My Problem With Nigerians

To what shall I compare this generation? I sang a serenade and they did not dance; I played a dirge and they did not mourn. To an average Nigerian, the greatest problem of Nigeria is corruption. But what is corruption? On many blog sites and online newspapers hosted by Nigerians, it is not uncommon to read plenty of vulgarities by Nigerians when they express disagreement with a point of view.

And when such excoriating obscenities are spewed against a perceived enemy or adjudged sympathizers of those perceived enemies, the aggressor exudes a sense of entitlement, the very thing he, by his actions at least, implies the victim does not deserve. Surprisingly, not many Nigerians may accept that corruption in words is an indicator of the problem within. When a man offends in words and abuses, he is manifesting a hidden corruption of the mind, which could physically manifest at a global level with certain opportunities of trust that society or providence might thrust on their laps.

I have written about the need for purity of language in our politics; what about purity in our national discourse? It is no wonder that since Nigerians have been complaining of corruption it has just refused to go away, the simple reason being that our interpersonal relationships as Nigerians are generally corrupt. When we ignore the beam in our eye and magnify without end both imagined and genuine foibles, excesses, and what we consider as the sins of others, we are simply being hypocritical. The unfaithfulness, non-committal attitude, lack of collective responsibility and sense of volunteerism, and sectional bent common among Nigerians all give us away as a people that have a long way to go. We want change, but abhor it in our personal lives. We want to control others while we lack the power of personal positive example. We vent our anger through unbridled obscenities while we seek divine intervention. We “pray” so easily but the harvest is meagre. If I dip a hand in a basket of oranges a dozen times and bring up a dozen rotten oranges, the statistically reasonable conclusion is that I am presented with a basket of rotten oranges. It is just against the law of probability to register such consistent outcome for a random sample and yet conclude otherwise. It may be true though that there are some “good” oranges in that basket. If Nigeria has consistently produced corrupt leadership, then what can we say about the people? Let us not be betrayers in the backyard and yet ask for faithfulness in public office. What we want of others we must be.

What do we know about “good” leadership when by our actions and utterances we don’t seem to be able to identify a “good” leader, and are sworn to deny accomplishments of a leader just because there are two or three things about the person we dislike? Let me freely speak to you the Nigerian.  When President Obasanjo came on the scene in 1999, Nigerians hailed him, while some scorned him. Before he left office in 2007, he had freed Nigeria of her sovereign debts; ushered in an era of telecommunications revolution with attendant job creation; rehabilitated federal medical centres and teaching hospitals in the nation; embarked on the then largest electricity power project (the National Integrated Power Scheme) in the world and laid the foundation for the electricity power sector reform with the passage of the NESPR bill in March, 2005, which is still being seen through under the leadership of Professor Nnaji; saved about 20 billion USD in the Excess crude account and about 60 billion USD in our foreign reserves; established a credible fight against corruption with the setting up of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), whose founding chairman is being praised for fighting corruption (but Obasanjo is hardly mentioned by Nigerians as being the lynchpin for the success. Ribadu himself acknowledged that much at his presentation to the US Senate Financial Services committee on May 19, 2009); sought and gave free operating room to technocrats such as Ngozi Iweala, Charles Soludo, Oby Ezekwesili, Bode Augustos, Ifueko Omouigi, Nasir El-rufai, to mention a few, who excelled in their assignment. The banking reforms were initiated under his government. But Obasanjo is the most vilified by Nigerians of all their former heads of state! No president can do everything. Obasanjo did quite a lot for which Nigerians should be appreciative; but no, many Nigerians would rain invectives on someone who suggests even faintly that Obasanjo achieved something. Their hatred against the name Obasanjo is legendary. False allegations such as the one bandied about during the time of President Yar’Adua, that more than 10 billion USD was spent on the NIPSS with “nothing to show for it” were gleefully seized upon to further denigrate Obasanjo. The lie has been uncovered; now we know who was lying. Now we know who refused to spend a dime on the electricity power projects for eighteen months, yet declaring emergency in the power sector was a major theme of his campaign. And when he died, how Nigerians lied with their eulogies that could make someone wonder who they talked about! And while he lived, his failures were blamed on Obasanjo! Such has been our attitude as a people, and I have problem with this. We have hardly encouraged soldiers for a better society nor stood up to salute acts of good governance even if we disagreed with certain excesses. We paint with only one of two brushes—Corrupt labelling or non-corrupt labelling ones. We exercise short memories, crying for onions and cucumbers in the land of Egypt, while we accuse so confidently, but wrongly, the Moses that is leading us to the promised land. What it takes to obliterate the memory of our harsh experience under a pharaoh of our past is just the monotony of the stable meal of manna; and we start desiring for “change”, whatever change,  a change in diet even if in Egypt. While we have been in the wilderness for more than forty years, we all share in the blame. Truly, we are an enigma.

