I was listening to this beautiful song by Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., better known as John Denver. He lived between December 31, 1943, and October 12, 1997, when he died in an aeroplane crash at Monterey Bay, California, in the United States. He titled the song “Let us Begin.” I listened to the lyrics and was caught in one touchy question that he asked: “What Are We Making Weapons for?” That question got me thinking. And, as I rummaged through the lyrics, my mind fixed on the following lines:
“For the first time in my life I feel like a prisoner
A slave to the ways of the powers that be
And I fear for my children, as I fear for the future I see
Tell me how can it be we’re still fighting each other
What does it take for a people to learn?
If our song is not sung as a chorus, we surely will burn”.
I don’t know what led John Denver into scripting and singing the above lines but my mind suggests to me that he had Nigeria in view. For a fact, the events of, especially, the past few months, not minding the degeneration that has been our national lot in the past six years, makes one feel like a prisoner in a very large and boundless prison. Somehow, we have all become slaves to the political authority, which tosses us like pawns on a chessboard and uses us to settle political scores while looking elsewhere when our tomorrow is cut short by rampaging gunmen, savages, who we christened bandits or unknown gunmen or terrorist, etc. Many Nigerians now prefer to tour Rwanda, Botswana, Eswatini, Tanganyika, etcetera, rather than tour their beloved country by road.
Bandits, Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists hold sway in the North. Unknown gunmen hold sway in the southeastern flank. Herdsmen rampage freely across state borders and, despite heavy spending on security, Nigerians are more insecure. As a matter of fact, Nigerians are now more inclined to respect orders from non-state actors who have now constituted themselves into the unknown government. Nigerians now treat instructions and directives from government with deep suspicion and mistrust but are quick to respond when bandits, ISWAP, Boko Haram or unknown gunmen write them those unsigned letters or issue directives through social media platforms while being hooded. This is classic manifestation of leadership failure. And, “I fear for my children, as I fear for the future I see”.
The classical understanding of government is that a people freely surrender their will to a set of persons whom they freely and willfully elect and empower to administer society on their behalf. These sets of persons dispense power (constituted authority) on behalf of the people and are, therefore, accountable to them. The reason for this is simple: to avoid the Hobbesian state of nature where life is nasty, brutish and short. In such a state, society operates on the basis of the survival of the fittest, as everyman lives for himself. That was the idea and the ideal. But in reality and in practice, present Nigeria seems to have taken us back to that Hobessian state of nature. Life has become brutish and short. And it ends in a most agonizingly painful way. No one cares. Nigerians now operate in a survival-of-the-fittest mode. Simple animated existence. Not living. The strong and powerful get the security, regular and non-regular, they pay for. They rest live at the mercy of time and the unknown government who brutally enforces his orders without repercussions.
The reason for this is failure of leadership and failure of government on all levels. Elected local governments, where they exist, have failed to bring governance closer to the people. State governments operate on a basis, and definition that is unknown to political science. The Federal Government is worse off. Put together, these three tiers have failed the people. They have failed to give the people any reason(s) to believe that the journey towards civil democracy was a worthy journey. And the more the failure persist, the more the people are emasculated and alienated from governance and the more frustrated they become. That frustration breeds more angry people and, to my mind, it is at the base of whatever expressions we experience today as banditry, terrorism, etcetera.
It may well be that the youths that were armed as thugs during previous elections and promised all sorts of things have gotten tired of waiting for the promises. They will never be fulfilled anyway. It may well be that youths that had graduated over several years have gotten more frustrated waiting for promised jobs while meaningful business opportunities shrink before them due to bad government policies. Meanwhile, as they wait endlessly in hope that something good will happen someday, they see their mates who were fortunate to be relations or acquaintances of those administering their commonwealth buy or build new mansions, buy and drive latest editions of automobiles, acquire the latest gadgets and further insult public sensibilities by throwing around wads of cash made from unexplainable and unclear sources at night clubs and parties. This only increases the frustration and, maybe, the resolve to violently make everyone a prisoner in a very large jail measuring about 923,769 kilometres square.
But, “What does it take for a people to learn?”. Not much, I’d say. We only need to fix our minds on doing the most appropriate things, fixing our social infrastructure systems rather than building more churches and mosques. Fixing our leadership recruitment system rather than building stomach infrastructure status; recreating national ethical standards rather than emphasizing on being the richest living in the midst of ravaging poverty; rebuilding the economy to create more opportunities for employments that pay living wages rather than borrowing to pay monthly palliatives under a shadowy humanitarian services scheme, and equipping our youths with relevant skills for tomorrow rather than pontificating on theories. Besides, it is time politicians stopped arming youth gangs and cult groups with weapons to do battle and enable them win elections.
That practice has never paid off positively for the larger society. Rather, it has always made it more difficult for government to manage security challenges that emanate from such behaviour. But the only lesson of history is that humans don’t ever learn from history. Perhaps, that is part of the reasons we will keep fighting each other while the unknown government holds sway.