Everyday experience is pointing to a cultural malaise as the root of Nigeria’s gridlock. All those truly concerned about the fate of Nigeria must first look deeply at the cultural roots of our political deadlock. To redeem our nation, political leadership must wake up from its cultural slumber and place itself squarely at the service of culture. All stakeholders must look intensely and see first that we are caught up in a cultural disaster. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart captures the point right in its famous title.
Nigeria was brought into existence through a process of cultural banditry. The dethronement of King Kosoko of Lagos (1851), Oba Ovonramwen of Benin (1897), Nana of Itsekiri/Warri (In 1894), William Dappa Pepple of Bonny (1837), Jaja of Opobo (1885), the desecration of the Oracle of Arochukwu and execution of its priests (1901), the invasion of Calabar (1855), the overrunning of the Nupe Kingdom (1898), the seizure of the thousand-year-old trans-Sahara trade city-state of Kano (1903), the capture of the Karnem-Borno Empire, and the overthrow of Sultan Attahiru Ahmadu of Sokoto (1903) are the exhibits in this case.
These invasions of indigenous city states and traditional societies across the length and breadth of the area that became Nigeria translated to disruptions of native customs and traditions, and destructions of value systems and cultural institutions without which no society can survive. Culture is popularly understood as the way of life of the people. It is the sum total of the people’s genius, morals, faith, industry, art, and play. It is the totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs and institutions resulting from the people’s experience over time. This is what Nigerian peoples have lost to colonialism and postcolonial misrule. Our primary problem in Nigeria is the loss of the cultural values and institutions that previously preserved our societies.
It is cultural failure that has matured into State failure, that is, government failure to develop and sustain basic socioeconomic infrastructures, failure to resolve deadly conflicts and checkmate unjust aggression, and general security failure. At the base of the cultural decay we find a colonial and neocolonial educational system that fails to prepare people to fully serve the purposes of society as did indigenous (informal) education. At the heart of the decay we find a political system (executive, legislature and judiciary) populated by “the dregs of society”, the “incompetent and criminally minded”, as El-Rufai confessed. At the surface of the corruption we find a dysfunctional religious system that, contrary to traditional African spirituality, enthrones the triumph of laziness, deception, charlatanism, and senseless jihadism.
The result is a country that suffers economic paralysis, and only exists as a pawn in the game of international economics. The functional combination of agriculture (fishing and farming) and intertribal trade which provided equal opportunities for those willing to work in pre-colonial economy has been eclipsed by the indigenous colonialism of “thief-thief” politicians who become billionaires overnight while more than 70% of over 150 million Nigerians suffer abject poverty and frustration. The poor man’s son cannot, like Okonkwo in Umofia, work hard and earn his living with dignity. In response, the Nigerian intelligentsia have resorted to economic asylum in Europe, America or Canada!
The zenith of the cultural disaster is security failure. Nigeria has become the global capital of criminality. Law enforcement has fallen almost to point zero. The value system of society is broken down like the immune system of an Aids patient. Money has become the only value of Nigerian society. The result is reckless kidnapping. Children are kidnapped as well as grandparents. Priests are desecrated, paramount rulers are dishonored, even military chiefs are abducted. Neither highway nor street is safe. Neither city not village has respite. Even children are no longer safe to play in the neighborhood. Traditional diplomacy has been eclipsed by community wars everywhere. Macbeth has murdered sleep, Shakespeare would say!
If Nigeria is to survive, political leadership must enforce cultural restoration. All the agents of socialization, including Churches and Mosques, must return to playing positive cultural roles. Parents must resume careful initiation of their children into the values of civil culture. The cultural function of education as integration into society must be restored. Beyond the skyscrapers, the civil service secretariat must regain the moral and cultural fabric of public service. Law enforcement agencies of State must be made to serve their cultural purposes. That’s, if Nigeria is to survive!