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Monday, 25 November 2013

"The New Nigerian" - By Mohammed Bashir Ahmed (aka Pilot)

Back in 1973, as a fresh student who had secured admission into the highly acclaimed Kings College in Lagos, I was initiated as a full member of the school community. The initiation process was to purge me of my prior negative identity, re-programming me with that of a Kings College boy. With the benefit of hindsight, I believe this singular process of transformation assured that I will never return to just being from "the bush village of......." and confirmed to all and sundry that I had really "discarded all my rustic and outlandish behaviour" thereby transmuting, if you will, into " a true Kings College boy".

This brief history of my transmutation and transformation from a "northern Hausa-Fulani provincial boy" to the suave, cosmopolitan, sophisticated and detribalised KC boy is important in the context of our ethno-religious, socio-cultural and political situation in present day Nigeria.

I ask a simple question: Who is a true Nigerian? Why do I ask such a rudimentary question you may most likely reply. I ask because I find it difficult to identify one and urgently need your help in honestly and earnestly seeking out one and introducing him to all the other "Nigerians".

The most profound discovery is that Nigeria is populated by tribes, ethnic nationalities, fanatics of all shades and colours, religious bigots with little faith, shady and criminal entities, regional champions and their minions and non - believers in the existence of a Nigerian State and of course decent people and true pseudo-nationalists. Yes, there are "nationalists" marinated in their tribal and ethnic agendas. Who then is a real Nigerian?

Currently political discourse has focused on the need to re-evaluate the terms and conditions of membership of the Nigerian nation by "ethnic nationalities" as the protagonists believe the amalgamation by the British in 1914 was not properly initiated and consummated. Their view being - that the diverse peoples were forced into a sham arrangement of nationhood and were never consulted nor did they willingly give their consensual approval. It begs the question as to what rights did the colonised people have in determining their fate or having a say in the ultimate objective of their colonisers? Clearly none at all.

Perhaps for us to understand how our lack of an accepted concept of nationhood deepened and widened over time, we need to briefly recap the key milestones in our journey to nationhood from that fateful amalgamation of 1914. We also need to examine our experiments with different political systems as our nation evolved into its present crisis-ridden condition. This approach may probably illuminate our path.

Our country was formed by the British administrative action of amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914, consequently they ruled indirectly in Northern Nigeria through the established systems that they met there and more directly in Southern Nigeria. This was a period of European Partition of Africa by the major powers. Definitely mistakes were made in carving out borders that bore no relevance to the local tribes and communities they were uniting or dividing. It is important to remember that there was no representation of ethnic local people nor was their participation and subsequent endorsement sought. It was an act by arrogant and insensitive victors inflicted upon a defeated, traumatized and victimized people. The subsequent country created and recognized as Nigeria was essentially a British trading post and a vital economic interest. It's people were not important in the scheme of things; and education and training were initially rudimentary and were tailored to serve the administrative machinery created for the smooth exploitation of economic resources that will enrich the colonising nation and its citizens.

A period of liberation came in the late 1950's when the local elite agitated for independence from the colonising powers throughout Africa. By this time there was substantial political awareness and optimism for opportunity to attain self rule and to subsequently carve out an identity as a nation translating into a peaceful, progressive and prosperous entity.

Independence was won in 1960 by our regional political leaders, some say on a platter of gold because there were minimal tears and sorrow but apparently no bloodshed. Independence came with great promise. Our leaders were respected, admired and even adored. Those were glorious times to be a Nigerian, true Nigerians proud of our heritage and very much anticipating a journey to national greatness. Regional governments embarked upon accelerated manpower, systems and infrastructural development. Healthy competition towards the attainment of excellence and the fulfillment of the aspirations of citizens were vigorously pursued. Nigerians were collectively striving with a "common cause". Then the catastrophe of 1966 derailed everything. The seeds were sown for the journey to perdition that has metamorphosed into our current crisis. Nigerians ended up fighting each other upon the declaration of the State of Biafra and its subsequent rejection by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Nigerians became divided and bitter adversaries that had been egged on by their tribal, religious, political and regional leaders to destroy each other and to take back what was perceived wrongly or rightly to be "theirs". An avoidable and terrible civil war that decimated a very high percentage of our population ensued, resources that should have gone into a national development programme were utilised for the war effort and a substantial portion of national infrastructure was destroyed. The bond between citizens of a young, promising country was broken.

