There is plenty of room at the top because very few people care to travel beyond the average route. And so most of us seem satisfied to remain within the confines of mediocrity.” ––Nnamdi Azikiwe
Sometime in April, a few days after the Nyanya bus park bomb attack that claimed the lives of over a hundred people, a Nigerian student from one of our polytechnics asked me: “How can I be expected to defend Nigeria’s democracy, when Nigeria’s democracy does not protect me?” Her question came at a time when the Federal Government was still largely silent on the abductions of the yet-to-be recovered Chibok girls – an occurrence that exposed the seeming-nonchalance of Nigeria’s executive branch to the plight of its people.
As a self-described ‘unalterable patriot’, I felt the pain of this young woman – who was most likely my age, and whose frustration at our country was not only revealed in her question, but was a reflection of the thoughts and feelings of many Nigerians from all walks of life.
When we attained our democracy in 1999, after the military years of 1983 to 1998, I remember watching on television the elation that spread through the streets of Nigeria like wildfire. The celebrations of the average man, the regular Abdulrahmans, Babafemis and Chimezies seemed to champion in a new dawn. Their happiness seemed to foretell a story that would begin with the end of the military dictatorship, and continue on with the forging of the strong institutions that would preserve our newfound democracy at the time.
However, fifteen years after the curtains were drawn on the Abacha years, the Nigeria of today cannot boast of having a federal government that puts Nigerians first.
Instead of having an executive branch of the federal government that seeks to attain strong institutions; maintain political stability by the establishment of meaningful precedents, and; secure the rights of the few over the many, we have a leadership that witch-hunts whistleblowers, implicates its critics, and protects the most corrupt officials – under the auspices of executive immunity and nepotism. This was not the Nigeria that we wanted. This was not the Nigeria that many of our brethren died for – and many of our people still die for.
This fragmentary version of Nigeria is not the Nigeria that Nnamdi Azikiwe had in mind, when he aspired for his countrymen and women to look beyond the unremarkable and take its seat amidst the greatest nations on earth when he said: “There is plenty of room at the top because very few people care to travel beyond the average route.” Azikiwe meant for us to be beyond-average and more than just ordinary.
This Nigeria remains half-baked, because as a nation forged from the unification of hundreds of ethnicities and languages, thousands of varied traditions and beliefs, and millions of powerful individuals – we are yet to truly define our own democracy. We are yet to also fully declare as a nation where we want to go from here.
We must find answers to the following question: as a country, what can we do to not only defend the freedoms bestowed on us by the 1999 Constitution, but to also protect ourselves from those that may wish to subvert our freedoms – at the ballot box, through governmental impunity, and in the multitude of ways that the liberties of everyday Nigerians are often subverted.
We have to become students – students of our present selves, and students of our history. By this I mean, we have to learn about who we are, and who we were – in order to best-decide who we wish to become and where we wish to go from here.
We have to look beyond our simple understandings of our own beliefs, and begin to recognize that if we are to have the democratically elected leadership that will bring about the long-lasting change that we so desperately crave, the individual or individuals that will represent that change, may not come from our corner of the country. He or she may also not speak our language, or share our religious and/or traditional beliefs. He or she may be drastically different from us – however to lead Nigerians, one must only be a Nigerian. As such, we must seek out and propel the best amongst us to the fore. We must be led by leaders who demonstrate to us through their actions, inspire us by their words, and unite us by focusing on our shared-experiences as Nigerians, not our unique religious, ethnic or regional differences.
However it may be – even though these individuals may be drastically unlike ourselves, we must look past the elementary similarities that we often wish to find in our leaders, and ask ourselves: “Will this person represent my interests?” “Will he or she be a worthy advocate on my behalf?”
We have travelled too far down this road to be stopped in our tracks by the undependable actions of a few fickle individuals – who attained their offices through good luck. We have suffered and sacrificed too much as a nation to not reap the benefits of our toils, and the fruits of our labours.
Therefore, as we commemorate our democracy over the next few days, and examine where we are in juxtaposition to where we are coming from – we must understand that we are supposed to have advanced much farther than this. And we can, and will advance much further, if we cease to ‘only-expect’ less, and begin to do more. Because it is our actions today that will defend our democracy. And it is only this democracy that can and will provide the long-lasting social security and stability that we need. Nothing else. What else more?
–– Olu Onemola writes from Abuja (Olu tweets @theOluOnemola)