(By Stan Chu Ilo)
“Every day as we watch our citizens being massacred in our shopping malls, in our schools, our farms and in our market places by a conscienceless brood of vipers who have infested our land and turned this blessed land into a river of blood, something gnaws at my liver in anger, anguish and pain. Every day as I watch numberless young Nigerians drifting along the streets of life without purpose and hope; as I watch many of our elders dying in penury and with regrets, forgotten in our broken social safety net, something tells me that this is simply unjust and unacceptable“.
Every Nigerian, both at home and abroad will agree that this is not the kind of Nigeria we want. We all may not belong to the same religion; we all may not belong to the same party, we all may not belong to the same ethnic group or identify with the same ideology or worldview, but most Nigerians are convinced that a new kind of Nigeria is still possible. Most Nigerians desire for this kind of Nigeria, but not all know how the Nigeria of our dream could come about and not all are working hard and purposively towards the birth of this new kind of Nigeria.
Every day as we watch our citizens being massacred in our shopping malls, in our schools, our farms and in our market places by a conscienceless brood of vipers who have infested our land and turned this blessed land into a river of blood, something gnaws at my liver in anger, anguish and pain. Every day as I watch numberless young Nigerians drifting along the streets of life without purpose and hope; as I watch many of our elders dying in penury and with regrets, forgotten in our broken social safety net, something tells me that this is simply unjust and unacceptable. Our young people are being destroyed by joblessness as they roam the streets of our land, and waste away in villages looking up to the high heavens in hope that somehow, someday God will open the locked doors. In our land, there are so many unexplained and preventable deaths: people dying in their sleep, pregnant women dying in great numbers in child birth because of poor healthcare systems; thousands who perish on our highways because of bad roads, and many young adults dying needlessly from violence and diseases before their genius could bud forth. Unfortunately at their funerals, we will hear preachers saying that God has called them and that their untimely deaths were willed by God. Something tells me that this is very false and that God rages when God’s name is used to justify such preventable deaths which injure and destroy creation.
How many lives are being lost in Nigeria because our country has failed to live up to the dreams of our ancestors and the labors of our heroes past? Indeed, one of the most frightening realities of our times is the shocking normalcy of deaths in our land and the desensitization which comes with such presumption of the normalcy of such deaths. We are becoming used to deaths, violence, kidnapping, decay and destruction of human lives, because they are becoming a regular occurrence and a part and parcel of our daily lives. When we hear of hundreds dying in Kaduna, hundreds perishing or wounded in Abuja or hundreds missing in Chibok what goes on inside of us? Well, as long as it is not a member of my family or my ethnic group or my friend then God is on my side. The violence in our land, the impunity of the corruptive actions of those in power, and the lack of authentic social and communal morality and social conscience are all contributing in destroying our land. In addition, the painful and sad abuse of religious and political authority in our land and the indiscipline, dishonesty, and social brigandage which breed all kinds of unacceptable acts in Nigeria all point to a collapse in the ethical platform, and social value which should hold us together.
Every Nigerian, both at home and abroad, has this pain in the heart, this sore taste in the mouth that we as a people can do better than this. It is something similar to what most Nigerians felt after the Nigeria-Iran game. Most Nigerian commentators on that game were clear in their conviction that the Nigerian Super Eagles are better than what they offered in that game. How our boys responded after! But it is normal to expect our players to rise to the occasion and to criticize Keshi and Amokachi and the team when our boys do not play well. When it comes to soccer every Nigerian has an opinion and will express outrage when our teams fail. However, it will pay to apply the same template to reading other aspects of our national life: Is the PDP the best party that this nation can offer and why? Is President Jonathan the best President we should have and why? Is this the kind of national assembly we should have? Are we proud of our judiciary? Is this the kind of national security we should have? Is Boko Haram the best image that Nigeria can project to the world at this point in human evolution? Are our churches and mosques, our priests, imams and men and women of God the best we can get in this country? In short, is this the best country which we can bring about as a people? And at a personal level, am I a true Nigerian in words and deeds such that if everyone lived as I do, Nigeria go better at home or abroad!
