Protests: Nigerians can’t shake off neocolonial mindset

5 days ago 31

Idowu Akinlotan



Despite 60 years of nominal independence, Nigerians still think and behave as a dependent people. The EndSARS crisis and its terrible aftermaths tragically demonstrate how Nigerians and their elite run their country as a dependency and seem determined to entrench themselves in mental servitude. Their children school abroad, and have become in culture, character and learning largely foreigners in their own country. Their politicians, professionals, including media workers, and many others desperately seek validation from foreign governments and institutions. And when the BBC and CNN in particular broadcast news and features, they are viewed as incontrovertible. Nigeria is of course not alone in this dependency syndrome; nearly all of Africa is fully dependent, with a few historical exceptions such as Egypt under Gamel Abdel Nasser, Tanzania under Julius Nyerere, and Ghana under the Osgyefo, Kwame Nkurumah. Asia has virtually freed itself; but Africa deliberately sinks further into dependency.

There is no justification for the current state of affairs, nor for the culture of dependency Nigerians have entrenched, nor yet for their instinctive idolization of the white man as Africa’s law enforcement agency. Their lack of strategic thinking, their obstinate refusal to think of the long term, and their almost total lack of self-respect and self-worth all combine to rob them of their dignity. Their governments are globally recognized as indolent and permanently agitated, with Nigeria in particular a special disappointment. Their youths are thought to be different from the leaders and elders and are regarded as vibrant, but few seem to notice that they are cut from the same cloth. They are regarded as superficial, disposed to the West, incurably romantic, aggressive in a limiting and harmful way, opinionated, and generally eager to burn down a barn to rid it of vermin. Thus the EndSARS protest, not to say the provocative deployment of the social media, exposed the futility of Nigeria’s government and the fantasy of the youths.

This column recently suggested that the mishandling of the protests exposed the utter purposelessness and abject failure of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency. Complacent for years, insular in nearly all its appointments, desultory in its developmental goals, insulated from reality, and embarrassingly lethargic in the face of urgent demands, the government was unprepared for the near cataclysm that the EndSARS protest became. For years, and despite the groaning of the people against an inept, poorly equipped, and in some cases sadistic police force, it watched helplessly as policemen were decimated and cannibalized. Police stations were sacked, and policemen driven away from their duty posts. The administration handled the matter most shoddily, encumbered by decades of incompetent law enforcement paradigms, and obsessed with the laid-back and parochial approach that is completely unresponsive to sophisticated and multidimensional security challenges.

There is nothing the administration has done or said so far that gives the impression or even assurance that it understands the issues involved and what its responses should be. Having become fixated with taking indirect orders from the West, and having fallen in love with everything Western, the administration was too petrified to respond firmly and proactively to the protest as the occasion demanded. It was not until rioters exhausted themselves that the government began to stir itself from its complicit slumber. It made feeble declarations, voiced empty threats, railed disjointedly against the misuse of social media, and carried out even more half-hearted reprisals against the so-called leaders of the EndSARS movement. Years of lethargy and incompetence had saddled the country with weak and unskillful rulers, men who had no inkling what the historical antecedents of the challenges the country faced were, and how great leaders responded to them courageously, even to the point of staking their presidencies and leadership.

No one should expect a change soon. Nigerians consistently elect wrong leaders, though, as Donald Trump is showing in the United States, such monstrosity is not exclusive to Africans or Nigerians. As pontificated on this column sometime ago, nothing suggests that an earthshaking and revolutionary change in electoral behavior would lead the country to the utopia of their childhood fantasy. Indeed, youths are seeing themselves as a counterpoise to the elders, and somehow, rather than abjure the heresy that wisdom and character are age-related, they have embraced the blatant exaggeration that they are better than the best. But too many demons have been let loose in the past few weeks. If 2023 comes– and it’s a big if, especially going by the unresponsiveness and ineptitude of the current administration — the country’s polarization and terrible dichotomies will likely complicate the elections, if not entirely produce another set of dupes obsessed with realpolitik and exceptionalism, men and women who play ducks and drakes with the affections and susceptibilities of the people.

The damage to law enforcement is horrendous. It will take a brilliant intervention by a determined and knowing leader to return the Nigeria Police, which was destroyed by decades of poor national leadership, to its primacy in law enforcement. The damage to the country’s national security system is also unimaginable. Years of skewing its leadership and infrastructure to service one part of the country has almost completely eroded it of its integrity and sapped it of the strength and reputation it emerged with after the civil war. Leadership has failed the country very badly, a fact made obvious during and after the EndSARS protest. It is not certain that the administration has even done the hard introspection needed to appreciate the reasons for the distrust of the nation’s security apparatus, or for the mishandling of the protest, or why and how the country was just a hair’s breadth away from total collapse on the scale of Somalia, Liberia, DRC and Sierra Leone.

Yet, Nigeria is not out of the woods. Both the government and the youths are still digging their heels in, while irresponsible and ignorant commentators have taken sides and are making inflammatory statements. The social media is awash with unrestrained falsehoods, to the joy of anarchists and groups with sometimes conflicting ulterior motives. False narratives of the EndSARS protest and the Lekki tollgate affair are rife, some of them carefully concocted and geared towards predetermined ends. Overall, most Nigerians happily justify their penchant for seeking the intervention of Western countries in their national affairs. Foreign sanctions are the only things Nigerian rulers fear, they surmise. This disgraceful reasoning prompted many groups to invite the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the Lekki affair, even before investigations had been concluded. Some other groups appeal to the European Union to wade in. Many more exult over the British Parliament debating the Nigerian crisis as well as applaud the 81 dons said to have written to the US president-elect Joe Biden to impose travel ban on indicted Nigerian officials.

