THE NIGERIA QUESTION
Welcome to the Town Hall talk where I tell the vision and mission of the Nigeria Question. I am a Nigerian. I am a Northemer nourished by the twin Rivers that rise from the Futa Jullon Mountains in the North West and from the Cameroon Mountains in the North East into River Benue to form the ‘Three- in-One River Niger that gives life to the North, South, liasl and West, of one Nigeria. I believe in the Holy Trinity of God! I believe in the Trinity of Nigeria in Allah, the maker of all things. I believe in the one and many, unity-in-diversity. I believe in Nigeria, a unity- in- diversity. I am a Westerner, mentored in a citadel in Oduduwaland, to drink at the feet of sages of the Wisdom of Olodumare. I am a South-easterner taught by Chineke to embrace the creative genius to dream and become the very best of God’s gift to the world. I am a South-Southomer of the Land of Promise, nurtured in counsel of Akwa Abasi always to cultivate in gratitude to see all things as gifted not merited. My ancestry DNA spans 250 tribes of over 300 languages. I drink from the wells of the Hausa — Fulanis, the Yorubas, the Igalas, thelgbos, the Binis/Edos, the Okrikas, the ltsekiris, the Urhobos, the Ogonis, the Ijalas, the Ejakams, the Eﬁk-Ibibios, the Okobo and the Oros. I am a hound of God the most High who gives mc all for all to be solicitous to others in justice, mercy and love. I am a Catholic priest at the service of all, universally. I am an analogue native of the last half of the 20th century. I am determined to bridge the cascading resolute digital canvas of the emerging light of the 21st century. I believe the future is now in our computers, laptops, smart phones, iPads, iPods, Face book, WhatsApp, devices and social media that crisscross space-time by the click of a button. I believe in intra and interrelationships, in connections and inter-connections and in communication.
I believe in Nigeria and its democratic process. I believe things can change if we but change attitudes. I believe we can think differently, do things differently, using our
passions, virtues and values to serve others and bring about a new world. In the New Democratic Nigeria fear of relationship, connections and inter connectedness must trans-form into “closer together” with families, villages, tribes and tongues, ethnic groups, other religions and faith traditions, different world views and ﬂourishing cultures. Socio-cultural, tribal, ethnic, political and religious forces cannot remain but must rearrange. Refusal is to smash into the void of change. Our times call for a revolution of thought, attitude and action. We are the revolutionaries of the new democratic process of Nigeria. Our bad habits of money and corrupt power must die in ourselves and rise in newness of lives. Nigeria is my home; “the only home of our river- mussels, our tortoises, our souls, of the spirit of our race.” I tell the story of my home, our home, Nigeria unprepared but “leaving its course towards the boulders of the
roaring winds of future/change.” I tell my story of Nigeria so that we might steer its comse and give it shelter in our world. I stand up for Nigeria. Let its stand up for our country now. Let me be the Story Teller. You arc my Story Listeners. Thereafter you will also tell your tale of Nigeria, your home, our only home!
Nigeria déja vu! Familiar experience!
This is a true experience that may sound familiar. I lived through it with others while serving in the Secretariat of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria. In 2011, the Catholic Bishop’s
Conference delegation was on an official trip to attend a Sub-Committee meeting of the All Africa aid Madagascar Bishop’s Conference in Accra, Ghana. Our flight from Lagos arrived Kotoka International airport during the evening rush hours that occasioned a snail paced trafﬁc. The Ghanaian Secretariat driver wanted us to get to our lodging place as soon as possible to rest in view of the meeting that was to start later in the evening. But the crawling trafﬁc dictated the hour we would reach our destination. Our driver respected that fact and stayed lhe course of his car following the dynamics of the trafﬁc as other drivers did or so we thought all other drivers did.Suddenly, from nowhere, a taxi driver drove his cab outside of
the trafﬁc, with fury, past every other car, blowing a hell of the red dust into a blinding whirling cloud. Our driver knew the owner of the taxi cab very well. His remark made so that all of us in the car would hear was, “He is a Ghanaian hut he has lived and driven in Lagos for many years before returning to Accra!” He had made his point before the right audience. We all heard and understood the driver’s message — breaking trafﬁc law with impunity is no big deal in Nigeria but it was somehow strange in Accra, Ghana.
