The political class and civilised public anger
December 8, 2012 § 4 Comments
I recently found myself defending Africa, and Nigeria in particular, against the onslaught of Western disparage. I still do this as if I am a paid Attaché to the Nigerian High Commission in London! Don’t ask me how effective I am at it; the only thing I can assure you is that I have been consistent with it and the need for it seems not to be waning. A couple of years ago I was engaged in a conversation with a Western bloke at an academic conference, and decided to explore this ‘conspiracy theory’ with him. My main line of argument was that the Western media is one of the strong institutions the West has continually used to marginalise Africa and African affairs. I challenged him to give examples of positive reporting by any Western media on Africa. It is always about poverty, famine, diseases, poor governance and death. They creatively avoid reporting on brilliant sparks of entrepreneurship and emerging market opportunities for foreign investments that have continued to thrive despite minimal institutional supports. I cited Nollywood as a classical example of this. In return he challenged me not to externalise my frustrations but to think inwards. He gently reminded me that Africa is its own worst enemy, especially the political class. Well, that’s no news. I knew that and knew it was true as well; but of course I carefully avoided accepting that as the complete truth of the matter, and he knew I knew he understood my point against the Western media.
That was my exploration of conspiracy theories. Back to reality, I sometimes can’t stop wondering why we live in a country where no one is accountable to any one. A country where we ‘tribalise’ and trivialise our politics, to the point that we no longer see virtue in visionary and selfless leadership irrespective of where it comes from. And yet, we think there is a future if things continue the way they are. What a bizarre situation. What a shame. What a collective ignorance. I can only relate the situation to a bus at the edge of a precipice and the passengers are rather busy admiring the scenery as if nothing is at stake!
Although I struggle not to engage in any blame rhetoric, I strongly think that our political and economic elites are the main contributors to the way things are in Nigeria, especially as they continue to thrive on the politics of patronage and State capture. After all, it is no news that most of them get into these positions of power for the very wrong reasons with no noble ideologies. They lack every interest to serve, but seize the slightest opportunities to feather their nests. They are happy and comfortable to travel overseas for medical treatments while the majority of Nigerians disgracefully die from many preventable health misfortunes. They are not worried that teachers and lecturers are on strike, because their children and wards are in private education somewhere in Europe and North America. They are not worried that our roads are in very poor conditions because they travel by air. They steal our money. They create markets for kidnapping. They kill us. They dance on our graves. No one asks questions.
The other side of the story, which is equally sad, is that we, Nigerians, have learned to live with this hopeless condition helplessly. It has become our second nature. The only value system we are proud of is that of corruption and shortcuts. Hard work is a thing of the past and for the stupid ones, anyway. Money is the true god we serve and worship. It is only in a country like Nigeria that people steal massive public funds, spend two days in detention – if ever reprimanded – and sit on the advisory committee a couple of days later. We do not care about the precedence we set. We do not care much about what we pass on to our children. Even if our children fail to reprimand us, because they are the direct beneficiaries of our public loots, their generations will not forgive us for sowing this nasty seed of fraud, recklessness and deception in their DNA. Then, they will continue to lag behind the world in all indices of socio-economic development. They will be the epitome of all bad examples of how not to live in their lecture rooms abroad. They will continue to be the laughing stock of the world. Are you not ashamed of this?
If you are not, I am. I face the heat everyday in my encounter with students on our programmes at the University of Edinburgh where I teach. The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are celebrated as heroes, whilst Africa, especially Nigeria, is vilified for our sheer stupidity. What stops us from being one of the best countries in the world given our human and natural resources? What has become of civilised public anger? Is it in short supply? I don’t really think so. At least, this piece is nothing but that. Most Nigerians are frustrated with the way things are being currently run. Yet, the anger could only be suppressed or at best expressed in the extreme cases of militancy and or terrorism. Why must we, as a country, live up to negative self-fulfilling prophecies? Where is our spirit of national patriotism?
National patriotism, a sense of ownership, is at the heart of every good democracy. And accountability strengthens democracy. In my opinion, one way to galvanise national patriotism is through taxation and its public discourse, because research evidence shows that people care seriously about what hits their pockets directly. Unfortunately, the oil money appears to crowd out taxation as a source of government revenues, which makes it difficult to base any meaningful public discourse on tax payers’ money.
Unsurprisingly this is a problem of our attitude towards life and our values in general – we complain but we are also part of the problem. We are all implicated in this catastrophic vicious circle that, sometimes, I wonder why accountability in public and private discourses has continued to escape the eloquent scrutiny of civilised public anger, which is definitely good for our democracy. May be we need another round of colonisation, since we cannot reliably govern and hold ourselves accountable! Although I can see a dangerously subtle but subversive colonisation of our psyche at play, I leave that for another day.
Kenneth Amaeshi is an Associate Professor (Reader) in Strategy and International Business at the University of Edinburgh, a visiting professor at the Lagos Business School, and a member of Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria.