2:2: Rule of Law: Here, the key questions surround the constitutionality or otherwise of government. Do citizens enjoy protection under the Constitution? Has a culture of transfer of power by constitutional means become acceptable in the country? How does the country’s legal system work? What is the cost of justice and do citizens generally feel that the law protects them? How do individuals, families and communities assess the rule of law? How much does Justice cost the weakest members of society? Are all citizens equal before the law? Do citizens understand the Constitution as a secular document with a sacred ring to it? Does the government respect Court judgments and is it really committed to Constitutionalism?
2: 3: Leadership: How do citizens perceive those they have elected to lead them? Do they trust their leaders?
Do they believe that these leaders are acting on their behalf and the greater good of the majority of the citizens? What is there in the life style of the leaders that elicits respect or contempt? What are the recruitment processes for leadership? How does the country deal with leadership in a multi-layered environment such as Nigeria especially at the traditional and religious levels where processes of recruitment and expectations are often distinct and in conflict?
2: 4: Political Rights: Here, the questions relate to the type of system of government that is in place. If it is a democracy such as the one we lay verbal claim to having, are citizens’ expectations being met? Do citizens feel that their votes and voice matter? Do citizens feel that they are being listened to and that their leaders respect their choices? How do Political Parties operate and how are they registered? Is there a level playing field for key political actors and do the Parties enhance or threaten democracy? Do citizens feel and believe that Democracy has made a qualitative change in their lives? Are they prepared to defend or undermine Democracy and its institutions if threatened? Do they have remedies in the political process, that is, can they legitimately reject those they have elected if they feel they are not meeting their needs or representing them properly?
2: 5: Economic Rights: What economic resources are available to the citizens? Nigeria survives as a rent collecting state, depending on Oil. How does this impact positively and negatively on the economic survival of citizens? What ranges of economic activities are available to ordinary citizens? Can ordinary citizens access loans from banks? What is the value of Land and how does this impact on the economic fortunes of citizens? How are property laws framed and do they protect ordinary people? For a nation with such huge rural and illiterate population like Nigeria, how do ordinary farmers gain access to fertilizers, farm inputs, farm seedlings and so on? Do they have access to markets for their crops?
2: 6: Civil Liberties: Again, as with the rule of law, the crucial questions here surround citizen access to basic rights as enshrined in the Constitution. For a plural society like Nigeria, how do we manage our diversities by ensuring that different people with different and sometimes conflicting cultures live in harmony? How are freedom of association, religion and so on perceived? Are there cultural or religious barriers that hinder the freedoms of ordinary citizens? Are citizens’ liberties often assaulted? Are they detained without trial for a long periods of time? Are detainees often tortured? Are citizens freedom of movement curtailed by fear or threats?
Human Rights: Despite being signatory to a myriad of international laws , Protocols or Covenants, especially in the areas of human rights, is Nigeria prepared to domesticate these laws? How are Minorities protected and here we are not just talking of numbers but groups such as women and youth who often have no voice. What rights are available for the exercise of freedom of religion and expression under the law?
Infrastructure: In many respects, it is Infrastructure that connects ordinary people with government. This is why, states and countries pride themselves in being referred to as work sites. It is to meet this that Nigerian politicians have come up with that dubious concept known as dividends of democracy. What plans does the state have for moving citizens freely and safely? What kind of social services are available, water, roads, power, and so on?
Freedom of Speech: One of the key indicators of a working democracy is the robust quality of debate that allows citizens to air their views. This is why Professor Amatya Sen privileged this concept by praising the argumentative culture of India as a great contribution to Democracy. He also suggests that citizens of societies which enjoy freedom of speech are not likely to die from famine.
How much does it cost to set up the most basic of media outlets? Are all segments of society free to set up media outlets (In Nigeria, we are told that religious bodies cannot be trusted to run media houses!). How does government view opposition in the media? What guidelines and safeguards are there to protect journalists? Are individuals, communities easily blackmailed for airing opposing views to those in power?
