Some people have been asking me whether I will be running – again – for the post of Nigeria’s president in 2023. In fact, the moment the results of our 2019 elections were called, young Nigerians on Twitter started asking when I and other young-ish candidates will start coming together. Some sounded very arrogant or quarrelsome, like one owed them something, telling me not to start disturbing them by 2022. It’s all very interesting. First, where will one find money to burn every four years on politics, even as service to Nigeria? And what will be one’s ultimate aim? I ran in 2019 to learn; about Nigeria, about politics, about life. I also ran because I needed to mainstream some of my ideas about how this country could start moving forward. I knew that whether I was in or out of politics, those ideas will continue to matter and my voice will be enhanced. I ran because of the debates, some of which were deliberate muzzled and truncated by the powers-that-be and their enablers. I ran because politics is the most legitimate and potent way of engaging the system and airing one’s grievances – by vying for office.
In 2023 I believe the dynamics will be quite different. Already, some musketeers are stirring, and they all look middle-aged (El-Rufai, Fayemi, Tambuwal, Peter Obi, Moghalu). I am hoping that Nigeria’s restless youths will step up and seize the baton at whatever level the constitution enables them to. The #EndSARS protests has somewhat softened the ground, as can be seen in the comments and reactions of many powerful people in our society, who became afraid of the protests and aftermath, and remain afraid. This may be the time to bend the iron while it’s hot. My advice – based on my little experience – is for as many young people to try. He who dares, wins. Failure is also part of success, but it gives the trier, a much more elevated platform to engage with Nigeria. In the course of the recent protests, I had cause to take on a certain gentleman who suggested that what his group wanted was a resignation of the government and the emplacement of what he called ‘Provisional Peoples Council’. I told him that suggestion, and the name too, sounded militaristic. In fact, you will find such in places like Libya today. I realized that because I ran, I seem to have more connection with and ownership of Nigeria, and a need to protect this democracy, than most people. If we truncate it, everyone will be set back several decades. That anyone will even think of truncation is beyond imagination. We suffered 30 years under the military, remember?
Meanwhile as I prepared to write this article, I made a detour to read an article shared on a mutual WhatsApp platform by Abubakar Suleiman, MD of Sterling Bank. The article, titled “Can History Predict the Future?” centered around the works and thoughts of Professor Peter Turchin of University of Connecticut. He believes that there will be more strife in many countries going forward, but for a curious reason which his mathematical model throws up: an over-production of elites. He draws example from places like Saudi Arabia, where more princes are being born than there are positions for them to occupy, or roles for them to play. This has led to recent turbulences among the royalty there. In the US, he says that Harvard degrees, and wealth (especially among whites) are creating the kind of Saudi prince situation; a sense of entitlement to roles in society (and of course, more money), than there is available. This leads to a situation where ‘princes’ will try and topple princes and not wait for their turns. These are called counter-elites. Hear Turchin;
“Elite overproduction creates counter-elites, and counter-elites look for allies among the commoners. If commoners’ living standards slip—not relative to the elites, but relative to what they had before—they accept the overtures of the counter-elites and start oiling the axles of their tumbrels. Commoners’ lives grow worse, and the few who try to pull themselves onto the elite lifeboat are pushed back into the water by those already aboard. The final trigger of impending collapse… tends to be state insolvency. At some point rising insecurity becomes expensive. The elites have to pacify unhappy citizens with handouts and freebies – and when these run out, they have to police dissent and oppress people. Eventually the state exhausts all short-term solutions, and what was heretofore a coherent civilization disintegrates”.
I think the above scenario bears much similarity with, and examples for Nigeria. We have a nation that is almost bankrupt. We have seen governments handing out freebies too, trying to placate the poor. The difference here is that we have so many people living in food poverty, therefore igniting a conflagration is quite easy. Ours is one of the most unequal societies on earth, and we have created our own counter-elites, while way too many people are living in mind-bending generational poverty. This was evident with the #EndSARS protest. I therefore believe we need to think about some facts before the second ENDSARS protest comes up. We hear the next one will be ‘bloody’, that it will be the first one raised to the power of 10. Middle class people say this often. Even very comfortable people too. I don’t know what the very poor and voiceless are thinking but a lot needs to be unpacked else we shall all be in trouble. We cannot afford to keep burning down our cities from time to time, can we?
