(Vanguard of Sunday March 29, 2009)
The most uplifting news that has reached me for some time now, in the gloom that Nigeria has been reduced to, is the outcome of the re-branding exercise that took place in Abuja third week of March. And that outcome is the slogan, Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation. It is a statement you can look at in the past tense, in the present tense, and in the future tense.
Have Nigerians been good people; are they good people, can they be good people? And has Nigeria ever been a nation, a great nation; is it a nation, a great nation, and can it be a nation, a great nation? But let me warn that what you say of this mantra directly places you, at least in the eyes of the moderators of the programme.
If in thinking of it in the past tense, you weep; in thinking of it in the present tense, you weep; and in thinking of it as a future event, you weep; then you are saying we can never be a great nation because we haven’t good people. All hope is lost, and you throw up your arms mouthing this helpless situation.
If this is your take on the matter and your stake in it, then you are a pessimist, and I agree. If, on the other hand, in thinking of it in the past tense, you weep because of recall of memories of a past that was orderly and beautiful and saw more justice than inherited indiscretions in the actions of those who had the mandate of the people to rule; if in thinking of it in the present tense you see forces that can be called to work to make the difference between hope and despair; and if in thinking of it in the future tense you see a radiant people celebrating the outcome of enterprise and hard work, then you are an optimist, and I also agree.
For me, the new mantra is both a promise and an oath. It is like revisiting your ancestral home to reminisce on what those who left told you about life and how to live it, lessons you have forgotten and that led to your derailment. It is like renewing a promise to wake up and do what governments the world over are there for – work indefatigably for the welfare and security of the people. Serve them, not rob them; not rape them.
In a branding or re-branding outing, the chief promoter must be present. But our President was not there. This is a weakening of the chain of command and the chain of commitment. I should be happy to know that he could not go there for reasons other than that he did not take the matter seriously. For it is a very serious matter to answer the wake-up call, however late in the day, and swear that if you had not been doing what you were sent to do, you are now ready to do it.
Better late than never is one effective way of saying it. Well, in the absence of the President, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan who represented him and through whom the president spoke, was there. In that president’s speech, we, all of us Nigerians, were taken to task and challenged on how we see things, how we should see things. Obviously that would make the difference between the pessimist and the optimist. We should not think that what was being done, “re-branding of our national image” was just another ceremony.
We should see it “as a genuine attempt to engage every Nigerian with a renewed commitment to the regeneration of our country”. The campaign signified a renewed dawn to our collective interests “to reorient, and embrace positive values of accountability, selfless service, diligence, transparency, abiding pride in our country, which will not only drive the maximization of our creative and productive energy but also diagnose a shared progressive interest”.
Hear more: “It is a process of discovering ourselves. It is not about celebrating our failings but about recognizing them and challenging ourselves and rising above them… If we as a nation must meet the millennium development goals we must readily put in place a positive perception of Nigeria”. Information Minister Dora Akunyili had the message in more positive focus and thereby sealed the new contract government was endorsing with the people.
She said the main objective of re-branding Nigeria is to ensure that Nigeria’s good image is restored. “We gather here to begin this journey today, powered by the desire to see this great country shed its toga of an untrustworthy, unreliable and ungovernable people. There is no doubt this country needs a change; a change in character and general orientation ; a change in what we talk about our country; and above all a change in the way we willfully destroy this country through our utterances and actions.”
I have never given up on Nigeria because I know that Nigeria does not just have a future, it has a mission, and anything to help it grow merits my automatic endorsement. So I have always remained an optimist as defined in accepting the slogan, Nigeria: Good people, Great Nation. I do not know how many other entries were there to choose from, but I praise those who bought the entry that the point of departure is Nigeria, our own fatherland where, in the words of the old national anthem, tribe and tongue may differ, but in brotherhood we (should) stand.
We have never stood in brotherhood since we stopped trying at the collapse of the First Republic, and please don’t challenge me to prove it. The country of hope, of the dream of Nigerians, is one where we have one people, one destiny, in spite of the heterogeneous nature of the peoples.
We have never successfully translated this expectation into action. But the truth is that that is where we must start from – that the people are many peoples, 97,000 communities, more than 250 nationality groups, many tongues and many and different ways of looking at life and living it. So the dream is for us to be one people. But we are not one people, have never been encouraged to be one people.
What is Ohaneze N’digbo out for; and the Arewa Consultative Forum, and Afenifere, but fronts to protect the interests of the nationalities that they are within the Nigerian nation-state! And how can a Nigerian nation emerge, and be great if the nationality closets are unwilling, even not encouraged to develop a Nigerian perspective?
But throw the matter around as you like, there can be no country without people; and to build a great country, you must first build people that achieved greatness because they inherited values that were anchored on freedom. Freedom is not donated; it is earned through sweat and hard work and knowledge of what freedom really is, means. You do not build a people by denying them what makes them people, good people.
Good people know no discrimination, they know cooperation; good people know no masters, they know neighbours and companions on the match through time in the environment they live in and where duties are assigned and performed and rights then emerge. An arrangement that does not create an environment where people can feel in the shoes of others they live with is an arrangement that will lead to envy, hatred, distrust.
And where these traits inhere, good disappears and is replaced by evil. A Saul is in charge because of his encounter with Lucifer, but with the coming of Paul, the instruments of slavery that Saul accommodated are dismantled. And a free society is born, a society whose instruments that ensure freedom are continually strengthened so that you see roads and jobs and power supply and health care for what they are – expectations of governance, and not dividends of democracy. Why? Because the mission of democracy is freedom and only a free people can be a good people and work for a great nation to emerge.
But we have been in love with instruments that entrench slavery, that produce Sauls rather than Pauls. They are many in our arrangement – a central government that has all the powers where what you need is a politically decongested polity so that the economy is thereby automatically deregulated; an arrangement where those who should do part-time work and earn allowances are in office full time and pocket almost half of the budget in remunerations; an arrangement where the mode of choosing leaders is subverted and those who should call everybody to order are the very bodies and institutions moderating the evil?
We continue next week.
(Pages 297-300 of Vol. 3 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh – OUT SOON).