Corruption: This is the big one, the terminal cancer, and the one who destroys everything in its path. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, corruption is an ill diagnosed disease and we often do not get a handle on it in its multi faceted and multi dimensional manner. Corruption straddles all disciplines and areas of a nation’s life. For us in Nigeria, the focus tends to be on the theft of resources by a criminal state and its agents. However, for the purpose of its weighting, considerations are often paid to GNP, government spending on health, education, percentages of GDP, literacy levels, gini co-efficient rankings, national debt as percentage of GDP, the bureaucracy and so on. For a society like Nigeria where corruption drives the entire engine of national life, where it has become the engine of growth and major driver of the Nigerian economy and politics, it is hard to know where to start to address this Frankenstein.
Against this backdrop, how do we rank Nigeria? At the Kennedy School where I was part of the class that worked on some of the material that is now being used by the Mo Ibrahim Index, Nigeria hardly scored more than 4 on a scale of 10 on all the indicators. It is clear that things have gotten progressively worse, depending on where one is looking. But the recent statistics released by the Federal Bureau of Statistics this year itself tells the horrifying and staggering story of our national malaise and tragic existence. We should consider their findings incontrovertible first because they are a Federal Government agency and secondly because we are faced with a Transformation agenda. The Transformation agenda has its job cut out.
Today in Nigeria, the staggering and mind boggling data that is being churned out on corruption across the board, the scandalous revelations that have come out of the various Probe Panels could easily sink an armada. But this is Nigeria where we have been inoculated against all the things that can shock or call other nations to repentance. We have made a pact with both God and the devil and are comfortable in driving on both sides of the road. We are straddled across two horses heading in different directions. This leads us to pose the questions, How did we get to this? How can we climb out of this mess? Do we have the will or have we become so comfortable in this mess that we now actually dread order, process and procedure?
The inability of successive governments to meet these goals, to deliver on the goods and services that form the basis for the legitimacy of every state is responsible for the chaos and instability that have made our nation so volatile. It is the cumulative impact of these addictions that has produced what has become our worst nightmare, the toxic known as Boko Haram. The fact that what ordinarily looked like a rag tag army of miscreants has now come to hold our nation hostage is a statement of the mess we are in. First, this group has challenged the Federal Government and Boko Haram has successfully created enough fright to all arms of government, security agencies and the entire populace.
If the President could not hold a national day celebration in the open for fear of Boko Haram, if the entire political class and the population now live in the fear of Boko Haram, if Nigerians can no longer meet in groups whether to worship or to socialize, then how do we contemplate security? Our lives have been totally disrupted. We can no longer worship, organize social events, even bury the dead without fear and yet, no one can assure us that the government is fully in charge. The federal government has voted almost a trillion naira for Security, but beyond Presidential engagements and Abuja, nowhere else in the country is considered safe. The predicament of the organisers of the South-South summit where the credibility of the event had been hinged on a high profile list of foreign speakers must be a lesson for us all about the difference between perception and reality. It exposed our structural weakness and our seeming inability to understand that as long as parts of Nigeria are unsafe, the whole of Nigeria is perceived to be unsafe!
The President had announced publicly that there were Boko Haram members or sympathisers in his cabinet. Members of the cabinet were not elected but they are people he himself has chosen. Now, the National Security Adviser is holding the PDP responsible for creating the condition for the tragedy we are in. But is the PDP larger than the Presidency? The buck passing shows the state of total confusion that we are in and evidence that we are at best chasing a black goat at midnight. For, as Chaucer said, If gold rusts, what will iron do? Clearly, today, we are on crossroads and the verbal assault across the country, the accusations and counter accusations all call to question the very basis of the legitimacy of the state. If the state has lost capacity to feed and protect its citizens where should we turn if not the arms of the peddlers of evil? It is to answer this question that I want to examine the oxymoron being bandied as a solution, the so-called Sovereign National Conference.
