Nigeria in Distress; By Onah Iduh 

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Recently, I stumbled on this opinion article I wrote to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Democracy Day in 2009, shortly after I resigned my appointment as Chief Press Secretary to the then Deputy Governor of Benue State, Chief Stephen Lawani. It was published sometime in June or July 2009 by Abuja-based Peoples Daily Newspaper. Twelve years after, the arguments, I believe, still remain as refreshing and pertinent, hence, my decision to republish it as today’s StraighTalk. Happy reading!

MAY 29 obviously has become a symbolic date in Nigeria. Whether the democracy we practice is pseudo or in experimental state or even in chains, it is being gradually imprinted in our consciousness that it is the day ‘Democracy’ was planted and magically germinated in our political garden.

In other words, it is the birthday of our version of Democracy. Forget the fact that she was conceived, delivered and matured in Greece several centuries ago. It will even be correct to say that Democracy, being a human phenomenon, died and reincarnated many times over, in several forms and in as many countries on earth.

Yet the way we celebrate it, especially since Oga Obasanjo made it a national holiday in year 2000, one will wonder if it is because we were unlucky to have serially begotten an Abiku democracy that, before 1999, never lived to become six.

The Nigerian situation looks like the Sisyphean curse. As a punishment from the gods for his excessive pride in believing that his cleverness surpassed that of Zeus, as the myth goes, Sisyphus, King of Tartarus in ancient Greece, was condemned to eternally roll a huge boulder up a steep hill, but before he could reach the top of the hill, he would helplessly watch the boulder roll back to the bottom of the hill, forcing him to start all over again.

Ideologues of civil rule will of course argue that democracy is better than the most benevolent dictatorship, a position any enlightened person will agree with given the sad history of military leadership in Nigeria. But then there lies the tragic irony of the current democracy all our leaders are frolicking and partying over for simply surviving ten years (it is now 22 years old). The fact is that though we hate dictatorship and love democracy, it is the dictator who sired our democracy and exactly in his own image. Perhaps that is why our Democracy is so amorphous, so anaemic and infested with a virus political scientists would be right to call Democracy Immunodeficiency Virus.

This Democracy that was 10 on May 29, 2009, like the Abiku ones of the past republics, has running in her veins traits of her father who raped and planted his seed on a pliant mother – Nigeria. We have a Democracy that we define and defend only in theory. In reality, our Democracy exhibits the pertinent traits of its irresponsible father. Essentially, we are fixated by the ideal of democracy but its practical manifestations on our everyday existence remain ephemeral.

Our leaders neither have it in their blood nor do the masses see it beyond the prism of naira and kobo. In other words, the crisis inherent in our inability to cultivate a proper democratic culture is so complex that we do not have to celebrate for now because, as Chinua Achebe said, it is “morning yet on creation day.”

In fact, Nigeria is currently in greater stress than she was in the days of military dictatorship. It is such that many, like my father who experienced colonial rule, now crave for the colonial era with a certain sense of nostalgia. It is this sense of sorrow that, without doubt, informs Nigerian Catholic Bishops to formulate some prayers on two core titles: “Prayer for Nigeria in Distress” and “Prayer Against Bribery and Corruption in Nigeria.”

The prayers, reproduced below, for the benefit of non-Catholics, perhaps symbolise the level of desperation that every human effort may have failed to solve the Nigerian enigma. For instance, the first prayer, formulated during the final days of General Sani Abacha, and which is still being congregationally prayed after every Catholic Mass, goes like this:

Prayer for Nigeria in Distress: All-Powerful and Merciful Father, you are God of justice, love and peace. You rule over all the nations of the earth. Power and might are in your hands and no one can withstand you. We present our country, Nigeria, before you. We praise and thank you, for you are the source of all we are. We are sorry for all the sins we have committed and for the good deeds we have failed to do. In your loving forgiveness keep us safe from the punishments we deserve. Lord, we are weighed down not only by uncertainties but also by moral, economic and political problems. Listen to the cries of your people who confidently turn to you. God of infinite goodness, our strength in adversity, our health in weakness, our comfort in sorrow, be merciful to us, your people, spare this nation, Nigeria, from chaos, anarchy and doom. Bless us with your kingdom of justice, love and peace. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!

