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It is to be expected President Buhari will promise to tackle insecurity, fight corruption and grow Nigeria’s economy during his second-term in office. These have been the standard promises at the start of all presidential terms since 1999. What is different for me personally this time is my complete lack of belief the incoming president, in this case Buhari, will make significant headway on any of these issues. This despite the fact Iplacedsignificant hope in a Buhari presidency back in 2015.
Likewise, when first Yar’Adua and later Jonathan assumed the presidency, I felt a momentary surge of optimism about Nigeria’s future. Today, I can’t even pretend to believe a second-term Buhari government will be able to turn things around in this troubled nation. It is not that I don’t want to believe things will change for the better in these next four years, it is that I can’t believe. Sometimes, you may really want to believe a thing but find yourself unable to. Hence, there are atheists today who used to be devout Christians or Muslims.
It would be no problem if only I and a few other malcontents felt this way about Nigeria’s immediate future. Problem is, hardly anyone I know seems to expect much of a second-term Buhari presidency, including folks who just voted to re-elect him. This is less connected to Buhari’s person than to a generally increasing pessimism regarding Nigeria’s future. Growing insecurity, mass unemployment, rising living costs, the visible multiplication of poverty all around, an economy clearly not working for the overwhelming majority and the seeming determination of a political class to remain unfazed by all this, is taking its psychological toll. Small wonder a 2017 Pew Research survey revealed 3-in-4 Nigerians – 74% – would emigrate given the opportunity, a much higher figure than inKenya (54%), Senegal (46%) or Tanzania (43%). Citizens of the “Giant of Africa”now find their country more unbearable than Kenyans, Tanzanians and Senegalese find theirs. It is difficult to cite a more damning indictment of the Nigerian reality.
There is now a resignation in the air I’ve never felt quite so palpably among usually incurably optimistic Nigerians. Personally, I have often felt frustration at the stubborn“E go better” philosophy of Nigerians even when there seemed no rational basis for it. In fact, I have long believed the greatest ally of the country’s do-little political class is the willingness of the average Nigerian to accept the present as is on the assumption a brighter future is surely to be. That, just like the biblical Israelites, we are somehow pre-ordained to reach a Promised Land after our equivalent 40 years in the desert. That Nigeria’s present is but a difficult phase that will inevitably pass. Hope requires no evidence to believetomorrow holds more promise than today.
But while I still don’t believe successful countries are built on hope alone, I also know they have never been built in the absence of hope, bereft a popular sentiment in society that the country can work. I’m not talking about mechanically regurgitating in public patriotic-sounding platitudes about Nigeria’s great “potential”, I am talking about truly believing deep down in your bones that the country can actually be made to work. If the players in a football team no longer truly believe it can win, that team is doomed. Sure, the players will turn up for training, they’ll play matches, they’ll pass the ball around and insist they believe in victory, but deep down, none of them truly will, and you will never get one hundred percent from any of them because all they are really doing is just going through the motions. Privately, they’ll be on the constant lookout for transfer opportunities. Just like the 3-in-4 Nigerians who would emigrate tomorrow if they could. Irrespective declarations to the contrary, most Nigerians no longer believeNigeria is redeemable.
Worse, this belief does not belong only to those struggling financially but is shared byNigeria’s elites. Remember theRotimi Amaechi audio-recording that was leakedduring the recent presidential campaign?We heard one of Nigeria’s most prominent politicians tell his friends:“This country cannot change…this country is going nowhere.” Make no mistake; bar a few authentic true believers in project Nigeria, this is how most Nigerians, rich and poor, feel about the country today.And with good reason too; just how much disappointment can human faithabsorb before starting to waver?
This is the prevalent mood of the country President Buhari will be running for the next four years. By the end of his second term, he will have spent close to a decade as Nigeria’s head of state, surpassed only by Olusegun Obasanjo’s cumulative eleven years in the job.These next four years will likely determine Buhari’s historical legacy. An absolute must-do for him and his new administration is to restore hope among Nigerians that their country can actually be made to work, that Nigeria is not a lost cause.
This would take far more than patriotic clichés no one believes in anymore, least of all the politicians who spout them. It would take the country literally seeing members of the incoming government working their backsides off to make the country safer, more prosperous, more just. Even if just by a bit. Nobody expects miracles. In fact, Nigerian expectations of government are the lowest they’ve been since I recall. But I also know Nigerians still want to believe in their country, and when people really want to believe in something, they will readily snatch at any half-good reason to do so. But words have stopped working Mr President, only actions will suffice now. Otherwise, whoever succeeds you will be presiding over a nation not of agnostics, but of full-blown atheists in the Nigerian cause.