Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. – Martin Luther King Jnr.
As a child in the 80s and 90s, I often heard family members and adults try to explain the Nigerian conundrum. They would often say helplessly, “God has blessed Nigeria with human and natural resources, but has cursed her with bad leaders!”
To these people, it was God’s fault that Nigeria was in a mess, after all didn’t He have the power to miraculously change the country? These sentiments were further encouraged by fatalistic or compromised religious leaders who told us to “leave it to God, He knows everything”. “Pray for your leaders, don’t rock the boat…etc” As a child I accepted this ridiculous view, but as an adult I think it is akin to encouraging a victim of domestic violence to endure her fate even if she might be killed.
Make no mistake about it, history shows that even developed countries like France, Britain, etc suffered at the hands of corrupt leaders who brutalised them. But an auspicious time in their history galvanised their resolve to say “enough is enough”!
Why do we, the Nigerian masses continue to accept all sorts of abuse from the ruling elite? Why are we so powerless and afraid of change?
The best way to enslave a people is to keep them ignorant of their rights and privileges. When Black slavery was abolished in America, some slaves in the South were unaware of their new status and continued working for their masters. In many ways, the Nigerian masses in a democratic setting are ignorant of their huge powers over the political elite. Simply put, we call the shots, not them! They are public servants, not lords. And their performance should be used to judge whether they deserve our votes. Unfortunately we have allowed a fatalistic view of religion or tribal affiliation to excuse our ignorance and irresponsibility. It is not God’s will for us to have a corrupt government or one that treats us as animals. It is our responsibility to understand that we deserve better and work for it.
An African leader once remarked, “Why should I feed these people? They will become strong and attack me!” This is the oldest form of control: deprive people of the basic necessities of life and they will be easy to manipulate. Stalin, the infamous Russian dictator demonstrated this concept in an experiment before his subordinate officers. He got a chicken and started plucking its feathers. The pitiful cries of the poor chicken were ignored by the brutal dictator until it was finally naked and shivering in the cold. Stalin then offered it few grains of corn, left it on the ground and walked away. You would think the chicken would run away from its abuser, but no. That desperate hungry and cold chicken hobbled after its abuser, desperate for more grains!
This my friends is why politicians and the elite get away with all manner of abuse in our country. Like victims of abuse, they know we will hobble after them, make excuses for them and even fight or kill for them because we are dependent on the leftover crumbs they throw at us or promise to give. They deprive us of security, employment, health, education, good roads, justice, etc and every now and then make a huge fanfare of drilling boreholes or constructing roads. Too brutalised and ignorant to think we deserve any better, we clap for them, sing their praises and act as though they were doing us a favour! Yet they earn more salaries than politicians in developed countries.
When it becomes obvious that the masses are no longer content to remain oppressed, the elite ruling class use their second most potent weapon, division along fault lines. It diverts the attention of the masses from their oppressors to their neighbours who are different. Christians vs Muslims, North vs South, rich vs poor, Tutsis vs Hutus, Sunni vs Shia… it’s a recurring tactic everywhere which discourages unity and splinters the masses into groups which can be easily exploited and controlled. It encourages the voters to align themselves with the devil they know (their brother) instead of the unknown angel (the outsider). Noisy ‘local champions’ compromised by greed are propped up from such groups and sent to influence their peers to support politicians not based on performance, but sentiments and blind loyalty.
This is not a tactic of the ruling class, but it serves them nicely. It is the suicidal strategy of the masses to bury their heads in the sand, hoping/praying everything works out well, without their input. This is often fuelled from fear of the uncertainty of their decision, so they sit on the fence. You hear them say things like, “there’s no need to vote, the winner has already been decided” or “ I don’t like any of the candidates”, etc. Behind this complacency is a satisfaction with the status quo. They might grumble about it, but inwardly they are not willing to make any changes because they fear the result might not be pleasant. And so they hold back, even though their future and that of their children is at stake.
Lagbaja’s song, “200 Million Mumu” and Fela’s song “Suffering and Smiling” capture the tendency of the masses to put up unnecessarily and for too long with their oppressive leaders. Our parents had no choice, they were forced to use religion to cope under brutal dictators, especially after experiencing a civil war, but you and I are lucky. We are educated, enlightened and exposed people who have been given the gift of choosing our leaders. Will we waste this gift by making mistakes based on tribal and religious sentiments or selling our votes for a plate of porridge?
We stand on the cusp of history as we elect a national leader on Saturday. Like our founding fathers, and other great Black men and women, we have to think of our children’s future much more than our current comfort. Martin Lurther King Jnr,’s dream for his little daughters propelled him to fight against segregation even though he was reasonably successful under the prevailing conditions. Our children deserve a Nigeria that will protect and nurture them regardless of their economic status, tribe or religion. Only a visionary and courageous leader who cares about the masses will make that happen. We cannot afford to fail them. Choose wisely so that posterity will appreciate your courage to change the status quo. I’ll end this article by quoting the great Chinua Achebe who said, “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.”
Yes leaders matter, and you can determine the next ones based on their integrity and performance.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Mimagephotography