by Chude Jideonwo
Yes, Libya is the rave right now, but I can’t get the people of Egypt out of my head.
I haven’t been to many countries, but Egypt (make that Cairo) was one of my most remarkable. It is not just a city of culture and history; it is a city of breathless, relentless, liberating energy.
With elaborate weddings on weekdays and hawkers ready to haggle you to a standstill, Cairo is one of those poetic clichés – a sprawling, energetic mega city with an aversion to sleep.
However, even as I have romanticised the city, I cannot ever forget the plunging sense of despair I sensed. I cannot claim to know the soul of a people based on a 4-day trip, but, such as I could see, the Egyptian society had broken down – people living in debilitating poverty, an absence of civic life, a lack of shared values, a choking sense of every man for himself.
So when the people of Egypt came out in their thousands, pitched their tents – literally – against their leaders, and didn’t move until something gave, I understood.
Many of the circumstances that led to that explosion are exactly present in Nigeria: widespread neglect, corruption in everything from police to politics, stagnancy despite widespread resources, a lack of true democracy, disrespect for the people, and almost 80 per cent of the population poor.
But the tinderbox was Hosni Mubarak, the one symbol of all that was wrong.
Nigerians haven’t had such a villain. Each time our anger is about to boil over like it did in Egypt, a band-aid is put on it – an IBB ‘steps aside’, an Abacha dies, an Abdulsalami hands over, an Obasanjo loses grip, a Yar’Adua dies. You see, our politicians are much wiser than you think – rather than disrupt the balance of power, they consistently offer an expiation to quench our blood thirst, and we are soon back to our jolly lives. Why, they even seduced Tunde Bakare to join their political rat race.
Because our anger is so frequently evened out we never get to that boiling hot rage that should bring big change – we have been duped with small, very small, changes that make no real difference.
But, no matter how much we intellectualise it, nothing ever really changes incrementally. This is where I think writers like Okey Ndibe miss the point when they turn up their noses at suggestions for radical – even violent – change and believe small, steady changes in civil service bureaucracy, electoral reform and anti-corruption laws will solve the problem.
The problem with Nigeria is a culture that believes nothing can change and nothing will change. Because no one believes Nigeria will make the bend, everyone is just looking for a piece of the large pie. It’s a culture – and people drive the culture. And no, the people will not change – you have to remove them from the system.
The change has to be big, it has to be bold and it has to be drastic.
The Jerry Rawlings example is a worn cliché, but it exactly mirrors the kind of change we need – maybe not bloodshed, but something so radical, so fundamentally disruptive, that it irrevocably changes the balance of power – in favour of the people.
We should stop comparing ourselves to America. Barrack Obama might have come in by the ballot box, but this in a society already founded on fundamental, disruptive change. To even compare their solutions to ours is intellectual laziness – its society is not as fundamentally flawed (politically and economically) and the work had already been long done.
We need to stop allowing ourselves to be done in by an army of duplicitous motivational speakers, pastors, conflict resolution experts and other “change-workers” who insist that real change can come without real sacrifice. All we need is a “Nigerian Dream” they say. Oh please. Is there a “Ghanaian Dream”?
I suspect that in our hearts we know that April 2011 will not give us the change we really need. But we focus all our attention on it – media, civil society, government – because we are not yet ready for the heavy lifting.
And that is what scares me senseless. It took Egypt three decades; the people of Tunisia, one decade; the people of Libya, four.
Do we have to wait that long? Are we going to wait until one man rules us for decades before we say enough? Or will we get angry now like the American Tea Party, and stop the government in its tracks, before it all gets really bad?
Can we find our anger? Can we?
This article was first published on 234next.com on 24th Februray 2011.