The Fierce Urgency of Now - By Chido Onumah
On April 4, 1967, at the height of US involvement in the Vietnam War, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech entitled 'Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.' The thrust of the speech, an excoriation of the US government, was the compelling need for America to do something, and urgently too, to stop the atrocities in Vietnam, and bring that inglorious war to an end.
'We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity,' Dr. King wrote. For him, the consequences of silence or inaction were too grave. These words ought to resonate with us. Events in the last few weeks in Nigeria have left me wondering about the fierce urgency of now. The spate of bomb blasts across the country and the general state of insecurity that came to its height with the bombing of the Police Headquarters in Abuja is a reflection of how the Nigerian state has degenerated. But the attack was significant in other ways. It was not just an attack against the Nigeria Police which has unduly drawn the ire of the public. By targeting the bastion of our national security, the bombers, whoever they were, were sending a clear message. Unfortunately, the leaders of our neo-colonial state have failed to take notice. The response by the government has been, not surprisingly, tentative at best. Three weeks after, we do not know whether it was a suicide attack, a time bomb, or a foreign terrorist attack. Since the incident, the President and Commander-in-Chief has not shown any resolve to tackle terrorism, or any of the numerous problems, including corruption, that have placed us at No14 on the list of failed nations. Not too long ago, I wrote about the window of opportunity the April 2011 election offered us. One can conveniently conclude, with the benefit of hindsight, that it was an opportunity willfully wasted. But even for those who voted for President Goodluck Jonathan there must be some concern about the lack of urgency to confront the tragedy that is looming. There is very little that demonstrates that President Goodluck Jonathan appreciates the fierce urgency of now. The fact that the president inherited a broken system is not an excuse for the situation to get worse. Almost a month after he was sworn in as president, for the second time in about a year, Mr. President has yet to make up his mind on who to appoint as ministers and get the 'business' of governance going. Expectedly, all manner of charlatans and political hangers-on have taken over the public space while hunger and poverty stalk the land and insecurity envelops the country. The other day, I came across a news clip on Africa Independent Television (AIT) that rankled me. An association of unemployed youth, including ex-militants, held a press conference calling for the re-appointment of ex-minister of petroleum resources, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke. The coverage by AIT was extensive. Unfortunately, there was little or no interrogation from reporters who these unemployed youth were and why they were demonstrating on behalf of a three-time minister. My initial reaction was that of indignation. But the irony of the demonstration was not lost on me. My mind then went to the media and why AIT found the story so "newsworthy' to give it such extensive coverage, after all who knew how much oil Nigeria produced, how many barrels were exported or siphoned and how much the country made from the sale of crude oil during the tenure of the former petroleum minister? The cynical part of me concluded that the idea of ex-ministers pitifully lobbying to come back after 'serving" the country for three or four years was not about service. If the job entailed working 12 hours a day to fix the economy, unemployment, and other national maladies, very few people would be interested. It is so easy to understand why nothing works in this country blessed with abundant human and material resources. It is simply that those who are paid or who appropriate public fund for themselves to make things work, are either lacking sincerity or grossly inept. I thought I was in pre-1999 Nigeria when I read a statement by the Senate President, Senator David Mark, who recently had cause to admonish lobbyists asking him to run for president in 2015, that it was not necessary for President Jonathan to attach portfolios to the names of ministers that will be sent to the Senate for screening. The logical question would be: What then is the purpose of bringing them to the Senate? Just as I was recovering from the shock of the position of the No 3 citizen, I saw screaming headlines that our elected governors had insisted that the federal government should remove fuel subsidy as a condition for States paying the national minimum wage. Let's just take a different perspective on the issue. Nigeria is a major oil producer. When it is available, kerosene, the choice fuel for the masses, for cooking and keeping lamps on for the greater part of the night, costs about N1,000 ($7) a gallon. For an individual that takes home N18,000 ($115) a month, the minimum wage translates to N600 ($4) a day, minus rent, transportation, electricity, hospital, water bill, etc.
I have been looking for a metaphor to describe the Nigerian situation. The closest I have come is likening the country to a victim of a ghastly motor accident. Of course, when an accident victim is taken to the hospital, bleeding all over, what you do is to quickly stop the bleeding and stabilize the patient. For a country tragically sick as Nigeria, a victim of multiple injuries inflicted by marauding bands of unconscionable wayfarers, there is the fierce urgency of now. No country survives for too long on life support. Let's hope our Goodluck doesn't turn into gridlock.