1: 3: Sovereign National Conference: Rattle and Hum:
For country notorious for lacking the capacity and discipline to think deeply, it is not a surprise that Nigerians have dredged up the idea of a Sovereign National Conference to cover up their shallowness of their thinking about how to solve the problems of their country. First, ours is a country where we love to mimic, imitate, or at best photocopy. We have no time for the discipline of originality. We wait till others have sweated and then we are anxious to see if we can reap the benefits by thinking so we can replicate the scenarios. No sooner do we start a debate about a major national issue than we fall head long into the laager of ethno-regional bigotry, dredging and rehashing the same tired prejudices and stereotypes with everyone throwing stones from their corner. At those moments, it is considered a mortal sin for you to escape the group imprisonment. Once your ethnic, tribal, regional or religious group has taken a position, you dare not show any impression of breaking ranks. We abuse ourselves until we get exhausted.
Like synchronized swimmers, we dance to the same music. Notorious for never concluding a debate, we soon return to the same issues we fought over yesterday. Look back and ask if you remember any serious debate that we have concluded well in Nigeria. We had no consensus over the date and timing for independence. We did not conclude the debate about the status of Minorities as canvassed by the Willink Commission. We did not conclude the No Winner, Vanquished philosophy. We did not conclude on the issue of creation of states. We have not concluded the debate over the status of our Constitution. We did not conclude the series of debates over the status of Islamic law which was begun in 1957. We do not know whether the Zamfara induced Sharia is dead or alive. We do not know whether we are members of OIC or not. We do not know what the status of our Federation. We have not concluded on the best formula for revenue sharing. We do not know whether marrying a minor is a matter of religion or state law. We do not know anything about any national thing in Nigeria. Everything is left hanging until someone provokes or wakes it up when it makes political sense to do so.
Each time we have a crisis, we want a Sovereign National Conference, so that, as the proponents say, we can decide if we want to live together or go our separate ways. Perhaps what is even more frustrating is the way and manner some members of the gerontocratic club have responded to these issues. In these difficult moments when one expects the experienced statesmen to stand up and be counted, all we get are childish and churlish abuses across the Niger by men who have made a life from this nation, men who by now should we watching their grand children pursuing a career in politics. We all fail to understand that in political science, gerontocracy, government by old men has been identified as an obstacle to democracy! Some of these Jurassic park democrats are an obstacle to our vision for the future.
The question to ask is, beyond our obsession with photocopying, what really will a SNC do for us? Something must be wrong with us and I put it down to an incurable lack of patience, discipline and dedication. Doest it really make sense that in so short a time in our history, we would have had so many Constitutions? Why are Nigerians so lazy in thinking through their difficulties and challenges? Why do we keep looking at and hoping to borrow what others have done when it is clear that their history, their geography and their cultural experiences are different from ours?
From the Order in Council of November 22nd, 1913, Nigeria has had 10 Constitutions with an average life span of less than 10 years per Constitution. If this is not legal madness, I am not sure what it is. We have had a variety of 14 occupants of the highest seat in the land with a profusion of nomenclatures, as Heads of State, Head of Interim Government and Presidents, even under the military. If we divide them by the period of our independence, each will have had an average lifespan of slightly over 3.7 years. Even for the position of Chairman of Motor Park touts, where can you have such a leadership hemorrhage and hope to progress and develop? This is why I think that Nigerians must pause and think more clearly rather than allowing themselves to be stampeded by people who just cannot stay in the shadows of power for too long, people who mistake talking for thinking. I therefore wish to proceed on this matter with the following observations.
First, I doubt that we beyond the grand standing, an SNC is what we need now because there is absolutely nothing new that will be on the table. The issue is not the questions but why we do not seem to recognize answers nor use them for correcting our mistakes and charting a way forward especially as we all seem to think that everyone else is guilty except ourselves.
Secondly, when President Obasanjo set up the National Political Reform Conference, NPRC in 2005, people like Professor Wole Soyinka and the late Tony Enahoro were suspicious and they backed out and decided to set up a parallel outfit to really capture the wails of our people and produce a peoples’ constitution. They argued that a real Constitution should be made up of the voices of all ethnic groups in the country. They gathered together everyone that had an axe to grind with the system and rightly so. After abusing everyone and claiming to represent all the tribes of Nigeria, they produced a document which does not have the signature of both men. So which SNC do they want to call again and what is there to discuss that is not in the old document that was produced?
