FEATURE ARTICLE

Wednesday, May 19, 2021
SILO@depaul.edu
Chicago, USA
FASHIONING A PEOPLE, BUILDING A NATION: THE TASK BEFORE EVERY NIGERIAN (PART 1)

"Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects that must be saved from a burning building." - Paulo Freire

y appeal in this essay is an invitation to my fellow Nigerians not to lose hope. We can become a people. This should be our collective search and effort. Therefore, Nigerians should not allow the waywardness of President Buhari and his ilk to derail our journey together to a better future and a common destiny. This begins, in my proposal, by taking a second look at the challenges and opportunities before us today in Nigeria within the wider context of history, and taking some bold steps towards meeting these challenges, relying on the resilience and ingenuity of our people.

To begin with, we must note that we all as people of African descent are caught up in the contradictions that have often been called the African predicament-the enduring structural and global factors that have made it impossible for us to build and sustain structures that promote human and cosmic flourishing in our societies. The promise of a greater convergence of Africa with the West, for instance, through the nation-state, neo-liberal capitalism, and its associated projects of progress, some brands of religious faith, Western humanitarianism, and development agenda in Africa, within a global order of modernity is proving to be empty and destructive. This is not simply a Nigerian problem, even though Nigeria bears the heavy burden of this complexity in a unique way, given her large population, geography, and ethnic and religious diversity. However, this contradiction of history is a challenge for the non-Western world.

One can see the wreckages of Western modernity and the manipulation of the non-Western other through the blind acceptance of the nation-state, and economic orthodoxies framed by Western colonialists in literally all of Africa. The continent is being destroyed by the nation-state and a global neo-liberal capitalist economic order that kills (according to Pope Francis) through the deceptive, divisive and destructive structures of false constitutional democracies, economies of scale, and a narrow unitary notion of history and lateral progress, defined by we Africans as being like or unlike the West. This is why Afro-pessimism and the narratives of contamination we use in framing ourselves (ethnic, religious and political groups) in our mutual mistrust and prejudicial judgement are worse for our social ecology than the current pandemic.

Most African nations, including Nigeria, have failed to commit themselves to the task of bringing their people together and fashioning themselves into a people that can build up nations and the institutions that can work for black Africa. As a result, we are not drinking from our own wells. We can give examples of many other African countries in similar situations as Nigeria by taking a sad look at the ongoing wars and conflicts in Ethiopia, Congo DRC, South Sudan, Sudan, Central African Republic, Somalia, Mali, Chad, Cameroun, Mozambique among many other countries of Africa. All these countries are headed by democratically elected presidents and legislators with a national constitution! We do not have space here to analyze the troubling condition in many countries in Africa like Rwanda, Uganda, Cameroun, Congo Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea among others where their heads of state have been in power for more than 25 years in so-called democratic states!

The truth is that the political and social conditions in most of Africa are painful; and the nation-state in Africa is a charade and, in many instances, have become architectures of violence doling out dosages of small deaths to citizens. We Africans must wake up to this blind assumption that countries are gifts that you receive from others. We must wake up to this lie that what we see around us in our continent is inevitable or that this reflects who we are as a people or who can be. Many African nations like Nigeria are thus caught up in a vicious cycle of one step forward, and two steps backward; violence today, peace tomorrow, then after a pause another cycle of violence. This painful social context tells me that there is something we are not doing right, that is, we are not forming a people. Yes, we are doing some institutional ornamentation and change of guards now and again, but our leaders do not represent us because they are not with the people nor do the citizens see themselves in their leaders because of the patron-client cleavages that have stratified the selective distribution of power and our national largesse. Our main task as citizens of Nigeria, therefore, should not be to simply keep fixing problems and fighting each other in these false national structures that, in my judgement, are designed to destroy our people, using our own hands. Thus, rather than presume that our countries are finished projects, we must wake up to the fact that after so many years of pain, frustration, dashed hopes, and deaths, we need to stop this national carnage and shame, by building a people through whom and on whom the structures of democracy and social life can be firmly built.

Countries are built by people through sound politics. Politics is a tool for building a people up and designing the path for growth and flourishing and promoting and preserving the common good for all, especially for the least of the brethren. Politics is an art of forming a people through what Pope Francis calls a culture of encounter. Politics is about encountering each other as partners and fairly negotiating how power is acquired and used through a just balancing of interests in promoting, protecting, and preserving the common good from which all the units of the state and her citizens should draw as from a well pool. Politics should never be pursued as a zero-sum game; this is why every society must work hard at infusing their politics with virtue ethics in a deliberate manner. Sadly, in Nigeria, politics has become a tool for corruption, lies, thievery, killings, exploitation, polarization, division, and distortion of our true values. Nigerian politics has voided this nation of her human, cultural and spiritual resources through extractive leaders among many other factors.

What it means is that we must historicize our problems within the failed project of modernity in Africa, our failed politics, failed citizen engagement, weak civil society, faltering religious groups with the structural nature of our complex national life. The complexities of Nigeria may not be resolved even with the defenestration of Buhari and the present political class and the two major parties in the country; just as Nigeria's complexities were not solved with the end of IBB and Abacha's regimes-the twin peaks (before Buhari) of the height of national malfeasance and malevolency of self-serving leadership at the center power in Nigeria.

The complexities of today, under Buhari, cannot also be resolved by tearing Nigeria into its constituent units-if there is anything really as 'constituting units' because the units are not really one people. These units, sadly, are as fragmented as the center and contain more toxin and volatility in their fragmented mix than the ethnic jingoists and ideologues wish to acknowledge. There are no quick or easy fixes to our national predicament. We need to seriously reimagine a new future that can come about through a renewed effort at nation building, rather than this reign of violence and saber-rattling, threats of secession, religious manipulation, and the reign of lies, conspiracy theories, and propaganda.