Apparently the transfer of power by the British to the Nigerian political elite in 1960 was interpreted, by those who felt they were more qualified and had more rights to rule, as a deliberate attempt to hold back the country; and to anoint uneducated and unqualified leaders upon a more educated and sophisticated people that believed in their perceived cultural superiority. This perhaps had been the catalyst for the brutal action of the military officers that subverted our first republic quashing a seemingly bright national future and thereby reinforcing the tribal and ethnic divisions that have negated our national unity ever since. Nigeria has never been and will never ever be the same since that civil war that ensued for 30 months. Nigerians found themselves under a new dispensation of military rule. Officers trained in military affairs without the requisite knowledge of statecraft found themselves saddled with the responsibility of stabilizing and catapulting a young country into a modern nation. They started out well enough with a sense of duty and patriotism. They were, however, ill equipped for the task at hand and bungled all the hopes and aspirations of an expectant citizenry through coups and counter-coups culminating in a corrupted social, political and economic system. I do not blame them, they tried to do their best under those prevailing circumstances but were products of a society that had essentially made a wrong turn from its founding fathers right trajectory.

Experimentation continued with a democratisation process conjured and nurtured by the military and crafted by civilian advisers and public servants with vested interests in the outcomes. From the independence and post independence parliamentary system, to the more exotic and wasteful executive presidential system that turned out to be an extremely bad copy of the idealistic American Presidential System; we have since been traumatized by the politics of bitterness, perfidy, self service and winner grabs all mantra. The nation and its people have been held captive and blatantly sidelined by an insensitive and rapacious elite that cannot seem to feel any empathy even for "future generations".

Due to an entrenched culture of mis-governance and the subversion of the rule of law, the foundation was set for the failure of state institutions and services, Nigerians have since gained notoriety as a people with expertise in all that is rejected and abhorred by decent people all over the world. Armed robbery, ritual murder, terrorism, extra-judicial killings, illegal oil bunkering and theft, sabotage of vital national economic infrastructure, 419 scams,contract and pension scams, examination malpractice, judicial recklessness, kidnapping, fake medicine manufacture, fake / substandard foods and sundry goods manufacture, political thuggery, massive official corruption, election rigging and electoral violence, fake holy men and sundry false prophets.

These are not the best of times to be a Nigerian, especially abroad. "A good people and a great nation" is the official sound bite encouraging foreign direct investment and tourism development. The reality is rather warped - the societal vices enumerated above have created a rather ugly picture in the minds of our target investors and tourists. Surprisingly when it comes to these negative labels no ethnic nationality rears up its head to identify its "citizens" as the perpetrators of such heinous activities, instead such acts are blamed on unscrupulous "Nigerians". One asks again who really is a Nigerian?

Fast forward to our current situation. A country of aggrieved tribal and regional groupings all seeking means of extraction of resources without the commensurate commitment towards creating more avenues of creating greater national revenues and boosting our country's wealth. Competition is unhealthy and presently not for growth and development, but for massive looting sprees and unbridled primitive accumulation by those holding our collective commonwealth in trust for all of us. All sorts of characters have been thrown up by a defective system and are claiming messianic leadership qualities necessary to transport their various ethnic and regional communities to the "promised land". The reality so far is completely at variance with this utopian pledge, it is greed personified by massive private jet acquisition, multi-billion Naira mansion development, bulging foreign bank accounts, designer labelled clothing / accessories and conspicuous consumption of exotic foods, wines and spirits. Our people have been collectively deceived by these ethnic champions and their looting collaborators and are wallowing in excruciating poverty. What a shame - a rich country populated by poor people.

This is our current pitiful situation. The relevant crux of the matter is what next? Do we not need to go back to the first principle of identifying the requisite qualities of who a true Nigerian really is and should be? I had earlier related my denunciation of certain qualities that were a negation of the character of a true Kings College boy at my alma mater those many years ago. Why can Nigerians not collectively denounce all that is bad in our character and adopt this redeeming act? It is time to ask ourselves honestly and objectively - are we ready to be true Nigerians? Are we ready to denounce our unprogressive tribal and ethnic jingoism? Are we ready to accommodate our differences in language, ethnic identity, cultural values and religion? Are we ready to rise up above wanton materialism and unbridled corruption? Are we ready to roll up our sleeves to build a virile, economically viable, technologically capable nation conditioned and immersed in equity, justice and fairness?

Are we ready to be good people determined to build a great nation? Are we ready to fashion out a great new Nigeria for a New Nigerian? This should be our focus and not the diversions of an irresponsible political elite that have proven their inhumanity, incompetence and gross negligence to the attainment of our most sacred ideals of a peaceful, strong, united and prosperous nation.

Mohammed Bashir Ahmed, an architect sent this from his vacation spot in the UAE.

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