These are very interesting times, Nigeria having completed a round of transition. I have had opportunities to speak on contemporary issues and the Christian faith. Without a doubt politics and the economy are very topical headers. The truth is, the Church is challenged, even flummoxed on the issue of concatenation of faith and politics. This kind of conferences allows us to explore faith intellectually, and to propound solutions to difficult questions about nationhood. An intellectual approach also allows us to escape the shackles of political correctness.
One thing we do know is that from the time of Jesus till now, the powers of the earth and the State have held a dispensational authority over the kingdom of God. We also do know that the ministers in God’s kingdom, from the days of Paul till now are subject to the laws of the State. They are bound by the statutes of State even when those laws contravene their faith. A detrimental exercise of that authority is what is technically referred to as persecution. Even Jesus was subject to the laws of an earthly kingdom. He suffered as it were from political persecution under a terrible hegemon, Rome. We also do know that Apostle Paul enjoined us to pray for those in authority that there may be peace in the land so that the gospel may be preached. In other words, the message of God’s kingdom can only thrive under certain political conditions. If only for this and self-preservation the Church ought to be interested in politics and the opportunities afforded by representative democracy. There are two critical levers in a representative democracy: numbers and intellect. Where both can be deployed by the Church she ought to. But if the numbers are lacking then the application of intellect for self-preservation is the only option available to the Church. This was the methodology deployed by Daniel and Co. when the numbers were not in their favour. And if only for the sake of the masses of the people and the poor the Church ought to be interested in the economy of a nation. And the Church economy is a contributory scheme of those operating in an economic context. And if we must validate God’s prophetic declaration that you shall be the head and not the tail then it is expected of Christians to occupy the headships of salient governmental organs and structures. For these and many other reasons therefore the Church cannot be a bystander in the political arena, neither can she be pacifist with regard to political dynamics.
As is my usual practice, I’m going to throw up some ideas in this lecture, to provoke our thinking and force a reevaluation of our orthodoxy. To solve our challenges as a nation we need new thinking, and new paradigms. The old thinking has clearly not produced desired results, and the consequences are self-evident and staring us in the face. What Nigeria is today is the consequence of the thinking framework of yesteryears.
Nigeria is one of the most resourced nations on earth. it is brimming with mineral resources. And yet the people are poor. This incongruity of wealth and crushing poverty spasmodically generates tension in the polity. And the upheavals have sometimes posed a threat to the sustenance of the federation itself.
As perverse as the national situation is however, it is an opportunity for the Church for relevance. Christians must get involved in the political sphere. It is one of the means of salting the earth. Involvement in the politics affords the Church access to state resources for the benefit of the masses – the very people Jesus died for. It also affords the Church opportunities to enunciate the socio-economic principles of God at a macro level, as well as opportunity to translate God’s ideological imperatives into a policy blueprint. Such translation is what created what we ordinarily know as the western world today, as well as the liberties entrenched in those political systems.
I am aware that some Christians do not believe Christians should be involved in politics. That is because they are not cognate with the fact that the church is conceptually a political entity. Nothing could be more political than Christianity. Christianity is a kingdom it is not a religion. Jesus preached the message of a kingdom he did not come to establish religion. Prayer is a distance petition system from a colonial outpost to the King of a kingdom headquartered in another dimension. It is our religiosity that blinds us to the ordinary meaning of words like Lord. Lord is a political title. The phrasings of the names of God and the issues in Christianity are very political. Religion cannot see this simple fact. Rather, religion seeks an escape from the realities of this world in pursuit of justification in the life thereafter. It sees the world as contaminated. And yet God’s conception of himself is that of a political figure at the head of a theocratic kingdom, the dimensions of which incorporate the earth. The political agency of that kingdom on earth is the Church.
