January 1, 2017. Some things will not change. For example, the president will give his New Year speech. In this episode, he will likely congratulate his administration for a successful war on corruption and the big savings made from recovered loot and plugging leakages in 2016. He will congratulate Nigerians and the army for a successful war on terror: rescuing some of the Chibok Girls and capturing the Sambisa forest. With typical optimism, he will encourage Nigerians to be resilient in the face of economic recession (which—he will reassure us—will definitely, definitely end this year). In short, New Year or not, some things remain unchanged.
On the other hand, some things ought to change. By general consensus, 2016 was a terrible year globally. It was also a bad year for a lot of individuals too. But, whatever metaphysics may surround the horrible nature of 2016, our disposition compounded the social effects for us in Nigeria. If Nigeria is going to have a better 2017, we need to take a long and hard look at ourselves and adjust attitudes that hinder our social growth. This is not for the government—the government, as structured, is inherently useless—but for us as a society, even if only in name.
And so, I have compiled a list of 2017 Resolutions for Nigeria.
- Start giving more value to Nigerian lives: Personally, I am unmoved by geographical nationalism. Misguided patriotism plays into the hands of those who seek to limit human movement and progress by geography. I believe, instead, that all life is valuable, irrespective of nationality. Unfortunately, we live under an international law that prefers to deal with individuals through their national identities. As some 180 million of us are stuck with the Nigerian identity, no other country is going to protect our lives. Rather, the value of our lives will be determined by how we ourselves treat it. And so, if soldiers kill citizens and we simply move past it, then that indifference is the value of our lives. But we cannot expect the best from citizens when their lives have no value. Forget the “Change Begins With Me” jingoism and its ersatz patriotism: there is no value to being a Nigerian if being a Nigerian is not a protection against anything.
- Start developing the people, and not just the cities: Our Nigerian governments spend money. We spend money on infrastructure, on vehicles, on computers, on building a website. We just don’t struggle as much to spend money on people. We build schools, but we disregard teachers. We buy police cars, but we pay police officers in peanuts. We build hospitals, but we ignore doctors. We build shopping malls, but we ban hawkers. We spend on “things”, but we care little for people. Our government controls all resources by law and licenses major sectors of the economy, but our budget has no provision for healthcare, disability, and unemployment funding. We admire cities in Europe and, instead of studying the process of social development, we simply want to copy and paste the end product. No. Build the people, and the people will build the cities.
- Start respecting women and children: It is a man’s world only because men have been writing the rules of ownership for a very long time. Africa has never been perfect, but it had many pre-colonial societies where men, women and children were accorded their dignity as humans. In these societies, everyone—irrespective of age and gender—had roles to play in society and government. Unfortunately, political and religious colonialism has replaced this history with a false culture where men are alleged to be superior, and women and children are required to be submissive. Today, women and children have little or no roles in society and governance. We justify this under “our” colonially developed culture. We need to introspect. We need to rediscover the African society of tolerance, equal opportunities, and respect for all. Yoruba ideology calls this Omoluabi. In South Africa, they call it Ubuntu.
- Stop treating democracy as a tyranny of the majority: Because our politicians only care about elections, they have only taught us the “numbers” aspect of democracy. That is, majority wins. But democracy is more than vote counting. This is why we do not call a mob action a democratic decision even though it involves a majority. The difference between democracy and mobbing is the protection of minorities. In a democracy, numbers only matter in issues of public opinion (example: should we build schools or buy aircraft). Numbers do not matter in issues of individual rights (example: should some people be allowed to speak freely). If you find yourself voting against the rights of a minority, you are doing democracy wrong.
- Start treating religion as an opinion: Religion continues to be a problem in Nigeria only because we cannot stop ourselves from externalising our religious beliefs. There is nothing bad with having a religion and observing it. Religion only becomes odious when it is rubbed in other people’s faces. This externalisation can be done directly through legally approved or illegal force, or indirectly through social norms and practices. When the head of an agency puts out a dress code for women, religion is being externalised. When a man is arrested for blasphemy, religion is being externalised. When a church service routinely spills into highway traffic, religion is being externalised. We have to start treating religion as a matter of individual preference and opinion. Also, our two major religions were imported: the one through the sea and the other through the desert. Barring individual and cultural variants, the religion most of us practice is dependent on our proximity to either sea or desert. If we can draw the conclusion that imported productivity is capable of destroying the local economy, then we should be able to see how imported religious philosophies—when externalised—can damage local cohesion.
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Ever wondered about the class structure of Nigerian society? Read the mini-series on the Hierarchy of Nigerian Policy.
I have a comment for Resolution 4. Democracy will continue to be a tyranny of the majority. It is like advocacy, the guy who has the sweetest mouth, well rehearsed argument and oratory skills wins. Not necessarily the guy who has the best evidence. The problem with our government is not democracy, but the people who manage the institution and systems. This is where Resolution 1 and 2 fits in. Unfortunately, an attempt to proffer a solution leads us to making cyclical arguments.