The fervent ventilation of intense emotions and the often deep frustration with which Nigerians delve into American issues can be superficially saddening but very disturbing at the core. Nigerians, especially the elite, seem apathetic to Nigeria’s political challenges and struggles and sometimes feel unconcerned about events in their country. For instance, they seem to be playing the ostrich in the face of cruel dehumanisation of their fellow citizens and the brutal decimation of millions of people in the northern part of the country, a worrying trend that is gradually expanding to other parts of the country.
Afghanistanism, used mostly in media parlance to describe the practice of concentrating on problems in distant parts of the world while ignoring critical local issues, seems to be the norm these days in Nigeria. At a time when the country is plagued with a plethora of socio-economic challenges increasingly pushing her to the brink of extinction, members of the elite and leadership class seem to be interested in and are pontificating about US election and other global issues.
How can we be so enamoured about putting out the fire in another man’s house when the inferno in ours is of hellish proportions? Why are we consumed by Donald Trump’s narcissistic and nihilistic temperament (debatable though depending on whether you loath or love him) as seen in his behaviour, pronouncements, and the uninspiring nature of Joe Biden?
These questions deserve answers as we seem to have lost our voices and are searching for the courage to confront the sub-human existence of some Nigerians orchestrated by failed leadership and docile followership. Since the “class of 1966” hijacked government in this country, it had and is still having a stranglehold on the ruled.
The phrase “youths are leaders of tomorrow” is fast becoming a satire in Nigeria.
At least in the past, people like Wole Soyinka, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Gani Fawehinmi, Chima Ubani and other social crusaders lampooned past governments and demanded some level of accountability at best, or at least to make the governments uncomfortable and steer them towards socio-political and economic development. Their activism and politics were local. Their ideas, feelings, focus and preoccupation were local. These people, although few, made a significant impact and walked that tight path of suffering various injustices for the sake of the masses.
Our social media go gaga when Trump coughs. Our elite go on the streets (literally and metaphorically) to protest against racial injustice in the US. Still, they go mute and voiceless over the killings of hundreds in various parts of the country. Our elite and leadership class act like a rat facing the full blare of the headlight from a car on high speed with nowhere for it to run. The elite and leadership class are insensitive to and narcotised by the awful news of serial killings in our media.
The killings in the North have gone on for almost a decade. It all started with a few killings. We screamed about it for a few days and moved on. Then it moved to killings in tens. We complained a little and after a bit of time, ‘life goes on’. Now the massacre is in hundreds. These days when we hear of ten people killed, it no longer affects our emotions. We think, ‘It’s just 10. That’s not too bad’. Soon thousands of deaths may be a child’s play and acceptable, especially when the infantile and wicked merchants of death graduate to killing in tens of thousands.
In saner climes, the death of one innocent person is treated as a national tragedy and call for justice will ring across the land. When will we rise as a nation and say enough is enough to the killings of our people, that every Nigerian life is sacred? Why are our elite and leadership class, not screaming on top of their voices to change the status quo?
Our elite have looked away and by default consented to the monumental failures of leadership Nigeria has witnessed. They are accomplices and accessories to the brutality of the political class that, apart from a few, engage in primitive accumulation of wealth and wanton corruption. The elite class is the metaphorical wife of the political class – a wife enjoying the trappings of power, wealth and glory of her husband, without questioning his wicked act.
The political elite traverse the beautiful cities of the world, buy houses there and send their children to the best schools around. When they are ill, they go to the best hospitals in the world. They do this while ‘Rome’ (Nigeria) burns. Little wonder that even foreign leaders have noticed this. Denying our leaders and the elite class visas to travel abroad is considered an enormous punishment.
Pertinent issues of insecurity persist in Nigeria, such as the killings mentioned earlier. There are credible security reports that Boko Haram is targeting Abuja, bandits are on the rampage in North-East and North-West, and bloody farmer-herder clashes persist in the North Central. Kidnapping for ransom has escalated in the Southern part of the country.
