CHANGING OUR STORY!
My earliest thoughts about politics and government I would link to the Civil rights movement in America, the anti apartheid struggle in South Africa and the general condition of the black man on the African continent. My early heroes naturally were the likes of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Kwame Nkrumah, WEB Dubois, Paul Robeson, Amilcar Cabral and others who for me embodied the spirit of the emancipation of the black man. In other words my formative views of politics were intrinsically tied to the lot of the black man. Growing up and reading of the slave trade brought deep pain to me at the plight of millions of black people sold into slavery. Added to this was the struggle through secondary school and university to accept a history of Africa as a backward continent in every sense of the word whether in terms of its economy, technological advancement and the strength of its political and social institutions. What made this worse was living as a student in the United Kingdom from the age of 18. My worldview from this time was naturally filled with aspirations for a radical transformation of the African condition.
The second republic in Nigeria and the re-emergence of Awolowo with UPN, Zik with NPP and the old Northern order predominantly in NPN were the backdrop nearer home to my exit from secondary school in 1979 and entry as a prelim student into the University of Nigeria Nsukka. Those were heady days as I tried to get a grip on the political landscape of Nigeria. Most of what I heard was a rehash of the pre and post independence political aspirations. Many would say Awo was the best President Nigeria never had. And when I enquired as to why he never became President the reply would be he was too sectional and so despite his brilliance and development minded orientation he had little appeal it seemed beyond the Yoruba populace. Zik was eloquent but seemed not to have anything new for Nigeria in 1979. With the British gone it seemed Zik’s best days were also gone. As for Shehu Shagari I recall listening to a debate, which a maternal Uncle of mine had with him on the principle of revenue allocation based on derivation. My Uncle was timid and unimpressive whilst Shagari was dour and boring.
This was 1979 and I was 17 years old at the time and perhaps youthful naïveté was behind my lofty expectations. I had hoped to see some political actors in the mould of an Nkrumah inspiring a vision of an African renaissance with inspiring oratory but alas. Where was the Nigerian equivalent of an Abdel Nasser or Leopold Senghor? In vain it seemed, I had hoped that with the intervening years of military rule our debate would have moved on to something more panoramic; something more fundamental about the holistic development of Nigeria and by implication Africa. I had always seen Nigeria’s unique size and population both a product of British happenstance rather than cultural homogeneity as a veritable tool for turning the tide of the black man. Nigeria I had always believed was God’s redeeming tool to change our story. You can therefore imagine how disappointed I was with the tone and texture of the national debate. Even now, many years later I still find it baffling that we have not had one President whose inspirational words have moved the nation onto a new paradigm of development.
Thankfully there have been major shifts forward in the black man’s condition globally. Not only was Nelson Mandela released from prison he went on to be the first post apartheid president of South Africa and today stands as statesman per excellence on the world stage. I can still recall that day on the 11th February 1990 when he walked out of jail hand in hand with Winnie Mandela. America today has a first generation Kenyan as President. However, much of Africa is still very much in a limbo of sorts. Can these conditions likewise change? Does Nigeria have a role in this much hoped for African renaissance? It had better! Otherwise our story would continue being one of great expectations but disappointing results.
Of course by 1983 our democratic experiment came to an abrupt end. By this time I was a law student in the United Kingdom. Very soon Nigeria was in the British news with the attempt by the Buhari government to get Umaru Dikko home in a crate. I can still remember the shock and consternation in the United Kingdom at the crude, insensitive, politically naïve, and inept and ill thought audacious attempt. It seemed as a nation it was our lot to bumble our way from one problem to another totally insensitive to international norms of decency and the Rule of Law. From then on for the next 16 years we went on a democratic hiatus. I became a lawyer and went on my own hiatus in search of wealth and fame as a lawyer.
So come 1999 and as Nigeria was making its third attempt at democratic rule I was in the UK trying to find my feet after a 5year stint as a missionary. You might wonder what happened to the lawyer in search of wealth and fame, but that’s a story for another day. I would return to Nigeria in 2001 and still find myself fired by this zeal for a transformed Nigeria with a radically different persona as a leading nation on the world stage. From 2001 – to date I had hoped that by some divine sleight of hand, God would providentially place me in the political space just as He did with Daniel and Joseph. Nine years later, I think different. I realize that those sorts of divine interventions are the exception. I believe God would rather empower any man or woman who stands up to be counted.
So I have come to realize (not too late in the day I hope) that I must leave the spectator stand of commentary and get involved in the arduous task of nation building. The task is so arduous and multifaceted with opportunities everywhere such that we are spoilt for choice as to where to make a difference.
What would my focus be? People of course! Every nation’s greatest asset is its people. Some may think natural resources. But every nation that has attempted transformational development based on its abundance of natural resources has had limited success. The greatest nations on earth have thrived in spite of a lack of or limited natural resources. People are the currency for true greatness. It is in this context that it is easy to see that the 21st century Nigerian is in dire need of help. The Nigerian of the 21st century is fundamentally ill equipped to face the challenge of life, talk less of thriving and adding value to the national output. The ingenuity of God in creating man in His image and likeness makes a people centered development paradigm a given for true national transformation. Recently I read a report titled the Singapore Competitiveness Report 2009. In the introduction to this report the author of the report wrote about Singapore’s transition from an investment driven economy to an innovation driven economy. What struck me reading the report is the centrality of human capital development for this kind of transition to take place. Innovation was always and will always remain the product of human ingenuity. Therefore this transition is premised on Singapore continuing to build on its solid foundation of investment in human capital development. By the same token another report I read prepared by the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta highlights the fact that only 13% of young people in the Niger Delta make it to University. By the way Singapore’s listed natural resources are a deep-sea port and fisheries. Now juxtapose Singapore and Nigeria with vast reserves of Oil and Gas. Singapore boasts one of the highest per capita incomes in the world whilst Nigeria boasts one of the lowest. In other words for all the natural resources our people are poor and impoverished.
To put the challenge in context I will quote from the last known research effort of Claude Ake, possibly one of the brightest Social Scientists Nigeria ever had. “The assumption so readily made that there has been a failure of development is misleading. The problem is not so much that development has failed as that it was never on the agenda in the first place. By all indications, political conditions in Africa are the greatest impediment to development”. On this note I return to my central theme - the emancipation of the African and the woeful state of political discourse nearer home in Nigeria. Recently Babangida was quoted as saying he would appoint a team of experts when asked what his plans for Nigeria were. If Nigeria’s emancipation were dependent on a team of experts, how come in his 8 years of military rule from 1985 – 1993 this did not happen? What bankruptcy of vision! Can you imagine Obama’s response to the same question?
The challenge for Nigeria is about changing our story. We can script a new paradigm of development centered on the inestimable value of every Nigerian regardless of tribe, religion or social status. We must script a new development paradigm where we recognize that every Nigerian is invaluable in the development process and has quantifiable, measureable innate value that must be unlocked, refined and tapped for the common good not just of society but in fulfillment of every God ordained desire for self actualization. This is the Nigeria I yearn for, will work for and I pray see achieved before I die. So emancipation is still at the heart of the Nigerian condition. This time the colonialists are not some Caucasians from far way Europe but our kith and kin who having found that the institution of government can very well function without you and I. Of course having discovered this they are bent on ensuring we don’t have a say in what affects our common destiny. But we are determined to change our story as we leave the spectator stands and join the fray. This is our only hope for changing our story.