by Pius Adesanmi
The “you” I am addressing in this essay does not include the in-too-deep spokespersons of the current state of Nigeria among us; those paracletes of power who are citizens of a country known as Stockholm Syndrome. They have fallen in love with the oppressor and the oppressor’s corruption, the oppressor and the oppressor’s lies, the oppressor and the oppressor’s incompetence, and will defend him even unto death. They trample on civic vigilance and responsibility and have become purveyors of automated apologia for the Nigerian establishment.
It is not enough for them to do these things unto themselves, they also consider it their sacred, patriotic mandate to do it unto others, and hence they drag their purulent minds into our public sphere every day, screaming from the rooftops in a frenzied attempt to manufacture consent for the current order in Nigeria.
You know them because they are daily polluters of our national conversations in social media and other spaces of discourse. They terrorize you daily with their pointless harangue, calling you unpatriotic haters of Nigeria. Always on automatic, ill-reflected mode, they have not encountered anything about Nigeria as she currently is that cannot be justified, rationalized, explained away, cut and sliced, sugar-crusted, and honey-coated. With citizens like them, we honestly don’t need corrupt rulers. No, these people are not included in my “you” today because they are not on the road to anywhere. They are already satisfied and content with where they are with their own version of Nigeria.
If you reject their version of Nigeria categorically, you are the one I am talking to in this essay. “You” belong in the ranks of the collective children of anger. You are on the road to you. You have a very clear idea of what and who are stopping you from reaching destination you. Who is stopping you? The answer, frankly, is the brood of vipers running Nigeria. What is stopping you? The answer, frankly, is Nigeria’s institutions of corporate existence.
We may say all we the fancy and lively things we love to say about the equal responsibility and guilt of the followership in creating the Nigerian morass. That is true but we must never forget that, ultimately, the buck stops with the leader and not the led. There are reasons for that but it is beyond the purview of this current treatise.
We know who is stopping you. We know what is stopping you from reaching destination you. We still need to address your greatest threat – that is the one threat that could derail you, get you off the road to you. That threat is satisfaction. That threat is contentment. The day you find satisfaction and contentment with the situation of things like the apologists of the current state of Nigeria, your journey to destination you will be aborted. Dissatisfaction is not a vice, it is the fuel that feeds your daily, patriotic struggle for the Nigeria of our collective dreams, the Nigeria that could be, if only the corrupt oppressor and his Stockholm Syndromed foot soldiers among us would let a fair and just Nigeria emerge for the benefit of all of us.
So, what is destination you? Who is this “you” that you could – and will – eventually become? You hear many silly things from the apologists and spokespersons of the system but what is the silliest thing you hear on the road to you? Explaining this involves a little excursion into history. You must be willing to make connections between things. The intellectual exercise of identifying dots and connecting them is not our forte in Nigeria and that, sadly, is why the oppressor is able to isolate events and fragment memory so that our people are permanently divided and never see the full picture.
Our first dot is in Canada where I reside but I want to connect it to other dots, historical dots, and ultimately link the entire process up with you on the road to you. That way, when you encounter the silliest thing that apologists of power say to you as you struggle for our country, you will know what to tell them.
A few weeks ago, I received this routine notice from the Environmental Health and Safety Office of Carleton University where I work:
“Due to the drastic change in the weather, which is causing very icy conditions on sidewalks and roadways, the Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) office is reminding members of the Carleton community to take the following precautions to prevent slips and falls:
– Take shorter steps and bending your knees slightly will reduce your chances of falling.
– Dress for the conditions. Ensure you are warm and visible to traffic.
– Wear footwear with slip-resistant soles.
– If sidewalks are impassible or there aren’t any, walk facing traffic as close as possible to the curb.
– Try not to carry heavy packages, which can affect your balance on slippery streets/sidewalks.
– Just because you have the right of way doesn’t mean that traffic will be able to stop in slippery conditions.
– Don’t step onto a crosswalk until traffic has stopped.
If you have questions, contact EHS at ext. 2269.
