Michael Woods, a columnist with the local Ottawa newspaper, MetroNews, starts his op-ed column of Wednesday October 21, 2015 thus:
“Building a cabinet is a delicate exercise for any new Prime Minister. There are many factors to take into consideration, including geographical representation, political experience, and ethnic and linguistic diversity. Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau has also promised gender parity in his cabinet. And while cabinet grew to 40 people under Stephen Harper, it’s believed Trudeau’s will be smaller.”
Sounds like the Canadian columnist is describing Nigeria’s tortuous, wobbling and fumbling five-month march to cabinet formation? Yes, it sure sounds like it. But he is talking about Canada all the same; about the newly-elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who will be sworn in on November 4, 2015 and who will announce his cabinet the same day.
I have elected to start this lengthy exercise in public instruction with Mr. Wood’s description of the landmines that Mr. Trudeau will have to navigate on the road to cabinet formation because the Nigerian citizen whose psychology we want to remedy here is that career justifier of Nigerian mediocrity who has an explanation and an excuse for every Nigerian scenario under the sun. If this Nigerian citizen was intolerable as a career Jonathanian, he is insufferable as a career Buharist.
The election of Mr. Trudeau has generated intense excitement in Nigeria. Canada isn’t a country that is very present in the Nigerian consciousness. Britain and the United States have ensured that Canada is a country of extremely marginal interest to the Nigerian public. A Nigerian may indeed tell you that Canada is the capital of Toronto. However, the election of a very handsome and young Prime Minister has transformed every Nigerian into a lover of Canada overnight. I am not sure that Mr. Trudeau realizes that he has been trending in Nigeria since his election and has become very popular with the ladies. If I were Mrs. Trudeau, I wouldn’t allow any state visit to Nigeria in the foreseeable future. But I digress.
The career justifier of Nigeria’s mediocrity has been very active in the Trudeau news cycle. He has suddenly become an expert in Canadian history, culture, and politics. He has been deploying great oratorical efforts all over the airwaves to create a paradise that Mr. Trudeau is supposedly inheriting from Mr. Harper. The narrative is one that many Canadians would wish were true of their country but I am not sure that any Canadian recalls that their country has ever been anything close to what the Nigerian career justifier of mediocrity is describing.
According to this Nigerian, Mr. Trudeau would have things considerably easier than President Buhari because he is not inheriting a country bogged down by corruption, ethnic, and religious differences. That is why he is going to be able to form a cabinet so quickly unlike President Buhari who needed five months to put together an utterly dispiriting cabinet of the known and the familiar, comprising about five above-board technocrats, thirty medium to welterweight yam eaters, several court jesters including that fellow from Oyo state, and some recent graduates of corruption indictments.
I have lived in Canada since 1998. I do not know the corruption-free Canada that justifiers of Nigerian mediocrity are describing. Mr. Harper ran a shady and corrupt administration and that is a huge part of the reason he had to go. Throughout the campaign season, some of his aides were even on trial for yam eating. In the United States, politicians are notoriously corrupt and shady. Often, Governors, Federal Secretaries, Congressmen and women are outed in FBI investigations and indicted. A former Governor of Illinois is still in jail for corruption. In France, former Presidents, Francois Mitterand and Nicholas Sarkozy, have been facing trial for corruption. In Italy, former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was sentenced to three years in prison for bribery.
So much for the corruption-free countries that Western politicians are said to inherit which somehow justifies and excuses the mediocrity of their Nigerian counterparts. Now let us move to the question of our ethnic and religious divisions as excuses for our mediocrity in Nigeria. In my Independence anniversary lecture at The Platform 2015 in Lagos, I warned precisely against this lazy comfort zone into which Nigerians retreat to justify and explain away that which they need to reject very vigorously about their country. You hear that we are where we are because we have unhealable divisions along ethnic and religious lines. They then create a Canadian, American, and European paradise to contrast with the Nigerian hell of ethnic and religious divisions.
