Nigeria: A Nation Of Cowards And Docile Citizens
It is said that “a nation of sheep is governed by wolves”. Nigerians have not only become sheepish and docile but also whiners and cowards. Docility has become our middle name and we have come to display it on our chests as badges of honor. I don’t know when we became this way but I’m sure it’s been long in the making. Over the years it has become more evident that we have become a very timid and spineless people, with a high degree of acceptance and tolerance of whatever mistreatment our leaders, both at the local, State, and Federal levels mete out to us. There is a popular saying, “the future belongs to those who change it”. In Nigeria today, we have as its citizens, though ethnically, linguistically and culturally diverse, a people who are scared or reluctant to effectively bring about real change and not the fake change promised by the APC. A people who continuously elect and re-elect people whose past track records does not show any evidence of any real effort in terms of policies or actions to improve their lives or their standard of living. This is what Aribisala said not long ago about the President on this issue. “He, Buhari commanded the support of a significant number of the Northern poor, inspite of the fact that there is absolutely nothing in his curriculum Vitae about advancing the interest of the poor”. Here he, the President is not alone. The same can be said of most of our Governors and national Assembly members. The reality of our situation in Nigeria today is that we wallow in the statusquo and seem to be content with it. We whine and complain daily about our leaders and the deplorable state of our existence but fail to acknowledge our role in electing them or the courage to hold them accountable.
The more I read about events in Nigeria or the state of the nation, the alarming scope of corruption despite the war against it, the ineffective or none -existent economic policies and its aftermath, the increasing poverty rate in the country especially in the North, the complicity of INEC and our security officials in rigging elections, the non-payment of worker’s salaries both at the state and federal levels, the religious massacres by herdsmen and the lack of a tough response or arrests by federal government officials and the financial appeasement by a state governor, the instability in the Niger Delta, the agitation for Biafra by the Igbo’s, the unending blame campaign of the President of his predecessor, etcetc, the more I feel morbidly entranced like a homicide detective gazing into a pool of freshly spilled blood. I use the phrase freshly spilled blood literally because that’s what each new unfortunate event looks like. If I may borrow the words of Pat Utomi in a recent comment he made, “Nigeria is a paradox of progressive degradation, where every Government is worse than the one that preceded it”. As the new year begins this month I have become more apocalyptic about the future of the country and its political stability.
The honest truth is that going by the economic deprivations and increasing poverty and hardships being experienced presently by a majority of Nigerians, the various administrations at all levels have been abysmal failures in bringing the change they all promised, which amounts to a betrayal of faith and trust. It is, therefore, no gainsaying to admit that a lot of Nigerians are beginning to lose faith in the people they elected to lead them. However, while those in the South East and some in the South South are most critical of the President, those in the North seem to be solidly behind him and have a blind faith in his abilities. As usual, those in the South West are on both sides of the political divide. At the state’s level, communities who voted for certain candidates out of ethnic or party loyalties are beginning to have second thoughts about the voting choices they made. That notwithstanding, herein lies our dilemma as a people, the inability to separate ethnic and party loyalty from the national good or what is good for the nation or state.
It is a truism that Nigeria has become a more divided country since the present administration came to power as the finger-pointing continues as to who is responsible for it. While some continue to absolve the President, they however conveniently ignore the saying, “the fish rots from the head”. You cannot say you belong to everyone and not to anyone, but when you hear the news of Christians being killed in Southern Kaduna or herdsmen slaughtering defenseless farmers, keep quiet and fail to condemn it and take actions that are considered belated. You cannot arrest or permit soldiers to kill innocent Biafra agitators in the South East, Charge and lock up NnamdiKanu on charges of treason and permit to be released detained Boko Haram terrorists in Borno State who committed treasonable crimes of waging a war against the country just because someone claims they have been declared clean. We all know it has and will never be easy incorporating the different ethnic groups into a more united citizenry and herein lies our inability to speak with one voice when it comes to our response and reaction to the political process, outcomes and policy decisions made by our leaders. But this must not be. We as a people, especially our young people irrespective of our political, ethnic or religious differences must learn to speak up and speak out when we see things going the wrong way. If I may borrow the words of John Lewis, the African American civil rights leader, “they must find a way to get in the way”. Getting in the way does not mean demonstrations or riots but speaking out and doing so forcefully.
