An Essay by Dr Hassan M. Kukah
TOWARDS A NATIONAL REBIRTH: A CASE FOR A CEASARIAN OPTION
Being keynote lecture presented to the 18th Biennial Convention of the University of Nigeria Alumni Association held in Abuja on Thursday, 1st December, 2005 by Rev.Fr. Mattew kukah Vicar General, Archdiocese of Kaduna
I imagine that almost everyone here who has anything to do with the corporate world, or has attended a few Leadership courses will already know about a best selling book titled, "Who Moved My Cheese?" I personally only got to know about the book when a friend of mine who had just secured a senior position with a bank, asked if I could buy this book for her. When the bookshop attendant brought the book and told me the price, I thought she must be mistaken. First, the title itself, the size, and the cover of the book looked like it came straight out of the children's section of the bookshop. I immediately called my friend in anger to confirm if this was really the book, given the price. And she answered in the affirmative. I proceeded to buy the book, but still did not understand why such a pamphlet-because that is what it is-should be so expensive. Now, I know better.
Although the book reads like a bedside story for a 4 year-old-child, since it hit the bookstands, it became one of the most referenced books across the hollowed precincts of the various Business Schools from Boston to London to Tokyo. It received rave reviews from such great opinion moulding instituteons like Merrill Lynch, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Norman Vincent Peale of The Power of Positive Thinking fame, The Peter Drucker Centre, The Xerox Company to mention only a few. I feel that the philosophy of this booklet should be our starting point.
To refresh your minds, the little book is the story of two mice and two little men who discovered a hall of cheese. They settled to a comfortable life of cheese eating and decided to hang their running shoes as a sign that they were now prepared to settle to a life of comfort. Then, one day, they woke up to find no cheese. The two mice took off in search and soon found another hall of cheese. Then they settled to another life of cheese eating oblivious of the condition of their friends, who had refused to seek new challenges after the depletion of the first set of cheese. The two little men meanwhile had taken to waiting in hope that somehow, they would wake up from this dream and find their cheese back in its place. It did not happen. Then they became irritated, frustrated, and sleepless. They worked late hours trying to find the cheese. They even dug a hole through the wall to see if an enemy might have erected a wall to deny them the cheese. With no hope in sight, one of the little men decided to put on his running shoes and look elsewhere for a new cheese station. After some frustrating search, he found some little crumbs of cheese and came back to tell his friend, but the friend refused to taste the new cheese, insisting he wanted the old cheese back. To cut the story short, they continued their search and finally found their friends the mice in a new cheese station which they had found as soon as they took their destiny in their hands and went searching rather than staying in one place.
At the heart of the frustration was the fear of leaving the familiar for the unknown. The beauty of the story like all Business School case studies is that there are as many sides to the story as there are participants and readers. Similarly, I think that the story has a lesson for us in Nigeria for the simple reason that we have become stuck due to the fact that we still fear to try out new ideas and new ways of doing things. We continue to mourn the loss of the Sardaunas, Nnamdi Azikiwes, the Tafawa Balewas, and Obafemi Awolowos, and the, and so on as great leaders. Indeed, they were. But, like all mortals, they are gone and will never come back. We can no longer continue to hang our inefficiencies on their graves. They were men of an age. It is doubtful that if they came back today, they would behave differently from the rest of us. The challenge is, can we cast out fear and put on our running shoes? The Lesson? Stop steering at a closed door and look around!
Nigeria, a nation so severely malnourished in Leadership, is nonetheless, adorned and suffused with all the paraphernalia of artificial success. In Nigeria, there are more citizens parading doctoral degrees who have never seen the four walls of the university and people with Chieftaincies who have no one to preside over. At every public outing, Masters of Ceremony have to be careful to ensure that they provide the full list of all these dubious paraphernalia and fake medals paraded by our citizens. Now, from the Asia, the United States and Europe, nonexistent universities, who have identified Nigeria as a ready market, are daily marketing counterfeit papers to a counterfeit society, which has become obsessed with foreign medallions. The hawkers from abroad are daily stalking government and public offices. Religious leaders too have not been left out in this shameful game of recognition hawking. Together with their feudal counterparts, Nigeria remains a ready market for the hawking of Ijebu-Ode degrees and awards.
