The winnowing of social media wheat from its often toxic chaff is a really exhausting undertaking. Occasionally, however, the effort is rewarded with the discovery of a singular kernel of knowledge that steers your thoughts in a useful direction. I recently stumbled upon one of these nuggets. It was a short excerpt from an interview with a religious scholar, Dr Omar Suleiman, in which the interviewer asked him what wisdom he had learned about why God allows suffering and cruelty in the world. Dr Suleiman replied “You know there is a saying, ‘I wanted to ask God why he allows hunger and war and poverty but I was afraid he would ask me the same question’. God has certainly given us enough food, there is enough food in the world. God has certainly given us enough guidance for us not to inflict the cruelty we inflict … first and foremost we have to have a sense of accountability for our actions.”
This made me think about Nigeria, where our last general election has left us suspended between the disillusion of an emergent political generation, the optimism of a super smart cadre of political opportunists and the triumph of a creaking old guard of political power peddlers. That sounds as if we have the ingredients to make a success of the nation abi? A youthful electorate willing to engage with the process in ever greater numbers, a surfeit of skilled human capital and a bedrock of seasoned political knowhow. But first and foremost, we do have to have a sense of accountability. Accountability to whom or to what? I would argue that we need to be accountable to our self-interest, I mean enlightened self-interest, as opposed to the vulgar self-interest of the robber baron that has created the untenable situation that the country finds itself in today. The self-interest that motivates the banker or politician to do well for herself because her ingenuity is the engine of growth for the nation and improves the lives of many; as opposed to the interest of one who prospers by gaming the economy and preying on the society primarily for the benefit of himself and his cronies.
Accountability for our actions, and accountability to each other requires trust, trust relies on honesty and honesty begets truth. As the months go by and this government settles down to establish itself, its nature is gradually unfolding. Some say they have told lies, but a cursory look at the official statements from this administration leaves me perplexed. My understanding of a lie, is an attempt to deceive, to say something in a way that is devised to convince the hearer that it is true. Our current administration releases official statements that within a couple of key strokes are revealed to be false. Their behavior sounds more like BS than lies. We all knew the person in school who would say anything no matter how ludicrous to look good in the moment, without a thought for the consequence of the inevitable discovery of their fabu. Consider the presidential spokesperson announcing that our president met with his opposite number in the UAE and resolved the contentious issue of visas for Nigerians and that, with immediate effect, issuance of visas to Nigerians would be resumed. This announcement was made unilaterally with no confirmation from the UAE, eventually when the UAE did speak, they contradicted the Nigerian governments story. Then the government spokesman announced, with presidential flourish, that on his recent visit to the UN general assembly, the president was given the singular honor of being the first African president to ring the closing bell at the NASDAC exchange. If he was nko? In any event this was a totally unnecessary falsehood that was found to be untrue on the first page of a simple internet search. Thirdly, Joe Biden the American president was going to meet with our president, he was the only African leader Mr. Biden wished to see, except that no such meeting took place. Perhaps something came up that upended the schedule but this was not mentioned by either side. When we as a people are asked to make sacrifices in the name of nation building we must, at a bare minimum, be able to trust what our government says.
The president spearheading an international investment drive is important for any administration. However, this jetting around the globe protesting that Nigeria is open for business in the face of glaring obstacles to business that the government has not yet addressed, has an almost comic quality to it. I have no experience in international business but I have lived long enough to know that commerce and industry flourish when the country is safe. Business thrives in places where laws are obeyed, when local or foreign investors know that there is at least a fairly level playing field. In this regard, the picture on our home front is not too encouraging. The high profile detention of the former CBN governor, in violation of a court order, stands out as a disturbing and avoidable show of extra judicial executive muscle. The strange suggestions from some newly appointed ministers (one being an idea that underage children could be put to work in schools on Fridays to increase industrial production) could give the impression that some of them have no idea about what they are supposed to be doing. Then there is an impending labor crisis, the police and other security services are in urgent need of reorganization; the to do list at home is long. I do not doubt that the former CBN governor and others have much to answer for regarding their stewardship of national affairs, but the impunity with which this government has handled his case, leaves the clear thinking individual with the fear that success in this environment is dependent on being in the good books of those who issue ‘orders from above’. Actions speak much louder than words. To attract business, I like the analogy with bees, if the flower is appealing and fragrant, the bees will come for the nectar and make sweet honey.
Goodness knows that whoever assumed executive authority in Nigeria after the election had their work cut out for them, but the trust and accountability which stems from a credible electoral process would cut the president a considerable amount of slack. In this case, all the deception that has come from government is not really surprising considering this self-selected group are comfortable throwing their lot in with a regime that emerged through such a questionable process. They have, thus far not shown any inclination to accountability.
PS: I think that we have all that we need, the question before us is, what sort of a society do we envisage for ourselves? Do we imagine a society in which laws are important to govern our conduct with each other? If so are they all that matters? Or are honesty, shame, respect, fairness, trust, empathy, and accountability, equally vital binding agents that enable decent and productive coexistence? Alternatively do we desire a society based on survival of the fittest, so persuasively articulated in the ‘grab it, snatch it, and run with it philosophy of getting into power? I do not say this as a joke. These are fundamental differences in philosophy. Some of us need leaders who get into office by eliciting our support through persuasion while others are willing to tolerate a snatched mandate. The reasonable mind should decide which they can expect to work for the greater good?
Both of my grandfathers were in the legislative council in pre-independent Nigeria, they had very differing views about the political path the country should take. But on one thing I know they would agree, if I proposed to them that political power should be grabbed and run with, they would both denounce the suggestion with what was once seen as a withering reprimand, “Jide, you should be ashamed of yourself.”