Jesus shared the political principles of that kingdom with us, announcing in no uncertain terms that the hegemonic reach of that kingdom had devolved on earth. We see the economic and social-political philosophies of that kingdom in the many parables Jesus told. We know for example that all powers on earth are delegated and derivative. Jesus said all power belongs to him. Political authorities on earth are donnees of power. We know there must be fairness and justice in judicial adjudication. God hates an unjust scale and he detests miscarriage of justice we’re told. And we can surmise that the values-based approach of Jesus is a more efficient system of policing the community. The more the values taught by Jesus permeate a society the less the tendency towards crime, and the more economic use of the resources for maintenance of law and order. We know that the ideology of God’s kingdom tilts very strongly in favour of social justice, and yet it enunciates a capitalist economic model. The weak, the poor, orphans, widows and the socially disadvantaged must be cared for. But God’s economic philosophy encourages entrepreneurship. We learnt this from the parable of the talents. That parable teaches us that economic resources are allocated according to faithful use of opportunities and capabilities. And we do know that healthcare is a strong policy thrust of that kingdom, judging by the number of healings performed by Jesus. We could go on and on.
The problem for many Christians and even non-Christians is the conception that any mention of God is about religion. A religious conception of God invariably reduces Christianity to the bipolar moral equation of good versus evil – God is good, Satan is evil. Yet the polemic dynamics between God and Satan is not morality, it is political. If we see the issues in this world through the prism of good versus evil how then will we reconcile that Jobian scripture in which the devil is reported as attending a conference in heaven? That story cannot make moral sense since good and evil do not ordinarily sit in the same conclave and deliberate. They are opposing forces. But that scripture makes total sense when understood as a United Nations type of political gathering. Political adversaries conclave at the United Nations General Assembly. The issue between God and Satan has never been morality. Satan’s moral definition is not in contention. Lucifer fell from over-leaping political ambition. The issue between God and the devil has always been political. If you understand Christianity for what it is – a political construct with an ideology, it becomes much easier to see the role of Christianity in society beyond moralisation.
Now here’s the challenge for the Church in Nigeria. The Church is content with facilitating social justice at the local level. It has not configured itself to participate in governance. The Church operates as the social security system of Nigeria, building schools, hospitals and drug rehabilitation centers, reorienting youths, rescuing sex workers, taking care of widows, facilitating skill acquisition, empowering young entrepreneurs, financing endeavour. One of the most maligned
ministries in Nigeria today has 147 primary schools, 21 secondary schools and two universities! Where the State has failed the Church has stepped in. The Church must go beyond social justice initiatives to build institutional capacity to tackle issues of governance and politics. That includes economics. You cannot separate economics from politics. Every political ideology has an economic model. That economic model defines resources and determines allocation of capital. In communism for example, capital belongs to the State. The individual is a means of production. But in capitalism the individual owns capital and capital is a means of production. A Christian aspiring for political office must have a fair grasp of politics and economics.
It is of course impossible to tackle the latitude of the challenges of Nigeria in just one hour. I shall therefore be focusing on a narrow but very important dimension of discourse. We shall be looking at the philosophical premises of our nationhood. Great nations are built on powerful philosophies. The philosophical premises are progressed into practical realities. For example, the American Declaration of Independence is an encapsulation of the philosophical premises of the United States of America. It is the foundation upon which the nation is progressed. The issues tackled by the United States Supreme Court are essentially concerned with the interpretation of the constitution vis-à-vis the foundational philosophies enunciated by the founding fathers. Interpreting a constitution can take you in many directions but the philosophical premises offer signposts of definitive direction. But we cannot arrive at a viable philosophical premise for Nigeria’s future without a recourse to our history, just like America could not arrive at a workable philosophy of nationhood without recourse to her history.
The history of Nigeria is an interesting one. It is composed of layers of kingdoms and peoples superimposed upon one another over time lapses. There were many kingdoms occupying the swath of what we now call Nigeria at different eras. Examples include the Hausa-Fulani kingdom, the Bini Kingdom, the Oyo Empire and the Kanem-Bornu Empire. The remnants of these kingdoms subsist in the descendants occupying different regions of Nigeria today. In other words, at tribal levels there is a history of congruity but relationship between the subsets of the people is marked by war and contention. Even within tribal subsets we have had flares from unresolved histories. For example the protracted Ife-Modakeke crisis is traced back to the refugee crisis from the collapse of the Old Oyo Empire in the 19th century. The issues over the Ilorin Emirate also date back to the 19th century. At the start of the 19th century Ilorin was a border town in the northeast of the Oyo Empire with a mainly Yoruba population but with many Hausa and Fulani immigrants. It was the headquarters of an Oyo General, Afonja, who rebelled against the empire and helped bring about its collapse with the assistance of the Fulani. Shehu Alimi was the local Fulani leader. He was also known as Salih Janta. In 1824 Afonja was assassinated and Alimi’s son Abdusalami became Emir. Ilorin became an emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate. Till date the descendants of Afonja are laying claim to the stool.