Everywhere you turn, the bookstalls are full of literature on Leadership and spirituality. Take a look and you will see, everyone around you is reading a book or every bookstall is marketing some or all of the following books: Robert Greene's 48 Laws of Power, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, How to Win Friends and Influence People, John Maxwell's, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, and 21 Irrefutable Qualities of Leadership, the time honoured Florentian Prince, Nicolo Machievelli's The Prince, Mark McCormack's What they Don't Teach you at Harvard Business School and its follow up, What they Still Don't Teach you at Harvard Business School, and Sun Tzu's The Art of War or Jack Welch's Winning among many others.
Similarly, there has been an outburst of material about the war strategies of such historic figures like, Shaka Zulu, Hannibal, Churchill, or Lincoln meant to justify claims of those who are being trained for Leadership. There are, also other so-called motivational books on Prosperity such as Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich. Everywhere you turn today, the drive to succeed is ubiquitous.
On the religious plane, there is a swelter of literature teaching everything from house to prosper, marry well, remain secure from enemies etc. In most offices today, most receptionists or security men have their heads buried in the Holy Bible than the jobs they have been hired to do. In many financial institutions, business opens with prayers. In view of the number of swindlers that inhabited these financial institutions, and the sorrow they have caused God's real children, I wonder whether they knew that their prayers were directed often to the Devil's abode than to God's.
Many workers are coming to work looking groggy, under performing because they have just come from Breakthrough vigils. Thanks to the wisdom of the pastors, every year is a year of some failed success deferred. If last year was not the year of my rich harvest, this one is going to be my bounteous harvest, conquest, overcome and so on and so forth. By our display of sheer religious ubiquity, we would definitely beat the Athenians hands down. The reader will recall that it was here that the people's religiosity found full _expression in the multiplicity of altars, which enabled them to have altars to all gods, including the unknown gods. Yet, for religious perfidy, we will definitely seat next to Sodom and Gomorrah or Nineveh with the daily allegations of ritual killings, some of which have found their way into so-called places of worship. How did all this come about? I cannot tell you but it is a subject of great intellectual curiosity to me. I believe that for us to even begin a process of unscrambling the clouds of anomie that hangs over our nation, there is need for us to diagnose what all this portends. If we do not address these problems, we shall continue to wonder why there are so many square pegs in round holes, why we are running and turning with a high velocity of motion but hardly any movement?
Beginning from the 80s when the military tightened its hold on State power and closed in on the cake of the State, the Nigerian State fell prey to the predatory instincts of this cabal. It was made up of men in uniform, a tinier clique of traditional rulers, and a widening band of young men and women, who acted as couriers, pimps, and touts for men with raw power. In the process, the so-called cake of the State itself fell into decay; elite competition became brutal as the military threw its toga of honour known as espirit de corps to the wind, turned to murderous incest which saw that noble institution wracked in fratricidal slaughter. Within the military barracks, years and years of misguided coups and so-called counter-coups, created a nation whose central fabric of social and political unity gradually succumbed to pressure. Over time, a severely mutilated military watched as years and years of treachery turned enemies into friends, friends and brothers into bitter enemies. Family ties and bonds created by years of military training and discipline which in other civilisations made the military an impenetrable institution where loyalty and honour were the hallmark, turned Nigeria's military into a hostile pit of venomous vipers crouching and waiting to pounce on one another. In a very interesting study of the history of the military in the Philippines, an author has captured this by calling is book, Closer than Brothers. The result of this suspicion is that the military barracks became beehive of wild gossip, rumour, hatred and bile. With our trained soldiers unable to even defend the safety and security of their barracks, what hopes were there for civilians? Under this rancuous climate in which the physician could not heal himself, the only way to summarise this season is to borrow the words of Chaucer who asked: "If gold rusts, what will iron do?"
The so called and much touted failure of the Nigerian state can be appreciated against the backdrop of the net effect of the traumatic years of military rule on the national psyche. We often hear the military and their apologists, argue that the military did not rule alone and so they ought not to carry all the blame. On paper, this argument might make sense. But, if you have been robbed and wounded, is it any consolation that your own wife gave the armed robbers a tip? Although my lecture is not about the military, I believe that a little diagnostic appreciation of the problem is very important. I make these preliminary views upfront so that we can appreciate where we are coming from, how and why we have become so obsessed with leadership without authority, and how we have ended up with so much religion without spirituality. I also hope that this background will help us appreciate why there is banking without finance, capitalists without capital, universities without knowledge, and politics without parties in Nigeria. I argue that all these are manifestations of the trauma of military rule, and that for us to lay a foundation for the emergence of a new nation, we must come to a proper appreciation of certain factors and forces in our national life. I do not believe that the situation is as bad as we make it out to be, and this has very little to do with whether one is happy with the current dispensation or not. Indeed, I will also try to show how the current dispensation is symptomatic of a different ailment.
