Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How do things fall apart?

"Let us start going oh!" That was Buky's call. We walked to the junction to take a bus. Our house at that time was on Agbaoku Street (opposite the Chrisland School in Opebi).
"Ikeja, Ikeja. Enter with you =N=10 change! No change oh!" The bus conductor shouted.
The bus picked us up and moved in the direction of Allen Avenue. As we approached the junction that linked Allen Avenue to Obafemi Awolowo road, a police officer stopped the vehicle. He complained about the overload and was serious about impounding the vehicle. The conductor stylishly handed the officer =N=20. You could see the fright in his (the police officers) face as he collected the money off the hand of the conductor. People in the vehicle could not believe what they saw. As we moved, they hissed, were swearing in pidgin, complained bitterly about Nigeria and the remaining reminisced about the good old days. You could see the officer stare at the van as it moved, wondering what he had done and trying to figure out how to manage the situation.

That was 1993.

Fast forward, to the 21st of August 2008. Around Surulere, my driver takes an "illegal" turning (All turnings are both legal and illegal depending on the negotiating skills of the parties involved, knowledge of rights, time of day and access to guns). The police stopped our vehicle. Knowing the time it would cost me (I was on my way to a meeting and lets not even deliberate about the madness of Lagos traffic here), I assumed the role. Came out of my car, they spoke about how serious the "offense" I had committed is (there are options for my next action: interrupt, keep quiet or fight back. For this crucial time, I knew to keep quiet and apologize was the best option). They went on and talked about impounding the vehicle and taking it to the police station (Now, my next action is to negotiate and give them a reasonable offer where we can negotiate from; which I did.). With my offer proposed, I turned round to talk to my driver (I could hear whispers "this na Akata. He fit drop more").5 minutes of negotiation, I was in my car =N=3,000 poorer, on the way to my meeting; an average day in the life of a Lagosian.
A lot has changed in Nigerian within the past 15 years.

I recently saw the play on Chinua Achebe's masterpiece on Okonkwo. The story (from my interpretation) focuses on a society with laws and order and its own ways of doing things. The missionaries came and their introduction was instrumental in the crumble of every value the society held dear to its existence; an action personified with Okonkwo hanging himself. This is when "things began to fall apart".

This takes me back to the police case. What could remove decency from becoming a watch word? How did a seemingly contented set of people become rent seekers with no regard for how the society runs? I don't think I am on to anything new here.

I cannot attribute the Nigerian case to the "resource curse"; if I did then I must explain the case of the rich economies of the middle east whose status have been fueled by oil earning.
Nor will I attribute it to the activities of the military; if the military can overthrow a president at will, then why didn't they (for example in America) plot a coup to topple George Bush as he experimented with policies that have no basis and created a worldwide recession? The fundamental problem is we lack policies useful in upholding our ways of life and ensuring a saner Nigerian experience. In simple terms, what we need to run our society is simple not there. I will explain.

Let me run through my ideology on how a society function and what can spark up a change within it.

Every society evolves because individual citizens cannot provide all he/she requires. This mass collaboration of people require a mix of people with different skills to support it existence. These skills could be banded into professionals that are social, economic and legal agents.

  1. Unit individual take simple actions towards improving the quality and quantity of their lives. This could be in the form of till the land, or cleaning their house. With increase in specialism on a specific task, they build capacity to add value and therefore become suitably positioned to request earning from people requiring such services (because those people have to focus on doing something else). Slowly economic agents emerge that create structures, policies and framework to ensure the work is done while optimizing resource use.
  2. In order for people to invest and continue what they are doing in a sustainable manner, some sort of legal agents are required to prevent the strong from inflicting harsh experiences on those not capable of protecting themselves.
  3. All the above agents require a platform to interact; a platform upon which people can be sensitized; a platform that social priorities are established; one which enables an ecosystem where the balance of production is distributed amongst economic & public goods. These social agents are manned by the roles of politicians, lobbyist, socialites and other professionals who earn "based on association". The value they add to a system can not be undermined. Their presences provide character to the economic activities of the other agents and also act as cohesion to of all roles in that environment. In developed societies, these roles are usually left for the old and (or) the wise.

