By Ambassador Usman Sarki
My thesis is that the state and government in Nigeria should primarily be concerned with protecting and supporting civil society in its entirety by first aligning themselves with order and building of capacity towards provision of security, welfare and development. It is only then can we say we have a responsible and responsive government on which Nigerians can depend and for which they can lay down their lives if called upon to do so in any legitimate manner. This then should form the foundation of patriotism which is the highest manifestation of civil society as demonstrated by the individual in a commonwealth.
We must therefore concretize civil society beyond being a mere vocabulary and a set of ideas to encompass substantial institutions of state that are designed to achieve better organization and government of our society. “A government of the credulous by the indifferent” so wrote a commentator about the form of a certain order of administration, which today I can liken to what is obtaining in Nigeria, should not be the unintended product of our democracy. Credulity and indifference are the forces or sentiments that are driving civil society today in Nigeria, and they form the basis on which our democracy is situated for better or worse.
The pursuit of emptiness and the elevation of indifference to a level of the highest purpose of being have today made us lose sight of the real objectives of living in organised societies that are based on forms, functions and order. This trivialization of being has tended to shape our thoughts and actions, and made us to focus more on sentiments rather than on rational constructs about what we need to do to become a better country that is organised around civilized norms of behaviour. This lack of appreciation of what is really good for us as a commonwealth has reduced us morally to the level of anthropoid elements that are merely subsisting in their natural state or environment.
This is quite evident in the way we deal with public trust for instance. We receive and handle public trust more like an object that has been bequeathed to us for transactional purposes of buying and selling, or a disposable material towards which we have no particular responsibility and obligation to be held accountable. The degeneracy of both the governed and the governing elements in our country form the seeds of the corruption of civic government and civil society alike, and the ultimate dissolution of order and undermining of the rule of law anywhere. The systematized dismantling of our institutions and their replacement with vacuous and meaningless alternatives that derive their sustenance not from the laws or the prescribed rules of behaviour of such institutions, but from the whims and caprices of individuals in power, presuppose the progressive dissolution of order and the approved system of civilized government that exist in most countries.
The problem with this situation is the absence of not only accountability even in its shapeless semblance but also the lack of causative growth of such edifices that maintain the state and nourish the government in all organized societies. Our governance method is a system that is based on undifferentiated mass of indifferent structures that are not often compatible with each other, and personalities that owe allegiance not to any particular institution but to themselves and their supposed benefactors who gave then the opportunity to be in the system. This indifference and the undifferentiated way of doing things have rendered everything that we do to seem furtive, tentative and experimental, to the point where we are running a “pilot” government that is yet to coalesce around some fixed ideas and compass of targets and objectives to be pursued or achieved.
This furtiveness again has its clear imprint on our hesitant way of decision-making that is always seemingly poised on the edge of non-performance and temporary inclinations towards agenda setting. This now makes it possible to have a variety of ideas and policies that we tend to confuse with programmes, which always fail from the very beginning to translate into meaningful activities because of the need for clarity and idealised way of going about them. The multiplicity of policies, ideas and programmes that have been conceived, adopted and afterwards abandoned in Nigeria will stupefy any right thinking person from any part of the world.
The vacillation and somersaults in policy have indeed made governance seem a transient endeavour in Nigeria, while in other lands and climes it is a serious undertaking that is based on scientific principles or religious dogmas from which there can be no digression. In a situation as obtaining today in Nigeria, it is simply inconceivable that anyone can aspire or hope to enjoy any level of material comfort or serious intellectual pursuit without at the same time realizing the irony of it all and the incongruity of such an attempt. It is no wonder therefore that Nigerians could amass wealth and enjoy the privilege of being rich only when they step out of their country and land in other countries. Seemingly also, Nigerians can only excel nowadays in foreign academic environments while they invariably stagnate in their own country in a state of perpetual condition of dashed hopes and lost opportunities.
