FEATURE ARTICLE

Wednesday, February 6, 2019
[email protected]
Chicago, USA
IS BUHARI THE FACE OF A HURTING NATION?

igeria is reeling yet under the heavy burden of another preventable crisis following the suspension and replacement of the Chief Justice of the Federation by President Buhari. Many frustrated Nigerians are watching this unfolding drama with pain, bemusement and anger. Many are wondering if our nation will ever see an exit route from the long and bumpy highway of pain, poverty, confusion, and suffering which many of our citizens have traversed under the present dispensation. The legality of this executive overreach is being challenged by lawyers and jurists. However, this action on the part of the president is very dubious and ill-advised coming as it does less than three weeks before the general elections. Its ripple effects are being felt across the globe. This singular action, I propose, offers a good portrait of the dictatorial excesses of the Buhari administration in both its outlook and method of governance. It should help most Nigerians to reflect seriously about the choices before them in the coming elections.

Nigerians do not need this distraction; we need solutions to the many problems facing this nation; we need to find a way of restoring the nation's standing in Africa and in the world. We need solutions on how carrying the green passport should confer respect and honor to our people in every part of the world. We need to concentrate our attention on how to lift millions of Nigerians from poverty; and how to harness the rich cultural, human and natural resources of this blessed land.

Our people are suffering from grinding poverty which is spreading like a wildfire in the land. Indeed, with more than 70% of Nigerians living in poverty, with our universities shut for more than three months, with an unemployment rate of over 27%; rising debt burden and life expectancy of less than 55 years, Nigeria is in decline. Most Nigerians, especially the poor, are suffering and dying in droves from malnutrition, violence, and hopelessness. The future outlook of the nation is grim because rather than create wealth and produce capital, Nigerian politicians are obsessed with wealth distribution or the sharing of the national cake. I do not see how the next elections will change this sad reality since there are no serious national conversations on some of these fundamental issues among the two leading parties. Rather, what we see are a display of raw passion, sentiments, and empty grandstanding and vague rehashing of the same old promises without any strategy for change or a plan on how to disrupt this sad trajectory of history and this cycle of decay which is destroying the best in us and in our land.

The PDP is not a viable alternative to APC. Both parties are two sides of the same coin. Nigerians are thus left to undertake another empty circuit of elections which certainly will not bring any fundamental change of direction. As the late Nigerian political scientist, Claude Ake once pointed out, elections in Nigeria and in many African countries is 'a metaphor for powerlessness and exploitation' of citizens. This is because these elections rather than being a process for emancipation and empowerment of citizens have become in Nigeria a 'process which reinforces their disempowerment.' A majority of our people, he argues, are not politically mobilized in the market-place of formally equal legal subjects who are negotiating their interests and finding common ground through their votes. What obtains are patron-client chains, leveraging parochial identities, bribery, deceit, and intimidation. In these circumstances, the process of choosing candidates for election, the conduct and method for campaigning, voting, and declaration of election results are all well-choreographed stratagem by dominant hegemonic forces within the country for exploiting the people and undermining the future of the country.

At the end of the day, the emergence of Buhari or Atiku as the next President, will not usher in a new beginning for Nigeria as long as this current structure of injustice and oppression moderated by the hidden forces and personalities running the PDP and the APC persists. This is because the system and structures we have in place in Nigeria are meant to provide the sad predictable outcomes which led us to this stage where the two options we have on the table as likely future presidents of Nigeria do not represent the best in us. We must ask ourselves the question as to why the finest characters, articulate minds, and strong leaders from the North never made it as presidential candidates in the two major parties. Why are we being force-fed with these two problematic candidates and why is this nation finding it hard to break the back of the dominance of the military cabal and uniformed men of yore in our national life? Some realities seem to be germane in envisioning the future of Nigeria beyond this forthcoming sham elections and their sad outcomes and I would like to address them in the rest of this essay.

