It is my opinion that Nigeria is to a large extent the way it is because we the people are unable to connect the dots.
“Connecting the dots” (one of the themes at the heart of Steve Jobs inspiring Stanford University commencement address) is a metaphor that comes from those picture books that kids of a bygone era spent ages buried in. The challenge: to make sense of a series of seemingly random events. Oh the euphoria of conquering wayward dots!
It is my opinion that Nigeria is to a large extent the way it is because we-the-people are unable to connect the dots. We are unable to make intelligent connections between ‘this’ and ‘that’, between what went before and what has come after. The Nigerian story remains, epoch after epoch, a giant, messy template of unconnected dots.
For example, fifty years after independence, we have an intimidating developmental library, containing Development Plans (1960s – 1980s), Visions (2010, 2020), NEEDS/SEEDS, White Papers, Reports, etc. But because no one is interested in the admittedly lacklustre task (for an adult) of connecting dots, every new government shows up with its own lofty dream, created by its own consultants and advisers. This obsession with reinventing the wheel means that dreams do not last one second beyond their initiators’ stints in office.
Governors show up and abandon the roads started by their predecessors, because there is more scope for self-glorification and self-enrichment in starting your own road project. Governance therefore becomes not about transforming the people’s lives, but about being obsessed with the selfish reset button.
Long ago, Chinua Achebe made popular the Igbo proverb about the “the man who does not know where the rain began to beat him and so cannot say where he dried his body.” It’s essentially the same thing as “connecting the dots.” Have we made any connections between the ‘80s/’90s collapse of the economy and the ‘80s/’90s rise of religious fervour nationwide? Has it occurred to us that today’s cutlass-wielding area boys are tomorrow’s bomb-making terrorists? Are we committing to the easily retrievable section of collective memory, the rise of James Ibori from London shoplifter to “The Ogidigboigbo”; cataloguing the dots so we can connect them in 2015 or 2019 when another criminal shows up desperate for a Government House couch?
Tell me how many public office holders in the last decade have written accounts of their times in office – the learning points, the challenges, the advice to those coming behind? Apart from the hagiographic collections of their speeches, our political class has no interest in seeking to connect the dots for the benefit of future generations.
And look at the attempts to tackle Boko Haram, does one get a sense of a government looking back and around, to get the most comprehensive perspective of the issue? DIs anyone asking for the tomes of government reports from the Maitatsine era? In the obsession with creating new Committees, is anyone keeping in mind the fact that Obasanjo set up, in 2005, a “Presidential Action Committee on Control of Violent Crimes and Illegal Weapons” that more or less predicted the current bedlam?
Weeks ago I met a journalist at a book reading in Victoria Island. He mentioned an article of his, published a while ago, which detailed his discovery of the link between the catastrophic drought that hit the Sahel belt of West Africa in the early 1970s (forty years ago!), and the rise of Maitatsine, the precursors of today’s Boko Haram, which fellow frontpager, Akin Oyebode wrote about last week. I listened in fascination as he explained that the drought drove large numbers of foreign nomads – complete with radical Islamic leanings – into Nigeria, in search of water and pasture. In that longsuffering multitude, he argues, lay the seeds of the discontent that snowballed into Maitatsine less than a decade after, and inevitably Boko Haram another two decades later. One is now forced to wonder – what will Boko Haram if unchecked, transmute into, another twenty years from now?
Connecting the dots will not by itself open the doors out of our morass. But failing to connect the dots will make it impossible to find and open those doors, wherever they may lie!
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.