Everywhere we turn in modern Nigeria we see continuations of these ancient rivalries, some dating back a thousand years. Be it in the South South, or the North, or Middle Belt or South West, hegemonic wars are still being fought. We can therefore imagine the challenge of nationhood for Nigeria. There are wars of attrition going on at local levels in one form or the other. There is no cohesion at the tribal levels, and that is a major challenge. In such a situation only subscription to a common philosophy will hold the nation together. Nigeria is an artificial creation of the British. It was designed to serve British economic and political interests. In the jostle and grab for territories among European nations it presented a bulwark against the interest of the French in particular. Even the name was contested between the French and the British. The French had Niger Republic. It is conveniently contiguous to the north of Nigeria. The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 crudely partitioned Africa. Tribes were joined together and members of tribes were severed from one another. There is a Yoruba speaking enclave in Ghana for example. The artificiality of the creation also affronted dominant cultures, such that we now have what has been dubbed by Rev. Chris Okotie as the savannah cum rainforest confrontation. The addition of religion to the mix is why the political equation called Nigeria is sometimes volatile. There is a continuous jostle for supremacy at both tribal and religious levels. The irony though is that there is really nothing called “Moslem North” or “Christian South”. It is one of the most untrue statements. Plateau and Taraba States in the north are largely Christian. Kaduna is a parity of Christian and Moslem populations, and the state seeks accommodation with this fact in political appointments. In the South, states like Osun, Oyo and Lagos contain very significant number of Muslims. An illustrative view of Nigeria is thus a large basin full of boiling oil on which float islands of peoples and history like the frying of bean-cake balls.
The geographical space of course forces a unity of definition as a country. But the people are divided by histories, cultures, religions, suspicions, wars of attrition and hegemonic tendencies. And so the foundational challenge of Nigeria is unity. It is generally assumed that federalism is the solution to the artificial construct called Nigeria and that is true, but even the very definition of federalism has been modified by history in Nigeria. The incursion of the military into governance forced Nigeria into the shape of the command structure of the military such that what emerged is a pseudo federalist construct. But in general the people recognise federalism as a veritable implement for the forging of unity amidst disparateness.
The British clearly recognized the challenge of unity Nigeria faced and they gave us a national anthem that addressed the issues of tribal conflict. The lyrics of that anthem were written by Lillian Jean Williams, a British expatriate living in Nigeria at the time of independence. Frances Berda composed the music. The first national anthem was very direct – “Though tribes and tongues may differ, in brotherhood we stand,” it declared with the puffed chest pomposity of a newly bred nation ignorant of the challenges of the future. Those words would prove very hollow barely six years later with the civil war. The ethnic realities were too strong for that national anthem. We therefore sought to cure the inadequacy of the national anthem by scripting another one in 1978. It sought to transfer allegiance from the tribe to the State. It began with a rousing invocation of patriotism – “Arise O compatriots!” More emphasis was placed on Nigeria and no mention was made of tribes. And realizing that that was not enough coming from our previous attempts at nationhood, it appealed to a higher power – the God of Creation. And as if to underscore our powerlessness in this enterprise of nationhood, the whole of the second stanza was a prayer to God. That prayer identified certain key factors. It spoke about a need for strategic direction for the country – “direct our noble cause”. It identified leadership as critical to national development – “guide our leaders right.” Then it underscored the importance of the youth demographic – “help our youths the truth to know.” The reality of Nigeria therefore is the merging God and State as a conceptual construct.
Before then however we introduced a hitherto unknown implement of unity called the national pledge. The words were written by Prof. Mrs. Felicia Adebola Adedoyin in 1976. This followed the practice of oath of allegiance in the United States and State Pledge in Ghana. It was to be recited by boys and girls in primary and secondary schools across the length and breadth of the country. “I pledge to Nigeria my country,” it intonated. It appealed for loyalty to the fatherland.
About this period we also reinforced the national anthem and the pledge by extending the superscription on our coat of arms. It had hitherto read, “Unity & Faith” but we extended it by adding two more words: “Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress”. Incidentally my father was the graphic artist who did the original amendment. It is interesting that two of those four words, “faith” and “peace” are transcendent spiritual qualities. But again we see the nation reacting to its past experiences, in particular the civil war with the word, “peace.” But the need for development was identified with the word “progress.”
But we didn’t stop there. Earlier in 1973 we had introduced the National Youth Service Corp scheme. The whole idea was to take individuals in a generation beyond their tribal limitations to extra tribal experiences from other parts of the country so they appreciate other cultures as well as our differences. It is an attempt at civic lesson through geographical displacement. In that way, the reasoning went, we would produce a generation of Nigerians who saw beyond tribal conclaves in their definition of identity.
Not satisfied, we introduced the “federal character” principle. It seeks to ensure that appointments to public service institutions fairly reflect linguistic, ethnic, religious and geographic diversity of the country. It was enshrined in the constitution in 1979. The idea is to give everyone a sense of belonging in the nation, and to disrupt hegemonic aggression and domination by one group over the other. But the federal character principle was soon assaulted by inequity. It would become bastardized in some quarters as a tool for unfair reward.
The federal character principle was then introduced as a parameter for admission into federal secondary schools and universities. Only now we called it the “quota system.” It would exacerbate the cry of unfairness and lopsided advantage, and in a sector predicated on meritocracy our quota system was deemed to affront merit and excellence. The formula for merit became a tribal ratio–an unknown quantity in mathematics. Incidentally the quota system was originally a 1921 legislative creation by the US government to limit by nationality the number of immigrants into the US. It would be understood in some quarters in Nigeria in the same spirit–a limitation device. Such interpretations are bound to come up in an equation like Nigeria. In practice the principle seeks out the best from a local environment, even if the average in that environment does not meet the national average. Which of course creates two levels of qualification depending on the level of competitiveness in other environments. Some are bound to be aggrieved with such rules of competition. It fudges the balance between national interest and equal opportunity. And it has created a sense of entitlement in some quarters.
And then we stretched the basic premise to appointment into the federal cabinet. As interpreted our constitution thus mandates that every state must be represented in the federal cabinet. That of course creates a bloated administration, and God help us if we ever create more states. The simple logic is that if Nigeria ever becomes 50 state federation we will have 50 ministers in cabinet, up from the present 36. And agitation for creation of states continues. We create states along ethnic lines and that is an unsustainable premise. Nigeria has 234 ethnic nationalities. But the reason for persistent demand for creation of states is because the people want development brought to their domain. Agitation for states is a demand for development.
Our quest for unity also led to the nationalization of mineral resources declaring them commonwealth, though many will contend the raison d’etre (pro. “raisin detra”). This was aimed at national control of oil but it soon created distortions. The resources found in the states no longer belonged to the states. They became economic assets of the federation, though ironically it truncated the federalist principle and even the very name of Nigeria–The Federal Republic of Nigeria. Many will contend that the original intent of the policy of nationalization of mineral resources was a hegemonic progression. The new economic structure for the federation would create so much injustice that it led to violent agitation by the south southern tribes. Thus the policy led to the unleashing of centrifugal forces that threatened the very viability of the federation it sought to achieve. But we soon came up with an accommodation formula called “derivation principle.” it is still being contested. But oil became our problem in many other respects. The nation became wholly dependent on revenue from oil. Oil killed off other revenue streams like agriculture and industry, and the dream of a diversified economy.
But our long march towards unity didn’t end there. In order to create a symbolic gesture of neutralism it was deemed appropriate to create a no man’s territory right in the middle of the country for the housing of the federal government. And so was Abuja created as a federal capital territory, the trajectory of its radius like the arm of a clock sweeping through contending loci originating from tribal centers in the country. Thus a new heart of the federation was created, and with it all Nigerians are supposed to FEEL like they have equal access and equal ownership of the central government.
And so we see that even though we’ve expended considerable resources in the pursuit of unity, the truth is that what we’re really pursuing is the principle of fairness. Perhaps what we should have been pursuing all along is equity and justice. Those who aspire to political office will be confronted with the question of fairness, equity and justice in the pursuit of national unity. If we don’t intellectually engage the issue of fairness and equity it will continue to dog our steps as a nation and threaten the nation. Clearly our mechanical approach to the question of unity has not worked however laudable those efforts might have been. And that’s because mechanization of nationhood only plays to the root of the very problem we’re trying to solve: that Nigeria itself is an artificial construct of the colonial authorities. We need a more naturalistic approach to the challenge of nationhood and nothing can be more natural than natural justice.
