Nigeria: Are We Hopeless Hopefuls?

Nigeria: Are We Hopeless Hopefuls?

Nigeria: Are We Hopeless Hopefuls?

Nigerians are generally perceived as a happy people, a people known for wearing a smile even in the face of adversity. That's why the late Afro-Beat musician and social activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti described them as a "suffering and smiling" people. What is less known, or less discussed, about them is that they are also a very hopeful people. Ordinarily, hope is the feeling or anticipation that your situation will improve, that events will turn out in your favour or for the better, or that you will be able to get what you want or desire. For Nigerians, however, hope is a philosophy of survival, a philosophy that makes the sufferer anticipate a better tomorrow, even when there is no practical basis for improvement or change for the better.

The Nigerian philosophy of hope is fuelled by cultural, spiritual and political factors. Although Nigeria is made up of various ethnic groups, there is a shared philosophy of hope by which the people anticipate improvement in their condition in life. Widely shared among Nigerians are the Yoruba postulations, "Until we die, there will always be opportunities", that is, "Where there is life, there is hope" and "May our evening be better than the morning", that is, "May our condition in life continue to improve". No matter how great the adversity they experience, they often assure themselves that such adversity would never come their way again and that tomorrow will be better than yesterday.

This basic philosophy of hope is underscored by spiritual and political leaders, who have turned hope into a mantra, that is, a word or formula that is chanted as in an incantation or prayer. This is particularly true of religious leaders, who constantly fuel the hope machine by making people feel good about tomorrow. A typical message of hope routinely comes from the church or the mosque at the beginning of a new year. Accordingly, on January 1, 2013, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, told his congregation that the New Year would be better than the previous one. 2013, he predicted, would be a year of "signs and wonders", a year when many would have reason to say "hope rising". He added: "God says, He will speak peace to your storms; certain individuals have stagnated for some time, the reasons for your stagnation will become known, will be addressed and will be eliminated, therefore progress will follow."

To be sure, there are discriminating religious faithful who know how to interpret and manage their pastors' sermons about hope and progress. Unfortunately, many churchgoers in Nigeria do not have these skills, owing partly to illiteracy and ignorance and partly to blind faith. Sadly, some pastors often take advantage of such church members by claiming to know why their progress had been retarded. The widely reported cases of Edet Etok-Akpan and Okechukwu Ogbonna are instructive. Edet-Akpan subjected his daughter to inhumane treatment because his pastor reportedly told him that the six-year-old little girl was a witch and, therefore, responsible for his lack of progress. Ogbonna, on his own, killed his 60-year-old father, following a prophecy by his pastor that his father was mystically manipulating his destiny, thereby making it impossible for him to make progress in life like his colleagues.

Political leaders are also guilty of unduly raising the people's hope. They not only tell you that tomorrow will be better, they also promise that they will make it so. Their ideal period for launching their message of hope is the campaign season, when they promise the electorate a rosy future. Some of them could even promise to construct a bridge where there is no river at all. President Goodluck Jonathan is such a politician. He bombarded Nigerians with messages of hope in his declaration speech in 2010 as well as his campaign and inauguration speeches in 2011.

Yet, none of Jonathan's repeated promises of change has been satisfactorily fulfilled. How many times has Jonathan told Nigerians to hope for better power supply from the government even as they purchase more and more generators to power their homes and businesses? How much improvement have we experienced on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, beyond a few patches here and there, despite repeated assurances of contract awards? Where are the jobs he promised to create, especially for the youths?

The spiritual basis for Pastor Adeboye's message of hope is beyond verification. We cannot, and should not, probe into his communication with God. However, the practical basis for Jonathan's hope messages is constantly being questioned, as it should be, by citizens who continue to experience hardship nearly three years after he assumed office. True, some Ministries, Departments, and Agencies, such as Power, Agriculture, Aviation and Communications Technology have been making some progress; the overall picture is that of hopelessness.

That's why today, a sense of fatalism has befallen the people. Their hope for political and economic change has been dashed so many times and so often that they are now resigned to fate. No matter the argument I raised to convince fellow Nigerians to consider paying appropriate individual taxes, their counter-arguments override their willingness to cooperate: Corruption will continue; we will never be able to install good leaders; and the status quo will remain in political and economic affairs. Not only are many citizens vowing never to pay taxes, some are determined not to vote in 2015, because they are already resigned to the idea that their vote may not lead to a change of the status quo. The end result is that an otherwise happy and hopeful people have become unhappy and hopeless.

History teaches us that unhappy and hopeless people often become angry, rebellious, riotous and violent. Their anger often leads to revolt, which may eventuate in a civil war. The recent protests in Europe over the sovereign debt crisis were relatively mild, although they still led to power shifts in eight out of 17 Eurozone countries. More sustained revolutions were much more devastating for the ruling class and often involved high casualties. Leading cases include the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783); the French Revolution (1789-1799); and more recently, the Arab Spring. The underlying causes of such revolutions — economic crisis, mass poverty, rampant corruption, and the stronghold on power by an inclusive political class — are all present in Nigeria. They are the reasons why Nigerians are now unhappy and hopeless today.

Whether or how they will control their anger over the next few years depends partly on the behaviour of the political class, especially as the 2015 presidential election approaches, and partly on the citizens' ability to organise and mobilise for change.

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