BY BASIL CHIJI OKAFOR
There is, in fact, a very close resemblance – if not total affinity, altogether – between the country, Nigeria and the bird, ostrich. They must be cousins.
The one has a huge resource, of a body and a ridiculously tiny head, suspended so far away from its massive body by such a long stretch of wiry neck, that communication between this tiny, unimpressive head and the massive body it is supposed to service must, indeed, make the ostrich the first of the seven wonders of the world.
Oh, yes! Think about it. I have. So, if you have, how come, all these years, this awkward-looking creature has not choked on its food, or water, travelling such long distance, to nourish such massive body? How much food could this small head manage to peck off the ground, anyway, to sufficiently nourish such mass? In the event of an attack, how does this diminutive head, begin to organise the defence of such a massive body, you may want to ask?
Well, one kick from the sharp claws of this flightless giant, when it defends its territory, or self, could rip flesh open and, as easily as a monkey takes banana peels apart, disembowel a powerfully-built man in just seconds.
Yet, in flight, when an ostrich is scared, it gallops to ‘safety’ by seeking out a scrub, barely enough to conceal its miniscule head and pokes it in there, its massive romp, behind it, so awkwardly and conspicuously displayed for its pursuer’s taking that there is absolutely no difficulty in sighting the moron from a good distance of a kilometre away. In its sheer buffoonery, it has so hidden its entire mass away, that no secret under the sun could ever be that hidden. Poor thing!
Now, how about Nigeria, the country? Massive, as its cousin, the ostrich is, to the world of birds, Nigeria has all the resources, human and material, to make it a world power. And if truth must be told, very few countries on God’s good earth, can actually muster just half of Nigeria’s resources.
However, literally overflowing with some of the world’s most gifted, most brilliant and most hard-working individuals, the country ever manages to come up with such weakish and clueless leadership, in very strategic spheres of its public life, that this even makes the ostrich’s own small head look as gargantuan as Abeokuta’s famed Olumo Rock. How this sort of anomaly is ever possible is truly quite challenging to the imagination and to any rational mind. Suffice it to simply summarise, at this point, that absence of competent, honest and committed leadership, over the years, at important, public offices, has been behind the floundering of Nigeria, as a nation, since its existence.
Nothing better captures the paradox of Nigeria than this anecdote of a country lad who was visiting the city for the very first time in his life. Of the Higi stock, of Adamawa State’s many ethnic nationalities, the young boy was said to have accompanied his cousin and bosom friend, Zirah, to this wonderland he had hitherto only heard of in myths, spun by wise, old uncles.
At the city, he was privileged to see many sights that were nothing short of dreamland, itself. But his one truly unforgettable experience of a lifetime came when he finally saw the amazing bird called, ostrich. The young man stared wondrously at this rather bizarre creature, to no end.
Is this real? Could this actually be a bird, he wondered? He ruminated over this puzzle for a long time. Then, he looked left and right, up and down, as if the answers to his many questions were to come from anywhere he looked. This was surely the ultimate riddle.
Of course, he had seen chicken so many times in his lifetime. He took one more look at this strange bird and shrugged, “No, this can’t be chicken.” Back home, his family had many birds and not even the largest of the roosters came anywhere close to the leg, alone, of this towering monstrosity.
How about donkey? His family owned a couple of them. He rode them, he beat them and they ferried him and sundry odds and ends, to and from the farm. This is certainly not donkey, kam. So what, in God’s name, could this strange creature be, then?
Finally, in his exasperation, he turned to Zirah. He had been to the city before so, he should know: “Zirah wai, nji wai, wannan kaza ne ya yi girma haka, ko jaki ne ya lallace?”
“Zirah, my man, say, is this chicken grown so large, or a donkey gone bust and spoilt?”
In the normal world, of normal, rational people, a country lad has but just two examples to help him make some sense of this simply impossible puzzle. It has got to be either chicken, or donkey. But this one is neither of the two. It has completely defied logic.
More often than not, the Nigerian nation of today presents itself as the ultimate puzzle. Despite its enormous wealth, the country cannot, in fact, be ranked among the world’s rich nations. Yet, it is not a poor country, either. Very far from it!
It is a country that appears to be collapsing under its own enormous weight. From power, to road networks, to healthcare delivery and more, everything seems to have spiraled out of control, with the country, tail-spinning towards the edge of the precipice, as it were. Lately, the political space is so tense and the security situation, so dicey, that many have described the country as an explosive mix, ready to ignite, any moment. As a matter of fact, before the 2015 presidential election, one very important Western power was sure that Nigeria was not going to survive that election. But, lo and behold, Nigeria is still here.
Like the puzzle of the ostrich and its mystifying head and clumsy neck, how does Nigeria still manage to survive all odds, against all rational, human thinking? The ostrich hasn’t choked on its food and water yet and so has Nigeria yet to implode under the weight of its sheer diversity and the myriads of problems thereof. How then does the country continue to make it?
May be, if we dissect and study an ostrich to find out the mechanism behind its own survival, we could be vouchsafed a glimpse of the solution to our own predicament. So now, let us look at the ostrich closely and critically, to see if we could pick up a few lessons from its anatomy, about how to manage size and diversity, more efficiently. From the two parallels of the bird, on the one hand and the nation, on the other, let us see where there could be meeting points and what vices to jettison.
First of all, there is no doubt about the straightforward fact that to make a potentially well endowed body (nation) great, such nation needs a truly efficient head, or leadership. After all, all the nations that have become great are not necessarily well endowed, materially, but they have certainly become great because the quality of their human resources have been tapped, with the very best brains available in the land, emerging at the very top of the leadership cadre, in every sphere of national life, no matter whether the individual be of majority, or minority ethnicity.
Therefore, the efficiency, capacity and personal attributes of whoever occupies the position of headship is what counts. Little, as the ostrich’s head is, for instance, it has not been found wanting in servicing its huge burden.
What has been the case with Nigeria? Merit has been sacrificed on the altar of the notorious Quota System. Thus, instead of fielding the best brains in our leadership structure, trivia, such as state of origin and religion, determine who becomes what, in the land. It is therefore pertinent, at this point, to aver that we do not have a nation, yet. If we had one united, viable, modern state, in which citizens are not working at cross-purposes with one another, the overriding factor in the emergence of leadership would be national, rather than group, or personal interests.
In the absence of a united entity that we could call a nation, what we have witnessed are the various symptoms of the absence of genuine, schooled leadership, such as Nigeria has been bogged down with, over the years, right from so-called independence. To make matters worse, military intervention in our politics has completely eroded any semblance of integrity, quality and merit that our people hitherto offered to the institutions of our leadership structure and made a total mockery of our democracy.
So, what do you have in the absence of a nation? Bedlam, anarchy, a winner-wins-all jungle! In such confusing circumstances, what emerges is the sort of syndrome aptly demonstrated, on the other hand, by the anatomy of the ostrich. Unworthy, inefficient, undeserving ‘heads’ emerge and perch atop a massive body they cannot service. And once overwhelmed, just like the ostrich, they look for the scrub, or sand, where to poke in their little heads, while pretending that all is well.
Next, just like the long stretch of neck between the ostrich’s diminutive head and its massive body, there is always a huge disconnect between Nigeria’s stunted headship and the rest of its highly-gifted, highly-motivated and very dynamic populace, a very bad situation, further exacerbated by the albatross of a worthless Legislature and tortuous bureaucracy that are totally injurious to the people and their welfare.
Checkmating the Ostrich
To deal with this ostrich syndrome, therefore, the Nigerian people must first of all come up with institutions and structures that bridge the huge gulf between the leadership and the people. These structures and institutions would not only ensure equity, fair play and justice, they would ensure the emergence of genuine and popularly elected leaders of the people and, of course, continuity in governance and policies.
Pretending that all is well with Nigeria as things presently stand is nothing short of playing the ostrich and postponing the evil day when, by and by, the people are bound to stand up for truth and justice. The present Constitution, foisted on the Nigerian people by the Abacha junta, is as hopeless as attempting to stand a pyramid on its pinnacle, rather than on its base.
Chicken or Donkey?
Restructuring the country to metaphorically make it either “chicken”, or “donkey”, is the very first step to retrieving it from the edge of the precipice and the calamity that could follow failure to read this handwriting that has been on the proverbial wall for far too long, now.
With a new Constitution, must follow the dismantling of the unwieldy 36-state structure and replacing it with the more viable, six geopolitical zones. The autonomous states would then meet at a weak Centre, as federating units, only in such matters as relate to common currency, defence, tax and such sundry issues.
Of course, after that, who needs a worthless and expensive bicameral Legislature, often prone to corruption? The new structure should naturally ease out the current, Presidential System, with emphasis on cutting down on bureaucracy, making the Local Government structure more effective and bringing governance much closer to the grassroots people.
After replacing the current, flawed Constitution and adopting a six-state structure, what the country must do next, is build institutions that truly nurture democracy, truly independent institutions that continue to function and run well, irrespective of whichever party, government, or individual, is in power, at any given time.
Unfortunately, what has continued to happen is that governments have always revolved around individuals, both at the state and federal levels. Consequently, when new governments come in, many projects initiated by the previous regimes along with their policies, are simply discarded and swept away with the previous regimes, purely for cheap, political vendetta, to the detriment of the country and at the expense of the people.
To put a total stop to such malevolence, Nigeria needs to strengthen its existing democratic institutions and even establish more, where necessary. A country is all about institutions, rather than individuals and the success of any nation is, indeed, measured by the number of great institutions – standard bearers – that it is able to put together and sustain. Long after individuals would have passed away and are forgotten, what remain are the institutions that preserve and sustain the ideals and legacies of generations of past leadership.
Today, whatever may be said of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, this was one step in the right direction that he took. His total non-interference with the activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) for instance, set a very important precedence which future leaders of this country must build upon. Such other institutions as the judiciary and its supervisory body, the Judiciary Service Commission (JSC) and the law-enforcement agencies must not be allowed to be abused by whosoever, as they are society’s only hope for the maintenance of law and order, the assurance of justice and equity and the sustenance of democracy.
Above all, the greatest attention must be paid to the educational institutions, the very resource centres, responsible for producing the nation’s most important asset, its human resources. Beginning from the primary level, where the most important foundational work is required, teachers at every level of our learning institutions, must remain government’s priority.
It amounts to great foolishness that in one country, there are several standards for admitting students to federal institutions of learning, depending on where each prospective student comes from. What this means is that, at the end of the day, these students and their states would wind up nothing, but victims of what must be described as the Ostrich’s Nemesis.
Simply put, their sets of students must graduate with little or no skills, with certificates, truly inferior to those of their colleagues from elsewhere, with higher admission requirements. So, who loses in the end? Of course, the graduates and their home-states that are trying to play catch-up, as there are no shortcuts to genuine success. What lousy ostriches, with heads stuck in the sand and big, fat romps, in the air!
As things stand, presently, with Abuja and its influence and largesse, as far away from the rural dwellers of certain zones of this country, as the moon and stars – a situation not unlike the ostrich and its small head, so far removed from the rest of the giant bird – there isn’t, as a matter of fact, any movement forward, that Nigeria could ever hope to make, whilst in reverse gear. That is the Ostrich’s Nemesis and it is so bitchy that there is absolutely nothing anybody can do about it.