Nigeria is the only elephant in black Africa. However, the onus is on us to ensure that this elephant does not die of elephantiasis.
As Nigerians, we are all acutely aware of what is wrong with Nigeria, especially since we are all part and parcel of the Nigerian affliction. It is quite amazing that when you visit that uncle who stole government funds to build his mansion at Banana Island, he sits you down to talk about the problem of corruption in Nigeria. When this happens, you find it difficult to resist saying: “But, uncle, you are also a thief! I know you stole the money to build this house when you were the Commissioner for Youths, Sports and Culture.”
Where two or three Nigerians are gathered, you can be sure we are busy running down our country. What we don’t do enough is talk about some of the things that are right with Nigeria. Let’s face it; there are quite a few of these as well, even if they are often quite enigmatic.
The genius of Nigeria
One of the things right with Nigeria is Nigeria. It does not matter how the country came about. It does not matter if Nigeria is an accident of history. It does not matter that Nigeria is several countries haphazardly lumped together into one. Irrespective of the ifs and the buts, the fact remains that Nigeria is a pure genius of a country. The very existence of a country called Nigeria is a masterstroke of providence.
As a graduating doctoral student at Oxford University, England, I was interviewed for jobs I did not apply for. Multinational organizations, including the World Bank and Bank of America, came on campus to interview us for jobs. In the case of the World Bank, I was even flown to Paris. There was always a sticking-point in the interviews I agreed to attend: my insistence on returning to Nigeria after having spent thirteen years abroad.
What precisely is the attraction of Nigeria? Why is Nigeria such a difficult country to live in and yet, once we are out of the country, we cannot wait to get back? One of these days, I may be able to answer that. One thing I can say right now is that, without Nigeria, the world would be a much poorer place.
Black man’s Prometheus
The first casualty of a world without Nigeria would be the black race. Never mind the fact that Nigeria remains one big mess, and has been for the longest time. This is perhaps inevitable, as we work out the curious alchemy of this peculiar nation of over 250 nationalities. The fact remains that the black man would be absolutely insignificant in the world without Nigeria and Nigerians. With a population of over 160 million and growing, Nigeria is difficult to miss on the map.
As the most populous black nation, soon to be the third most populous in the world, Nigeria and Nigerians cannot be ignored. Nobody wonders why Barack Obama, the President of the United States, did not visit Burkina Faso on two different trips to Africa. But every student of international relations wonders why he did not visit Nigeria. If Obama visits Nigeria, he makes a statement. If he does not visit Nigeria, he makes a statement. The reason is simple: Nigeria, by its very essence, is a major actor on the world stage.
The country, and its people, command attention and demand attention. If a Nigerian is somewhere, you will know. You will hear his voice because he will be loud and outspoken. It is not easy to pretend not to see the elephant in the room, and Nigeria is the only elephant in black Africa. However, the onus is on us to ensure that this elephant does not die of elephantiasis.
Don’t let me get carried away. Nigeria is important because it exists. Nigeria is a brilliant masterstroke, even if created by colonial happenstance. But one other thing that is fantastic about Nigeria, but that Nigerians themselves fail to realize, is that coupled with the enormous resource endowments and potentials of the country, Nigeria has some of the best politicians in the world. Yes, yes, yes; Nigerian politicians are thieves. They are crooks. They have stolen the country blind. They are leading the country into the ditch. Yes indeed! Nevertheless, they are excellent at what they do best. Nigerian politicians are devilishly excellent politicians. This country cannot do without them.
Precisely because Nigerian politicians are crooks, they have a vested interest in Nigeria. That vested interest is in the continued existence of Nigeria. If Nigeria ceases to exist, the politician crooks of Nigeria will not have Nigeria to steal from. Since there is oil in Nigeria, nobody will secede from Nigeria. To secede from Nigeria is to secede from Nigeria’s oil. Neither can anyone be allowed to secede from Nigeria with Nigeria’s oil. When that happened, even thieves and robbers fought that Nigeria must be one. Make no mistake about it: we were not fighting because we believed in Nigeria. We were fighting because we believe in Nigeria’s resources. We believe in Nigeria’s wealth. I have yet to meet a Nigerian who does not truly believe that Nigeria is a country with huge potentials.