Back to the phenomenon of counter-elitism. I looked at the list of those being sued by Lawyer Kenechukwu Okoye. Apart from a slew of musicians (mostly self-made), who needed to be part of the protests as people were not in the mood for album launches at that point, the remaining were very posh people. Almost all the ladies in the list were trained in expensive universities in America and the United Kingdom. Most had good jobs with tech companies and Fintechs. A number of them were top executives and CEOs. When people like Ire Aderinokun (daughter of a co-founder of GTBank and ex-Google Executive), joins a protest or powers it via social media, it cannot be because of poverty. Certainly it could be because of police brutality or inequality in general. There may thus be a need to discombobulate causes, so that clear causes don’t get hijacked by amorphous ones. For if it was about poverty, it will be important to ask many of the very privileged sons and daughters of who-is-who in Nigeria who powered the protest, what they had given back to the poorest in our society as a show of contrition. Yes, we need to see real sacrifice especially to our poorest folk, not only neat scholarships for computer programmers. Another lady (also sued) was stopped from traveling to Maldives for her birthday by Nigerian Immigration Services, soon after the protests. I learnt she was traveling on a business class ticket which someone showed cost about N4.5million. We even had Debola Williams, whose company was responsible for the packaging of Buhari in 2015 (all those suits and Yoruba/Igbo traditional attires, you get). I learnt they made loads of money. One of the chief protagonists, one Faqriyyah, even worked in VP Osinbajo’s office till 2018. At that level, perhaps what we have are counter-elites, angry for many reasons and willing and able for the first time, to express themselves. ENDSARS was the platform. But what happens after ENDSARS, is a different ballgame. Paradoxically, quite a number of the supporters of the protests – including some who were out on the streets – lost businesses, cars, houses and other properties to the other unsolicited folks that took things over nationwide. I am sure that was not the plan.
So let us think about these issues:
1. How do we separate causes and treat them in proper manners, one distinct from the other? I mean how do we deal with the issue of SARS or police brutality as different from mass poverty and misgovernance, so that we are focused and result-oriented?
2. How do we ensure that protests do not go on forever, but we retain the culture of protest? If a protest does not have a destination, and drags the nation along with it, then the nation will not have a destination and it will be grief for all.
3. How do we ensure that #EndSARS actually translates into a better deal for, and from the Police? How about they name these special forces, something like Police Tactical Service (PTS), a name that shows that they are service-providers and helpers to the public? Should anti-kidnapping and anti-cultism wings not be collapsed into the PTS? Why is government still training SWAT when the people say they don’t want negative names? Should the youths not have been more strategic by being present as a new police tactical service is being born – influencing or even insisting on the choice of uniforms, bodycams, kind of cars, modus operandi and the rights available for redress to citizens?
4. Are we facing a case of counter-elitism from our privileged youths? Is it a temporary phase of being angry with society or is it something permanent? Are our youths blindsided by inexperience and innocence? When youths say ‘Nigeria is rubbish!’ do they remember that it is pretty tough to live in most countries? Do they remember their friends who work so hard in foreign countries, just to get by? Do they remember that even in Western nations everybody struggles for their own survival; that parents kick out their children at 18 years? Nigeria is certainly behind on too many issues but do our youths understand and appreciate that even the opportunity to sort out the mess that is Nigeria is a rare privilege that must be seized at the nearest opportunity?
5. Have we Nigerians in general broadened our minds enough? I realized from interactions that some of the youths who wanted #EndBUHARI did not think of what next if their aims were achieved. When I asked if they wanted Osinbajo instead, they said No! When I said perhaps they want Ahmed Lawan, Senate President to take over, they were alarmed. Then the discussion drifted to how do we go forward if the entire government resigns. Also, most Nigerians who think we should #EndNIGERIA because they say it was established on fraud and injustice, seem not to know that every country is established on fraud and injustice for at least a minority within that country. Every nation on earth was established by internal or external oppressors. QED. It is what we make of our nation that matters. That is why the Americans talk of having ‘a more perfect union’. If a union is perfect, how can it become ‘more perfect’? The idea is to be positive about your nation.
