For a start, the term, Afghanistanism was first popularized by a media scholar, Robert Hutchins about six and half decades ago and simply relates to preoccupation with far-away problems and issues to the neglect of local ones. It is the (media) practice of concentrating on problems in distant parts of the world by governments, journalists or commentators.
Meanwhile, it bears to mention that Afghanistan with Kabul as capital has been a restive, mountainous landlocked country in central Asia bordered by Iran to the west and Russia to the north and Pakistan to the east and south. A mention of the country makes many a reader to think al Qaeda and Taliban. As is the ordinary connotation, Afghanistanism is as unethical in journalism as is junk and sensationalism.
Today, Nigerians, rather than the media (perhaps failing in its agenda-setting functions), in the explosion of social media have become afflicted with the malaise of Afghanistanism. As much as this trend provides relief and vicarious pleasure to us it is still curious on the one hand and saddening on the other. For instance, in the aftermath of the death of an African American, George Floyd in the hands of the police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Nigerians have fervently ventilated their emotions, interests, deep-seated convictions and seething anger at perceived failures of the great American society.
But it is not only on oft-reported American police brutality of blacks that generate deepseated passions among Nigerians. In fact, we have been preoccupied with the dysfunctions of the American system, what President Trump should or should not do, his predilections, his presumed narcissism among others and, of course, America’s institutional racism and inequities. And we have also built up many other assumptions including how the Republican Party is ‘peopled by mainly white supremacists’ as Democratic Party ‘caters for minorities’ (or “people of colour”) and the downtrodden; and how current presumed Democratic nominee, Joe Biden should be elected president this November! But these internet-warrior Nigerians with their pungent opinions and sometimes incisive analytics cannot vote in America – they do not even vote in Nigeria!
Let it be said that there is nothing to support the suggestions that Democratic Party administrations have benefited Nigeria and Nigerians more than the reign of Republicans. In fact, if anything, not a few believes it is the Democratic Party under ‘our brother’, Barack Hussein Obama and his then secretary of state, John Kerry that foisted a pretentious progressive amalgam, All Peoples Congress, APC on Nigeria – and the verdict on latter’s performance is already out! Some of them include widening of the ethnic fault-lines, unperturbed disregard to our diversity, hoisting high the rejected status quo of public finance, and disregard to our diversity while fanning the embers of neo-feudalism and sphere of influence capped with deliberate renunciation of party manifestoes or disavowing lisped campaign promises (action plan) prior to the Party’s victory in 2015.
Owing to the above, not a few Nigerians rejoiced at the triumph of one reality showman and businessman, Donald John Trump in 2016 in America with all his exaggerated flaws some of which include his admiration of despots, nostalgia for white-dominated America and dislike for the poor or as many claim, war against the poor rather than poverty. Perhaps, that is schadenfreude for many segments of Nigerians.
And you would certainly not be surprised that Nigerians even have strong opinions on the British official’s reported flouting of lockdown advice by 10 Downing to visit his aged parents nearby. Such is the extent the Afghanistanism malaise has permeated not only our social but economic, religious and cultural lives.
Nigerians are well aware of politics and economies of America and other faraway lands – and do hold strong opinions on the rightness and wrongness of decisions and policies of faraway lands. Yet, Nigerians cannot seem to find their voice on their subhuman existence and ruinous leadership at home. And those with the media of expression seem to play Nero, as wont the rulers, while the nation degenerate at a speed unseen. Perhaps, it’s only few columnists such as Farooq Kperogi (who incidentally is plying his trade in America), Thisday’s Shaka Momodu, Vanguard’s Ochereome Nnanna and few others, that dwell on the reality on ground by maintaining some objective balance in their commentaries – balance of commentary not necessarily rightness of viewpoints.
The rest of the elite and trolling Nigerians have stayed silent, looked away, acquiesced at the precipitous followership and leadership at home. Everyone sees no evil and speaks no evil on the homefront! Citizens have always made the ostrich-like trips to Kabul but never has this Afghanistanism become so delusional, self-immolating and self-annihilating as NOW! Unbelievable.
The Police, the military, many of the security services have recurringly and unjustly killed Nigerians but elite and trolling Nigerians have never cared a hoot – at best, only a passing mention. The leaderships at all tiers reeks of other-worldly ineptitude and bigotry and have raped and keep raping Nigerians but same dehumanised Nigerians have proceeded with idiotic acquiescence and forbearance. And there is no land with tragic failures as Nigeria. Not even slap-on-the-wrist kind of of condemnation aside short-lived righteous anger in very rare occasions – perhaps, only ‘June 12’ and few ten-minute half-hearted marches-to-be-noticed may be exceptions. Certainly, concerted protests on the side of justice, equity and fairness are alien and unnatural in our homeland amidst all the nation’s tragic failures including systemic corruption and systemic scorch-earth unwritten state policies against former Eastern region that dared sought to live in self-determination owing to the pogroms and genocides that preceded the main genocidal Nigeria-Biafran War, 1967 – 1970. But this is beside the story here!
