Monday, July 4, 2022

Waking Nigeria, the African giant, from slumber, by Usman Austin Okai

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A giant by human understanding of the word is a super-human being that differs from other mortals in many ways. Physically, he towers above all other human beings around him and makes everyone look like dwarfs of the famed pigmies of Congo. His strength is akin to that of a raging bull; grabbing mere mortals by the throat and flinging them aloof with the ease of lifting a feather with a finger.

Quiet, soft spoken and with bemusing clairvoyance, the giant is nonetheless feared and revered by other mortals. The folklores that were retold to many of us under moonlight in the villages in yore years after a hard day of work on the farms, portrayed him as gentle and compassionate towards the just but unforgivably punitive to wicked folks. So each time a story was told of a wicked king or stingy rich man or murderous scondrel, the image of the giant loomed in our innocent heads immediately wishing that he grabbed the errant individuals by the neck and fling them into hell fire. We were often disappointed when such stories ended without mention of the giant or retribution of any sort. As we grew into adulthood however, many of us came to realize that giants exist in real life.

Tall, muscular and broad shouldered oft with ripping veins, we saw many of them at least in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) arena and World Strongest Man competitions. This is in the human realm. We also came to realize that giants abound in other spheres of human endeavour. Education, sports, business, military, politics; you name them for yourselves please. But nowhere is the oppressive rather than redemptive power of the giant displayed than in international politics. We may faintly recollect the annexation of Austria, former Czechoslovakia and Poland by late Adolf Hitler’s Germany during World War 2. If many of us only read that from history books, what about the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq under late President Saddam Husseini? Or the almost unilateral response of the United States of America (USA) to President Saddam’s miscalculated adventure by also cajoling some ‘follow-follow’ nations into a hasty and uneven handed coalition to invade Iraq to topple President Sadaam’s regime under a bogus claim that the late dictator had weapons of mass destruction. As you read this, hundreds; perhaps thousands of destructive Russian missiles, mortars or bombs may be raining down on Ukraine.

These are examples of giants in international politics who take unilateral decisions in their best interests whether or not it suits others. Nigeria like most African nations belong in the exalted global committee of nations called the ‘United Nations Organization (UNO).’ Although many persons have questioned how united is the UNO that comprises arch rivals like the USA and Russia, USA and China or Israel and Iran, the organization nonetheless provides a platform for ventilating grievances and has proven a veritable talk-shop even if without corresponding positive actions. It is to the credit of UNO however that the world has seen less international wars until recently, 24th February, 2022 to be precise when Russia attacked Ukraine.

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Expectedly, the UNO gathered its members to agree on releasing a common resolution to condemn Russia’s action. No discerning observer of world politics expected unanimity of members while voting for the resolution. At least history has taught us that at least one or two of the five permanent members of UNO’s Security Council (France, UK, USA, China and Russia) would always veto passage of any resolution they deem out of sync with their respective national interests and aspirations. So when Russia voted against the resolution condemning its actions in Ukraine with China abstaining while UK, France and USA voted in favour, only few persons were surprised. The real surprise however was in the pattern of African votes that marked a visible departure from the past. According to result of a BBC survey on pattern of African votes, 17 or approximately half of the 35 abstentions came from the African block.

An African country outrightly voted against the resolution while no less than 5 others did not show appearances at all during the process of voting. This was more puzzling against the backdrop that most of the former colonial masters of African States voted in favour of the resolution and it was expected that their former colonies will follow in their wake as usual. This was however not the case as it seems ‘the Falcon no longer listens to the Falconer.’ The BBC survey adduced the sharp departure to three principal reasons to wit: the current Russian rapprochement with Africa, the effects of security cooperation between certain African States and support or indifference of the Russian President to dictatorial tendencies of most African leaders. The report spoke about how Nigeria as a regional giant failed to use its position as an African giant to galvanize other African nations into a voice for a common front on a crucial matter as war in Europe.

