Back to the middle of nowhere By Yomi Odunuga

How do you begin to tell the story of a nation that turns and twists on the same spot as poisoned darts hit it from different directions?How do you unveil our endless tales of woe without shedding a tear?How much longer can we afford to waddle in self-pity, dancing in the dark and clutching tight to a thread of deceit? Why do we delight inprancing about in a maze that takes us exactly to the beginning ofthis painful trajectory? Why do we shut our eyes to history and what we stand to gain from it only to embrace the momentary glimmer of adeferred hope? Why fondle deceit when common-sense dictates that wetake a second look at ourselves in the mirror, to unveil the crying truth. Why do we mouth oneness when synchronised mutual distrust isthe norm? Why are we this vain?

We are vain because we chose to live in denial. We etch plastic laughter on our faces as the country roils from one crisis into another.We proclaim a vacuous unity in a season of blood and rage. We knowthere is something seriously wrong with the contraption borne out of the 1914 colonial amalgamation but we are too scared to address it,even a year into a needless centennial celebration. We are puttingfinishing touches to a multi-billion naira anniversary of the Nigerian nation as the celebrant lies prostrate on a sick bed. This ageing nation in diapers is afflicted with different life-threateningailments. Yet, we are planning for a party as if the crises would simply vanish if we ignore them. Our roads are littered with the bloodof the innocent, mauled down by agents of darkness and we carry on asif all is well. Even, in the air, people are no longer that safe. Wetend to be comfortable with the inglorious peace of the graveyard that pervades some of our cities. But should we?

This, I hasten to say, is not a dirge for a failed nation. It is just a wake-up call for a sleeping giant. There is disenchantment in the land and it issickening that no one appears to be doing anything about it. All thatwe hold dear is our clannish affiliations. Any other thing outside this is cheap politicking. When it comes to politics, nothing isspared. Not even the senseless killings, kidnappings and sheer criminality. Collectively, we have lost our humanity and we have given a different meaning to being our brother’s keeper. Many have losttheir voices to the violence around them and Nigeria has become themajor victim. It needs to be healed. Unfortunately, those who should be in the front of the healing process have been held captive byinterest rather than being national in outlook. In the past, allefforts made to address these multifarious problems of nationhood were either half-baked or self-serving. That is why the nation is stillsoaked in nappies about a hundred years after amalgamation andfifty-three years after independence. It is, indeed, a sorry state – a truly sorry story.

Of course, it is not as if we have not made progress. We have, over the years, gone through different phases. But unlike many othernations that suffered the same fate with us, ours can be likened to a progression in error. We take one step forward, many steps backward. We hardly face the mirror to remove the speck in our eyes but we arequick to point at the log in others’ eyes. That is the contradictionthat has shaped our trajectory. We are the architect of this fatal fate where grandeur of delusion reigns supreme.

If we must confront the truth, then we must admit that this nationmust tackle its fears. Clearly, the greatest fear is that ofdisintegration. With ethnic warlords beating the war drums from all corners as the country inches towards another general election in 2015, there is the need to address the question of the sustainabilityof the 1914 marriage. Today, we are torn apart by what we hate to discuss at the national level. What role should religion play in this union? Who should manage the various natural resources in differentregions? What manner of federalism should be operated? Should thecentre be stronger than the states or regions? How do you ensure fairness and equity such that the present wide gulf between the richand the eternally poor can be bridged? How do you enforce law andorder? How do you engender trust and a belief in nationhood instead of ethnic-based loyalty? How do you rein in impunity in a community ofpolitical brigands where corrosive corruption has inflicted thegravest damage to the economy? These and several other questions necessitate the call by many for the convocation of a sovereign national conference at different levels of the journey into nationhoodin the last 53 years.

Today, as I write this, no one is sure if President GoodluckJonathan’s hurriedly packaged 53rd Independence Anniversary gift – anational dialogue committee – can be the one-in-all solution to a crises-ridden nation. Beyond the argument that its timing is suspect, especially when the idea is being muted by a President with eyes fixedon the 2015 elections, there is the fear that the latest dialoguecommittee would go the way of others since it has no sovereign power to impose the outcome of the deliberations on the nation. Some said itwas for this reason that the National Assembly hastily endorsed thecomposition of a 13-member planning panel barely 24 hours after Jonathan’s announcement. The issue, they argue, is deeper than something to be doused with a time-wasting decoy which will eventuallylead the country to where it has always been – groping in the dark!

True, Jonathan may not have the right answers to the problems. He may not have convinced us about having the capacity to confront the clearand present danger staring us in the face. But he is right, regardlessof how half-hearted it may appear to some person, in calling for a dialogue to discussthe way forward. He is also not making any pretence about how bad things have become under his watch. Listen tohim: “I admit that these may not be the best of times for our nation.

Our people are divided in many ways – ethnically, religiously, politically and materially. I cannot hide from this reality.” Simply put: there is no hiding place for this Otuoke-born leader!

The reality is that Nigeria is hurting, bleeding on all fronts. The future of millions of fortunate youths who are lucky to be getting tertiary education has been put under lock and key with over three months lecturers’ strike. Some would argue that the key has been thrown into the Atlantic Ocean with Jonathan’s arm-in-the-air verdict that he had done all that was humanly possible to talk sense into the heads of the stubborn teachers! Medical doctors have since joined the madness across the nation. Kidnappings and deadly crimes persist. Life iscrude and brutish as gunmen now kill in hundreds and walk into thin air. Corruption is on a free ride as industrial-scale stealing of the nation’s crude oil daily inflicts a deeper injury on the economy.Jonathan’s ambition to run for a second term in office has a potential of heating the polity. The crisis within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party portends nothing but bad omen in the coming months. Ethnic bigots are at theirshameful best, promising to unleash terror depending on which part ofthe country the pendulum of power swings in 2015. Time is, indeed, running out on a nation that has it all but just couldn’t manageanything without ruining it with self-serving, myopic politics.

The problem here is not in the call for talks. In 53 years of our independence, we have had cause to hold talks countless times. Thelast confab, which was organised in 2005 by former President OlusegunObasanjo amid suspicion that he was plotting for a third term in office, gulped more than one billion Naira with no appreciable resultsas the report is wasting away somewhere in Aso Rock. The greatestchallenge before Jonathan’s National Dialogue Committee will not come from the ability to convene the talk or bringing together aggrievedNigerians to express their views about the form, nature and basis ofour continued existence as one indivisible nation. No, that has never been a challenge at any point in time. However, we wait, with bated breath, to see how this latest money-spinning dialogue team willconvince the chief convener, Jonathan, to implement its recommendations in an environment where the National Assembly has expressed satisfaction with the fact that the dialogue is notsovereign! That is the real problem. If this latest effort will end up gathering dust like many others before it, then we may as well take solace in the fact that we are progressing in error and rushing backto the middle of nowhere as the nation burns! God bless Nigeria.

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