Our Ghanaian driver was worried about it becoming a new normal in Accra, He did something about it by speaking out even though he needed a bigger audience for his message. The point about his talk is that he did something by speaking out about an uncivil attitude. And here is my response lo the talk ~ the tmcivil attitude. Even though Nigerians have been identiﬁed as law breakers, many Nigerians are not comfortable with this state of affairs in our dear country. One living example will sufﬁce to verify this assertion. Some years ago, a sitting governor of a foremost state took the bull by the horn one day when he confronted a serving top military brass who willed to dnve his car his own way, against the standing law, that no other car except buses should ply the “Bus Routes in Lagos. The governor’s rebuke, in public view, was terse and made the point about those who are supposed to help enforce the law becoming law breakers; in this instance, I was someone in an establishment historically known, adored and loved for its commitment to keeping the letter and spirit of discipline who debunked the age-old myth of military discipline, Why was this an issue when many others do the same and go free or buy their freedom if caught by an enforcement officer?
The Colonel was just unlucky to be at the wrong place at the right time when the maker of the law willed to be the keeper of the law. Otherwise who cares about breaking trafﬁc laws; and who cares about the noise pollution, in the land, caused by governors, law makers women and men of timber and caliber who, in their state-owned cars, guided by state owned siren jeeps, even drive opposite the traﬁic with impunity? Still on the military, the nation watched in total unbelief when former military heads of state and their lieutenants refused to appear before the Nigerian Truth Commission, aka, Oputa Panel. Nothing happened to them then,’ nothing happens to them now! Impunity of integrity! Illegitimacy in the land where leadership is accountable to none but to itself. Oh! But I here was one shining moment with a shining star when a serving military govemor stood up to military tyranny to protect the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief and paid the ultimate price. Colonel Francis Adekunle.F ajuyi leﬁ us a legacy about legitimacy — allegiance to the rule of law. Between Iwo and Ibadan is a piece of land were the evil did was done. That land is a sacred and a memorial space. Today it deserves to be a national pilgrimage center for the lessons it holds on integrity, leadership and patriotism..
In those dark days of military fiat, Lady Justice seemed to be a widow in the Nigerian state. But there were also justice crusaders wedded to Lady Justice and paid the price! Some are dead whose spirits live on; while we are still lucky to be with some still standing.
One such crusader for social justice was Gani Fawehinmi. He earned the people’s trust with the title “SAM”, short for “Senior Advocate of the Masses.” Another we tend to forget was Aminu Kano who challenged us with the abiding democratic question, “What is the purpose of political power? Why do we seek political office?” On Tuesday, August l, 2017, members of the “Tai Solarin Organization”, commemorated the late Tai Solarin with the “2017 Tai Solarin Memorial Walk”. Surprised! No, not at all! Nigerians still keep the memory of the great Ikenne native who served humanity not out of a sense of legal duty but simply because of being involved in the human journey. There were times he shocked many who found him on the streets of Lagos carrying human remains to give them decent burial. Few still recall what the great Chinua Achebe did when he rejected a national honour to protest bad leadership in the nation. Among the living we can never forget is the literary Titan, Wole Soyinka, fighter for truth and justice. He has given us a memorial in ‘The Man Died‘:
“The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyraimy.” An equally fearless justice icon is Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (Retired), who could tell the truth to the face of a maverick boss as no other would dare to do. Yet another social justice crusader, in the religious fold, is Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, the “Gad-ﬂy” of democratic culture, who stings and soothes, telling the truth and allowing the chips to fall where they may. Statistics is not the issue here but the point that is being made is that: Nigeria may still be dancing on the blinks but there are candles in the darkness; there is hope for Nigeria! “The Nigeria Question” underscores the power of being and doing and the excellence of our deeds as catalysts for future development and progress of democratic Nigeria.
Nigeria Deja Vecu! From familiarity to Reality!
Haven’t we lived through these next experiences? Aren’t they like recollections? May be but they are still happening. Lawlessness still rules Nigeria. Even during the current democratic dispensation, many will recall the day school children went on excursion to the nation’s capital to watch their law makers in session. There, before the children’s “korokoro” eyes, the lawmakers were slugging it outwith chairs as missiles at each other. Che, che, che-e! See us see trouble oh! Violent and reckless behavior in the most exalted of places in the land? This
too is part of our political corruption.