First, is that Nigerians need to understand the reasons for the unworkable nature of the Nigerian nation and work together in addressing them with courage and honesty. Nigeria is not a nation and has never been. Those who preach the gospel of one Nigeria are the ones who are benefiting from this false contraption and its destructive and monstrous prehensile tentacles. They are the ones who stash our national wealth abroad, who do their check-ups abroad and whose children are studying outside Nigeria.

Second, Nigeria is not a nation because she has no common identity and common national interest around which we can build a common national agenda and a clear path for national integration, development, peace, and prosperity in a healthy and pluralistic environment. This is the kind of structure which guarantees a generally accepted and actionable citizen's rights. This way, all Nigerians can have equal access to social mobility and the good things of life in any part of Nigeria.

The sad reality, however, is that everything in Nigeria is seen through tribal, religious, regional and class lenses. Thus, analyzing the dynamics of power relations along these lines is an important task so that people can clearly see the winners and losers in these power games-and we know that the poor and ordinary Nigerians are the ones who are losing out while a thin top layer of the populace are reaping the benefit of this lack of national agenda and national cohesion. Nigerians need to understand that the balkanization of our nation into these small cultural, political and religious silos is destroying the common good especially that of the majority of our citizens who are suffering from these artificial social constructs and camps. Those who believe that their future lies in protecting and promoting their parochial interests-ethnic, religious, regional, political among others-and who would turn their back on creating greater wealth and convergence for all Nigerians in a pluriform entity need only to look at South Sudan and the messiness of Brexit. We are stronger together than apart. However, the present political structure cannot sustain a better and brighter future for Nigerians. This is why there is the need for a national dialogue on how to bring about a new political structure which can enhance our collective good by recognizing and valuing the ability of each federating unit in developing its own contextual and specific agenda relative to its assets and unique character in a truly federal state.

Third, Nigeria has no regnant national value, which transcends these miniaturized conceptions of identity-ethnic, religious, class and regional. A common national value is the only engine which can drive a national renaissance for national growth and development and the flourishing of the talents of our richly endowed citizens. What we have in this country is a dysfunctional value system which celebrates mediocrity as long as it benefits me or my reference group; and which celebrates hypocrisy and deceit as long as it promotes the culture of extraction of the resources of the land to be parceled out to one's prebendal peons.

A national character can only be built on a sound values template. There is the need for a commonly agreed moral compass about what is right and wrong. This can help us navigate the tempestuous terrain which we must traverse as a nation if we will ever get to the beautiful shores of abundance and the good life for the majority of our people. The unfortunate thing is that in our national and local politics as well as in our social interaction even in religious organizations, we have come to idolize money and materialism over character and wisdom. We have come to celebrate the building of physical structures even with sordid money over the building of character, competence, and a good name. This is why academicians, teachers, healthcare workers, innovators, artists and many other professionals who are the architects of tomorrow are wallowing in inexcusable poverty in Nigeria. This is why our hard-working women are reduced to destitution and to praise-singing for corrupt and inefficient politicians in order for them to get a bag of rice and a tin of oil to feed their hungry children and spouses. This is also why some powerful religious, business and political leaders would seek sexual favors from our young girls and women before they could get a job or any access to the ladder of social mobility. Our lack of sound national values is killing this country as we all have embraced moral relativism, tolerated situational ethics, and glorified ethics of the stomach for selfish ethnic, political and regional ends and out of greed and the grubby pursuit of lucre.

The absence of a transcending national value is the reason why we seem to have little appreciation of human life. As a result, there is no more national outrage for heinous crimes like the killing of thousands of Nigerians by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen or the kidnapping of our girls. It is the reason why we take it as normal or 'God's will' that thousands of Nigerians will continue to die in road accidents because of the poor state of Nigerian roads and that thousands more die every day from preventable and treatable sicknesses because of the poor state of our healthcare systems and because they are poor.

