You need to pick a spot – and start digging (#NewLeadership Series with Chude Jideonwo)
by Chude Jideonwo
…in the absence of large-scale revolutionary change, the kind that Nigeria’s dream about but which will not find root here mostly because we have a legitimate, democratic government, Nigerians will have to turn to the slow and steady, incremental change.
These days, as we all get older, and responsibilities pile up, and we all face the ‘real’ world, much of the idealism drops – we will hear more of some of the chatter you have been hearing lately: that it is time for ‘us’ young people to either join government or politics.
Now, there is nothing wrong with joining government or politics, because government is the most important force for change in modern society (I am almost tired of pointing this out), and politics is the ultimate medium for articulating and driving issues and ideas, but it is certainly not the be all that many position it to be.
Society as a construct is a collection of parts, of systems and structures, processes and institutions, that cannot function properly without complementing each other, and strengthening each other; and that is how government also functions.
What that means in simple language is that while government is absolutely important – there is a wide misunderstanding of its function; and our position as citizens in relation to it.
A lot of talk and activity centers on the executive, but government is not just the executive, and many forget this. Government is constituted also of the legislature and the judiciary in our democracy. For it to function effectively, the three arms must function fully.
But it is not just by working directly in government that one influences government. It is also important to influence government either as politicians or as officials, but some will make government work better by working in opposition to it – detailing its failings, its faults, even its fallacies; encouraging it to get better, heckling it until it does.
Opposition parties and activists fill this role – by expressing an eloquent anti-incumbent stance, their role is to keep it on its toes.
Some others will work in conjunction with it. Engagement groups, advocacy organisations and other such soft NGOs, for instance, exist to work with government to fill in the gaps it can’t, to connect with communities it needs help with, to perform its tasks even better.
There is the corporate environment and its role, there is faith and its role, there is the crucial – un-escapable duty of the a free and vibrant media, there are traditional institutions, the academia and student groups. Without boring you, government stands at the centre and the rest of society orbit around it to ensure that it reaches its full potential.
It is in that light that we must understand that we are all important to any agenda for transforming our country – we have distinct roles to play, informed by our unique experiences, positions, and interests.
Hence my worry at the tendency of a number of people, some influential, to criticise what others are doing while they do nothing of their own.
Unfortunately, there are too many people like these – not playing any conscious, deliberate role that will advance whatever cause or issue they believe in, never joining any idea to build it, to strengthen it, to move it towards the ideal that they speak of; never seeking to find their place in that change orbit – understanding that we all have roles to play, every one of us.
While this is a normal staple of all societies, in Nigeria it is particularly unproductive because Nigeria has collapsed so terribly on all major indices of human development that we do in fact need all hands on deck – doing what they believe in, supporting what they are passionate about, getting in there and doing something, no matter how small, according to their abilities and resources, from whatever corner or platform closest to them.
As I wrote in a NEXT article of the same title two years ago, ask many Nigerians, especially a class of young people, why they are not involved or supporting a particular movement or campaign for change, and their response is simple: the people working for positive change are ‘not serious’.
The basic problem with most of these people is that this knee-jerk reaction to efforts to make change, is neither supported by reality or facts. They criticise a project for a lack of thoroughness and then you find that they have not in fact taken their time to be thorough in their assertions. They accuse a campaign of lacking vision or depth without even taking the simple step of perhaps checking the accused website to confirm this lack of vision. They criticize a petition without even reading its contents. They dismiss networks as ‘group of friends’ without any efforts to indeed verify that claim. They nitpick on credibility and sustainability, without any fact checking on the matter on which they confidently mount a soapbox.
In a sense, it is nothing unusual. Across the world, apathy is always driven by cynicism – another form of resignation and helplessness that effectively hides itself under a garb of worldly wisdom and realism. So people who never did anything strategic or effective to help the children killed by Joseph Kony in Uganda spend all that energy attacking passionate young people across the world for the #StopKony campaign. And those who have not moved out of their comfort zones to fight poverty in the continent are quick to find holes in what Oxfam is doing to solve the same problem.
Unfortunately, this new kind of apathy refuses to be quiet. Instead it is resilient, insistent – fed by its own sense of justification, even necessity.
Like I have said, it has always been perplexing to me, for instance, how people who have not made their own effort to do something about any particular issue, even in the smallest way possible, are the ones most vociferous in decrying double standards, insincerity, lack of reach or some other inadequacy in those who have stuck their necks out.
This bothers me, not because I want to prove them wrong, or maybe that we should – but because, like I have said above, Nigeria has so many, so many, so many problems and needs as many hands on deck, doing what they can. Do I need to repeat them? Maternal mortality, police training, education standards and infrastructure, unemployment and labour capacity, domestic terrorism, food sufficiency… our problems are so much, so much that it is imperative, it is crucial and beyond crucial, that we wake people up from apathy.
Let’s take for instance the accusation that certain change-workers only work in the urban centers and have not gone ‘national’ or ‘to the North’. The illogic of this accusation should really be as self-evident as the accusation itself is unnecessary.
What is really the imperative, or utility, in a country of 150 million, of any initiative that seeks, immediately, to reach everyone across the country? Is it really possible for any development activity to reach the nooks and crannies of a country when even big-budget telecoms companies, fully capitalised and with all the relevant human and material resources, have been unable to do that in over a decade?
More importantly, if someone is doing some good in some corner of the country and you are desirous of that good going to another corner of the country – wouldn’t the proper thing be for you to either go ahead and make that happen, or join hands and support them to make it happen?
Because our country is so large and our resources so little, it becomes necessary to focus on an area of engagement and do that properly. The most effective development modules appear, to this inexperienced eye, to be those that are able to focus on their strengths or their ‘catchment’
areas – be they rural women, youth in the diaspora, single mothers or widows. It only makes sense that people focus on an area of strength and do the best they can.
In the bid to ‘reach scale’ or ‘go national’, many organisations have become mere noise organs, stretched beyond capacity. Why, for instance, would a
group, in Ibadan, unable to reach all the local governments of Oyo be put under the pressure of taking its activities to the Niger Delta? What is the utility in that ambitious goal that is yet to achieve depth in its area of origin?
I have said that in the absence of large-scale revolutionary change, the kind that Nigeria’s dream about but which will not find root here mostly because we have a legitimate, democratic government, Nigerians will have to turn to the slow and steady, incremental change. This will mean little by little, milestone by milestone, everyone working in their corners of influence – perhaps driven by a big picture of the Nigeria we want.
Because the work is yet much, and the labourers so few, rather than criticise those working for change in their little corners, why not take a hoe and start digging where they are not and make the impact
that you desire to see?
Think about it, please.
Chude Jideonwo is publisher/editor-in-chief of Y!, including Y! Magazine, Y! Books, Y! TV & YNaija.com. He is also executive director of The Future Project/The Future Awards. #NewLeadership is a twice-weekly, 12-week project to inspire action from a new generation of leaders – it ends on March 31.