We live in precarious times, whether as citizens of this misgoverned or under-governed Nigerian state, or collectively as a nation that is part of a world that is becoming increasingly more complex. As a result, Nigerians have chosen to become greatly impatient with their politicians and those with anything to do with governance and policy formulation in this country. And they have a very strong reason to be so urgent in their expectations of their leaders. In a fast-changing world to which they are a part of, they would like to see their country make progress like they hear about of countries such as China and India. Ultimately, for legitimately selfish reasons, they would like to be part of this progress when it eventually happens. Because it is not happening and does not appear to show any signs of happening, either soon or at all, it quite easily explains away the frustration they have with their governments, in particular their politicians, on whom, rightly or wrongly, they have come to place some residual hope!
But the frustration of Nigerians with their government is made even worse by the fact that they have heard for too long how close to greatness this country is. It has become like the fraud-infested Ajaokuta steel project which, for decades, government after government, and minister after minister of energy, mines, power and steel, including Jubril Aminu, Dan Etete, Rilwanu Lukman, kept telling all of us was 98 percent completed. It never eventually got completed until government farmed it out in much bigger fraudulent circumstances. That 2 percent uncompleted portion of the Ajaokuta project is clear evidence to Nigerians of how not to believe in any claims suggesting you are “almost” great; because you may never be if you are not very careful. Indeed, the outcome of the Ajaokuta project is a major reason why Nigerians are right to question the whole premise on which the notion of greatness, potential or otherwise, that is continuously ascribed to the country is built.
Nigerians, perhaps energised by the report of economic analysts at Goldman Sachs about the possibility of the country leapfrogging very formidable opposition to become one of the top 20 economies by 2020, have developed an eagerness to have a taste of what it is like to be a great country, instead of just being “nearly great”. This in turn fuels the fire for a dramatic turnaround in the nation’s fortunes. Central to achieving all this is how the ruling government articulates and champions specific policies to get the country to where it ought to be. The problem is we do not have targeted, aimed or focused policy approach to governance in this country. And where there may seem to be policy initiatives to deal with macro-level issues, politicians lack the discipline to follow through their plans as they are soon easily swayed by mundane, selfish, unpatriotic factors. It does not matter where the politicians are located – Abuja, Ikeja, Ibadan, Ilorin, Asaba, Owerri, Damaturu, Kano, Yola or Minna – they all suffer massively from this deficiency. It is one major reason we are currently where we are as a nation – potentially, nearly, almost, but NEVER great!
So the localised versions of the precarious times we live in are self-inflicted. Since this is obviously the case, then it means they are reversible. It is such a shame that Abuja currently does not appear to offer those targeted policy initiatives that suggest it is capable of getting the country anywhere near meeting the overwhelming aspiration of Nigerians; which is to say Nigeria becoming a truly great country, in words and in deeds. It is for this reason that I continue to advocate that Nigerian politicians must change their politics. This is not only because of my strong conviction and belief that politicians must focus on real people issues – the bread and butter or the tuwo, amala and eba issues – but much more so because Nigeria must rise from its shackles of indignity and take up its rightful position in the world. For far too long, not only Nigerians, but the entire black world has been waiting on Nigeria and its fumbling leadership to do this. Politicians owe Nigerians and Nigeria the duty to restore lost respect, lost dignity and lost credibility to this country, and they can only do this by the policies and actions that they take at home. Again, this must necessarily start with making the 360 degrees repudiation of the manner, the style and the character of their politics.
However, if ruling politicians are failing the people, it is the responsibility of the opposition to step in, in a credible, robust, articulate, clear and coherent manner, to provide alternative policy options on how to deal with the challenges that confront the country and the majority of the Nigerian people. Our unfortunate history tends to suggest the opposite in terms of the way those who are outside government respond to the government in power. It is even more the case when it is very clear that the ruling government has no clue where it wants to take the country to. Nigeria and Nigerians are in a way left with the problem almost akin to double jeopardy.
Indeed, the opposition should realise that it owes the country a duty to rise above the politics of personality, the politics of hate and the politics of the self. In their places must be the politics of what will bring the greatest benefit for Nigeria and the Nigerian people. That’s the NEW WAY politics Nigerian opposition politicians, and indeed all politicians, must put at the top of their agenda. The problem with our situation is that we suffer as a country from a seeming total lack of opposition politicians able to bring about this much-expected departure! Every day, however, offers immense opportunity for change – a change of attitude, a change of direction, a change of the drivers of their desires to join the soap box in the name of the people.
There is a lesson to learn about all this. At St Paul’s Minnesota, in 2008, the American senator, Joe Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent, told his listeners about how important it is to be a Republican or Democrat. He, however, admonished that what matters is not being a member of any of the two major political parties, but for citizens of the United States, being American. What matters for us should be being Nigerians. Nigerian politicians should demonstrate to us all that they get a bounce from being Nigerians; and they should then pass that bounce on to the rest of us.
So, if Aso Rock fails to provide those key policy directions that clearly outline a desire to make all Nigerians benefit from belonging to this country, the opposition owes us a duty to articulate and outline how it would do things differently. What are its policy alternatives for education, healthcare, children, the elderly, unemployment, poverty and other social issues that directly affect the Nigerian people? What about agriculture, which should help tackle the problem of hunger? The opposition needs to respond to all these because what we find is that once they all gather in Abuja and other capital cities, they throw principles to the dogs in the chase for the biggest “Ghana Must Go” bags. Opposition, rise up! Away with politics as usual!