by Ikemesit Effiong
A typical Malcolm Gladwell book is usually an inspiring expose on how the resources inherent in our preset social condition and circumstance can serve as the catalyst for change and a better tomorrow. Now, this is not a paid advertorial but Gladwell is really a master at expounding on obvious facts in not so obvious ways and showing the surprising connections between phenomena that, on the face of it, seem totally unrelated.
For example, do you know that there is a direct correlation between a nation’s culture and its air safety record? Or that Asians are generally better at math because of their unique language structure? Or to be an expert at anything, you must have done it for at least 10,000 hours? Surprised? Pick up a copy of his Outliers: The Story of Success and get ready for the journey of a lifetime.
I attempted something interesting this past week, I decided to peer into Nigeria’s present condition through the lenses of my idol and something interesting came up: Nigeria, our dear motherland is indeed set up for success. I will explain, don’t chew me alive, just follow me for a bit.
The first one would be the overwhelming domination of our political space by one party – the PDP. Now, in saner climes, that can actually translate into an advantage.
Singapore gained its independence in 1963 from the British and later, from a union with neighbouring Malaysia. From that time till date, it has been ruled by one party, the People’s Action Party or for short, the PAP (did you notice the irony?). Through the progressive policies of founding father Lee Kuan Yew – one of my personal political inspirations – and successors S.K. Nathan and Mr. Lee’s son, Lee Hsien Loong, the PAP, which has won every single general election in that tiny country’s history, has transformed Singapore from a poor, decrepit, backward colony looking more like pre-Independence Lagos and surrounded on every side by its enemies, to a modern, rich, technology hub with a high standard of living and a global financial powerhouse. There are only two places in the world which have more dollar millionaires than Singapore – New York and Hong Kong.
The only problem with Nigeria’s effective single party status is that it is the PDP that sits at the top of our nation’s political affairs. Its track record in governance is as sketchy as a 3-year-old’s painting. Its policy statements and utterances have the sound of a teenager grappling with the onset of menstruation. The PDP is in desperate need of reform or it stands the chance of being replaced at the apex of our political food chain by a yet to be determined opposition party.
Lame duck at best, paralysed at worst.
Another advantage of our system disguising as a disadvantage is the presence of a lame duck at best paralysed at worst legislature. If this is combined with a strong executive with a bold vision and sound morals, this could produce wonders for the country.
It’s sad that I’m celebrating the absence of a major check in the delicate balance of our nascent democracy but let us be honest. Nigerian legislatures from time memorial have been pliant, subservient extensions of the executive branch in charge at the material time – more like branches of a strong presidential stem. We simply do not have vibrant legislators willing to challenge the wisdom of the executive on issues that directly affect the people they represent.
Another analogy will help. A lot of people may not know this but China holds a particularly obscure record. It has the largest legislature by numbers in the world. Not a surprise for a country with a population comprising of one-sixth of humanity. Why didn’t you know this? That would be because they never argue with the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which is the Chinese equivalent of our Federal Executive Council. They simply rubber stamp executive initiatives and move on. And they rubber stamp a lot of things! The evidence is in the obsessively compulsive way in which China is rapidly developing into a monster of an economic superpower.
I once talked about Thomas L. Friedman’s prayer that America become ‘China for a day’ thus overcoming a lot of its political lethargy. You now understand what I mean.
Another plus for us is our unusually good habit of expressing ourselves as evident in the presence of a vibrant press complemented with an active, activist, some now say, virulent online army of bloggers and commentators, an equally stellar civil society and a long history of social activism – case in point the Aba Women’s Riot of 1929.
It is an especially important advantage because when you consider the abdication of our legislators in performing their civic and constitutional obligations, it seems like we are the best bet in ensuring that our single party system does procure some benefits for us.
This is in contrast with South Africa where Jacob Zuma’s almost religious obsession with muzzling the press in that country with legislation that smacks of an apartheid-style invasion of a constitutionally guaranteed right is slowly gaining some traction. We all know how we practically bended Obasanjo, Yar ‘Adua and eventually Jonathan to sign the Freedom of Information Bill into law. That’s real people power.
All this is enhanced by a very engaged and committed Diaspora. You’ll be surprised at how many Nigerian enclaves and groupings exist in the United States alone. The numbers are dizzying. We are third in the world only to the Chinese and Indians in sending remittances back home. There are an estimated ten million Nigerians in the Diaspora. The popular saying that there is no country in the world where there isn’t a Nigerian is true. The latest pop sensation in China is a certain Igbo Nigerian rapper simply known as Chike. We are not a dull species.
You may agree, disagree or just toss a wet towel in my face, but even in our present wilderness experience of a democracy, we do have all it takes to develop and be more prosperous.
And it has nothing to do with oil.