By Chido Onumah
“…Nation-building is a futuristic venture; it is not something you do looking back. If a nation would be tempted, like Lot’s wife, to keep looking back, perhaps that nation will turn to a pillar of salt.” – Tope Fasua in Remaking Nigeria: Sixty Years, Sixty Voices
“A country is as good and redeeming as those who engage in its politics.” – Joel Nwokeoma in Remaking Nigeria: Sixty Years, Sixty Voices
“They prayed for things God had given them the capacity to do for themselves yet killed and maimed in the name of God. They fought for God and left their fight to God.” – Aisha Yesufu in Remaking Nigeria: Sixty Years, Sixty Voices
Nigerian politicians are a special breed. You do not know what motivates them—beyond unbridled power and opportunity to dip into the till. Or how else can one explain the mad rush for the presidency in 2023? In this conclave, you have Orji Uzor Kalu, “distinguished” senator of the Federal Republic, who supervised the plunder of Abia State as governor between 1999 and 2007 and Ahmed Rufai Sani Yerima, ex-governor of Zamfara State, a certified pedophile whose idea of democracy and nationhood is a throwback to the Stone Age.
Of course, only an insanely perverse group—maniacally obsessed with power—would attempt to lead Nigeria the way it is presently constituted, particularly after a Buhari presidency. As the writer and journalist, Fredrick Nwabufo, noted, “… it will take four decades to put Nigeria together after the exit of President Muhammadu Buhari. Nigeria is like Humpty-dumpty—broken, amputated, and cannibalized. The Buhari administration has wrought irreparable damage on the country across sectors. The mess is deep and stinks. The next president of Nigeria in 2023 will have to be a night soil man; in our parlance—a s..t packer; agbepo; onye obulunsi.” This is not an exaggeration!
In the past six months, I have had the honor of editing a book of essays, Remaking Nigeria, Sixty Years, Sixty Voices, by post-civil war Nigerians, a project supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and Ford Foundation. Looking at the submissions by the contributors, there is no shortage of ideas to propel Nigeria to greatness. The challenge, of course, is that we have not found a way to engage in the right conversation and let our ideas work for us. For far too long, we have had scoundrels posing as statesmen occupy the public space. We have allowed charlatans and our worst eleven to not only control the narrative but to steer the country toward the path of self-destruction. This must change. What it means is that we must fix many things about our country. We must fix its structure—politically, economically, and socially; we must fix its politics (Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, former minister of education and Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy, Berlin, Germany, is leading a grand effort with young Nigerians on this); we must fix its identity, etc.
These are ideas that resonate with the country’s youth population who should lead the effort to reclaim, redeem, and remake Nigeria. There are many reasons Nigerians are concerned about the country. Clearly, it has not lived up to expectations. And we know what happens to a dream deferred. I shall return to this. It was Prof. Okey Ndibe who described Nigeria as a space conceived in hope sixty years ago but nurtured into hopelessness. There couldn’t be a better description of our predicament. Nigeria’s rapacious and rogue elite, military and civilian—buoyed by a defective federation—has immiserated the country and undermined the essence of our democracy: the right to a good life and the freedom to choose those who govern us. And they are ready to do that again in 2023 if we do not halt their perilous match.
Nigeria, according to Ndibe, has a lot to do to regain its promise. It is an understatement to say that the country’s journey has been a tortuous and torturous one. According to the poet, Chiedu Ezeanah, “We are stuck with a predatory and repressive nation where the only order that endures is disorder.” How do we help this giant make its way out of the labyrinth?
Mathew Hassan Kukah, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, in his 2020 Independence Day sermon noted that “Journeys to greatness require more than good people. They require more than just goodwill; they require more than just hope. The journeys have to be led by men and women with vision, men and women of tested character prepared to mobilize their people to a vision and a goal that may not be necessarily available or attainable but encourage them to march towards the attainment of that goal. No nation has ever taken a shortcut to success. Not because nations have not tried but simply because there are no available short cuts.”
Will Nigeria survive? How do we remake Nigeria and turn it into the country of our dreams? Remaking Nigeria, Sixty Years, Sixty Voices addresses this challenge. It provides answers to realize a dream deferred. Langston Hughes, American poet, and social activist, in his poem, “Harlem – What happens to a dream deferred?” evokes what happens when the dream of a people is aborted.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
From the rudderless leadership, the daily carnage across the country, to the mindless pillage of our patrimony, the Nigerian dream is drying up “like a raisin in the sun” and “festering like a sore.” It “stinks like rotten meat and sags like a heavy load.” Time is running out. Let’s hope it does not explode!
Clearly, the new decade will be a defining moment for Nigeria. Sixty years after independence, fifty years after a civil war, and at the beginning of a new decade, a new generation of citizens must be challenged to reposition the country.
For young Nigerians to whom this book is dedicated, it is time to stop looking back or looking up and heed the admonition of Senator (and later 35th President of the United States) John F. Kennedy in 1958: “Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.’’
Remaking Nigeria: Sixty Years, Sixty Voices is available here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1953967027
Onumah is the author of We Are All Biafrans, among other books.