We have feared long enough -By Leonard K. Shilgba, PhD

Source: huhuonline.com

By December 26th, 2009 it would be exactly one year since the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) and the State Security Service (SSS) were deployed by the Nigerian government to stop our planned rally in Gboko, Benue state. The symbolism of our efforts and the timid response of government remain unmistaken by a keen observer of events in Nigeria.

Since 1960, Nigerian politicians and military power hijackers have often feasted on the ignorance of the people to either hold unto power or seize it unapologetically. Any attempts by a group or an individual to educate the mass of the people is viewed by those power mongers as a direct affront to their misperceived right to power.

Millions of Nigerians, therefore remain in complete ignorance of the unjust remuneration of public office holders in comparison to the pittance the Nigerian workers earn, contrary to section 16 (2) (d) of the Nigerian constitution; they are unaware of the huge billions of naira voted for “constituency projects”, which are never used for the purpose by their legislators; they fail to understand that in accordance with sections 69 and 110 of the Nigerian constitution, they can initiate and carry through the process of recall of their perennially under-performing legislators, who are in league with the executive to fleece our economy.

Every four years, those politicians throw some bait at the deliberately impoverished people; compel them to queue in the hot African sun to give some credibility to an “election” process whose outcome was decided long before the ritual. If change must come to Nigeria, the Nigerian people will have to decide when it is time. When I talk of the Nigerian people, I have uppermost in mind certain categories of people who have both the platform and follower-ship to infuse in the people that fervor that will make them straighten their back so that no one will have a free ride. If for instance, church leaders in Nigerian towns and cities come together, plan, and call out their congregants after the fashion of the Montgomery efforts in the days of Dr. Martin Luther King, would it be a light thing? If Mosque Imams and leaders call out their faithful worshippers for public enlightenment and motivate them to stand up for their right to vote and have their votes count, would that be a thing to ignore? If church and mosque leaders in our towns and cities team up in an inter-faith dialogue, leading to mass action for the voice of the Nigerian electorate to be respected, would it not be effective?

The true motivation for good governance in any democracy is not necessarily the desire to serve, but the consequence of poor governance and judgment in an elective position. It is a given, therefore, that until the Nigerian voter has true electoral power, good governance in Nigeria will remain a mirage. For how long must we fear as a people and continue to buy into the deceit that continually emanates from power corridors?

We are often fed the fad word “reform”. Every government comes up with one form of “reform” and another, and seeks to discredit the previous government. Yet, public officials have failed to reform their pernicious ways, and the people are never better off. “Probes” are launched, but the outcomes are never seen. Government officials reveal only the much that they want; the people jump at the half-truths, decoys, and innuendos and allow themselves to be occupied with inconsequential distractions while the charade continues. Huge amounts are voted for public projects in the yearly rituals called “Budgets”; the outcomes don't match the votes, yet the people are distracted by yet another ritual.

Seeing that Nigerians are highly religious, I boldly project that true public arousal for change may not be completely devoid of religious influences. So long as church and mosque leaders remain watchers at the door steps of political power, so long will the people remain, in the words of Dr. King, “superstitious”, asking God to do for them what already they are divinely equipped to do for themselves. I am a preacher, pastor, and scholar, all rolled in one, yet, I do not see in God's word the urging towards that docile attitude towards social decay that I have seen in my nation. There is no contradiction between the preaching of love and due enlightenment of the people to physically stand up for social change. Ignorance breeds bondage, and God has never in the history of mankind decreed societal ignorance as a virtue. Rather, he declares that destruction follows ignorance. We are called upon to resist evil with good. Goodness is in all deeds which grow liberty, freedom, and justice. Goodness is in whatever is light, and whatever makes manifest is light. We are to have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness, but to rather expose them. It is not goodness that begins, continues, and ends only at the place of prayer for the nation; that is insipid timidity.