The litany of uncivil attitudes in Nigeria continues. In modem Turkey, under the no nonsense President Erdogan, noise pollution from places of worship are under control. Religious preachers are those qualified and do not use their pulpits to call the faithful out for civil disobedience. In Nigeria, look around, religious houses are thc worst offenders on noise pollution with mega phones and band sets to match. I suspect many ear patients today in Nigeria may be committed members of noise warrior churches and mosques. The messages of miracles and prosperity from rich pastors of new age churches, most often than not, have nothing to do with relationship with God or patriotism. They rather serve us bloggers shielding us from the still small voice of our Consciences.
lf these are some of the uncivil attitudes that Africans and Nigerians use to identify Nigerians, do the rest of the world judge us differently? I do not think so! Here is a true story to verify this claim. One day, during my sabbatical leave in the United States of America, I went to the bank to get a credit card to assist me do business while on a visit to Nigeria. The Ofﬁcer’s response to my request was quick and positive. She asked me to give her a few minutes to go inside and work out some details to get me a credit card. To my surprise, in less than a minute, the Officer returned to me at the counter with a sad facial expression. She asked me the country of my origin. “Nigeria!” I told her without blinking. Her immediate but reluctant response was:
So-r-r-y! I am afraidl cannot help you. Nigeria is the one country that has bugged us with money scams like no other!” That was the end of the business conversation. The lady did her job very professionally. Even though I left the bank premises with a big lump in my throat, I credit American patriotism and business ethic. The Officer’s remarks about the uncivil attitude of Nigerians is, fortunately or unfortunately, the kind of judgement that not only outsiders make about Nigeria and Nigerians; it is the judgement we Nigerians make about Nigerians and Nigeria. Am I okay with this generalized ethical judgement?
The answer isn’t that simple! In this book, I challenge this general perception and rather invite you the readers/listeners to join me in a critical- constructive conversation about who we Nigerians are in the very best sense of being authentic human persons. Critical conversation, meaning that we will acknowledge the dark side of Nigeria and Nigerians. Arid constructive because we will suggest a way forward. With stigmas such as being “Scammers,”“ 4I9ers,’”‘Fraudsters,”“Dionysians,”Blame Game” experts and all that make us look bad, we Nigerians should take responsibility for uncritically accepting these identiﬁcations as if they are in our DNAS and in our stars. I call this ignorance and mere gullibility that lack the insight of the awesome complexity of the human condition. With the great humanist, Paul Ricoeur as our dialogue partner, I invite us to appreciate the reality of our “double allegiance” to the world of the material body and to the world of the human spirit. We, very often, take the easy way out, choosing to talk about the dark side of Nigeria and Nigerians, forgetting to tell the Whole story of the good side also.
“The Nigeria Question” is not just about Nigeria/Nigerians, the beast that we see from the outside but it invites us to behold in Nigeria/Nigerians, the yet untapped beauty within and the challenge to bring it about through acts and actions. If our African and international brothers and sisters identify us Nigerians with uncritical ethical judgements, “The Nigeria Question” calls for strong personal morality (Character, Inner Beauty). Moral men and women are the prerequisites for patriotism. And it is the crucial thing needed for the building of strong public institutions that make for the government of the people for the people and by the people.
Nigeria J ‘amais vu! Nigeria yet to be seen!
Oh no! Not again! Must we be subjected to another drum beats of war? Remember the experience of the Civil war of I967-l970? I have you read ChinuaAchebe‘s “There was a Country?” And have you listened to the ﬁctive narrative of Ngozi Adichie, “Half of aYellow Sun?” Those who forget the past tend to forget the lessons of the past is the wisdom of the ages. I was not a very good student of history in school but I cannot forget the tragic Nigerian civil war that I lived through as ayoung boy. So to keep the memorial I say no, never again to bigotry, hate and ignorance. Just as l was about to put a full stop to this introduction another uncivility of the Worst kind came on to the public social space on June 6, 2017.
Someone who claimed to be representing a section of the country opened up again the “Blame Game” Pandora’s Box calling for what could lead to the break-up of the nation. While many responsible Nigerians did something by speaking up, the sanest response came from an outsider, Omar Bangura of Sieira Leone. His counsel deserves to be quoted here in full: I don ‘t think you guys know what you are playing with. You can call each other names and laugh about it now but when you end up inciting hate here as I read through your posts here and a real civil war starts in your country you will regret what you are doing now. Your religious and political leaders are trying to divide you between religious lines and you are helping them to do that rather than standing up and say we are all Nigerian never mind our tribe, region or religion.
That’s the only stand that will save your blessed nation.The foreign powers pushing the government to take certain decisions will abandon you when you start killing one another
and reject you from running to their countries so be careful. Our 11 -year war in Sierra Leone was not even based on religious or tribal differences and see what we did to our country. The worst conﬂicts are those based on tribal and religious differences. See Central Africa, Bosnia, South Sudan and Rwanda. To have a better knowledge of this, please watch documentary/movie called “Hotel Rwanda ” or “Sometime in April My heart bleeds when I read what you guys are saying because I know what this will lead to. You will be losers all of you whether Christian, Muslim, Igbo, Yoruba, or Hausa. Stand as one and save your nation together because you have only one Nigeria that has the potential to lead Aﬁica (Sent from Yahoo Mail onAndroid, June 14, 2017).
The Worry of Bangura about the attitude of Nigerians are:ignorance, cynicism, hate, War, unpatriotic political and religious leadership, religious and tribal differences, manipulation by external forces and the possible eclipse of Aﬁican leadership by Nigeria. Of all these, the single most frightening word in Omar Bangura’s post is “Hate”. Have we forgotten the warning of our prophets, like Chinua Achebe, against resentment, corruption, tribalism, social injustice, indiscipline and the cult of mediocrity?
Hello-oh! Who is home? Are our leaders there to sue for peace by enforcing the rule of law? Nigerians have gone from uncivility to hate which means death. Death means refusal of any relationship, connection and communication, the very basis for which anything that was and is and will he lives. And that is no small talk. How many battles will we have now to ﬁght to add to the ﬁght with Boko Haram and the Niger Delta militants? How much is enough of the blood of innocent lives from the tragic coup d’etat of 15th January 1966 to the criminal civil war of
1967-1970, to the innumerable known and unknown killings of our time? Aren’t We in the culture of blame, irresponsibility and raw power? Aren’t we now turning to Thomas Hobbes world of nature and Machiavelli’s brute force mentality? This only tells us part of the story of man. To stop at this as Nigerians and the international community would want is to deny the bigger picture of our lives and work together here on earth. This is living a lie and a manipulation. We need the other side of the story — the humane side. Then we can look at the whole in order
to appreciate the paradox of man and the call to authentic living through thought and action. Between Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Superman” (the will to power) and Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness” (hopelessness) do we have a choice? Yes, we do have the choice to struggle with the ambiguity of man, to think out new ways of relating and acting together. We will work the path less travelled with Paul Ricoeur to ﬁnd the very best of our common humanity. It calls for a radical rethinking and reorientation of the Nigeria Question. Who are we? Who am I? We are beings capable of the ordinary and the extra-ordinary.
Knowledge of who We are will guide us to answer the ethical/moral question of how we ought to live and should live.Our attitudes may be the game changer in the task of building the Nigerian nation. We are not God but we are creatures endowed with reason and will and called to be co-creators with God in solicitude, reciprocity and caring. Lack of proper
knowledge of ourselves right now is dcstroying us and “our blessed nation that has the potential to lead Africa.” That proactive knowledge for action to bring out the yet unseen of Nigeria is our goal. This is the challenge of the book: The Nigeria Question. The main reference text will be the Constitution together with the signs and symbols of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Nigeria Question and the National Question, How are they the same and different?
