Who will save Nigeria? That is the question. There are so many things wrong with the country. Many people have expressed concerns about the imminent implosion of the country. Is anyone listening? Is there any conversation going on between the government and various disaffected groups around the country? When tensions rise, when people are outraged about how the country is being governed, when citizens feel they have no identifiable leader who is willing to listen to them, the general impression is that things are rapidly falling apart (apology to Chinua Achebe).
The Punch editorial of Wednesday, December 1, 2021, paints a frightening picture of the disarray in Nigeria. The editorial, titled “Taking restructuring beyond ethnicity, political ambitions”, makes for grim reading. It is a robust, no holds barred, and highly critical assessment of the state of the nation today. Based on close evaluation of the political, economic, social, defence, security, and technological health of the country, the verdict delivered by the Punch is unmistakeable and grave. In paragraph after paragraph, we are confronted by sad reminders of areas in which the country has derailed, areas in which the government has underperformed, areas in which the human rights of citizens have been abused, and areas that support the suggestion that Nigeria is a failed state.
The editorial states categorically: “The Buhari regime and other protagonists of the ‘Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable’ mantra delude themselves by failing to face the stark reality of history. Clamping down on separatist agitators will NOT preserve the union; it may only postpone the day of reckoning.”
The paper offers sound suggestions about how Nigeria could dig itself out of the hole in which it is currently stuck. The editorial observes: “When a country faces an existential threat as Nigeria faces today, its leaders do two things. First, they face reality. Next, they rise above politics, partisanship, group, and parochial interests to save the union. Statesmanship, not primitive politicking, will save the day… But here, leaders cannot surmount ethnicity, sectionalism, and religion. Most subordinate national interest to their ambition for wealth, power, and influence. Hypocrisy, opportunism, deceit, and crass politicking have delayed restructuring for too long.”
And then the Punch reflects on how Nigeria’s two main political parties (PDP and APC) engage in chicanery, dancing with foxes, thus leaving the country hanging precariously on the fringes of a valley. Here is the Punch editorial again: “Nigeria desperately desires statesmen and visionary leaders, not big men and rulers. Restructuring is beyond the PDP and APC, whose leaders switch from declaring a phantom ‘Nigeria’s unity’ to be non-negotiable when in power only to become advocates when in opposition.”
The issues raised in the editorial are unassailable. But they are not new. They are problems that have confronted and continue to overwhelm Nigeria almost since the attainment of political independence in 1960. The challenges that face the government of Muhammadu Buhari is how to map out strategies to solve the problems and give people that sense of belonging, inclusiveness, and ownership of a country they regard as theirs. In various ethnic groups and regions, people feel disconnected from the country and the government. There is a sense that some ethnic groups are more recognised and favoured in various ways than others.
One of the biggest problems that has given Nigeria a negative image in the international community is the cold-hearted and vicious politics that proclaims that people who possess power, including those who have godfathers in government, are special citizens who deserve special attention. They are privileged above other people. This is an emblem of a failed political leadership that is unable to demonstrate ethical behaviour in public conduct and moral responsibility to citizens.
It is time the government halted the practice of deploying undue force and violence to resolve local misunderstandings, including the use of intimidation, threats, and harassment as instruments to forcefully unify the various ethno-religious groups agitating for autonomy. Politics, someone once said, is war by other means. That is what is being enacted in Nigeria.
If political leaders recognise and respect the fundamental principles of democracy, they must also value and uphold the right of citizens to express themselves freely, including their right to choose how they want to be governed. Nigeria is not an autocracy. That is true. But it looks very much like we are living in an authoritarian state in which arbitrary suppression of citizens is the only way the government knows how to deal with demands raised by people. When government applies violence against citizens and sees nothing wrong with it as a state sanctioned method of governance, it says a lot about the reluctance of political leaders to respect human rights.
Nothing can be accomplished or will ever be achieved in a country that subjects its own citizens to inhuman treatment. It is so easy to forget that insensitivity to people’s feelings could enrage people to rise against their government.
Here is a point that needs to be reinforced. In a democracy, a President is elected to govern. That President must lead like a statesman who sees the whole country as his constituency. A fair-minded President operates on the understanding that collaboration, compromise, and consultation are the tools with which he must govern effectively. Fair and equitable treatment of citizens, regardless of their geographic location, ethnic origin, and religious belief, is the hallmark of a “skilled, experienced, and respected political leader”. Do we have such a leader? The jury is still out on that.
Every day the scale of public anger rises. Citizens feel they have no social and political connection with the country in which they were born. You see people demonstrating publicly for self-determination. You also hear calls for an end to the political fraud that claims that Nigeria is a democracy. Injustices perpetrated against members of certain ethnic groups fuel feelings of marginalisation. These discriminatory practices have also given alienated groups the power and bravado to challenge the authority of the nation state and political leaders.
It is within this environment of instability that cracks have emerged revealing large gaps in inter-ethnic relations. Nigeria is now confronted by serious threats of breakup. Members of ethnic, regional, and religious groups are unhappy with the way they have been marginalised, disenfranchised, and denied a voice and their rights in their homeland, particularly the bullying and intimidation engendered by agents of state who have the constitutional obligation to protect citizens.
This is a part of the reasons why the Punch declared in its editorial that Nigeria has all the features of a failed state. As a failed state, Nigeria is that country that cannot conduct free, fair, transparent, and peaceful elections to select national, state, and local government leaders. It is a country that is unable to look after the welfare and security of its own citizens. It is a country that cannot provide for the basic needs of its people. It is a country in which everyone works hard to undermine the progress of the country.
In every democracy, citizens have the inalienable right to question elected officials. However, in Nigeria, when citizens scrutinise elected leaders and hold them to account, the citizens are perceived as troublemakers who must be marked out for elimination or outright destruction.
The Punch editorial mentioned earlier states: “Genuine national leaders from all regions and sections should come together immediately and courageously, push for an immediate restructuring of the collapsing edifice, and save Nigeria.” The Punch also notes that the “Time to do so peacefully is running out.”
The future will tell whether the Punch is right or wrong.