A friend of mine is not a white supremacist. I say this, and in this manner, for if you heard him speak about Nigerians you would go so far as to imagine him the very son of Hitler. When he speaks of Nigerians his rhetoric is harsh and unforgiving. "But you must admit," he says of Nigerians, and then by implication black people, "Your people have demonstrated themselves to be extremely corrupt and lacking vision." If I want to defend my people I look into my own history and sum my experiences. I am a child of the seventies, so I remember that Nigeria, the soon-to-be world power. In order to attain this energy, however, of a world power, it was suggested that "Democracy" was the only way in which it could be done.
And so a soldier, Olusegun Obasanjo, was celebrated by the West when he ushered in my first taste of this wondrous thing called Democracy that would take Nigeria into the spheres of the prosperous and relevant.
What followed was the most shocking display, till that time, of corruption, nepotism and profligacy that the world had ever known. Billions of dollars were siphoned off, in short order, into the foreign accounts of Nigerian Government officials and their friends. The bleeding was too much for the military to stand and so they intervened. Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was made the face of a coup d' etat which brought the Nigerian military back into government, barely four or so years after Olusegun Obasanjo ushered it back to the barracks. We were back to square one.
Over the next couple of decades, one military regime after another squandered Nigeria's opportunities at development with a version of corruption that, this time, was strategic and with direction. The money was used to fund a chess game involving religion, the larger African region and men like Moamar Ghaddaffi. Nigeria was to become a power after all, but not in the way the west would want. When they came to the military and told them that if Nigeria was to be a power it had to use "Democracy" the leader of the regime at the time, General Sani Abacha, said "We shall do our version of democracy." Using the excuse that Nigerian civilians are inherently a corrupt breed, General Abacha made moves to remove his uniform and don a Dashiki as democratic leader of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Osanobua wept., but so it came to pass that the powers moved, and some way, some how, General Abacha died mysteriously and suddenly and there was hope again, that the dark days of military conquest were finally over. And so Democracy was ushered in once more and who better to shepherd its re-arrival than the man who had ushered it in when I was a child. And so, now a civilian, Olusegun Obasanjo was made president of the republic. What followed was legendary. The corruption of "elements" within this administration reached to the highest levels. Even Obasanjo admitted, to a hostile TV interlocutor, that his Vice President was implicated in certain matters. Of course Obasanjo himself was never found to have looted anything or done any favors, a spotless, blameless man. And aside from a few personal but now public issues, he has remained out of the fray.
It dawned on people of conscience, after the Obasanjo democratic reign, that there was something terribly wrong with the political class in Nigeria. But where did this political class emerge from and why were they so uniformly lacking in the grander vision a politician needs in order to be relevant to his people's advancement? What law was written in the hearts of those who entered Nigerian government that made corruption a must? The politicians, after all, came from amongst the people themselves, who are famously undisciplined and corrupt down to the last man. This is how the world began to see Nigeria. Then came the late President Yar'adua. He shall rest in peace, even in this article, although history tasks us to note that the level of corruption in Nigeria during this current civilian era has escalated with time.
The sums of money we hear about these days make Shehu Shagari's lot seem like boy scouts, and so it is, that people like my friend sound like white supremacists when they speak of Nigerians, for the light has shone in our darkness and revealed something very, very troubling--Nigerians do not have the ability to govern themselves.
But wait. How can that be?
After all, Nigeria is famous for government. True, not in the modern era, but the Hausa States were Nigerian. The Empire of Benin was Nigerian. The Kingdom of Oyo was Nigerian. The Borno Empire was Nigerian. The Sokoto Caliphate was Nigerian. So how can it be, that with antecedents like this, what we find in Nigeria today is a bunch of grown men who cannot behave like grown-ups and get the work done that is so much needed for their people? Why is sycophancy the order of the day? Where are the men of integrity and how do they get coerced once in the grand halls of Abuja, so that Europeans look at us and say that we are inherently inferior?
Well, maybe we ought to examine everything we have copied from the British our former overlords. They came and brought with them many things, many of which I myself am happy for, but among the things they brought they also brought their form of government, suggesting that it is a "proven" form of governance "designed" to maximize the potential of the individual and protect his interests against state tyranny. All this grammar we had never heard till London came, but we lapped it up like modern men and began attempting to exercise democracy. Should we give up?
Alas, it is time, not to give up, but to reexamine what we copied from the British. The psychology of Nigerians is not the psychology of other nations, and there is a reason for that. In America, you notice that every young girl wants to be a princess. The reason for this psychology, aside form Disney, is that America is a prosperous country, and with prosperity comes the yearning for royalty--to be special. To have your wealth be a measure of your regal character, something uniquely pertaining to you. Daddy's little princess. Well, then, do you think that after thousands of years of a monarchical system in most parts of Nigeria, do you think that after Gana, Mali and Songhai touched us intimately, do you think that after Awujale and Usman Dan Fodio and Jaja and Eweka, do you think that Nigerians can be so easily weaned off monarchical tendencies?
Just like Daddy's little princess, every Nigerian man who has the opportunity wants to be a king. And so while in government, Nigerian men avail themselves of this opportunity--not so much in the acting of Kings as they legislate and do their duty--but more in the acting LIKE kings with the wealth of African kings. Daddy's little princess must have a palace. Daddy's little princess must have a brand new, expensive car. Daddy's little princess must have a gold Rolex, for this is what a king has. It might sound trivial but it is not--this is the psychosis of power, the allure of royalty. It is hard to explain today to modern Nigerians the rationale behind any one of the traditional kingships; blood is no more seen as divine, and so indeed Democracy provides us a way to choose our kings.