The rebuilding of our nation should occur in bits and pieces, starting from the remotest villages in the land, families, clans, ethnic, religious groups, and regional blocs and professional groups among others. The call that I make in this essay is a thought that has been gestating in my mind for some time now. My recent visit to Nigeria this May made the writing of this essay more expedient given the shocking suffering and anxiety I saw among our people. In addition, what I see among fellow Nigerians is finger-pointing and noise all over the place. These noisy irruptions can only temporarily stir different sections and units in the country through false hopes and empty signifiers and slogans, without permanently steering them in the direction of greater internal and national integration or strengthening the agency and consciousness of people in these units on how they can become architects of their own history and future.

Nigerians: A People Suffering from Self-Inflicted Wounds

I was in Nigeria for ten days but what I saw in those few days was very painful and depressing. Nigeria is a nation in search of her soul, and most of our problems today are self-inflicted wounds. There is nothing that God has not done for us as a country. So, why is the nation filled with so much anger, bitterness, violence, despair, and helplessness? Why do we have so much negative sentiments about the country, and about fellow Nigerians? Every conversation among ourselves drips with negativity, conspiracy theory, attacks, accusations, and mutual recrimination? People are afraid of each other, afraid of the environment, and scared stiff to venture outside and terrified of traveling by road.

There is a lack of trust in ourselves, our systems, and even a fraying trust between the masses and their religious leaders. Trust and Truth are scarce commodities in Nigeria today, while conspiracy theories are the regnant determinants and modifiers of people's response and sentiments to most current events in the country. Most Nigerians have long lost hope in the government and particularly in the present government of Buhari, who represents the worst form of inept, insensitive, unjust, divisive, ethno-religiously biased, and dysfunctional leadership that this country has ever known.

How many of our government workers are languishing in penury and have been reduced to beggars and borrowers? How many of our elderly pensioners are dying in silence and regret? How many Nigerians today are walking the long road of pain, poverty, and powerlessness because of social misery, and destitution brought upon them by Nigeria's failed leadership and the corruption that has turned our nation into a land where thieves, dishonest men and women without any fellow-feeling or moral rectitude call the shot. How many of our people are dying from treatable and preventable diseases? How many of our young people are roaming the streets without education and jobs becoming willing hands for the reign of terror in our land at the service of our bad state actors, and terrorists, bandits, and kidnappers. Our public service has remained inefficient and comatose as usual, while there is an absence of any social welfare or social safety net to support the poor and no social or economic policy to lift up the middle class.

How can we come out of this situation?

The coping strategy for most Nigerians is the social media where they share any message that reinforces any and all aspects of the Nigerian conundrum. Nigeria, in addition to the pandemic, faces a real problem of an infodemic-defined as "an excessive amount of information about a problem that is typically unreliable, spreads rapidly, and makes a solution more difficult to achieve." Social media has become the outlet for the frustration of our people. It has filled the gaping hole in our search for meaning, national direction, and escape even if momentarily from this suffocating national life. It is a temporary relief from our permanent national ennui, restlessness and restiveness. It gives voice to the voiceless who in forwarding one message that they think is capturing something of pertinence to their own felt hunger, fear, or doubt, are freed at least, for some time, from the chokehold of our present sense of hopelessness like marooned journeymen and women on a dark night without stars.

The unfortunate thing is that the community we create on social media, through these messages and conspiracy theories, are echo chambers of our uncritical consumerist mindset. No one wants to take time to dig deeper or to develop ideas that can lift our gaze beyond the cloud of uncertainty hanging over our national sky. There are no serious discussions generated from these posts. There is no sustained design of any interruptive social action; and catalyzation of collective efforts for pragmatic solidarity. Nigerians spent precious time that should be used to productively shouting at each other on social media where one does not see any serious efforts at the development practices of reversal or ethical transformation of individuals, worldviews or effort to break the negative or sinful patterns of believing, and behaving to help us to think differently about the social facts, fiction or fantasy being purveyed through the expansive dumping bandwidths offered for the regurgitation of all kinds of messages on our social media.

But the social media offers many aspects from reality from the lack of national dialogue to address our immediate and long-term problems. The social media thus serves for many citizens an alternate site for reimagination or venting their frustration, in many instances, because the social compact in our land has become poisoned by the waywardness of Buhari and his ilk. Most Nigerians do not feel that they have a country anymore. Like Achebe, most are crying that 'there was a country.' Many of us, Nigerians, thus feel that our future dreams and aspirations and that of our children cannot be realized in Nigeria. Most people want to escape from Nigeria, if not physically, at least emotionally or spiritually so that they can find some peace and inner serenity from this crushing and stinking social context. Many Nigerians feel that Nigeria is a lost dream and a monstrous contraption that needs to die so that people can breathe again from this asphyxiation. But all of us still carry the Nigerian passport!

If Nigeria's progress since independence is to be measured by what we see today in our country, then we need a new definition of progress. Most of us did not choose to belong to Nigeria; we were born into it. The central question then is, how do we take ownership of Nigeria and the discordant voices, and bad actors within it? This task is not for the lily-hearted, but for the few courageous men and women. These are people we call thought leaders, social theorists, artisans of history, national builders, and statesmen and women, and influencers. These are the tall men and women who are needed today in Nigeria help our people to see beyond the narrow imprisonment to immediacy. These are courageous souls who can take us to new roads less travelled through a transcending vision that can bring forth the better angels of our nature so that we as a people can come out from this national cave that has entombed us in a land of deaths, destruction, anger, and daily fight and drudgery in the crushing contestation for survival and a sense of belonging in Nigeria.

The second part of this essay will discuss what is needed for building Nigeria into peoples within a people.

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