Note something however about Nigerians. Nigerians are resolute and undivided when it comes to football. Unlike other areas of existence, it is one of the least unsullied by our artificial implements. The quota system is relegated to the background in our football. Not that there have not been attempts but it is either you know how to play, or you don’t. There are no tribal enclaves in soccer. In our soccer administration we have elevated the spirit of meritocracy over tribal jingoisms and exertions. Nigerians want merit and demand performance. It’s why they boo their country if the team underperforms. In soccer we see the ability of merit and demand for performance to overcome the issue of tribalism. Perhaps therefore the principle of fairness and justice, meritocracy and demand for performance will set us on the path of nationhood, better than all the implements we’ve deployed so far. Not that those implements are not important, but they cannot produce on their own. The natural consequence of the pursuit of fairness, meritocracy and performance as fundamental objectives of state policy is the creation of an intelligent society and reduction in corruption index. If we operationalise these three factors, they will achieve more than all the propaganda and mechanical constructs put together. If we demand performance from organs of state, give opportunities to the deserving, and ensure fairness in all spheres, the nation will face an upward trajectory. What is even more interesting is the fact that the psyche of the Nigerian is amenable to these principles as a basis of nationhood. We’ve seen that on the soccer pitch.
It is only through fairness to the individual we can disaggregate the negative role of the collectives.
The only reason people resort to the collective is for collective bargaining. There is more bargaining strength in a collective. Were the individual sure of access to his rights there would be less need of resort to the collective to assert his rights. But as long as the rights of the individual are weakened in the State the tribal resort will remain resilient. Give people access to fairness– be it in education, be it in business pursuits, be it in healthcare, be it in pursuit of their faith. Nigeria will achieve unity much faster under such circumstances. The litmus test for the federal character principle and all the other constructs is, will this create fairness. If it will not then the administration of such principles will only work against the very ideals we’re striving for. Achieving a balance is an intellectual challenge, it is not an impossibility. We need to revisit our frameworks.
But the demand for performance in our soccer lesson is also poignant (“pro: poiyant”). Nigerians want performance. In other words, they want a nation that functions, a nation capacitated to win. When the nation functions excellently then the people have something to be proud of. A functioning nation inspires patriotism. A nation focused on excellence inspires national pride. But we’ve been trying to engender patriotism through artificiality. The Ministry of Information and National Orientation crafts and airs jingles and propaganda materials that are designed to program people into appreciation of the State. In retrospect however, the very name of that ministry conjures up Soviet era imagery, or even North Korea. Programming is the only way to make Nigerians be proud of what they cannot be proud of. But patriotism by programming has its challenges. It is a worrisome big brother idea. And the products of such efforts are not the kind of Nigerians we want. We need questioning, questing, thinking, examining, innovative young men and women. We need the proverbial Bereans. True patriotism is engendered, it is not mandated.
Nigerians want power, Nigerians want roads, they want healthcare, they want education, they want opportunities. But without the rule of law the nation cannot function. Neither can it function properly with entrenched corruption. When the basic institutions of state are riddled with corruption anomalies are created, and the basic rights of the citizens become mercantile commodities. The rich will of course have an unfair advantage in justice-for-sale system. Fairness is auctioned. And when the rich are pitted against the poor, the poor will always lose, which then creates angst and resentment in the poor. Considering the number of poor people in Nigeria, that is not a future we want to confront.
For the nation to progress it must provide opportunity for all in the spirit of fairness. The progress of the individual becomes the basis of the progress of the nation and the opportunity for the individual becomes the platform for patriotism. The spirit of the inscription on our coat of arms, the words of our national anthem and the national pledge, cannot be activated without a focus on the life of the individual. The starting point of opportunity for the individual is the right to life. We need a good healthcare delivery system. And we need security. The next rung of civic right on the ladder of opportunity is a sound education. We need a revamp of our educational system. And the third rung on the civic ladder is a fair opportunity to maximize potential. We need an enabling policy environment for the individual to thrive from self-effort. There must be no limit to attainment. Therefore we need a sound economic policy, one that prioritizes the ordinary man. It is all about people. That’s what makes a nation.