The generally unresponsive attitude of Nigerian religious leaders to the political captivity of the people seems to give credence to the claim by some that religion is the opium of the masses. If you are a religious leader reading my essay, why don't you consider forming a Social and Political Action committee in your church, mosque, synagogue, or temple? It is time to arise and cast off this fear. It is time for our pulpit monks to send out the message which is relevant to society. We are weekly fed messages promising “healing” and “prosperity”, yet, the Nigerian society remains physically and socially sick (with life expectancy declining towards the forty mark) and materially poor, with more than 70 percent of the people living below poverty line. Shouldn't my fellow preachers examine the content of their sermons at this defining moment? If the religious community, gingered on by their leaders, wake up, I guarantee, we shall clean up our politics in no time. If we have lingered longer than expected in the wilderness, it is because our religious leaders, like Miriam, have been stricken with the leprosy of compromise.

It is our generation, it is our time. The whole creation in our nation groans, waiting for our manifestation. Do not simply complain behind your gates, give expression to the grief within your heart. Let us join our hands across the nation. Let us consider that whatever we give to society goes on a journey, bears fruits, and returns to us, either to haunt or honor us. If you have given excuses to society, remember this truism—Everybody expects somebody to do it; nobody does it. So everybody complains that nobody does it. What you expect somebody to do for our nation, the only person that may do it will be nobody. And truly, nobody does as good a job as you can.

Vision 20-2020 is a fluke until we clean up our politics. We cannot build on a faulty foundation. Seven-point Agenda is a pitiable distraction with less than 30 percent budget implementation, and perennial incompetence of President Yar'Adua as its albatross. Let me, as carefully as possible, appeal to my fellow scholars to be careful before we celebrate what those power mongers throw at us. The recent CBN “reform” is a smoke screen. It pains me that we can so quickly jump at an empty show. What is the international reaction to the melodramatic spell by the Sanusi-led CBN? Our credit rating has dropped; our corruption perception level has risen; necessary investment funds are drying up; banks have been given orders to suspend lending (in spite of credible collaterals that intending borrowers may provide) in an economy that desperately needs shots of investment to create jobs and drive down poverty (with all artificial bottlenecks such as poor electricity, in spite of Yar'Adua's hyped December 2009 deadline). There were problems quite alright, with regard to toxic debts, which were high-lighted by the previous CBN leadership. But the process of re-dress by the CBN has been anything but intelligent. Some of us understand very well the politics that is being injected into anything that will poke at certain individuals. It is sad when we take the bait without suspicion. Grandstanding remains the saleable commodity of an incompetent government in a society that is hardly enlightened to see beyond the hype.

It grieves me to hear of “Amnesty to Niger Delta militants.” The Nigerian federal government is the one that requires to be given amnesty. It is an insult to invade my house, take away my belongings and then turn back to announce some insolent “amnesty” for me. Where there is no justice, peace will be a pipe dream. Plenty of praise to Yar'Adua for the “unprecedented amnesty” will be nothing if the required investment in the Niger Delta does not happen urgently. If the polluted environment (contrary to section 17 (2) (d) of the Nigerian constitution) is not cleaned up and infrastructural development of the region remains singularly a public relations jingle, I fear for the nation. If the US government sees Nigeria as a veritable source of accessible and high-quality oil, and would indirectly get behind an empty “amnesty” without the Nigerian government first, addressing the sore issue of resource control after the fashion of the 1960 and 1963 constitutions of Nigeria, “we ain't seen nothing yet.”

I saw the other day a caption in a Nigerian newspaper, “US supports deregulation”. I wonder if a US newspaper will care to report that “Nigeria supports public option in the proposed Health bill in the US senate.” Trust is very important for effective governance. Nigerian governments take the issue of public trust for granted. I state categorically, that the Nigerian government lacks the credibility to deregulate the downstream oil sector now. The government must build that trust first; and this will take years and the doing of certain things I had written about in the past about the subject. We don't care if all Nigerian governors and the US government support the planned policy. The Nigerian government cannot afford to ignore us; it would be one terrible mistake and stretching of the luck too far.

What are you gonna do, brother. What are you gonna do sister? We have feared long enough. If we refuse to bend our backs no government can ride us any further.

Leonard Karshima Shilgba is the President of the Nigeria Rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org and Assistant professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria.TEL: 08055024356Email: [email protected]

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