I have toyed with a theory of social evolution which is also used in development studies, the ‘capability approach model.’ This approach is used in both the analysis of society and in seeking pathways for social reconstruction. It argues that a society like Nigeria which is not realizing her ultimate for the highest number of people suffers as a result of economic, social, political, religious, and cultural systems which are broken. Furthermore, a society like ours is afflicted with four broken relationships (with God, with self, with others and with the rest of creation). As Bryant Myers demonstrates four accompanying poverties afflict such a society: poverty of spiritual intimacy (worshiping false gods, false religious practices, empty religious grandstanding and unrealistic religious ideals), poverty of being (loss of sense of purpose, meaning, direction and self realization for individuals who make up such society), poverty of community (selfishness, greed, and exploitation of people and systems and structures of society itself by members of that society), and poverty of stewardship and authority (abuse and misuse of economic, political, cultural, religious and social power and authority).
The capability approach in my theorizing simply says that in understanding myself or understanding any society, one should begin with understanding these levels of poverty and asking the question: Is this the best possible reality which I can bring about in my daily choices? Is this the best possible reality which we can bring about in Nigeria? If the answer is no, then the next step will require the courage to change the things which one identifies as constituting an obstacle to one’s human or communal fulfillment. This question removes the focus from external realities and symbols of culture (buildings, structures, Boko Haram etc) to the internal and unseen realities which bring about the structures: values, attitudes, belief systems, worldviews, cultural traditions etc. The capability approach recognizes that the character, identity and nature of every society, like every human being is the result of small daily choices which all bring about incremental growth and transformation, or which could also generate a cycle of decay and decline. Therefore every genuine attempt at bringing a better possible situation in any society and in any person’s life will begin with addressing the underlying value system which undergirds the social structure. We are who we are today because of the values which we embody or as a result of the worldview which we imbibed in the course of our socialization and the choices which we have made. These values and choices are the function of the hidden cultural grammar which creates the structural map of our universe.
In a sense then, when we think of Nigeria today with all the beautiful and ugly things about our country, it pays to engage the discourse at the level of value. We should focus our gaze on how our national values and vices have prepared the ground for the kind of country which we have today. So the question can be put this way: Why is Boko Haram in Nigeria and not in Ghana? What is it about Nigeria that so much violence, kidnappings, killings and corruption take place in our country? Why is it that a leading church official in Kenya became a national pariah in the 80s because he accepted a Mercedes Benz from Arab Moi, but in Nigeria it is normal for our politicians and serving government officials spend our tax payer’s money on gifts for religious leaders, and for sponsoring religious pilgrimages? Why is it that money and the myth of gigantism have kept us as a nation a slave to false values and death-dealing choiceless rush down the precipice? Why is it that our children and youth will die so needlessly in a stampede badly managed by the state for the numberless jobless young people and there is no national outrage and outcry? The answer to these questions is simple: our choices, our national character, and the things we celebrate in Nigeria, and the lack of outrage about corruption, deaths, and against all kinds of impunity in our land is because of our dead-dealing and socially destructive values.
My conclusion is that this kind of Nigeria has no future. No nation or society can survive on social injustice, dishonesty, violence, wars, deaths, terrorism, and corruption. A nation which does not enthrone integrity and character as central virtue for her citizens; a nation which does not give highest credence to hard work and dedication to service; a nation which judges the value of people by the size of their pockets not by the magnanimity of their hearts and the purity of their souls; a nation which tolerates crimes, and lacks discipline in public and private life, is a nation which has lost her soul. The problem of Nigeria is not Boko Haram or PDP or President Goodluck. The problem of Nigeria is not that Christians and Muslims cannot live and work together or that the ethnic groups don’t like each other or that we cannot remain in one Nigeria. The problem of Nigeria is a dysfunctional value syndrome which afflicts us all and which reflects in everything we do as a people whether at home and abroad. There is also the problem of a lack of credible leadership and visionaries who influence the behavior of the rest because they model the way. Nigeria also suffers from a double curse: the curse of oil wealth which has damaged creativity, innovation, agriculture, the flowering of the arts and sciences in Nigeria turning Nigeria into a cash economy and hampering industrialization in the country. There is also the curse of the so called national unity which has shut our eyes from seeking new pathways on how we can live together.
