419 Reasons

In two weeks Nigeria will attempt yet another deception by claiming to “celebrate’ 51 years of independence.  There will be the usual speeches, parades and flag waving by undignified dignitaries.  Bloggers and Tweeps will simultaneously rubbish the country, ask for God’s salvation, pray and claim its not really that bad and continue the search for 419 Reasons to Like Nigeria.  Growth is at 7% but there is no national grid and everyone relies on generators; billions have been made from oil yet the region where it is produced is impoverished.

Today the country is faced with daily attacks by Boko Haram; religious and ethnic violence in Plateau State; rumblings from ex militants in the Niger Delta; political assassinations and increasing number of kidnappings; the labeling and abuse of children as witches.   Encircling all of  these is the ongoing corruption and here I am not only referring to politicians and civil servants but religious institutions and just about every aspect of life; the persistent decades long crisis in education, health, infrastructure, environmental destruction and the violence of poverty.  Of course none of these are peculiar to Nigeria and there are countries where corruption, poverty levels and violence are far far worse. But I dont want to get into the trap of comparisons. The point is how do we as citizens respond to our realities?  How do we respond to the gang rape of a young woman which is subsequently broadcast on YouTube or the extrajudicial murder of a young man also broadcast on YouTube?

By launching a campaign on 419 Reasons to Like Nigeria and Nigerians? The campaign takes its name “419” from the financial scams originally associated with Nigeria but copied by fraudsters throughout the world.  The first initiative to “like Nigeria” was the ‘The 419Positive Project’ which invited Nigerians and their friends to come up with “419 positive attributes of Nigerians”.  The “419 Reasons to Like ……..” follows on from this by asking bloggers and tweepers to write positive things about Nigeria which seems to me to be not only a thankless task but given the serious failings and present crises, wholly misdirected.   The energy spent in trying to come up with positive reasons to like a country would be better spent in organising and campaigning around the many problems which are being neglected.    The “419 positives”so far listed such as a Nigerian winning political office in Poland or winning a sporting event, though wonderful personal accomplishments, have no bearing on the shaping of political and economic forces in the country.    There is a political immaturity about the 419 Reasons……. which is little more than a tabloid gimmick with minimal substance in a country which is addicted to corruption, to militarism, to individualism, to religion and hypocrisy.   Though I fully respect her decision to stop writing, how I miss the insight and critical thinking of one of the very few serious Nigerian political blogs, Nigerian Curiosity.

Nigerian leaders have always viewed criticism as unpatriotic or even treason and many a journalist has paid the price for daring to speak out.   We as citizens should not fall into the same stupor of denial.  To be critical is not a betrayal rather it is our duty as citizens to raise the national consciousness and seriously engage with political processes.

Take the gang rape of the young woman and incidentally four weeks on and people continue to watch the video.  Abia State University deny the rapists are students. Neither the police nor the State government officials have come out to even make a statement let alone investigate and hopefully arrest the rapists.  Many of the comments on the Facebook page “Nigerians Against Rape” are voyeuristic as people go into detailed discussion on the video – who said what and did what and when and so the rape goes on and on.

Of course there are positives for instance resistance to violence and militarism or searching for ways to ensure that when women are raped they can expect to receive justice.  Here we can turn to the numerous examples of women who historically have been at the forefront of struggles for social and economic justice such as the market women of Aba and Egbaland,  Ogoni and Ijaw women. But these are not individual achievements they are actions by communities. What would they have achieved by trying to come up with 419 positives instead of facing the colonial state or an occupying army?

There is something disturbing whereby people feel the need to be liked because of their nationality or person which assumes one can be disliked for the same reason – neither is rational.  419 Reasons….. is an obsession with the self – please please like me because I am a really nice person and I can prove it.  It’s the encounters with people and communities and how we experience each other that influences the way we feel about particular people or groups of people.