Maybe the nation’s thought leaders should instead ask themselves: why haven’t we yet told a coherent tale; one that has a mass appeal and that can drive a national movement?
I began to worry last year when I sat down after the elections and asked myself – when young people say they want “change”, do we really know what we are talking about?
I have spoken about the futility of a youth agenda. Indeed, what is needed in its stead is a clarity of purpose: what exactly is the “change we need”?
Let me quickly explain. South Africans had a clear idea of the change they wanted – the end of apartheid. Nigeria’s founding fathers – the end of colonial rule. South Sudan – ‘Give us our own country’. The American Civil Rights Movement – end of segregation. Obama’s 2008 army, despite the deceptive ambiguity was very clear – Obama. Egypt, Tunisia, Libya – unseating dictators.
Young Nigerians – actually, all Nigerians – unfortunately don’t have that kind of clarity. Nobody can really answer the question: What exactly are we ‘fighting’ for? That’s a tragedy.
While there is the danger of a single problem (or single solution), a people who want to transform their country must know the core of what they want so that they can effectively focus their strengths and get it.
Look at some of the few times in Nigeria when we had a real mass revolt that actually made a difference. When Igbos wanted Biafra, when Nigerians wanted MKO Abiola, when we wanted Abacha gone, and each time we have fought against a fuel subsidy increase that signaled a “wicked government” (Note: It wasn’t about the subsidy removal, it was about the “wickedness” of the government, which is a broad, galvanizing issue).
The reason behind the magic is simple: the majority – rich and poor, literate or not, male or female – wanted the same thing.
For a mass action to work, it has to be a cause bigger than all of us; a cause for which people are ready to stake their reputations, their freedoms, even their lives.
Right now, there are too many voices asking for too many things; refusing to submerge special interest once in a while under a larger vision. That is one challenge.
The second challenge is this, and this might be controversial: our problems are comparatively less dire than being treated as a slave in America, as a second-class citizen in South Africa, or being unable to run for office in pre-colonial Nigeria.
Nigeria’s peculiarity lies in the fact that our system should have collapsed finally by now, but by some miracle it’s still holding up. Our systems actually, somehow somehow, work. They are weak, they are corrupt, but many people still get minimum service from teaching hospitals, many get their pensions from government offices, many go to police and get some measure of protection – there is a deceptive appearance of normalcy, until there’s a huge event that showcases in stark terms the deeply sorry state of affairs. Unfortunately or fortunately, it always passes too quickly or we recover even quicker.
So we find our lives bearable, and think perhaps it can get better.
So maybe we should therefore stop berating Nigerians for not setting themselves on fire like the Tunisian hero who set off the Arab Springs.
Maybe the nation’s thought leaders should instead ask themselves: why haven’t we yet told a coherent tale; one that has a mass appeal and that can drive a national movement? If those crying for change have not yet defined the change they want to see, how do you expect people to die for what they cannot understand; something they do not believe in?
Then there is the third challenge; that Nigeria is a country too fragmented by ethnic and other divisions. But that should not be a fatal impediment. If politicians of all persuasions and stripes could come together to work for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to achieve a common purpose of achieving power, then change-minded Nigerians with an agenda can replicate that.
The 2011 elections were an example of this. Civil society groups, political parties, churches, mosques and everyone else had a single goal: preventing rigging and ensuring a free and fair elections. Many tried to distract from this focus by emphasising candidates and candidacy, but as civil society noted correctly – fielding candidates is largely a question for political parties.
That unrelenting focus paid off: despite what the opposition chooses to say, the elections were not without corruption, but they were free and fair, and largely reflected, in each state, the will of the people.
If you ask me, that singular goal should again be the focus of 2015. We should again focus on free and fair elections but not just on Election Day. It should start with persistent advocacy for internal democracy in political parties, it should insist that INEC widen the field of options for candidacy, political education for the electorate across the country, strengthen electoral funding laws and institute independent monitoring for enforcement.
People have said what are free and fair elections without good candidates? Then I ask, what qualifies a candidate as good? Democracy is not perfect – but as long as every qualified person can aspire and make himself or herself available to be elected; if a people vote a particular person, then that is good enough for me. If the person doesn’t meet the people’s expectation, they can recall him in the short term or get him out in four years.
If the push and pull of elections are allowed to run unfettered, ultimately we have the change we seek, because politicians will have the fear of being voted out. As we have seen in Ondo and Edo, this is a real fear and it can be effective.
I am convinced that once we are able to prove through elections – consolidated over at least four electoral cycles – that bad leadership will not be rewarded; Nigeria will have made the right turn.
Nigerians should know that the voting card is the most important tool for change that we have and we should be pushed to deploy it maximally. I have outlined some of its major pillars above.
Again, some will say – and what happens after the free and fair elections are solidified? Well, the same people that forged the first consensus should begin to work on next steps. No nation in the world is ever developed at once or gets to development and stops – countries move from one great wave to another. After you solve apartheid, then the next big issue can be poverty. But you cannot sensibly deal with both big issues at once – that’s a seductive prospect, but that’s just not the way it works. It’s a slow, steady march.
If we decide the issue isn’t free and fair elections, then perhaps it can be corruption – which many have identified (and I agree) as the most important challenge Nigerians face. As inspiration, Anna Hazare’s courageous (if tainted) battle against corruption in India has galvanized the mass population. Maybe security – and the complete absence of respect for human life our government perpetuates? Or is it poverty? Whatever it is, we have to reach some kind of consensus – and consensus takes time.
Historically, political leaders are best able to frame this movement – think Ghandi, think Mandela, Castro, Mao, Lee Kuan Yew.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, we have only the PDP and those who insist the PDP is Nigeria’s bigger problem. At the risk of awakening the “you are an agent of PDP if you say anything good about them” crowd, that is quite simply not true according to the facts. The No-to-PDP campaign might be a media success, but as elections have proven, that is not the case with the electorate.
It is the prerogative of the Congress for Political Change (CPC), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and others to unseat the PDP, because, after all that is what a democracy is about, but that is not a cause that is going to galvanise the public. It will not galvanise them because it is not broadly logical, and therefore lacks resonance.
First, many don’t think the PDP is the problem, they think it is just as flawed as the rest; only bigger. Second, the PDP has delivered many successful governments including those of Olusegun Obasanjo, Donald Duke, Godswill Akpabio, Rotimi Amaechi, and Sule Lamido. Third, does any real change happen simply because of a change in politic parties? Has Britain changed since Cameron took it from Brown despite his rhetoric?
The political opposition to the PDP can perhaps be more effective in changing Nigeria if they sit down, frame their vision in simple terms beyond just a party change, get an attractive, capable candidate to drive this vision, and then build a national coalition around whatever this cause will be – something even business leaders and young professionals can buy into and run with.
Unfortunately, as I write, there is no one person or one organisation that has defined clearly this vision of the “change” that we seek and how exactly we will arrive at that destination – and managed to define it in a way that captures the imagination and buy-in of the mass population.
Realising how far away we are from this gives me a headache. It reminds me that we have far from started. Thankfully, we can start now.
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.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.