The Nigeria Question answers to WHO — Person. The National Question answers to WHAT-thing. The l”is about Nigeria as a corporate person (‘Uncle Naija‘) and Nigerians as persons who are doing/talking the things about Nigeria. The 2″“ is about the issues that Nigerian persons are facing up to. If we know who we are as human beings we will be in a better position to talk reasonably about the issues of the nation- national question. The Nigeria Question is primarily about the human subject who engages in a conversation about how he/she/they ought to and should live. The book “The Nigeria Question” is about Our Fatherland and us Nigerians, how knowing ourselves primarily as human beings, we can change our attitudes about ourselves in order to honestly and meaningfully talk about the issues of our nation.
The Introduction is a kind of “Town Hall” talk — writing straight to engage Nigerians on the human experiences that form the Nigerian story. The person in the street can easily identify with the Nigerian story. It is an invitation and a plea to listen to the attitudinal issues that Nigerians must think about and decide to act differently.
Chapter One is on how Nigerians, once upon a time, have answered, in fact, the National Question. The occasion was the general Elections of 2015. The spirit of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria made the difference towards the successful outcome of the elections. Focus is put on the critical chapter 2 of the Constitution especially on the buming issue of Justiﬁability principle. It describes a kind of Utopia which would answer to all of the rights and duties of every Nigerian.
Chapter Two critiques the “Fundamental Objectives and Directives Principles of State Policy” of the 1999 Constitution. Why should the book “The Nigeria Question” use this Constitution, which is generally considered as the source of Nigeria’s problems, to propose a solution to the problems? The fault is not the Constitution per se. the constitution as it stands is not cast in marble. It can and should be amended. The real problem is the fact that we have taken our human condition for granted. We must hold ourselves accountable by checking our human excesses
Chapter Three is on the human and transcendent principles that guided Nigerians during the general elections. These principles reveal who we are and why we ought and should live together.These principles are in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We should assent to these principles that give us the reasons to care for “Oneself As Another”. They are immutable principles that are basic for harmony, unity, progress and peace.
Chapter Four is on the human capacity for “had will” and the rules that should guide us in order to live the principles contained in the constitution. The rules-ethics/morality are about how we ought to agree and actually live the rules. The chapter does not shy away from evils/idols/sins that have silenced the rules and made us relate as ‘Oneself Without Another”. It suggests ways forward — things we ought to do and should do to move from “Oneseltwithout Another” to “OneselfAsAnother”.
Chapter Five is on how Nigeria, once upon a time, lived by rules/principles and became the reference point for the international tight against the Ebola pandemic. Nigeria in the age of globalization, technological accelerations and climate change must embrace the rules/principles of the “Common Good, Solidarity and Subsidiarity” if it wills to cultivate and nurture the democratic culture to maturity.
Chapter Six is on the need to deepen our knowledge of the Constitution and the instruments of governance — the national anthem, the national pledge, the code of arms and the national
The Conclusion is the ﬁnal reﬂection on “The Nigeria Question” with emphasis on the national ethical policy, to drive the scope of the question of how we should live the ideals of our democracy. I call “The Nigeria Question” a story. Astory tells of experiences that are human and transcendent. For this reason it appeals to an audience and invites listeners/readers to respond. Fellow Nigerians lets hear your story of Nigeria, our home, our only home!
1. Akinwade Oluwole Soyinka, Death of the Kings Horseman, 1975, cited from Six Plays (London: Methuen, 1984) p. 189
2. A. O. Soyinka, The Man Died (New York: Harper & Row, 1972) p. 13
The town talk that is “The Nigeria Question “
Unraveling “The Nigeria Question”
Fundamental Objectives and the breach of the Social Contract in Nigeria
Accent to the Constitution
Towards’an Ethics of Solicitude, Reciprocity and Care
Refiguring a new sense of belonging in Democratic Nigeria
The Answer to the One Question: Knowledge is Future
MSGR Michael Ekpenyong
Michael Otto Ekpenyong is a Catholic Priest who holds a Masters Degree in Philosophy and Doctorate Degree in Systematic Theology from Duquesne University Pittsburg, U.S.A. At the Catholic Secretariate of Nigeria, he served at the Secretary General for a couple of years. In September 2012, he was appointed Papal Chamberline (Chaplain to the Holy Father) by his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. He is the author of Story telling Imagination and God-Talk (2002) and Beware of gods (2005), The John and the Paul in John Paul II (2010) and much more which can be accessed here.
Questions and Answers
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