Nigeria: The Challenge of Change – A Burden of Choice

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Wole Soyinka weighs in on  Nigeria's "choices"

​What makes our situation especially galling is the fervid intrusion of some opportunistic sanitizers who bear direct, sometimes even originating responsibility for the plight in which a people have been placed. These are individuals who should be doing penance, walking from one corner of the nation to the other covered in the equivalent of ‘sackcloth and ashes’ for their role in bringing the nation to its lamentable condition. Yet they insist on remaining obsessively in the public face, preening themselves up for recognition as the primary forces behind a nation’s renewed efforts to redeem and re-determine itself.

First, let us not simplify the challenge. There are no blacks and whites. It is not a contest between saints and demons, not one between salvation and damnation. If anything, it is closer to a fork in the road where uncertainty lurks - whichever choice is made. Someone in the media has called it a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, another between Apocalypse and Salvation.

The reasons are not far-fetched. They are firmly lodged in the trauma of memory and the rawness of current realities. Well, at least one can dialogue with the devil, even dine with that creature with the proverbial long spoon. With the deep blue sea however, deceptively placid, even the best swimmers drown. The problem for some is deciding which is the devil, which the deep blue sea. For most, instructively, the difference is clear. There are no ambiguities, no qualifications, no pause for reflection - they are simply raring to go!  I envy them.

Let all partisans of progress however constantly exercise self-restraint in assessment and expectations. Facts remain facts and should never be tampered with.  Verification is nearly always available from records and – the testimonies of witnesses. Yet memory may prove faulty, so even those who were alive during any political regimen should exercise even greater caution and not get carried away by partisanship in any cause, however laudable or apparently popular.  In the interest of truth, embarrassing though it is, we are obliged to correct all such tendencies openly, since revisionism is a travesty of history, and never more treacherously so than in a time of critical democratic choices.

I apologize in advance to the authors of the instance that I must now use as an example, apologize because it does not come close to the most atrocious revisionist stances propagated in the past few weeks. However, it is one of the most recent, is born of noble intent, but serves to remind us of the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. From that same origination however also came a corrective, and that very adjustment offers us optional routes in the way we deal with historical facts, especially when we find ourselves on the same side of commitment to the positive in a political cause.

In recalling, or commenting on any event that involves victim and violator, there is a difference between “It never happened” or “it was the accepted norm for the time” etc. etc. on the one hand, and, on the other,  “we have forgiven what did happen”. Both positions converge at the point of “moving on”.

One, the first, however disparages and trivializes the suffering of – in this instance – victims of the abuse of power, dead or alive. In so doing, it also desecrates the memory of these and other victims.  The second approach insists on its entitlement to justice, waives that right by drawing on a store of magnanimity and even – places the violator on notice! Its example also challenges the adamantly unforgiving, challenges them to join in an exercise of their own capacity for obliterating the past, acting in the collective interest, and perhaps attaining closure.

When I read the statement attributed to a scion of a political family that his father was “not jailed” but was merely “invited for interrogation as required by military tradition and policies then”, I felt deeply offended, but mostly saddened. For this adjustment of reality provided evidence of yet another lesson unlearnt.  Exoneration through denial, and without evidence of remorse or restitution by a violator is a serious lapse in public accountability, and an invitation to a repeat by the offender – or other aspiring emulators. In any crisis, it is not unusual to find oneself in bed with ideologically embarrassing partners.  Let it be understood that this does not require that we actually begin to dress them in saintly robes.

What makes our situation especially galling is the fervid intrusion of some opportunistic sanitizers who bear direct, sometimes even originating responsibility for the plight in which a people have been placed. These are individuals who should be doing penance, walking from one corner of the nation to the other covered in the equivalent of ‘sackcloth and ashes’ for their role in bringing the nation to its lamentable condition. Yet they insist on remaining obsessively in the public face, preening themselves up for recognition as the primary forces behind a nation’s renewed efforts to redeem and re-determine itself. They are the promoters – actively or by default – of the current national trauma of a Boko Haram malignancy, the anti-corruption rhetoricians who however believe that they have literally got away with murder.

Rather than make reparations in any number of unobtrusive ways, they impudently exploit a permissive, and despairing atmosphere for regaining relevance.  The nation should watch out for their antics, even while exploiting them to the hilt for the overall remedial purpose. They owe the nation. We must ensure however that they are incapacitated from making more mischief. I am consoled that not all the Nigerian electorate is as simple-minded and gullible as they believe.

The nation finds herself at a critical turn, where the wrong choice places it beyond all hope of remaining intact – and by ‘intact’ I do not refer to breast-beating mantras such as the “non-negotiability of Nigerian sovereignty”. I am speaking here of the viability of whatever calls itself the Nigerian nation, its functional proof, the ability to generate its very existence and cater for the future. Since I still have some time invested in that commodity, the future – with apologies to impatient Internet Obituarists – it becomes impossible to refrain from direct participation in the process of, or the encouragement of others, in the process of making a choice.  In any case, I am compromised by the wiles of unprincipled campaigners whose pastime is to propagate a choice I have never declared. It is meagre consolation that I am not alone in being subjected to such fraudulence.

Even the dead, who cannot answer back, have not been spared.  In and out of context, the ongoing campaign appears to have appropriated any public figure as free-for-all material, to be quoted out of turn, his or her utterances mangled and distorted, forced into incongruous contexts, and sometimes, even in a counter-productive manner, although such desperate campaigners appear blissfully unaware of this.  What is being overlooked however is that, while facts remain constant, the environment evolves, and may play a tempering role in the very evocation of a record of the condemable acts of governance. I am not speaking of time now – as a dulling agent of painful memory - but of the very actualities of the present as an advocate of – at the very least – remission.

The era of this election offers an incontrovertible proof of that reminder. Let us leave aside for a moment the parlous condition of the Nigerian landscape and look outwards for some inspiration. We live in an era that we, on this continent, may be forgiven for inscribing as the era of The Mandelan example. Mandela’s life trajectory remains a lighthouse in any voyage into uncharted waters – anywhere and any time that a people’s history is cited.  Confessedly, we can only adopt bits and pieces of this Monumental Examplar.  The bit that is called upon in this instance is a virtue that is aptly designated civic courage, an aspect of courage that enables one to make a leap of faith when confronted with a near intractable choice.

For The Rest of the commentary please see SaharaReporters

 

 

 

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