(By Augustine Ifeanyi Ezeugwu)
“Democracy such as ours requires a sometimes irrational culture and a spontaneous civil society growing out of our pre-historical traditions, say religion or culture. Not because we are helpless nor has it been revealed that this is the best Nigeria we can ask for, but because of the greater number of weak people, our lack of public spiritedness has become widespread and irresistible to the prejudice of Nigeria.“
Looking back, one can rightly say that we live in the old age of mankind. The historical process has further revealed that no Administration, no socio-economic system is able to satisfy all men in all places. This includes democracy. Thus, the choice of democracy is not because it is not plagued by problems but because it provides a standard by which one could measure those regimes that actually existed since Nigeria’s independence. This revelation leads to an interesting question: Why the fuss about Nigerian government since no system of government is satisfying to man? The answer is not far-fetched, the dissatisfaction with democracy as a system of government arises precisely where democracy has triumphed most completely. It is dissatisfaction with liberty and equality (two principles on which democracy is based). Human beings are inherently unequal, to treat them as equals is not to affirm but to deny their humanity. Besides, unconstrained liberty is a tool in the hands of fanatics and extremists, who might decide to use it for odious ends. That is the case against democracy.
Need I waste time and space on the undemocratic nature of our democracy? So much has also been written on the topic (of recent is The Guardian editorial of Thursday, September 12, 2013) that to feign ignorance of it is to deny being a Nigerian.
The embarrassing regimes that characterise Nigeria’s political history are more or less the cult of personalities of our political office holders than the lack of will and thymotic disposition of the citizens. I hate to hear Nigerians refer to Nigeria as a failed nation. The problem with Nigeria is basically Nigerians. For while she owes us indivisibility, we owe her political will as citizens devoid of partisanship or ethnicity. But our weakness is so alarming that we keep piling problems on Nigeria. One baffling thing about our weakness is our inclination to adapt to situations even when such situations undermine our citizenship.
A typical citizen of democracy is one who gives up the prideful belief in his or her superior self worth in favour of mutual sociability and comfortable self-preservation. What this means is that the citizen’s desire for personal glory is not entirely negated if it is not entirely preserved in its earliest manifestation. The society will consequently be composed of ‘first men’, full of desire and passion, who will continuously seek for glory until the system that consciously or unconsciously trivializes their self-worth is called to order. Successful actions in life proceed from a sense of self-worth and if people are deprived of it, their belief in their worthlessness will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Such people sink deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of their fellow men. In other words, they become paupers, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth. As citizens, we have been pushed to the wall. And while Nigeria expects us to do the right thing, our indifference has been most unfortunate. Even a democracy that recognises the rights of her citizens, it is worthy of contempt if the people are fully content merely by virtue of having rights with no further aspirations beyond citizenship.
Like Alexander Hamilton rightly said, “If all men were angels, no government would be necessary. If all men were devils, no government would be possible”. To create a better Nigeria requires remarkable individuals with greater than usual hardness, tenacity, vision, ruthlessness and intelligence. Characteristics which all of our founding fathers possessed in abundance, and yet, the type of society they strove to build sought to abolish the ambitions and characteristics that they themselves possessed. Such is the curious paradox involved in human life; it seems to require injustice, for the struggle against injustice is what calls forth what is highest in man.
Democracy such as ours requires a sometimes irrational culture and a spontaneous civil society growing out of our pre-historical traditions, say religion or culture. Not because we are helpless nor has it been revealed that this is the best Nigeria we can ask for, but because of the greater number of weak people, our lack of public spiritedness has become widespread and irresistible to the prejudice of Nigeria.
As a strong nation, Nigeria has refused to break or be broken by forces from within and from without. A ‘prophet’ once had it that Nigeria would disintegrate before 2015. While the prophet died the most shameful death, Nigeria is still waxing strong. The drum beats of war preceding the 2015 general election are nothing compared to what she has had to face. And I say it without any fear of contradiction, she will come out unscathed: strong and tight.
As weaklings, our sensibility is insulted more often than not and our worth as citizens jeopardized. As weaklings, we can only dream of qualitative education, “Government will shut down if that is guaranteed”. As weaklings, one dies on official assignment fighting the deadly Boko Haram sect and his “family gets N1million lifeline”, and another steals a mandate, bastardizes the economy with impunity and is paid so much for doing so little, and when dead, is immortalised. Our common judge is caught napping and we are like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world which he has called up by his spell.
We have become the last men of Nietzsche, who, jaded by the experience of governance and disabused of any direct experience of values “left the region where it is hard to live, for one needs warmth”. We are preoccupied with material gain, and wish to live in an economic world devoted to the satisfaction of the myriad small needs of the body. Everybody wants a change just as they expect a miracle.
Thymos that part of man that deliberately seeks out struggle and sacrifice that tries to prove that the self is something better and higher than a fearful, needy, instinctual, physically determined animal seems dormant in Nigerians. Though not all men feel this pull, but for those who do or claim to, it cannot be satisfied by personal gains (so spare me your personal accomplishments). Any form of real excellence must initially arise out of discontent. One must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star. To blame our present predicament on corruption is to state the height of our weakness, to blame it on our leaders is to inadvertently give in to the weakness.
We have inexplicably turned deaf ear to Nigeria’s call, seeing it merely as what differentiates us from other countries of the world. But while the national anthem is truly a mark of national identity, it is above all, a reminder of our obligation as citizens. A call to stand up against any perceived enemy of the country. To say no to any form of unhealthy megalomania, against any person or group of persons that try to hold Nigeria to ransom. It is among other things, a call to sacrifice. I leave us with these incisive words by Robert F Kennedy: “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance”.
Fellow Nigerians unite. We have nothing to lose but our weakness.
Arise O! Compatriots,
Nigeria’s call obey!
Ezeugwu, an unemployed graduate and unpublished author.