At the beginning of a new year, let us avoid being distracted by “prophecies”. Let us, instead, bear this in mind: human beings cannot run away from making choices. We make our choices, and our choices make us. We are compelled, even condemned, to make choices, perpetually confronted by the obligation to decide on our line of action. We cannot run away from taking responsibility. It is in fact the case that when we decide not to make a choice, we are deciding to a choice. We are making a choice not to make a choice. And, whatever the case may be, our choices will make or mar us. But there are choices we are unable to make.
We are unable to decide whether or not to be conceived, whether or not to be born. We were not even consulted before our conception. Some others decided for us. Given the trauma of human existence, if human beings were able to decide whether or not to be born, most would most probably decide not to be conceived. But later in life, we may be in a position to decide to live or to decide to leave. The one who commits suicide preferred leaving to living.
We are unable to make a choice of the type of family into which we are born. If it were possible to make such a choice, most would most probably decide to be born into affluent families. But, later in life, we are able to decide on what we want our family to be. It is either a household of mutual love and respect or a household of hatred and contempt, either a school of selfless love or a school of selfish love, a foyer of harmony or a foyer of discord.
We are unable to decide on the land of our birth. If it were possible, given how traumatic it is to be Nigerian, only a few would decide to be Nigerian by birth. Later in life, one is able to migrate to or acquire citizenship of another country. In this respect, the most visible and incontrovertible piece of evidence that Nigerians are unhappy to live in Nigeria is in the number of young Nigerians who are desperately searching for an opportunity to leave the shores of a country that offers neither hope nor security to its citizens. It was so during the darkness of pestilential military rule, and it has not changed during what is supposed to be a daytime of democratic dispensation but has turned out to be a vicious and parasitic political arrangement.
Citizens of a democratic nation make a choice on who governs them. It is when and where they are able to make this choice unhindered that it can be validly asserted that a people deserve the government it gets. That assertion would be false if the people were not in control of the electoral process.
Making a choice of their leaders is the responsibility citizens of voting age must assume. Once this is done, those citizens must live with consequences of their choices for as long as the tenure of the elected lasts, and perhaps longer. The alternative would be to rely on their representatives in the legislative arm of government to set in motion the machinery for legitimately removing an elected official from government. But that process too is fraught with factors beyond the control of citizens.
Many Nigerians believe the process of making a choice at the polls is determined by a cocktail of factors that blatantly violate the sanctity of the electoral process. Among these are manipulation of ethnic and religious sentiments, thuggery, financial inducement, outright vote fraud. If, as many Nigerians believe, the electoral process is so manipulated, the result would be a government whose functionaries are, for the most part and almost without exception, distant, brutal, lawless, arrogant, disrespectful and unaccountable.
But the factors I have just itemized also affect post-electoral politics. Issues that affect us are viewed through the prism of religion and ethnicity. We have put in place an ambience of incivility that disables us from discussing issues. Many would rather malign the persons of holders of opinions that differ from those of the establishment.
Starring us in the face, as I write this article, is heightened and heightening insecurity. For more than a decade, a bloody insurgency has been afflicting the north-eastern part of Nigeria. There is banditry in the north-western part. Students, boys and girls, are being abducted from dormitories of secondary schools. In the north-central part of the country, murderous herdsmen have made life unbearable for farmers. In Borno State, over 70 rice farmers were slaughtered like rams on the way to the farm. An embarrassingly high number of Nigerians are refugees in their own country while we euphemistically call them “Internally Displaced Persons”.
Insecurity is not just in the north of Nigeria. The south too has become a no-go area. Minutes before I began to write this, I received news that Auxiliary Bishop Moses Chikwe of Owerri has been abducted. It was a cruel confirmation of issues raised by Bishop Matthew Kukah in his Christmas Day message. Rather than address the issues he raised, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto is being maliciously vilified by those who ought to be grateful for his forthrightness but are disturbed by his audacity. In Ibadan, armed robbers are on the prowl. They even write to people in a neighbourhood to inform them of the date of their visit. I know of people who did not sleep in their homes this Christmas because of fear of robbers.
By definition and profile, a state is a collection of institutions established to protect the land, its citizens, and all who inhabit the land. Again, by definition and profile, a failed state is a state that has failed in its primary responsibility, unwilling or unable to assume its primary responsibility of securing life and property. There is no need to debate whether or not the Nigerian state has failed. All we need to do is to look at the facts as they stare us in the face. When a state is either unwilling or unable to assume its primary responsibility of securing the land and its people, such a state undeniably bears the traits of a failed government. As it is now, the Nigerian state is either unwilling or unable to provide security for the land and for the people who dwell on it.
There is need for government to be decisive. Either government continues to live in denial, which would be irresponsible, or government begins to acknowledge that all is not well with the land. But before a responsible choice can be made, it must be preceded by good judgment. Before good judgment can be made, it has to be preceded by adequate understanding of relevant facts. Before adequate understanding can be arrived at, it has to be preceded by apprehension, establishment, and acknowledgment of relevant facts. As philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan would say, conscious confrontation with reality imposes four imperatives on the human being: be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable, be responsible.
Faced with the reality of insecurity, neither government nor the citizen is helped when government spokespersons allergic to opposition insolently label divergent voices as wailers or unpatriotic. Such propaganda would be in gross violation of each of those four imperatives. It would severely undermine the capacity of government to be responsible in taking decisions. But, as I said earlier, we make decisions, and decisions make us or mar us. A government is made or marred by its decisions and policies.
Beyond name calling, what we can assert at this point in our history is that Nigeria and security are thousands of miles apart. Saying so does not make one unpatriotic. Neither does it make one an enemy of government. In fact, to disapprove a government is not necessarily unpatriotic. There are times when the duty of a patriot is to oppose a government and its policies and conduct. It would be unpatriotic to remain silent in the face of insecurity in Nigeria.
Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Anthony Akinwale is the Vice-Chancellor, Dominican University, Ibadan, NIGERIA.