Education is very critical. It is the parachute out of poverty for the poor. But our theoretical approach to education cannot deliver the Nigeria of the future. It is too focused on acquisition of certificates irrespective of capacitation of the individual.
That certification system was good for a Nigeria that existed 30 years ago. The certificate was guaranteed by the quality of education. But it cannot serve the Nigeria of the now, or the nation of the future. It’s why we have a lot of “graduates” who can’t plug into the economy.
Education must be responsive to national imperatives. To solve the challenge of Nigeria we need an innovative educational system. “Cram and regurgitate for exam” is a psychedelic relic of a bygone era. It’s why corporations are having to retrain job applicants before offering them an opportunity to apply for the work. Our educational system needs fresh thinking not panel beating. The Makoko Floating School is a typical example of applied creativity in the granting of access to the disenfranchised. But we will need to look into our syllabi as well. There is a need for a fundamental rethink of our syllabi. The new syllabi must be designed with the active participation of industrialists, corporations and other institutions that absorb workforce. We need a market responsive educational approach. And various countries are already experimenting with various ideas. Let me cite one or two examples.
The Big Picture Learning in Rhode Island, USA breaks down the wall between education and the working world. It focuses on creative passions. Students are paired with mentors who work in the fields the students want to enter. According to Rodney Davis, the communications director, “the most important element of the education at Big Picture Learning School is that students learn in the real world.”
There’s also AltSchool in Silicon Valley. As can be expected of a school named after a key on a computer keyboard there’s an unusual dedication to the use of technology. The school is for ages 4-14. In this school, kids turn everyday objects into circuit boards and learn 3D modeling to build playhouses. According to the CEO, Max Ventilla, “The school experience can be so much more than mere consumption of facts and figures.”
Then there’s Samaschool in San Francisco, California. The focus is relevant adult education – gives struggling adults a leg up in securing jobs. It recognizes the advance of the digital economy by focusing on the digital and entrepreneurial skills necessary in today’s market. And the hours are flexible. It allows people to drastically change their circumstances.
There’s also P-Tech High School in Brooklyn, New York. It was launched by IBM in 2011 to give teens a way into university that avoided the usual four-year high school track. The students complete a six-year degree instead. And there’s a strong mentorship and internship structure. IBM’s Stanley Litow says P–Tech offers students “a clear pathway from school to career, giving young people options that they could not imagine, and directly advancing the nation’s economy.”
Nigeria needs these types of schools. We need to innovate our way out of our morass. We need to be bold and aggressive with new ideas.
Just like the P-Tech school was founded by IBM, we need employers of labour to co-create schools. If students are purposely trained we’ll reduce unemployment statistics. Unemployment is a security challenge for a nation. We must as a matter of urgency breed a generation for the digital age. That is the future. And we must give opportunity to those left behind to upgrade their status, making it easy for them to acquire relevant skills. Our emphasis should be practical knowledge.
In addition to the educational policy we must as a nation encourage productivity by discouraging criminality. The moral fiber of the nation is strengthened when criminal enterprise is not rewarded. If we don’t change our thinking and focus on these imperatives, the future will not arrive.
The question then arises: Can the Church deliver on this agenda? Well, not with the current congregational dependency system. The Church is training people to be dependent on pastors. This makes the pastors powerful but the program is detrimental to the future of the nation. We need those who can study, take initiatives and accept moral responsibility. An unthinking, unreasoning, unquestioning generation of believers is highly detrimental to the future of the fatherland.
The model in the word of God is that the pastor trains the people who then do the work of the ministry. But we’ve inverted God’s order. The pastor is now the one doing the work of the ministry. It’s a terrible and inefficient model of ministry.
Christians must participate in politics. Or they may find themselves the object of religious persecution tomorrow. And the Church itself needs new thinking, not the reenactment of what God did in previous generations. We are supposed to serve God in our generation. That means our ideas must be fresh and contemporaneous. The past will not cannot deliver tomorrow. Only revolutionary thinking can. That’s what Jesus stood for. Christianity was a revolutionary concept.
I want to thank you for listening to my ideas and my thinking. May God bless you.
Delivered at Grace for Governance Oriental Hotel, Lekki Lagos
Saturday, October 31, 2015
© Leke Alder | email@example.com