Segment III: RE-IMAGINING NIGERIA: Why a culture of engaged wakefulness is now the key to national self-hood
Co-author of Let There Be LIGHT, Patrick Bernard, continues the dialogue on why the new generation Nigeria must be a top-down community of competence and conscious engagement.
In view of the pivotal nature of this week in Nigeria’s political life, it seems most appropriate to break briefly from the trajectory of our LIGHT thread and congratulate all the election winners and those contestants who “will live to contest another day.” We must also give kudos to all the voters, and indeed all Nigerians, for weathering both the election fever and the after storm that needlessly claimed both innocent lives and property. This inaugural week is a momentous point of new beginnings, a great season of new possibilities and a refreshing opportunity for national reawakening. Our hope of course is that with all the ‘mission accomplished’ celebrations and the ‘remember me in your new kingdom’ hugs and praise-singing, the real mission of national greatness and the more important invitation to get big things done are all still in front of us.
As the new class of leaders take their seats and begin their contract with Nigeria, as the front-line stewards of the nation’s ship of state, we must wish them, and by so doing wish ourselves, concrete and lasting success this time. Having taken care of the needful, let us jump right into the prologue of Let There be Light and remind all the celebrants (not that they necessarily need to be reminded) of what the real picture looks like on ground for the average citizen. The reason for tabling these mission-critical issues right from the get-go is that the paraphernalia of leadership office often tends to shield those leaders with a dulled sense of mission from what the average citizen is grappling with on a day-to-day basis.
Here is a glimpse at the heavy burden on the citizenry that Nigeria’s new class of leaders is now charged with. Think of this as a set of clues on how the “mission accomplished” diploma will be earned upon the conclusion of the leadership-citizen contract being signed and sealed in this inaugural season. Here we go then!
Every minute another embattled Nigerian kid comes to the reasoned conclusion that the only life-affirming path to a bright future is to be found abroad, this bundle of promise is making a series of fundamental declarations:
- I must leave now!
- I must head out now so I can begin to seek the opportunities that would give me a chance to live fully.
- I must take a leap, even if of faith alone, so I have a fighting chance to prepare for a stake in a world where dreams have no limits and no deadlines.
- I must move on so as avoid being buried alive under the weight of the prevailing unconscious approach to nationhood, with all its revolving negative realities for the home front.
- I must leave home in order to stand a chance to be trained and equipped to play successfully in a more inclusive and purposeful world.
- I must get away to get ready for a new and vastly reconfigured Nigeria, as I have imagined it.
Every moment another Nigerian citizen, young or old, president or pauper must necessarily head for South Africa, Saudi Arabia, India, or wherever else, for routine and serious health-care needs, this troubled and possibly endangered compatriot is casting a deciding vote, even from a sick bed. Sorry, but what we have here is fundamentally a vote of no confidence. Consider this a vote against a wooly and tentative model of nationhood that no longer serves even the barest aspirations of the citizenry. The voter here may only seem to be momentarily terrified by the current dysfunctional state of health-care, but look again. He or she may in fact be acknowledging a deeper cellular disappointment. Here is what the ruling may read like. “Ours has proven to be a wasted generation to whom much has been given with so little to show for it, except perhaps the gathering contradictions of talking and living loud but saying pretty little, and making no meaningful difference at all.”
Does this sum up the unspoken verdict on Nigeria by a much larger percentage of Nigerians than is obvious? Who cares enough to find out?
Every second an expectant Nigerian mom heads abroad to welcome one more precious baby with a precarious future, this dainty daughter of Eve is psychologically hedging away from what her homeland has become, against her most modest hopes. First, there is the very practical need for the safe delivery of a new life; something now prominent on the long list of what Nigerians once took for granted. Sometimes though, heading abroad rises to being the very best investment a young mother can make in her child’s future. “In case the feverish frenzy lingers or even escalates, at least my baby will have a foothold where citizenship embodies a wholesome promise,” she reasons.
Every minute another investment dollar bypasses Nigeria and anchors elsewhere less predictable, given Nigeria’s enormous economic potential, or every instance a few more millions disappear from Nigeria’s public purse, or every moment another chunk of Nigeria’s oil revenue, or perhaps an entire oil tanker, vanishes into thin air in broad daylight, the message seems clear enough to the rest of the world. “The fundamentals could have been much more promising had they learned to ask questions and insist on sensible answers. Their captains could have done so much better had too many of them not chosen the easy but wayward path all too often.”
