BusinessDay
NigeriaDecides2023

Nigerians and electoral decisions: The struggle to prove Lugard right

Frederick Lugard was a racist.

Let’s just get that put off and be very clear about that. Mr Lugard passionately detested Black African people, especially those of the West African coast and hinterlands who refused to subjugate themselves to white rule in the way he believed God intended. Lugard especially took great offense to the idea that some natives in the land named “Nigeria” by his girlfriend believed that they could and should run their own affairs without British colonial intrusion.

I had to add that disclaimer for context because I am about to quote something that he said and use it as the basis for an analysis that I believe to be correct. Knowing the context of Lugard’s racism, the reader is free to either take the message or shoot the long-dead messenger. Either choice would be valid because I am after all, the same person who went on Arise TV a couple of weeks ago and stated, “Sometimes the messenger is as important as the message.” Me and my big mouth.

Lugard absolutely was a racist, but I believe that sometimes, the perspective of a person who despises one can be very useful because it provides an angle that may not be available from one’s friends

So here’s the quote: “In character and temperament, the typical African of this race-type is a happy, thriftless, excitable person. Lacking in self-control, discipline, and foresight. Naturally courageous, and naturally courteous and polite, full of personal vanity, with little sense of veracity, fond of music and loving weapons as an oriental loves jewelry.

His thoughts are concentrated on the events and feelings of the moment, and he suffers little from the apprehension for the future, or grief for the past. […] Perhaps the two traits which have impressed me as those most characteristic of the African native are his lack of apprehension and his inability to visualise the future.”

Process thinking vs magical thinking in Nigerian elections

According to Lugard, the two most defining traits of the West African native were actually the same thing – a lack of ability to analyse the past and use it to make decisions about the future. In his view, the sort of bravery and nobility exhibited by the natives were not the result of moral fortitude and philosophy, but merely animal instinct like that of a lion roaming the Savannah.

The entire edifice of West African society in Lugard’s view, was made up of childlike minds with adult bodies and animal instincts who were incapable of Process Thinking, preferring instead to defer to mysticism, superstition and magical thinking.

This of course, was a deeply insulting and patronising view of our ancestors whom he obviously had little fondness for. As is so often the case, however, could it be that was in fact, a grain of truth buried somewhere inside this offensive stereotype, which we are yet to unpack over a century later?

The reader need not agree, but I personally believe so, and here is why: I have observed 6 Nigerian election cycles in my lifetime, and I’m going into my 7th. In that time, I have seen a repeated pattern of behaviour that points to a few undeniable albeit uncomfortable facts.

First of all, I constantly see a sort of temporary amnesia completely envelop the land the closer an election gets. In 2015 for example, the murderous decision not to concede the election that Muhammadu Buhari lost in 2011 – a decision that directly cost over 800 lives in 3 days – was completely forgotten.

Somehow, from a vengeful, murderous ex-dictator with a supreme sense of entitlement and a pathetic ego so fragile that he shed tears on TV after losing the election, this civil war relic was magically reinvented in the minds of Nigerian voters as some sort of funky granddad who would look nice and presidential for the cameras, and leave the actual affairs of state to the smart Yemis and Dipos from Lagos. How this was meant to work exactly was never addressed because magical thinking jumps from A directly to Q and does not concern itself with little issues like planning, process and precedent.

Read also: Nigeria’s ‘heroes past’ and the inconvenient truth

We all know how that turned out now, but here we are again in 2022 reprising the exact same pattern of behaviour from 8 years ago. Not even the national PTSD caused by the October 2020 massacres (because there were several not just in Lekki), has been enough to force everyone to remember the past and use it to make projections about the future – which is exactly what Lugard characterised us as.

“Happy, thriftless, excitable, lacking in self-control and foresight. “If we are indeed able to forget all of our pain over the course of 7 years and repeat 2015 all over again, then who has the problem? Is it Lugard or is it in fact, us?

Broken clocks are right twice a day

Lugard absolutely was a racist, but I believe that sometimes, the perspective of a person who despises one can be very useful because it provides an angle that may not be available from one’s friends.

In the modern world, a British government official in Nigeria would never dream of writing a critical analysis of Nigerian society that critiques the very human beings and cultures at the basis of the society. To do so would be racist, offensive, patronising and diplomatically unacceptable. He or she would lose their job within an hour of such an analysis getting into public circulation.

The problem is that this means that the precious perspective of an outsider looking in lost permanently. Instead of brutally frank and possibly offensive analysis about why Nigeria and Africa are the way they are, we get sanitised CSO-speak, which takes care to use the greatest possible verbiage to pass across the least possible substance. Something something, multilateral engagement, something something, development partnerships, something something capacity development, something something education and sensitisation.

All those often-meaningless words when what the speaker really wants to say deep down is “Your society is a mess because your constituent cultures are deeply rooted in unscientific thinking and behavioural habits, and you’re more concerned with making us pretend to view you as equal global partners (where there is no basis for said equality), than on reforming and modifying your obsolete cultures so that you can finally start developing 21st Century-ready African human beings en masse.”

As I mentioned at the outset, Frederick Lugard was a racist. One can choose to use that as a reason to discount anything he had to say about Nigerian people – even if it is abundantly and undeniably true – or one can see his offensive characterisation of us as a challenge to be as different from that as possible. Of course, I’m pretty sure which option most people who read this article will choose.

It’s a lot easier to be offended than to change.

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.