A NATION OF COWARDS
After the Oritsejaforgate, I was struck with a profoundly true raw emotional moment. My recollection of being fully and creatively engaged with the dangerous and tumultuously living history of Nigeria of our time hits me like a brick.
Where are we? Where do we go from here? Chaos or country? These are the recognized queries that concerned elder statesmen, mature Nigerians, as well as our communities should persistently pose to themselves.
Our best, our heroes had been discarded to symbolize a radical change of tactics. Men long regarded as political clowns, thieves, and even murderers had become governors, senators and reps. They got elected by mixed brew of bigotry, violence, rigging, half-truths, and whole lies.
Political opponents and dissidents have been murdered and their killers would never be brought to justice. We wept at funeral services for the dead and for democracy. Nigerians are worse off today than they were 53 years ago. Nigerians have been subjected to lash of brutality and coarse degradation.
We have been given discount education. Jobs are harder and costlier to create than anything else. Slum housing for the poor is on the rise. Despite the comfortable revenue from oil, no visible programs are in place to fight poverty, disease, hunger, crime, and violence.
Of the good things in life, Nigerians have ten times the bad things of life. The legal structures have in practice proved to be neither structures nor law. Legislation on important laws are evaded. The statutes on books have substantially nullified the application of law, and its enforcement is a mockery of law. Our demands for a better life have become tiresome and unwanted for the ruling class. The daily life of Nigerians is still lived in the basement of the richest nation in Africa.
When the story of $9.3 million arms smuggling and currency trafficking involving President Jonathan, his spiritual father Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, and his National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki broke out, Nigerians with conscience fell silent.
I'm stunned by the timidity of people we consider as moral pillars of our nation. The evils of the well-credentialed political eunuchs ruling us are well documented. Their terror politics, their continuous lies, and their relentless persecution of the poor have become their signature trademarks.
These political eunuchs are not the only enemies of our people. Even so, I'm miffed by the expanded silence of the clergy. The stated enemies of poor Nigerians are the clerics, the self-appointed religious leaders with clout who refused to speak up. As far as I know, only Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, Pastor Tunde Bakare and very few others came out in defense of the poor. The rest have been ostentatiously silent.
They disguised their status as the people's real enemies and forever pussyfooting around the misrule that is so evident in our nation. What bothers me most about this is that it is tantamount to surrender. One thing I understand about the ministry of Jesus it is that he spoke truth to power, regardless of how it was going to affect his survival.
While the crowds and the marginalized loved him, he was a thorn in the flesh of all the stakeholders in the power game - the Romans, the Zealots and the Pharisees. He refused to play their game. Indeed, he was not interested in their game as he made clear at every opportunity. Because he didn't need their approval, he had no reason to fear being a thorn in their flesh. He was crucified for telling the truth and refusing to capitulate to the powers and principalities.
Right to the end, Pilate kept asking Jesus to renounce his truth to save his life. But he knew some things are more important than life, and if he played their game, he would lose the game. He would have become like them - a slave to his own survival.
If his life and death teach us anything especially the clerics, it is that true freedom comes from transcending the primacy of our own sniveling little woes. I believe it is asking a lot to expect the clerics to be like Jesus. As a nation that desperately needs to retrieve its vision, we need our clerics to show some bravery and truth if indeed they were called to carry the cross.
We live in an era in Nigeria in which as William Butler Yeats once put it, 'the best lack all the conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.' Many refused to raise any alarm against the unprecedented injustice and corruption championed by the government because they're friends of the oppressors of the people. And others buried their heads in the sand for fear of being labelled anti-Jonathan and 'unpatriotic' by Aso Rock.
Anyone with half a brain knows that Nigeria is marching into oblivion. Political correctness is the reluctance to speak the truth for fear of causing offense. It is a euphemism form for cowardice. Nigeria is a nation of cowards. This is slowly and surely destroying our nation.
Moral courage is the willingness to speak out and do what is right in the face of forces that would lead a person to act in some other way. It is the willingness to overcome fear and stand up for our core values. 'The world is a dangerous place not because of those who do evil,' Albert Einstein warns, 'but because of those who look on and do nothing.'
Where is the moral character, moral courage, moral virtue, moral wisdom, moral perception, moral sensitivity, moral imagination, moral integrity, and ethical competence of our elders and leaders of this nation? Truth twisting and other deplorable practices characterized our elders that should speak truth to power. Where are the brave leaders in our communities?
Members of the National Assembly lack courage. As cowards, they are known for posturing, strutting, pretending to stand for something. Our elected reps are far more interested in their own welfare than in serving Nigerians. Their actions and decisions speak the language of power, not the language of love, faith, and commitment. They are only interested in one thing: their own survival. Cowardice always does.
Moral courage comes from love - love of something greater than oneself, and faith in something greater than one's own survival. There is a lesson to be learned from the American Civil Rights Movement. The protesters and marchers of civil disobedience were armed only with their own determination and belief in God of justice, stood up to police dogs, insults, lynch mobs and hoses.
They prayed for assistance to the God who led the Jews through the wilderness to the Promised Land. They sang the Gospel songs of endurance that their ancestors had sung in bondage, and the Spirituals that guided them along the Underground Railroad. As they were subjected to every imaginable indignity, humiliation, imprisonment, and in some cases, even death, they held in their hearts and minds of the figure of a savior who suffered and died at the hands of evil and injustice, and triumphed still.
The way things are in Nigeria right now, Nigerians are obviously and hopelessly doomed. The solution cannot be left to the politicians. They have demonstrated again and again that they're not capable, competent, intelligent, patriotic, and honest to confront a very difficult set of emerging Nigerian realities. They have proven to be gutless frauds and certified crooks managing our resources.
Where are we going? The national government has manifested a faltering and fluctuating interest in the lives of Nigerians. The national government is absorbed in endless controversy, confused in direction, and venal opportunism. The national government is in such turmoil it has tragically lost its golden opportunity to turn Nigeria around. All the cooked up achievement of the government is a fable not a fact.
Now, our task is to organize our strength into compelling power so that government cannot elude our demands. It's time to do away with childish fantasy. The Nigerian situation demands our best prophetic interpretation and our most creative proposals for action. Looking at the still smoldering embers of problems that we face, deep resources of empathy and compassion should be a natural part of us. Stumbling and groping through the wilderness finally must be replaced by a planned, organized and orderly march.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had poor Nigerians in mind many years ago while speaking at a staff retreat for the Southern Christian Leadership Council when he called on America to pay attention to the nation's poorest people. He said, 'Something is wrong with the economic system of our nation. There must be a better distribution of wealth…'
Sparked by the army of able-body Nigerians roaming the streets, inspired by the insecure Nigerians who are faced with fear-filled violence every day, it's no secret that something is wrong with Nigeria. Like King, I say boldly and loudly something is definitely wrong with Nigeria and there must be a better distribution of wealth.
Those who should be the conscience of the nation recluse into the self-defeating way of isolation and despair. There is no better time than now for the elders of this nation - Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa - who are not beholding to any political party but have the wisdom, integrity, compassion, and empathy to come together under a civil rights movement and fight on behalf of the people.
The groans of Nigerians are not heard, our needs are unfelt and unmet. The alternative for us is to state our case in the public square. The economic high way to power has few entry lanes for the poor. The government has successfully and illegally excluded the poor from our commonwealth.
The Labor Union in the last two decades despite its potential strength has been an inarticulate giant with an unsteady gait subjected to abuse, corruption, and confusion in its responses to Nigerian workers. The Labor Union is at best, tottering and perishing.
I therefore propose that a highly respected Nigerian with integrity, proven record of siding with the poor, with no political affiliation, and with clean hands should lead a civil rights movement to fight for a Bill of Rights for The Disadvantaged. The name that readily comes to mind is Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, the retired Catholic Bishop of Lagos Diocese. Other members, with untarnished reputation from the three major ethnic groups should be handpicked by Cardinal Okogie. This group will not defer to any government or the National Assembly.
The primary aim of the movement should be to rid Nigeria of its toxic and comical culture of gross corruption and crushing poverty. The movement would exert pressure on the insensitive rulers by mobilizing and leading the army of the poor in protests, sit-ins, sit-outs, and other civil disobedience strategies that have shown concrete and lasting results in other nations.
Through the army of the poor, the leaders of the movement would force the tragically deaf-toned federal government and the National Assembly to spend our resources on the poor, the exploited Nigerians and our communities, especially desperate young Nigerians whose broken lives are crying out for new, humane possibilities in the midst of the wealthiest nation in Africa.
The proposed Okogie led Civil Rights Movement should be open to a newer, deeper, less-travelled directions in confronting the systemic social, political, and economic problems that terrorize every poor Nigerian. Such a movement would pay attention to the cries of the poor people and organize a spirit-based, pro-democracy activism, thoughtful social analysis of issues, and crusade for our best possibilities. Members of the movement should be justice-obsessed and prophetic spokespersons for the poor.
Leaders of the proposed movement should speak with unflinching honesty and undeniable authenticity. They should rise up from their stool of indifference, retreat from their flight into unreality, and force the federal government to open its checkbooks to the aid of suffering Nigerians.
I challenge them to be what Dr. King call 'creative dissenters who will call our beloved nation to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble of expression of humanness.'
The proposed Okogie led Civil Rights Movement will fight for the following Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged:
1. Right to adequate housing.
2. Right to adequate income.
3. Right to quality and accessible education.
4. Right of every Nigerian to a slice of the national pie that will provide enough money for basic necessities for one's family.
5. Right to safety and security of life and property.
6. Right to quality and accessible health care.
7. Right to guaranteed pension and payment as at due.
8. Right to provision of infrastructures - uninterrupted supply of treated water, electricity, road, etc.
9. Fight the unjustified opulence, the ill-gotten gain, and the excessive materialism of the ruling class.
10. Fight the triple evils of corruption, poverty, and insecurity.
I read somewhere that 'the promises you don't keep become the ones that define you.' Indeed, the same holds true for a nation. It is a nation's broken promises, the contract it makes with its citizens and fails to keep that define it. No nation in my opinion, exemplifies this than Nigeria - a nation of broken promises.
Preaching at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King said: 'I choose to identify with the underprivileged. I choose to identify with the poor. I choose to give my life for the hungry … This is the way I'm going. If it means suffering a little bit, I'm going that way. If it means sacrificing, I'm going that way, because I heard a voice say 'Do something for others.'' Nigerians of conscience, 'Do something for others.'
Let's transform this reluctant nation into its best possible self!
Written by Bayo Oluwasanmi.