Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Jide Adeniyi-Jones' thoughts on Nigeria

The photographer Jide Adeniyi-Jones sent this to myself and others today. He intended it to be published in the local newspapers (it was not). Please feel free to forward it on:

Some thoughts that I sent to the papers a month ago, since they were not
used I thought I would send them to a few friends:

‘This is Nigeria’

It is hard to say precisely when Nigeria lost its way, but soon after the
demise of the first republic we lost our self-confidence. In defense, we
took refuge behind words like Giant, Great and Excellence as if their
forceful proclamation would endow us with the qualities that they define.
The very need for these superlatives in the face of our obvious challenges
is itself symptomatic of our neurosis. But it is a little too easy to seek
the root of our current predicament in military intervention. After all the
military were hardly the bastion of the brightest and the best of our
pre-independence population. So in the battle for the soul of the nation,
they are unlikely to have won such a resounding victory; even with all the
instruments of coercion at their disposal. No, I think we have to look a
little farther back.

Pre-independence politics, as dubious as it sometimes was, did not sink to
the universal game of shadows and echoes that it has become today; where the
vitally important issues of human interaction are in the hands of sorcerers
skilled in slight of tongue and hand, with the spoils going to the slickest
or most ruthless shyster. A politics of ideas was emerging with
inspirational thinkers like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir
Ahmadu Bello prominent among its leaders. Today, of course, all of their
epithets Chief, Dr and Sir regularly preface a single individual’s name
assigning to him or her unmerited qualities of all the titles. Our fear of
accomplishment makes us democratize it, we spread it everywhere, in the
process trivializing achievement and making a mockery of cultural, academic,
and religious endeavor.

Proof of the early politics of ideas, can be found in the NCNC (National
Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons) triumph in the erstwhile Western
Region. But Nigeria lost its essence the day the western legislators
‘crossed carpet’ to install Awo instead of Zik, a non-Yoruba, as premier.
Thought and ability quietly lost their currency as the pursuit of our
highest common factor gave way to a desperate clinging to our lowest common
denominator. We became consumed with claiming for our ethnic allocation of
the national pie, meanwhile the short-circuiting of the fledgling political
system in Ibadan resulted in the morass that is Nigeria today.
‘This is Nigeria’ I feel fortunate to be old enough to remember a time when
those same words, with slightly different emphasis, carried a code
diametrically opposed to what they represent today. The indignant ‘that
cannot happen here, this is Nigeria, not some banana republic.’ of my youth,
has given way to a resigned, ‘Siddon there my friend, this is Nigeria’. The
code works with ruthless efficiency and enjoys universal recognition and
acceptance. Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike understand and use the phrase
to end discussion of the most shocking and disgraceful occurrences. It
quells all outrage or enquiry, as it unfailingly co-opts us into impotent
acceptance of our common inability to live up to our potential, after all
this is Nigeria. We cannot ask very much of our peers or ourselves; this is

Hearsay has it that, in the run up to the recent Senate reading of the
constitutional amendment bill, the third term architects at The Rock, when
cautioned that success of the project did not look likely, commanded ‘Make
it happen, this is Nigeria!’ Today there is a distinct air of confidence
even on danfo buses as I overhear ‘They could never have succeeded sha, this
is Nigeria’. Thus the battle for the soul of Nigeria continues.
In retrospect, it seems that the whole drawn out third term drama was
therapeutic for the nation. Whether President Obasanjo wanted a third term
or not is neither here nor there. In the end, the attempt was foiled, not by
the will of a good or bad president, but by an emerging democratic
structure. Balance of powers, the legislature curbing the potential excess
of the executive. Straight from the textbook on democracy, this is Nigeria.
As for Obasanjo, with all his strengths and weaknesses, he has always
appeared to me to have an eye on posterity. As post colonial African history
is written, he has tried to position himself to be in the chapter with
Mandela rather than Mobutu. So it seemed to me a distortion of common sense
that he would today be striving for a third term in office. It appears that
I was probably dead wrong. Robert Mugabe, reviled today in some circles, was
a bona fide African champion as he led a courageous and principled assault -
from the bush and then the ballot box - on Ian Smith’s stranglehold on
Rhodesia. To this day I get goose bumps when I remember him at Rufaro
Stadium, after midnight, with Bob Marley celebrating the liberation of
Zimbabwe. Liberation that left apartheid South Africa exposed and alone, a
night on which he symbolized endless possibilities for Africa. What changed
Mugabe? I do not know, not having walked in his moccasins. So it is with
OBJ. His experience under the boot of Abacha followed by years surrounded
by the sycophantic hordes in Aso and environs may well have altered his
self-image. The Museveni example may also have encouraged him to think that
a change in the constitution might do the trick.

