FEATURE ARTICLE

Friday, January 1, 2021
SILO@depaul.edu
Chicago, USA
HOPE FOR A WOUNDED AND HURTING NATION: NEW YEAR WISHES FOR NIGERIA

ost Nigerians are praying and hoping for a better 2021. This passing year of the pandemic has been very painful and difficult for the world. For many Nigerians, the sufferings and uncertainties of the pandemic were worsened by the rise in violence, terrorism, and the failure of leadership at all levels of governance in Nigeria in addressing the needs of the masses of our people in 2020.

As we step into 2021, many questions come to the minds of many Nigerians, namely: Will we have a better year as a country or shall we continue in the cycle of decay, violence, blame-game, and generalized anger, frustration, suffering and pain? Are we going to continue in 2021 with what is becoming an acceptable national culture that anything goes in Nigeria and that anything goes for Nigerians or shall we reach for the skies, seek and reward excellence and hard work and build on the dreams, resilience, and ingenuity of Nigerians especially our young people and women? Are we to continue with our high-sounding religious claims, devotions, and spiritual practices which are sometimes superficial but often lacking a strong ethical and social commitment revolving around a virtuous cycle?

How can our nation so blessed by God with great men and women, with rich and diverse cultural and religious traditions, and innovative and dynamic people break the vicious cycle of irresponsible and self-serving leaders who are often maintain power through patronage and cleavages reeking with corruption, nepotism, incompetence and cronyism? How can we put an end to the elite contestations over our national wealth, and the exploitation of our religious and ethnic divides by these elites for their selfish political and economic interests? How can we end in 2021 a dysfunctional value system that has hunted our country for years, stunted our national growth and turned the poor against each other while the rich and our political and religious leaders seem to be doing well despite the chaos, tears, and confusion in the land?

I want to express my hope and prayers that things will get better for Nigeria in the New year. In this essay, I will like to draw a rough outline of what hope looks like for Nigeria in 2021? I will like to also suggest the conditions that need to fulfilled for the realization of better days for Nigeria.

Four Core Values and Practices Needed for the Birth of Hope in Nigeria

There are four values or practices which we must embrace as a nation if we will ever get out of the many entanglements and bad personal, cultural and national patterns of thinking and acting that have brought upon us the many sad consequences burdening us as a people.

These four values are: (i) a national effort at truth-telling through a national dialogue and a commitment to honesty in our dealing with one another. No nation or relationship can be sustained through lies, deception, lack of transparency and accountability and misinformation; (ii) a national commitment to justice and righting the wrongs of history; (iii) a national commitment to practical application of the values and virtues of our religions and spiritual traditions to create a new national virtue ethics; and (iv) a commitment to embracing an inclusive governance that respects, and celebrates our diversity and democratic institutions, values, and the rule of law.

All these four values and practices can only be possible if every Nigerian commits himself or herself to the process of conversion. We need to change our way of thinking so that we can change our way of acting; we need to change the way we see one another in this country, so that we can change how we act towards one another. However, we live in an environment where many people have become accustomed to acting in a certain way without being held to account and suffering dire consequences. We have also embraced a national culture of mediocrity where there the difference between truth and falsehood, good and evil, right and wrong, expertise and incompetence have become blurred by defensive partisanship based on ethnicity and religion. Thus, everything is jumbled up in false narratives, conspiracy theories, half-truths, and narrow ethnocentric or religious biases. There cannot be any possibility for change or transformation or hope for better days unless we change our national culture where our elites, politicians, and corrupt office holders and even religious leaders play with a different set of rules, and get away with crimes and high misdemeanors.

Only Truth can heal Nigeria

In the light of the foregoing, an essential condition to be met for a hopeful Nigeria today is truth-telling. Why is Nigeria not realizing her potentials as a nation? Why are most Nigerians more successful in other African countries and Western and Asian countries than in their homeland? We must tell ourselves the truth that our systems, structures and institutions at all levels have not enabled the actualization of our human resources. We must also tell ourselves the truth that the violence in our land today has been caused by our failed government, our exploitation of the poor and our abandonment of our young people and failure to educate and equip them, especially in the North. With millions of uneducated, unemployed, and hopeless young people roaming our streets, we have prepared the ground for violence and crimes. We are all responsible for these young people turned out as terrorists, kidnappers, militants, and armed bandits.