Every second one more unlikely candidate shoots into the puzzling list of Nigeria’s instant millionaires, straight from a few years in or around a high political office and with no known entrepreneurial investment of any substance, the conundrum compounds. What are we telling our children? That the overpriced champagne bottles popping open amidst the loud celebrations and brazen institutionalization of mediocrity is the path to a great nation? This beat goes on at the expense of a good percentage of 150 million trusting but weary citizens. As long as the orgy of self-indulgence lasts, millions of impoverished ordinary Nigerians simply needing a means of livelihood are further driven to an unparalleled level of servitude. How does a blessed nation continually create ‘unproductive money bags’ from its elite public servants but not jobs for its youth, not even security for the ordinary citizens?
Every piece of news that points to another homicidal incident or conflict deals another weakening blow to the Nigerian psyche. The operating trademark here is a worsening state of insecurity that continues to defy the logic of the 21st century governance priority. At the very least, any such dark drama makes the world news list as another bad publicity that Nigeria does not need. In the worst-case scenario, it sends badly needed investment capital fleeing across Nigeria’s borders in search of process sanity and operational stability elsewhere.
Every new tale of corruption comes dressed in the most devastating enemy gears. Such poor outings only serve to frustrate those respected Nigerians working hard at home and abroad to show a skeptical world what a violated beauty the largely untapped Nigeria really is.
Every new pronouncement from the political arena seems oblivious to the painful reality that ordinary citizens are getting the short end of the stick. Multiple factions of the same party from state to state, recycling tales of rigged primaries and main elections, endless and hurried jumping of ship from party to party, and lawsuits and counter suits, all with no underlying philosophy to moderate even the leading parties. Consider the challenge this way. Each person a nation elects, appoints or promotes to occupy a leadership position is immediately empowered to help raise or lower both the citizens’ quality of life and the nation’s brand standing. If the undisciplined and often-riotous contrivance that citizens are observing is the institutional arrangement for advancing Nigeria’s democratic principles, where is the hope for a great nation? How can political parties with very little institutional discipline create disciplined national leaders?
Every minute a new baby arrives in an impoverished Nigerian home, you can literally smell and taste the mixture of joy and sadness. All told, desolate parents seeing no light at the end of the twirling tunnel wish the odds against living and dying below the poverty line were not so strong. To whom do they look to give their baby a chance after all the years of twisted tales and disappointments? Who can they trust to fund the schools and motivate the teachers to help their child grow to play respectably in a rapidly transforming world?
Every point of decision that sees a foreign immigration officer deny the visa application of a hard working Nigerian, a much stronger statement of lack of confidence is made by our supposedly friendly allies than what is officially acknowledged in Nigeria. The idea that too many citizens are seen by looped-in nations as economic flight risks is a subtle vote of no confidence in our operating socioeconomic management model, one that churns the stomach most times. How is it that well-favored heirs of a rich heritage are decidedly running away from their own glory-land? Is this 'paradise lost’ ever to be redeemed and revamped, or is this all there is to the story?
Incidentally, every time one more ‘run-away’ Nigerian comes to terms with living in socioeconomic exile abroad, this person is forced to appreciate the age old saying that there is no place like home. But this moment of truth does not sink in and take hold unchallenged. This reluctant refugee of choice must also wrestle with one sobering reality – that home is anything but home until it becomes the place where weary bones can find rest and the heart can know peace, where the streets are safe and the eyes need not fear to stay shut while the owner sleeps at night.
This is the picture of Nigeria that is reality for much of the citizenry? The task for the new class of leaders is to take in the above challenges right from their point of swearing in, and begin to work to answer the below and similar core questions decisively:
- How has Nigeria been bankrolling this massive deficit-inducing national character?
- What manner of ship captains would be happy to draw fat salaries and perks from the public purse, while decidedly sinking their very own ship of state?
- Does this appalling performance not signal a self-fulfilling drama in which they too are being forced by the sheer inadequacy of their stewardship to hedge away from the results of their own actions?
- How is the fleecing and the capital flight to be summarily halted?
- When will the rundown and underpriced national estate be concertedly renovated?
- When will the precarious Nigerian socioeconomic space be remodeled and stabilized so it can dutifully serve the aspirations of its citizens?
- Will this new class of stewards exercise the socioeconomic astuteness and moral backbone to orchestrate the miracle that is now called for?
- How would this new class contain the mercenary culture that has created a colossal shadow economy where there ought to be only light?
- How can ‘we the people’ encourage and challenge our new leaders to get it right this time?
This time, as hands are raised in the pledge to serve, may it not be just another swearing in 'ceremony.' This time, please picture what is possible should we at least get the expectation bar to begin to point upward! Think of what heights are reachable should we really raise hands that will truly “serve with heart and might” and actually serve the citizens!
Can you imagine what dreams may come true?
Good luck folks and May God Bless Nigeria!