I am doubtful that there can be anything significantly different from both initiatives. So, rather than taking the ball away and seeking another pitch because we lost a match, should we not at least ask what we have done wrong and what might be corrected? How and why is it that we believe that talking and shouting past one another without thinking and listening are more important that the discipline we need to do things that are lasting? Let s take some different stories from elsewhere where people faced wit the similar problems like us have acted differently and with more discipline. These stories are an illustration of what separates truth from falsehood, what we need to do if we are to be sincere with ourselves
Let us start with Burma. On May 27th, 1990, elections were conducted in Burma and Ms Aung San Su Kyi and her National League for Democracy won 392 out of the 492 seat Assembly elections. The establishment did not approve of the direction of the elections and so they cancelled the elections and placed Ms Su Kyi under House arrest. Her story is all too familiar to us. It is a story of mental strength, discipline, honour, integrity and inner convictions about truth and falsehood. It is only in the last two months that things have taken a dramatic turn. She has won a seat in the National Assembly elections and clearly poised to become her country’s next President. She and her colleagues have refused to take the oath of office which requires that they defend a Constitution of seemingly questionable legitimacy. Compare this with our five fingers of a leprous hand and members of Chief Abiola’s party who jumped on the Abacha train and abandoned their man even in death. Compare this resilience with that of our so called politicians who were so hungry for power that they accepted a transition without a Constitution! Next is Algeria.
In 1989, the government of Algeria, hitherto run by the National Liberation Front almost as a one party state, decided to open up the political space and allow the formation of Parties and new elections. In June 1990 and December 1991, the country conducted Local and Legislative elections which were massively won by the Party known as the Islamic Salvation Front, FIS. These results were unacceptable to the establishment. As such, on January 11, 1992, the military staged a coup and sacked the government of Chadli Benje did. Algeria went into crisis leading to a low intensity civil war between the government forces and members and sympathisers of FIS. In the six or so years of fighting which ended in 1998, over a 150,000 lives were lost. In 1999, the country conducted elections, Abdul-Aziz Bouteflika won the elections after his opponents withdrew. He has remained President till date. Algeria is definitely not worse off than Nigeria is and the people are not sadder than us.
Finally, look at Paul Kagame whose resilience as a rebel fighter saw him take over power in a country almost physically and emotionally torn to shreds. Magically, he has rebuilt his country morally, physically and emotionally. Now, with no shame, we Nigerians are asking Paul Kagame to come and show us how to rebuild a country which we deliberately ruined. When I visited Kigali in 2004 and celebrated Mass at the Cathedral, I met five Nigerians who were members of the Technical Aid Corps sent to that country as well as other countries and fully paid for by our country. Yet, when it came to fighting for the Chair of the African Development Bank, Rwanda floored Nigeria. When shall we learn how to spell shame? I am convinced that what is missing in our lives is the failure to seek Truth to which I shall now turn.
1: 4: Truth and the Nigerian Elite
When Jesus told Pilate that He was for the Truth, Pilate asked the question, Truth, what is that? (Jn. 18: 38). It is natural that truth is a contested notion. The reasons are many but they relate to our personal experiences, beliefs and ideologies. When the sun shines or rain falls, people’s experiences of it will depend on where they are and the extent to which they avail themselves of its potential and opportunities. Similarly, our relationship with Truth will depend on how close we are to it, how faithfully we seek it and how committed we are to finding it and having found it, our commitment to living it.
The superfluous nature of our environment, its blurred and distorted nature all combine to make it very difficult for us to appreciate Truth. Our artificial and false commitment to religion has tended to make us associate truth with visible show of religiosity. Whereas faith throws new light to Truth and yes, God is the ultimate Truth, it does help us to understand and appreciate that truth is not limited to those who openly state their beliefs in God as Christians and Muslims. Jesus admitted this much when he told His followers that He had sheep of another fold (Jn 10:16).
The history of the last century, the forces that shaped the end of history and dictatorship cannot be complete without drawing attention to seekers of Truth who did not necessarily profess their faith as Muslims or Christians. Nelson Mandela, Andrei Sakharov, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa, Williem de Klerk, Aung San Su Kyi, Vaclav Havel, Gandhi.