In no other country is it so, that the elected are kings. But in Nigeria it is so, not because the Nigerian man must demonstrate himself to be a wealthy advocate for the people, but because it is all he has known in his history, the history of the kings of Nigeria. So, what is the solution? How can corruption finally be stymied in Nigeria, knowing that every Nigerian official is a potential king of an invisible kingdom funded by the Central Bank and Federation Account?
It is a daunting problem. There is corruption everywhere, and believe it or not in some countries it is worse than Nigeria. I think of Mexico when I say that, but to be compared to the lands where Satan is openly the Lord of so many is no great achievement. Nigeria is still one of the few countries as blessed as it is as poor as it is; and this because of the psychology of Daddy's Little princess. Government must come with wealth in Nigeria, for this is what we have known of our rulers.
Well, as I exhale. Let us think about this as Nigerians. Can a woman have two husbands? Can a nation have two sets of rulers? We have, on the one hand, the legitimate though often contested rulership of the traditional leaders of Nigeria past being up-ended by the democratically elected leadership chosen by the people. Of course not all Nigerian nations had kings, as the Igbo will tell you, but there was representation of the people in a manner indigenous to the people and it worked. So what am I saying?
We cannot go back to yesterday. We cannot invoke the Obas and Sultans of eras past, believing they will bring us back into the era of magic and prosperity. What we CAN do is fine tune our brand of democracy by defining who is Nigerian, and thus HOW to represent the Nigerian in government; we do this by organically summoning all viable sovereign constituencies to a conference of identification. The key word is viable. An open-ended call for sovereign constituencies could lead to foolishness like extended families designating themselves as nations. But we are not children. We know what a sovereign constituency consists of, and those that do not meet the criteria will organically be removed from this gathering.
With the "Big Three" some might question the efficacy of such a conference. Note that issues of sovereignty are front-and-center amongst the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. In Odua Land we have the Ooni and rightful representative of the Yoruba challenged by my uncle the Alaafin, while my cousin the Oba of Benin in another atmosphere joins the fight by referring to Benin as the source of Oduduwa. Meanwhile, the late Ojukwu was crowned Eze N'Digbo, not because he believed it was meaningful for the Igbo to have a king, but because he realized that unifying the Igbo under a singular presence was a first step towards achieving true sovereignty for Ndigbo. Meanwhile, in the North, Sharia law fights sharia law.
Apparently the version of Sharia in Borno is not enough for the militants, and so they fight for even stricter sharia. These rumblings in all parts of the nation are not just rumblings, they are a precursor to darkness. It is why many of us have thought closely about how to solve these problems and proposed solutions such as a final sovereign constitution that grants federal sovereignty to its constituent units as agreed by the people, not a military committee beholden to Westminster and her allies.And what, pray, will be the point of such a conference? For one thing, it will finally enable each part of Nigeria to decide the pace of its development without lumping all together bound by the lofty pronouncements of foolish technocrats.
Aside from finally DEFINING the modern structure of Nigeria, especially as concerns genuinely fair revenue allocation, such a gathering will preface the question of government by dealing with the issue of representation. Indeed, the recent Kenyan elections highlighted an exercise in power devolution just the sort of which I am advocating here. But it took, for them, great bloodshed to attain that vision. We do not need that. To be fair, Kenya's new constitution is representative of Kenya's unique and particular history since its independence, and the jury is still out as to whether it is truly the progress desired. Still, they were bold enough a people to enact change in their representation, though it did come at a price. The point is that a meaningful representation of the sovereign constituencies of this nation is the ONLY way out of this corruption morass.
When, like in the days of old, Nigerians are represented in government by those who have their interests at heart--and these would not be political parties--only then will my friend not continue to sound like a white supremacist in talking about our people. Only then will our "Federal" institutions ever work the way they are supposed to. Only then would police think twice about brutalizing their own people. Only then would civil servants think twice about disrobing their elders by stealing from them. Only then, when representation means what it does in a functioning democracy, will Nigeria defeat the scourge of corruption. Only then. And the means to attaining true representation is a conference of sovereign nationalities intended to break the yoke of Westminster's hold on Nigeria. If Kenya is bold enough to restructure, so are we.
Now a Sovereign Conference is not a new idea. I myself only heard about it through the anti-Abacha democratic movements. But if only as a matter of fine-tuning representation in Nigeria today, then it is imperative that such a gathering be convened very soon. We are otherwise swimming in troubled waters. A democracy which does not represent the interests of the people, but instead serves shallow political regimes, is destined for cataclysm. Mark my words. And if the prevailing ruling structure sees no benefit--to themselves we imagine--of a sovereign identification of Nigerian representational constituencies, then the people should go ahead and convene one such gathering, and do so repeatedly until all sovereign constituencies agree to join the conference.
Let each nation arise, and declare itself a sovereign AND constituent part of the Nigerian Federation. Then let each nation decide, for itself, how it shall be represented fairly within a congress of Nigerians. Finally, let us, having distributed ourselves as a unified collective of sovereign entities, elect as President one who shall preside over the sovereign affairs of this unified nation so-represented, which affairs no longer are beholden to Westminster and her allies. Let us, through merit, identify this public servant who shall NOT be the King of the Kings of Nigeria, but instead a prudent administrator of our interests and that of our progeny.
Let us do all these things with our great Kingdoms and Empires at the back of our minds. So that when we die, instead of tears of shame, our children will have the bright light of Africa's history to look forward too, despite all the good the British have done with their version of democracy. I petition the Sovereigns to rise.
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