I have decided to pose a theoretical question as to what the best options are for Nigeria. There has been so much talk about national rebirth. After almost thirty years of military rule, rather than the birth of a new nation, the pregnancies suffered induced abortions of dreams as coups after coups left their impact. The result is that with a new pregnancy, and with no signs of what many believe to be a Nigeria of their dreams emerging, the question becomes: What are we to do? It is to address this ailment that I wish to add my voice and ask whether a Caesarean option is worth considering. I am not recommending it, but rather just trying to place it among other options on the table.
Why is a Caesarean necessary? In my view, I recommend it as an option largely because of the seeming endless search for an exit in this hall of mirrors where our search for the democratic talisman seems to yield only reflections of the nightmares of yesterday. During the National Political Reform Conference, our opponents claimed that they possessed a talisman, which would soon be woven across the nation. The talisman was known as the Sovereign National Conference under the aegis of PRONACO. PRONACO started its road show in Europe and America, or so they alleged, but they have not been caught in a web of intrigues and drama worthy of a Nobel Price. Surprisingly, they seem unable to jump bail. But, as it is clear to us all, some of the nagging issues surrounding the dissatisfaction with the nation include the following, among many others:
Since these sentiments have become very popular across the board in Nigeria, it is a bit of a waste of time to try to even critique the issues. And yet, it is this lack of a measuring rod that makes some of the claims we make so cheap, unrealistic and indeed, raw material for the persistence of the old order. For, if a nation is incapable of measuring its progress, how can it measure failure? For example, if we run through some of the issues we have raised above, can we sustain these claims or have these matras become popular with repetition? Sadly, most Nigerians are really not interested in what they themselves refer to as "long grammar". They claim that everyone knows the problems of Nigeria. What we want are just "solutions." My intention now is to try to interrogate some of the popular assumptions contained in the summary I have presented above. I imagine that the audience will accuse me of defending government simply because that is what happens when you seek to raise the level of debate beyond popular sloganeering.
For example, when Nigerians say that the elections of 1999 and 20003 were flawed, can we at least present one case say in a Local Government or State where the elections were a true reflection of the wishes of the people? Most of the stories I hear seem to assume that all elections were rigged. Yet on closer examination, it seems that where my friend, brother, uncle emerged as a Local Government Chairman, Member of the State or National Assembly member, we have no problems. I most cases, those who claimed that elections were rigged also happened to be those who felt their loved ones or those they wished to have won, lost. What are the options? Will the only credible results be those, which bring in those we wish to see victorious? The same Nigerians who are complaining about rigged elections still reject the very idea of the introduction of an electronic voting machine. Many of the critics of electronic voting have not really offered any convincing reasons beyond the fact that they believe the elections will still be rigged and that indeed, the machines will make it easier to cook for the figures. Yet, from my own direct experience and conversations with those involved in the modern technology, I am convinced that under the circumstances, e-voting in the long run holds the key to our having credible elections in this country. My argument here is that beyond the legitimate expressions of concern about flawed elections, there is need for all of us to think more creatively about the future rather than fall back on despondency about the past. And, I will soon show that indeed, these flawed elections are not the disease contrary to what we think. I will show shortly that they are indeed, a symptom of the nature of our legacy of military rule. In any case, no game will ever be without its cheats. The solutions are to seek to be a step ahead of those who refuse to play by the laid down rules.
Secondly, let us take another cheap propaganda, which has become popular. It is that Nigeria does not have a middle-class. It has been wiped out, says the popular clich�. Those who make this argument proceed falsely, in my judgement, on the premise that hunger stalks the land and that it is only a matter of time before all Nigerians will be crawling with begging bowls or climb into the dust bins in Dikkonean speak. Please do not get me wrong. I know and I have seen the stalking tiger of hunger in our land. But I reject the thesis that there is no middle-class precisely because the word itself has become popular but it is too imprecise and unhelpful as an intellectual category. First of all, Marxists who constitute the majority of the finest social theorists, reject the term because in their calculation, there are only two classes in any society: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The second problem with the concept is that even in the dictionary, it is used in reference only to British society. It origins date back to the 18th century feudal Britain. Here, the middle classes were a median between the landed aristocracy and working classes. In their study titled, The Middle Classes: Their Rise and Sprawl, Simon Gunn and Rachel Bell have concluded that: The distinction between mental and manual labour has remained one of the most powerful, and enduring sources of class divisions in England. Class is not simply a matter of economic possessions or social position, but also of power.
