with Nigeria, something has to give…

A few months ago, Nasir Elrufai wrote an article titled “Jonathan’s choices”. It was a succinct critique of the current government and the wrong-headed policy direction. As expected, a flurry of rejoinders was published denouncing the article and listing the ‘achievements’ of the Jonathan administration. Verbal exchanges that soon led to the arrest of Elrufai and thus the government committed its first publicised act of human rights’ abuse.
After then, it’s been one shocking development or another. We have witnessed the public persecution and illegal removal of a President of the Court of Appeal, an act that culminated in the eventual mistrial that greeted pending electoral litigations. Journalists were wilfully arrested and the rights of their employers violated. The paraphernalia of presidential appointments ballooned without regard for fiscal prudence while the government managed to implement only a quarter of capital expenditure for the current fiscal year. The imbalance of our budget became public knowledge to the acrimony of Nigerians. Critical reforms upon which the President based his campaigns were derailed and a host of other scandals greeted the hallowed places of governance.
But something is different this time. Due to the relentless efforts of certain individuals and the enormous power of technology and social media; Nigerians started paying attention. Thousands of Nigerians interact on the internet daily to express their hopes, cynicism, criticism and concerns about governance. Even in the times of the struggles against military dictatorship, such widespread attention, awareness and public discourse did not exist. What I will call ‘individual activism’ has caught on like wildfire. Issues of keen interest and vital importance can now be brought to the attention of the world through a smartphone or a laptop computer. Despite these innovations, however, deep problems still remain. Several questions are still begging for answers and Nigerians are more divisive than ever. Our oppressive leaders appear confident and their grasp on power appears to tighten every minute. Is it possible they know something those of us who hope for change are missing?
Tom Friedman, an author and New York Times columnist, brilliantly analysed the changes America is witnessing as a choice between two possible outcomes. The first, based on the theory of Paul Gilding is that the global society as we know is inevitably changing and those old rules won’t apply anymore. Can the same be said of the new found awareness and voices of young Nigerians? Is it possible that our persistent angst and complaints are pushing the boundaries for an inevitable change? Are we going to make sure it’s no longer business as usual for corrupt leadership? Have our actions guaranteed a great disruption of the old social order? Or is it merely a shift from one form of expression and citizen involvement to another? We get to choose. And it’s not an easy choice, but one that we have to make all the same.
One of the destructive symptoms of our relatively young democracy is that it has found a way to socialise corruption. The political class has grown in size and so has their loot. Words like reform, privatisation and liberalisation have all become fancy adjectives for fraud. Perhaps this is where our leaders derived their effrontery; because everyone is deemed corruptible at the right price. Nigeria might be too broke to fix refineries and provide quality education; but when its election season or any other political jamboree. The Ghana-must-go sacks come out. This notorious development made me conclude a while back that 1999 to date can regrettably been categorized as our lost decade. Cynicism and hopelessness is now the most affordable commodity for the Nigerian masses. And those with the voice and means to fight for them are either selling their souls in Abuja or hugging their comfort zones feeling untouchable. Where are the descendants of the brave social warriors who confronted the manipulative and brutally murderous military regimes? Given that the abuses of our new ‘democratic’ era dwarfed that of the military; shouldn’t our voices be louder? Can we really afford to be hopeless? Isn’t the price of silence and inaction too steep and great? If we let things fall apart can we live with the consequences? My answer is no. A government that spends on recurrent rather than investment in infrastructure is setting the economy up for slow growth, recession, huge debts and austerity. A government that interferes with the judiciary, that fails to secure the nation and stamps on people’s rights is leading us towards anarchy.
Our choices are simple. As a matter fact it can be summed up in one sentence. WE MUST ACT. Let all of us do what we do best to support each other. Let us write articles and op-eds. Let shrewd financial planners organize fundraisers. Let’s work with NGOs and reach rural communities to listen to their needs and canvass their support. Let’s organise protests, fill the streets and refuse to leave. Until these self –appointed leaders and looters do what is required and responsible or leave. We cannot afford to wait for the messianic intervention of a few brave men. Every one of us has a role. If we fail to act; we have failed.

Tobi Lawson writes in from Lagos

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In the beginning...Let there be Light

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