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State of the nation: Impunity got us here (2)

Discerning Nigerians would be able to identify quite easily those Soyinka refers to in his “Chronicles From the Land of the Happiest People On Earth.”A corrupt government official. A degenerate holy man. A cultic old money type. A stubborn idealist. A self-assured fixer. All so different but yet the same. A foreigner might find some of the stories quite strange indeed. But there are worse tales in fact. Dale Carnegie writes in his widely read 1936 book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” that “there is one longing – almost as deep, almost as imperious, as the desire for food or sleep – which is seldom gratified…it is what Freud calls ‘the desire to be great.’ It is what Dewey calls ‘the desire to be important’.”

This is the psychological foundation of many a bandit, hooligan, law-breaker, kidnapper, terrorist, guerrilla or insurgent. It is also what motivates the government official to steal public money to maintain the luxuries he has become accustomed to when he leaves office. The holy man certainly knows miracles are not a dime a dozen. So why leave them to fate? Surely, the brethrens’ faiths must be motivated. And selling your kin as slaves and perhaps also satisfy your palate? After all, mansions cost money to maintain and there are parties to attend. The idealist. The fixer. All of us. We want to be great. But when society does not create a meritocratic and civilised way to achieve our dreamed heights and the fear of punishment when we choose the dark paths, we all suffer for it. Evidence of the impunity is everywhere around us. We hear the surnames and we know instantly. And yet free they walk, drink, dance, and eat. All merry and in good company too.

Kizza Besigye, veteran presidential candidate and former medical doctor to Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, recalls the moment he decided he would join the National Resistance Movement (NRM) with utmost clarity. In her 2021 book, “Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad”, Michela Wrong describes the “No, this, I cannot accept” moment for Besigye in the 1980s viz. Besigye was at a bar in Kampala when he was beaten to the pulp by one of the fearsome men of then Ugandan head of state, Idi Amin, who were terrorising Kampala residents at the time. “It was that impunity, enjoyed by people holding state power, which eventually drove me into the bush,” says Besigye. For fellow Ugandan Pecos Kutesa, it was when Amin’s soldiers singled him out of a taxi for wearing a tie. The soldiers were jealous, you see. “You are going to wear a uniform similar to mine. Lie down. Start rolling”, recalls Kutesa. “I had made up my mind to find a way of learning to handle a gun,” he later wrote in a book about his guerrilla life.

Read Also: State of the Nation: Impunity got us here (1)

Besigye and Kutesa are not unique in this sense. In northern Nigeria, teenage boys suddenly find they can commandeer wealth once they are able to brandish a gun. Women out of reach hitherto become wives without much ado. It must baffle the young bloods at first, as hoary-headed notables begin to cower and crouch in their presence; a dramatic turn of events for youngsters who were probably triggered by many traumatic incidents of oppression at the hands of peers, elders, criminals or the law.

When society does not create a meritocratic and civilised way to achieve our dreamed heights and the fear of punishment when we choose the dark paths, we all suffer for it.

Alexander Thurston cites a study by Anneli Botha and Mahdi Abdile in his highly regarded 2017 book “Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement” that found “57 percent of former fighters cited ‘revenge’ as a motivation for joining Boko Haram – revenge against the Nigerian state and its security forces.” What underpins the Biafra agitation in southeastern Nigeria is injustice as well. Samuel Fury Childs Daly’s 2020 book “A History of the Republic of Biafra: Law, crime and the Nigerian Civil War” is excruciatingly detailed in its documentation of what actually transpired during the 1967-70 civil war. The reader is left with an extraordinary understanding of why southeastern Nigeria could deteriorate so quickly, so easily, just barely more than fifty years after one of the most brutal civil wars in history. The scars of war are hard to heal. And the ways and means learnt and acquired for survival during war have staying power too.

In his 2013 book “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence”, Daniel Goleman relies on foremost systems thinker John Sterman’s 2000 book “Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World” to argue how the failure to consider the systems dynamics that underpin problems lead to suboptimal solutions that end up compounding them. “Much of the time, people attribute what happens to them to events close in time and space, when in reality it is the result of the dynamics of the larger system within which they are embedded (Sterman, 2000, as cited in Goleman, 2013).”The consequences of the seemingly little injustices we experience in our daily lives in Nigeria are not easily writ large at first. But then suddenly almost half the country begins to boil over and we begin to realise that there was nothing sudden about it.

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