Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Nigeria: A new hope?

by Ato Imbeah

An open letter to the President of Nigeria, General Babangida in which this writer asks questions, answers to which, he believes may help resolve some of the country's headaches.
Dear Major-Gen Babangida,

I take this opportunity to welcome you as the head of state of Nigeria and also to wish Nigeria a 'better luck ahead' during your tenure of office. I would have written earlier from the time you ousted Buhari you have been besieged by instant acknowledgements from some of the politicians whose redundancies are nothing but cathartic experiences for them, and also by delegations from some foreign governments who have been missing the trade relationship they once engaged with Nigeria. I am hoping that now that the jubilations of the journalists who took to the streets after Decree 4 was repealed by you and that of the politicians you released had died down you can read this letter in peace.

I want to congratulate you, as most people have done, on the successes scored during the first days of your office. It really needed guts for someone to wave such a magic wand in so short a time. At least the people had something to jubilate about during their 25th year as a nation. But it seems to me that Nigerians are not anx- ious about what to jubilate about, not even decree 4 or the release of politicians from prisons.

The new self-confidence and hope your coming has brought to the people is due to the fact that they believe you know what you will be progressing from, that is the starting point of the development process, and not where you will be progressing to, as that ultimate goal is just too obscure.

Thank God, the validity of Nigeria's statehood is not being challenged now, and everyone believes it is the framework for the organization of modern life and essentially an administrative structure for trade unions, welfare services and the armed forces, and that it is also sovereign, with complete authority over its own affairs. It is a nation of people who feel emotionally united by such factors as race, language, religions and shared culture.

The youth at home, Sir, you will bear with me are very much disillusioned than when they lived with the horrors of the forgotten conflict. They always read about the wealth of the nation, its power and influence world wide, but those who should benefit are battling with the ultimate curse of Moses...

But when these sparsely applied cosmetics is skilfully erased from this seemingly coterminous state, you will admit rather that Nigeria since independence is more 'balkanized' than ever and the citizen's duties institutions always have something to do with his kith and kin, and significantly his membership of these institutions is not a matter of voluntary to choice, but of birth or tradition. No doubt partisan politics have failed, for most of the political parties and even trade unions and coups d'etat tend to be tribal units in modern dresses. And so there is the need for the forging of patriotic bonds otherwise such primordial attachments would be seen as pejorative.

But the breaking down of this lack of oneness among Nigerians, something that inhibits the development of the individual and blocks progress towards a large-scale and impartial administrative system which a developing economy requires, will not be easy, especially since this sense of nationhood must be expressed through an alien medium, a European language. And this of late has resulted in a kind of cultural dualism across all facets of Nigerian lives.

Strides in education, as you may see, have produced so many literate people, and the deep social gulf between the educated and the illiterates is continually being eroded. But despite the fact that il- literates outnumber the literates, power and status will always be vested in the intellectuals. And the character of the next generation would be based on the prevail- ing sentiments that occupy the minds of the people today, but these are the very people that Alhaji Isa Kaita, as chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau had in mind when in 1983, said that it is only God who could and must descend amongst them again to bring some sanity in their behaviour and conduct.

I know that you have not fortunately been called Junior Jesus,' yet you will need no divine powers to see that the educational system has not been consciously employed for purposes of fostering national unity and ethnic toleration, and it has the tendency to create religious differences that in turn coincide with ethnic divisions.

Most people believe that the main reason for Nigeria's financial weakness is due to less oil production, world recession and the ineffective government of past governments. No past politician and military administrator in any of the past Administrations can avoid responsibility for the mess in the country today, for they made it very difficult for the voter to discern the difference between possible and impossible promises. They thought and believed that nothing was wrong in adopting ideologies from other societies, and this resulted in the country's lack of economic discipline and of Nigerians' taste for foreign goods and their extravagance. There was easy money for contractors everywhere and the indigenisation measures they took only resulted in Nigerians acting as frontmen for multi-nationals whom these measures primarily aimed at protecting from their control of the economy.

Your Excellency, it is obvious that no African nation has yet escaped the indirect economic colonization of the West, and so definitely the millions of pounds of capital in forms of aids, grants and loans deemed essential for the development and subsequent production and transportation economies and sophisticated consumer needs would pour in. But the hope of the people is that they will not be prised out to work for minimal wages and the profits of their sweated labour shipped to foreign countries and pocket by smart old guards.

The different parts of the country too rarely develop at a uniform pace, and regional discrepancies in both absolute economic terms and in rates of develop- ment of late, provided principal causes of regional and, in turn, ethnic conflict. Although this need not have happened, prestigious projects like Abuja created 'politics of scarcity' within which the states competed for amenities, and national economic integration with extensive links between the various ecological and ethnic sections which could have stimulated a sense of interdependence were never thought of.

The youths at home, as Sir, you will bear with me, are very much disillusioned, even more disillusioned than when they lived with the horrors of the forgotten conflict. They always read about the wealth of the nation, its power and in- fluence worldwide, but they who should be the beneficiaries of this wealth and power are battling with the ultimate curse of Moses - with their eyes on Canaan but unable to go there for its milk and honey.

Abroad too, the students who went on the sponsorship of various state governments and even the Federal government only encounter the snubs of suburban landlords and their institutions for money owing and always feel desperately lonely and bewildered. Most of them are now returning home, but they are returning home feeling citizens of neither worlds, having been deceived by their own government and also rejected abroad. It is not that they are not passionately nationalistic, but their disgust will need an extra attention to be appeased.

Your Excellency, it is no gainsaying the fact that you are now trapped under public expectation. Any emergency planning would be viewed as a short-circuit solu- tion, and when you decide to leave the scene soon the good men will say that you want to pass on the losses, and if you think it wise to carry on with the rebuilding, the whispers will be "look out, there is a vogue soldier about". The choice is now entirely yours, but Nigerians know that the greatness they would have liked their country associated with during its silver jubilee celebrations is now wishful thinking, so they are craving for the development of a heterogenous ethnic group, something they know and believe can be facilitated through civic education, mass media youth organisations, language policy, institutional arrangements and promotion of national ideologies.

Maybe those who took to the streets to jubilate over your coming to power, the various foreign representatives who called on you and even the expression of content- ment on the faces of Nigerians from the north, west, south, east, is a confirmation that you can bring this about. I believe they can be proved right.

I am, Sir, Your observer,
Ato Imbeah, London.

talking drums 1985-10-21 Azumah The two minute wonder