Tolu Ogunlesi: Connecting the dots (YNaija FrontPage)

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.


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Comments (8)

  1. Nigeria should be by voluntary participation, not by enforced statehood, some might be happy being Nigerians, some might want to branch out partially or totally in new political entities, none must enforce their wish on the other

  2. It seems to me that if we want to understand the enigma called 'Nigeria', we have to begin to read about has been written on the subject. A great speaker once said, "The many secrets we wish to discover lies in books." Reading about what has been written about Nigeria is an assignment, today, for the leaders of Nigeria, tomorrow.

  3. Connecting th dots; what an interesting piece.
    Anyone saying our leaders don't know the dots must be joking.They know better,they are just fucking corrupt..

    About connecting the dots..According to what "Sheikh Zakzaky" said, its safe to say another Islamic (Shia) Sect would might get restive and starts killing just the way Boko Haram (Sunni Islamic Sect) are killing innocent people in the guise of fighting the govt..It might even lead to the situation where Sunni Muslims would be killing shia Muslims vise-versa just like in Iraq..

  4. As flippant as I might sound, fact is, we are not yet a people mature and integrated enough to face the task of nation-building. That's the case with most of sub-saharan Africa. We probably have to endure a generation of upheavals before the society begins to turn around for the better.

  5. Connecting the dots?!! Our leaders dont even know what the dots are. They should leave their big and expensive houses and ask the average Nigerian what the dots are. Everyone has a need, out of a hundred people listen to 10 and you have connected 10 dots out of millions.

  6. When a certain presidential candidate spoke about the impact of severe deforestation in the North and the resulting clashes between the nomadic cattle rearers (traditionally Muslim) and the farmers (traditionally Christian), the misleading analysis that the constant confrontations were just about religion, he was shouted down. When people are desperate for resources – in this case, water and arable land/land for feed cattle (a fixed asset), there will always be a battle for control.

    The Lagos Island area boys in the Channel 4 documentary are a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. These will be Boho Haram, Lagos-style once the politicians are through with them. We fail to connect the dots.

    Abia state government sacked all non-indigenous workers from its offices. We kept quiet. We failed to connect the dots. When there is nationwide reprisals, we will ask what went wrong.

    The problem is clear in Nigeria. We ALWAYS fail to look at the root cause. We prefer to reach for the low hanging fruit of intolerance. We listen to mediocre politicians, uninformed journalists and mouth pieces of different agents serving sinister agendas. We fail to question issues thoroughly and dig deeply for solutions. Instead we try to treat the symptoms and of course, fail woefully.

    Our education system is in shambles. Our average graduate cannot properly articulate his/her thoughts – verbally or in writing. Yet, some silly government believes that we can be a leading economy by 2020. We fail to connect the dots.

    The average Nigerian still identifies with religion and/or ethnicity first before the Nigerian identity. We will continue to fail to connect the dots as long as we do not see the inherent danger in this.

  7. It's not that we don't know how to connect the dots. We do and we have but it's just that our number one nemesis CORRUPTION is what is killing us. We had the chance to cause a revolution during the #occupynigreia movement but what happened, some people screwed us over. Revolution will come soon.

  8. When you stare at the map of Africa (as I have taken to doing daily) think about our neighbours to the North. Mali – in socio-political crisis and about to be the target of an ECOWAS peacekeeping mission. Niger – 11million odd disenfranchised citizens and it’s largest export is uranium; in addition, of the 9 'major' cities in Niger, 6 of them are clustered around the Northern Nigerian border. Chad – the refuge of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese & C.A.R citizens fleeing their instability riddled nations and number 2 on the Failed State Index created by Fund for Peace ( Please note that Mali, Nigeria AND Niger are on this Index as well. Accepting that there is a cycle at work here that is on a larger scale than PDP vs ACN is critical. We have no true borders and thus our Nigerian problem is a West African problem. We can’t just try to choose and be good leaders. We need true visionaries that are willing to build on what has already been started because it isn’t ALL dross. There ARE some foundations that can be built up. But can we actually do this? Can we do what is urgently needed and start to connect the dots, read the writing on the wall, take off the blinders and learn from the past and thus maybe escape the worst case scenario of what Boko Haram "if unchecked, [will) transmute into, another twenty years from now?" I honestly don’t know. Thanks Tolu for this depressing yet spot-on article.

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