The office of the Nigerian President had just reeled out a five-year ‘performance literature’ volume worthy of an Oscar and a Pulitzer Prize. But, hey, the Devil, it is said, is in the detail. You may notice it is this same Nigerians who could tell you point-by-point Trump’s trampling on Obamacare but could not remember or hold an erstwhile vociferous opposition to their manifesto now they have mointed the saddle! Or even hold this same collection of then power-seekers now power-wielders to the slightest account. Funnily, same seekers had pummeled hapless predecessors with scorched earth pernicious propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, halftruths and outright lies. Perhaps, good for the losers, and no softspots for birds of similar feathers who could not even grasp their current contrasting roles as ruling and opposition parties respectively.
Perhaps, as the late Pini Jason posited, “The difference between many a vociferous, sanctimonious and pontificating Nigerian and the villainous, itchy-fingered kleptomaniac is probably the absence of the opportunity to steal”. This is premise of the _Iron Law of Oligarchy_ as postulated by German sociologist, Robert Michels quoted in Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s *Why nations Fail*. Sad for Nigerians but this is not the theme of this piece.
Today, a line, a poem throw citizens and families into detention for “embarrassing” ministers even councillors. This moment, there are heinous crimes being perpetrated by state officials; security agents are rounding up innocent passers-by or citizens living around scenes of incidents, jailing those who cannot pay for their freedom ( _a la_ bail). If America’s police excesses is police brutality, Nigeria’s is unremorseful police bestiality – sometimes owing to the facts that they are poorly managed, poorly equipped, poorly trained, poorly motivated and compensated. And yet, ‘other’ Nigerians are either busy grappling with eking a living (basic existential challenges) and her youths with data bundles troll for their oppressors for crumbs – even as the oppressive rulers live lavishly while throwing platitudes in speeches and comments while chasing hapless road users off their tracks.
Nigeria, as her citizens even travels to Kabul as well. For instance, how many Nigerians know that it’s the official policy of their government to support the (inalienable) rights of Palestinians to self-determination? Nigeria supports Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic/Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic also called Saharan Arab Democratic Republic’s secession/self-declared independence from Morocco – Nigeria’s rapprochement with the latter notwithstanding; supported Eritrea’s excision from Ethiopia? Certainly, the right thing to do (for others). Nigeria condemns alleged genocide and or displacement of muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar. But for economic reasons (China has become our most go-to lender), Nigeria would have jumped on the condemnation wagon of protestation against alleged Chinese (mis)treatment of muslim Uighurs.
Yet, same Nigeria maims and kills a ragtag, unarmed, flag-waving Independent People of Biafran, IPOB self-determination group even as she also feign ignorance of the marauding herdsmen terrorists and their jihadist activities in parts of Nigeria especially central and southern states. But it currently seems Nigerians are so inured to the foreboding.
The central challenge of Nigeria has always been leadership but certainly, her followership, the citizens are abdicating their roles as well. The best educated or middle-class Nigerians achieve now become unholy assets of the ruling class and the not-so-lucky others migrate to America and Canada and other developed nations built on the sweat of their leaders and the led.
Nigerians think they are educated, and enlightened. With infantile lips, we choruse American civil right activist Martin Luther King Jr’s “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. And true, of course. But without playing our basic and advanced citizenship roles devoid of cargo-cult mentality Nigerians would continue to grapple with basic existential challenges and the later would continue to be elusive – and we would maintain our pride of place at the lowest rung of human development and existence index.
Without demeaning the Nigerian state and her inhabitants, the truth is America (including her discriminated African Americans) with her imperfections are light years ahead of Nigeria in most respects. And Nigerians would do well to imbibe the truism that charity begins at home. And by the way, if Nigerians at home wish to understand the contending forces for the soul of America especially as it concerns morals and Godly living, they should call up their relations and friends raising children in America.
We, yes Nigerians of all hues, only file out when it concerns America, and faraway lands – lands that have functional institutions albeit imperfect. Yet, Our home reeks of worst policies and events – but in our own case without functional institutional recourse. We may all adore America, visit her every year and have our kith and kin there hence the attachment but we have our own country to build, or allow to continue to degenerate and disintegrate.
This legendary Nigerians’ penchant for ‘ostrichism’, this pretentious tendency to make one feel better than the situation truly is cannot create a just and egalitarian society. We all as Nigerians must realise that our frequent trips to Kabul have always been and would continue to be perilous to our individual wellbeing and certainly nation building! We must remove the befuddling tumour in our brains and logs in our eyes before seeing the specks in others in faraway lands. Quite a shame.
• Udeagwu writes from Umueshi Ancient Kingdom