Constitution change having failed, much time is still being wasted in
speculation about what the president will do now to achieve a third term or
who he will select to succeed him? This is idle speculation because if we
have learnt anything from the last couple of weeks, Baba’s endorsement of a
candidate now may be the kiss of death for that individual’s presidential
ambition. In our far from perfect legislature, members on the right side of
history, have a newfound swagger in their stride. A fresh confidence and
pride borne, not from their bank balances, but from the respect and
adulation of those whose interest they are supposed to serve. In the system
when a few good men and women stand up remarkable things are possible, this
is Nigeria.

There are indeed tides in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood lead
to good fortune, but if missed leave you high and dry. Luckily, the nature
of tides is that they return in cycles giving second and third chances at
success. This is cold comfort if you live in a country that serially misses
its tides, but it is reassuring in the grand scheme of things to know that
with each new surge we have another chance to steer a steadier course. I,
like many others, experience ebbs and flows of despair and hope on our
chequered road to tomorrow. We have been stuck in a mire of, turn-by-turn,
chop and go politics, with our main focus being on whose turn it is chop
next. Meanwhile, measured by almost any social indicator that you choose,
life in Nigeria has declined or at best stagnated over the last few decades.
Today the paradox of Nigeria is exemplified by fiber optic cable being laid
through the length and breath of a country whose minister of power says will
not have steady supply of electricity for the next fifty odd years.
If the flicker seen recently in the national assembly becomes a flame, even
the honorable minister may be surprised at what is possible; after all there
was a time when we put our best foot forward in an attempt to build a
nation. Umoru Altine was the mayor of Enugu. Mazi Unbonu Ojike was the
deputy Mayor of Lagos. People like Mercy Eneli were on the Lagos city
council (and their seats were not zoned to them). So we will see the
not-to-distant day in which the inhabitants of Zamfara State, realize that
the administrator in Abuja assuring that their environment is protected from
ruthless mineral exploitation is a woman named Oby, and that the local bank
manager giving the market woman in Ogun state a loan was born in Borno. That
will be the day in which Nigeria has found itself once again.

By: Jide Adeniyi-Jones


culturalmiscellany 1:47 pm  

An excellent piece of writing. I am not familiar with all of the history included but it is very well written and its message clear.

the flying monkeys 7:52 pm  

Thanks for this post Jeremy. I would also like to thank the author. Very focused and interesting point.

ps: As an aside, I now have the cover of ayetoro's new album on my blog, perhaps you may have seen it in naija papers.

T-man,  8:39 pm  

That was a write-up with no obvious bias points. Thanks for posting it Jeremy.

Anonymous,  7:09 am  

Beautiful, Jez. Simply beautiful.

One day even Baba will realise that the 3rd term debate was one of the turning points of Nigeria's political journey, despite the bloody nose it inflicted on him.

Very soon also I pray Atiku discovers that a vote against 3rd term was not a vote for him.

Simply evidence of Nigeria's resurgent self-confidence.


Through these eyes 6:50 pm  

Nice post. I'm now an avid reader of your blog. Very well articulated.

nigeria, what's new 9:47 am  

The Nigerian & African leaders have visited every progressive country on earth, yet after decades of Phds and MBAs, these people go back home to only love their own group. They have forgotten their "racist" experiences in the countries visited. Inaction and ineptitude coupled with the sickness of Tribalism have meant zero progress. Special prayers have become their mantra, they have forgotten, "love all and serve all".

