Friday, February 1, 2013

Who is doing what and why in Mali?

Although I have been aware that Nigeria is part of the African contingent of troops that is involved in the ongoing military operation in Mali which is said to be aimed at dislodging the Islamist insurgency in that West African country, I must admit that until a couple of days ago, I was not in the know of the magnitude of Nigeria's contribution. A January 30, 2013 news report by Nigeria's Leadership credited President Goodluck Jonathan with saying that "... Nigeria has spent $34 million (about N7 billion) on the immediate deployment of troops and logistics' support to stop the activities of Islamic terrorist in Mali."

I believe that Nigeria's contribution is a worthy investment in its own national and wider regional security, and so are the contributions from participating African nations. France, a former colonial power, is reported to be playing a lead role in this effort to rid Mali of reported Islamist pests. But certain Western news reporting about the multinational liberational effort in Mali has tended to under-state or obscure the African contribution to and participation in this project. In general, the reporting on Mali creates an impression that the operation is being carried out by just French and Malian government troops, with the former at the helm although the US National Public Radio (NPR) reported today that "the French say it's time to step back and hand over to an African peace-keeping force."javascript:NPR.Player.openPlayer(1126,%200,%20null,%20NPR.Player.Action.PLAY_NOW,%20NPR.Player.Type.TOPIC,%20'0') Besides this apparent slant in the coverage of the Malian issue, some African commentators have wondered if France is in it just for the publicly-stated altruistic reason of extinguishing Islamist terror or for other self-serving material considerations. For instance, on a discussion forum known as USAAfricaDialogue, Professor Addul Bangura has commented that "...some high-level folks in Mali informed us this morning that France's plan is to divide the country and make a separate deal with the Tuareg, as they have demanded, so that France can loot the uranium. France is also eyeing the oil while stealing the gold through a French company that operates from Canada."

No doubt, there seems to be a divergence of sorts between NPR's latest news report and Bangura's take on the unfolding events in Mali. If Bangura's claim is true, one is reminded of an apropos moment in the history of colonialism in Africa which showed that while the colonizers fronted an altruistic motivation for invading Africa, namely that it was a civilizing mission, the recorded facts of that intervention in African civilization showed something else: the colonizers were there primarily for their self-serving objective of exploiting the economic resources of the continent for the benefit of the m├ętropole. Well, the human experience is the ultimate arbiter of truth, and time will tell if Bangura's claim is real or imaginary!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

President Jonathan's CNN Interview & Issues facing the nation

Given the federal nature of Nigeria's political system, encompassing a federal, state and local tiers of governance, the presidency alone cannot be blamed for all the socioeconomic and political woes of the polity--even though that tends to be the case, including here in the United States. My humble prescription is that a country like Nigeria needs a strong presidency, led by a patriotic and nationally-minded leader. I am mindful of the danger that a strong presidency in the hands of a tribal despot will spell disaster. So, the electorate has to act wisely. The late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria's first president (albeit a ceremonial one) did advise the nation that what would serve its best national leadership interest was what he called a dyarchy--that is, a form of power sharing between civilians and the military. I am not sure how he wanted such a system deployed at the state and local levels of governance. Should I ask if the conduct of the ruling elite in Nigeria has proven him right or wrong? Is it reasonable to ask whether the contemporary governing elite in Nigeria is ready for or amenable to the kind of Western-style liberal democracy that Nigeria is currently experimenting with--an experiment under which we have witnessed mind-blowing excesses, such as the excessive and disproportional salaries that the national legislators have voted for themselves in the face of wide-spread poverty and high levels of graduate unemployment? What's really in force in Nigeria: a genuinely representative system of democracy that sees and believes itself to the accountable to the electorate or a "democrazy?" Is it a Mexico-style democracy for the benefit of the well-connected members of society while the masses languish in poverty and ceaselessly take dare-devil border-crossing risks in attempts to escape from motherland's hopelessness? As a representative form of governing human entities, democracy is meant to serve as a means to an end, namely the overall well-being of the governed. All things being equal, the elected officials would aspire to please their constituents so that they may earn re-election. This is supposed to be the case where sovereignty belongs to the people in reality--that is, where their votes count.

To our chargin, we recurrently encounter news stories of how certain past governors pilfered their state treasuries and went scot free. That such pilfering could occur and purportedly escape the notice of state legislative oversight--despite the existence of constitutionally-enacted checks and balances, such as the fact that each state has a legislature that is expected to perform an over-sight function on the executive branch--raises a question about how the human beings that constitute the legislative houses in the affected states have risen up or failed to rise up to their duties. What about the "sharing" that is alleged to be a pre-occupation of local governments? The fact that most parts of Nigeria do not have pipe borne water supply and lack adequate refuse disposal facilities attests to a general failure of local governance. Don't forget that Nigeria's 776 local governments (or thereabout) were created in order to bring governance and its benefits to the grassroots. But is that what most Nigerians are experiencing from their local governments?

Though I advocated for a strong presidency for Nigeria, I must also point out that instituting a strong presidency will not by itself turn Nigeria around if the country continues to socialize its citizens with a tribal consciousness (now compounded by statism). I am aware that it's politically correct to speak in terms of ethnicity as opposed to tribe, but, in my view, nothing better captures the entrenched system of social discrimination in Nigeria than the old-fashioned term of tribalism.

The day Nigeria will launch itself on a path towards full utilization of its vast human potentials is the day that it manages to learn from a successful US model of human relations--despite the latter's continuing challenges and struggles with racism. Here is what I mean. In the US, your so-called "state of origin" is not factored into qualifications for employment.  Even in terms of college tuition, what matters is where you have established residency, not where you were born. A person who was born in Michigan might relocate to Wisconsin, establish residency there and assert the same employment and educational rights as those who were born in the latter state. Nigeria stymies its own potential for full utilization of its human potentials by entrenching and nurturing tribalism-cum-statism as component criteria for determining its citizens life chances--the eligibility of job applicants, recruitment into the armed forces, scholarship applicants, college admission applicants, etc. Whereas the doctrine of and imperative of reflecting the "federal character" in federal para-statals was enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution as a means of preventing tribal domination and reflecting the ethnic heterogeneity of the populace without prejudice to merit, that originally-well intentioned concept and constitutional stipulation appears to have been perverted and turned into an end in and of itself--instead of what the founding fathers and mothers of the constitution intended. A Nigerian-based colleague who participated in a group research project that I executed between 2007 and 2008, pointed to a phenomenon that helps undermine the effectiveness of federal institutions  in Nigeria, namely that more often than not, certain bureaucratic positions would be left vacant because they are part of the quotas assigned to certain states which have not been able to provide qualified personnel for filling them. This colleague singled out this phenomenon as being significantly responsible for the  general ineffectiveness of federal institutions and public utilities that are under the aegis of the federal government. If he is right, one cannot help arguing that for Nigeria to move forward and climb out of the hole into which it has fallen, it must find a way to enthrone and valorize meritocracy.

A new generation needs to be raised with a consciousness that the best qualified person must have the job regardless of his/her ethnic affiliation, state of origin, religion or gender. To illustrate, if one's car breaks down, a rational reaction expected of the automobile owner is to take it to an effective service center for repair. This also applies to a sick and dying person who seeks out the best medical care that his or her resources can afford, regardless of the ethnic-origin of the medical doctor. You want your car repaired, period! You want your good health restored, period! The chosen service center or medical center might be owned or run by someone who is not related to you, or a member of your ethnic group. By taking your car to a repair center, or procuring the services of a competent medical doctor, you have actually hired somebody for a job albeit temporarily and in doing so, what mattered most to you is getting the job done. Such an attitude needs to be universalized within Nigerian society--at the local, state and national levels of bureaucratic employment. Successful businesses--that is, those who run their own private enterprises successfully, demonstrably understand this hiring logic or else they would have gone under while waiting to fill all available positions with relatives and ethnic group members, irrespective of their ability to perform.Who can get the job done, should be the central criterion for employment.

Dethroning primordial considerations and factors for determining fitness for employment, admission to educational institutions, recruitment into the armed services, dispensation of scholarships, etc, such as the case that I have made in the foregoing, is analogous to the idea that both germinated and watered the seed of civil rights in the United States. In other words, the overarching goal of the civil rights movement was to tear down racial barriers to equal opportunity. This movement brought about a new society in the United States--a new era based on a dejure social system of racial integration--as opposed to the old social system of dejure racial separatism. Although that dream of a society reasonably free of racism and racial discrimination has not been completely realized, and we still witness ugly recidivist tendencies or throwbacks to the past, such as covert racist stalking, other forms of continuing racism and what have you, America's model of the civil rights movement remains a paradigm for human liberation from man's inhumanity to man. I recommend it to the grassroots of Nigeria as a means of launching a needed war against the shackles of tribalism in Nigeria. Such a nonviolent movement must be waged if Nigeria is to begin a necessary journey of tearing down tribal and statism barriers to equal opportunity. The fruits will not come about over-night. Neither did those of America's civil rights struggles. Enough for now.--Victor Okafor