Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Centenary of Misrule: Living the Legacy By Abimbola Lagunju

There is a Yoruba proverb that says if the wrapping leaves of a piece of soap are left for too long on the soap, the leaves turn into soap. A very apt proverb for the Nigerian existential experience in the un-abating atmosphere of misgovernance that has dogged this country since 1914. But for a few gruntlers, who, as soon as they shout foul are silenced with a Russian salad of plum appointments and loads of cash in all possible colours, we, the masses have learnt to accept failure of governance as a norm. Our norm. Misgovernance permeates every aspect of the Nigerian life. Homes, communities, schools, hospitals, government and religious ministries, banks, companies local and foreign, embassies etc. all revel and thrive in the most atavistic human instinct of survival of the fittest. No rules, even in the era of rule of law. For Nigeria, it has always been law of Rulers. The masses, who take hard knocks from the wooden rulers in the misguided hands of our Rulers, only have themselves to blame for their coconut heads. In short we are and have always been victims of social Darwinism. Social Darwinists (Herbert Spencer, Andrew Carnegie, William Graham Sumner), and their theory (now of blessed extinction on saner shores) argued that social existence was a struggle among individuals with different capacities and traits. The better the traits the more the chances for success and wealth; and those with less capacity and weaker traits became poor. Graham Sumner pushed it further by claiming that “it is not the function of the State to make men happy”. This odious social theory has been consigned to the dustbin of history and replaced with saner social policy by many countries of the world. Nigeria is not on the list of these countries. In fact it appears that Nigeria has decidedly embarked on a continuous exercise of reinvention and re-engineering of social Darwinism.

Ninety-five years (since Lugard) of misrule in different shades of colour, modes of dresses, ideologies, religions and constitutions is a very long time. Our Rulers have faithfully kept the banner of misrule flying. The legacy of misrule is being passed on from generation to generation of Rulers, each adding a new standard to surpass his predecessor. And the once virgin leaves of the masses are turning into this perfidious soap. We have no reference in our history for good governance. Scratch the veneer off our celebrated heroes and see what lies underneath. And because we know this, and cannot do anything about it, we are unconsciously metamorphosing from our state of submission into a copycat state. We copy misrule. We thrive in misrule. We worship misrule. We practice misrule in our homes, neighbourhoods, places of work, in the streets, places of worship and indeed everywhere. We have learnt to become vicious miniature Rulers; practitioners of social Darwinism. Everyone oppresses anyone oppress-able. The gateman of a company in his cubicle rules without the rule of law, policemen with one or two stripes rule the streets, cashiers rule the banks, secretaries reign supreme in the outer office, and messengers are kings who disappear files at will. These small Rulers will in turn be ruled and oppressed by their immediate bosses, who will then be oppressed by their bosses and the chain of oppression moves up the ladder. Haven’t you ever seen a special adviser to a governor or a councilor behaving like a mini-god? You think I am generalizing? Let him without sin cast the first stone. Think hard before you pick the stone though.

Nigerians have learnt to revere the legacy of misrule in all spheres of our life. We do not question the sanity of what has been handed over to us. Indeed we flaunt our deep knowledge of the legacy in courts, in the streets and even in distant lands. See the way our Traditional Rulers wrestle with each other in courts either over small border disputes or who should wear a beaded crown and who should not among them. And what documents of reference do our learned lawyers use to prove their points in these strictly traditional cases in courts? Documents handed over by the colonialists who misruled us and who twisted our logical order of reasoning. And our hallowed judges go on to rule on the basis of these same documents. No questions as to the sanity of who wrote the document in the first instance, neither are questions asked about the motives of the colonial administrator who wrote the document and worse still is that our over-learned compatriots do not even bother to ask themselves the relevance of these documents to our condition and existence. Suffice that it has been written by a warped colonial mind, it becomes sacrosanct in the hands of our learned citizens.

We cherish documents, good or bad. We worship any document written in the guise of a policy by anyone (with superior traits) who manages to get to sit on the throne of our nation. It does not matter if the ‘policy document’ out-rightly denies us of all rights; it is sacred if it is written. We are dead scared to think of making changes that will save our lives and enhance the quality of our existence. We are even more scared to throw out the document along with its author into the dustbin of best forgotten history of our nation and come up with something else. Nigerians live this fear in the macro and microcosms of our daily existence. At the national level, we are scared of touching the military 1999 constitution. We cannot amend it, we cannot change it and thinking of throwing it away altogether is a nightmare scenario. At the state level, we brandish about with pride despicable edicts of military governors and administrators some of whose names we have even forgotten.

“It is not the function of the State to make men happy”! If people want to be happy, they must do something about it individually or collectively, but they must not expect anything from our nation state. The State represented by the Rulers abdicates its responsibility and declares itself to be on a long, probably permanent vacation. Nigerians have learnt to live this, but it beats all sense of decency when this State on vacation imposes the responsibility which it has abdicated on the citizens through an edict. The State asks the citizens to carry out its obligation while it is away on holidays! One Mr. Chinyere Ike Nwosu, a one-time Military Ruler of Oyo State made an edict in December 1995 called “Mobilization of Community Development Committees Amendment Edict” through which he ordered the citizens of Oyo State to “contribute financially for the sustenance of vigilante groups and execution of projects embarked upon by the Community Development Committees to safeguard security of their neighbourhoods”! In a most outrageous display of ignorance of the responsibility and functions of a State, this Ruler went on to impose sanctions against non complying landlords and tenants: “A landlord or tenant who unreasonably refuses or fails or neglects to pay an amount fixed by his ward as his contribution for the sustenance of the vigilante group or for the execution of a particular project to safeguard security of his ward shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to a fine of 200 Naira for the first offence and a fine of 400 Naira or a term of imprisonment of two months for a subsequent offence….” This document, written in the twentieth century conjures up in one’s mind a pre-historic state of nature where there is no structure, no state, no police and where small group of individuals with clubs in hands come together for their collective security. The document was rightly sent to the dustbin of aberration and forgotten when the Ruler left.

About fourteen years later, a group of well-meaning landlords somewhere in Oyo State exhumed the Edict and circulated it in their neighbourhood. They will like defaulting landlords to pay up their dues, and having run out of ideas to get these recalcitrant landlords to take up the responsibility given to them by the holidaying State, they resurrected the Edict. The soap of misrule has permeated the virgin leaves of our psyche. I am sure these bright landlords can do better than wavering about a despicable testament of misgovernance and ignorance of the role of a modern State.

As we all prepare for the centenary (1914-2014) of misrule in our nation, I will like to remind our different rulers, small and big, that there is another African proverb that says no matter how long a log of wood stays in water, it will never turn into a crocodile.

1 comment:

Délé said...

Good point of view.It's time for youth African to prepare the future of our Africa with inspirations such as in this text.............