6. How do we ensure we do not go into a vicious cycle of destruction that will make even the lives of our youths who have businesses hell, or render those with work jobless? How do we ensure we don’t capitulate to the tyranny of poverty and enter into spiraling decline that will make us rue our fate and long for where we are today? A lady called me from her company a few days back asking if I was interested in buying properties in Lekki. In my head I was like ‘you can’t be serious! The same Lekki where EndSARS-2 is about to happen!’. Will we not see mass divestments from Nigeria at the end of the day? If we don’t separate causes and protests lead to riots, looting, arson, robberies, breakdown of law and order, murders etc, will we not have shot ourselves in the foot? Is there a point at which we call a halt in these matters?
7. Same goes for when protests go on and on and become susceptible to hijacks. There are multiple players in every society. In the ENDSARS campaign, in no time we heard of #EndBuhari, #EndNigeria. The LGBTQ folks too tried to mainstream their own issues with society. What if Polygamists also joined? Will LGBTQs be okay with it? What if Paedophiles showed up too? For each and every one of us, there are things we do not think is right. We don’t have to take cues from Western countries. We have our own minds to know what is good for our societies. I believe protests should not lump everything together and go on forever, while not even banking any gains.
8. For those stoking the poor and encouraging anarchy, do you know that if we hand the reins of society to the poorest – such as the ones that wantonly destroyed cities thereby setting everybody back – even the man with a single shirt and a pair of shoes will be toast? The poor needs to be assisted, and constructively lifted from poverty (like they did in China, and lately, India) not further angered. The psychology of the poor also needs to be considered and helped. I know people who live in slums but spend money on parties like there is no tomorrow. Someone wrote about when he tried to organize a road to be paved in his area and some men appeared, claiming to be Chairman and Vice Chairman of the area. They insisted that he cannot pave the road until they are settled. It was either he handed the funds to them, ‘settle’ them, or forget it. People like this would rather live in poverty and underdevelopment. By fanning their embers, eulogizing their angers, and hypocritically hoping for the day they will wise up, we are not helping anybody who is struggling through life. We are only instituting the tyranny of poverty. I recall feeling very angry when the Goodluck Jonathan government – in trying to push fuel subsidy removal – did adverts on TV saying to poor people ‘It is your oga that enjoys the subsidy, not you… It is him that owns 2 or 4 cars’. I said then that the advert was cheap and insensitive, and will anger people’s drivers, stewards, cooks and so on, to organize kidnaps, robberies, murder and all sorts. I believe we have to be sensitive ourselves today.
9. What do we do about hypocrisy? I learnt of oil moguls who may not be making as much money as they were, joining the protests or giving support. I saw pastors who took breaks from flying around in their private jets to lecture Nigerians about inequality. Are we really ready to change or are we just angry at a particular government? I know that the performance of this government has been dismal, but should we institute a vicious cycle of arson and destruction on ourselves, and destroy institutions for that reason? Should we bring down the roofs on our heads because of Buhari?
10. What do we do about leadership and style for subsequent protests? Should they have leaders? When protests have leaders, they are easy to dissipate. Leaders can be targeted, eliminated, bribed, threatened, compromised. But such protests are harder to hijack and usually stay focused. When there are no leaders, the protest will become rowdy, unruly, and directionless, even though it may sustain, and go viral – whether or not the participants know what the protest is all about. Every time there is free food and good music the protest grounds will be full.
11. On the matter of style, should such protests not also be mindful of other members of the public who may not want to join the protest? If a protest closes roads to ambulances and other emergencies, or even to simple citizens trying to find their ways home after a hectic day at work, are the protesters also not as tyrannical and oppressive as those they are protesting against? Does the argument of ‘you have since been suffering, suffer a little bit more in our hands’, hold water? Why were people avoiding anywhere the EndSARS demonstrators were, rather than gravitate towards them.? When will we start being equitable, mindful and respectful in the way we interact with each other in Nigeria?