The ethnic heterogeneity of Africa makes this term unhelpful in explaining access to economic or mental opportunities and the other processes of social climbing. But, for the sake of our analysis, let us proceed to interrogate whether indeed, it is true to say that the middle classes for whatever they are worth, do not exist in Nigeria.
The denial of the existence of a middle class in Nigeria is based on the belief that the tribe of the middle class is identified by material wealth. But in reality, money is only one aggregate of identifying them. The second is intellectual capital. But, if they have been wiped out, who came up with the millions of naira that were put down for the purchases of those Federal Government Houses in Ikoyi? Who owns the rows and rows of unbelievably beautiful expanses of Beverly Hills look alike buildings in Victoria Garden City in Lagos? Who owns all those gargantuan structures spluttered around Asokoro, the hillocks and valleys, nooks and crannies of Abuja? Who came up with all the monies that enabled the banks to come up with the N24b demanded by the Central Bank? Secondly, with nearly one hundred Federal, State and Private Universities in Nigeria, how can we say we do not have a middle class? What are the intellectuals if not the backbones of the middle classes? Again, popular as the idea is, it is arrant falsehood to say that the middle classes have vanished in Nigeria. The inability of the intellectual class to take up rightful place in the system is no excuse to deny their ubiquity. Even if we decided to use ethnic nationality as a basis for defining the composition of the middle class, there is hardly any community which has not produced its own middle class in the last twenty or so years, irrespective of the numbers.
Thirdly, there is the persistent issue of corruption in Nigeria. There is no doubt about the ubiquity of this dangerous cancer. However, a lot of the conversation lacks a scientific basis of analysis. Most of the definitions have focused only on corruption as a function of economic activity by way of theft or bending of the rules. For now, there are those who distrust the war against corruption for all kinds of reasons. I believe it is good for the government that it has a tribe of critics. But, part of our criticism must also include a contextualisation and an improvement of the quality of arguments anchored on our own realities. How and why does Nigeria behave as if it is the most corrupt part of the earth? Are we so because Transparency International said so? The voltage of the denigration of Nigeria was bound to rise after the end of apartheid because the world always requires a bad guy and there are many reasons why Nigeria fits this role. But, I believe that we have fallen prey to what looks to me like a conspiracy. With the federal government obsessed with fighting corruption to win international attention, we have refused to contextualise corruption as an institution that drives the world power, economy, and politics. From drugs to money laundering, everyone concedes that these are all international problems. Indeed, drugs and drug running has been a vital part of American foreign policy in Latin America and Asia. After colluding for years with Noriega, the old Bush finally put him in jail in the United States, not because of drug dealings for which he is charged, but as everyone knows, for daring the threaten American interests on the waters of the Panama. This was the fate of Nasser under the British and other European powers many years ago when he threatened to nationalise his own waters. The role of the CIA and drugs in Afghanistan or Pakistan has shaped the so-called war on terrorism. They are part of the forces that produced the Osama Bin Ladens of this world. But that is another matter. I am making this point merely to draw attention to the need for us to provide a context that helps us appreciate how the super powers are constantly playing games and shifting the moral goal posts at random while we follow like yo-yos.
I was in Singapore last month. In the course of my stay and while the Alamieseigha case was at its height, I read a two part story about Saudi Arabia in the nation's leading newspaper, The Straits Times. Among other things, the story stated that the British government was anxious to get Saudi Arabia to buy weapons to the tune of forty billion pounds. However, according to the story, the Saudi Government was arm-twisting the British Government to drop investigations involving allegations of bribes involving members of the royal family and British Aerospace. For example, in the course of his trial over allegations of involvement in a coup, the bars of justice were so lowered that the blue eyed Mark Thatcher did not exactly jump bail in search for freedom.