Even though we have the legislature at all levels of government, it is however a corruption of the ideal legislative institution obtainable in ideal democratic societies. Here, our legislators do not see themselves as representing anybody but themselves. The executive, from Aso Rock to the 36 government houses, fail to comprehend the logic of governance. They crave after praises, awards and recognitions for the very little they do as if that was not why they were elected in the first place. Compared to the resources available to them, our leaders have not been able to meet the minimum expectations demanded of them but yet we are inundated daily by a catalogue of achievements.

For theologians and the religious, the answer to that was quick and prompt. But compare it with the “Prayer Against Bribery and Corruption in Nigeria,” composed shortly after May 29, 1999.

Father in Heaven, you always provide for all your creatures, so that all may live as you willed. You have blessed our country Nigeria with rich human and natural resources to be used to your honour and glory and for the well-being of every Nigerian. We are deeply sorry for the wrong use of these gifts and blessings through acts of injustice, bribery and corruption as a result of which many of our people are hungry, sick, ignorant and defenceless. Father, you alone can heal us and our nation of this sickness, we beg you, touch our lives and the lives of leaders and people so that we may all realise the evil of bribery and corruption and work hard to eliminate it. Raise up for us God-fearing people and leaders who care for us and who will lead us in the path of peace, prosperity and progress. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!

This prayer has not been answered. Whether it is being answered or will be answered is a matter of individual opinion. But obviously, ten years down the democracy road, what seems to have changed is only the nomenclature of military dictatorship. The characters, the pattern, methodology or modus operandi of governance remain as they use to be.

Even though we have the legislature at all levels of government, it is however a corruption of the ideal legislative institution obtainable in ideal democratic societies. Here, our legislators do not see themselves as representing anybody but themselves. The executive, from Aso Rock to the 36 government houses, fail to comprehend the logic of governance. They crave after praises, awards and recognitions for the very little they do as if that was not why they were elected in the first place. Compared to the resources available to them, our leaders have not been able to meet the minimum expectations demanded of them but yet we are inundated daily by a catalogue of achievements.

Prayer, basically and simply, is the expression or the communication of inner desires to God, that is, in religious and spiritual senses. We could also pray to ourselves; in which case, it will be a function of social and psychological exertion of will, a will that frees or liberates our minds from being pinned down by either internally or externally imposed hardships and conditions. In that sense, such prayer becomes a vow, a promise for liberation from social or psychological or other human elements of inertia.

The Nigerian situation looks like the Sisyphean curse. As a punishment from the gods for his excessive pride in believing that his cleverness surpassed that of Zeus, as the myth goes, Sisyphus, King of Tartarus in ancient Greece, was condemned to eternally roll a huge boulder up a steep hill, but before he could reach the top of the hill, he would helplessly watch the boulder roll back to the bottom of the hill, forcing him to start all over again.

While the Sisyphean curse is too harsh to compare the Nigeria crisis with, the prolonged social anomie and the progressive decay marked by the vainglorious attitude of our leaders towards our national situation is too familiar for comfort. The distress in Nigeria may not be as permanent as that of Sisyphus, but it is clear that we still have before us decades before we stop rolling the huge rock up the steep hill to be able to tip it over the peak.

The reasons are very simple. One, our leaders take oath of office and oath of allegiance, which they never observe or even contemplate the consequences of violating. Two, Nigerians, as followers, are too docile to hold their leaders accountable for their deeds in office and therefore have resorted to prayers as quoted above.

For those of us who believe in the Almighty, He works in wonderful ways that the human mind in its most ingenious state can ever conceive or imagine. But God would certainly not come to our aid in the current situation to physically battle forces of oppression. Yes! The most appropriate prayer we need is to pray to ourselves to be free from self-inflicted inertia.

Prayer, basically and simply, is the expression or the communication of inner desires to God, that is, in religious and spiritual senses. We could also pray to ourselves; in which case, it will be a function of social and psychological exertion of will, a will that frees or liberates our minds from being pinned down by either internally or externally imposed hardships and conditions. In that sense, such prayer becomes a vow, a promise for liberation from social or psychological or other human elements of inertia.

It is essentially that desire, that prayer or vow that nurtured and sustained revolutions, resistance movements and mass protests even in the flaming face of death. It is also that prayer that inspired people we today venerate as legends and historical icons who were able to change the course and essence of their society from lack to prosperity, acute underdevelopment to productivity, immorality to decency, etcetera.

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