I have physically wept over Nigeria. I have written and called for Nigerian students to arise, knowing full well that there can be no positive change without a positive commitment of the youths, but my words have fallen on deaf ears. I have implored the Nigerian Labour Congress to stir up itself and lead the struggle for that Nigeria we desire, but I have been ignored. I have tried to create awareness and dared to convoke a rally for the purpose, but have been stopped without a whimper from any of the social power zones that I have copiously written about.  In all these, I have not asked any Nigerian to give me money. We view everything in the light of personal benefit. When a writer writes what we don’t like, we say he has “been bought” or is “seeking for attention from power.” I am sad that we have reduced ourselves to people that enjoy fault-finding more than reasoned discourse aimed at finding solutions to our problems.

If I fold my hands and jump into a den of hungry lions, no “prayer” would do to save me. No prayer shall redeem our nation if we don’t do our part cautiously and wisely, or if we tempt God. We must break up our fallow grounds. Let us reason together. Is our quarrel with political parties or individual politicians? Which political party that wields some governing influence can we trust? We must understand that with greater stake comes greater competition. We don’t need to be told about the struggles of the ruling party, the PDP. But is the ACN exempt? I should expect Nigerians that read to know about the struggles of the ACN in Lagos. I know the divisions within APGA, the problems with the ANPP and the collapse of the APP. Many of the political parties are never heard of until very close to election time. The problem is not political parties as we are wont to assert. If the problem is political parties, we should assume differences in basic ideologies of governance. I see no such etched ideologies. But I see some individual governors that take gove
rnance seriously as a trust to improve the quality of life of their people. Governors Amaechi (PDP), Mimiko (Labour), and Fashola (ACN) are doing well on the score and yet they represent different parties. I am not sure that if another party wins the presidency, it would, as a party, cope better than the PDP. We all are witnesses to the political marriage of convenience that Nigerian politics typifies. Until there is a purging of our politics, just changing political parties does not mean a lot.

This is what I am sure of. Politicians will only take what we allow them and give only what we extract from them. And what we can take from them or out of them is directly proportional to the squeeze we put on them. Good governance must be motivated from within or outside (self-motivation and not externally-induced). Not long ago, I saw on television a protest by Nigerians against a proposal by the national legislature to amend section 87 of the 2010 Electoral Act to make members of the national assembly members of NEC of their respective political parties. The national assembly was forced to submit. While this was going on, there was, to me, a more serious issue—the unjust salaries and allowances of our public officials, which if not checked shall pose a serious fiscal calamity on the economy. There were no “spontaneous” protests as the one I have mentioned. I smiled sadly to myself. The governors of Nigeria had an interest and would not want the legislators to all be part of the NEC of their parties. Was it any wonder that a crowd was spurn without notice and mainstream television channels covered the protest live? That is the problem. I asked some students if they saw the recent protest by UK students against the proposed hike in tuition fees in their universities. Public universities in Nigeria are shut down for months and Nigerian students never raise a voice, or at best they would respond and give an award to their political rulers for permitting those universities to be shut down. We love to talk, but are cowards who would not even want our names mentioned in the public for fear of reprisals. We love our life too much to commit it to a worthy cause. What would make Nigerians go out truly spontaneously? Even when someone invites his compatriots to step out and avers facts that must propel such actions, someone would assume they were asking for money. Please, Nigerians that think like that can keep their money to themselves. I would personally not ask a dime from such Nigerians. The work shall be done.

I am sadly amused at how we nick-pick and smother the substance with our constructed understanding. We interpret a matter the way that suits our pre-fabricated bludgeoning weapons. Then we swing them without regard to the possibility that we may have missed the message. 

I must conclude by reminding my compatriots and readers that not every writer writes seeking gains from those they appear to praise. For each public officer that I have praised or seemed to praise in the past for certain deeds, I have rebuked in equal measure when it was necessary. I am not fixated on praise or rebuke in spite. I work with facts as I have them at the moment. My major concern is that my message and suggestions find a habitation, and the residency is profitable to all. I write not to please a man, but to remain faithful to the truth. What is truth? Whatever is honest, whatever is just, whatever is lovely, whatever is trustworthy, whatever is virtuous, and whatever agrees with my inner conscience? There are writers that are beyond common banalities and enticements. But some can’t know better who weigh every matter in their scales.

Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria and President of the Nigeria Rally Movement ( ).
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