Life's education is incomplete without Chinua Achebe's "ANOTHER AFRICA" (excerpt here http://www.salon.com/wlust/pass/1998/11/cov_15pass.html) but Jide Adeniyi-Jones's thought on Nigeria will be remembered for showing us a true picture of home.

Seke,  4:37 pm  

Beautiful essay by Mr. Adeniyi-jones

Anonymous,  3:43 pm  

Another dimension, check out: http://www.andnetwork.com/index?service=direct/0/Africa/$StorySummary$3.fullStory&sp=l42090

business voodoo 5:44 pm  

thank you for sharing the letter ... unlike america, perhaps, at least acknowledgement of all that is wrong belongs to "this is nigeria"; the layer of denial and lack of acceptance of responsibility in america still exists.

i surmise that with the common man seeing what is so wrong, and at least accepting that 'this is nigeria', nigeria is ahead of america in its healing and restoration.

thanks again.
peace & harmony,
'freedom must be exercised to stay in shape!'

Anonymous,  8:38 pm  

Not to be too negative but i found the piece a bit too long-winded, a bit too negative and somewhat unfocused. What was the central theme of the piece?

'less is more' is one dictum a lot of Nigerian commentators would do well to take heed of otherwise they risk preaching only to the converted.

kemi,  11:54 am  

Glad I'm not the only one who thought so.

His thoughts were neither here nor there and did not say anything I hadn't read a hundred times before.

Technically they were poorly delivered.

If you want to read a good speech/essay, the one by Dele Olojede which Jeremy posted here is heaps better and is actually coherent.


koboko olojumeta 7:32 pm  

Kemi and anonymous, you are both pessimists and confusionists. No wonder you are both jobless. You are also possibly sadists

Boso 9:29 am  

There's no need to imsult Kemi and anon. for expressing their opinion.

I find the article to be very good, and I agree with it 100%. Maybe it was a little long winded, but most Nigerian writers I know will always use 10 words when one will do.

pelegius_the_heretic 6:40 pm  

There is a worrying strain of nationalism that contends that geography is the most significant aspect of existence. As an historian, I cannot doubt the significance of geography in human devalopment, but it has been over emphasized by those who wish to excuse the actions of their government by saying " America is not Sweden" or "Nigeria is not Iceland."

Perhaps this is only becouse we chose not to make it this way.

How is Nigeria worse off than Iceland? Certainly it has more natural resources, not just than Iceland, but than almost anywhere.

The British were corupt as rulers and foolish when the handed over power, the Nigerian élites, and the élites all over Africa and Asia and Latin América must learn to govern well, as one would hope that their educations in the U.S. and in Britain would help them to do.

Iceland is not Nigeria becouse Iceland is run for the good of the people in a manner which Nigeria is not. Not yet, anyway.

Awodi Hassan,  8:48 am  

Excellent! There is hope in the land.

Anonymous,  12:02 pm  

Koboko, the hallmark of civilised discourse is the right to differ with others without resorting to invective. If anything, as I commented, it is the author that was unduly pessimistic in their analysis. I’m not surprised that the article wasn’t published. No editor worth their salt would touch this and not because it’s controversial. It’s an incoherent polemic! As for being jobless, I’m not sure how you’ve reached that conclusion. But even if that were to be the case – which it isn’t - are you saying that the jobless shouldn’t express a point of view?

Thanks Kemi. Dele's speech I thought conveyed an elegant and eloquent analysis of the challenges facing Nigeria today. However, I feel slightly frustrated that most of the debates and discussions never advance beyond analyses of why Nigeria is failing to achieve its potential. I suppose it’s much harder to come up with critiques than to proffer grounded and tangible policy prescriptions for change rooted in a long-term vision for the country based on social justice, egalitarianism, and equality and opportunity for all.

I feel much of the contemporary analysis is becoming dated and ignores the shifts, changes and opportunities taking place globally e.g globalisation, pace of technological change and a weakening of Western capitalist hegemony.

