by Ikemesit Effiong
Man is so made that when anything fires his soul, impossibilities vanish
– Jean de la Fontaine
“What do you expect from the government?” is probably the most asked question in Nigerian history. You hear a version of it every day. And the answers are always the same. Good roads, stable and constant electricity, pipe-borne water, good schools, affordable housing, a vibrant and efficient civil service, sound institutions etcetera.
We are all familiar with this list. We hear it chorused on the radio and the television, in the market stall, on street sidewalks, in many an office conversation and more infamously as our experience shows, at political rallies. But there is a problem.
Should this be all that our government is about? Is that all we can demand from our leadership? Should the dividends of democracy that we all so desperately crave be restricted only to ephemerals?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that clamouring and demanding for these things are out of place. After all, democracy must not only be done but be seen to be done. However, I propose a radical thought – maybe not so to a few keen observers. We have consigned our politics to filling our shopping carts with goodies alone. We have whittled our definition of democracy – as a matter of fact of governance in its entirety – to the equation of ‘How many’ and ‘How much’ when it really should be about ‘How good’, ‘How well’ and ‘How should’.
As a collective, we have been afflicted by the amnesia of systems theory. We conveniently dust under the carpet the idea that we should be focused on the foundation, the structure, the backbone, the network – the processes of institutions, mores, values and inter-human connections that if operating in a state of optimum vitality, will guess what, produce things we so desire.
We scoff at the idea of a sovereign national conference because ‘resource control has not been dealt with’, ‘corruption is endemic in our national fabric’, ‘the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is in a condition where states are now propping it on life support’. Really?
I read four ground-breaking pieces this week. Feyi Fawehinmi and Godwin Ogedengbe reminded us that our national affliction is reducible in a zero sum situation to one thing – the politics of kin and numbers; Abdul Mahmud alerted our consciences to the disease that is creeping into the set of people whose job it is to ostensibly heal our diseased polity – the politics of interests and activism and Uche Briggs brilliantly made the case for the dropping of the thick logs of history and cultural definitions that have ensured that we under-utilise one of our greatest resources, our women – the politics of gender and equality.
When I speak about things like these, I get a now familiar response. Na that one we go chop?
Why this response is at the heart of our knee-jerk, stuttering and mistake-laden experience as a nation is that we fail to grasp the simple but timeless truth that ideas create and govern the world. The metaphysical must of necessity beget the physical. A great country, composed of great people begins with a great formula – composed out of the ashes of maturity and diplomacy; and clinically and ruthlessly implemented.
If we do not redefine the social configuration of Nigeria’s existence, if we do not recreate our social connections and relationships as a people, if we do not establish fail-proof mechanisms for engaging with the ghosts of our past, navigating the vicissitudes of our present and charting out the possibilities of our future, we will be enveloped by a poverty so great, a meltdown so unprecedented and a disappointment so overwhelming that there will be no other choice than to undo what Lugard did – setting the course for dis-amalgamation.
It would be a tragedy if ‘united we once stood, now divided we have fallen’ – and all because we set our eyes only on things. It is the mentality of things that fuels corruption. It is the mindset of things that makes one utter such a statement as ‘If anyone wants to frustrate ‘our’ brother who is the President (a blatant reference to a fellow tribesman), we will fight them’. It is the exaltation of things as a prime consideration that blankets our mind from criticism about our ‘comrades’ even when they are clearly in the wrong. It is the lust for things that says ‘Pray’ instead of ‘Act’. It is the self-interest that things encourage that makes a leader who was once a bastion of his people become the fulfilment of their worst nightmare.
It is the ignorance that is a fallout of ‘thing-ism’ that makes our leaders throw huge sums of money at a problem expecting the problem to willy-nilly evaporate.
Nigeria is suffering from an infrastructure deficit – no, not of the kind you normally would think – roads, schools, hospitals, ‘shoes’. We are suffering from a mental infrastructure deficit. The state of our national mindset is not oriented toward progress and development. Instead, it glamorizes the strife to be alive, survive and thrive even if it is on the backs and necks of our fellow men.
We have to build that infrastructure. No budget will solve it. No committee inauguration will ameliorate it. No bombastic and braggadocio filled speeches will call it into existence; it will only come by the simple resolve to make our country right and the daily grind that bring that desire to fruition.
We have to carve a new national culture, from scratch – because history will not excuse or exempt us when it did not do same for others.
– Follow this writer on Twitter @JudgeIyke