As long as we continue along this dysfunctional value, there is no possibility for building a better future. Nations, like individuals, stand and fall on the basis of the values which govern choices and decisions of citizens and leaders across the board. In that light, the ugly face of Nigeria can only be seen clearly by looking at our failed value system across the board. This goes beyond any single individual because we all as Nigerians have been tainted by or socialized into this prurient ethical climate. This explains our bribery and corruption, constant fighting and contestation in small and larger units of association; our toxic social interaction and unethical business practices. It also explains why we often do not trust each other and thus treat each other with suspicion. It is the cause of the dishonesty and inauthenticity which govern a lot of our social interactions; and the laziness and ineptitude of our public and private officials among other sad realities which reflect our destructive value system. Until there are consequences for bad behaviors in this country, and until we call the demon by its name rather than excuse or rationalize it away, there will be no exit route from this long and tortuous highway of pain and confusion.

In addition to these realities, is the urgent need to face up to three monsters ravaging Nigeria. First is false religious claims and false religious consciousness. Nigeria is said to be a religious nation. As a Catholic priest, I am a champion of religion because I preach and write about God. However, I opine that we have reached a point in Nigeria where religion-or rather false religion-has become a problem rather than a solution to our national predicament. Many religious leaders in Nigeria are abusing their religious authority and blaspheming the name of God through their greed and dishonesty. They are feeding the people with religious poison rather than food for the soul or hope to strengthen them to become agents in their own history and champions of change in the land. Some of our religious leaders have become compromisers in many instances and a few of them have become openly partisan, taking side with one party or another based on the highest bidder.

It is not surprising that the two institutions which are flourishing in Nigeria today are politics and religion; they are the two games in town. Many religious leaders are steeped in corruption and shady practices and benefit from the poisoned fruits of corrupt officials. That our religious leaders are so wealthy, while their adherents are so poor shows that they are benefiting from the system. This is happening at a time when our educational and health systems are comatose, while our industrial and agricultural productions have stalled. What we see in Nigeria are humongous churches, rectories, church halls, mosques, Christian and Islamic banks sprouting everywhere, while millions of our national wealth are spent every year sponsoring or subsidizing pilgrimages to the Holy Land rather than being used to build schools and hospitals.

The interests of religious leaders and politicians should never intersect except when they work together for the common good, especially to protect the rights and welfare of the most vulnerable members of society. A better future for our country can only be realized when there is a healthy distance between religious and political leaders. This way, the religious leaders can call Nigerian politicians forth from darkness into the light. Religious leaders in Nigeria must swim against this dangerous current of corruption and materialism and become sentinels of justice, while fighting for the poor, for good government, and for the common men and women in our country who are hurting in this harsh wind of poverty and exploitation by the political class.

The second monster is the blame game. People rarely take responsibility for their action in Nigeria. In addition, politicians rarely suffer any consequences for being bad state actors. Nigeria has institutionalized the blame game. Everyone blames everyone but themselves for the problems of Nigeria. Nigerians must individually take responsibility for the kind of leaders we have allowed to lord it over us rather than wash our hands off these bad leaders because we do have the power to remove them if we all commit ourselves to the ideals of democracy, truth, and justice without parochial sentiments. Taking responsibility helps people to examine what was wrong with their choice, and how to remedy the negative consequences of wrong choices and the preventive measures which need to be taken to avert future occurrence. It is all too easy for the South to blame the North and vice versa. There are obvious signs in the country of structural injustice and structural violence which have wounded many people and destroyed millions of lives in the past. There are religious and ethnic groups who have borne the excessive burden of disunity in the land. However, the people who have suffered most are the 90% of Nigerians who are neither political or religious leaders, but who work hard, love their neighbors and want a good life. These are the ones who cannot go abroad for medical treatment, who cannot send their children to school or even afford a three-square meal a day. Sadly, they are the ones who are being used to advance the narrow interests of Nigeria's political and religious elites. They are the ones who will die in the face of any crisis in the land.

For many Nigerians today, Buhari is the problem with Nigeria and if he is changed by Atiku or any other person, things will get better. This was also our hope four years ago when Buhari took office. Let me be clear, I do not support any candidate for the presidency. Indeed, I do not think that we play with our first eleven when it comes to Nigerian politics. We are suffering in this country because of failed leadership and the monster of zoning which rather than healing this nation has enthroned mediocrity as a monarch. While we need proportional representation to reflect the rich diversity and demography of the land, I believe that we may need to learn some lessons from South Africa about proportional representation so that we can free ourselves from having to settle for less in every aspect of our national and social life because of our zoning formula.

