On the threshold: Building a new Nigeria
A cursory look at life situations and the persisting vagaries of everyday existence, leads us to realise an inescapable fact – we live life everyday on the edge, on the brink, on the very threshold of life itself. For, as humans, with an active rational capacity, we are constantly seeking to define ourselves, to define the compelling verve of our experiences, the people around us, and our remote and proximate environs. Thus, our quest for self-definition is one task that we face each day and one that sets us on the very threshold that thin line that runs clean through all individual hearts that delineates the good from the bad, the beautiful from the ugly.
Relevantly so, in the breath and euphoria of a new Nigeria, bright and endearing expectations have berthed in the very sequestered harbours of each Nigerian heart. We pray for an end to corruption, an end to tribalism, an end to unemployment and underemployment, an end to war and a new era of peace, unity and progress. For truly, Nigeria has endured through the most trying circumstances like the fortunate mosquito, one observes, surviving the hazardous applause it keeps inviting in its journey across the parlor to the safety of the ceiling. However, matter-of-factly, the happy-ending fairytale world is loads different from the real world of hard knocks and weighty lessons. Sometimes, the answers we seek to the questions that trouble us lie, not in the far-away illusions of theory, but in the deep orientations of human intuition and praxis. Therefore, our initial gaze at life on the threshold becomes quite cursory, quite superficial indeed.
Like Plato, that icon of ancient wisdom, tells insightfully, “an unexamined life is not worth living”. To appreciate the uniqueness of life and its opportunities, we do not stand aloof as ‘care-less’ wayfarers following a pre-programmed course of life, but brace the task of understanding our role and responsibility in the ever-changing world of ours. A deeper gaze takes us beyond the superficial threshold that severs the rich elite from the bourgeois, the learned from the unlearned, and the popular from the unpopular, to the very delicate distinctions that make us who we eventually turn out to be. Living becomes not simply a blind struggle to succeed, to survive in the midst of few resources. That would be reducing life to brute instinct like Darwin’s survival-of-the-fittest theorising. It was upon this that Nietzsche thrived his ugly concept of society where the enduring cardinal virtues of society were witnessed in the paradox of force and fraud, as men were unable to engender trust in themselves and neither were they able to cooperate with themselves. Such society, thus, champions a willing to power characterised by a striving only to be greater, to exceed, to surpass every limit. It sets itself to defy all limitations, making every possible being existed.
True, this represents the general character of our Nigerian society, of our world. We want popularity, even the cheapest popularity, we want learning, content with the mediocre, and we want wealth, even if we lose our very soul and humanity in the striving. In the end, we only create anarchy, a Nigeria of unresolved tensions. And so, gazing at the Nigerian society, we can easily detect traces of this corrupting hubris. Corruption leverages the rich and influential above the middling masses, as they attempt control of all facets of the nation’s economy, and in the disappointment of a static second, they end up bankrupting the nation’s economic capacity. The sphere of education is not spared the debilitating effect as mediocrity is unceremoniously rewarded, with unqualified graduates churned out with little or no competence to show for it. We cannot even begin to talk in the area of tribe and religion, as the Boko Haram insurgency only has to show the tide of hate and violence raging in the heart of the average Nigerian youth. Achebe, given the entire issue at hand, observed metaphorically, that Nigeria had long since passed the alarming, and entered the fatal stage, and was due for its demise, if we kept pretending that she were only slightly indisposed. One can only measure the blanket level of angst and frustration that fuels the grotesque motive of Nigerian children transforming themselves into human bombs, detonated at will, at the hands of mindless terrorists. The war against Boko Haram only reveals this ugly sore.
Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the most gruesome wars are not merely fought in the sweat and grime of battle in the Sambisa or the Nigerian landscapes, but within the selfsame sacrosanct walls of each individual Nigerian heart. It is here that the choice of bad over good, wrong over right, hate over love, can wreak the dastardliest of havocs. It is here that individuals choose to hurt and maim instead of mending wounds and broken hearts. So also, such battles are not fought with the paraphernalia of war, with the noise and brutality of machine guns and machetes, but with the convincing force of right doctrine, of the enlightening glimmer of promised hope. Therefore, the clamour for a new Nigeria should not merely be the passing word on the lips of each oblivious bystander, but a determination springing from each eager heart. Our struggle for development should not merely be defined in terms of besting the other, or succeeding more, in rancorous competition, with a larger fleet of cars and harem of concubines to go with all the wealth.
It should not be to strive to embezzle more funds, to be shipped to foreign accounts, outsmarting all, even one’s very conscience (as if that were strangely possible). It should neither entail responding in hate and violence to the horrid status quo. As popular Hollywood actor, Will Smith, once rightly mused, “people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad…Let God deal with the things they do, ‘cause hate in your heart will consume you too”. Sometimes, the more lasting revolutions are not the quasi-Napoleonic wars of discontent and social unrest, but the powerful revolution of ideas, of attitudes.
Embracing a right attitude to the Nigerian predicament would engender creativity. The drive for excellence would not be mere competition with the other, but concern for the other, the quest to give birth to newer ideas for general social development and well-being, to assist floundering society with innovative concepts, in scientific research, political and economic theorizing, computer technology, public philanthropy. In the very end, the onus rests on the youths, the very same youths that are easy prey to the corrupting indoctrinations of terrorist agendas, mindless criminal schemes or power-hungry political leaders. On us, the youths rest the task of discovery, the culturing of ingenuity in the striving for learning in our universities, in our workplaces or in the service of our great nation. We can build a new future for Nigeria. Paulo Coelho in his book, The Alchemist, directs that the future is guessed at on the omens of the present, for “if one improves on the present, what comes later will also be better”.
Together, then, we will direct our steps on the Nigerian shore, to calmer tides on the horizon. We will grasp lasting excellence like that mythic philosopher’s stone that gave unending life. Not the superficial life of material existence, but the eternal ‘living’ born of immortalising our contributions to the Nigerian society, of ingraining our contributions to the Nigerian society in the great reminiscence of collective consciousness, building a Nigeria, worthy of her heroes past.
• Anakwue, writer and blogger, writes from Ogbomoso, Oyo State.