Again, we have been genuinely worried about the failures of democracy in our country. I also share these sentiments surrounding flawed elections, the shallowness of democracy and our inability to consolidate democracy. There is anxiety about the reluctance of our leaders to respect term limits, there are allegations of massive corruption. We all need to be concerned with all this. But, again, here I think we are confusing the symptoms for the disease. Unless we clearly understand the logic of post authoritarian regimes, their characteristics, antecedents and outcomes, we shall continue with the blame game which is characterised by blind messianic vigils, false hopes dashed, distrust of politics and politicians, nostalgia about the old order and so on. The stories of the frustrations and nostalgia of the people of Israel during the Exodus, despite years of slavery in Egypt, are all well known to us. Things have not changed. The excitement that greeted the fall of Communism in 1989 soon turned into ashes across the former Soviet Union as ordinary citizens soon began to reject the logic of market economies and western liberal democracy. So, our stories are not different. The issues call for patience and a careful appreciation of the uneven playing ground between the guards of the old order and those of the new seeking to welcome a new dawn.
Today, when the west harasses us about democracy, we are forced to ask why is it that they think democracy is good for the rest of Asia but not China, why it is good for Iraq but not good for Saudi Arabia. Or, why nuclear weapons are bad for Iran and good for India and Pakistan? It is clear that democracy is not an absolute. For us however, our predicament seems to based on the fact that we are unable to appreciate the logical outcomes of post authoritarian regimes. One chief characteristic which has obviously afflicted us is the tendency of these regimes to produce majoritarian democracies. Let me explain.
The Peoples' Democratic Party, PDP is a classic case of a majoritarian _expression of democracy after a post authoritarian regime. The African National Congress, ANC government in South Africa is no different. Nor is the story different from say, Putin's Russia. Among other things, what differentiates it from the PDP is that the members of the ANC had imbibed the philosophy of the over 70 year old Congress founded and sharpened on the anvil of discipline, ideology and principles. In the case of the PDP, the body (The Party) arrived before the soul (The Philosophy or Ideology). What we have as a Party was really merely a gathering of men and women, anxious to climb the gravy train of power who came together and decided to grab power before settling down to figure out what to do. The high turnover of the top echelon of the Party is a testimony to the case of a body searching for a soul. South Africa faces the prospect of a one Party State with obviously no hope of any Party defeating the ANC now, or in the near future. The convulsions are therefore a symptom of our problems as a post authoritarian society.
Although we have made so much out of the issues of coups in our nation, very little attention has been paid to the external and international dimensions of these interventions. I will refer to three incidents at random. In his book, My American Journey, General Colin Powell gave a detailed account of how the American administration set about trying to remove Noriega. He himself admitted to playing a critical role in smuggling the then Ambassador of Panama in Israel and getting him into the White House for debriefing.
Secondly, I have had cause to refer to the shocking revelations and admissions of the old CIA hand in Nigeria who confessed to the fact that he faked the claims that he made over the killings of Northerners in the East for strategic reasons, but mainly to lead Nigeria into war. Thirdly, in a new book titled, Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad, Gordon Thomas has shown how the Mossad went about carrying out the Dikko kidnap. I believe that like me, millions of Nigerians had thought that it was the Buhari regime which dreamt up the idea of kidnapping Alhaji Dikko. According to the book, the story is slightly different and quite significant. The decision to kidnap Alhaji was taken by the Israeli intelligence and the idea sold to the government. It was all about oil. According to Thomas, "Prime Minister Shamir's first question (on hearing of the coup in Nigeria) was to ask what effect this would have on Israel's oil supplies. No one knew... In return for a guarantee of no interruption of oil supplies, Mossad would find Dikko and return him to Nigeria. Buhari had a question: Would Mossad also be able to locate where Dikko had hidden the embezzled money?"
While we worry about corruption, should we not pay attention to the rise in the spiral of corporate corruption across the world as a whole? We should fight it with all our energies, but we should also become more creative and realistic. While fighting corruption, the most critical question is who benefits from the proceeds? It does not make so much sense to me that if the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission recovers money, the money is automatically returned to the organisation or the state from where it was stolen. I think that if the state or agency was careless enough to overlook this massive theft, it should suffer. The recovered money should be split into three. The agency in question should get part of the money; the EFCC should get part of the money while the rest should be spent on social services that benefit the general public. As more and more ordinary people see the benefits of these recovered monies from criminals, they are more likely to join the fight. This is because, for the ordinary Nigerian, it does not make sense that these monies should return to the same bottomless pit so as to repeat the puppetry of corruption all over again. As the war goes on and the people see the benefits in their lives, the battle will catch up and life can go on while the agencies fight corruption. For, if the stories of Enron, World.com, Michael Rigas and his children Timothy and John, Charles Black or Martha Stewart's predicaments are anything to go by, the ugly face of corruption is spread all over the world.
