President Jonathan’s proposal for a national dialogue has raised a lot of debate within the country. Questions have risen on what issues should be discussed, who qualifies to be in these dialogues and why, and what form the dialogue should take. I could add that there is a bit of confusion trailing this idea- Nigerians desperately call for change but appear not to know what exactly needs to change and how to change it. Yet this is the most important step towards successfully transforming the nation.
Nigeria is faced with numerous troubles of systemic, institutional, political, ethnic, religious and economic nature. The ‘government’ usually gets the bulk of the blame and has been consistently accused of wringing the economy dry through its expensive take home cheques. Then, there are the forces of ‘Jihad’, to borrow Benjamin Barber’s rhetoric, that seek to create their own smaller political units within or outside the Nigerian state. In trying to make their points heard, these small but significant groups have often followed the violent path thereby deepening political and security problems in the country.
How best can Nigeria be ‘transformed’- through cross-ethnic dialogues, or cross-profession dialogues, or cross-political parties dialogues? Perhaps we do not need a national dialogue?
I wrote in an earlier article on this blog, Old and New trends in Nigeria, that there is a new and strong dynamic at work in Nigeria, that if supported and allowed to take roots, could transform the country and take us ‘there’. Quite a number of people are interested in national political inclusion, but this number is not as much, and indeed is swallowed up in the numbers of Nigerians who care for improved economic and human well being.
I was watching a television programme the other day and the discussions were about the sack of some ministers in President Jonathan’s cabinet. One of the speakers made it his core argument that the decision was politically motivated. A woman called in and gave him a direct response. She said , and I agreed, that politics ought to take a second place to meritocracy and administrative considerations in governance. There are a few politicians in Nigeria and several people, men, women and children, who are ‘economists’. They care more about the markets moving forward, a fair income distribution, financial honesty, good health care…in short, a working and efficient services system. When these people set about their daily lives they do so thinking about these things more than they care about ‘who slapped who at a political rally.’ I think these are the people to whom Nigeria’s future belong and should be entrusted to.
I do not deny the presence and significant strength which the opposing forces of ethnic, religious and patriarchal attachments and sentiments wield in Nigeria. In fact, these elements have mostly decided Nigeria’s history up till date. What made Nigeria erupt in a civil war in 1967? Why did communities in Jos suddenly erupt in sporadic violence? Why did Niger Delta militants emerge and what eventually placated them? What of the Maitasine riots of the 1980s and the current Boko Haram troubles? Nearly every single crisis in Nigeria is rooted in this opposing dynamic. I tag these sentiments as ‘opposing’ because they have greatly lent themselves to rationalizing blood shed, disruption of governance, justification for corruption, and many other ills including of late, terrorism.
Since 1960, Nigerian politicians and governments, military and civilian alike, have been struggling to appease the large egos of these anti-progressive sentiments to keep the polity stable. Politicians and community leaders who feel cheated or marginalized only have to stoke up ethnic support or instigate a religious strife to help them achieve their ambitions. After long periods of violence and brutal deaths, a negotiated monetary and ‘development’ solutions are offered to placate the affected communities. The State keeps wide awake against the next insurgency.
This ‘jihad’ dynamic is fundamentally an ideological illness. This is not the first time dialogues have been proposed, and followed through, yet the little transformation the country has experienced has not evolved out of these petty dialogues. Rather, they have risen from the efforts of a ‘de-tribalised’ professional, bureaucratic, meritocratic class of Nigerians. This class is powered by business investments, research and development programmes, innovation, education, skill acquisition, and appropriately guided ‘free markets’. This is what we all should work towards. This is what holds the key for Nigeria’s transformation.
Nothing beats a repressive ideology than another ideology that is held up to be working. It has to be emphasized that the politics of ethnicity, fractitousness, religion and patronage has failed. We’ll get ‘there’ sooner if we focus our energies on what has powered our transformation till date, and end unproductive dialogues at once.