Emeka Asinugo, ksc
Nigeria is defined as a paradox these days. Although it is reputed to be very rich in mineral and human resources, nearly 90% of its citizens live below the poverty level. Its oil revenue has become globally legendary somehow, yet a vast majority of its citizens live in squalor under 50p a day. At every given opportunity, seemingly helpless Nigerians continue to express their dismay and sadness over the abysmal failure that their beloved country has become today. But as it is said, a people will always have the type of government they deserve.
The emphasis here is on the word “deserve”. And Nigerians cannot be an exception. Often, Nigerians tend to blame Britain for their social, economic and political failures. Those who trade this preposterous propaganda seem to forget that even Britain was once a Roman colony. When Italy is compared with England today, the economic and political differences are obvious.
Nigerians have no reason to be different. They can actually be to Britain what contemporary Britain is to Italy. So, they can only blame themselves, not anyone else, for their contemptible failure to put their acts together to create a prosperous, egalitarian and just society. Curiously, Nigerians generally believe that the root cause of their problems is corruption – the cancer that has so deeply eaten into the socio-political fabric of their nation. But in the real sense, corruption is not the cause of their pitiable plight.
Their main problem hinges on two words – “use” and “abuse”. The question that Nigerians have to address is: to what extent have they applied any of these two words to their voting power, their franchise? The argument is that if they use rather than abuse their voting right, they will produce a credible political class. A credible political class will address the issue of the nation’s mass poverty in the midst of plenty as a matter of political expediency. Indeed, Nigerians have a duty to correctly read the hand-writing on the wall of their country’s democratic evolution. The writing sends an urgent message.
It shows that if there is going to be peace in the country, there is a great need to bring the middle class back into the system. It is not only desirable. It has become imperative. The prevailing situation is that political parties arrive at the Wards during campaign with huge envelopes stuffed with millions of naira. The Ward executives are offered these huge sums. They are requested to share the money out to prospective voters. In that case, some get a few millions, some a few thousands, some a few hundreds and some, nothing at all. But all are expected to cast their votes, and they do. In such a way they mortgage the future of their children and grandchildren for a pot of porridge.
That is known as “politics of stomach loyalty” and it is in essence an abuse of their voting power. And, because they vote that way, they get what they bargained for at the end of the day. This has somehow become the pattern. Nigerian politicians convince themselves that communities at the Ward level will always accept money to vote. And they are largely proved right by the way Ward executives direct their ward members to vote. Politicians capitalize on this understanding. As a result, selfish, greedy and incompetent administrators find themselves in public offices.
Later the voters begin to cry foul. Nigerian voters can change this psyche of their political class if they elect the right executives into the Ward offices – credible men and women, tried and tested, and widely known within their communities to be incorruptible. That is the pattern communities have to set and follow up, if Nigerians sincerely want to come out of the woods. In a proper democratic set-up, chairmanship of the Ward is the most important political office. If Nigerians know this much, then they must elect Ward executives who are head and shoulders above corruption.
These Ward executives must effectively hold series of meetings with the grassroots voters in their community. Together, they must map out their community’s strategy for meeting with those parties that seek their mandate for public offices. They must prioritize their community’s needs and discuss these fully with their political clients. The Ward executives must send the message crystal clear to the parties concerned that these, and those, are the needs of their community. And they must collectively only vote for the party that agrees with their demands, the party that can deliver on its agreed electoral promises.
In all this, the Ward executives must transparently prove to their community that the welfare of families is paramount in the political agenda. But their efforts alone cannot put things right. The media should also play a more relevant role in checkmating the political class and putting things right. Over the years, many things went wrong with the Nigerian society that should have been exposed to the scorching light. Before oil was discovered in Nigeria, for example, the nation’s economy thrived on agriculture. The East produced palm oil. The North produced groundnuts and onions. The West produced cocoa.
These agricultural products earned the country’s foreign exchange. When oil was discovered, politicians played agriculture down. They encouraged individuals and corporate bodies to scramble for the prevailing “oil money”. Many evils sprung up – from oil bunkering in which many locals were killed by fire outbreaks, to kidnapping of indigenous and foreign oil workers, to the oil subsidy scam in which billions of the nation’s money was stolen by greedy Nigerian businessmen and women. What would have become Nigeria’s oil boom turned out to become the nation’s oil doom!
The Pension Fund scam was another of the country’s shame. Billions of naira stolen by conniving and greedy civil servants is yet to be retrieved and chances are that the money may never come back into the national treasury. All these, in addition to the criminal negligence of the welfare of the voting masses have made many in Nigeria to clamour for a Nigerian Spring, the same way the Arab Spring metamorphosed. Unfortunately, given the mindset of the typical Nigerian, the concept of a Nigerian Spring will only remain a dream, a dream that can never materialise.
So, for Nigerians to come to terms with all the issues that have made their country not only a paradox but even hypocrisy personified, they are left with only one option. That is to resuscitate the country’s middle class. This is going to be war. It is going to be war because there are forces out there that must be wrestled down – forces that advocate for a two-class social system for Nigerians – a system that predicates on the very rich families on the one hand, and the very poor families on the other hand.
These forces, anchored in the sensibilities of the “ruling families” argue that if the masses are economically marginalized so that they don’t have money to possibly buy arms, but have food to eat, they cannot rise up against the ruling families. In such a way, peace in the land can be guaranteed. They claim that this is a better socio-political arrangement than the republican mentality where everyone is equal before the law. But glaringly, it has failed to work.
Instead, the arrangement has continued to encourage crime in Nigerian society, first in the South and now in the North. Recent events show that these forces and counter-forces cannot continue to be ignored. And that is why it is war. Of particular significance is the recent attempt on the life of one of the country’s most respected royal fathers. In many ways, it was an eye-opener
. The ability of some of these counter-forces to network world-wide to raise money and arms to prosecute their nefarious mission points to the direction that the old idea some “ruling families” have continued to uphold must change or be swept away by the torrent of contemporary floods. If that must not happen, the answer to peace in Nigeria is to resuscitate the middle class.