Accordingly, our politicians form and join different political parties, but it is all one big lie. All Nigerian politicians belong to one single party: Politicians Party of Nigeria (PPN).
The Nigerian military, on the other hand, is reckless. It was under the military that the East seceded as Biafra. It would not have happened under civilian politicians. The patchwork quilt that is Nigeria would have been mended and amended. There would have been a lot of debating and horse-trading. Odumegwu Ojukwu might have been elected President of Nigeria by a landslide. He might even have been the sole presidential candidate. The Igbo would have been mollified for the wrongs done to them; and Nigeria would have remained one.
If you don’t believe me, think back to what happened when the troublesome military annulled the free and fair election of 1993. The matter was resolved by a political masterstroke of the Nigerian political class. The decision was taken that a Yoruba man should become the president of Nigeria. In that process, the much-vilified North emerged as Nigeria’s greatest nationalists. It was Northerners, after all, who voted overwhelmingly for a Southerner, M.K.O. Abiola, in 1993; instead of their own Northern favourite-son, Bashir Tofa. It was also Northerners who fished out a Southerner, Olusegun Obasanjo, from prison and then secured his election as president in 1999.
So what am I saying here? There is more to Nigeria than meets the eye. There is an invisible hand guiding the affairs of this nation, and our politicians are its instrument. Yes, we are going through fits and starts. We are seemingly floundering from one problem to the next. Nevertheless, there is a method to the madness that is Nigeria. When you stand back and take a deep hard look, you cannot escape the fact that, in spite of all our palaver, we are nevertheless on the trajectory of becoming a nation.
We have been fighting against a determinate providence out to create a united states of black excellence out of Nigeria. That invisible hand put Hausas, Ibos, Yorubas, and a host of other unlikely ethnic bedfellows, in the same Nigerian melting-pot. So doing, it gave us Maitama Sule, one of the greatest orators of his generation. It gave us Aliko Dangote, the most enterprising businessman in Africa. It gave us Chike Obi, one of the greatest mathematicians the world has ever seen. It gave us Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s Nobel laureate in Literature. It gave us a country with by far the most enterprising people on the entire continent of Africa.
That invisible hand also gave is Goodluck Jonathan. The message is written in his name. I am convinced Goodluck Jonathan never imagined, growing up, that he would one day be the president of Nigeria. I doubt if he ever thought he would even be the governor of Bayelsa State. As a doctoral student, he probably aspired to become a university professor or even a university vice-chancellor. However, “Goodluck” propelled Goodluck Jonathan to be Nigeria’s president literally overnight.
What are we to make of this? A decision was taken somewhere and somehow that a South-South man needed to become President of Nigeria at a precise moment of our history. For some absolutely ridiculous reasons, a terminally-sick man was “installed” as president. He promptly died in office. That unfortunate comeuppance was Nigeria’s “goodluck.” There is something incongruous about having the whole country benefit from South-South oil, without thinking it imperative to have a South-South president at some juncture. Therefore, the time for Nigerian inclusiveness of the South-South was decreed. Out of the blue, a South-South man, by the name of Goodluck Jonathan, became president of Nigeria. We must not lose the message of this inclusiveness. If pioneering Barack Obama was re-elected as president of the United States in 2012, pioneering Goodluck Jonathan should be re-elected as president of Nigeria in 2015.
This has nothing to do with the nonsense of some South-South militants who declare that if Jonathan does not remain president until 2019, Nigeria will cease to exist. That kind of bombast and blackmail should be ignored. Nigeria is not going anywhere. But in the interest of Nigeria, the South-South should retain the presidency until 2019. Even the APC should also consider fielding a South-South man as their presidential candidate in 2015. Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians. Therefore, our acceptance of a South-South president should not be grudging. As a matter of fact, Jonathan’s South-South presidency is well-positioned to advance the Nigeria project significantly.
Jonathan’s biggest legacies are already unfolding. He is the first South-South president. Under him, giant strides are being taken in Nigerian agriculture yet again. The perennial problems of power shortage are beginning to be addressed with appreciable results. Under Goodluck Jonathan, Nigerians will finally get the opportunity to determine their future, under the aegis of a Sovereign National Conference.