Darkening clouds continue to gather over Nigeria’s horizon.
And this is not just because the Buhari administration has been brutally inept in its management of the national space — midway into its tenure it is still struggling in its search for a credible narrative to describe its preferred exit route out of the cul-de-sac into which the Jonathan administration drove the nation. But beyond the phenomenal wobbling and fumbling of the incumbent administration lies a deeper worry. Something about the nature of our local reward and punishment system may have left us with compatriots whose ethical make up rests on the belief that the “end justifies the means”.
And what are our preferred “ends”? Exotic houses, cars, and the adulation of others who we imagine contemplate these, have become ends in themselves. Chasing after these and other incarnations of the material we have had recourse to an infinite array of means — most of these less than noble. In a way of speaking, we have prostrated Francis Bacon’s four idols before mammon!
Why, or how is this of any import?
One of the arguments in favour of a democracy is the opportunity it provides at the end of every electoral cycle for the electorate to comment on the performance in office of the outgoing government. If, however, the cultural milieu within which this choice is to be exercised is as leprous as our penchant for conspicuous consumption suggests, then there is little chance that this option will result in much change at the end of the Buhari administration’s tenure.
Again, this is not of much use as analysis that might help design a solution to the problem. For, in the end, it might be this same mechanism that explains why, after the vote against the crassness of the Jonathan administration, we appear to be right back where we started. Extend this argument all the way back to 1960, and one can readily explain the game of musical chairs that has been the lot of government in the country since independence.
Yet, in all this muck, gems are to be found. And none more profound (in my estimation) than this gentleman who years ago, was MD/CEO of one of my many work places. Now and again I run into him at this monthly talkfest, the main watering hole of the business community in Lagos. Given his high-octane credentials, I am always wowed by the lack of pomp or event to his entry. And once done, where folks much junior, and less endowed would saunter at the lobby waiting for their drivers and cars to drive up the ramp and pick them up (remember, it is not so much the convenience, as the show of new cars that informs this ritual), he would quietly, disappear down the stairs in search of his driver.
Some years back, a mutual acquaintance ran into this same gentleman at the main airport in Lagos. Very Nigerian, he walked up to the latter, beseeching him to transfer navigation of his trolley. He received an earful from this former MD/CEO. The importuning acquaintance was reminded of how life is our respective trolleys, and of the importance of each one learning how to push his. On arriving the U.K., the lesson continued. This time, this former MD/CEO drew my colleague’s attention to the spectacle of every Nigerian on board the aircraft pushing their trolleys at the airport in London— especially those, who while in Lagos had appeared singularly incapable of carrying out this chore. “What”, he asked “makes it okay for our ‘big men’ to push trolleys laden with their baggage at the airport in London, but not at the one in Lagos?” Now, I hear that with all his kids having left home, he has put up his house in Ikoyi as he searches for a serviced 3-bedroom flat to spend what remains of his days here.
Ultimately, our bane as a country flows from the fact that the balance between the useful and the beautiful is so skewed in our decision-making models. But what is the meaning of exceptions like this bloke? Do they simply prove the rule (especially when they are so few and far between)? Or do they provide a basis for hoping that with a goodly number of such examples collaborating we may, one day, find our way out of this perennial impasse?