Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Nigerian malaise

THERE is little to be said about the Nigerian malaise that has not already been said. In my personal odyssey of recantation, whenever faced with the challenge of the blank screen I ask myself - what new perspectives can you offer that have not already been divined? Few are the areas that have not been dissected and distilled, and all to what avail? Such is the unrepentant optimism of the scribbler however that though previous attentions remain unrequited, one continues to return to the arid well in the fading and forlorn hope that the earth shall one day give forth a hint of moisture.

I have for some time now been convinced that our desire and designs for material advancement have become the pre-eminent danger threatening our aspirations to sustainable nation-statehood. They lie at the root of our disabilities. While democracy is rightly prized, it is not and never has been anything other than an expression and reflection of the collective will. It is the very existence of the collective however that stands threatened by carnal cravings born of greed, acquisitiveness and avarice.

Before I am cast in the cloak of the sanctimonious, let me straightaway affirm that we are all daily deluged with ethical, moral and social challenges that test our rectitude - it goes with living in this territory. The degree of angst that accompanies such challenges is clearly a matter for the individual. The degree to which that angst predicates high-mindedness or otherwise, is also within the province of individuality. The consequences of how we react as individuals however speak to the wellbeing of the collective, making it fair and appropriate game for public comment.

Ours is a society where public idealism is constantly desecrated at the altar of private greed - a genre of greed that suspends and then abrogates ethical, moral and social imperatives. It is that form of greed that has facilitated the elevation of rationalisation to a species of reasoning. So it is that the gap between the anarchical state of our existence and our hopes for an ordered and orderly society continues to grow geometrically, propelled by the depths of our desires and our willingness to cast asunder all sense of propriety. In Nigeria, corrupt behaviour is regarded with equanimity, firmly positioning the nation in its own netherworld - a moral and ethical-free zone.

We are trapped in daily existential battles - the battle to be and the battle to have. Ideals are blunted and hope peremptorily denuded and discarded. Materiality subsumes our moral landscape, bespeaking ethical, moral and spiritual compromise and bankruptcy. Individual hypocrisy of Faustian proportions blot out perspective, dissociating the drive to satiate individual needs from the requirement to rise above our baser instincts.

We have neither hope for, nor expectation of rectitude from the guardians of our gates; righteousness has fled the coop and the word honourable is nothing more than a titular taunt our representatives flaunt in our faces. Where we come across these virtues we are struck by such a sense of dissonance that our reflex is to search for an Achilles Heel that will restore our faith in faithlessness. Whether we reflect on the conduct of those who serve the public or those privileged few in the public and private sectors for whom the public purse is their personal fiefdom, there is never a dearth of cause to despair. So it is that the principal impediment to the advancement of the Nigerian idea has become its own people.

There are, of course, deep flaws and structural defects aplenty in the Nigerian body politic - some congenital others not - that shall, with the effluxion of time, be addressed. They do not however obviate the requirement that Nigerians, individually, take responsibility for the nation's frailties. I speak of Nigerians as individuals rather than as some abstract collective precisely because that theoretical construct is what has allowed the infernal buck-passing that has enabled the guilty evade their just desserts.

The concomitant of a renaissance of individual responsibility and accountability is that the state must not continue to constitute itself as a restraint on the people's efforts; it cannot continue to be the cause of paralysing fear rather than the enabler of our self-realisation. That process will be by both systemic change and a rejuvenation of the pool of participation in active politics.

We require a deeper, more acute appreciation of the degree to which society's structures are built and broken, elevated and energised, demeaned and diminished by individual deeds and omissions. What we daily do and fail to do as individuals - our deficits of personal and public integrity - have a direct bearing on the nation's wellbeing.

Those that ought to be teaching these lessons and living these creeds have severe attention-deficit disorder, and are in dire need of reminding of the nexus between what they say and what they do. Instead of being the engine room of change and redemption, our social, political and economic elite have stymied us by overseeing a body politic founded on rampant dishonesty and rank hypocrisy. This disposition has attained critical mass, leaving us with a society with a collective energy for ill rather than for good.

The delusions that the self-congratulatory messages on the occasion of 10 years of democracy bespoke were mind-numbing, especially as they came from those that ought to be able to read the auguries more accurately. Most disheartening was the fact that much of the breast-beating was amoral; I personally was left feeling I was either witnessing denial writ large or evidence that the propagators inhabit a twilight zone.

Whilst not wishing to rain on the puerile and plentiful parades that commemorated a "decade of democracy", I invite those that were deceived to please take a closer look. The likelihood of democracy being midwived by the reprobates and renegades that hijacked the opportunity for catharsis provided by the passing of Abacha, is as far-fetched as the idea of a self-reforming kleptocracy. Abandon hope all who look to these for renewal.

May 29, 2009 was the 10th anniversary of the return of civilian government and nothing more. Democracy remains very much in the realm of the aspirational.

I have no difficulty in accepting that democracy is a process rather than an event but 10 years on, I find it difficult to discern the green shoots of growth in the parody that has been our lot; and, impossible to rejoice with the very persons that strangle the baby at birth. Even if one were to concede that the nomenclature of democracy is properly attributable to the last decade of bad governance (shameless examples of which abound from the executive, legislature and the judiciary), surely we are not absolved from our duty to be ever watchful. Our rights are repeatedly emasculated by the custodians of our common will and the guardians of our common good; their wanton disregard will not abate unless they are confronted with a high price for their high-handedness.

As a starting point, our public officials must be named and shamed. Most are thick skinned so the shaming must be palpable, shorn of subtlety for they do not do subtlety. People must be held accountable for their words as well as their deeds. The responsibility for and of public service and public office will not allow for the subtleties of similitude. Where actionable evidence exists or can be obtained it must be deployed to demonstrate zero tolerance for abuse in all its guises. There can be no statute of limitations on those acts that have rendered over two per cent of mankind confined and comatose. We cannot afford the leisure of grey areas as we seek to slay the dragon of corruption for it will not be slain while its spore and spawn reincarnate through their vice-like grip on the instruments of representative government.