When self-evident truths manifest and their manifestation leads to turmoil, upheavals and a lot of chain reactions, the expectation is that reasonable human beings would sit down and take rational decisions to stem the challenges arising from these truths. It is also an aphorism that the truth sets human beings free and anyone that lives in denial of the truth denies his own very existence. Questions, issues and challenges that are swept under the carpet, under the pretence that they either do not exist, or that they will go away on their own do not disappear. Instead, they will eventually resurface and become bigger in the future.
The foregoing scenario appears to be the situation of the struggle for Nigeria’s nationhood, the task of human, economic and social development and forging a nation out of the amalgam of various nationalities and groups. Nigeria is a country living in denial of many of its fundamental challenges and characteristics. It also appears to be one of the few countries where the leaders keep repeatedly providing the same false answers to questions and insisting that they are right, even after the examiners repeatedly mark them wrong. They do so in the vain hope that the answers to the questions will change, simply because they are Nigerians.
Let us examine a few issues to illustrate our point. At independence, the major nationalities comprising Nigeria were simply struggling to fashion out a system of government that would enable them to live together in unity and peace. They arrived at a federal structure, a unity in diversity that allowed everyone to proceed with the task of development at their own pace. Regional autonomy was the norm and the constitutional document was negotiated, being the product of several conferences. The National Anthem even recognises that “tribes and tongues may differ” but in brotherhood we stand. At that point, the leadership acknowledged the diversity but agreed to work together to forge a nation. No leader said at the conferences leading to our federal structure that the unity of the country was not negotiable. Every card was on the table for negotiation. The regions started a race to the top; there was no complacency and no perverse incentives for a race to the bottom. There was progressive competition which was needed for a fast-paced development.
Fast forward to the coups and countercoups, the civil war, the discovery and exploitation of oil in commercial quantity, the nation’s leadership simply started living in denial of this diversity and foisted on the country a virtual unitary constitutional structure which centralised most powers in the Federal Government. The regions were gone and the states became vassals of the Federal Government. The Federal Government controls the bulk of economic resources and simply gives handouts to the states. The principle of derivation which allowed the regions to keep a great part of the resources derived from their region was simply expunged from the law books until the grudging 13% derivation was granted by the almighty federal authorities. Various policies were introduced to retard appointments, promotion and recognition based on merit and it became, and has always been, a fierce competition for control of the powers at the centre. All attempts to forge negotiations and for the people and their leaders to draft a credible constitution were rebuffed by the powers at the centre and suddenly, the unity of Nigeria was repeatedly stated not to be negotiable at a time the leaders were busy tearing at the fabrics that held the nation together. Any claim to development in a diverse society, where the energies of the various groups are not harnessed or allowed to flourish, while the society moves at the speed of its slowest is a claim without foundations. It is bound to end in failure.
We live in denial when the bulk of our population, especially the youths are held down by poverty, without hope and sentenced to a life of penury and we complain about the crime rate. We live in delusion when our public educational and health systems are run down and our leaders and their children do not patronise these establishments and we expect the systems to work. We live in denial when the poorly funded federal police are expected to tackle crimes in every nook and cranny of the country. We live in denial when there are different standards for different persons suspected and accused of grand corruption. Some are prosecuted while others are awarded ministerial positions and others have the charges against them withdrawn by the state, and we claim to be fighting corruption. We live in denial when bandits and criminals in the North-West are given a state banquet and an opportunity to negotiate with the state governor, the commissioner of police, etc. while their counterparts in other parts are branded as terrorists.
Yes, we live in denial and claim we want development and progress when we reward anti- developmental forces. We leave our first eleven in the intellectual, moral, developmental and cognoscenti spheres out of governance and choose vicious treasury looters as governors, ministers, etc. and expect good governance. We want honest leadership but vote the moral dregs of our society into office because of our love for filthy lucre. We want national unity but insist on electing ethnic champions into the presidency. When men and women who are prepared to lead the country with vision come out to participate in elections, we call them non-starters and refuse to elect them. We also ridicule them.
The nation is laden with debts and borrowed funds which have been mismanaged. It is becoming evident that we lack the capacity to repay the debts and all the Federal Government officials tell us is that we do not have a debt problem, but a revenue challenge. Where will this denial and play on words lead the nation to? For every N1 we earn at the federal level, we are using not less than 68 kobo to pay back debts and someone keeps insulting the intelligence of our people that we do not have a debt problem? The government lies to the people that Boko Haram has been defeated whilst the same group takes the battle to military formations and even captures villages and towns. Meanwhile, lives of soldiers and civilians are wasted while the denial goes on.
No country desirous of making progress continues living in denial of challenges and issues that it needs to tackle and resolve. Denying them even means that the issues have not been properly identified as challenges and as such, may not be candidates for discussions at the resolution table. To continue to live in denial means that we are not just ready as a people for the task of national unity, progress and development.