12. If the youths want to have a stab at governance – because sometimes when you complain too much about something, you find out you just have to do it yourself – do they join the old parties or form new ones? Or do they do both? The danger in old parties is that they are so ingrained in their old, corrupt and shady ways, you may join them and become them. But you stand a higher chance of winning if you could get near being nominated. New parties often retain their innocence – if the founders are honest and innocent themselves – but winning is hard because of funds, reach and visibility. We still have more than 80% of our people being poor and so easy to sway by the old politicians anyway. Great challenge for the youths.
13. Protesters in plush areas like Lekki, Allen Avenue and Alausa should note that the hordes of people who showed up later – the looters and arsonists – are a totally different species. If such people accost genuine protesters in dark corners, they will feast on them. However, these are the people who vote for old politicians for just N2,000 or less. The number of genuine #EndSARS protesters is therefore infinitesimal compared with these folks. If you want to make an impact in politics by now you have to have a strategy to reach out to these people – especially by touching their lives positively. Sometimes they just need food to eat for the day.
14. Anyone who is really in a hurry should have started by now planning and working towards 2023. Again our best option is politics. The alternative is anarchy. I will explain below from a historical perspective. We have about 830 days to the next elections. Barely 27 months.
15. How come many youths are not contrite about the number of police guns looted and on the streets? We hear crime rate has risen but many people I have seen on social media dismiss it because it isn’t yet their turn to grief. But what goes around, comes around. Why are the youths not seeing themselves as leaders already rather than mere protesters? This country is yours to run and you must be concerned that thousands of convicted criminals were set free while police stations were raided and hundreds of machine guns looted. Who do you think will come visiting this country for leisure anytime soon? Even Nigerian Diasporans – many of whom also supported and encouraged and funded the protests – will not be willing to come home anytime soon. Am I right?
So, I’ve written some stuff here that will provoke some people. Before anyone asks what I’ve done to give me the gumption to try and lecture others, let me say I try my best. When COVID lockdown started and knowing many people were not prepared for it, I shared the little I had to friends and random strangers on Facebook. After my campaigns, I started 3 NGOs; one of them gathers used books from children of the privileged and we take them to poor, village and inner city public schools, where millions of children have no books, old or now. We supplement with exercise books and other writing materials. Another of my NGOs focuses on the environment, and the third focuses on ideas around tertiary education and how our youths can be immediately useful to society. Let each one of us try their best. Now is the time to give, not only to protest. And no billionaire or corrupt multimillionaire who has gamed the system should think they can hide under protests to whitewash their dirty image. We know who is what in this country. And history matters.
So, I see trouble ahead for whoever will inherit the governance of this country. It is not a walk in the park. Many who aspire do so for the photo opportunity, or just to have their names written down as big men. They mostly have no plans for Nigeria. I shudder at the enormity of Nigeria’s problems. I wrote recently that Nigeria should be like Japan, where leaders resign so frequently because of the stress of office. With ENDSARS, the youths have upped the ante even for themselves. I see that now, the youths shout down even the best initiatives from their leaders, and take delight to drag and destroy people on Twitter. It cannot be fun leading this country again for as far as the eyes can see. Trust – at least some of it – is very important in the progress of nations. If the theory of Elite Overproduction is true, I believe that an imaginative and visionary leadership could solve the problem. Like I have always insisted on this page, Nigeria still does not have a proper public sector focused on public goods. We therefore have a big absorptive capacity for the new elites we are creating, if the idea is about service. Buhari cannot understand what I am talking about. But Nigerians, young and old, must however reexamine their motivations. Like Gandhi once said, there will always be enough for our needs, but never enough for our greed. Nigeria can create millions of roles for our masses in education, security, environment, mass mobilization and reorientation, health sector, and so on, and give these new elites leadership roles there. We have a nation to build, almost from the scratch.
