“Nigeria will not know peace until the son of a nobody can become somebody without knowing anybody”. So said Malam Aminu Kano, the highly respected Nigerian politician, reformer and teacher who symbolized democratization, women’s empowerment and freedom of speech. Inspired by the desire for a populist and inclusive Nigeria, Aminu Kano dreamed thus during Nigeria’s pre-independence era. Sadly, that dream has consistently eluded Nigeria and has become an illusive populist wish, especially during the Fourth Republic.
In 1972, Enoch Nwonah played six nights a week as bassist of The Blackstones rock band at Ludo Nite Club, Port Harcourt. Concurrently, he was a clerical officer at Rivers State Housing Corporation, full time student of Rivers State College of Education where they were paid monthly salary, and, arguably, he was the busiest Disc Jockey on Radio Nigeria, Port Harcourt. How did he manage that? In his words: “It was by the grace of God and an undaunted spirit, buoyed by dogged determination to succeed”; he was twenty-two years old.
At the time, there were five universities in Nigeria with University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) as the only one in present day South-East and South-South. And for people from the South-South, gaining admission into any of those institutions was Herculean. So, Enoch took on the above neck-breaking schedule to raise funds and travel to the United States (US) where, he believed, he’d fund his education through music. As God would have it, Rivers State Government awarded him scholarship to study Broadcasting in the US.
Sufficiently psyched up by the Diete-Spiff Administration, Enoch took his Bachelors and Masters within the timeframe of his four-years scholarship and returned. After Youth Service in 1980 and a brief sojourn in politics, he had four job offers: two from major oil companies and two from academic institutions; he opted for the intellectualism of academics and that son of nobody became a professor without knowing anybody; that was then.
The above scenario pretty much paints a pen portrait of Nigeria of my generation; it is the story of a nation where patriotic leaders created the ambience for overall economic growth; a system that gave the individual an opportunity to apply himself/herself for personal growth towards collective economic well-being. That was Nigeria when it was the Giant of Africa; Nigeria before it shamefully acquired the ignominious moniker of poverty capital of the world.
Today, Nigeria is a society where going to school abroad is the exclusive preserve of the children of a select handful in public office while millions of children of the masses stay at home because the bleeders who masquerade as leaders and the rats called technocrats and bureaucrats misappropriated education fund; a society where graduate unemployment line is elongating by the day to the point university education has lost its allure of yesteryears. Rightly so, when one ailing President whose certificate was never found has midwifed a globally condemned election that delivered another ailing President whose certificate can’t be found either or is as questionable as his background, parentage and age. Invariably, the message to highly impressionable youthful minds is that education is a distraction; after all, you can occupy the highest office in the land without proof of formal education.
For a country with a dented image, the conduct of the recent presidential election is a rather worrisome development. Democracy in Nigeria has degenerated to mobocracy fueled by its plutocratic essence and abject poverty that has been weaponized by the elites. Granted that from pre-independence till date, cases of ballot box snatching, voters intimidation etc. perpetrated by political thugs are common features of elections in Nigeria, never has it been so brazenly perpetrated by authority figures.
Incidentally, Nigeria has bright, innovative and energetic youths that still possess that “undaunted spirit, will, raw energy [and] rugged and dogged determination to succeed”. They are as determined and hardworking as the generation of Enoch Nwonah, if not more. All they demand is an enabling socioeconomic environment and opportunities for them to apply themselves and take their future in their own hands. Committedly, they arrived at the polling stations before the officials; patiently, they waited in line and braved the intimidation and harassment from thugs in the presence of INEC officials whose telltale nonchalance reflected complicit acquiescence; they provided virtually everything the officials needed to perform their duties and waited even under scorching sun and the rain to protect their votes. It was, therefore, a painful disappointment when the system failed to upload the results promptly, which is the most extreme irregularity of the process; it destroyed the fragile confidence the people harbored for the election; it dashed the hope, which the record of Peter Obi in public office inspired. Never in the history of Nigeria have the masses had this collective sense of hope; a common cause that they keyed into across the geo-ethnic and cultural mosaic.
The opportunities that were in Nigeria fifty years ago are still possible if only the elite will yield to peaceful change and avoid the inevitability of violent change. In the current populist Obedient Movement, Nigerians have scaled over the divisive fences of tribe and religion; they have found commonality in their shared unemployment, lack of social infrastructure, poverty, hunger and all the existential ills brought on them by the scores of scoundrels that are insistent on sinking the ship of the Nigerian state. Nigerians now demand capable, competent, compassionate and credible managers of the economy. They demand a country where “the son of nobody can become somebody without knowing anybody”.
The world is moving ahead at breakneck speed while Nigeria is obviously driving speedily on reverse gear. Exasperatedly speaking recently, Chief Bode George said: “we are toying with the future of this country…the future of our own children…let’s wake up for God’s sake”. Sometimes I wonder if Pieter Botha of Apartheid South Africa was right in saying that “black people cannot rule themselves because they don’t have the…capacity to govern a society”.
Osai can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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