Given the history of the parts, was Nigeria right to have adopted democracy the way Whitehall or White House practise it?
What a weekend for me after this brilliantly hilarious piece! Let me quote Pius Adesanmi’s praise for Excuse Me!, by Victor Ehikhamenor: “It is tough to gather Nigeria’s sorrows, ugliness, warts as well as beauty and mould them into prose that makes one laugh and learn at thesame time.” Adesanmi has achieved the same in his article “Still onSpectocracy.”
Yes, my ribs ached. I took Panadol to relieve them. Then what? Has he told me why the Nigerian problem is so intractable? No; and like Victor Ehikhamenor, he has made me laugh only to cry after the migraine called Nigeria knocked to remind me that I live in her geographic space. How quickly she does that through PHCN or other, as close and as common as the air around us! I respect these wonderful people and their gifts of the pen. However, at my age I have heard and read more than enough. Someone has to start telling me, the world and its cyberspace, what Nigeria needs to do to come out of the morass dangerously close to her lower lip.
The space now called Nigeria has many ethnic nations. Many of them have lived where they are today for thousands of years before the British came to these shores. They ruled themselves and survived. How did they do it? Some of them interacted with Europeans and benefited by it. A peep into their histories will show that they evolved at their own pace. The British came, subjugated them and changed their lives to suit British life. The British fought a war in Edo land and the defeated people had no choice, but to do the will of the conqueror.
Britain wanted out, but did not go to the people of Edo land to grant them their freedom. As it happened with the Edo, so it was with other ethnic nations. Rather, the British granted the “nation” she created in 1914, independence. However, the new nation has within her the many ethnic nations the British colonised at different times during her exploits here. Ignoring individual ethnic groups to grant independence to the whole was discourteous to the individual ethnics, but it was not necessarily a tragedy until our leaders, at independence, rubbed in the rudeness. It was a bad thing. Given the history of the parts, was Nigeria right to have adopted democracy the way Whitehall or White House practise it? Should she have swept under the carpet indigenous systems the peoples understood and which ruled them before the British came?
Henry A Kissinger said in his foreword to Lee Kuan Yew’s book From Third World to First: “It is often overlooked that the institutions of the West did not spring full-blown from the brow of contemporaries but evolved over centuries which shaped frontiers and defined legitimacy, constitutional provisions, and basic values.” I want to quote more of what he said: “The institutions of the West developed gradually while those of most new states were put into place in elaborated form immediately. In the West, a civil society evolved side-by-side with the maturation of the modern State. This made possible the growth of representative institutions, which confined state’s power to those matters which society could not deal with by its own arrangements. Political conflicts were moderated by overriding purposes.”
White House and Whitehall rely on enlightened societies for the model of democracy they practise. Those societies ensure changes based on understanding of issues. In Nigeria, force, oiled by money and ethnicity, has replaced enlightenment since independence and we will have to wait centuries if we are to have their type of societies. The question is, will this country survive till that time? I think Boko Haram would say NO! What do we do?
Let us listen to the father of the Singapore nation, Lee Kuan Yew. He thought Korea adopted a political system unsuited to its history and the culture of her people. Kim Dae Jung, an advocate of the US and leader of the Korean opposition, disagreed in an article in Foreign Affairs. Farida Zakaria, the editor, asked Lee to reply and he said: “The difference in our views cannot be resolved by argument. It will be settled by history by the way events will develop in the next fifty years. It takes more than one generation for political, economic, social and cultural implications of policies to work themselves out. It is a process of attrition, of social Darwinism.” We have been independent for fifty-two years. We have perfected everything Adesanmi sharply defined in his article. If we believe Lee Kuan Yew, we should know we have failed. It is not just about the waywardness and the chicanery of a few people.
Every Nigerian ethnic nationality I know rates the family above the individual, although each respects the individual achiever. Whitehall and White House believe in the individual, not in the family. Their political systems draw their strengths from the individuals of their societies. There is a cultural chasm that makes it impossible for that to work here. The way Edo system worked hundreds of years ago is probably what experts call monarchy. However, it was one where the Oba and his ekhaemwen watched the people and the people watched the Oba and the rulers. Might there be a hybrid of systems used here that can solve our problems? Or can we have a confederation? I am sure of one thing. If the Pre-British Edo had to choose someone to represent her anywhere, many of those who now represent her in Abuja from some parts of that land, stand no chance.
Edo was a great nation steeped in honour and cultural values. How much has these times eroded the carnelian walls, which define those values? We will never know until we try. And try we must, if Nigeria must grow to be a nation instead
of a treasure-house for vandals.
Omorodion S Uwaifo, 80, is a distinguished statesman and intellectual; Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers; and winner, 2002 Presidential Merit Award. He was also winner of the NLNG Prize for literature in 2004.