Your Carleton EHS Team”
This, of course, is routine for us here. What I want to do is to scratch beneath the surface of this regular hazard warning, discussing the vision of society which makes it mandatory for it to have been issued, and paying attention to the kind of “you” (members of the Carleton University community in this specific instance) at the centre of it all.
It all began in the 17th century with a French thinker called René Descartes. He is famous for many things, chief among which is the framing of a particular kind of subject, a particular kind of “you”. Today, many Nigerians who have gone to school are familiar with the statement, “I think, therefore I am”. Depending on your level of education, you even call it by its real name, cogito ergo sum. What is usually missing whenever I encounter Nigerians throwing this phrase around is an attempt to use it to explain why Western society and non-Western societies (Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Japan, South Korea) that have achieved a certain level of development function the way they do and why Nigeria functions the way she does.
With Descartes’s cogito (I think, therefore I am), the course of human civilization and development changed forever. The seeds of change that had been sown since the Renaissance acquired new vigour and vitality. A new subject, a new you, was born, the you that thinks and the you that is. There are numerous schools of thought over the weight and value of the cogito and there is no consensus over its import or even validity. Some ambitious interpretations even place it at the foundation of science as we know it today.
What is certain is that Descartes had intervened most powerfully in centuries of philosophical disquisition over the nature of doubt and certainty and the nature of being. The “you” in his phrase, that guy who thinks and therefore is, is the guy whose genius would go on to inflect human history with the powerful narratives we call Progress, Reason, Civilization, Logic, Modernity, Science and so on and so forth. It is this same guy, coming from Descartes, who gave us the Enlightenment in the 17thand 18th centuries.
The Enlightenment is too huge for the frame of this essay so you will have to go to Google and Wikipedia to educate yourself about it. I am just going to mention a few things about it insofar as they are relevant to this discussion.
Remember that the you invented and unleashed by Descartes is now the subject of and at the centre of narratives such as Progress, Reason, Civilization, Logic, Modernity, Science. The Enlightenment is the project that would give these narratives their most profound philosophical elaboration, empowering this rising subject, – the you – with a new sense of curiosity and knowledge that would enable him to even go to places like India, Jamaica, Kenya, South Africa, and colonize those places.
The Enlightenment is also the point at which the sacred, sovereign, and inviolable rights of this you became part of the grand narratives of Progress, Reason and Modernity. This is the point at which the welfare, well-being, and happiness of this you became part of the grand narratives of history. This is the point at which necessary institutions began to be thought of, debated, theorized, and invented to guarantee the rights of this you, his welfare, his right to life, and the pursuit of happiness.
By the time this you travelled from Descartes to the Enlightenment and to the core ideas inherent in the pursuit of happiness, you can begin to see the outlines of the modern nation-state as we know her today. She and her institutions are also all products of the Enlightenment. The idea is that she is the best guarantor of the narratives that the Cartesian subject invented via the Enlightenment. It is from Descartes, the Enlightenment, and what came after that the idea that the state must guarantee the welfare, happiness, and well-being of you, the subject, came to acquire the aura of a sacred credo. Even the pleasure of this subject – you – entered into the picture. In essence, the state and her institutions exist because you are, at least here in the West and other societies that have successfully appropriated that model of being and vision of humanity.
The sovereignty of the subject, his welfare and wellbeing, his happiness and pleasure, explains why Carleton University issued that winter hazard warning above, almost taking things to the point of explaining which shoes to wear. Something as simple as a Carleton notice come from a long tradition and vision of society and her institutions as guarantors of the wellbeing of you.
If you think this is almost ridiculous, go to the United States and see the kind of lawsuits that could flood in against the state and her institutions, cities, counties, etc, whenever there is an infringement on any of the principles of the welfare, wellbeing, and happiness of the subject. These things are so commonplace that people do not always realize that they are part of an ethos of subjecthood that travelled a long road down to us from the Enlightenment.
