We preach inclusion, we practise exclusion

Members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) 2016 Batch ‘B’ Stream 2 on parade during their swearing-in and opening of the Orientation Course at Kubwa in Abuja on Thursday, January 26, 2017. PHOTO: NAN

The walls are closing in upon us. The spaces are all but gone. The land is balding, the green fast disappearing around us. We are pushing others away, whereas we should be pulling them to ourselves.  Whereas the walls should be going down, we are too busy putting up fences. We are erecting statues whereas we should be levelling false gods, making the fields plain. We are electrifying the fences and putting on the barbed wires whereas we should be breaking barriers. We are preaching inclusion, while practising exclusion. We are yearning for warmth, while freezing ourselves within. We are losing our souls. We are too engrossed with ourselves. We are losing the capacity for inclusive thinking. We are so consumed by the here and now that we are losing the essence of today. We know longer seem to remember that today is only a seed in our hands for the sake of our tomorrow. We have eaten our seeds and we are now taken residence in the silos, busy eating tomorrow, today. We are no longer thinking about tomorrow, too busy eating everything in sight to be able to think straight.

We have lost our senses in our pursuit of lucre by all means. Now, we no longer remember that societies are supposed to be deliberate constructs framed with a mindset to protect today and preserve tomorrow. We are pushing and shoving, without regard for essence. We are carrying on without a mental map of where we are headed. Perhaps, some are actually in the know on where the ship is headed and are only in active pursuit of what can be grabbed today, convinced there is really no tomorrow. But then, I doubt that the majority are in that ship. Most are in this other ship marooned in the middle of nowhere, lost to itself, to the shock and consternation of the world. In it are people busy quarrelling over nothing and everything to be able to agree on common sense as compass to navigating their way out of troubled waters.

Whereas the time calls for inclusive thinking and action so we can make it home in peace, we are pulling apart, forming cliques, falling back to the arms of primordial sentiments of ethnicity, religion and other alliances, scrambling for pieces. We are fixated on the Captain whereas we have as more of a stake, should the ship sink. Some are perched under the table, eating away like there is no tomorrow, while preaching austerity. Some have been busy, over the decades, building up storehouses from funds looted from public treasury, without regard for the fate of the ship or what becomes of tomorrow.

But it has not always been as desperate and stark as it has been, of the last two decades. Whatever one might say of the political leadership which managed the affairs of the country in the immediate years after the civil war, there is little doubt that there was some thought on their part of the need to engineer a more inclusive Nigeria. Whatever has been made of the National Youth Service Corps scheme and the idea of the Unity Secondary Schools, the thought, at that time, of creating institutions to purposely integrate younger generation of Nigerians to enhance their understanding of people of other ethnicities and cause them to live as part of communities they might have never visited but for the schemes, is one that can be hardly faulted. Even the much-maligned federal character principle, derisively dismissed as quota system by some, sits on the foundation of inclusiveness. The idea that the recruitment process into the Federal Civil Service, military, paramilitary organs, departments and agencies of government as well as appointment of ministers should be governed by a regime of balance across all states of the federation cannot out of sync with the desire to entrench fairness and a spirit of inclusion in a country struggling for balance between centrifugal and centripetal forces, even if this has opened the door to some forms of abuse.

What is strange, however, is that we have descended from the heights of a time of deliberate thought and design of mechanisms to engender inclusion, at different levels, into one where the default thought and setting seems to be one of alignment with exclusion, whatever the cause, everywhere we turn. The other day, we were at the mall. Soon, the talk shifted to the fate of the bookshop there. It was noon, yet it was a punctuation of darkness in a sea of bright lights. The bookshop, set up in 1975, managed by a family that has dedicated itself to the promotion of arts in ways no other has done, is battling to keep the business going in the age where the spaces are fast disappearing and the walls are unapologetically closing in. An institution with such history behind it might just go under, unable to cope with the enormous cost of competing in the same space as strictly for-profit ventures. We have built a mall without regard for inclusion. Where is the space specifically set apart to cater for arts, books, etc in the private and public spaces? The bookshop has to compete for space with the banks and retailers of luxury goods. Who wins such a contest? Where is the space in our minds, in the public space, credit system, tax regime, waivers and subsidy for social enterprises?

We have been to other parts of the world and right there at the heart of the most exclusive real estate, top-range airport terminals of the world, the bookshop manages to find space next-door to the luxury goods merchant. What model is at work that allows for that? Where is the space for the dreams and the dreamers? Where are the playfield for the thinkers and innovators? Where are the innovation parks and innovation cities around us? Where are the creative parks? How does a start-up compete for same space with the banks, seeing that every other building is occupied by one? Where did we get this model of faceless capitalism that tucks its head in the sand thinking all that matters is the pursuit of profit? Where is the place of inclusion?

We have excluded the poor, the weak, the disabled and the vulnerable from the mainstream, the bridge between them and official life largely broken, with their backs bent, trying to make sense of life. We have excluded the creative spirits, artists, scientists and innovators from the centre, locking up the space against creativity and innovation. We are busy excluding others on the basis of ethnicity, religion, political party and whatever else catches our fancy. Yet our strength is our diversity and what we make of it is what will determine our future. Can we not see that our salvation lies with inclusion and not exclusion?

Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian communications consultancy.

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