FEATURE ARTICLE

Gabriel Osamwonyi OmozuwaMonday, June 23, 2014
aceomozuwa@gmail.com


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NIGERIA AND THE RULE OF BACKSEAT DRIVERS

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igeria is increasingly becoming a nation of backseat drivers. Consummate faultfinders without ethical compass and manifest commitment to democratic ideals parade as omnificent experts with a view to secure political power. They pester leaders, public intellectuals, visionary voices, and the general public with apocalyptic warnings. They mistakenly equate nation building to waving red flags. In their thinking, discrediting advocates of equity and justice is the surest way to achieve lifelong significance.

It is often an adventure of ecstasy and education to travel around Nigeria with public transport, despite the bad state of many roads. It reaffirms the validity of the survey that adjudged Nigerians as the happiest people on earth. When there are jovial backseat drivers in the vehicle, the thrills of such journeys are spiced with creative tension and fleeting irritation. Particularly, the type that says: "Oga driver, I just got married. I am travelling to Zamfara for my honeymoon. To save cost, my wife travelled by air. If you don't want her to be a premature widow, please drive carefully." But if there are the unkind, world-weary backseat drivers who keep heaping insults on the driver for unavoidably bumping into potholes, the drama becomes fear-provoking. To calm the driver and ensure he is not distracted, other passengers would have to muffle the rant and rave of the backseat driver by inventing jokes and light-hearted stories. Demetri Martin rightly said: "A drunk driver is very dangerous. So is a drunk backseat driver if he's persuasive."

Armchair coaches tell volumes about the workings of backseat drivers. Unmindful of their limited knowledge, they speak as if the Super Eagles cannot become unbeatable world champions until Stephen Keshi is under their tutelage. If backseat drivers have their say and way, Nigeria will become a cemetery of vocal ghosts. Their lack of impulse control makes their mouths more active than their minds. Often, their prescriptions for development are recipes for backwardness. For them, speaking precedes fact checking. Validating their hunch is a luxury they cannot afford.

As a matter of habit, backseat drivers speak bumptiously with the authority of foreseeing messiahs. They claim to have cures for all policy ills. They also claim to know the alchemistic code to turn Nigeria to a twenty first century Eden. But being doom-watchers, they excel mainly in creating a climate of fear and inadvertently stoking the embers of public disaffection. They say evil will dog 2015 elections. They say Boko Haram is better motivated and equipped than our military. They say balkanisation is the panacea to our multifaceted national challenges. They insultingly say Nigerians are political automatons incapable of electing credible leaders. Don Mattingly opined: "We all have the temptation to be backseat drivers when it comes to decisions that don't work out the way we want."

Backseat drivers are "leaders" without followers. They are far from being gray eminence. Though, they generally like to be seen as benefactors and instructors of effective leaders. They know nothing about the shepherd model of leading from behind. Their close-mindedness makes them incapable of stimulating life-enriching changes. Said differently, they cannot lead, because they cannot consider issues from all points. Spinning conspiracy theories to explain social realities is their specialty. Many of them are on the fringes of power, yet, they do not express the interest of overlooked groups, nor spotlight issues that demand urgent attention.

Backseat drivers show a morbid fixation with rare-view mirrors. They typically see Nigeria with cast-off lens. Like diehard revisionists, they seem incapable of considering burning national issues from multiple viewpoints. Their knowledge of the past does not spur them to selflessly engage in enterprises that safeguard our heritage and future as well as uplift the human spirit to new levels of meaning and dignity.

Many backseat drivers do not have a clear understanding of the concept of participatory governance and their rights of self expression in the public sphere. They assume that dissenting before having an inkling of an issue is central to good governance. Their idea of an open and progressive society excludes creating civil portals for meaningful exchange of divergent opinions, public enlightenment and cultural enrichment. To them, social engineering and government by the people is about vocal combativeness.

Ideas rule people. They set the tone of nations and civilisations. Every era is characterised by a dominant idea or cluster of ideas. Backseat drivers are very aware of this. Hence, they manipulate fact and information to set the agenda of public discourse. Some of them use the new media to push to the fore provincial views, which are inimical to egalitarian ideals.

Many nifty leaders are aware of their negative influences. So, when such leaders want to hamstring them, they appoint them to serve in committees or as special advisers. Automatically, the backseat driver that was overly critical starts to backslap agents of backwardness; eulogistically put a seal of perfection on their foibles, and support their idiotic propositions.

If by some magic of fate, ancient Pharisees could see the workings of Nigeria's backseat drivers, they will consider their canons of hypocrisy as unprofitable. Here, hypocrisy pays. It is reported that Nigeria now belongs to the league of top-ten nations with the highest numbers of private jets. Some of the jet owners present themselves as ecclesiastical and political ranting buffoons. They have seemingly excelled in turning hypocrisy to a money-spinning form of artistic expression. Painfully, there is no scientific means by which their input to economic development can be computed.

This explains why I am not overly enthused about our rebased economy. Don't get me wrong. I am glad that Nigeria is now the biggest economy in Africa. But it saddens me that while mapping Nigeria's creative industry, career hypocrites and backseat drivers were excluded.

Ignoring the ignorant backseat drivers is often the wise thing to do. For, they are not amenable to persuasion. When facts change, they don't change their minds. However, it is unwise to always ignore the wilfully ignorant. For, they unscrupulously misinform susceptible people in a bid to cater to their whimsies. Again, if such misinformations are unchecked, they form attitudes that are detrimental to socio-political progress.

This is the best time for Nigerians to shun backseat drivers whose logos and egos appear bigger than Nigeria. We must not re-echo their sentiments. It is unwise to rehash the logic of those who subordinate our collective quest for a better society to their narrow interest. We cannot get ahead by listening to backseat drivers who cannot see ahead.

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