• Friday, June 21, 2024
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BusinessDay

A self-help model of development (3)

Charting Nigeria’s path to renewal: A blueprint for forward thinking

At his inauguration in January 1961, US President John F. Kennedy issued the now-famous call to the youth of his generation: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Here in Nigeria, after 54 years of almost uniform disappointment with our leadership both civilian and military, we must modify JFK’s resounding summons to suit our circumstances. If you’re looking for what your country (meaning your government) can do for you, you’re wasting your time. Government, that is, the people who run government, are not there to do for you. They are there to do for themselves. The proof is incontrovertible. Better off are those who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed.

Of course, not every person in government is a fraud. To every rule there’s an exception. But exceptions prove the rule. And exceptions are so few they are statistically (only statistically) insignificant. Exceptions are like 4 or 5 No votes in a Parliament, Congress or National Assembly of 400 Yeses. Or like Mrs. Helen Suzman in the apartheid parliament of South Africa who constituted an Opposition Party of One. For 36 years her No votes were consistent—but consistently ineffectual. She (and the handful of liberals who later joined her) made history—but apartheid held its murderous sway over that land for five decades!

So it is with Nigeria. Those of our leaders who are honest and dedicated to the national interest have been few, far between—and ineffectual. Wholesale theft has carried the day for five decades.

The evidence is there for all to see. No one argues that it is not so. Our leaders are almost uniformly wealthy. No one asks where they made their money because everyone knows where. No one challenges our leaders because, so far, no one can. The game is: Catch me if you can. If you can’t, then it’s proof positive you’re talking rubbish, isn’t it? So there.

And so, that is Naija for you. Ask not what your government can do for you (because, even though it can, it will do nothing. Your leaders, who constitute “government,” are too busy doing for themselves). Rather, figure out what you can do for yourselves.

Of course there are certain things a government, however corrupt, must do for its people, otherwise the state (nation) dissolves (disintegrates) and another takes its place. Perhaps this is the way Nigeria will go. But it hasn’t come to that.

A couple of years ago, one state governor arrogantly declared that the Nigerian leadership are quite united and quite unassailable in preserving their advantages over the masses irrespective of their differences of tribe and religion. “We (the leaders) will never allow Nigeria to break up because once it breaks, we will lose. . . . Nigeria is too weak to break. Who will break it? The ordinary person in Jigawa or the ordinary person in Sokoto or the ordinary person in Bayelsa? Is it the Igbo vulcaniser or the Yoruba woman selling kerosene by the roadside or the okada man in Delta? They don’t have the capacity to unite because they are burdened by poverty. We have taken away from them their dignity, their self-esteem, their pride and self-worth so that they cannot even organize.”

They chop, let them chop! That should become our motto. Let them do their thing. We know what they do. By now we should also know what they won’t do. Stop wasting time. Stop hoping. Stop praying. Heaven helps (only) those who help themselves. Let’s help ourselves for heaven’s sake.

So, what do we do? How do we go about helping ourselves? The main fight we need to fight is to get the leaders (civil servants, politicians, police, “government”) to leave us alone. This will constitute our on-going fight because they won’t readily leave us alone—especially when they see us making headway and succeeding in spite of them. Succeeding without government and in spite of government will be the real “revolution,” given our circumstances. And it is worth our every effort. It will require intelligence, strength, energy, resilience, determination and cunning.

The idea is to develop from the bottom up. Top to bottom (national planning) has (so far) failed. Now we must try community development. Old fashioned, updated, 21st century technology-aided self-help.

For seven decades the Town Unions and Village Development Associations have tried and mostly failed to modernize or industrialize the villages. The population shift from the villages to the cities has been relentless—except for one or two villages that grew to industrial/commercial size in spite of themselves. Try as they might, the Development Associations have never managed to transfer to the villages the attractions of the city: modern dwelling houses, yes, but not well laid out streets, blocks of flats, running water, cinema houses, daily markets or strangers-as-neighbors.

Urbanization is a mixed blessing. The city is a rose with thorns. And it may well be that deep in their collective unconscious the Development Associations dread to bring too many of the attractions of the city to the villages—which may explain why they have succeeded so poorly; why in seven decades they have hardly evolved beyond the status of burial societies.

But these organizations have a critical role to play in my self-help development project. . . .

 • To be continued

Onwuchekwa Jemie