There is thus the need for an urgent national re-education and awareness to consciously build and inculcate in the citizens some sets of national values that can guide us. This should be the foundation for our education especially in our schools. We also need national leaders who can model the way and embody a transcending spirit of service and an openness to diversity and inclusive leadership. The current leadership beginning from President Buhari to local government chairmen need to a rethink in order to reimagine a new of leading the people driven by those values and practices required in national leadership. It is not too late for our president to change this narrow notion of governance as the protection of his own people and religion. This narrow vision has not helped him, his Northern Nigeria and Islam in Nigeria. Rather, things are getting worse in Nigeria and are becoming more dire in Northern Nigeria.

Knowledge precedes action. People act based on their perception or lack of perception of value. In Nigeria, we often do not tell ourselves the truth. This is why people in political or religious leadership in Nigeria find it very hard to accept criticism or negative feedback. Sycophancy and praise-singing are the order of the day and those critical voices who bring sobber second thought to bear on our national realities are often branded as enemies, tribalist, religious bigots, and trouble-makers. As we saw in the recent attacks on Bishop Kukah for delivering what was a prophetic denunciation of the failings of the current president, there is a huge risk in Nigeria for those who tell the truth.

In addition, the quota system or the federal character which was conceived as a good instrument for balancing our ethnic, regional and religious diversities in the siting of industries, social services and educational institutions and health service has become one of the most abused instruments in the hand of the government. It has also become an instrument for enthroning mediocrity in the land from the national level to the villages where every position is now to be rotated as if competence is simply measured by geographical location, and ‘my turn’ or ‘our turn.’ We must balance the need to accommodate every one and every interest, with the need not to sacrifice competence and assets to quota.

We must reckon with our Past in Nigeria

Another important aspect of truth-telling for us as a people is about our past history. We have a bloody and painful history and we must come to terms with this past history through a new kind of education of the young people on Nigeria’s history and the strategic opportunities that are open to this country as a potential leader of a Afromodernity that is still possible in our times. We cannot erase our painful memories of the past through executive fiats or presume that the victims of these past and their survivors have moved on. The constant cry for Biafra, for instance, is one example of how a failed national reconciliation continues to haunt a nation. The convulsion in the North today cannot be understood outside of the past historical precedence of Jihads in the 19th century, suppression of minorities in the North, and the nature of the colonial and post-colonial Nigeria and the alliances that were formed in the North and the continued domination of the politics in the North by the military and a particular ethnic group and their sympathizers.

Nigeria needs a national dialogue, but it will not be the kind of national confab we had in the past which was again dominated by ethnic and religious contestations by the same bunch of individuals who have held this nation in thralldom. I pray that 2021 will be a year when we can lay the structure and procedure for an honest internal dialogue at all levels that can lead to healing and reconciliation of deep fissures in our local communities, wards, local governments and states. We are suffering from the destruction of our communal bonds and I argue that without the right kind of harmonious and healthy relationships among the ethnic groups, for instance, there is no hope for any national dialogue.

We need a national dialogue that starts from our villages and wards, local governments and states and then moving to the regional dialogues in the zones. Why should this be a grassroots-based dialogue? I know from my own local community that I have never seen the kind of acrimony and division like what I see today in my hometown and among families and clans. I can say this of other villages not only in my town but also from the data that I get from some of my ground researchers in many parts of Igboland and in the North. Nigeria is a divided country because the components of the Nigeria state from the villages to the states are so badly divided.

Thus, the center cannot hold in Nigeria without addressing these fraying social and familial bonds in our local communities. It is only after the zonal dialogues have taken place that we can begin to think of a national dialogue where each zone comes up with clearly articulated sets of demands for continuing to be part of the Nigerian experiment or some workable agreements on how to start apart—something similar to what happened between the UK and the European Union. We don’t need to kill each other together or fight over an elusive unity or a violent separation. Dialogue heals and can help us in Nigeria.

