American ideal vs Nigerian dream
For the umpteenth time, agents or representatives of the United States of America have continued to shun Nigeria. The act, this time, was carried out by the highest personality in America of today, President Barack Obama.
The American president has just concluded his three-nation African tour without Nigeria. He was in Senegal (West Africa) Tanzania (East Africa) and South Africa (Southern Africa).
With this geographical spread, he covered the three major blocs of Africa that are truly representative of the continent. As is usually the case, Nigerians expected that their country should be one of the places Obama should visit. They do not understand why Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with the highest concentration of the black race, should be left out in African affairs.
They see this as an aberration, indeed a neglect of the pride of Africa and the land that once held aloft a foreign policy that has Africa as its centrepiece. This self-flagellation on the part of Nigeria has always propelled it to step forward whenever and wherever Africa is to be counted.
This is regardless of its poor showing in a number of indices that should confer respectability and prestige on a people and their country. It was this expectation that goaded Nigeria on when Hillary Clinton as America’s Secretary of State in August 2012 undertook a tour of six African countries, namely, South Sudan, Uganda, Senegal, Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa.
Then, as is the case now, Nigeria raised eyebrows over its omission. It took a last-minute diplomatic manoeuvre for Clinton to stop by in Nigeria for a few hours. Even at that, she did not say anything that could left the spirit of Nigerians. Her remarks on the scourge of terrorism in Nigeria were evasive and non-committal. In the end, her presence amounted to nothing. On the contrary, her message to the Sudanese and the Senegalese, for instance, was encouraging.
While in South Sudan, she brokered peace between the young African country and its warring neighbour, Sudan, on oil, security and citizenship matters. In Senegal, she assured President Macky Sall that America would help the sustenance of the country’s resilient democratic institutions. This time around, Obama’s African tour and the refusal to visit Nigeria revolve around familiar reasons.
While Nigeria was protesting its exclusion from the tour, the Public Affairs Section of the United States Consulate in Nigeria was quick to point out that Obama was only interested in visiting African countries with strong democratic institutions and standing. The overall objective of the visit, America said, was to support strong democratic institutions with a view to consolidating democracy in those countries.
This is the crux of the matter. America has demonstrated repeatedly that Nigeria, as it stands today, does not deserve its attention. Its agents would not be bothered about visiting Nigeria because those things that interest America do not exist here.
There is, for instance, no serious democratic institution that America would want to nurture. Worse still, there are no indications that the people and government of Nigeria have strong democratic inclinations. Consequently, America is not interested in pouring water on stone. It is only keen on watering a soil that would sustain growth and life. This is the American Ideal.
However, it contrasts very sharply with the Nigerian dream. Anybody who has had close association with the typical Nigerian will readily come away with the feeling that Nigerians are not interested in the tenets and ideals of democratic governance. They merely pay lip service to it. Those who call themselves politicians typify the Nigerian character.
They wear Nigeria like a badge of dishonour. An overwhelming majority of them only understand the language of victory at elections. Loss or failure at the polls is a strange bedfellow. That explains why the political scene is crude and vicious. You can only qualify as a politician if you have a knack for intrigues and horse-trading. If you say one thing today and stand by it tomorrow, then you must be operating in the everyday domain.
You can hardly qualify as a politician. This mentality rules the political terrain. Given the fact that howlers have hijacked politics in Nigeria, the institutions that should sustain democracy have been bastardised. The candidates for elections have been infected with the Nigerian blight.
Their operations are only sustained by crooked affairs. The result is that those who seize the reins of governance are non-starters whose only credentials are their ability to thwart order and propriety. In the same vein, the electoral commission has been forced to go the way of the crooks that populate the political scene.
The electoral umpires may pretend as much as they can, but the undeniable fact is that they are usually swayed by the sympathies and belongingness of those that appointed them. There is therefore no room for credibility and civilized conduct in their operations. The business and social planes flow almost effortlessly from this tendency.
The typical Nigerian is interested in the bottom-line. The means for its attainment is immaterial. It does not matter. When therefore the typical Nigerian encounters people at the top, he immediately aims to be in their shoes.
However, he does not think it is necessary to go through the rungs. What interests him is an illicit jump. The Nigerian dream is therefore not about building institutions and sustaining them. It is also not about the progress of the fatherland. Here, everyone operates, more or less, like an individual.
The goal is the self not the collective. There is therefore no room for the American ideal of building and sustaining strong democratic institutions. But the problem is not necessarily about what sustains the Nigerian setting. It is more about the permissiveness of the Nigerian environment. The atmosphere here is so lax that it can accommodate and absorb any development. There are no abiding standards.
No ideals. Goals are attained as a matter of chance. When you arrive at your Damascus, the rest of the flock queues behind you with imbecilic cheers. America may do well to understand this Nigerian temper. The people will not change on account of American officials refusing to visit their country. In fact, the issue does not bother Nigerians. It is only the government of the day that seems to care.
And if the government expresses concern, it is doing so because it wants to look good in the eyes of the world. Its worry is not about the country. It is about the immediate gains that will serve the narrow interest of the henchmen of the government. When America grows up, it would no longer worry about the entity called Nigeria. At that stage, it would discover, albeit belatedly, that Nigeria is at home with its self-imposed shortcomings.