Our values as a people are unhealthy and cannot sustain a well functioning, well integrated, and well organized social structure of multiple and diverse peoples. If we compare Nigeria to India, we can see a painful contrast in terms of values. These days most Nigerians flock to India for medical intervention. It will be interesting to find out the success rate because most of the people that I knew who went there either died in India or died few weeks upon return to Nigeria.
India is still considered pejoratively as a third world country in many Western countries who are outsourcing their IT and medical jobs to India. However, seen broadly today, India has put in place the basic infrastructure for national development and national integration. These were clearly laid down many years ago by Gandhi and Nehru. Today the BJP, a party once considered Hindu nationalist (even as a fundamentalist party in some people’s opinion) is ruling India and it won votes from Muslims, Sikhs as well as Christians. The BJB won by a landslide even in a province like Kerala (where there is a significant Christian and Muslim presence). The elections took place over 5 weeks for a population of over 1.2 billion people living in far flung territories. At the end, the ruling Congress party lost to the BJB. There no violence, acrimony, dissention, riggings and killings. Just for the sake of statistics, India has a very diverse population with a complex racial, ethnic and religious diversity. All the world’s main religions have significant presence in India (Hindu 82%, Muslim 12%, Christians 2.25%, Sikhs 2% and others 4%). India has 22 official languages. As we all know India like Nigeria was a colonial subject of Britain and the indirect rule system was first tried in India. So historically India shares a common colonial history with Nigeria, but unlike Nigeria India has a more complex and diverse population.
Why was the new Indian PM, Narendra Modi able to galvanize this nation and achieve what many considered was impossible? The answer is simple: he called forth the central value of the Indian nation which cut across religion, race, party or ethnicity. Indianness is a concept which is still evolving, but it does not mean any kind of homogeneity in terms of culture, creed or politics. Rather, indianness reflects a constitutional agreement which within the last three decades set India on a path to a unique Indian concept of modernization and integration as a multicultural and technologically advancing country. This is a country on the fast lane. India’s journey is not an attempt to catch up with the West or to be like the West, but to stretch the boundaries of India’s creative imagination and to tap into the rich and primary reservoir of India’s cultural and material resources in order to create a unique space where there could be human and cosmic flourishing. There is still 40% illiteracy in India. There are also the rising incidence of rape, the marginalization of women, social stratification, and sweltering poverty in many parts of India, but each province has its own unique approach to appropriating this Indianness in order to achieve the nation’s measurable benchmarks for high standard of living for all.
Most young Indians know that getting a good education is the only key to social mobility. The government of India across the provinces has put the education and employment of the young as the only key to the future. Most young people in India from high school to doctoral level can access government scholarship to study. Indian scientists, IT gurus, teachers, doctors, nurses, social scientists, publishers, marketers etc are taking over the world, competing with China for who will set the new tone for a new global cultural and economic stratosphere. Most companies here in Canada and the USA are all flocking to India in search of skills and are opening up new markets and new branches in India.
PM Modi, himself personifies this Indian story. He did not rig his way to power nor was he simply an anointed one for the highest office in the land. He had already transformed Gujarat province ‘which was reeling from the aftereffects of a devastating earthquake, into a growth engine that made a strong contribution to India’s development.’ He won more than 300 awards for his leadership including a special award from the UN. He is unmarried which adds a little glamour in his armor because the greatest Indian of all times, Gandhi renounced marriage in order to dedicate his life to serving India. For Modi then the whole of India is his family and he is in government to serve the people and make a name for himself and for his country. It is yet to be seen how his administration will turn out, but the point here is that Nigeria can learn a few things from India about how to create a better possible Nigeria away from this kind of unacceptable Nigeria. India has not yet become an Eldorado but one could see signs of progress on all fronts. There are other examples that could be given here especially coming closer home the amazing transformation taking place in Rwanda 20 years after the genocide. What is true is that it is possible to hold in balance diverse peoples, religions, interests and groups in a single nation. Our diversity in Nigeria is an asset and not a deficit if we can find the right mix and balance. There is the need to find a national value which will hold us together and the kind of constitution which will bring this about so that each unit and each Nigerian can flourish and enjoy the good things of life. In the present circumstances, my conclusion is that Nigeria is destroying Nigerians and Nigerians are destroying Nigeria.