I explained earlier that even science is part of these narratives. Science does not function ex nihilo; invention does not flow without responding to certain ethos. The greatest ethos that human history and civilization got from Descartes and Enlightenment thought is the making sovereign of the right of the citizen to his welfare, wellbeing, pleasure, and leisure. These must be guaranteed on a level playing field by the state and her institutions. If it is deemed that inability to browse at 35, 000 feet is taking away from the individual’s pleasure and leisure, science responds to that stimulus. In essence, science goes in to make amends wherever the fundamental principles and ethos of the Enlightenment signal a reduction in the welfare, wellbeing, and pleasure of you.
In Nigeria, you are on the road to this kind of you. I mean the you for whom the state and her institutions exist; the you for whom they work tirelessly; the you whose security, welfare, and happiness is why Nigeria exists. You understand that something is wrong when a single American, French, Israeli, Japanese, British or German citizen comes to harm somewhere and the entire state is nearly grounded whereas Somalian pirates grabbed a Nigerian tugboat on August 4, 2008, and held the boat and her Nigerian crew hostage for 302 days without anybody lifting a finger in Abuja. I guess the pirates released the Nigerians when it became clear to them that the Nigerian has zero hostage value because he or she is not at the centre of the preoccupations of the Nigerian state. It is poor economic calculation to take a Nigerian hostage in international circumstances for you must feed the hostage as the Somalians discovered. If you call to report to a Nigerian Embassy that a Nigerian is in distress, they may sue you for abuse of telephone. This is because the Nigerian is not yet a you whose subjecthood is guaranteed by the legacy of the Enlightenment. Even in the 21st century!
In essence, you are a legitimate child of anger today because Nigeria and her institutions are not even at the beginning of the Enlightenment project which would transform you to a you for whom the state exists and works whereas Western society has been honing the Enlightenment project since its inception, making it work better for the individual.
You are on the road to this you. You are fighting for it daily in your various spheres and stations in life. In social media, you are an army of fighters. You are on the road to you. This is the point at which you often hear the silliest thing from those who aren’t on any road because they defend Nigeria as is, rationalize, her, excuse her, justify her. They call you unpatriotic. In some of their more infantile rants, they call you a hater of Nigeria. Then they tell you that Rome was not built in a day. They tell you that it took one Western country 200 years to get to where she is; they tell you that it took another Western country 300 years to get to where she is; they tell you that Nigeria is making progress little by little, gradually, and you ought to be grateful for every modicum of progress and praise every simulacrum of development from the rooftops.
On and on they go, the self-described patriots, self-appointed Stockholm Syndromed defenders of the status quo. One bla here, one bla there, another bla here, and yet another bla there. Bla bla bla all day long on social media, doing the work of Reno Omokri, Reuben Abati, and Doyin Okupe for them. At least those ones are paid to sell puff and powder to the people but what about the army of content and satisfied patriots they instrumentalize in their own oppression?
Anyway, I have said that we need not worry about those people here. What I am interested in is the non-answers I encounter whenever they dredge up the canard about Nigerian needing 200 years to get out of the woods.
Yes, that is the silliest thing you, the genuine patriot struggling for Nigeria, hear from the apologists of the system on the road to you. They say a lot of silly things but that is by far the silliest you hear from them.
But you, the genuine patriot, have never given them satisfactory answers either. It is not enough to swat them like flies as you always do (I must admit they deserve swatting for they can be a distraction from the tasks at hand). What you need to do, if you are inclined to indulge their mischievous ignorance, is to patiently explain the temporal malleability of the gains of the Enlightenment to them.
You see, they are claiming that Nigeria needs to travel 200 years, like Euro-America, to the postmodernity of the present only because they have not read nearly enough books and, therefore, cannot see why Japan, Singapore, Dubai, South Korea, Brazil, etc, did not need to spend 200 years playing catch-up, rationalizing mediocrity, and deceiving themselves that Rome was not built in a day, before catching up with the West and, in some cases, surpassing her in the race to making postmodernity work for the welfare and wellbeing of the citizen.
