Lagos — The elite in Nigeria are angry with the United States Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. Understandably. These are men and women used to people fawning over them, telling them that they are best thing that ever happened to this country.
Not Hilary, America's former First Lady who would have been the world's most powerful leader today if not for President Barack Obama.
The woman came all the way from America to speak truth to power in Nigeria and she did that in a dramatic manner. And my God, did it hurt? Not one to suffer fools gladly, the iron lady of American politics said governance has failed in Nigeria. And she was unsparing in her criticism. "The most immediate source of the disconnect between Nigeria's wealth and its poverty is a failure of governance at the federal, state and local levels Lack of transparency and accountability has eroded the legitimacy of the government and contributed to the rise of groups that embrace violence and reject the authority of the state," she intoned.
Few days before she visited, she had presented to the world her proof that the country is badly governed. "Nigeria is the fifth oil producer in the world and it still imports oil. This is an example of bad governance," she said on the Cable News Network (CNN). Why is Nigeria badly governed? She answers without hesitation. Corruption! The cancer of corruption is the singular reason why Nigeria, despite her potentials and resources, has nothing to show for the welfare of its citizens. Then, she takes a jibe at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). "We want to see the reinstatement of a vigorous corruption commission. The EFCC, which was doing well, has kind of fallen off in the last one year. We will like to see it come back to business to be able to partner with us."
It was obvious that Clinton was going to be devoured and she was barely out of Nigeria, in fact her plane was yet to touch down in Monrovia, when the fireworks started. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) drew the first blood. "Her (Clinton) sweeping statements on what she calls 'failure of leadership' does not correspond with the reality of present day Nigeria where a committed leadership operating within the realm of the rule of law holds sway," said the Party's National Publicity Secretary, Prof. Rufai Ahmed Alkali. And for effect, she accused Clinton of "taking her briefs from individuals or groups and other failed politicians who have an axe to grind with the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria."
Senate President, David Mark, was obviously beside himself with rage and he did not hide his anger. A soldier turned "democrat" and an apostle of "home grown democracy," Mark feels it is cheeky of Clinton to dictate to us, the Giant of Africa, how we should run our affairs wondering who gave her the impetus. "Nigeria is a sovereign country. Nigeria belongs to Nigerians and we will decide for ourselves the way we want to move ourselves forward. I agree that there are grey areas but we don't have to be dictated to by any other person."
Not yet done, he advises the U.S. to heal itself first before playing the Good Samaritan. "How can somebody be sitting in the United States and be telling us how to solve serious crises in this country? Have they got the solution to their problems? How did they find themselves in Iraq? What solution have they got for the Niger Delta problem? If we need assistance, we will ask for it."
Not to be left out, the EFCC has joined the fray saying the Secretary of State is ignorant of the Commission's anti-graft campaign strides.
Have they any right to be angry? Yes! Denying them that right will tantamount to beaten a child and stopping him from crying, The Nigerian establishment took a hit below the belt from Clinton and should wail as much as they can but the messenger should be separated from the message.
And the message from Clinton is simple. We must pull ourselves by our own bootstraps or be left behind by the rest of the world. It is not something we need to work ourselves up and get our blood pressure rise to dangerous levels as Mark did. That can only be a message from a friend. It is only your genuine friend that can tell you that you are not doing well and that is what Clinton has just told us.
In fact, she never said anything that even we, Nigerians, don't know. This country is plumbing the depths of ignominy and we need to retrace our steps. Anybody who is frowning that Clinton told us to fight corruption or remain stunted is an enemy of this country. Anyone who refuses to appreciate that we have a fundamental problem because ours is a country where the education system has gone to the dogs, the health sector is in ruins with doctors closing their hospitals and clinics to run mortuaries because that is where the money is, is simply playing the ostrich.
Or are we saying that Clinton lied when she said that it is imponderable that one of the highest produces of crude oil the whole world depends on imported fuel or that ours has become an economy run on generators?
What did Clinton say that we did not know? Is it that our electoral system needs to be fixed and urgently too, because while countries that conducted elections almost two years after our general election in 2007 have moved on with governance to ensure that promises to the people are kept, many Nigerian politicians are still in court "seeking justice" over an election the term is also finished?
Or is David Mark and his co-travelers angry that Clinton did not allow us to continue living in our fool's paradise, burying our heads in the sand and believing that by so doing, we can wish away our problems?
Granted, there is no country without problems. But truth be told, while other countries are busy finding solutions to their problems, we are busy fooling around, deceiving ourselves that we are doing something. The worst crime anyone can commit against self is to live a lie. As a people we have lived a lie for so long and Clinton came to tell us that it is high time we stopped. She may have been brusque in delivering the message but it does not detract from its essence. Her brusqueness is a reflection of the exasperation of the entire world at our uncanny ability to self-destruct.
Clinton's message is clear. You either change course or be damned. It is a message we either take or leave. But we don't need to work ourselves up.