I know that many who hear or read this will conclude that I am excusing corruption or making excuses for our predicament. I am merely interested in provoking more robust debate in our society as we struggle to rebuild our nation. I make a case for the fact that we need to explore the prospects of a caesarean because we cannot go on like this. However, despite the difficulties, these times call for a tough and clear appreciation and diagnosis of the problems of our nation. I believe that a correct diagnosis is fundamental to our finding a cure to the problems of our nation. The constituency to make the diagnosis is the academia. Therefore, let me therefore conclude with a few recommendations as to where I think we need to be looking to ensure that the birth of a new order becomes possible with or without a caesarean.
1: Democracy is an idea not an instrument.
Today, there is a lack of conceptual clarity as to what constitutes the ingredients of democracy. Thus, since May 29th, 1999, Nigerians have been in a stupor of expectations. There has been a clash of expectations. Some of the fears have been captured by the observations I have made earlier regarding the symptoms of majoritarian democracy. We are engaged in what I call the instrumentalisation of democracy. By this, I mean the belief that democracy ought to be an instrument for development and progress. Thus, the Federal, State and Local Governments have been showing up simple economic realities such as the mobile phone revolution as so called dividends of democracy. The provision of social services that the rest of the world has taken for granted has become the definition of democracy by Nigerians. Thus, right across the nation, every politician talks about either giving or withholding the dividends of democracy to either complying or stubborn citizens. And as such, we are now measuring democracy by access to these so called dividends of democracy. But did we need to vote to have these so called dividends? The Chinese have had a quantum leap and it is now the world's super power in waiting, but without the ballot box. The Saudi Arabians have given their people the best form of life without democracy. So have the Asian Tigers across Asia. Hitler laid the foundation for the modernisation of Germany without democracy. America, the greatest exporter of democracy led the first Gulf war to liberate Kuwait. He left everything to ensure and guarantee American interests, but not the ballot box. Do not get me wrong. All I am saying is if we instrumentalise democracy, then we shall confuse substance with shadows. This is because in most developed nations today from Europe, America, the Middle East and our so called Asian Tigers, it was dictatorships that laid the foundations for the institutions of today. Our decay is a symptom of the failure of our dictatorship which, rather than develop our nation, succumbed to some of the base instincts which I have enumerated above.
If you seem confused, and think that I am against democracy, I am not surprised. I am not preaching dogma, just flying a kite, throwing bait and hoping that someone can improve on the arguments. Our intellectuals should help the political class to think more clearly about what the issues really are. If not, we shall continue on the path of frustration, confusing shadows with substance. Our democracy will continue to be contentious and acrimonious not because we are inferior, but because we are turning democracy into a weapon of war for access. Ask the people of Israel or Italy today how much of what they live with is democracy. We confuse weak institutions with our own personal weaknesses. My good friend Ojo Maduekwe summed it all by saying that democracy has not dividends. Rather, democracy is its own dividend! Democracy is thus, the lubricant, not the car.
2: No democracy on any shelf anywhere:
One of the greatest set backs that Africa faces is its lack of confidence in asserting itself in terms of the role and place of its culture and civilisation. Colonialism and missionary activities were under girded by the assumptions that Africa was the Dark Continent. Fifty years of post colonial rule have not changed our collective inferiority complex. Thabo Mbeki hit the ground running with the tune of African renaissance. The pursuit of NEPAD induced reforms and the anxieties about pleasing the west have all made the renaissance a whisper.
