Monday, March 10, 2008

New Generation Nigerians and the Rebuilding of the Nigerian Nation-State By Abimbola Lagunju

Jean Jacques Rousseau in his treatise on Social Contract contends that at a particular moment in the development of man, the forces against him overwhelm his individual brute power to defend himself and his immediate family. In order to ensure his survival, he makes alliances with others to improve his security situation. In forming the alliance, he gives up his own natural liberty in order to acquire civil liberty, within which he becomes a member of an indivisible whole, which meets his security needs and rights to property. As Jean Jacques Rousseau puts it "Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole." This, according to Rousseau is the basis of the creation of a state. This whole, this collective will called the body politic or the state, has the responsibility of assuring the individual and collective security of the constituent members. This obligation holds true even when the nation-state is an artificial and imposed one with unwilling and dissenting members. The imposed illusory state may, with a lot of conscious efforts transform into a real and viable entity when it learns to function as a real state founded on a real social contract. One way of achieving this status is to install democracy, where the people of the illusory nation-state go through the process of learning to give up their natural liberties through their votes to acquire civil liberties and rights. This process demands a commitment of the people involved and the transparency of those in positions of responsibility in the society. When any of these two important pre-requisites is lacking, the dream of the creation of a nation-state remains a dream, and the likelihood of disintegration becomes real.

In poor multi-ethnic countries with defective or absent democratic processes, the notion of a state is reduced to bloodlines, clans and ethnicity, and the country’s borders only exists on paper and in the mind of the rulers. In such countries, the ‘state’, though with internationally recognized borders is distrusted by its citizens and there is an almost unbridge-able disconnect between the central ‘government’ and the ‘citizens.’ If the state is the collective will of the people, then such fractionalised ‘states’ bear the unmistakable signs of failing or failed states. They only exist on paper and in the minds of those who occupy the presidential palaces. This is the case with many African ‘countries,’ which were artificially created at the end of 1884/ beginning of 1885 at the Berlin Conference by the colonial occupiers.

More than forty years post-independence, most of the artificial African nation-states are still holding together, despite the dismal performance of the political class, poor economy and numerous ethnic wars which the continent has witnessed and is witnessing. What is responsible for this? Why haven’t things fallen apart? When one excludes the intrusive ‘mediation’ role of international community and the manacling aid, which are primarily linked to the economic interests of the members of this ‘international community,’ the thread that holds the collective will together within these incongruous nation-states may lie in individuals who, despite enormous odds strive to make a difference. These individuals, through their exemplary behaviour, vision and actions, whether in the private or public sector are the bearers and beacons of hope. Luckily for Africa, each generation has been blessed with such individuals in the political and private arenas.

Nigeria has had its fair share of such individuals, and despite our pathological disposition to squander vision, goodwill and hope, the remnants of the legacy of these individuals have in a way taken roots, albeit struggling-for-survival ones. The legacy of these individuals manifests in the national spirit with which certain members of the present generation, whether acting in their individual capacity or as part of a private or public enterprise put themselves at the service of the collective. They are the new purveyors of hope for an otherwise disenchanted body politic divided against itself. These individuals or institutions quickly become our national reference point, the role model that breaks ethnic and religious barriers. Individually or collectively, Nigerians are proud to be associated with them. We hold our heads high when we say we come from the same nation as these individuals. We write off our politicians as the undesirable exception of our lot and we seek representation in these individuals and the institutions which they represent.

In the common parlance used to differentiate the non-functional from the functional, the chaff from the grain, (and which has nothing to do with age), these individuals and their institutions are the New Generation Individuals and Institutions. Malam Nuhu Ribadu, formerly of EFCC, Dr. Dora Akunyili of NAFDAC, Mrs. Carol Ndaguba of NAPTIP are examples of the beacon of hope, the purveyors of vision, and the true foundational members of the Nigerian nation-state. They, along with others, through their engagement, actions and vision have committed themselves to make the emergence of a true Nigerian State a reality. Despite the fact that the institutions that they head were created by politicians as signs of intentions rather than actions, these individuals have not only transformed the institutions, but have converted them into symbols of pride for millions of ordinary Nigerians within and outside our borders.

And there are other individuals too, who do not head any institution, but who respect the collective will of the people by executing with fervour and honesty, the tasks which have been entrusted to them by the people. It is much more difficult to encounter this category of people in the public service, particularly in Nigerian Police Force. But one officer stands out. Mr. Francis Ojomo, the Divisional Police Officer of Akobo Police Station in Ibadan is a New Generation cop. During a recent visit to Nigeria, I had the opportunity of meeting with different people who live within the jurisdiction of the police station headed by Mr. Ojomo. As is common to many formal and informal gatherings in Nigeria these days, the problem of security found its way on top of the agenda of an informal gathering of neighbours, to which I had been invited by a friend. To my utmost surprise, and very much contrary to what I had expected to hear, the people gathered were full of praises for Mr. Ojomo. Adjectives like hardworking, brave, responsible, responsive to people in distress and honest were used to describe him. Mr. Ojomo was not at the gathering and he could not have known that a social party in which he was being discussed was holding. I have never met Mr. Francis Ojomo, and I do not know his rank; but one thing is certain from what I heard at this party: the gratitude and the goodwill of the people in the area under his command in Akobo will forever surpass whatever promotion he gets until his retirement in the Police Force. Unknowingly, Mr. Ojomo has made himself a life-time honorary citizen of the area presently under his command.

Failing states cannot use as excuse the lack of examples or exemplary individuals for their descent into failed states. In the case of Nigeria, we have an abundance of exemplary individuals with visions. The common Nigerians value the New Generation individuals and for their sake, the question of the validity of the existing body politic and the demand for a redefinition of the social contract in the place of an imposed one is put on the back shelf.

Our rulers, whom we hope will become leaders one day have the moral responsibility to strengthen the existing threads which holds the collective will of the Nigerian peoples together and also to nurture the emergence of New Generation Nigerians. And most importantly, they must stop squandering the legacy of those committed to the emergence of a true Nigerian nation-state.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You sure have a way of moving your writings from general to specific. This style helps to broaden the knowledge of the reader while calling his/her attention to a specific issue. My concern is really how some of the individual Nigerians mentioned and praised in this article have allowed the immature politics of Nigeria to send their names into near-oblivion or bad records as is known to happen to professional politicians in Nigeria. A very good reference in Prof. Dora Akunyili.

Again Mr. Ojomo would have since moved to other duties and one may never get to hear of his name again till he retires. But like you noted, he has done his bit which has made his name indelible in the hearts of some Nigerians.

Keep it coming!