These global factors and recent statistical evidence over the last fiver year indicate that the direction of travel is positive and I am generally more sanguine about the prognosis for Nigeria. Inflation is down, GDP has grown, infant mortality has fallen slightly and inward investment has risen. The recent debt-write off also represents a golden opportunity for investments and programmes targeted at poor.

However, I fully concur that there is a long way to go. Levels of inequality are shameful, relative poverty as measured by per capita income is one of the highest in the world, poor governance and corruption is still endemic and youth unemployment is leading to high crime waves etc. I could go on. The point I am trying to make however is that we need to be more balanced in our diagnoses and be bolder and more visionary about the way forward.

If I were in Government one of the first things I would do would be to redress the structural imbalance in the economy brought about by years of over-reliance on oil as a source of revenue. Sadly, this is an area successive governments have persistently neglected. So long as we fail to nurture and promote alternative economic activities, particularly those within which Nigeria can develop a sustainable competitive edge I fear most of the above challenges will persist. We also need an honest national debate on the way forward for a more equitable redistribution of oil revenues. The situation in the Niger Delta is a disgrace almost on par with apartheid and cannot be allowed to continue.

My other prescription is socio-political. The pace and breadth of change will largely depend on Nigerian public. They have a shared responsibility to become better informed citizens, more socially enlightened, less apathetic, to hold their public institutions to account and to stop being so malleable to the sectional manipulations of the ruling elite. They need to stop selling their votes, use their votes more wisely and to police the democratic and election processes so that elections become truly free and fair. The question is how can we make this shift in power come about?

koboko floggings,  3:44 pm  


I take your point, but there is no need to put the guy down. If you dont like it or if you are unable to grasp it, or see the corehency in it, then please do not poison the minds of others. Please respect my name.

Mona 8:50 pm  

Very long-winded but an interesting read.....We will always have different opinions or else we would all be muppets with the same way of thinking lol...no I think everyone has been able to support their views well..

Jeremy n others,
P.S. Check out the forum I currently have going on my blog for a week. xxx

Anonymous,  7:40 pm  

Hey Jeremy, where are you? You hardly ever disappeared for this long in the past! Guess you just decided to have a well-deserved break without informing your audience in advance ...

kemi,  10:18 pm  

koboko floggings said...

I take your point, but there is no need to put the guy down.

You clearly have a problem reading and understanding. Nobody put the guy down, we merely gave an opinion on his article. There was nothing personal there.

You might want to familiarise yourself with the concepts of free speech & constructive criticism

If you dont like it or if you are unable to grasp it, or see the corehency in it, then please do not poison the minds of others.
This is another stupid conclusion.
Offering people an alternative point of view is not "Poisoning their mind". Perhaps you should give the readers of the blog an opportunity to see what others have to say about the article.

Unless of course you believe they are idiots who cannot understand these things without your guidance!

Nobody needs a mythical "koboko" to tell them what to think. Who made you the decision-maker on what is good and what isn't?

A blog is a place for free comment. It is meant to stir up discussion. It is not a praise sheet.

Gbemi's Piece 5:08 am  

Where are you? I keep checking back for updates but don't see any. Hope all is well!

Baba Alaye,  11:28 am  

Hey Jeremy. Did the Mosquitoes finally get you?
Where you at man? Does anyone know if the this guy can still fog up a mirror?

ologeh otuke charles 3:53 am  

the main issue about nigeria is simple, we just need to remember that we are not here in the present to 'finish the futre'. if the likes of Azikiwe, Awolowo and Balewa had this present day mentally of 'make i chop my own comot', nigeria would have been sold out to foreigners by now. these men had a dream for nigeria, but i guess there dreams died when they died.

The Pulse - 3:13 pm  

This week Iceland hosts a Play The Game conference about sport and society - mega events such as football in Nigeria and Ethiopia will be debated. Help us create debate and dialogue on www.thepulse2007.org

tyna,  7:28 am  

I read your blog,but am wondering what has happened to you,no new post for a long time now.

bathmate 8:47 pm  

That’s looks so nice your posting.
Everything looks good in your posting.
That will be necessary for all. Thanks for your posting.

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