Thursday, August 15, 2002

Ejike Onuogu, MD, MSc
Oneonta, NY, USA

The year 2003: Is Nigeria ready for the litmus test?

igerians in the Diaspora look forward to 2003 as a year of the litmus test for a potentially great nation. The manner and style with which the forthcoming elections will be conducted may in fact hold the key to the gates of a new Nigeria; a promised land so to speak in the vision of the optimist, a redefinition of Nigerian citizenship, a level playing ground for Tom, Dick and harry, where the judiciary is neither friend nor foe ab initio and perhaps the laying of a foundation stone though belated in the hearts of the average Nigerian politician flagging the emblem, "Be thy brother's keeper."

Indeed, the consequences of failing this litmus test are predictable. Nigerians will in their usual approach to the political process form themselves into fragmented gangs of ethnic militia fanned by sycophancy and little grasp of the issues at stake. Character assassination will take center stage in the manifesto of those desiring leadership. The gangs will march to the booths to hijack polling boxes. Shots will be fired at opponents, houses will be torched, streets littered with corpses as warring factions pounce on each other with brute and lethal force. History repeats itself and the military decides it is time once again to intervene and bring Nigeria back to her senses.

Of course, the Nigerian situation is not the first of its kind among the black race. Painful as it may be the crises of the black man may be linked to a genetic weakness that gladly expresses itself in such fundamental errors of existence as docility, greed, selfishness, grandiosity and impatience. From psychoanalytic constructs, the Black man unchecked and unsupervised has a tendency to gravitate to primitive coping mechanisms as way of life.

From a psychodynamic point of view, the events of the past may have contributed immensely to the stagnation of the Nigerian society. The growth of the Nigerian nation seems to be arrested at the phase of primitivism characterized by yelling, gnashing of teeth, pointing of fingers, sitting in Beer parlors and making fantastic analysis of what went wrong. The extreme end of this spectrum involves acting out behavior. The thought content of our leadership seems to be inferior and devoid of altruism.

In fact the leader of any country can be likened to a head of household who looks at his family with love, and consistently strives to provide for his family even with meager resources. True leadership must be reflective, goal-oriented, self-accounting and self-purifying. True leadership must place the people first, empowering them with the freedom to choose leadership without coercion. True leadership must be willing to listen to advice from dedicated experts. It must be willing to copy the technology of developed countries and seek to become competitive in the world market. true leadership must not continue to drill crude oil until doomsday without clear-cut intentions of how to utilize this revenue to build up an economy that will survive the rainy day.

As 2003 approaches, Nigerians will be called upon once more to answer the big question, Which way, Nigeria? This is a question pregnant with many other questions. Nigeria must take stock and in doing so cast a reminiscent view at the past dating back to the time of the amalgamation by Lord Luggard. The concrete picture often overlooked by the populace is that Nigerian leadership over time has formed the habit of taking people for granted. Nigeria ha become fragmented by ethnic symbolism so much so that each group fights to control leadership for self-serving gains. The perpetration of tribalism in Nigerian politics has to a large extent weakened the concept of the Nigerian Citizen. Many a time the questions asked include the following: Are you Ibo, Yoruba or Hausa. Even foreigners have begun to buy into this aberration. On the other hand, we never ask an American whether he is from Texas, Los Angeles or worse still whether he is a member of the Ku Klux Klan. So, whatever factor that may have woven this emblem onto the Nigerian flag has weakened the fabric of our society, having dealt a lethal blow to our identity as a nation. We have lost faith in our brotherhood; we have allowed language and religion to carve permanent lines of division in our mental processes, perception and actions. Needless to say, the Nigerian leadership has helped disseminate this ethnocentrism.

The year 2003 must be declared a year of the people. the people must take center stage once more in making a choice of leadership. Hitherto, the choice of leadership has been a Hobson's choice, an imposition, a tragedy in which politics revolves around the few that are privileged to buy power with money. Unfortunately, many of the so-called Moneybags in today's politics are illiterate and lack basic understanding of the rudiments of democracy. These are men and women in high places who as soon as they come to office, shut the door tight and renege on all their campaign promises. They shy away from public debates because they have no records to defend, they react to criticism with anger forgetting that they are servants of the people and the people have a right to know how public funds are being spent. Public treasury is looted in the first month ; workers' salaries are deposited into personal accounts and mortgaged for months. Families suffer untold hardship, some unable to afford one meal a day. Children and pregnant women die by the hour in our Hospitals because they are ill-equipped.

It is regrettable to opine that the Nigerian experiment will continue to fail until Nigerians embark on a psychodynamic approach to what may be described as a debacle. A psychodynamic approach will take us down memory lane to revisit the core foundations upon which the British Colonial Masters erected the edifice called Nigeria. Neo-colonialism has continued to exist, albeit as a subtle way of perpetuating control over old colonies without dramatization. The so-called Colonies, Nigeria inclusive have gone along with this exploitation. Not long ago, the British introduced the parliamentary system of government which Nigeria for only a few years and got stuck; years later Nigeria looked west and adopted the American Presidential system of government. In either case, no single Nigerian was privileged to understudy the nitty-gritty of these political processes so as to blend the triad of a new constitution, new system of government and a heterogeneous society. Sadly enough the words bribery and corruption emerged as new critters born from the eggs laid by our Colonial Masters.Indeed, these Critters have eaten deep into the fabric of our society and it will only take inner vision for us to come to self-realization.

Finally, there was a time the Chinese and other Asians found themselves in this same cubicle but not for so long . By sheer power of positive thinking, and aroused by leaders of vision they found emancipation and freedom of self-expression.A peoples' psychological framework may serve as a template for exploitation and dehumanization only if such framework is porous, defective in character and impeachable. It is tragic that such has been the framework of our dear country up until this millennium.

The panacea lies within the heart of every Nigerian. The watchword is patriotism. Patriotism is an ideology. For those Nigerians wondering where it may be found, take a deep breath and look into the base of your heart. This may help 2003 to come to pass.

Ejike Onuogu is an Attending Psychiatrist at Aurelia Osborn Fox Memorial Hospital, Oneonta, New York.