The Nigerian wielding his country’s ethnic and religious divisions as an excuse for mediocrity probably has never heard a French Canadian from Quebec describe his fellow English-speaking Canadians; this Nigerian probably has never heard First Nations Canadians (the indigenous real owners of the land) talk about White Canadians; this Nigerian probably has never heard white conservative evangelical fundamentalist Christian Canadians describe liberal Canadians; this Nigerian has never heard folks in eastern Canada talk about folks in western Canada; if the Nigerian knew half of these things, he’d understand that there is nothing Nnamdi Kanu and his fellow radio lunatics are saying about the Nigerian zoo that Canadians are not throwing at each other across their many divisions and fault lines; he’d understand that there is nothing Ijaw, Hausa-Fulani, or Yoruba fringe irredentist lunatics are hurling at each other on social media that Canadians aren’t doing across their many divisions. They are human just like you. They don’t have two heads.
South of the border, in the United States, the divisions and fault lines are even worse than we have here in Canada. And the language is worse and far more purulent than what we have in Nigeria. White versus Black versus Latino versus Native America versus everything in between. Nnamdi Kanu calls you the zoo? Well a significant fragment of the American population has spent nearly eight years calling their president a monkey, drawing racist pictures of his wife and even calling his teenage daughters “bar dressers” just because they are black. Of course they apologize for being caught when caught. Donald Trump can call an entire ethnicity rapists and drug pushers in the United States and rise in the polls. It is not possible to run for President in Nigeria and openly describe any Nigerian ethnic group as rapists and drug pushers and remain standing.
If you think Nnamdi Kanu is hurling hurtful words at fellow Nigerians, turn on your TV and go to Fox News or listen to conservative media superstars like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and hear what they have to say about their fellow American countrymen and women just because they are black. When Nnamdi Kanu abuses you in Nigeria because you are not Igbo, you live to tell the story and to abuse him in turn. In the United States, when you are targeted because of your race, you often don’t live to tell the story. We watch your funeral on TV and Black Lives Matter takes up your case and adds your memory to the database. American politicians are not above making America ungovernable, paralyzing government because of political differences underwritten by racial bitterness and contempt.
However, despite these scenarios I have described, America and Canada work far better than Nigeria because of the vigilance of the citizen. Civics is where it matters most. They have it and we tragically don’t. No citizen will ever allow differences and fault lines to become pathological excuses for mediocrity and failure in Canada and America. There is a certain transcendental idea of their respective countries before which all difference must bow.
When Harper’s aides were being tried here in Ottawa for corruption, it would be unthinkable for Canadian Christians to rise to their defense and claim they were being persecuted because of their religion; it would be unthinkable for White Canadians to claim that they were being persecuted because they are White. It would be unthinkable for Quebecois to cry witch hunt if one of theirs is being investigated for corruption, saying it is discrimination against their French ethnicity. An African American would defend his kind against racism; not against corruption; not against attempts to drag down America with mediocrity.
So, please, give me a freaking break! Stop mobilizing your national differences and difficulties as excuses for mediocrity. There is no reason why any Nigerian who truly loves Nigeria should find any excuses for President Buhari’s shoddy handling of the cabinet formation process. It speaks of a certain disrespect for Nigeria on the President’s part to have wasted the entire country’s time this long only to come up with this sort of list. What we must all vigorously work for now is the success of this cabinet for the overall good of our country. Working for the success of this cabinet does not mean that we should excuse the incredibly mediocre process from which it emerged. Nigeria deserves much better than how President Buhari has treated her with this process.
Stop pathologizing your differences.
Every country’s got them.
They don’t excuse Nigeria’s sorry and tragic condition.
They have bitter divisions too in Canada and America.
They have corruption too in Canada and America.
But citizens work with and above these differences and divisions to make sure that they create a society of consequences for actions. They do not hide behind ethnic and religious fences to justify, excuse, and rationalize corruption and mediocrity whenever they are detected in their society. They punish corruption severely. They punish mediocrity severely.
Because you keep deluding yourself that your own differences and divisions are valid excuses for the tragic condition of Nigeria, that is why you have a society where:
A Senate President is facing a corruption hearing.
And eighty irresponsible Federal Senators abandon their duty posts to accompany him to the dock.
That is a whole day’s work they have stolen from you. Just like that.
It is called impunity.
If I call them out on it, some of you will defend your own on account of ethnicity and religion.
In Canada, in the US, they’d be roundly condemned. None of those eighty irresponsible Senators would be left standing. Their constituents would recall them.
Consequence for actions is what makes Canada and the United States human societies.
Impunity justified by ethnicity and religion is what truly makes Nigeria a zoo.
Nigeria is not a zoo because Nnamdi Kanu says so.