Of stolen voices and deceptions
NIGERIA may not exactly be a total lie but it is a pretentious giant, claiming strengths it doesn’t have in the face of obvious weaknesses, lying from and unto its own soul, thereby undermining its real and potential power.
The legend of the famously overrated farmer is very familiar in most Nigerian rural communities: Seeking to live up to a self-deluding reputation as the best of his peers, he goes around telling all who would care to listen that he has cultivated more than everyone else, forgetting the two basic seasons of life: A time to sow and a time to reap. So, the farmer who claimed he planted a hundred tubers of yam but made so much noise about his large farm of two hundred could only live his lie for a season. When the time to reap what he sowed came, a hundred tubers of yam were, of course, harvested, leaving him face-to-face with the reality of questions and shame over the other hundred that were never planted.
Nigeria’s diversity is a strength the nation is in denial of because the conventional wisdom is that its acknowledgment undermines the nation’s unity. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a certain individuality to every part of Nigeria perpetually demanding to have itself heard.
A repression of this individuality in the name of Nigeria’s unity or nationalism has not only proven dangerous but, indeed, potentially destructive.
The best understanding of integrity, I am told, can be gleaned from the naval/maritime world. Before a ship sets sail, there is only one question the captain asks of everyone, from the chief engineer, the midshipman to the cook on the deck: How is the ship? To which the answer must be: It has absolute integrity! Meaning the ship is water-tight. That question must be asked and answered as such for an exercise in which the tiniest hole on the vessel can sink it. Absolute integrity.
So much store has been set of President Muhammadu Buhari’s integrity as the captain of the Nigerian ship today. But scant attention is being paid to the integrity of the vessel.
The best indication of the gaping hole in the body of the ship is the fact that no one, individual person or national entity, feels enough sense of belonging to Nigeria until it occupies some office or wields some power over the rest of the country. The architectural design of Nigeria’s federal system is faulty and the structure built on it is wobbly, leading to so much exclusion or discontent as has led to insurgencies in various parts. That wobbly structure is the breeding ground for the current often dismissed yet resilient agitation by self-styled Biafrans.
A country that fails to appreciate its true meaning as flowing from its diversity or coat of many colours and undermines the individuality of the different thread that makes up the quilt ultimately primes itself for implosion. So, as it is today, the greatest effort at undermining Nigeria, is made not by the agitators for the Republic of Biafra, Egbesu, Oodua, Tiv, Arewa, Bachama, Angas, or whatever. That effort is being made by the Nigeria state or leadership which finds comfort in the existing structure and reinforces the lie which it is.
As days roll by and the Biafran agitation, annoying sometimes as it is, gathers some steam, a few deceptions about Nigeria reveal themselves.
One is that the agitation is only by miscreants in want of attention or better things to do with their time or lives. The other is the silence, double-speak or sophistry, as the case may be, of the elite across Nigeria but especially in the South East.
That elite posturing in turn deceives the Nigerian state into believing all is well even though that elite not only shares the emotions of the protesters, it actually reels in the pain of its own pretences and gets a much comfort from the ‘miscreants’ voices.
So, as the ‘miscreants’ shout from the roof-top a passion the elite shares but pretends about, ‘the street is taking over!’
Certainly, a veneer of unity or nationalism covers up holes on the Nigerian ship. And the wider those holes grow, the more in denial the ship’s captain or captains get, comforted by the falsehood that the ship is too big to sink or that the skipper is too good at sailing.
Goodluck Jonathan may have done everything else wrong in office but the National Conference he convoked and which report is now gathering dust on Aso Villa shelves is one thing he would go down in history as having done right. Indeed, not a few people who couldn’t stand his performance as President still wanted him back on account of that conference and its far-reaching recommendations in the hope that he would spend his second term implementing the report, thereby laying the foundation for a truly federal, prosperous and united Nigeria.
Jonathan is history but for the holes which may someday sink the ship called Nigeria, that national conference report has provided the best plugs.
No unit or interest in Nigeria got all it wanted but got enough to find a reinvigorated faith in the union, all resolutions arrived at by consensus!
In a display of devotion as well as rigour, the conferees passed over 600 resolutions dealing with issues of law, order, policy and constitution amendment and practical recommendations for the upward journey of Nigeria to true federalism and greatness.
The conference’s decisions on state police, creation of additional states, a modified governance system that incorporates elements of both the presidential and the parliamentary template, reduction in the cost of governance, abrogation of the local government as a tier, a new revenue sharing formula that ups the states’ accrual to 35 percent and reduces the centre’s to 42 from about 56 per cent are landmarks that should kick-start the journey to greatness.
In addition to these, there are windows of opportunity for movement towards such core issues as true federalism and devolution of powers which should put paid to the plethora of discontents across the nation.
While that report may not have gone far enough, especially with regards to fiscal federalism, it has shown sensitivity to the separate needs of the separate federating units. It has recommended a two-tier policing system such that in addition to the federal police service, states with enough resources to do so can establish and control their own police services.
And, in recognition of the need to respect the individuality that is real and should be acknowledged for it to be harnessed for Nigeria’s unity, the conferees also seek to push Nigeria forward by recommending that “states that wish to merge may do so in accordance with the extant constitution” while “states may also create zonal commissions to promote economic development, good governance, equity, peace and security.”
Indeed, a compelling case for the implementation of that conference report is that it takes both the short-term and long-term view of Nigeria and proffers practical solutions.
Roads may be built, power may be supplied and hospitals may function. But in what kind of country?
Buhari would seem the best suited for this task of fixing Nigeria’s short-term needs within the context of doing what is right by Nigeria in the long term. This, he must do by implementing the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference which is the only way to put an end to discontents within the polity and win the buy-in of all. Propelled into office by a united nation against incompetence and divisiveness, he is loved and respected by all, trusted by all and has little or no need for validation by a corrupt, self-seeking political class with eyes on the next election. Sustained in office even now by a nation united for change and tolerant of the delays in the delivery of that change, he has nothing to lose by being bold therefore. Unless he is not truly what he is projected to be and what Nigerians voted for. Above all, at 72, he has only one thing left to gain in life: A legacy. In which case, he should be less terrified of death, albeit a political one, than most. He can put an end to so much discontent and so much grumbling by instituting a structure that respects individuality of the units and unleashes all of Nigeria’s hands on the work of building Nigeria. There is currently a deception to the nation which makes all pay a lip service to its unity. So much discontent remains unvoiced or when voiced, is dismissed as rabble unworthy of any serious attention.
But Wole Soyinka’s words, from which this article derives its title, are apt at times like this.
Speaking of the ‘deceptive silence of stolen voices,’ about 11 years ago, the Nobel laureate, in words he alone can muster, said it is only futile to smother the expression of a people’s popular will.
“What the protagonists of mass or sporadic insurgencies have said to their aggressors is this: You have taken my home, you have taken my wealth, you have taken my livelihood, you have taken away my sense of security and you have taken away my volition but do not steal my voice.”
The Biafra agitation, unacceptable as some of the agitators’ methods may seem, is only symptomatic of the pervasive injustice and inequity all over Nigeria, from North to South, East to West.
The process of ending deceptions as well as freeing stolen or stifled voices can only begin with the implementation of some of the recommendations now on Aso Villa shelves.