Tolu Ogunlesi: Four things Nigeria has taught me (Y! FrontPage)

If this country will change for the better, it will be because there are people who are prepared to act as though no alternative exists. Because, left to the ‘system’, the most appealing alternative is the road to destruction.

1. Things don’t have to get better

I’ve been doing some catching up with Nigerian history, and I’ve come to realise (you probably already knew this, anyway) that dysfunction is Nigeria’s default state.

If we sit back and do nothing, the system will automatically continue in a state of ‘destruction’ — undermining and sabotaging itself. It’s the auto-immune disorder theory of Nigerian existence

Fifty-plus years after independence, Nigeria remains as broken as ever. And still as insistent on remaining broken.

And of course the ‘messiahs’ keep arising, promising to save Nigeria from itself.

Somehow Nigeria always manages to defeat them. Some it seduces with its vast oil wealth, and turns into greedy, power-hungry monsters; others it wages war against, employing varying combinations of inexperience, foolish idealism, and limited education to turn the best intentions into a legacy of impotence and disgrace.

And that is the default mode.

If this country will change for the better, it will be because there are people who are prepared to act as though no alternative exists. Because, left to the ‘system’, the most appealing alternative is the road to destruction.


2. Don’t underestimate social media

Take it or leave it: The change Nigeria requires will not come from the ‘masses’.

Don’t misunderstand me – people count. In elections they’re the ones that vote. They are the tax-payers. They’re the ones that come out to rejoice at a change of government or protest a public policy like the fuel subsidy removal.

But in the larger scheme of things, let’s face it: the men and women that make the difference come from a relatively small network of connected individuals with some form of influence.

Once upon a time that influence came from uniforms and guns – I’m thinking of the twenty-something year olds who plotted the January 1966 coup. I’m thinking of the young men who plotted the July 1966 coup, and who, twenty years later (in their forties) were still plotting coups.

I’m thinking of the post-1999 ruling class; one party has ruled Nigeria for thirteen years now — with power blocs and a Board of Trustees that can’t have altered much in all that time.

The march to independence was led by a small group of highly educated Nigerians, who deployed the education they gained at home and abroad against the colonialists. A good number of them started out as journalists (Macaulay, Azikiwe, Enahoro, Awolowo, etc). They wrote stinging newspaper articles, organised strikes, addressed marches, and moved motions.

Democracy as government of the people by the people and for the people is not exactly a true definition. It is not government by the people – the people place their trust in a bunch of individuals to exercise power on their behalf.

As columnist Tatalo Alamu writes: “The truth is that without elite mediation, direct rule of the masses is mobocracy and not democracy.”

That “elite mediation”, ladies and gentlemen, lies at the heart of every mechanism of governance.

In the 21st century, for all we know, a significant part of that mediation might come from small groups of persons influential on social media (apart from whatever other influences they may possess offline). Elite social-mediation.

‘Elite mediation’ may not be the fairest of systems – but when has life ever been about fairness?

So, next time you’re tempted to dismiss the social media crowd as a bunch of impotent, armchair-bound time-wasters, remember that the ‘elite’ networks and alliances and ideological scaffolding that the Nigeria of the immediate future will rest on are probably being built, one tweet, one Facebook post, one ‘sub’, and one ‘wash’ at a time.


3. Don’t overestimate social media. 

This next point is a direct challenge to the preceding argument.

Yes, social media may indeed turn out somehow to be watering-hole and ammo-dump for the generation that will lead Nigeria. But let’s also be careful to not overestimate the impact we can make on social media.

So, while assuming (and even this might be a preposterous assumption) that the future of Nigeria will somehow come to rest on the shoulders of a bunch of people who have gained influence on social media (and this influence-building will occur across a spectrum that ranges from banal noisemaking to value-adding engagement), we ought to make it clear to ourselves that the real work of change that will happen — for good or for ill — will not happen on social media.

It’s just like coups – coups take place, not on the streets, but in radio stations and government houses and key army formations. But the government that they enthrone has to do its governing right there on the streets. The people whose lives need to be transformed live out there on the streets, the policies – whether SAP or fuel subsidy removal – will have their impact out there on those mean streets.

Poverty and potholes and armed robbers will have to be confronted head-on, out there on those mean streets.

The challenge is for us to find ways to simultaneously keep our fingers on the keyboards and our feet in the dysfunction of the real world.

Now that’s what real multi-tasking should be.


4. Even critics need critics

I am often frustrated by Nigeria’s governments — by the propensity for corruption and for nonchallance and confusion.

