A nation mired in self-deceit ~ by Oseloka Obaze
Impunity, duplicity and deceit are negative attributes of personal character. When these are wittingly contrived to become attributes of our national character, then we are as a nation mired in a quagmire. Edmund Burke, along with some great philosophers, offers insights as to why terrible things happen to good people and nations. In principle, they agree that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” That is the state of our nation. The scope of our national deceitfulness has become a pandemic.
Present-day Nigeria is a manifestation of Socrates’ postulation on the rise and fall of democracy. Here is the contingent and pertinent fall factor: “Thieves and fraudsters will want important government functions, and democracy will give it to them,” resulting as it were, in “worse dictatorship than in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy.” Indubitably, Nigeria is now a nation in captivity. State capture is now in full glare and play. Over the past 64 years, we have debated ambivalently our national existence, bona fides and existentialism, without much success. The core reason is that we are a nation steeped in self-deceit. We have watched helplessly as national, state and institutional resources were captured by vested interests.
With the incremental ascendancy of precepts and political expediency, we are also witnesses to scofflaws and persons indicted for grand larceny copping plea deals with the ruling APC party, in which their indictments are either quashed or literarily swept under the carpet, once they agree to join the ruling party. Some indictees have been invested with high traditional honours and titles, to national consternation. We are unleashing forgers and racketeers, and grandfathering them into the corridors of power and governance.
We are now a nation where in matters of leadership the “Christian Character” and “Moslem Character” as defined by the ethos of both holy books, have regressed badly. Prosperity and power are no longer contingent on righteous leaders. In the civic realm, the Constitution, that Holy Grail of the rule of law, is consistently eroded and undermined by its custodians. The diminution of fundamental ordered liberties enshrined in the Constitution has become routine.
Our expansive deceit culture fuels unfettered distrust. The followers and led don’t trust the leaders. Ethnicities distrust each other. The religious and civic proselytizers are hardly believed, since they market and promote untruths and fake news. Those media activists who once wrote scathing editorials and told truth to power are now convenient revisionists; and those who summon courage to tell the inconvenient truth publicly are branded traducers. Self-deceit has become our national pastime, so much so we are averse to discuss restructuring. Hence, Nigeria is now in the post-truth era, with discernible risk-filled realities. Indeed, we are in an era in which “Nigeria’s so-called leaders now deceitfully teach our children nonsense: the judiciary accepts forged certificates, INEC fraudulently declares losers as winners and parents ask children to bear the pains of pure nonsense, even as they know full well they are teaching them nonsense.” Amid all these, there are strains, fissures, fractures and expanding societal chasms. As we have become acutely aware, to presumably win an election is not to govern.
Nigerians spend money they don’t have to impress people they don’t like, or people who don’t like them. The benchmarks for measuring the scope of our national self-deceit are distinctly clear. We can’t correctly count our population, or count our election ballots, our oil output and our dysfunctional national institutions. We can’t count our out-of-school children or those trapped in multidimensional poverty. We borrow for consumption, and contrive subsidies, but never disclose the beneficiaries. Oil from Bayelsa is commonwealth: but gold from Zamfara is state-owned.
We crossed the rubicon with the 2023 general election, which invariably became the denouement of the unfolding crass morality of our leaders, as well as the undergirding affirmation of our national scope and comfort with self-deceit. In fact, the 2023 elections unfurled our capacity to indulge in self-deceit, without qualms, remorse or remonstration.
Someone I respect highly, a technocrat and patriot, put it thus in a personal mail: “Nigeria itself lost the elections, lost its credibility as a nation, lost its respect among the comity of nations of the world and lost its proud position as the ‘Giant of Africa’. The man presiding at Aso Rock did not win the election. He knew he did not win, so did his followers, who did not even raise a cheer at the declaration of the result, so anxious and disbelieving were they that their intensive and multidimensional rigging could ever result in a victory for their candidate.”
Yet, as we know, the rest is history.
Nigeria had long been overdue for the enthronement of a purposeful and transformative leadership. In 2023, the required variables and attributes were clearly present and evident. The populist fervor was equally present, as reflected by the unprecedented massive voter registration. Nigeria also had the unique opportunity of enthroning a new leadership that was adaptive and possessed a transformative mindset. The Labour Party ticket, a new force backed by the populist Obidient Movement, held out great hope, promise and opportunities of infinite possibilities. That leadership change did not come about. If there was one uncertainty, it pertained to finding the political will to do what was necessary, to have elections that were credible, transparent and sufficiently free and fair. The latter didn’t materialize due to our self-deceit.
Five factors, all anchored on self-deceit, combined to make the contentious outcome of 2023 elections possible. First, the risk-averse northern leadership elite and the so-called owners of Nigeria, having long misruled Nigeria, still cannot fathom or trust the emergence of a Nigerian leader outside their ilk, an independent leader who they did not negotiate into office. Second, besides a few, the South West leadership elite were unwilling to disown a dubious native son of immensely questionable character who ordered the snatch-grab-and-run practice as he coveted national leadership on their behalf while declaiming that it was his turn. Third, the South East leadership elite, and their South-South cohorts, renowned for their insularity, bellicosity and self-centeredness, failed to politically, morally, socially and financially rally behind one of their own. They did not wish to see their individual sectoral, political and social clout respectively diminished by a new kid on the block.
Fourth, the select domineering and unaccountable franchise holders of Nigeria’s economic and private sector largesse, who sponge off national coffers and owe their wealth to juicy concessions from the Nigerian government, detested a change of the status quo. Finally, weak national institutions, notably, the INEC and the judiciary, already long-captured by forum shoppers, sallied away respectively from their statutory and constitutional responsibilities to deliver highly disputable results and judgments, all procured via self-deceit, legerdemain and political corruption. The judiciary imposed on the nation rejects from the polls and the Supreme Court used its imprimatur to convey legitimacy, thus affirming its acute dysfunction and complicity.
Nigeria’s national elite are the bulwark of this inclination to undistorted national self-deceit. It is they who gad about from one political party to the other, hobnobbing in utter ease with erstwhile opponents and adversaries. It is they, also, who have exhibited the groupthink of complicit silence, instead of opprobrium over our scandalous leadership conducts, rising illiberalism and despicable electoral outcomes fraught with illegalities, and validated by questionable judicial interpretations.
With self-deceit, our national elite remain fixated on self-interest. For them, national interest policy instincts and values are not meshed. The disconnect is evident even in mundane matters but not in matters pertaining to accruing perks and perquisites and pilfering national assets, where consensus is expeditiously found. Because our national leadership elite eschew the inconvenient truth, ethnicity, religion, power-grab and resource sharing have been weaponized, with resultant polarization. Then there is a broad failure to appreciate that any action taken for personal gains over broad national interest is political corruption. Morality in politics may be rare; still, we continue to wallow in self-deceit.
Oseloka H. Obaze is MD/CEO, Selonnes Consult, a policy, governance and management consulting firm in Awka.