Shilgba: The Nigeria I see

THE temptation to give up on Nigeria is common among Nigerians that have spoken and written a lot about the good that is a possible experience for Nigeria. But there is a greater passion, a nobler one, to expect and envision a nation where citizens consciously refuse to examine one another through the coloured glasses of ethnicity and religion.

    There is a strong temptation to compare life in Nigeria and life outside of Nigeria. This temptation is noble if it would motivate citizens to work towards a more decent life at home. But it is depriving if it lures away Nigeria’s best and brightest from the motherland,

   Between 2012 and 2015, I have seen two significant events that have fetched hope about a more prosperous and livable union. Those two events provided incontrovertible evidence that the two dams in the way of a harmonious flow of the river of citizenship – ethnic and religious biases – are systematically being pulled down. Early in 2012, Nigerians, irrespective of language or religious differences, united against the insensitive manner and time of removal of fuel subsidy. In the North, Christians watched over their Muslim brethren who took time off the protests to say their prayers, and Muslims watched over Christians as they attended their religious meetings. It was a beautiful sight to behold. Nigerians had found a common passion that had taken them away from the decades-long distraction of religious and ethnic grandstanding usually stoked by some of their selfish political and religious leaders. I have written and affirmed that a nation is only born out of a country when the elements have found a common passion that drives them without a visible driver.

    Sadly, between 2013 and 2014, the conflict between the Fulani herdsmen and some nationalities, particularly in the North-Central part of Nigeria, threatened the melody of the sweet music composed by citizens. A discriminatory law, contrary to Section 42 of the Nigerian Constitution, was mooted by the Federal Government, which could have made some Nigerians to lose their ancestral land to the Fulani herdsmen. Writers like me were vehement in our opposition to any discriminatory piece of legislation that would undermine the interest of some Nigerians to the benefit of other Nigerians. The contemplation of such legislation was another example of the devious cunningness with which some Nigerian politicians play Nigerians against one another to serve their personal interest.

    I have worked with Nigerians from different parts of the country on the Nigerian project. Over the years, I have come to understand better that most Nigerian elite enlist in a cause first to serve a private agenda which is often kept out of view of collaborators. Secondly, I have learned that I have no enemies on the basis of religion or ethnicity in Nigeria. Nigerian citizens, who can hardly afford residence abroad, are the losers and victims in times of politically contrived conflagrations.

   The second significant event during the period that has threatened to bury ethnic and religious differences is the 2015 presidential election. Many believe that the election will be bloody. We have only a few days before it happens. And the event will come to pass and Nigeria shall emerge stronger and better. I see a people united in large part against deprivation. Majority of Nigerians have come together across all forms of divide to use their power of choice this time. The traditional apathy in election time seems to wear off. Nigerians have matured in the last 16 years. Politicians who have in the past relied on manipulation of the emotions of the electorate with appeals to religion and ethnic affiliation will be disappointed this time. The power of money has been greatly downgraded at this time, although not completely extinguished.  All of these give me hope of a better Nigeria.

   A bloodless revolution is possible now. Nigerians are gradually being sanctified from the blemish of ethnic and religious discriminations. A new generation, many of whom have parentage across the traditional divides, is speaking out so loud that only performance and verifiable ideas and vision by politicians displaying their wares in the political market could make them part with their precious votes. Big ideas projected could only be bought in if this generation of Nigerians believes in the purveyor. What I see is the end of the active political career of many politicians after the presidential election in 2015. Nigerian politicians, from now going forward, will be tasked on intelligent solutions to societal problems. Making bland promises now amount to little in today’s Nigeria. Fact-checking is gradually becoming part of our political tradition even as political debates are.

    Money usually pursues after great ideas and integrity. Trust is the most important asset of a leader. It is the most important treasure that any government has to offer in the political capital market. When a leader loses integrity because he has not kept promises of the past, the citizens will turn against him. That is the unfortunate burden of President Jonathan. It has nothing to do with religion or ethnic affiliation. When a leader has a thousand different views on a single issue, he is termed confused or clueless. Such terms are not necessarily abusive; rather, they are the product of evidence. And when such leader also demonstrates inability to correctly understand problems and proffer intelligent solutions, he has lost all hope to perpetuate himself in office by the grace of the people. If the religious pray to God to keep the leader in office, by interpretation, they are asking God to punish society.

   I see a Nigeria where ineptitude in government cannot go unpunished by the people. I see a nation that should be prepared to welcome home many of her children in the Diaspora that will soon return with relevant skills and capital to invest.  I see a Nigeria where government’s lies can easily be exposed. I see a Nigeria that will work for the majority and not only for a few. I see a Nigeria where more competent and honest people will go into government. I see a Nigeria that will sincerely seek out decent people with ideas to drive the process. More importantly, I see a Nigeria where corruption will be punished and hard work rewarded.

   Let me conclude with a confession to illustrate how the fortunes of a man can change suddenly with more knowledge. I had made up my mind never to cast my vote for General Buhari. I had only one reason for this. Between 1979 and 1983, my state, Benue had a great governor, Mr. Aper Aku, who was my uncle.  In fact, he launched his campaign in our local government in my father’s compound in Ikyobo when I was only about 11 years old (yet, I still remember).

    Mr. Aku remains the reference point for governance in Benue until today. I learned that some wealthy people in the state provided the collateral for the loan that Governor Aku obtained (about 200 million US dollars!) for the industrialization of the state. Shortly after, the coup that brought General Buhari to power happened. Until now, there is no account provided on what the military governors did with the money. Understandably, I was determined to punish Buhari for this. I had even contemplated a law, if I could, that would make a state refuse to subject itself to any military rule in the event of a coup.

   I would like General Buhari to assure me that if voted into the office of President of Nigeria he would look into how the loan taken to industrialize Benue state got missing under the military governors he had posted to my state, and how Benue state would be adequately compensated even as he has promised to compensate Lagos State when he becomes president. To me, it matters. And I am cautiously moving towards the more intelligent alternative.

    When we compare the two foremost candidates for the office of President of Nigeria, offering themselves to us to examine, don’t we find Mr. Promise more attractive than the performance of the incumbent?  Don’t we find potential more alluring than the present reality? We live in a free country where every citizen has the right to speak up their mind. Yes, I know that there are hidden consequences. But I have never seen the oppressor win in life. The oppressed, who has spoken truth to power, lives on. His words burn on, his light ever shining. I appeal against the use of distractions in examining General Buhari and President Jonathan. Let Nigerians look at how each of them has used their opportunity to serve Nigeria. One had only 20 months to be examined, while the other has had almost six years. Although such comparison may be considered unfair due to the difference in duration of service, let us do same anyway. Alternatively, let us consider how each of the two Nigerian leaders served during the first twenty months after they emerged as Head of State. In the case of Buhari that would be between December 1983 and August 1985, while for President Jonathan it would be the period between May 2010 and January 2012. We must seek for their signature projects or policies during their respective period of service. This election is a referendum on President Jonathan. General Buhari presents an alternative if Nigerians are not satisfied with the state of Nigeria in the last four years under Jonathan’s watch. But will Nigerians accept that the alternative is better? Are you better off today? May your answer be the opposite soon.

• Leonard Karshima Shilgba wrote from shilgba@yahoo.com



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