In an environment where truth has become a prisoner held hostage by negative forces who believe that an open show of religiosity, measured by the number of times we have gone on various pilgrimages, sizes of churches built, awards and honours being worn and so on are evidence of faith and religious expression. The result is that we have made a pact with God and the devil and that is why our society is visibly religious but has a distorted sense of what is right and wrong why moral exhortation has replaced punishment by a judicial process. We are living with the consequences of stolen elections, weak law enforcement as we can see from the rise in social vices, kidnapping, assassinations, ritual killings, and now, Boko Haram. All these young men and women are our children, they are children conceived in fraud and deceit, children born into a society where corruption is now part of our DNA.
Boko Haram is not the cause of our instability and volatility. It is not the reason why the investors refuse to come. Insecurity, volatility, insincerity, elite irresponsibility, carelessness, greed, imperviousness to common sense, fraud have become associated with us. While elsewhere, wealthy men and women fund Arts, Think Tanks, Museums, Schools, Grants, Research and Development, the Nigerian elite has fallen into disrepute as it wallows in confusion. Its stolen wealth funds the economies of their dubious host nations abroad. The elite build the most outlandish structures, compromise the institutions of state all in the name of being in power. In collaboration with highflying lawyers, they have made nonsense of our quest for a better society even through our Democracy. Lawyers and Judges constitute some of the greatest beneficiaries of our electoral failures. Based on the evidence before us, electoral failure must be part of the daily prayers of these lawyers and some judges who pray to become Chairmen of Electoral Tribunals so as to oil the vehicle of deceit.
Lawyers, in collaboration with unscrupulous judges have turned the judiciary into a captive institution unable to open the doors of justice for the poor. We are daily watching as men and women who should be in prison or should have been shot dead in China and other more serious countries anxious to create an integrative society. They are offered comfortable landing pads by a corrupt judiciary in concert with reputable lawyers who have surrendered their professional calling on the altar of filthy lucre. We have watched as the bureaucracy has abandoned its call to service and duty to the nation and turned itself into a den of thieves and outright criminality. That environment is now hostile to men and women of integrity.
A stunned nation watches daily theatricals of tales of criminality as public officials, bureaucrats and technocrats steal billions of naira and dollars. Both the office holder and the larger society seem to be in agreement that theft of state resources comes with the job and this is why we do not expect our public officials to return home after service to the nation. This is why every public officer only aims to go for a bigger prize since theft is part of the building material for the political career of those who seek more power. Can we go on this way and expect to find the exit door to freedom, justice and dignity?
Government ineffectiveness, the inability of those we have elected to provide the social services listed above as indicators of good governance have produced Boko Haram. It is easy to say, as we often do, that we cannot grow in an environment of violence and instability. However, any nation, government of people who wear corruption as a badge of honour as we do in Nigeria, any nation which pretends to fight corruption with feathers, clearly is the best advertisement for what we now have as Boko Haram. As long as our country is failing so woefully on the scale of the governance indicators above, and as long as we have over one hundred million Nigerians going to be bed hungry amidst so much, we shall remain prone to poverty, strikes, revolts, instability, volatility, distrust, anxiety, theft, misery and death.
Let me be properly understood. Boko Haram is evil and its atrocities condemnable in their entirety. However, the question is, how did a derelict state allow evil to steal its thunder by letting an evil agency appropriate the energy of its youth? The intensity and passion of Boko Haram should have been channeled to good use by a more purposeful society. It is the corruption, fickleness of government and its agencies that have produced this conundrum. We must have something that we are prepared to die for. Since poor governance has failed in the struggle for the blood of its citizens, it is sad that today, this blood of sacrifice is being offered to an evil god. But, as we know better that, the gods are not to blame.
