Focal points for the ‘New Nigerian dream’
Chris Anyokwu, PhD, a dramatist, poet, fiction writer, speaker, rights activist and public intellectual, is a Professor of English at the University of Lagos, Nigeria and has joined Business a.m.’s growing list of informed editorial commentators to write on Politics & Society. He can be reached via email@example.com
May 8, 202399 views0 comments
Since the beginning of the current transitional period in Nigeria’s march to the May 29, 2023 hand-over ceremony in Abuja, the popular mood has been that of buoyant optimism and hope. A sense of deliverance seems to pervade everywhere, a new beginning of a kind after the last eight years of the locusts. With the emergence of the so-called Third Force in Nigeria’s politics embodied by Peter Obi, the presidential nominee of the Labour Party (LP) and, more sensationally, the OBIdients movement, a sense of renaissance has become almost palpable. The contestation in mood, at least, between déjà vu (i.e. the continuance and perpetuation of the ancien regime) and the heady and exhilarating ferment of novelty has set the polity on fire, as it were. The OBIdient throng, for instance, was spawned by the EndSARS protests and the defining tragic events of 20:10:2020 at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, a sad occurrence which was the culmination of official insouciance, institutionalised dereliction of duty and abuse of power and trust. The Lekki tragedy was a complex of socio-political pathologies which had created general disillusionment and despair. Thus with Peter Obi entering the fray, he birthed hope and possibility, what with his rousingly reassuring counter-narrative of can-do spirit, a Daniel-has-come-to-judgement rhetoric highlighted in the main by his catchy sing-song of “from consumption to production”. Whilst the rain of adversity still beat the beleaguered and impoverished Nigerian masses who had sought shelter under the Umbrella for 16 years, the Broom has equally failed spectacularly to sweep off the impediments clogging the wheel of progress for the past 8 years thereby leaving the people utterly despondent and despairing. For these past 8 years, they have had to contend with nation-vanquishing issues such as insecurity, insurgency, kidnapping, violent crime, youth unemployment, the debt burden, lack of social infrastructure and basic amenities. Whenever the mood takes them, official regulators hike the pump prices of petrol and diesel and kerosene even as people battle with multiple taxation, the PHCN epileptic electricity supply, stagflation among other human-induced crises.
If there was any pretence about inter-ethnic harmony or the myth of One Nigeria, the 2023 general elections have vanquished all that. Even amid the angst, the outrage and the consternation generated by the deeply flawed elections, people appear to still want to give the nation another chance to pull itself back from the brink where it is at present. This stubborn hope, perhaps, is anchored upon a deeply-felt sense of helplessness, of the virtual disappearance of options and alternatives. This is the desperate, gritted-teeth determination to cling on to whatever straw holds out the foggiest possibility of making it alive to the shores.
Furthermore, there is a sense in which it is felt that, among the three major presidential contenders, the worst of them is by far preferable to the steersman of the ongoing apocalypse, a figure whose Pan-Nigerian patriotic credentials are a matter for public debate. So, for the would-be helmsman and their constituents, ghettoised suburbs of heaven are far better than the outskirts of hell (read: present-day Nigeria). It is against this hellish experience of the vast majority of Nigerians that, lately, talk of a new Nigerian dream has dominated public discourse. However, to talk of a new Nigerian dream presupposes the existence of an old or former “Nigerian Dream”, it would seem. Was there ever a Nigerian Dream? Haven’t Nigerians been living from day one the Nigerian Nightmare? Or, to be charitable in order to hypothesise, could we aggregate the quasi-patriotic mouthings and hollow pietisms of our so-called founding fathers and “heroes past” as the putative pronunciamentos of nation-coalescing visions and dreams?
Let’s get real for a change. The fact of the matter is that the Nigerian people have always been living in what may be described as Dante’s Inferno, so much so that any talk of a Dream seems laughable, even zany! Who dreams in hell? Not even the doughtiest of us can boast like Lucifer in John Milton’s Paradise Lost that: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” (1.263). For, the insupportable subsisting reality of a hellish Nigerian dystopia has forced people to dream dreams and to see visions of a better Nigeria, in spite of everything. The American example is there for all to see, warts and all. A word or two regarding that will suffice at this juncture.
American Dream is “the national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals including representative democracy, rights, liberty and equality, in which freedom is interpreted as the opportunity for individual prosperity and success, as well as upward social mobility, for oneself and their children, achieved through hard work in a capitalist society with few barriers” (Wikipedia). What’s more, the term itself, “American Dream”, we are told, was originally coined by James Truslow Adams in 1931, and he was quoted as enunciating that, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. Yet, after all said and done, after many years since that lofty phrase gained traction in global imagination, people everywhere, not least Americans themselves, have continued to wonder whether or not the American Dream mantra is a myth or reality. This is so because the whole hullabaloo about the American Dream is said to be invariably associated with rates of national disillusionment. The Dream (as most dreams tend to be) is unattainable for most marginalised groups and social classes, especially peoples of colour and ethno-racial minorities in the land of the Brave and Free; the City on a Hill! Given this sobering reality, most are constrained to dismiss the American Dream as a cunningly-devised myth coterminous with the misleading sing-song of the Sirens.
Have you ever asked yourself why the late Baptist preacher and civil-rights activist, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., still saw the need to nurse and nurture his own, “I Have A Dream” pan-American organogram, whilst the overarching American Dream was still alive and well? Why did he see the need to affix his own dream to the longer one? Is the American Dream and the Luther Dream at daggers-drawn; at cross-purposes? What does this tell us about dreams pulsing, incubating in the same body politic? Sometimes, they coalesce, yet, at times, they kiss and quarrel. Anyhow, is a dream an organogram of futuristic happenings, events and activities; a blueprint for hope deferred or a roadmap to prosperity and a good life for all? Or is it, essentially, an instrument or a framework for a grand delusion and an achieved mechanism for self/collective escapism? Does it turn people into human ostriches who mischaracterise their horrid estate while luxuriating in some psychological never-never-land?
