The grand consensus by the majority of Nigerians is that the Nigerian state stands on a precipice. Indeed, most people believe that this is the most critical point in Nigeria’s political history; the point that we are very close to imminent war, or even final dissolution. This opinion is shared by both ordinary Nigerians whose very lives bear the inscriptions of the failed governance process in Nigeria, as well as the elite who keep struggling to keep the state from tottering and falling.

The imminent danger at the moment is not even the COVID-19 pandemic and its multidimensional implications. With the first wave, Nigeria somehow escaped the death statistics that went into millions across the world. And Nigerians escaped outside of any governmental attempt at providing a stimulus package that could have alleviated the pains and agonies of a lockdown protocol that was so out of tune with Nigerian socio-economic realities. Now, the second wave of the pandemic is biting hard, and the death tolls are increasing globally.

And right in the midst of the pandemic, Nigeria’s national development problems are escalating. And they are escalating right at the most fundamental core of a state’s responsibility to its citizens—law and order. Since the turn of the 21st century, the national anomalies created by the amalgamation of the Nigerian state started culminating in several dysfunctional consequences. Central to these structural and institutional dysfunctions is Nigeria’s status as a federation. Nigeria’s constitutional past was a careful consideration of Nigeria’s plural reality and what constitutional history teaches about dealing with such realities. And yet, political adventurism, induced by military intrusions, led to a unitary imposition that engendered acute centralisation.

The centralisation of the law enforcement machinery of the Nigerian state, for instance, stands in acute contradiction to the semblance of federal framework the Constitution promises, to wit, the governor of a state shall be the chief security officer of such a state, and shall be responsible for preserving the life of the citizens. The result is that the president dictates an order to the Inspector-General of Police that flies in the face of sociopolitical realities in each of the 36 states of the federation. The Nigerian security reality is presently accentuated around the evils of kidnapping, banditry, insurgency and multiple killings. The terrible combination of the Boko Haram insurgency and the herdsmen conflict has brought the Nigerian state to a watershed in its history that is only matched by the pre-civil war tension of 1966. In fact, many Nigerians fear that we are on the direct path to imminent civil war.

News reports and political commentaries and analyses in the public sphere are filled with lamentations and anger. For some, it is either that the Nigerian leadership is playing a dangerous game or that the state as guarantor of peace and security is overwhelmed. This amounts to the same thing: neither can the state get the work of development done nor are public institutions working. It takes a little reflection to see how such perception from the citizenry could lead to acute and depressing pessimism. Even political elites are throwing up their hands in resignation. And those who have not resigned themselves to fate are engaged in unceasing interrogation of a state that keeps frustrating every attempt at resolution. One major capitulation to pessimism was by Chief Bola Ige, the late attorney general of the federation who, unfortunately, fell to the insecurity of the Nigerian state. He popularized the catchphrase “siddon look.” This is a pidgin statement that speaks to a decision to fold one’s arms and watch as political incidents and events unfold—without making any attempt at intervention. This attitude of political apathy is not nonchalance.

On the contrary, it is borne out of the experience of bitter frustration that borders on cynicism. And yet, cynicism is most cowardly of all responses to political troubles. And it is because it obviates the politics of hope. Stephen Colbert, the American comedian puts it most aptly: “Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the furthest thing from it…. Because cynicism is self-imposed blindness: a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say ‘no.’ But saying ‘yes’ begins things. Saying ‘yes’ is how things grow.” And there is one political commentator, and active participant in Nigeria’s national project, who has never given in to cynicism, but rather has consistently been saying “yes”: As a public intellectual, Prof Pat Utomi, has never shied away from projecting his hope and patriotism about Nigeria and her latent possibilities.

He does not just analyse, he also participates in national affairs. He believed so much in Nigeria’s future and his blueprint for bringing it to pass that he actively took fundamental steps to become, first, the president of Nigeria, and then second, the governor of Delta State. For him, Nigeria is too significant to be cynical about. Founding the Centre for Values in Leadership ensures that he keeps pushing the boundaries of thinking and action about making Nigeria a great nation. This means that there was no way he could be an armchair critic. Utomi’s way of “yes” to Nigeria and her possibility to is to retort a “why not?” to the anguished and resigned chorus of those in the “Siddon Look Movement” who ask why we should bother about Nigeria and her consistent failure as a nation. It was therefore apt that he would make his optimistic retort the focus of a book aptly titled Why Not: Citizenship, State Capture, Creeping Fascism, and Criminal Hijack of Politics in Nigeria (2019).

This is an autobiographical narration of the author’s immersion in Nigerian politics, and perspectives on how it could be better. It is a book that speaks in a timely manner to Nigeria’s current security and governance challenges, and how we should begin to reflect on the solution, even though it was published almost two years ago. In the Preface to the book, the author categorically states that “why not” is the response to “the question ‘why bother,’ which is posed by those who believed that criminal capture of political parties in Nigeria is complete and that those outside the league of cult members, 419ers and con men have no chance of breaking in.” The book is Utomi’s own way of recoiling from cynicism, and spelling out fundamentally his vision for retrieving Nigeria from imminent collapse.

Prof Olaopa is a directing staff, NIPPS, Kuru, Jos, Plateau State

 


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