Now how can a change occur and influence the order of things?
The simplest benchmark for measuring a civilization is a place where the children rebel against the norm. A child will revolt against the establishment that supports the cultural fabric of the society because the instruction pass down does not sit well with his/her evolving personal belief. If there was no civilization, then any stance against authority will simple trickle into the mainstream (as no establishment has been empowered to uphold the values that has been passed down for generation). If the general way proposed does not agree with a significant number of the younger generation, a revolution might take place. The impact of that revolution can go in three ways.

  1. If the revolution actually tackles a growing concern emerging from changing circumstances, the establishment might accommodate the ideologies and slowly the proposed way will trickle into the main stream. (Example: The founding fathers of Nigeria (Awolowo, Azikiwe & Tafa Balewa) were youth that joined forcing in pushing for the independence of the Federal republic of Nigeria. The establishment at that time stood against such act. But as they were at the "tipping point', such act of unity was strong enough to create a order and make way for an entirely new ways in which people within our land space are organized).
  2. The revolution might have no impact on anything if the legal agents are strong enough to cripple any uprising (example: Student riot in 1986 was not able to change the status quo at that time that upheld General Babangida in the seat of power).
  3. The revolution might not be strong enough to unseat the establishment, but it can instill new orders and patterns. (Example: The Nigeria Civil war was able to mentally create a division between the three main Nigerian tribes. Though the vision of the Biafran state did not materialize, the impact of that war was able to create a sort of Biafran mentality; one that created room for the marginalization of the Ibos the beginning of tribal politics).This new order puts a crack in the hold of the establishment on the people, influences their perception; here things begin to fall apart.

What makes the Nigerian institutions weak?
This article of William Lynch Let's make a slave provides strategies to make and manage slaves. It simple states that the basic way of creating a slave involves destroying every image of strength in the mind of the future generation, then going further to destroy the concept of identity. Such action will eventually create a self propelling slave producing race of people; which every subsequent generation more confused that the other.
My mission is not to spark up ideas of a black movement calling for reparations (
To be very honest, with the right conditions, any of us could have been William Lynch if such action would guarantee survival). I am just trying to provide answers to these questions.

  • Why is the black race (Nigeria as the point of reference) at the bottom of the food chain?
  • What insight can we get that will enable us know how to run our civilization, especially at a time when it looks like African is the only way out of the world's financial crisis ?

Nigeria is in this situation because we found ourselves in positions we could not handle. Slavery has always being a normal part of human civilization; but not as a part of some business process that promotes the free market ideologies and preaches expansion and sustainability. The black traders of those days did not know what they were dealing with. In an environment where everything is traded (and slaves are made), this act of slave trading was able to change the perception of a black man (as one with physical strength, high libido and a race always in continual struggle) to everyone that he/she came across.
That initial crack in the societal culture was transferred to the mainland Africans by colonization. The general code of conduct that had being established during Lynch's time (on how to make and manage slaves) was the guide used in defining the ways and manners of Nigeria's colonial master related to us, designed our schools (and trained our youths), and created our socio-political industrial complex. This subtle act led to:

  • A destruction of our core values and cultural ways of life (an act perpetrated by setting up schools that removed the speaking of our mother tongue, branded the behaviours of our ancestors as primitive and institutionalized ways that are uphold the constitution of the United Kingdom)
  • Creating transport networks that focus on the movement of raw materials out of Nigeria of processing (that underlying structure encourages heavy importation of finished goods to the detriment of local industries)
  • Establishing an economic system that is completely dependent on the "mental" capacity of the Western economies and the physical strength of Africa

The result was a race of Nigerians with no identity and a people that lacked the core skills required to compete in an economic system alien to them. Thus, even though the founding father gathered to build, the people they built for had no allegiance to the land. The reality is evident as millions of Nigerians fled immediately the military came to power because there was nothing in the land that reminded them that Nigeria is their.(If you look at individual nations as family unit, the whole picture will look different to you. Nobody will leave his fathers house because his brothers are misbehaving).
The slave mentality (embedded in our post colonial human systems) awoke and drones of us flocked into the same countries our fore fathers sold slaves to, to become servants, students and trainees. The quest remains the same, to get a better life. This option of traveling is mostly not out of choice, but lack of alternatives; out of the fact that our nation is not capable of making the best use of our its own resources.