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At least Nigeria voted in support of the resolution to condemn Russians actions against Ukraine. How about South Africa that is considered another African giant that uncharacteristically abstained from voting on the resolution? Or some North African giants that also abstained or avoided the process altogether? Are we witness a new era of shifting allegiances or are African giants in slumber as usual? Do African giants so-called posses capacities and capabilities to do what other regional giants like Russia, the USA, China, Israel, Turkey etc are doing or are the mere clay-feeted giants that could disintegrate into a pile like the fabled humpty-dumpty of our kindergarten rhymes? Whatever the case, what is happening in Ukraine is instructive enough for African leaders, particularly Nigeria.

The nation has been adrift for a long time and why it has not ran aground or sunk completely can only be explained in the light of divine attention. But we are not any more religious than Ukraine or Iraq or Libya or even Syria. Yet, their sovereignties were violated by other international giants variously and repeatedly. And as emerging patterns of violations by international giants have shown, it does not require dispute over natural resources or boundary dispute any longer before one country attacks another these days. Mere perception is enough. The USA perceived Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and so invaded it before the country unleashed them on the world. Now too, Russia perceives credible threat from the west using its closest neighbour Ukraine as a buffer. So it attacked Ukraine despite all entreaties. Soon, any of the giants of international politics may perceive our country’s growing population as an existential threat and attack us with a chemical or biological agent to reduce our population. It may sound ridiculous and remote but it is a possibility. Perception is innocuous and fluid but it is increasingly becoming a conflict trigger.

That is why African giants like Nigeria must wake up from their long slumber and re-invent themselves. The late African sage, Nelson Mandela once said that Africa and Africans will not be taken seriously unless Nigeria uses its huge potentials to evolve a functional and progressive country that will not only be emulated by others, but which will provide direction and leadership to other African countries. Official corruption, mediocrity, religious bigotry, ethnic chauvinism, moral decadence, indiscipline, greed, armed robbery, banditry, insurgency, terrorism, 419 advance fee fraud scheme and lately human rituals to get rich quick have robbed us of attaining the desired leadership position in Africa.

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These scourges are mostly self-inflicted and tough to eliminate. They are however not insurmountable by all means. Regrettably, all the hopes that we haboured in 1999 with the return of democracy have evaporated like a pool of gasoline in the open on a scorching sunny day. Nigerian politicians hardly learn any lesson as, like dogs, often return to their vomit. The PDP government of 16 years was accused of corruption and mismanagement of the nation’s fortunes. Nobody can deny that there is no iota of truth in that accusation. At least PDP is populated by Nigerian politicians and even if you bring Angel Gabriel to be their Chairman, one will still find one or two corrupt individuals among them. So Nigerians needed a change and the APC cashed in on the change mantra to vilify PDP to high heavens. The APC also promised Nigerians that it would root out corruption, resuscitate Nigeria’s collapsing infrastructure and ensure adequate security of life and properties.

Any party or leader that can achieve these would have awoken one of Africa’s giant at least. Can anyone in good conscience say that Nigeria and Nigerians faired any better since 2015 when we were promised ‘change’ till date? Are Nigerians not wallowing deeper in poverty and insecurity currently than they were in 2015? Yet, Nigerian political parties and their politicians are currently preoccupied with winning the next elections in order to either perpetuate or join in corruption, nepotism and crass incompetence in governance that had defined us as a nation over the past 7 years or so. We cannot continue this way and the only solution is for Nigerians to become more discerning in choosing those that are to govern us.

Let us pay less attention to party or ethnic or religious or regional loyalties but pay more attention to the character, competencies and antecedents of the various individuals jostling for power and positions currently in Nigeria. It’s time to rebuild Nigeria courageously otherwise we risk inflicting more suffering on ourselves before other international giants come for us someday.

As I always advise, Nigerians shine your eyes please!

Mr Austin writes from Abuja.

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