SOCIOPSYCHOLOGY OF COLONISATION
Part of what we need to think about is historical. How come more and more, no leader is ever good in Nigeria? Are leaders not chosen from among followers? Many of those agitating today will find themselves in leadership positions tomorrow but may have instituted a culture of constant heckling, distrust, ‘dragging’, or reputation attacks on Twitter, or even outright fabrications against whoever is in government. The youths may reap this legacy, except they start course-correction at some deliberate point in time. Social Media is a double-edged sword. It cuts both ways. I think we now have a very negative relationship between the leaders and the led in Nigeria, such that even well-intentioned leaders often get discouraged. Should followers be watchdogs, or bloodhounds? That is a question we ask about the auditor in accounting. Nigerian youths should see themselves as leaders already and always protect the country and her future.
Also, our youths understand that going forward the only leadership that may somehow work will be very austere i.e. if you want to serve government, bring your own car. The same minimum wage that some youths have recommended for people in government may be their lot as leadership gets to their turn. So, the youths must get their facts very right. A life of luxury, which many of the privileged ones are already used to, is not compatible with the kind of leadership Nigeria needs going forward. Again, since all of us Nigerians are cut from the same cloth, it will be very interesting to see how leadership outcomes will be different in this country when today’s youths take over the reins. My fear is that no leader is good in our books, and this is almost a universal problem. Rawlings just died. It was until I went to Ghana that I realized he is not as loved as he is in Nigeria. Governor Zulum risks his life in the fight against Boko Haram but many dismiss him still. I used to think M.K. Gandhi was a hero in India until my Indian neighbor said he was a bum! The risk is that if future leaders become ascetic, deny themselves of even food to get this country going, it will be very hurtful for them to hear people dismissing them and diminishing their sacrifices. We may thus end up recycling the worst amongst us who don’t mind the insults as they continue to loot. Now is the time to think about that.
Part of the problem of leadership in Nigeria can be traced to the colonial legacy too. So here we were in our villages and towns, feeling ghetto-fabulous and things and minding our own businesses. Then the white man showed up. At best we were used to the Kabiyesi culture and in other instances, fiercely independent of one another. Every man was judged by the size of his family and farm. The white man introduced currency and his own financial and social systems. Today, some of the dislocations we see in society is because we sometimes want to run today’s systems as if colonialism and slavery never happened. And this cognitive dissonance happens among the old and young in Nigeria. We have it ingrained in our heads somehow that we are princes and princesses. We want to throw birthdays and wedding parties and spend millions of Naira where a British, European or American youth will take his friends out and get everyone to pay their own fare. We saw one short clip on WhatsApp of Donald Trump counting a few bucks from his pocket. Here, our leaders – and even rich youths – don’t even spend our own currency. Can you see the difference? That may be why the adults get into political office and start to feel like kings. They want mansions everywhere and dozens of cars in their convoys. Senators and congressmen in Washington DC sleep in their offices for not being able to afford a second mortgage or rent in the DC area, but a Nigerian senator, even a local government chairman, can go to DC and buy a mansion, cash down. Are we ready to change? Yes, youths, are YOU ready to change? I recall asking this question of the candidate from Delta State in one Reality TV show with a Leadership theme wherein I was called in to speak by Isaac Balami some years back. The burly chap looked hard at me and said “oga, let me not deceive you, if I get there I will not reduce anything o. I will have my cars and my mansions…”. I was flabbergasted.
A TURBULENT FUTURE – STORM BEFORE A CALM?
So, it may just be that Nigeria is just starting her turbulent trajectory of mistrust, distrust, upheavals, protests. Maybe another couple of civil wars until our brains reset and whoever is left will pick up the pieces and use lessons learnt to run the country. Maybe we will split into several countries. Maybe Nigeria is too large for our mental capabilities to cope with. Who knows? Why am I worried? I can see that the space is not given to good thinking, just noise. It is noisemakers, mavericks and sometimes psychotic people who get the platforms. It is users, hypocrites, tribalists, bigots of all kinds, and chancers that our society loves… and those guys can only run a country into permanent crisis. It is exasperating.
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