In Search of New Scapegoats, By Ifeanyi Uddin

My attention was drawn, last week, to the possibility that the American government may be behind the random acts of barbarity in increasingly large swathes of Northern Nigeria that have, especially with the most recent killings of 59 secondary school pupils, soured the nation’s mood. Apparently, if this new reading is to be believed, the Americans are tampering with our sovereignty in a bid to validate a report some years back by some security agency in the US to the effect that Nigeria might break up next year. Another version of this narrative cites concerns in the US that a more organised Nigeria might be inimical to US interests in the region as possible cause for the superpower’s scheming.

For evidence of the United States of America’s perfidious role in the escalation of our domestic insurgency, my interlocutors point at Boko Haram’s growing sophistication, and the ease with which the insurgents have hit soft targets across key states in the north. For good measure, I was informed further, as with every such salacious report these days that these revelations were contained in the nether reaches of Edward Snowden’s wiki leaks.

“I heard”. “I was told”. In other words, I wasn’t minded to cross check these facts. To tell the truth, conspiracy theorising usually ignores a priori questions, some of which I will try to pose here (if not answer outright). First, to the question of motive. The “world against us” leitmotif has been around for a while. Pravda, the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS), Progress Publishers, and associated news media related to the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and its satellite states regularly directed propaganda containing this “shocking revelation” at the then “Third World” countries.

In Nigeria’s case, the charge against the US is in want of a good leg to stand on. Since independence, not only has Nigerian and US interest in sub-Saharan Africa coincided, including the hounding of socialist activists by our governments in the sixties. Bar the Murtala Mohammed administration and its peevish response to Gerald Ford’s prompting, we have, on the whole, done the US’ bidding in the region.

Flip the case over, and it reads differently. In this new rendition, the US’ strategic concern with Nigeria is not just a regional matter. Instead, the American’s main gravamen is with the threat that a rising black African state poses to it. And to forestall the crystallisation of this threat, the US is committed to bringing Nigeria, as we know it, to an end by 2015.

How come this threat to US interests is not present in the example of a rising Brazil, South Korea, or even China? How come instead the US sees these other economies as potential markets, whose continuing demand for US goods and financial assets could help hold output growth in the US at sustainably high levels?

How dangerous can a democratic, prosperous black African country really be to the world as it is organised, today? If nothing at all, a Nigeria that manages to solve its development challenge in a way that takes as many of its nationals out of poverty as China did in the three decades after 1979, holds out the prospect that America’s black under-class may be presented with an example of peer success that helps them better integrate into the US economy, or emigrate.

I think, therefore, that this new theory about how much outsiders despise us, and want to see us fail serves a much more nuanced purpose. Across the continent, the main driver of poverty is inept and thieving rule by Africans. The famines, the droughts, the fighting that leads to internal displacement of large numbers of our compatriots, and spews malnourished refugees across international borders — these are but symptoms of how poorly we have managed (and continue to manage) our spaces.

Within this latter context, a different reading of “the world against us” theme presents itself. A pre-industrial, agrarian mindset has most of us blaming others for our afflictions. This was the stock in trade of the babalawo’s, bokaa’s, and dibia’s businesses. It is the mainstay of the new Pentecostal Christianity. With this difference: whereas with the former, chances were that the witches and wizards behind one’s predicaments were familiars; the new Christianity with its richer phrasing offers a much broader canvas — “principalities and powers”.

The point of all of these is that rarely is the African responsible for his actions. Always, he is the victim of the sinister machinations of detractors, and allied agents of negativity. So even when the Nigerian Army has proven so ill-equipped to tackle the menace of a loosely knit force of bandits, rather than look to examples of how other communities have addressed guerrilla movements, we blame the apparent competence of our adversary on the help they must be receiving from a more competent (and necessarily malevolent third party), rather than on our own poor organisation.

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