Close to four decades ago, during the struggle to rescue democracy from the hands of Nigerian soldiers, Nigerian Bishops composed a prayer – “Prayer for Nigeria in Distress”. An immediate response to that prayer was the end of military rule on May 29, 1999. Today, twenty-one years later, Nigeria is still in distress. We await the long-term response to our prayer. Sixty years after we got our independence from Britain, Nigerians and those who love her know that this country is in dire need of redemption. It would be utterly dishonest and cruel to say Nigeria is in good condition! Nigeria is sick unto death.
Yes, Nigeria has always been in difficulty. But that is no excuse for allowing the current state of affairs to remain. Things ought to be getting better, but getting worse. Every country has its problems. But Nigeria’s problems cannot be addressed by the kind of leadership we have at this point in time. You cannot fix a country by using propaganda. Neither can you facilitate development by criminalizing expression of dissenting opinions. We all thought we had said farewell to intolerance of opposition on May 29, 1999. But recent experiences show us that we were wrong.
What went wrong? First, we need to be rescued from selfishness. The Lord God has been immensely generous to our land. He has made this land very rich. Why then do we have poverty in the land? We have poverty because of selfishness. We have poverty because the Nigerian has been impoverished by an oligarchy that has cornered the riches of our land. How else does one explain the fact that a few of us can afford to own property in foreign lands when some of us cannot afford to pay their transportation to the market or office? Secondly, we need to be rescued from falsehood.
Nigeria needs to be redeemed from the falsehood that says it is well with Nigeria when in fact symptoms of Nigeria’s ailment are glaring and too many to count. Which of these can we not see? Is it insecurity of life and property? Is it abject poverty? Is it suppression of legitimate dissent by government and its agencies? Is it the apprehension on the African continent. With a big and expensive government, little is left for the welfare of the Nigerian.
The desire to be part of this big and expensive government has led us into the firm grips of an electoral process whose integrity is regularly violated. The end of politics is seen as the attainment of power for the sake of power. Whoever is perceived as standing in the way is either maligned or mauled. Vote rigging, vote-buying and vote-stealing have done immeasurable damage to the electoral process. Our political actors cross from one party to another without any regard for philosophy.
The desire to control the parties has led to the absence of intra-party democracy. Each party exists to provide a platform for power-sharing. Fourthly, we need to be rescued from those who would manipulate our ethnic, religious and regional differences to attain and remain in power. The enemy of the Nigerian is not the Nigerian of another ethnic, religious or regional affiliation. Nigerians have a common enemy in a political class that would set Nigerians of one community against Nigerians of another community. After the ethnic cleansing we witnessed in Nigeria from January 15, 1966 till the end of the war on January 15, 1970, we ought to have that comes with every election? Is it ethnic and religious disharmony? Or official denial of these points to the fact that Nigeria is in need of redemption from falsehood.
Thirdly, Nigeria needs to be rescued from the 1999 Constitution. That Constitution sets up government in a way that is unfair to the people of Nigeria. It is an irony that a foundational document such as a country’s constitution, a document that ought to facilitate and protect our land and our well-being, sets up Nigeria in a way that facilitates insecurity, poverty and insurgency. Nigeria needs to be rescued from the big, expensive and overbearing but uncaring government that has emerged as a result of this Constitution, from the kind of leadership that has emerged from the 1999 Constitution.
Only the political elite can benefit from this Constitution. The poor masses of Nigeria cannot. That is why the first line of resistance to restructuring is constituted by those who benefit from the Constitution. But it would be dangerous, if not already dangerous as we can see today, to leave this Constitution as it is. It can lead to violence. The injustice inherent in the Constitution cannot be redressed piecemeal. We need to be rescued from a Constitution that has set up the most expensive government learnt our lessons. But it seems we and our leaders have learnt little or no lesson. Our different affiliations are not our problem.
Our problem is our failure to manage our differences, a failure which makes it impossible for us to join hands in building a more habitable Nigeria. Talking of manipulation of religion, we must not forget to say that Nigeria needs to be rescued from the misinterpretation of religion, the abuse of the word of God that is paraded as preaching in this country. True religion liberates. But Nigeria is infected by a new generation of preachers who manipulate religion for political and economic motives.
True religion itself needs to be rescued from preachers who would preach themselves and not preach God. If the Nigeria political leaders and the masses truly love this country and want to see a great, strong and prosperous Nigeria, we must all answer this important question – How long can Nigeria survive without embracing the right revolution we need? May God bless our country and grant us a peaceful and prosperous Nation.
• His Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie is Archbishop Emeritus, Archdiocese of Lagos