by Ikemesit Effiong
If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal – Emma Goldman
“Our state is a captive state. The task first is to un-chain it”. These were the stark words of Abdul Mahmud, a regular Scoopinion writer for this platform and a man I respect, who granted me the intellectual pleasure of three hours of pure inspiration last Saturday morning.
During our conversation, we touched on many issues such as legal education, our experiences growing up in different parts of the country, our mutual dislike for Nigerian lecturers and Ibibio. Yes, he told me that he “sold his smattering Annang for akara”. He will have to explain that in more detail.
One issue however which occupied our minds and formed the centrality of our discourse was the disposition of the average politically conscious Nigerian. Needless to say, it was not a very delightful exercise.
It is my firm conviction that while an increasing proportion of young people are becoming more politically conscious, we are not necessarily politically smart. The depth of political understanding among our youth can best be described as shallow. In a lot of cases, it is non-existent.
This will be the first in a three part series I will call Political Intelligence 101. We will deal with the basics of political understanding. I will outline what I feel is a politically smart person’s arsenal, what consequences accompany our ignorance or appreciation of political issues. However, let us start with the mindset of a politically savvy citizen.
The average Nigerian in addressing matters of policy generally oscillates between bouts of intense optimism and hope, (Lord Lugard, the originator of the Nigeria project described it as “the Negro’s disposition to charm and go-luckiness”) and periods of sustained depression and disillusionment.
All of these exact a toll on the mind such that in striving to make an informed decision on government policy or general standards of governance, the Nigerian is overwhelmed with an overawing sense of paralysis and dismay.
A key indicator of this is evidenced by statements such as ‘I’m just tired of this country’ or ‘I don’t know what to say again’. One of my personal favorites is ‘Wonders shall never end in this country’ or one of its many variants.
This sense of exasperation foisted on us by fifty decades of subjugation and another fifty years of misrule, and in some cases, non-rule, has essentially bequeathed a legacy of defeatism with the effect of entrenching an inferiority complex in the vast majority of the populace. For example, the average Nigerian thinks very low of himself especially when he is in the company of his peers from other countries.
More than the PDP, more than the military establishment, more than the hordes of political hoodies and ghosts stalking the halls of our public institutions, this mentality deficit is our primary enemy and we must exorcise it if we must start seeing progress in our national life. It all starts with the hatred for and elimination of ignorance.
Ignorance is the bane of our social transformation. I see ignorance as the child of the past, the friend of today, and the enemy of the future. We cannot forge a new social contract if we do not radically transform the Nigerian mindset from one of need to one of relevance. We must strive to give and not receive only, to contribute and not acquire, to sacrifice and not grab. For me, that aspect of our mentality that says that we cannot die for our country must itself die if we are all going to live.
Also important to note is that we must hold our leaders more accountable. The penchant for some prominent emerging voices, especially on social media to trump and hype persons who have a questionable past must be strongly discouraged as it is undesirable for the health of our democracy.
The Nigerian political sphere has now evolved into something of a recycling plant where former military rulers and their civilian colleagues who acted in concert with them, reinvent themselves as crusaders for justice and social emancipation. We must ask questions of their antecedents.
I am of the firm conviction that anyone who has been in the upper echelons of leadership in this country over the last sixty years is not fit and proper to lead us anymore. Even the one who freely delivers tears in public to the delight of the cameras is not fit to be our President. It was during his tenure as military Head of State that Great Britain broke diplomatic relationship with Nigeria because a foreign spy agency acting on his request almost succeeded in smuggling a political opponent in a suitcase out of the U.K!
We sometimes suffer from a bout of political forgetfulness that is as annoying as it is unforgivable. We need to stop it. Dan Hind in his seminal work, ‘The Threat of Reason’ brilliantly said put it this way:
The first thing we must break is our conviction that someone far away knows what they are doing, and wishes us well. Such faith would be touching in a child. In a citizen, it is shameful.
It is a bad habit to redo things that have been proven to be patently unproductive. That is the definition of ignorance if not insanity. The fact that you have the phone numbers of your ward councilor, you attend all your constituency meetings and briefings and you’re in the inner cabal of some youth organization formed for a politician’s personal aggrandizement does not make you politically smart. You are not! Get the basics right.
It is time for us to encourage a culture of innovation in governance, active specialization and real citizen participation in public affairs and the entrenchment of meritocracy and achievement in national life.
Nnamdi Azikiwe once said, “Show the light and people will find the way”. I will do that next week when I outline the essential kit of a politically intelligent citizen.