Greatness Nigeriana

Posted: May 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

By Okey Ndibe
Those who draw their meal vouchers from the disastrous, blood-soaked project called Nigeria – among them politicians, pastors, imams, fuel marketers, enablers of fuel marketers, friends of fuel marketers, civil servants who gorge on pension funds, and “settled” ex-militants – often claim that Nigeria is marching toward greatness.

Last week, Ojo Maduekwe – ex-PDP party official, ex-minister of this and that ministry, ex-propagandist for bicycles, and now ambassador – took his turn at hyping Nigeria. At a forum organized by south-east zone of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Mr. Maduekwe – according to an account in The Nation of May 5, 2012 – claimed that the deadly bomb explosions in Nigeria would not jeopardize the country’s greatness. The report credited Mr. Maduekwe with arguing that “no amount of bombs and carnage by terrorists can destroy the human spirit in Nigeria to grow into a great nation.”

One hopes that the paper misquoted Mr. Maduekwe, but one doubts it. Nigerian government officials are frequently given to the fanciful sentiment that their thoroughly misconceived and misled country is waltzing its way to grandeur.

Whether they believe what they profess or not is a different question. I mean, how could anybody who’s observed a country stagger from one crisis to another summon the brashness to make upbeat projections? To believe the fiction of Nigeria’s movement towards greatness would require a degree of ignorance that’s hard to reach.

If Ambassador Maduekwe made the statement ascribed to him, then I can’t imagine that he expected to be taken seriously. And I’m willing to hazard that, deep-down, he doesn’t believe his own propaganda.

Nor did his statement sway many Nigerians. I took time to read the twelve or so readers’ comments posted online in reaction to Mr. Maduekwe’s reported claim. Not one of those readers seemed impressed. Instead, reader after consternated reader gave a harsh verdict on the ambassador’s statement.

The notion that Nigeria is headed in the right direction – forget about blazing towards glory – is demonstrably false. Even before Boko Haram emerged on the scene with its gruesome, explosive currency, Nigeria was teetering on the edge of a chasm. A country run by a tribe of greedy, grasping misfits has no place to go but down. A country where the majority of officials solely hearken to the dictates of their insatiable guts – such a country is fated for failure.

Before Boko Haram came along with their arsenal of violence, Nigerian government officials – military as well as civilian, “elected” and appointed alike – had demonstrated versatility in using the weapon of corruption to condemn millions of Nigerians to lives of grim misery and death.

Even if Boko Haram never showed up, it was a matter of time before the contradictions within the Nigerian space came to a head. A system that permitted – and still permits – a few to steal and steal from the many, with arrogance and impunity, was bound to explode, spawning all manner of violence. It’s no accident that Nigeria is plagued by high – and rising – rates of armed robbery, kidnapping, and other species of violence.

Nigerian politicians and public officials may be unique among their counterparts in the world in one respect. They appear to think it possible to throw in garbage at one end of a policy assembly line and somehow have superb results – a bountiful harvest – come out at the other end. They spend all their waking hours scheming on how to corner whatever funds are within sight (as well as much that’s far from sight) – and yet they hope that some grand achievement called Vision 20-20-10 would tumble down, like divine manna, from the sky. They steal votes, thwart the will of the electorate, ascribe their fraudulent mandates to divine choice – and yet speak volubly about the growth of democratic values.

In the context of these dysfunctional, antithetical habits, Ambassador Maduekwe’s treatise about Nigeria’s spirit of greatness rang – rings – hollow. Greatness, whether at the level of an individual or the larger organism called a nation, entails careful envisioning and disciplined action. It requires a staying stamina, to dream a future, and to work assiduously to translate what is imagined into reality. Sometimes, luck comes into play, but greatness is hardly ever attained by those who go out of their way – and many Nigerians, big and small, do – to subordinate any lofty national aspiration to personal or clannish interest. A nation’s greatness, quite simply, doesn’t happen by accident; it isn’t actualized merely by wishful thinking.

If you looked at the top headlines of last week’s issues of any Nigerian newspaper, you’d realize the falsity of describing Nigeria as a stable polity, much less one whose compass is set in the direction of great accomplishments. The headlines were dominated by reports of the gruesome assassination of Olaitan Oyerinde, principal private secretary to Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State; a declaration by Attorney General Mohammed Bello Adoke to the effect that the Goodluck Jonathan administration had little inclination to move expeditiously to prosecute those named by a legislative committee as having guzzled hundreds of billions of naira in illicit fuel subsidy claims; a (pathetic) pledge by the (mis)ruling PDP not to shield those named as exploiters of fuel subsidy payments, and a statement by President Goodluck Jonathan that a second term – in 2015 – was (at this time) far from his mind.

Mr. Oyerinde’s murder comes as his boss, Mr. Oshiomhole of the Action Congress of Nigeria, prepared to launch a campaign for reelection. Somebody tell me whether those who sent assassins after the governor’s aide have the vaguest idea of liberal democracy, to say nothing about governance or social greatness. How about Mr. Adoke’s plea for patience, his invocation of the ostensible doctrine of the rule of law? Nigerians have since learned to decode such statements as indicating the government’s determination to lull us to forgetfulness – even as those who made an unconscionable, scandalous run on fuel ballooning subsidy budgets retain access to the highest levels of political authority in the country. And isn’t it a fact of Nigerian politics that Mr. Jonathan’s plea that he’s not thinking about 2015 translates (wink, wink) into an affirmation that he’s focused on little else?

In the end, the Nigerian president can’t muster the spine to rise to any serious challenge of leadership precisely because he’s playing political football in a league where ineptitude, incompetence, the cozying up to fraudsters and other manner of criminals are deemed stellar qualifications.

Pray, how can a country that makes heroes of criminals steer its way to greatness?

Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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