And a generation went up in flames. That end of the Port Harcourt Airport Runway in which some of the brightest of a generation were incinerated deserves a place in infamy. The ill-fated Sosoliso flight had burnt a deep scar unto my conscience. But if the truth be told, it is just one more symptom of system failure. Collapse has come to us. Why? Who will comfort the parents consumed by anguish, grief so unnecessary. Why is decay all around, mocking us? Can we pull back from all these signs of coming collapse?
Hope may be justifiable, in certain circumstances, but it would be irresponsible to prophesy good tidings without recognising the source of the present pain, a concern that needs to be excised before it becomes malignant and metastasis truly sets in. Collapse often quickly manifests in such situations. The enemy, for me, is the absence of constituency politics. In other words, the failure to have real constituencies means a dearth of accountability. Who do you account to when no one counts in your book?
Who are our political leaders accountable to? How much legitimacy do they have to hold civil servants accountable? Do they, the power elite, know enough about influence and public performance to realise that deploying power, by public brutalisation of the dignity of others, like civil servants, does not really institutionalise seamless accountability; first to the political leaders and ultimately to the Nigerian people. When you put people down with no care for their dignity, it assures that the only people who risk being around you are the greedy, looking for other benefits, or those who have no other choice on how to keep body and soul together. It is no surprise that they say yes sir but do something else later which undermines the problems you are trying to solve. When you influence them to become passionate about the job or enthused about the common good you can expect better outcomes.
Democracy matters because constituents keep the pressure on those they have elected to deliver on certain promises. The general impression of Nigeria is that its politicians do not think the people count so they invest their energies in how to get to power ignoring the will of the people. That done constituencies are considered a joke and accountability to the people, an occasional matter for justification of claims to legitimacy. The very dear price we have paid for the termination of constituency politics is the demise of accountability, and systems failure. If not, why would children so young travel so far to go to school. After all parents are the primary teachers of their children. Simple. Excellent schools are few and often very far away, instead of around every corner. So children and parents expose themselves to many dangers. As a high school student in the other Loyola, in Ibadan, in the 1960s, I simply got on the train and my parents drove up to Iddo terminus to get me, in Lagos. My son, one generation later, had to go to this Loyola, near Abuja and someone from the family commuted that distance every month for six years, to keep in touch. But that is no reason aircraft should drop off the sky like kites.
Well, if you sack the professionals to install cronies; if the inspector that should ensure the planes are okay have to rely on operators to fly to the home base of the aircraft when it is leased, collusion must be natural; not to talk of neglect of what is important like the meteorological services and the runways, in favour of the ego trips of people of power. What happens in these circumstances is that power becomes substitute for purpose. Collapse becomes a matter of time.
A few weeks ago my friends, Fola Adeola and Dick Kramer were discussing a book. Dick Kramer made the point that I typically pointed him in the direction of such books. I had, however, not read the one they were discussing. Its title, I gathered was collapse. That night I called London and someone ensured I had the book within four days. I was reading it not long before I got the news of the Port-Harcourt crash. In the book, Jared Diamond explored how societies through the centuries choose to fail or survive. I was particularly fascinated by discussion of why and how some societies make disastrous decisions, as I was with that of Rwanda's genocide. As I read I could not but think of evidence of emerging system failure all around me. Just as those brought me much discomfiture, I was elevated by the chronicle Tokugawa problems in the book. I have in previous discussions referred to the Meiji Restoration in Japan. It came out of the problems of the Tokugawa Shogunates, and launched modern Japan down the path of greatness. It is from that experience that I came up with the initiative of the Restoration Group in 1995. It was designed then to build a coalition of the professional class, Labour, and Youth Movements. The idea was to challenge a decadent Military then clearly on the path to fascism, and, hopefully reinvent a Nigeria wrenched from their iron grip.
Some still recall the welcome remarks I made on the subject at my 40th birthday lecture delivered by Fr. Mathew Hassan Kukah about ten years ago. At the time we brought together the Concerned Professionals, Aka Ikenga, a group known as the Northern Professionals, and South-South Professionals. Frequent at those meetings, which took place in my Idowu Taylor offices in Victoria Island then were the likes of the late Waziri Mohammed, Donald Duke, Zik Obi and Fubara Anga. The emergence of G34 seemed, for some, to take away the purpose of the Restoration Group, and civil rule sealed it. Reading Professor Wole Soyinka on the possibilities of the return of fascist tendencies, I began to wonder.
The last time the Restoration Group gathered with friends now in government, leaders of civil society, etc., to reflect on the Nigerian condition, we had Nasir El-Rufai, Aliyu Modibo and several others engaged as we reviewed the state of Nigeria as perceived by them Canadian Higher Commissioner Howard Strauss we agreed it was not yet Uhuru. The Port Harcourt crash was yet another wake up call that unless restoration is seen as a matter of urgency, collapse may be not be far fetched.
Professor Utomi is Director of the Centre for Applied Economics, Lagos Business School, Pan African University