ruled” by these people, or is it not your own sons and daughters that have been Governors, Commissioners and Local Government Chairmen in your States? Isn’t it your own people at your local levels that have failed you? In the words of American author John Maxwell, let us find the 1% that unites us and give it 100% of our effort, rather than hold on to the 99% that separates us.
Corruption is no doubt the canker-worm that is destroying our country each day. This truth is incontestable, but what very few people understand and appreciate is the root-cause of corruption, its actual cost to society and the alternatives to corruption that exist. The inconvenient truth is that most of us are either neck-deep in perpetuating or benefiting from corruption while those who are not yet are hoping and praying fervently and, in some cases, working assiduously to begin to drink from the cup of corruption a la “dividends of democracy”, “stomach infrastructure” or “share of the national cake”. The real source of corruption is indiscipline, evidenced in our sanitary habits, traffic habits, work ethic, time-management, and everything we describe today as the Nigerian Factor. We will never win the battle against corruption if we the ordinary people inspired by our leaders are not willing to stamp out the indiscipline and expectations of the Nigerian Factor. Also, leaders and the people of this country need to have more conversations about the cost of corruption. So, next time someone is appointed to high public office in your faith or social community and the person suddenly becomes wealthy enough to throw large amounts of money to solve your community’s problems – BEWARE! Or next time a politician comes around with lots of cash and inducements – PROBE! It is most likely that their ill-gotten wealth has deprived you of the good social amenities that you deserve, and their cheap inducements are a bribe for your soul and the soul of our nation. Finally, corruption does have an alternative. It’s well-planned work, creativity and innovation and strategic thinking to do things in a differentiated manner and create value for society. There is more than enough means to achieve our material prosperity without recourse to acts of corruption. Unfortunately, many Nigerians are so used to “egunje” that it has become the new norm. Unfortunately, even those who posture as anti-corruption Czars have failed to put even a dent on this problem because they have taken a more “wholesale” approach by prosecuting a few cases of grand corruption among their political opponents, ignoring the indiscipline that exists at the “retail” level that eventually bubbles up into grand-corruption and most importantly failing to cleanse their own Augean stables of corruption and educate the populace about the alternatives that exist to these corrupt behaviours.
Overall, these basic truths on religion, ethnicity, unity, leadership and corruption need to be told across the land. We cannot make progress until we embrace these truths and forge ahead on some common ground. An easy response is that we need to re-structure the country. Well, Nigeria has been restructured several times in the past – politically, socially and economically, but one area of restructuring that has never taken root is the restructuring of the hearts and minds of Nigerians. This is the agenda we must pursue, because without it, any arithmetical configuration that we do will still end up hurting and disenfranchising one group or the other. With restructured hearts and minds, we can work together to create a structure that we will all be proud of and support. #Let’s GetInvolved