A lot of my writing comes out of this sense of frustration.

I am strongly of the opinion that if you’re frustrated and angry you should speak out.

Thank God we have media for doing that now. Have you ever asked how people vented in the age of Abacha? How did they cope? How did they keep from going mad? What were their options – gathering in beer parlours, meeting in one another’s sitting rooms, writing letters to newspapers that on their own part struggled to stay afloat in the face of Abacha’s ruthlessness?

We’re a luckier bunch today.

You can write an article and without much effort on your part it will get noticed by the corridors of power.

And these opinions move them – no doubt about that. They can’t even pretend they don’t feel the anger.

But in all these there is a challenge to all of us frustrated by the government – we need to up our game.

Much of what passes for criticism on the internet is of appalling standard.

As I tweeted a while back, “even incompetent Presidents deserve competent critics.”

In 2013 the onus lies on us to develop more intelligent methods of criticizing.

Of what use is criticism that is as mediocre as the system it was developed for?

Today’s critics – all of us – need to come to this ‘game’ with our facts and figures, with our well-thought through arguments, not merely a dislike for the person we’re criticizing.

We will need to read beyond the sensationalist (and sometimes illiterate) media headlines, and strive to understand the issues we complain about.

We cannot afford to be guilty of the mediocrity we daily accuse the government of.

It’s time to take our criticism to the next level.



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (9)

  1. The only job Omojuwa is doing, is making a lot of noise and selling a biased political agenda/ opinion. Many will read, out of interest and to keep up with his present state of hate for the GEJ administration, but i do not think too many are buying into his opinion. He appears to be a brilliant chap and i feel he'd have done better coming from a seemingly neutral viewpoint. My advice is for him to tone down the ACN/CPC promotions, highlight core issues and allow his readers make up their own minds.

  2. D writer's submissions are quite agreeable. We really need to operate above sentiments and subjectivity in making arguments. Mr Kenneth u sound tribal and judgmental in trying to make ur case, which for me, places u in the last category of this article.

    So people u've heard it all… Get ur facts and figs straight for a more CONSTRUCTIVE argument or criticism. And be careful not to criticize or 'attack' people… Criticize their actions or Inaction

  3. Tolu, I've been catching up on Nigeria's History myself, and I can't help agreeing with you on the fact that through the ages, only a handful of people have been responsible for bringing change positive/negative.. Be it soldiers, Writers, and in this case Social Media/Bloggers.

  4. For Omojuwa to be getting these much mentions on here, he must be doing a hellof a job.

  5. I agree with all of the author's submissions.

    But I think you were too charitable in describing most criticisms (of government/governance) as being as mediocre as the system they attempt to address.

    You will find that most celebrated critics today are even more pedestrian than the targets of their criticisms. And yes… they reside largely on social media.

  6. I truly hope that those who need to listen will read this aticle and the comments, sit down and listen! I will forever hold the opinion that no arguement is lowly and stupid in discuss is to examine different positions on a particular issue and to learn from the process…Thank you Tolu!

  7. When many comments on articles such as this are about "The arrogance of Omojuwa", then he really needs to listen. Nigerians don't want "Suspected Future Leaders" to be arrogant. It's a wake up call for everyone on twitter especially who's voice has been recognized as critics of governance in Nigeria, including the likes of Tolu Ogunlesi, Hauwa Gambo, Kayode Ogundamisi, Eggheader Odewale. It's very easy to assume that these lot of mostly Yoruba origin are unconsciously agents of the ACN government in Yoruba land, with the personal attack some of them sometimes direct at Mr President, and anyone who's a PDP member. However it is very much expected that people of South-west origin will always be ahead in the media, print or social. They should try not to ignore the excesses of the only remaining Godfather in Nigeria politics (Tinubu). Criticism needs to be constructive and it's time to direct it at everyone, and not only Goodluck Jonathan.

  8. I dont agree with number three. social media traction is still fragmented and elitist. True,Nigeria need few good men but social media seem to potray every one as intelligent & a look down attitude on any opposing idea(even if it seem better).

    As for number four,that should be directed to Omojuwa,who seems to be suffering from delusions of grandeur and know little of how the workings of an economy should go. People like him should quit the social media space & get a job,probably delivering parcels for Konga. It makes calculating of our GDP easier.

  9. "It’s time to take our criticism to the next level."

    Agreed! That "next level" must consist of public debates and a program of mass education in Nigeria. This isn't rocket science; it's common sense.

    Now, how shall we go about arranging that?

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

cool good eh love2 cute confused notgood numb disgusting fail