So what might we isolate and focus upon as the constitutive planks of the so-called New Nigerian Dream? We shall simply itemise some of them as follows: (1) merit-based social ethos as against the current recidivist theology of nepotism; (2) nationalism as against the present practice of ethnic polarisation; (3) provision of basic social amenities across the six geopolitical zones as against the current situation in which a certain “privileged” state capital boasts over twenty federal-owned tertiary institutions and military and paramilitary bases and colleges, among others; (4) a sense of oneness and togetherness, tolerance and love as against the toxic ethno-religious disharmony and distrust in today’s Nigeria; (5) prioritizing production rather than the borrow-and-squander consumerism we are experiencing now; (6) youth-centred policies and programmes as against the gerontocratic exclusivism of the current dispensation; (7) complete eradication of the entitlement culture and the establishment of inclusive and egalitarian society based on equity and equality of all under the law; (8) enthronement of constitutionalism, due process and the Rule of Law as against the current practice of impunity, flagrant disregard of court rulings and injunctions as well as the cult of personality; (9) accountability and transparency in public service as against institutionalised and official larceny and the parcelling-out of our common patrimony into private fiefdoms; (10) discipline and honesty as against the Esu-esque doublespeak which has become the default style of officialese; (11) patriotism and the pursuit of the Common Good in defiance of today’s rank egocentrism and self-centredness a la the political elite; and, finally, every Nigerian should be able to aspire to and vie for the highest political office (i.e., president), as well as other high-ranking public positions in the country. At present, there is a pall of uncertainty in the air.
However, if the incoming administration considers itself fit-for-purpose and up to the task, it can actualise the New Nigerian Dream whose constitutive elements are outlined above. It must, as a matter of urgency, address the mind-boggling debt burden. It must also grapple with the goose which lays our golden eggs, namely the NNPC with a view to completely reorganising it to reflect fairness and justice, especially from the standpoint of the host communities. Oil theft must be tackled head-on and all culprits duly made to face the music. Enough of barking; we’ve got to bite! The law has got to bare its fangs in this regard, no matter whose ox is gored. Thus, sacred cows must be led to the abattoir and skewered accordingly. So much has been said about the so-called fuel subsidy removal. Government needs to engage with the experts for advice and guidance as it takes this leap in the dark. To say our education sector is in shambles is to be charitable; it’s almost non-existent and merely hanging on nominally. The tuition question and university autonomy among allied thorny issues have got to be carefully and thoroughly dissected and resolved, if we place any kind of premium on education for our teeming youth – Nigeria’s greatest asset! Whilst the “Japa” crisis gathers steam and our critical mass of talent vote with their feet as they emigrate overseas, our government has shown complicitous silence and even token encouragement. But we know no country can make progress without the requisite baseline of talents and skills-set. Woe betides that country which sanctions its own haemorrhage of hope, emblematised by the mass exodus of its critical demographic – the youth and its best and brightest brains. It’s true that foreign remittances – thanks to the Nigerian Diaspora – constitute a large chunk of our annual revenue. Even so, about 96 percent of this revenue is used to service our debt stock! Hence, it has been said that there is nothing left to share or steal; the National Cake is all but gone, digesting in the entrails of the powers-that-(shouldn’t) be and their multitudes of freeloaders and spongers. This rapacious and vampirish mind-set has got to be discarded, if “Nigeria go survive”. Sad and saddening as our current predicament may seem, change qua change is stirring beneath the surface.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has captured it succinctly in one of his beautifully-crafted speeches: “Believe it or not, Nigeria is changing. There are no longer any ethnically-homogenous enclaves in Nigeria […] Our much-talked-about linguistic diversity is not a barrier as many Nigerians are multilingual. Increasingly we see that the heart and face of a New Nigeria is a socio-cultural hybrid appreciative of the cultural diversity of our society, attuned to its culture but also blessed with an inclusive cosmopolitan outlook […] Nigerian leadership today does not have the luxury of toying with prejudice […] [T]he leadership elite [have] a duty to conduct ourselves with a high sense of responsibility even as we prosecute the contest for power. Historically, conscious and patriotic elite all over the world recognise that beyond the letter of the law, beyond what the law has set, there are lines that must not be crossed in the pursuit of political power especially in fragile societies and democracies such as ours. One of such lines is the wilful exploitation of sectional sentiments and the invocation of ethnic antipathies to mobilise a political constituency. This is the challenge of leadership in our country today […] Our diversity is neither a liability nor a curse. It is in fact a blessing, an asset. Diversity deepens the pool of socio-cultural capital available to us. We’re enriched by [it] and [it’s] a treasury of tools for growth and progress-[we can flourish] under the banner of a common purpose bound by a shared language and a shared hope” (cf: Odia Ofeimun’s “a common morality”).
Although dismissed by some as a coyly recited politically correct lullaby, Professor Yemi Osinbajo’s speech in broad strokes outlines and sets forth the essential and fundamental lineaments of the proposed New Nigerian Dream, one which furnishes panoply of action, a road-map to greater, richer possibilities. A dream which, more or less, approximates the “banner of a common purpose”; one which binds us all to a common destiny via “a shared language and a shared hope”, or what Odia Ofemium calls “a common morality”. This is how, to echo Ofeimun again, we may begin to take Nigeria seriously.
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