I pray that 2021 will mark the beginning of the healing of our wounded networks of communal bonds that are widening every day with the fragmentations and narrow identity markers that are infinitely emerging in our local communities as people struggle. Because most people can no longer find hope in our institutions and systems, in their desperation to make ends meet they hold on to any conspiracy theory and any form of alternate power vectors no matter how miniaturized they are with the hope that these alternate sites or individuals could help them gain access to some power or benefits against other subjects or contestants in these imagined battles.

Ending Violence in Nigeria is Possible

I also pray that 2021 will be the year that Nigerians will reject violence. Nigerians are poor at copying other people’s cultures and values. This is because Nigerians are very creative and innovative and do better when they create their own cultures as we see in Nollywood, our music and literary styles to give a few examples. However, in the last three decades, Nigerians have copied many horrible things from the outside world which have destroyed our values and national life. The hope of Nigeria lies in Nigerians creating their own homegrown institutions and systems of governance, education, and healthcare, among others.

Two examples of our copying the wrong things and hurting ourselves are first, the 419 scamming which our young people at home and abroad began to copy with the birth of the internet. This has damaged this nation and given our country and our passport the badge of shame and suspicion. Second, is radical Islamic terrorism copied by Boko Haram from radical Islamic international terror cells. This has now spread mayhem in our country and turned this country into a sea of blood. Is it not a shame that Nigeria is being investigated for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court of Justice because of the horrible things happening in this country because of these radical Islamists?

Defeating these terrorists cannot be achieved simply through military counter-insurgency and brutish means by the government. We need to adopt a smart multi-pronged counter-terrorism operation which will require re-education of many young minds in the North. These young deranged militants have been abused and destroyed by a social system that has left them in the broken lower rungs of social and economic progress and cut them off from natural family ties and any form of purposive undertaking. It must be noted, however, that there are Muslim countries like Indonesia and Senegal whose systems of practicing a tolerant Islam and of educating the children and youth can be copied by the Nigerian states in the North.

The most effective way to end this national carnage is to cut the supply chains of these terrorists—both in terms of membership/recruits as well as arms supplies. May this year be a year when we adopt a comprehensive approach to ending this nightmare, bring back our girls, and seek justice for over 30,000 of our country men and women—Christians and Muslims—who have been killed in the senseless orgy of violence that have defiled our land.

We Need Justice in Nigeria

Finally, we need justice in Nigeria. The Christian tradition popularized by Pope John XXIII holds that if we want peace we should work for justice; if we want progress, we work to eliminate poverty and give people equal and equitable opportunities to apply their God-given talents to creating a better world. When Rome collapsed and with it the collapse of the Roman Empire, many pagans blamed the Christian God. The Roman pagans argued that the reason for the collapse of Rome was because the Romans had accepted Christianity. They also claimed that the Roman gods had protected the city before the introduction of Christianity as the religion of the empire. This led St Augustine to write his famous book on politics, The City of God.

Augustine argues in this book against the Roman pagans and some Christians who were thinking along the same line. In Augustine’s view, the collapse of Rome was not because God failed to protect the city or the empire, but because the Romans failed to practice justice and love. For Augustine, a state without justice is like a band of bandits; for him a state without love will also sink into greed, selfishness, violence, and breakdown of the architecture of the state. Cities and empires, exist and survive based on the kind of love that the citizens of the city or empire embrace. The Romans, Augustine argued, practiced self-love, selfishness, greed and pride of self and thus they loved themselves so much that they forgot God and their fellow citizens. So, it is the value that people embrace that will preserve or promote the city or the empire. Nations fall by the kind of values they embrace.

This is an important message for Nigerians as we go into 2021. So, the questions arise: What kind of values govern our lives as individuals and groups in Nigeria? Is Nigeria a country where we love each other? Do we love our country? Do our politicians truly love the people they are meant to serve? Is Nigeria a just country? Are people getting what is their due in this country? These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves as we step into the New Year.

