I don’t even know if what I’m going to say here amounts to celebrating Nigeria at 57. In this piece, I will be more interested in expressing my own humble perception of current happenings in the country.
Conversations on the pages of social media these days are mainly over what Nigeria is to us in our different ways. In the midst of our conflicting identities, differences and seeming incompatibilities, there are somehow growing attempts to reinterpret history, to rewrite or even to reinvent it from angles that are, more often than not, completely grotesque.
There is no denying the fact that great harm has been inflicted on our collective psyche through our obdurate attachments to ill-informed views on the root cause of our brutal realities. Our ill-informed opinions are accentuated by a postmodern context where subjectivity rather than objectivity and dispassionate assessment of issues are more and more gaining credulity in our truth-claims, in our public discourse.
We are of course operating very late in the hour in an Orwellian world where truth and falsehood are made to swap position in our current system of binary thinking. In our market place of competing narratives, in our post-truth revisionism, so to say, ideas are muddled up and knowledge is ultimately sacrificed at the alter of obfuscation, all in our frenzy to create space for our ill-informed views, opinions and beliefs on what is wrong with our mode of existence as a people, and as a nation. Truth always has a way of handsomely paying whoever develops the courage to uphold it, especially amidst the cacophony of unending contestations over power and resources, of ever raging new narratives and counter-narratives, which are seemingly convincing on the basis of their own tropes, rhetoric, logic and frame of referencing.
Whatever Nigeria is becoming to some of us who are trigger happy to invert our postcolonial normative, nobody can deny the fact that the country contains some potentials of greatness which are carefully laced by some inexplicable mystique, by a sense of bonding that is everywhere defying the heterogeneity of geography, while at the same time paradoxically promoting historical homogeneity against all the odds that are rearing their ugly heads experientially all over the place. This has at least been the unfolding character of Nigeria since our 20th century encounter with colonial miscegenation. By all means, therefore, we cannot now continue to insist that Nigeria is a mere accident of history even if we are resolved to undo more than one hundred years of our history together as a nation created by the “accident” of colonialism. Nigeria needs to put its act together in order to forge ahead for the sake of our shared commonalities, such that we have been born out of our living together as a nation that was completely created independent of our will by the dominant global powers.
However, a situation in which we seek to deny truth, justice and equity in our operations is not going to augur well for the very survival of Nigeria. We need to tell ourselves the home truth about the requirement of nation building, which always nourishes itself on the spirit of sacrifice and hard work. We cannot be perpetually complaining while at the same time expecting things to be good and rosy. Things can only be good when we resolve to live up to our responsibilities to our nation. We must be honest enough to accept not just our collective failure, but also our collective responsibility to move the nation forward, individually and collectively, to even unimaginable heights of progress and development. It is all about our conviction and willingness to change our tactics, because the current approach is clearly not working. The approach has effectively led us to a cul-de-sac. Nations like the people inhabiting them have lives of their own. For our nation to grow and flourish and become competitive, we need to tenderly attend to it like we do to our object of love. We need to make the necessary sacrifice in our individual ways in order to make our tomorrow better than our today from our own different locations. The earlier we address our perceived anomalies the better for the country, the only country we have.
The popular media discourse in Nigeria is of course resource control, restructuring, and what some sections of the country call true federalism. So be it. Let’s have them. But no group should make the mistake of thinking that Nigeria must be restructured based on its own narrow notion of restructuring the nation. The interests of each section of the country must be factored into whatever restructuring is going to take place. Let’s go for everything that we are agitating. Let’s have all that for God’s sake. Whatever everybody will say, if we do not consciously decide to make Nigeria great we shall continue to remain where we are, frozen in time and space. Can anybody force you out of your own homeland with any type of restructuring? I don’t think so.
But whatever your homeland or Nigeria is today, it is what we have deliberately and consciously chosen to make it, good or bad. We are solely the architects of our fortune or misfortune. Whatever we want to be as a people, I want to believe, completely borders on the choices we make yesterday, today and tomorrow. In any case, it is all part of our inalienable rights and freedoms as citizens of a nation that appended its signature to the United Nations Charter on Human Rights, which guarantees us the right to express our views and opinions freely without hindrance insofar as the process of the expression of our fundamental rights is not going to go in the way of someone else’s rights and freedoms.
This is the sense in which no individual or group should be allowed to impose their will on others. Herein lies the significance of strict observance of the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution in all that we do. There are indeed civilized procedures of handling grievances ingrained in our Constitution despite its imperfections. Upholding the Constitution will save Nigeria from a lot of needless problems. The earlier we recognize the powers of arbitration invested in our Constitution the better. But under no circumstances should we allow any group or individuals to lose their sense of belonging to Nigeria, even if it requires allowing members of the group to exercise its freedom to self-determination, which can be done strictly on the basis of Constitutional provisions, and other legal parameters, procedures, rules and regulations of Nigeria.
Increasingly, there is a creeping tendency to resort to extra judicial measures in tackling existential problems in Nigeria. This approach can only worsen relationships between groups. It can only be unwillingly accepted under military dictatorship. Democracy has no room for any leader to operate outside the laws, procedures, rules and regulations contained in our statutory books. However, what is missing is the will to impose the necessary safeguards, checks and balances of our extant laws. Making the provisions of our laws work is another means that can be translated as strengthening the institutions of state that are daily being abused. But based on our complexity as a nation we cannot afford to operate on the basis of arbitrariness.
Personally, my opinion in all these fractious developments in the country is that they are all part of the handiwork of the power elite that want us perpetually divided, that kept recycling themselves over the years, and who have refused to play their role constructively in giving a worthwhile direction to the nation. Nigeria will not grow or develop to the levels we desire without fashioning out strategies that will consistently be deployed in the deepening of the spirit of nationalism or sense of patriotism. Forging a strong Nigeria requires the use of the building blocks of culture.
Cultural nationalism must aim at those ingredients and forms drawn from the wealth of cultures our country Nigeria is blessed with. It is only a national culture that would creatively and imaginatively bond our diverse peoples. Instead, our ethnic cultures are allowed to play a destructive role, a role in which members of each group are made to recoil into their ethnic shells. The other factors that need strengthening are the virtues of honesty, transparency and accountability, which must be complimented by the principles of justice, equity and fair play irrespective of where we come from in the federation. Nigerian state itself must copy how those nations we love to imitate the spirit of sustain patriotism.
At this juncture, we must not forget to mention how bad leadership is fanning the embers of frustration, disenchantment and disillusionment in the Nigerian society. There is therefore the need for leaders to buckle up to their responsibility of providing quality leadership. Our leaders at all levels must wake up from their slumber. They must urgently reprioritize their development agenda amidst teeming population of especially educated and uneducated restive youths in the country. If the needs and aspirations of members of this social group are not catered for, there will never be peace; there will never be an end to conflicts, crises and instability in Nigeria. In fact, the problems that we are seeing today will be nothing compared to the horrors of tomorrow if the future of our youths is not secured.
Mr Liman is a professor of Comparative Literature and Popular Culture at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria