The aftermath of the April 2015 presidential election has revealed as much about the psyche of the average Nigerian citizen as much as the events of the few months leading to it. As the election campaign wore on, we saw citizens, including previous friends and allies, engaged in war of words, most of which is about which politicians they support, or are against. Ardent supporters of the outgoing regime exercised themselves in fierce defense of the administration, playing down grave and grievous flaws, and accentuating every modest acheivement of the regime with utmost vehemence.
In the weeks, and now the months, following the presidential election, the persistent refrain of Buhari supporters is almost, if not exactly, reminiscent of the approach of their old foes on Jonathan’s end of the divide. Here again, every flaw is glossed over, or explained away, and every modest acheivement is overamplified. And yes, we must hasten to say that this categorisation does not describe all citizens, for that will be a simplistic carricature. There are citizens who are more considered, who are consciously making the effort to disentangle themselves from the overwhelming paradigm that now defines much of citizen engagement, both on social media and other platforms. Such citizens are effectively in the minority. When they are not ridiculed as hopeless idealists, they are denounced as traitors by fierce partisans on either sides. Or they are patronisingly praised by zealots and rabble rousers who say they have woken up from their slumber to see the truth.
The ultimate key to achieving the Nigerian dream is raising the consciousness of citizens and transforming mindsets from the prevailing mentality that is rooted in cults of personalities and a poorly developed or non existent, idea of the nation state. Yet in order to bring about positive change and progress in the consciousness of citizens, reform minded compatriots must embrace and employ the right strategy.
Reformers must first proceed with clarity and firmness tempered with compassion. It does appears at times that some Nigerians love their chains so much, if you consider the extent they will go to defend their oppressors, sometimes putting their own lives on the line. This condition of the mind is not one to approach with anger, or with condescending pity, even if the temptation for either can be quite strong. We are here dealing with a condition, a state of mind, that can only be aggravated by anger and pity. The citizen in chain who appears to love his chain is internally conflicted. He should be invited to the open place of honest discourse, and that in itself is a big challenge. In time, with all the facts and figures patiently laid before him, and the logic to connect them, he will sooner or later free himself from his chain. Then his victory would not have been achieved by self appointed saviours who seek by rage or pity to force his freedom, but by the sheer force of facts and logic. By freeing himself, first in the mind, he authenticates his essential humanity. Once free, he can then turn his attention to the goal of nation building.
And that brings us to the final point in this preliminary discourse. The fundamental problem with the Nigerian state is in the idea of Nigeria itself. Unlike ethnic identities, it is not an idea that has really caught and touched the heart of citizens. You often hear of citizens speaking of “Nigeria” as though it is byword, a plague, something from which a person should extricate himself. The contrast is all the more evident when you hear the same citizens speak of their ethnic identities. Some of this may have to do with the historical evolution of the nation itself, and the colonialists role in it. More than that, it is the case that there has been no sustained effort to articulate clear ideas of nation being. We have a pseudo federation with its many contradictions: a centre that can not hold, and constituent parts that are falling apart. And then entrenched interests that are fiercely invested in keeping things as they are. Citizens must, minds free from the cults of personality and retrogressive parochialism, must exercise themselves to constructing a clear and forward looking idea of nation being. This clarity and depth is the only antidote to the potent distractions of personality cults and tokenistic change they offer.
And make no mistake, the temptation of personality cults, and the party platforms on which they thrive, is a strong and powerful one. In the absence of any clear ideas of nation being, people will readily cling to the more tangible and visible cults of personality. In that mode of thinking, they cannot look far ahead into the future. Like the porridge and the birthright, one represents a noble idea with no immediate benefit, and the other represents an immediate practical need. It is no wonder that, now and again, they have thrown away the birthright and chosen the porridge, not realising that the birthright encompasses providion for porridge of a lifetime, and more.
The battle for Nigeria is fundamentally a battle for minds and hearts. This basic recognition constitutes the first and starting point of the Nigerian Project.