This weak government institutions are not assisted by the family institutions as both genders in actualizing the Nigeria dream or adding to its cause. The dream is one of "freedom, peace and unity"; what we recite in the national anthem. The words are not strong enough to send down euphoric feelings in the hearts of those that sing the anthem (as the mere man cannot relate any of the words to his condition). Besides, the environment and personal experiences do not equip the average person with what is needed to make choices that would move reality closer to the already abstract dream.

  • The Nigerian dream is managed within a rent-seeking culture (it is customary for all subordinate to expect "something" for trivial occasions like weekend, traveling, purchase of new vehicle, or just simply because of that time. This "something" is the most significant motivating factor used to encourage staff to "work", even if they generally don’t pro actively do much). It is one where the people barely have time to stop to reflect. This over pressured life forces them to take solitude in religious engagement and quest for pleasure that excludes mental engagement. Their self-improvement strategy is more often than not is a product of the crowd's wisdom (example: his decision to invest in stocks or real estate or travel abroad to study petroleum engineering is because everyone says "there is money to be made there"). The "crowd" advice usually tends to skew the distribution of supply of services; as services they reckon with are skewed towards brokering or roles that returns on investment with minimum effort(thus you have period of over supply of diesel merchants or real estate brokers).
  • The average man within the culture is one with a slight drinking problem with a minimum of two extra marital affairs. He works hard to furnish his life with the "good thing" (imported branded items like cars, expensive suits, watches and electronic gadgets). The issue he monitors daily encompasses every aspect of his life (crime, housing, utilities, and unhealthy work-life balance).
  • The average woman is one that consistently works towards fitting her life into the stereotypical ideology of who she should be (in terms of weight, marital & financial status). She also is interested in the good things (traveling, imported dressing accessories).Of the two sexes, she is the one most likely to be found neck deep into religious rituals; an act she holds on to dearly for protection of everything she holds on to.
  • The average youth just wishes he was somewhere/someone else (as far away from anything Nigeria)

Considering our weak family units and incapable government, our quality of life can only deteriorate. The weakness of these institutions exposes the young ones opened to contamination from alien behaviours (as they have no one to rebel against, they instantly take up all ideals available online and transfer on to the mainstream); ways that can further dilute our culture and cripple our capabilities to function as a people. In this state, things will continually crumble and the younger ones will have tougher challenges to deal with. With such trends and decreasing capacity to function, the future Nigeria might be a refugee state as the virtual growth (created by booming prices of raw materials) and stability fade away. By that time, culling from Chinua Achebe's masterpiece, Okonkwo would have hung himself.

I think the time as come for the youth to begin to take things into their hands. Our present ways are wasteful and counterproductive in itself. The young must evolve its own agents of change (social, economic and legal agents) using religious organization as platforms where ideologies are converted from visions to personal next step and transferred into our own homegrown techniques. Techniques that focuses on how we, Nigerians can build Nigeria, for Nigerians, together.
The historian must develop for us an identity that we can be proud of; one that we believe in, and one that is true (
we can start by changing that national anthem. It holds no depth capable of steering people to act in oneness). The tipping point is near. We need is that collective spark. We have the resources and the human capacity. Then we steering all these resources to the right direction.
Our government has failed us; not because they are wanted to but because they are not equipped to deal with the falling Nigeria. If nothing changes, our children will may never forgive us.

It is our duty to prevent it all from falling apart. That is what we were born to do.


ChiefO said...

Nigeria has no choice but to get changed. one after the other, minds like urs would fuse together infect others to fall in line.

the post is rather long, im thinking of moving back home too. my reason? i honestly dont know, but its been germinating in me for some time now.

so long nigerians like us still believe in nigeria, there is no other choice of the possible outcomes.

awesome blog by the way, would be back to read this post over and give my 2 cents

Mr C said...

Thanx Chiefo for your comment.

I totally agree with you that the post is long. But the ideaologies I was trying to merge (things falling apart, my police incidence and slavery, colonization and the weak family units) required elaborate expalanation for me to confidently say what I said in the last two paragraphs.

On moving back, I think now is the time. I strongly believe so.

Thanx for stopping by.

WaleAdeniji said...

Omg!!! I wish every youth of Nigeria will have time and opportunity to read this and begin the process of change. Our fathers and fore-fathers have failed us and we cannot afford to fail the next generation and even the generations yet unborn. Only Nigerians could make Nigeria better for everyone of us. Thanks for this wonderful piece.

Mr C said...

Thanks Wale. Really appreciate your comment.