There is the strong temptation for Africans to think that civil war and political instability are evidence of the fact that we are children of a lesser god. In reality, our historical progresses are all part of the architecture of democracy. No nation has had it easy and of course it is always easy for everyone to see our shortcomings because of the global world we are living in. Despite its claims, we all know that no single western democracy can lay claim to any form of universal purity. The British are running a semi-feudal and theocratic state. The Americans are running more or less a theocratic state based on the philosophy of the white, male Anglo Saxon beliefs. No Jews or Muslims are about to become Presidents of the United States soon. The challenge for us is whether we as Africa's leading nation can develop enough confidence in ourselves, our cultural history and experience and see what contributions we can make in shaping democracy in the world. Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, China have developed without recourse to western type democracies. Whatever the criticisms we may have, it is clear that there are many routes to development and we need to become more ambitious and daring in exploring them. Democracy might facilitate but it will not by itself cause development.
3: E Pluribus, Unum.
One of the bedrocks of American society is the concept of "E Pluribus, Unum", meaning, "We, though Many, are One". Under this philosophy, the state seeks to pursue integrative policies that ensure the unity of the nation. Thus, I am sorry if I convey the impression that I am pessimistic about democracy. I am not. To date, it is definitely the most positive instrument for the integration of plural societies. Democracy is the glue that holds plural societies together. It is the secret weapon and guarantor of the greatness of the United States today. Consequently, I believe that our future lies in it. But, so far, due to weak institutions and the lack of discipline, democracy has remained an endangered species on our continent. This is why the end of dictatorships in Africa has tended to engender internal and external wars across the continent. These outcomes are natural and they will play themselves out because it will take a long time for citizens to trust the present when they are used to the chains of yesterday.
One of the major limitations of the African experience has been the tendency toward the pursuit of the politics of exclusion. In plural societies, this leads to civil wars, inter-religious and inter-communal violence. The perilous nature of the fortunes of the opposition has led to the zero sum game that has become the hallmark of African politics. For example, sample this dialogue between an African dictator and the National Electoral Commissioner.
President: Yes, Mr. Commissioner, how did I perform in the elections?
Commissioner: As usual, My Lord, you did as you have done in the last elections. You have received 99.9% of all the votes cast Mr. President. Congratulations!
President: What are you congratulating me for? Go back immediately; summon the Police and Security Chief. Fish out the bastard 1% who did not vote for me and bring them here!
Nigerians remain genuinely concerned about crooks being in the system. And we should all be. But democracy does not have the power to exclude anyone. It is the people, living under the rule of law that can determine who is "In" and who is "Out". Thus, all Nigerians should be encouraged to make their contributions to the growth and development of their country. Women and youth in particular, though the largest constituencies are still unable to reap the fruits of their sweat. The test of our democracy will have to lie in how many people are in the tent, not those who are excluded on grounds of culture, prejudice or hate. There is no democracy on the shelf anywhere in the world. We must seek to pursue our goals within the context of our socio-cultural realities. It is not the duty of democracy to eliminate our ethnic or religious differences. No, democracy's duty is to lubricate our relationships beyond and across all these divides.
4: Changing the paradigm: the Home Video Industry:
So far, to my mind, one of the most important developments in the nation's return to democracy is the growth of the Home Video Industry. Even more than our Foreign and Culture Ministries, or the Ministry of Information and the National Orientation Agency put together, I believe that this is one of the greatest sources of rebuilding our nation and laying the foundation for development and the exportation of our values and culture. I am convinced that this is one area where the nation needs to closely collaborate with those involved in this industry to help our nation take on the challenges of an African renaissance. Nigeria has the men and the women, the environment and the wherewithal to lead Africa in this regard. Just look at DStv in the last few years. Or, visit any African country, from Ghana to Rwanda and see what our brothers and sisters are watching. This Industry, properly managed (not controlled!), can shape our domestic and foreign policy among a range of economic options.
We should imitate the United States and see how Hollywood has, in a subtle way, over the years but especially since the 50s, continued to work together to export American values and the American way of life abroad. Let us take one example so as to illustrate this point. In 1979, when the kidnap of the American diplomats in Iran threatened to expose America's weakness and soft underbelly, the Republican elites reached out to Hollywood. Or so it seemed. Mr. Ronald Reagan, one of the best in his Hollywood days came out of retirement and contested for the Presidency with a dream of restoring the honour of the United States. He won by showing off President Jimmy Carter as a weak President who allowed Americans to be so humiliated. Regan won the elections by promising to return America's greatness and invincibility. Was it an accident that the period of his victory in the 80s coincided with the emergence of two personalities: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, the two most macho men in Hollywood? Hollywood used their physique and toughness to personalise the United States. They became everyone's hero by their ability to use their strengths to help the poor man. The rest is history, but from the murder of Maurice Bishop to the support of the Contras, we saw in each case, evidence of a nation wanting to play the Rambo everywhere it went. The glory of the United States returned with Reagan. In many respects, one has only to look at the kind of movies that emerged or were most powerful at that time. Indeed, it can be argued that this marriage with Hollywood is not only a Republican thing. Bill Clinton had reasons to return to Los Angeles to blow his trumpet on Mr. Jay Leno's show when things got heated up in Washington!
