Why we must restore Nigeria

I HAVE many friends who are worried that I am so worked up about the Nigerian condition that I have chosen to bring much trouble to myself by being so concerned as to become engaged in what they consider murky waters. My response has become a long hard look at them and a parting greeting - see you in the refugee camp. It may seem funny but I am absolutely certain that if we are lucky, that friend and I, we may meet in a refugee camp. If we are not so lucky our fate could be much worse. That is the trajectory business as usual in Nigeria is taking us down.

I have read most scenario planning outputs for the region and the consequent prediction, given elite conduct in Nigeria, is a journey down the road to Somalia. My natural instinct as with most we most people is to dismiss them, my intellectual upbringing however, commends evaluating them. Then I remember the counsel of my Liberian friends and the observations of the Cote d' Ivoire experience. I long came to the conclusion that the biggest losers when what seems to be coming to Nigeria takes place, if we do nothing, is its professional and business elite, those of us so desperate not to have our comfort zones disturbed by murk who may yet be consumed by mudslides. Of course the pain for the base of the pyramid is much, as the cry of Rwandan-poor show us but it is the elite that is more responsible for the tragedy by omission or commission and their loss when what they wish away happens is more devastating.

Not long after I returned home from graduate school in 1982 an old school mate from the United States was named Liberian Ambassador to Nigeria, I recall so vividly our conversations regarding how the middle class kept complaining about "these terrible politicians" and how to stay clear away from them. Then they watched their descent into anarchy, the loss of the fancy homes and cars they sort to defend, by being distant and condescending towards the soldiers and politicians.

In Cote d' Ivoire, the one time bastion of stability and progress in troubled Africa they said "it can't happen here". Other Africans at the African Development Bank told me it was not possible in Ivory Coast, as we call it. I still recall an evening by the Lake in Annency, France nearly a decade ago with the then IMF Deputy Managing Director and later candidate for the presidency in Cote d' Ivoire, Alhassan Quattara, and a bright young Mckinsy Consultant Tijani Thiam who become a Minister in Cote d' Ivoire before things fell apart. As we talked about Nigeria and their country I could feel the cold wind blowing in. But everyone seemed to think it could not happen, until they all became refugees.

As a voice crying out in the wilderness of Nigeria today, I sometimes feel that my great "reward" may be the moral high ground to laugh at some people in the refugee camp and say, at least I warned you when the thought of the discomfort of not losing that additional new Mercedes, if you spoke truth to power or contributed to organizing the rule of law and institutions that assure all of justice kept you away. leadership that can dream, think and drive progress for the greatest number advancing the common good, But what would be the use of such refugee camp jokes. I know refugee camps; I was in one nearly 40 years ago. I hope none of us have to live in them, but our level of involvement or lack of is making change happen is an open invitation to the refugee camp.

Unfortunately, the truth is that the nature of our extant culture and political process can only move us down the road to Somalia. Failure to be perceptive enough to recognize this and act is for me criminal negligence. My personal role and that of the Restoration Group is to awaken our collective consciousness to the looming anarchy. The portends are there in Anambra, in the new dimensions of the battle against injustice by the people of the Niger Delta, in the types of Robin Hood armed robbery we witness in Imo and Abia, in religious and ethnic strife North of the Niger-Benue confluence, but even more remarkably in the barbaric attempt to prevent decent people from participating in the political process through the killing of several aspirants to public office and the violent muzzling of others.

Why, in particular is the quest for political position, to render service, so desperate that the ultimate value, human life, has come to mean so little? To me it is partly because the stakes have become so unbelievably "high" for those with a small sense of self worth, because a society in the throes of collapse, apologies to Jared Diamond, has allowed a state Governor to become the owner of a state, pillaging the treasury, determining who breathes and who laughs, terrorizing the citizenry at will, every scoundrel is willing to stake everything to be a Governor.

The way the so called high and mighty pay obeisance to a Nigerian president, crawling prostate into his presence has made those not big enough to realize how small that is to believe not being there is denial of life itself; the crisis of the moment is one of the restoring Nigeria to the values of earlier times when man's dignity was more assured. Even with much less known natural resource endowment, those days of life remind us of the need to re-invent Nigeria. The need check the powers of those in authority and to diversify centers of prestige away from politics. Checks and balances from our institutions remain key.

Unless the people get out of the cynicism mode and take hold of the idea of re-inventing Nigeria, our history may be a sad historical footnote. But we can reclaim this land, we can consign the big man syndrome to history's dustbin, have high ranking politicians walk around among the people. Leadership quest then becomes largely a middle class pursuit of ideas and ideals rather that of a game of fat cats and scoundrels that has made policy implementation a nightmare in Nigeria. The starting point is for people to believe that change is not possible but imperative. In some ways this must involve a journey to the old values that made Nigeria hold out so much promise that sunny October 1 1960 morning when my father dressed me up as a Fulani prince and put me on a horse back in Kano to imagine the bright new future that has come upon us.

We must dream new dreams if anarchy is to be averted and the true promise of this land claimed, for me that promise is one in which social harmony is driven by economic prosperity and values which elevate the dignity of the human person to the center point of public policy. The pathway to this state is massive job creation and infrastructure development which are twin components of the RG initiative and a second twin component of two securities- security of life and property, and food security. So it is simply about jobs, the rule of law, our values, and economic growth.

Given where we are, this desired outcome will not be delivered by transactional leadership modes of negotiating power shift. It will require transformational leaders, servant leaders with knowledge who are driven by a clear vision of a triumphant Nigeria, and are impassioned about the common good. To use the democratic process to advance the good of all, we must also remain sensitive to structural impediments that are anti-democratic in nature and struggle to eliminate them. As things are the electoral act seems designed to make mergers of political parties problematic.

This at a time our economic reform agenda is promoting such logic for banks and for insurance companies. Is this the deliberate to sabotage the will of the Nigerian people who may be desirous of progressive parties coming together to provide structure for competing against a party they are thoroughly dissatisfied with. Our voice must rise against these provisions of the electoral act so we may not be covered in shame as we watch smaller neighbors like Benin Republic use more liberal electoral laws to elect leadership of a quality higher than the giant across the border has been "favoured" with.

To achieve the promise, this great potential of Nigeria, we need to forge elite consensus. This is why this village square meeting crosses party lines, involves the partisan and non-partisan. It is this quest that pushed me into the murky waters that we must purify. If I can be guaranteed that this course will be pursued if I should withdraw from the purified, formerly murky waters. I will do so immediately. I have only one interest-that my children may not lament living in hell called a country because their father could not see visions or was so big a coward. May God and history show mercy to us all


    Professor Utomi is a Presidential aspirant and convener of the Restoration Group (RG)