The former American ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, writes in a recent book that Nigeria’s political system—a bargain among elites—is now beginning to breakdown. This is why Nigeria government now resembles an archipelago of islands in a sea of ungoverned spaces. The state has become so weakened by constant violence, structural violence, pervasive corruption, crisis, lack of structural coherence, national culture or strong institutions of governance. What obtains now is that whereas the elites compete for access to oil and gas revenue, the fountain of power and wealth, they often cooperate across ethnic and religious divisions to preserve the system from which they benefit. This is similar to what Acemoglu and Robinson describe as an extractive state. The elites siphon Nigeria’s oil wealth to serve their own personal interests. At the same time, through patron-client chains they oil the ethnic and religious wheels of their own clientele—reference groups—through different suasions and periodic or random emoluments to satiate the desire of their ethnic and religious constituents to whom these politicians are favored sons, daughters and patrons.

This state of affairs cannot continue in 2021 if we wish to see the realization of our hope for a better future. Justice in Nigeria requires paying attention to the cries of the poor, the minorities, Nigeria’s working poor, the young people who have no jobs and who do not see any future for their country. Justice in Nigeria requires addressing some of the sad histories and tragedies of this nation going back to the Civil War and to the recent beheadings of farmers in Bornu state. Every evil in this land, every bloodshed, and every act of injustice done, and the people who are missing in Nigeria must be accounted for as part of the continuing search for justice. Justice demands rewarding effort and excellence at all times.

Change in our Value System

Most fundamental to all these is a change in our national value system. This is where our religious and cultural traditions could help the process of conversion and change of worldview. Our religions should help to shape a new consciousness among us about God’s plan for this county and what God expects all of us to do. How can we commit ourselves to embracing an inclusive governance and inclusive personal values in our relationship with one another that celebrates our diversity and respects and upholds the values of democratic institutions and systems, and the rule of law?

These values can emerge when we embrace what Pope Francis refers to as social friendship. Social friendship is the kind of love and relationship that exist among people in a society that transcends exclusionary practices and attitudes based on the limiting circumstances of birth—race, ethnicity, religion etc. Social friendship makes social love, political charity, and social dialogue possible because we recognize the humanity and dignity of the other and see in the sufferings of others our own pain and wounds. We need to embrace the values of empathy, fellow-feeling and love in Nigeria in order to birth hope for our country and her citizens.

Love is a gift and value that shapes our hearts, minds, and attitudes about our common origin and common interest and our common destiny. I am an Igboman, but I am incomplete without my Yoruba country man or woman, and I am enriched through the life of my Hausa-Fulani brother. I am a Christian, but my faith can be enriched through my relationship with my Muslim sisters. Good politics is the art of loving and building good relationships which can help to strengthen our collective interests.

Politics should not be pursued as a zero-sum game. Good politics is about how we can preserve, protect, and promote the common good, justice and equity so that everyone especially the poor and the neglected can draw from it as from a wellspring. Conflicts are good and are to be desired because that is only how we can advance our collective interest. But political conflicts are about balancing and harmonizing interests rather than defeating others. Politics is all about how we all can win together, it is about how we can fight for each part of Nigeria, at the same time fighting for all parts of Nigeria through a give and take attitude. I pray that 2021 will see a healthy politics that is value-driven and issue-based and that is concerned with bringing the highest good for every Nigerian citizen at home and abroad.

Hope for Nigeria

I am very hopeful for the future of Nigeria. But this hope is not an empty wish or some imaginary vision of an Elysian world. Nigerians are good and decent people and my hope is anchored on the innate goodness of my fellow Nigerians especially the young people and our women. However, hope is not achievement; it demands hard work.

Hope is also a praxis because it is concerned with constructing a new pathway of reversal through a conscious counter-witnessing which is capable of changing the status quo. What this means in actual fact is that Nigerians must commit themselves to a new way of life, a new institutional culture, a new ethics of inclusive governance, and a new moral and spiritual journey which will transform the inner life character of Nigerians and build our nation on the rock of justice. The healing of our land and our past can be achieved through our collective effort and sacrifice. It is we the people who can change our way of life, our hostile attitude to one another, our culture of violence and aggression, our suspicious way of relating with one another, our culture of corruption and impunities, our sectional, ethnic and religious politics and favoritism. This way we can build a virtuous cycle that will triumph over this vicious cycle that has eaten away the soul of our nation and the souls and happiness of our wonderful people.

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