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The Spirit of Lagos that Nigeria needs

The Spirit of Lagos that Nigeria needs
January 28
00:00 2018
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You know elections are close when politicians begin to confess their love for Nigeria. Suddenly strange bedfellows are walking side-by-side, arms locked, lovey-dovey. Arch rivals and sworn enemies are dining and planning and plotting and plotting and planning. Politicians who have contributed immensely to the underdevelopment of Nigeria begin to tell us exactly what we want to hear: that the country is drifting and they have arrived to rescue us. They become our new messiahs, the patriots who love Nigeria like Jesus loves his church. I bear witness that Nigerian politicians are very good at winning power. Pity, they don’t know how to use it for Nigeria’s progress.

I don’t really care what the politicians do or say. They are politicians and must politick. A footballer must play football. You cannot begrudge a fish for swimming or a dog for barking. The headache, for me, is our gullibility. It is so easy to sway Nigerians. We are too cheap. Our memories are so tiny and so short. Yesterday means nothing to us. You will see politicians that ruined us — politicians that we cursed and stoned just moments ago — come back to seduce us and, pronto, we are back in bed with them. We hail them as the new heroes, the saviours of our democracy. Don’t they just love our gullibility! We fall too easily for their gimmicks. It happens all the time. It works all the time.

In the first part of this “new mindset” series, I wrote on “The President Nigeria Badly Needs” (January 7, 2018). I officially announced my resignation from the committee of those celebrating false dawns and getting excited over new rhetoric and new rhyme anytime a new election is approaching. I have seen it all. I am done. As I said in my resignation letter, I am no longer excited by the permutations we do every four years. My personal resolve, after experiencing so many heartbreaks, is that I will, in my little corner, continue to constructively engage with whoever holds power — and insist they use it for Nigeria’s progress.

A senior colleague asked me: “Simon, I hope you are not saying you won’t vote again?” No, sir; that is not my point. But, then, I think we even overrate the voter. People can vote for the best of candidates who will turn out to be disasters in office. We seem to assume that if we vote on the basis of merit, howsoever defined, then our problem is about to be solved. I used to say that nonsense. But I have since realised that it is one thing to vote for candidates according to your conscience or best judgment, but it is another thing for the candidates to do the right thing in office. It is beyond us. You can choose to vote them out, vote in new ones and still get similar results.

I’ve been deceived too many times. People campaign passionately about change or transformation or whatever and hoodwink us to buy into their rhetoric. They win big mandates and begin to misrule once they get the job. Let’s stop fooling around: the voter has no way of knowing who is going to perform or fail in office. I have seen underrated candidates do well when elected — and highly rated ones fumble. I have seen illiterates, semi-literates, professors, medical doctors, engineers, journalists, accountants, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, minority, Muslims and Christians hold public office, and I can hardly say the conduct of one is much better than that of the other.

So what? Shall we then fold our arms and do nothing? Shall we say we will no longer vote because we have been deceived and jilted by even the best? God forbid. But I am trying to make a point: if we have been doing something the same way for decades and the results are pretty much the same, shall we continue in it and expect progress to abound? Every four years, we get excited when we hear promises. In the end, we still import fuel, power remains on and off, the rich are still sending their children to private schools or abroad, the roads are still without form and void, kidnappers are still having a ball, insecurity lingers and cholera persists. Something is wrong. We need a rethink.

This is where the “Spirit of Lagos” comes to mind. Some years ago, the campaign was launched to promote some core values among Lagosians in the direction of attitudinal change, to engineer what was called a “new thinking in Lagos”. The campaign sought to promote four cardinal values: social justice, civic responsibility, citizenship and neighbourliness. There were conversations on radio and social media around these values. There was a series of “good citizenship” campaign, community engagement, “catch them young” contests, “do the right thing” re-orientation and the students’ challenge that encouraged conception of competitive projects and ideas.

The last I heard about this laudable project was the Citizens’ Day award that was held in May 2015 to celebrate citizens who had positively impacted on their communities. We were told it would continue, but I doubt it did. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, who has performed quite impressively in office, has to revisit this campaign. It is a wonderful idea that must not die. I understand it was the original idea of the TBWA Consortium, executed in partnership with the state government under Governor Babatunde Fashola. The whole idea is “change your thinking”. As a man thinks in his heart, so he is. If you cannot change the way you think, you cannot change the way you act.

Although it was targeted at the general citizenry, in truth our leaders emerge from among the citizens. A leader with a backward mindset is a danger to the society. We must “recruit” everyone. In my first article, I argued that the leaders Nigeria needs are those who have a good mental picture of what the society should look like. It is called visioning, which I described as the “starting point”. No matter how good citizens are, no matter how sincere voters are, no matter the good intentions of leaders, we are headed in no direction if there is no vision of society. It is vision that drives action and passion. Leading without a vision is like driving without a destination.

Taking it further today, I will argue that Nigerians must also develop a new mindset if Nigeria is ever going to progress. The “Spirit of Lagos” focused on the shared history of Lagosians: what makes it home to everybody in spite of our differences. It harped on civic responsibility and good neighbourliness: how to look out for one another, solve problems together and think as an intimate community. It aimed to promote “new thinking”. It was NOT political. I am, therefore, suggesting a “Spirit of Nigeria” movement that will promote a new thinking in Nigeria. It will NOT be political. It will NOT be about ethnic and religious affiliations. It will be purely about a shared vision of Nigeria.