In conclusion, I am hopeful about the future of Nigeria, but not this kind of Nigeria but the Nigeria which every Nigerian wants to see: a nation that commits all her resources to the happiness and fulfillment of all not just a few especially her young and retired men and women; a nation where life is prized and not sacrificed on the smelly altars of violence or political expedience; a nation which is at peace with herself because all the constituent parts are flowering as a result of a constitutional structure where unity is no longer seen as uniformity, but diversity or pluriformity; a nation where character and values are prioritized over money and wealth; a nation where authentic religious practices and deep spirituality will replace the magical notion of religion; and where a spirituality of love, fidelity, loyalty, hard work, hope, and honesty, replaces shallow religious practices and empty religious claims and holy noises and spiritual pollutants coming out from our towers and minarets. As a good friend of mine, Prof Emmanuel Katongole from Uganda observed we face a dilemma in Nigeria today and in Africa: How do you explain the many coffins and churches on our streets? Why are there so many deaths and churches in our land? Try counting the bill boards and posters of the dead in your area and the number of churches and you might be surprised that the numbers appear to be equal or close. I always wonder why we have elevated dying, burying people and funeral services to another level of emptiness and waste. I was shocked recently when I was home to see people dancing with the coffin of a dead relative and throwing the casket up and down in a macabre dance which had no spiritual rhyme or cultural rhythm. It seemed to me that people were treating the body as a trophy rather than the temple of the living God. Unfortunately most of the people who are dying in Nigeria are so young and most of the deaths are preventable and that is always my first thought when I see the posters and the age of the dead person.
The Catholic bishops have called us to pray for Nigeria for the next six months and I will be praying to Mama Mary through the novena called: ‘Prayer to Mary untier of Knots.’ I recommend it to you even if you are not Catholic: it creates a rhythm in my heart when I say those prayers. However, prayer is not enough. Indeed, our prayers to God without an accompanying life-affirming and morally legitimate choices and authentic acts are an insult to the God of glory. Sometimes, I think that we have too much prayer in Nigeria, while doing too little work for God and humanity. Where everything is about God, God might become nothing but simply the social construction and creative magical consciousness of our expedient imagination, false sense of security and utilitarian ethos. God will surely feed God’s own while they slumber but God never brings food to the nest of any bird.
However truth must be told that our long suffering and pain in Nigeria has weakened so many made so many powerless and voiceless that they can no longer be agents in their own liberation and empowerment. This is why those who are strong should strengthen the weak and the religious leaders especially must swim against this current of decay, confusion and fear. I believe that religion will have a decisive role to play in the making of the Nigeria of the future, because God seems to be that unshakeable rock which many Nigerians are holding on to when most things around them are showing signs of instability. We will overcome Boko Haram, wherever they come from and whoever is sponsoring them. As Dele Giwa in his prescience wrote many years ago: “No evil deed will go unpunished; any evil done by man to man must be redressed; if not by man then certainly by God; if not now then certainly later. For the triumph of evil over good is only but temporary.” A new kind of Nigeria will emerge, and Boko Haram will one day be no more and killers and harbingers of death will be wiped away from our streets, our parliaments, government offices, halls of power, our mosques and churches, and from our villages and towns. I am sure that Papa God will do this for us if we hold on to the values which build up society and if we are ready to pay the price for our second liberation…and all Nigerians will surely see the glory of God.
Stan Chu Ilo is a Catholic priest from Adu Achi, Oji River, Enugu, Nigeria.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”