The simplest of comforts and privileges that virtually anyone can enjoy elsewhere without necessarily having wealth that make life itself congenial and interesting cannot be provided to us due to our indifference to making things easier for ourselves as a commonwealth or a community. Rather, we prefer to steal and deprive the entire community and enrich ourselves and then seek to get pleasures of life elsewhere. In those countries towards which we are fleeing to seek better life, they perfected the methods of remaking civil society and adopting the principles of civic humanism as the raison d’etre of both the state and government, and to make it the duty of both to safeguard and guarantee the provision of the necessities of life as the essence of their commonwealth.
Civil society in those countries is a practical manifestation of the interests of the people for whose purposes the state and government machinery are actually devoted. It is this predisposition towards service delivery and humanization of society that made Dubai or Singapore what they are today. They were not built on snatch-and-run type of corruption that is the unhappy lot of Nigeria today. Their leaders decided early on to be humane, conscientious, rational, purposeful, dedicated, dutiful, visionary, patriotic, systematic and orderly, before embarking on the gargantuan enterprise of nation-building. It is these attributes that made it possible that within a few generations a barren desert or a tiny island bereft of any resources can be turned into veritable lands of milk and honey and wonderlands of economic miracle and human progress. Absent these qualities and you will end up with a country that is nearly a million square kilometers in size blessed by Providence with limitless abundance of all the resources and ingredients of civilization and greatness but cannot even feed itself or meet the most basic of its needs.
The erosion of civic humanism in our affairs has not only rendered us fatalistic and hopelessly unfaithful, but also we have been turned into a morose mass of discontented, disappointed and dispondent human beings who have become cynical about life, about society and about our future. Our cynicism now transcends every temperamental boundary and has become a defining characteristic of most of us, thus rendering us hostile towards order and everything that seems legitimate, and towards each other by imbibing chauvinist and paranoid attitudes even in ordinary conversation and intercourse. Our illogical behavioral patterns have now made us to become unable to discern our interests and needs, but made us react to forces only impulsively and languorously instead of with concerted pragmatism and visible energy.
In contemplating the fortunes of Europe following the fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon postulated that “freedom became the happy parent of taste and science”, a condition which today has humanized Europe and can be positivity appreciated in virtually all European countries and their offshoots in America, Canada, Australia New Zealand etc. With us however, freedom has become a brutish and nightmarish condition and the unhappy parent of licentiousness and wanton abandon in nothingness and futility. This has bred in us a measure of cynicism that cannot be found anywhere else especially towards the state and government and the society as a whole. It is this illogical and parabolic cynicism that has propelled civil society in Nigeria towards the bottom of the civilizational precipice from which no effort of ours can extricate the country.
The storming of a supposedly maximum prison and freeing of its inmates is a direct assault on, and a challenge to the state and to civil society. An attack on security forces and ambushing of a presidential convoy anywhere will create such an outrage that a national outcry would ensue. In our case these are considered as mere incidents and stories to be read or heard and then forgotten as if they do not matter to us or to the forces that shape our commonwealth. We do not seem to take such things gravely because we have been distanced from the sense of a commonwealth for so long that we have become cynical towards the very idea. We now no longer have any reality but what we decide to construct within our narrow prism of existential inanity which amounts to virtually nothing worthwhile in itself.
This absence of a sense of civility has undermined and even incapacitated our abilities to create and manage change. We can no longer conceive of new social formations as our ancestors did during the evolution towards state formation or the execution of the various revolutionary movements such as the 19th century Jihad of Shehu Usman Dan Fodio, or the struggle for independence for instance. We no longer seem to have the mental aptitude, the content of character, the generosity of spirit or the agility of action to comprehend and execute new projects towards building civil societies and their superstructures of humane intercourses.
Instead, we are stuck in a gyration that is pitiful to the core that knows neither redemption nor resonates with the changing conditions of the world. We seem trapped in a time warp that is both incompressible and also totally to be anticipated. Therein lies the contradictions of our condition that is both environmental in terms of our physical surroundings, and temperamental in terms of our mental and emotional make-up.