When they start their silly singsong about the 200 years we need to “get there”, show them a picture of the city-state of Dubai in the 1950s-1960s and ask them how a non-descript, scraggy desert location “got there” in about fifty years. They will not be able to explain this because they lack the requisite knowledge. They are automatons programmed to defend Nigeria as is without serious reflection.
From Japan to Singapore via Dubai and South Korea, once folks understood that the Enlightenment and her ethos were the powerhouse of modes of society we loosely bring under the canopy of “modernity” in the West, the first thing they did was to come to an assessment of the fact that even in Europe, countries did not begin the race to the Enlightenment and modernity at exactly the same time. However, passengers who joined the train later did not excuse their tardiness or decree that that had to replicate the timeline of those already on the train.
The reason for this is simple: as a body of work and as ethos; as a vision of society; as a handbook for statehood and her institutions, the Enlightenment is infinitely trans-temporal. The work is already done and the application need not take exactly the same time and the same routes in all societies boarding that particular train.
Once they understood this trans-temporal malleability of the gains of the Enlightenment – i.e, we do not need two hundred years to learn that the state and her institutions need to exist for the safety, security, and welfare of the citizen – the next thing next thing that non-Western boarders of the train of modernity did in the 20th century was a methodical preening of that body of work to see where particular gains and institutions of modernity could blend with and complement extant ethos and institutions in their own culture and history. Japan, South Korea, and Dubai did not need to re-invent the wheel by spending 200 years producing Enlightenment thought; they did not have to reinvent Descartes. You join the train, apply the gains, and remain true to the spirit and essence of your own peoplehood.
Therefore, what you see in the Malls of Dubai, the gloss of Tokyo and Seoul, is domesticated modernity at work, along with its enabling institutions and ethos. That is why nobody in Dubai or Tokyo or Seoul is saying that to arrive at the kind of modern mass transit trains we see in the West, we must first start with refurbished locomotives recuperated from post-World War II European junkyards, make them cover Lagos-Kano in 30 hours, and gradually work our way to the 21st century from there. Honestly, it is plain stupid to sell these kinds of arguments to the Nigerian people.
To you, genuinely patriotic Nigerians on the road to you, I salute you for the mileage you have covered thus far. I salute your patience and courage. I salute your ability to hear and deal constantly with silly things coming from the system’s apologists. I encourage your struggle. Never allow those who are content with the status quo, career justifiers of mediocrity, lifetime rationalizers of gradualism, eternal excusers of traffic snail-paced development and go-slow progress; never allow these people to sell you satisfaction and contentment. You will get off the road to you if you allow these dangerous compatriots to distract you with what they are selling. There is nothing about Nigeria as is that should inspire satisfaction and contentment. Your credo, every waking day, should be: yes, we are dissatisfied and we know that we do not need two hundred years to arrive at a Nigeria that works for all of us.
You, Nigerians on the road to you, must tell them: away with your silly talk about Rome not being built in a day! Where was Rome when, with one stroke of the pen and in a matter of seconds – not even a day – you approved billions of Naira for a bogus First Ladies’ mission house? Where was Rome when, with one stroke of the pen and in a matter of seconds – not even a day – you approved funds for a bogus new residence for the Vice-President? Apply these funds and other funds you spend irresponsibly on frivolities and bacchanalia to hyper-modern trains and your people will not spend 30 hours travelling from Lagos to Kano like John Pepper Clark’s Fulani cattle. Your corruption is my problem, not Rome.
And there is a lot of things you could stop doing today that would make Nigeria begin to work for all of us kia kia. Do you really need 200 years to gradually stop going to German hospitals? Do you really need 200 years to gradually stop sending your kids to Euro-American and Ghanaian Universities because you destroyed our own Universities? Do you really need two hundred years to reduce the stratospheric annual feeding budget in the Presidency? Cut your feeding budget today, reduce the bloated cost of governance today and you won’t need to send your people to ancient Rome with the mandate to make their way gradually to the 21st century from there.
To you, Nigerian, on the road to you I say, in the eternal words of Tai Solarin, “may your road be rough” but may you reach destination you.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Pius Adesanmi