The third monster eating away the soul of this nation is the endless mill of conspiracy theories. The conspiracy theories in Nigeria are rooted in our fears and mistrust. They are often churned out by political, ethnic and religious elites in their fight for accession to power or as leverage to get their hand on the national till as 'representative' of the people. There has been a lot of bloodshed in Nigeria because of these theories.

However, there is the need for greater evidence-based analysis and conscious attempt to elevate the quality of our national discourse beyond name-calling, finger-pointing, and empty pathos of marginalization without looking at the bigger picture of why we are burdened with failed leadership at all levels of governance. We also need to understand how the forces of neo-liberal capitalism and global racist structures championed by the West against the Black race continue to stymie the progress of African nations of which Nigeria is a representative example. Our leaders should stop feeding our ordinary people with this garbage of conspiracy theories and get on with the praxis of reversal of injustice in our land through locally driven human and cultural development plan and strategy. Unless the leadership of groups, entities and federating states and units in the Nigerian state did a sober and honest internal critique on how each group has been complicit in the emergence, sustenance, and reinforcement of unjust structures in the land, we will continue along the same unhelpful path of hauling blames and insults at one another.

We need to confront the failings of our office holders beyond stereotypes which often becloud critical analysis, interpretation and judgment. In this light, I contend that Buhari represents that ugly face of our nation, which we all must reject. The ugly face of Nigeria is that aspect of our national life-the monsters terrorizing us-which we all hate but which sometimes, we all consciously celebrate and advance. If many Nigerians assign low grades to the President for his leadership they do so not because he is a Northerner or because he is a Muslim rather because they have experience with these last four years that he lacks the kind of qualities needed in a national leader to take Nigeria out of this mess into her true destiny as the giant of Africa.

As many people have observed President Buhari is distant from the life and reality of ordinary Nigerians; he lacks empathy and connection to the cries of Nigerians. Since recovering from his long sickness, he seems to have lost the intellectual rigor, and physical vigor needed to wrestle with the complexities of the economic, political and social challenges facing Nigeria in a world of dizzying social changes and in a digital age. His wife has also rightly pointed out that her husband is being held hostage by an invisible cabal. Thus, we do not know which Buhari will show up on stage as was so clear in his shocking performance at 'the Candidates' presidential town hall.

My conclusion is that Buhari has not helped this nation to develop a national identity or a national character. His promise to fight corruption has been a colossal failure caught up in politics, witch-hunting, and contestations exemplified by the present crisis over the sacking and replacement of the Chief Justice of the federation. Buhari has no economic strategy nor any educational reform plan which can bring about economic growth and development while helping to produce the innovators who will be the architects of a better future for Nigeria. Buhari through his insensitivity to the cries of the people in moments of national crisis and pain and through his preference to work with his own people has also given credence to many conspiracy theories about his Northern and Islamic agenda. Buhari also has perfected the blame game as he continues to blame the past administration for the failings of his government. What I see in the Buhari regime is the reinforcement of the structures of oppression, injustice, and exploitation of the poor masses of our people. This is the ugly face of Nigeria which Buhari represents. It will be remarkable if such a flawed president wins re-election, but this is Nigeria!

Sadly, Atiku does not, in my own judgment, represent the beautiful face of Nigeria or a clear alternative. This is why my heart bleeds for the masses of our people who are pawns in these four-year election cycles, which raise and dash our collective hopes. We are in for a game of chess and a transactional exchange orchestrated by roughly 5% of Nigeria's political and religious elites who move back and forth from APC to PDP. How to disrupt this sinful and unjust structures of the caterpillars of our commonwealth in the APC/PDP game of thrones through a grassroots social movement and introduce a creative disruptive agency to reverse this national slide is the thought which should occupy all right-thinking Nigerians beyond the next elections.


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