There seems to be a blindness that has envelopedthe Nigerian nation and its citizenry and the ability to see or voice our opposition and opinions regarding the present state of affairs. Our leaders on the other hand, in their indifference, have become blind to the suffering of ordinary Nigerians. The people have become so accepting of their condition that a little kindness by their leaders, such as allowing the importation of rice for the Christmas period is proverbial. For most Nigerians, they have become sightless souls led by clueless leaders gripping the other end of the stick. Blindness in its helplessness reassures those who still have their eyesight it is an omission, not commission. But lost in a vicegrip of lost hope, and lack of courage to speak up and demand real change, people like Governor Fayose have emerged to fill the void, a firewall of rationality at a time when other leaders have lost their voices. Love him or hate him, his virtues or lack thereof not withstanding he stands alone as a voice in the wilderness, hoping someone will join him. But Nigerian politicians being who they are, ‘political prostitutes’ are busy jumping ship to the APC. Instead of playing the role of a viable opposition by proposing alternative policies and proposals and not just criticisms, they are busy abandoning their parties like rats fleeing a sinking ship. As the out-going U.S President, Barack Obama recently remarked in his farewell speech recently, “Democracy does not require uniformity”. The point is that everyone cannot belong to the same party because if that is allowed to happen, democracy dies and what we will end up with is a one-party state.
Nigerians need a reawakening. A reawakening of our values, the opening of our vocal cords and voice dissent when we disagree with certain policies. We need an emotional detachment from leaders from our ethnic group, the tolerance of other religions and practices other than our own, the willingness to voice our concerns and preferences, the resistance against letting our sense of outrage be subsumed by the “fight against corruption which have become a poor and pathetic make-shift substitute for effective public policy” as Aribisala recently pointed out. As a nation of cowards and docile whiners, we seem to have learned nothing from our experiences of the past, which is that Nigerians have since independence been cursed with very selfish leaders who in their very nature are political unarmed robbers. We have National Assembly members who collect over a million Naira monthly as emoluments and planning to buy the Senate President an official car worth millions when workers at both the federal and state levels are owed salaries and no one speaks up or speaks out. We have a country where every institution, be it the Judiciary, the armed forces, the police, Customs, Civil Service etc have been bastardized and compromised. We have a country where customs officers still openly demand and collect bribes at our airports and seaports, where policemen daily collect bribes at checkpoints, where retiring civil servants leave with assigned government properties and where the rich fail to pay their fair share of taxes but present fake documents when asked to show proof of tax payments, yet we cower in silence and later whine like cry babies.
Despite all the aforementioned problems, the greatest handicap in any effort by Nigerians in voicing their concerns on any given issue is ethnicity depending on which tribe is in power and the fact that we have collectively as a people lost our sense of outrage.While we vilify others, we are always reluctant to do the same to crooks from our own ethnic groups. Most Southerners were silent and less accusatory of the bribery and corruption during the Jonathan era but have been very vocal in vilifying Buhari, which is exactly what people from the core North are presently guilty of. It is very obvious for all to see that the state of the nation called Nigeria is not good nor is the future promising. We have a country where political discourse and essential loyalties have shifted over the years from ideas to parties, to tribes, and to individuals. Tribal victories have become the ultimate political objective in our elections, whereby the victory of a politician who is ill-equipped and less qualified, intellectually and otherwise for the position he or she is contesting for is more important to his kinsmen or ethnic group than the ability to perform the job. A nation where the truth has been hijacked by deniers and its citizens incapable of separating facts from truth and denying known and provable facts. Comments on social media on any issue is a prime example. Ultimately the guardrails protecting our democracy are no longer as secure as they should be.
My prediction is that if something is not done quickly our nascent democracy which is now as fragile as it will ever be will ultimately collapse and with it the nation known as Nigeria. When a President preaches unity but wait two weeks to condemn the killings of more 800 Christians in Southern Kaduna, but responds in less than 24 hours of the bombing of a Mosque in Bornu state, something is obviously wrong. When, in a section of the country, cows are considered more important than a human life, there is need for a re-examination of our values. When a state Governor willingly and purposefully spend billions of his state’s finances fighting court cases so as to remain in power while thousands of civil servants are owed their salaries and pensions, conscience has definitely taken flight and replaced by heartlessness. I see no future for Nigeria, for as recent events have shown our religious problems are going to get worse, INEC will continue to be complicit in rigging elections whereby in 2019 most of the leaders we presently despise will win re-elections, mainly because we, voiceless, timid, clueless and unrepentant Nigerians will vote for them again, our suffering will continue and as usual we will revert to our favorite pastime which is to whine and complain. The truth is that our destiny lies in our hands and we must come together irrespective of tribe or religion to bring about the change we desire and hope for. We must identify and vote for the right candidates irrespective of what tribe they come from as long as they represent our values and will bring about the change we need. Above all, we must speak up and speak out when things are going wrong and when we disagree with certain policies. We must also bear in mind as Shakespeare wrote in his play Julius Caesar, “Cowards die many times before their death, but the valiant die only but once”.
Nnanna Ijomah is a former Special Assistant to the late Chief Emeka Ojukwu (Ikemba) and a New York City based Political Science lecturer. [email protected]