Some movements are springing up ahead of the 2019 elections. Things like this do not last because, from experience, they are motivated by the fleeting quest for political power and appointments. They sell their rhetoric to us, we buy it, renew our hope and vote for them. The moment they get what they want, they disappear into the system and normal service resumes. So Nigeria remains the same. I have seen it all. It is the same old mindset at work. To get a different outcome, we must start thinking differently. The idea of the “Spirit of Nigeria” is to construct a new Nigeria, but we cannot build a new Nigeria with old mindsets shaped by hate, prejudice, greed and ambition.

It is catastrophic that many leaders and citizens see themselves first and foremost as defenders of their faith and champions of their ethnic identities. These old mindsets have to give way to the “Spirit of Nigeria”. Nigeria is so sharply divided today along ethnic and religious lines largely because we have leaders who cannot see beyond their nose, leaders who cannot be bothered about the consequences of their action and inaction — and citizens who are not any different. The saddest thing is that even the young generation has been conscripted into the destructive frame of mind filled with bile and bitterness on the basis of religion and ethnicity.

We badly need a new crop of Nigerians — leaders and citizens — who will begin to consciously make Nigeria their primary constituency. It is a mindset issue. We need leaders and citizens with a mindset that treats nationhood problems, such as the farmers/herders clashes, as challenges that have to be confronted and resolved constructively. Those working very hard behind the scenes to set Nigeria on fire — by playing up one part against the other, by stoking hate through the circulation of fake news on social media to poison our minds against one another — have to be resisted with the “Spirit of Nigeria” henceforth. “New Nigerians” must stop getting excited by these raw primordial emotions.

By the way, I am not proposing a new association (before somebody registers “Spirit of Nigeria Movement” and starts giving “best governor” awards in exchange for a mess of pottage). I am just challenging our mindsets as individuals who want to see Nigeria prosper. We need to “change our thinking”. That is what should ultimately shape the political choices of citizens and the performance of leaders. We need to stop getting carried away by the seasonal “messiah” politicking. Change will not come in one day, but if we don’t change our thinking, we will never change Nigeria. I’m convinced there is a “Spirit of Nigeria” in us waiting to be tapped.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

BLAST FROM THE PAST

I must confess I was shocked that an article I wrote three years ago, “Obasanjo as Nigeria’s Moral Compass” (January 18, 2015), has resurfaced and gone viral following the former president’s blistering “special press statement”. I was more shocked that those who loved the article then now hate it, and those who hated it then now love it. The Buhari camp told me in 2015 I should forget the messenger and focus on the message; Jonathan’s supporters are now telling me in 2018 to forget the messenger and focus on the message. But truth is constant, no matter whose ox is gored. I am amused watching proceedings from my balcony, cuddling my pack of popcorn. Action!

THE CAMPAIGNERS

There was a time in Nigeria when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would call politicians to order for jumping the gun in electioneering. Not any longer. For instance, supporters of President Buhari have embarked on an open campaign very much ahead of time. Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, minister of communication who wants to be governor of Oyo state, has even opened a “Buhari” office in Ibadan and was about to start sharing “Buhari 2019” fez caps at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday when he was stopped. This opportunistic political behaviour was popularised under Gen. Sani Abacha, I think, and it has now become a national culture. Sycophancy.

FARMER VS HERDSMAN

Amid the heat in the country caused by the herders/farmers crisis, and the stoking of ethno-religious tension by those playing snooker with the delicate state of the Nigerian union, it is gratifying that some Nigerians still find the time and space to offer us wit and wisdom to calm the tempers. When Ms Ayo Obe said Cain was a farmer and Abel was a herdsman to illustrate the age-old conflict between the world’s oldest professions, I had a good laugh as well as a great insight into this eternal rivalry. But someone completely killed it when he wrote: “Obasanjo is a farmer, Buhari is a herdsman, so the battle line has been drawn.” Smart!

SUDDEN DEATHS

Tragedy visited the house of football and Lagos state government on Thursday when Mr. Deji Tinubu, special adviser to the governor, died during a recreational five-a-aside match. He reportedly screamed, grabbed his chest and collapsed. When I was growing up in the village, I would have called it “apepa” (killed by “remote control”) out of ignorance but today, with the benefit of education, I would say it was apparently a heart attack. One major cause, doctors say, is a blood clot that suddenly blocks an artery. Doctors often recommend an aspirin a day for those above 40 or those managing high blood pressure. DT’s sudden death is so, so painful. What a loss. Devastating.

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1 Comment

  1. Naija Watchman
    Naija Watchman January 28, 12:32

    In speech after speech This has been the core message of Buhari and Osinbajo. In fact the VP labelled it a “New tribe” of Nigerians. However the ethno religious hatred has drowned this call.
    The government even came up with “change begins with me” people like dele momodu shot it down. The government itself needs mindset change because it is madethe up of Nigerians.I hope and pray this new Spirit of Nigeria movement catches on.

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