t is as if we can never get the text right, even when the context is perfect. Fifty-two years into freedom and Nigeria is one of the world’s most misgoverned countries, and what makes its self-inflicted wretchedness all the more glaring is the fact that its shambolic record in national responsibility is only matched by its inflated pretension as an aspiring regional power – “The Giant of Africa” it says. The present government paints in 3D the slow disintegration of national credibility. Words of anger and disgust have become clichés: Say corruption and we have learnt to take it with a long-suffering shrug of the shoulders. The courts may sentence one or two politicians to jail but the system legitimises corruption as the religion of the ruling class. If we need a live metaphor of the state of the nation, we get that on a daily basis, unsolicited: The crippled state of our power generation means lamps go out, sometimes for days at a stretch.
Now it seems, at Nigeria’s darkest hour, even the most ardent patriot cannot hold a candle. There is no one who disagrees that a soaring fist and newer flag can shatter the calcified citadel of corruption. We are not asking for anything inappropriate, but for the reintroduction of discipline in the society – even if it means there is a whiff of North Korea about it. But what will a ruling class with such frightening belief in their own infallibility, and a matching contempt for the institutions of civil society do with such democracy? How with they continue to pilfer our coffers? On independent Nigeria’s 52nd birthday, even the struggle for regaining its squandered freedom offers very little cheer…
The Great Wall of silence…
What is the difference between Northerners and Southerners? The answer is uncomplicated: There is no difference. We are the same people, with similar personality strength and parallel collective weaknesses. Why then have the two regions moved along such dramatically different arcs in the last 20 years?
Contrary to the current popular belief, we are not separated by religious lines. A large population of SW Nigeria are Muslims and have lived there, without any hindrance to the exercise of their faith. There have been Christians from Zuru to Zaria, Bauchi to Biu for years and these people have lived with their Muslim neighbours for years, speaking the same language and celebrating the same cultures and generally living as equals in a united, Muslim majority town.
To Muslims, Islam is viewed as a brotherhood, not nationhood: they view faith as belonging to God and a nation to men. Just because you do not share the same religion, it does not mean you cannot share the same nation. Conversely, faith is not sufficient glue for a nation: if it was, why would there be so many Arab countries!
A government is first and foremost secular and all faiths and tribes are equal. A nation cannot be founded on the basis of religion; Pakistan attempted this in 1947 and ended up being a hub for fundamentalists! Religious and tribal extremism has started to undermine us and infect the social rubric. Newspaper articles and blogs which once merely asserted one religion’s/language’s superiority over another, now demonise them in the most malicious language. Rule of law is now caught in a corrosive downward spiral that has little prospect of reversal; and many regions in the country have simply slipped into barbarism. The country has turned into a “Jelly state”, it shakes constantly, but unlike butter, will never melt away. And now with the underlay of terrorists, it has become a toxic jelly state and it is its own prime victim.
The change to democracy was supposed to ease the trauma of 19 years of military rule. The country was supposed to emerge from the Abacha days reborn and resuscitated, held together by the promise of modernity: Political rights, freedom of speech and technological breakthroughs. The idea of Nigeria was supposed to be stronger than the Nigerian. But it seems the idea of the Nigerian is stronger than Nigeria. So much that consumed the time, energy, and lives of our founding fathers seem so utterly pointless now. What did they fight for and fight each other for….? To see senators, governors, would-be politicians…. Kidnapped…. Terrorists at our neck…Rank corruption… misgovernance.. The rise of religious bigotry… it sometimes feels like we are returning to the middle ages. Take for instance my home state of Borno, with the slogan “Home of Peace”, the levels of violence are unbelievable….direct violence and indirect violence…exploitation…it is killing all human compassion….Something has to be done!
The “ifs” of history are little consolation for the certainty of reality. In 1960, America was 3 seas from Nigeria; today most Nigerians feel closer psychologically to America than other regions of the country. The north and south are divided by a great wall of silence, which we liberals are anxious to breach, which extremists are determined to strengthen, and which people are condemned to suffer. Happy Birthday my beloved country, I hope this is the beginnning of your best days.