The cheapening of Nigeria is obviously not limited to the incompetence with which the internal affairs of Nigeria is handled, nor restricted to the poor reasoning with which commentators and intellectuals view Nigeria’s unraveling.  It extends farther into fatuity. No Western country, as fractured and amoral as most of them have been proved to be, including the US whose embarrassing Achilles’ heel has been exhibited before the whole world on a scale that makes African dictators choke with derision, welcomes foreign countries meddling in their domestic affairs. None of them. Indeed, to Africans, Western countries act as school prefects, punish or threaten vulnerable and sniveling Nigerian leaders with sanctions and travel bans, and extend the same indignity and discourteousness to innocent Nigerians. Nigerians have little self-worth, and it is irritating that they see no virtue in tackling their problems, as gargantuan as they may be, internally.

Will this piece make any difference? To an incompetent government, this is just gaseous talk which their arrogance will hardly permit them to give attention. To the youths and other social media warriors who are uninterested in the investigative panels or even inconvenient truths, they have made up their minds what narratives to believe, regardless of where the evidence leads. In short the matter has been tried in the media, and only one side to the story is found to be plausible. Nothing anyone says, except of course the West, will matter. And as long as any findings contradict the guilty verdict they have presumed against the other side, it would not matter. Not only do the blatant and provocative narratives continue, the galling exposure of the country to external interventions also intensifies. There will be no end to this abnormality.

But here is a note of warning. The promoted narratives on social media and to some extent traditional media about the EndSARS protest have split the country and raised suspicions within and among geopolitical zones about the agenda of the promoters. This split is worsening inter-ethnic conflicts, and it is a question of time before it begins to cause tremors in religious circles. Insecurity, already plummeting to a state of anarchy before now, is set to worsen and engulf the country. The government does not have a clue how to stanch the flow of blood. Different groups, including the government, appear to be promoting divergent, complex, sinister and even conflicting agenda. Many groups now temptingly view the possibility of a revolution outside the ballot box as indispensable, and are bracing for ground zero impact. They are poor students of history. In France the 1789 revolution was eventually hijacked, and its promoters put to the guillotine. The original intention and desire of the Russian revolutionaries were truncated by the Soviets, and more than a century later, the bloodshed that cost tens of millions of lives to promote a new economic system has been vitiated by the oligarchy-led capitalism of the modern era. There are scores of other examples.

Just because there is social tension does not mean a revolution is inevitable. The Ghanaian John Jerry Rawlings example does not come recommended, and in any case has not made that country significantly better than other African countries, regardless of the romanticisation of the late president’s leadership.  Between 1848 and 1849, revolutions swept through many European countries. Britain, like Russia, was exempted, among other reasons, because it had a non-violent Chartist (mass movement driven by the working classes) that championed successful political reform culminating in the Great Reform Bill, and the earlier but fortuitous split of the Conservative Party from which emerged the Liberal Party. The ugly promotion of violence as a tool for intra-elite competition for power in Lagos last month, a paroxysm of rage that has still not been fully investigated let alone punished, was a disservice to the state and a testament to the childish optimism of retrograde politicians. In some alarming ways, that violence is being extrapolated as a solution for the country’s rotten and expensive political system. But as hated as the Buhari administration is, it will not fall without extraordinary and probably unmanageable consequences.

Nigeria is doubtless facing a huge dilemma. If it does not undertake radical and substantial reforms now, it is uncertain that peace and stability could be midwifed, or that 2023 would be ushered in with a high degree of assurance. The problem indeed is that the current administration is faced with an even much huger dilemma of its own: utter lack of capacity, confusion in government, a largely sycophantic cabinet, disoriented kitchen cabinet withered by financial and administrative fecklessness, powermongering, and the pursuit of ethnic exceptionalism by a coterie of scheming politicians and ethnic and religious champions. It takes a reflective leader to spur the national resolve against the country’s existential challenges. Twice in the past few months, the National Assembly had tried to grab the initiative to do something about the paralysis. But they have been heckled by bigots and stymied by both the enormity of the problem and the resistance from a cantankerous and fractious populace.

Far worse is the hopeless task of restraining Nigerians from externalizing their disagreements, a disposition that further denudes the little esteem in which the world holds them and portrays them as lacking in appreciation of their manifest destiny as the world’s largest concentration of black people. Nothing will stop them, however, not even shame. No country has the moral right to subject Nigeria to the kind of condescending scrutiny, let alone parliamentary debates, being contemplated or executed by the US and Britain. Imagine how the West would react to former president Goodluck Jonathan refusing to concede after his 2019 presidential election loss. But which African parliament has had the boldness to debate the US conundrum, not to say contemplate sanctions?  If anyone wants to impose travel ban on Nigerian leaders, let them go ahead. It is a shame that for such leaders, travel bans should be the moral and administrative impetus to reform and restructure their country. Could they not on their own assess the urgency of repairing the country’s broken political bridges and economic hedges?

If 2023 comes, it is hoped that a critical mass would form to help inspire the desperately needed reforms in Nigeria. More, it is hoped that rather than dichotomise the electorate along age lines, both youths and elders would join hands, submit to reason, and vote into office visionaries made of steel and possessing character. It is not puritans they need, men whose sham religiosity is designed to impress by superficial artifices and gestures. What they need are brilliant and courageous men who can look any world power in the face, and understand why they are doing so, and are capable of changing, stabilising and unshackling the country’s developmental potential.

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