Most of the Home videos today still show a Nigeria of the military era depicting an obsession with bad money made through prostitution, 419, armed robbery, ritual murders and extreme violence. That Nigeria has passed on now, and it is not the face we want to show the world. We can turn the corner if the Federal Government consciously reaches out to these Independent Home Video Makers and supports them financially. In the process, movie making can now become a conscious attempt to show case Nigeria with equal subtlety as Hollywood does with American culture. Film makers and script writers, in collaboration with the academia can help to change the way we see ourselves. In the process, they can entertain and teach us.
5: Not Mwalimu, Not Madiba, Not Baba.
Finally, a word about the future and our leadership. I have tried to draw attention to the challenges of a diagnostic approach to power in Nigeria. The scramble for power as we see is also symptomatic of the politics of post authoritarianism. The nation's resources are too tempting and the big boys of Nigeria are too used to cheap money not to fight over who controls the resources of our nation.
Many people believe that there are reasons for concern about the so called third term bid. I do not share this view at all and I do so for at least three reasons. First of all, we cannot stop anyone from dreaming. And that includes those who hold power. But, I am consoled that history has taught us to be careful lest our dreams turn into nightmares. Secondly, no one knows who will be here in 2007. Again much has happened to make us fear God and His ways. Closely related to this and as a corollary is the whole issue of who is fit to rule? On this question, I think we are seriously mistaken in thinking that our situation is bad because we need good leaders who might just come up with the right mix. I do not believe so. I rather agree with Karl Popper's thesis which was referred to by Dele Olojede. This is the belief that we should expect the worst from our leaders and then let the good surprise us. This thesis is attractive to me whether it is in counselling a young couple or helping a young man training to be a priest.
We are right to be proud of the likes of the late Julius Nyerere or Mr. Nelson Mandela. But, I make the case that the days of Mwalimu, Madiba or Baba are over. What I mean is the fact that Africa now does not need just a good man, or a man with charisma or an old man with aura. We are like a man whose car has suffered an engine knock. What you need there and then is not the best driver. No, what you need is a mechanic who can diagnose and tell you what you need to fix the car and then go ahead and fix it for you by first telling you what it will cost. So far, this leadership is missing in Africa. It is time to look around.
The story coming out of Israel is salutary. Sharon and Peres are in their 70s and 80s respectively. After years of war, they are now the proponents of peace. They have abandoned ideology and decided that for Israel to survive as a state, we need to celebrate our common humanity not power. Thus, in one boat, they are determined to liberate and heal humanity's greatest wound against justice, namely the Palestinian question. They all realise that if this wound does not heal, everything else is useless. Similarly, our old men, whether in the military, political or traditional world should stop and think. Most of our retired Generals, Traditional Rulers and Bureaucrats who had dreams are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. They should abandon thoughts of their survival, those of their immediate families and think about a legacy to enable us celebrate just being human beings.
So far, all the noise we hear are the jack boots of those who seek raw power, power to allocate or revoke oil blocks, power to continue to hold our nation in bondage. As the Pirelli advertisement says, they want power without control. That leads us to anarchy and death. These men and women should ask themselves the following questions: Beyond power rotating, North and South, what shall we leave behind? Did God create us as human beings or Northerners and Southerners? How shall we grow together as a people? From what I see, the war mongering is instigated by the same selfishness and greed, nothing to do with regionalism, religion or any other dubious category summoned and dreamt up by the power seekers. Nigerians must reverse this dangerous trend.
Finally, a word for those obsessed with terms, of whatever dimension. We have to be careful. Democracy is a game as we say and if it is a game, it has to survive on rules. The beauty and the legitimacy lie in the players and spectators agreeing to be bound by the rules. The game does not depend on the skills and expertise of the players. On the contrary, it is the rules that enable those with skills to exhibit their skills. In football, a goal is not a goal because the ball is in the net. No, it is a goal if it is scored according to the rules.