In the face of all these challenges, Nigerians, especially the privileged few amongst us spend precious time arguing stridently on WhatsApp fora on the propriety of forwarding a chain prayer to ensure that Donald Trump wins on November 3, to save America from leftist radicals and for those against him, his inflammatory statements with racist tendencies.
Interestingly, the local issue that seems to keep Nigerian youths focussed and spellbound is Big Brother Naija. Some 20 or so youths get camped in an apartment for three months, and Nigerians watch as they talk, play and dance.
The inmates of Big Brother Nigeria are local, but the concept of the show is foreign. The show’s model is alien to our culture, and its impact on society is pseudo-Afghanistanism.
The English premiership resumed last weekend, and for the next nine months, Nigerians will be captivated by the strengths, successes and failures of Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. Many Nigerian Arsenal supporters can name the whole Arsenal squad, players bought and sold in the off-season and how much. Some may even correctly guess whether Arsenal will play a back three or 4-4-2. However, these same people do not know the names and number of teams participating in Nigeria’s local league.
English Premiership and Spanish La Liga (especially those of Real Madrid and Barcelona) memorabilia adorn many vehicles on Nigerian roads. Original and fake jerseys of these teams worn by their fervent Nigerian supporters have become part of the scenery of the streets of most Nigerian cities. Most Nigerian youths are aware that Aliko Dangote, Atiku Abubakar, Bukola Saraki, Rotimi Amaechi and Rauf Aregbesola are Arsenal supporters.
On the other hand, I can bet that 95% of Nigerians cannot identify the crest or symbol of Rivers United, Kano Pillars, Enyimba of Aba or those of Plateau United. Aside from a few prominent Nigerians who directly sponsor our local football clubs you can hardly find any other elite identifying with these teams.
Globalisation has made it possible for the world to be a global village. But that does not mean that we should make the ostrich-like move to, literally killourselves, over other people’s problems.
Before global issues consume us, we should be patriotic enough to first deal with local issues. The global-local dichotomy is such that one affects the other. America is great today and acts ‘global’ because it, first of all, sorted its local issues to a considerable extent. Little wonder some Americans are in love with Trump’s dominant nationalistic ideology of “America first” and “making America great again”.
We should not overlook the rise of nationalism across the world. Our elite and leadership cadre must learn to “think global but act ‘local’.” I will advocate that our people should “think local and act ‘local'” at least for now. Any serious interface with global issues and events must be such that will benefit and enhance our ‘local wellbeing’.
Nigerians should soberly reflect on the issues of rising insecurity, kidnapping for ransom, worsening social and inter-communal cohesion. Nevertheless, I prefer dealing with these our local problems to moving like a shameless ostrich to engage in mortal combat over Donald Trump and his racist inclination, Joe Biden, the US and her elections.
The US, even at worst, is far better than what the elite and leadership class has made our country to be.
The US has strong structures and institutions such that even a lousy and grossly incompetent president will rule for only four or at most eight years and leave office, and it will not wholly damage America. American institutions protect their citizens from the harshness of any bad leadership and ensure accountability.
However, Nigeria is a far cry from this. It is a country with both policy and institutional weaknesses. Anything is possible!
We may love America and the functionality of its systems. Maybe we visit from time to time. We may have some members of our family residing there. We may even like the fact that it is the most powerful nation on earth and a beacon of light for freedom, justice and equity. But it is still not home.
Nigeria, our home, is where our hearts should be. Growing up, we learnt that “charity begins at home”.
Let us avoid all forms of Afghanistanism. We must face and confront our myriad of socio-economic and political challenges as no one will do it for us. We must learn to speak truth to power and hold power and power wielders accountable. Nigeria must work. We have no other home. Let’s make a better Nigerian bed so that we will collectively enjoy lying on it.
•Dr Dakuku Peterside is a leadership expert and newspaper columnist.