Leadership (Abuja)

31 December 2012

Nigeria: Dear 2013, Welcome

opinion

Nigerians are hoping that you will bring better tidings and reward our collective desire for increased security, improved infrastructure, rehabilitated public services, respect for rule of law and the comfort of knowing the nation is finally turning its wheels onto the path for generally improved social, political and economic fortunes.

Considering how bad things are, we know that blind hope is not enough and you will need a helping hand. Here are a few things that we are throwing into the 2013 wishing well - things that need to be addressed to aid your delivery on this year's promise.

The end to private public life dichotomy

Why? Because as Jon Mecham of the Newsweek puts it: "the personal is inextricably linked to the political." While Nigerians are generously forgiving of the weaknesses, indiscretions and crimes of those in positions of assumed authority, they fail to make the necessary connection between a life lived with discipline and the ability to effectively manage government and resources. The people in public life who in private suffer from satyriasis or are serial adulterers, child molesters, wife bashers, employee slapping, gluttons will always infect their public positions with their inability to tell right from wrong. Or worse, corrupt the young who are watching with the hypocrisy which calls these public officers to insist that Nigerians do as they say and not as they do. The culture of moral permissiveness and entitlement which pervades the majority of Nigerians from the plumber to the bank executive has lulled many into thinking it matters not that those representing them in government are people governed by their most basic primitive instincts but it does matter. A hadith attributed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) advises Muslims to have straight lines in the mosque and their lives will be straight - it is easy to presume the same applies to crooked church pews and those who sit in them. It is logical really: if people cannot be perceived to be upright and to be winning the battle against the all too human frailty to abandon oneself to base urges in the primary social unit of the nuclear family...how can they battle stronger and worse urges in the more public but faceless government offices?

As long as people continue to behave badly in private without any repercussions on their public lives...Nigeria will not make the progress it should.

Collective treatment for Stockholm syndrome

There are many unassailable facts, one of which is that all humans will taste death. If Nigerians will grieve harder for those in power e.g., a governor or retired general than for the young person struggling to make a way in a world that has been ransomed by elders, then we are clearly in need of medical attention. While decency dictates not speaking ill of the dead, it is safe to presume that there will be no monuments built for the undeserving. The outpouring of emotions for those we do not know personally but who we can infer are surely contributors or at the least passive abettors to the tragedy that is Nigeria is a symptom of a psychological illness where hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. Treating this collective psychosis will result in the correct public response: detached sympathy that in turn will send the right signals and messages to those in positions of power that their hurts and agonies are not more painful than ours.

An end to scorn

There are several possible reasons why elected representatives and those in government are scornful of Nigerians. The first could be that knowing how well our electoral system works, they are cognizant that they do not owe their emergence as representatives to our votes. The second could be that they know we are all bark and no bite. But there are some variations of their scorn we do not deserve i.e., the its all your fault variation which President Jonathan subscribes to where the public, personified in Boye the bus conductor, is blamed for the state of affairs in Nigeria because of his attitude. A senior member of the House once complained, "Nigerians are not doing what they are supposed to do. They are too easily distracted - see how (sic) they just forgot about the House fuel subsidy probe because of Farouk and Otedola. They should be calling on us to impeach the President." It seems elected representatives need Constitution 101 lessons because under the 1999 Constitution petitions from the public are not required to start impeachment proceedings. Instead Section 143 provides for the removal of the President with a notice to the Senate President signed by at least a third of the members of the National Assembly.

The public has its faults but elected representatives have to stop blaming Nigerians for their comprised positions which render them ineffectual; our weaknesses do not absolve them from their responsibilities. Newsflash: there is a reason the electorate supposedly voted for you, you have been entrusted with the powers to act on our behalf, in 2013 please do your jobs.

Strengthening the Fourth Estate

As far back as the 18th Century, the press was recognized as the fourth estate of the realm. According to Burke, there were "Three Estates in Parliament but... there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all." While with time the powers of the press have fluctuated, in Nigeria, the media (combining print, radio, television and Internet) have a powerful role to play - and this clout is acknowledged by the decrees, bombs and illegal arrests which try to silence them, most recently the shameful arrest of the journalists of Al-Mizan.

By comparison, Nigerian journalists might be some of the worst paid in the world earning N360K per annum when the average journalist earns N6M in the UK, N4M in the US, N994K in India, and N2M in South Africa. It becomes more understandable why the culture of brown envelope journalism thrives and why reporters expect to be paid to cover stories. But the damage this does to the credibility of the media is worse than the poverty the journalists expose themselves to, because poverty is not just the absence of money - it is the absence of ideals, principles, convictions and honour. The culture of compromise within the media is what makes it difficult for the public to play its role as watchful citizens - so much doubt and distrust of the agendas of those who can afford to fill the brown envelopes. Nigerians need to know the truth and need to be able to trust what the media shares.

2013, if Nigerians fix these four areas, it should be easier for you to deliver on your promise. There are many other initiatives that will be driven by the many talented and committed Nigerians working towards securing human rights, giving voice to the voiceless and catalyzing change, we hope to create an enabling environment to realise the promise of a better future for all.

Happy New Year!

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