No ethnic, regional or religious organization has threatened the foundation of our nation the way Boko Haram has done. The threat of this organization cannot be limited to religion or region as it is clear to us that they are more interested in instilling fear and taunting the federal and state governments. Boko Haram has cashed in on a state with a weak architecture of governance and security, an army of citizens who are now too weak to fight or stand for anything. With government in retreat in the lives of citizens, Nigerians have retired into their ethnic and religious enclaves. This is why there are no street soldiers to defend the commonwealth from internal and external threats. Tragically, the government continues to look totally clueless as to how to confront this ogre. Government must by body language and concrete action show that it is committed to closing this gap and gaining the confidence of citizens.
A country that cannot feed its citizens is a breeding ground for Boko Haram. A country that allows its public officials to have no moral code in pubic life, is creating a condition for moral anarchy and decay. A country that has no sincere data and no response for the Youth bulge is courting disaster. This is what W. B Yeats captured in his epic poem, The Second Coming from where Achebe borrowed the title of his epic novel, Things fall Apart. The second stanza says:
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Clearly, Boko Haram represents the ugly face of what passionate intensity can be. Yet, despite what seems like a somber narrative, I believe that there is great hope. But this hope must be hung on a strong pillar built on facts, history and courage, not moral demagoguery and grandstanding. The notion that Boko Haram can be prayed away and that vigils or prayer warriors will resolve this for us is a huge joke. I am a Bishop, I market hope and prayer, but not as a substitute for what human agency can do. All those who have turned the corner in solving these problems did not do so by mere prayer warriors and vigils. Not in the US, not in the UK, not in Rwanda, not in Israel. So, let us wake up. Not when these prayers warriors have become an industry and when the altars of the gods and goddesses are offensive to real faith.
All hope is not lost on our country, but we cannot continue on this path without crashing sooner than later. There is cheering news coming out of the states of the South-West and South-South. I commend many of these Governors who are showing how things can be done, who are showing that a new dawn is here, men who are showing us that we can turn the corner. I salute and commend them and hope that they can spread the template of their vision and dreams for our nation. The Governors Forum must go beyond merely seeking to share power and resources with the Federal Government. They must share ideas and become interested in how the weakest links in the chain can be strengthened. There was talk of Peer Review among the Governors, but all that reads like interference and it is now a whisper.
The South-East, even at the worst of times has been an engine of growth as the relentless industry of the individual Igbos has shown over time and across Nigeria. The Igbos lost a war, recovered from the war and have done far better than any other section of the country in rebuilding their broken lives. If the nation had this kind of disposition, we would not be the laughing stock of nations. With their industry, given their international reach, connecting the dots is just a matter of time and clearly, some of the South-East Governors are also doing well and showing the way.
However, while the rest of the country seems clearly poised for a take off amidst the rut that the country is in, very little light seems to be coming from the Northern states. The North seems to be some kind of an Afghanistan now. There is no clear collective vision about what to do and how to move forward. If size has made speed impossible, why can the Governors of the different zones rally together as others are doing rather than trying to push an elephant called Northern Governors through a narrow door? Why can the Governors not meet according to their three zones of North-Central, North-West and North-East? They can all discuss their peculiar problems rather than trying to hold an unwieldy group that is largely divided on many fronts. While other zones enjoy some relative political and cultural homogeneity, the North does not possess such. The North is not a recognizable geographical category of identity in the present dispensation. The zones are.
The Governors of these zones must understand that even if we ended Boko Haram insurgency today, the psychological scars, wounds, injuries and perceptions will stretch many more years ahead for all those who live here. While there is a lot of creativity in other parts of the country, the states in the Northern zones believe that their salvation lies in having more money, returning the Presidency and dredging for Oil in the Chad basin. The issues are far deeper than this.
Recently, a few outbursts pitching key Northern elites against one another was to say the least, embarrassing but evidence of the leadership crisis and vacuum that we have especially given the threat that this area faces. Mallam Adamu Ciroma, ex this and that, believes for example that the answer to our conundrum is the return of dan Fodio. Such a pathetic application of imagery at a time like this betrays a serious lack of sensitivity for a man who has served this nation at the highest level and even attempted to be President. What was the difference between his statement and the dubious goals of Boko Haram? Did he and his wife become Ministers under the Party of dan Fodio? How has he and his colleagues not been able to