It is no longer secret to say that a few elites and intellectuals with conscience in Nigeria, those who have started to debate about the need for an alternative history for the nation, are viewed nowadays by the present class of Nigerian leaders as enemies of the state. This has resulted in the state sponsored witch-haunt through government machinery and institutions against these noble men and women of conscience who want nothing else but the welfare of all and sundry – the reinventing of Nigeria in which every citizen would feel belonged and proud of.
As it is now, Nigeria is one address in which most of its citizens don’t really feel belonged. In fact, if truth be told, Nigeria is a nation-state that does not appertain to its citizens. Nigerians feel as foreigners in and outside their homeland.
In his work, “The Territorial Lost of National Sovereignty by African Peoples”, the Senegalese intellectual giant and pan-African historian, Cheik Anta Diop said:
“We live in an epoch when every artist or intellectual must take a side – either for or against his/her people – in their struggle for freedom and defense of human dignity” (Cheik Anta Diop).
In a different context, Paplo Neruda said when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 that: “I belong to the people of Latin America, a little of whose soul I have tried to interpret.”
However, as an African born in the geographical entity named Nigeria by the British colonial masters, the present article (as in my previous articles in this column), is a personal reflection from my perspective as a Christian whose faith is challenged more forcefully today by the unfolding drama in the Nigerian political landscape. The challenge is to make my own contribution to the national conversation and debate towards an alternative history for Nigeria, by reflecting on the qualities of leaders that could make that difference, leaders with qualities needed to accompany the nation and its people to the “promised land.” My interest privileges the discussion on the topic of Nigerian heterogeneous nation-state politics vis-à-vis the antics of government of exclusion by the powerful ruling minority elites and oligarchies that have been holding the nation captive since its colonial creation by Britain in 1914.
The claim that as Christian leaders we should not discuss politics is more than a figure of speech. For as one who was only 7 years old when the Nigeria-Biafra War that lasted three years started (1967-1970), I have shared not so much the dreams of Nigeria’s political independence from Britain in 1960, but especially, the drama of the Civil War in Eastern Nigeria (the Biafran enclave) where I was born. Although, I survived the war, the fact that many of my generation are already dead through the bullets of the Nigerian Army, starvation policy of the Federal Government and their economic stagnation against Biafrans even after the war, is an indication of the tragic waste of life and the failure of Nigerian state itself. It is also a pointer to the on-going frustration of those hopes and dreams at the hands of nationalist politics in negotiating “One Nigeria.”
What is particularly telling is that the few of my generation who are still alive have lived through (or, more accurately, survived), not only many regimes of the rule of Army Generals, “coups, counter coups”, but also a series of “democratic” republics devoid of contents and focus. My generation have lived and survived through the so-called civil and human rights class “struggles”, each promising an end to, but instead only exacerbating, the political nightmare.
In the midst of these, many today have come to agree with Prof. Chinua Achebe that Nigeria’s problem is purely and squarely, a failure of leadership.
This is why a fresh conversation on leadership and alternative history for Nigeria is long overdue. Our present article is a contribution to this fresh conversation. In discussing the unfolding Nigerian drama, the article wants to put forward the leadership style of Moses in his struggle for freedom and alternative history for his people enslaved by Pharaoh in Egypt as recounted by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 7). What is the implication of Moses’ leadership qualities and style for Nigeria today?
The Style of Moses and Nigerian Leadership Crisis
Often I ask myself, why the Acts of the Apostles speaks of three periods of forty years of the life of Moses. The three periods are: a) Moses in the school of Pharaoh; b) visit to his people and escape; and c) life in the desert. I feel that the author of the sacred text by dividing Moses’ life and work into three periods wanted to teach us an important lesson. When God chooses one for a particular task, no matter what that may be, he wants the person to take that way of life not as an event only for a period but for all life. He wants the person to be fully consumed and dedicate his life entirely for the God chosen mission.
In the first stage, Moses lived in the school of Pharaoh (cf. Acts 7:20-27). He lived in the family of Pharaoh and from there appeared as special object of God’s providential plan for his people. Moses got informed in all the culture, tradition and wisdom of the Egyptians. Egypt was the cradle of human civilization and learning. Greeks used to go to Egypt to learn the wisdom of the Egyptians: political and economic organizations, technical wisdom (e.g.: pyramids), cultural wisdom (e.g.: tombs of Pharaohs – which are indeed proofs of an advanced culture).
As we reflect on this first stage in the life of Moses, a thought readily comes to mind: What is the Moses of this first stage that is in Nigerian leaders today? Because if there is actually this divine providence in the lives of our leaders, we shall have no need discussing of this topic here and now? Moses spent the early stage of his life in the school of Pharaoh and through that he acquired needed educational formation. On our part, are we challenged to ask ourselves, how much do we cherish all that we have received from our families, town, country, institutions and the church? Stephen says: “He knew all very well. Jesus was powerful in works and wisdom, but Moses in speech and works.”
It suffices to think here how we begin to learn how to speak, lecture and write! How we learn how things are to be done: things done well and some mistakenly done. This includes also things learnt: How to do things, direct others, just like Moses.
However, in this early period of formation, there is what is missing. Contact with reality, without experience. The contact with the image we have of the other, the authorities, institutions of power, and the world, etc. Moses was well instructed, but did not know the concrete reality. So, he failed in his first outing and meeting with his people. He got misunderstood. The community has not given him this knowledge, and the people he believed did not understand him.
However, in the second stage, we are confronted with the period of generosity (Acts 23:29). Moses goes out to see his people, and found them fighting. Next day he wanted to settle a fight between two Jews but his gestures the previous day got misinterpreted. No matter what happened, this episode has one major lesson: Moses had great and generous heart. He was living well already in the house of Pharaoh. In spite of that he decided to engage in the liberation struggle and justice for his people (Acts 23:27). He thought that his people knew already that God was offering them salvation through him. He thought that his people knew already the prize for their liberation, that you do not gain your freedom on the platter of gold.
In other words, this experience taught Moses that his people were yet to know the price for resistance that is needed for them to be liberated from slavery, to be free after many years of enslavement. Thus, Moses was tired both with his own people and Pharaoh who was out to kill him. Moses became a stranger in the house of Pharaoh and among his own people. He has no right any more, no family, no point of reference. He has lost all his privileges. Moses was sent away from this community. After this, he lived in a foreign land and got two sons there.
Again, we may ask why did Stephen decide to tell us this story of Moses in the New Testament. Perhaps it was a way of recounting the experience that launched Moses into the mission of liberating his people and the fulfilment of that mission in the Christ-Event. Already tired with his people and family of Pharaoh, Moses now lived in a foreign land and established his own family life there.
In general, we can say that with this achievement at least, Moses should feel contented. Everything now is o.k. He has gotten his own family, though in a foreign land. After all, that alone is enough life ambition for any average person. But Moses is more than just an average person.
During the voyage from Africa to the Americas, some captured Africans decided to drown themselves in the Atlantic Ocean than continue with the humiliation of slavery at the hands of the White Slave Masters. Some of them, who eventually made it to the Americas, auctioned as slaves, also committed suicide instead of continuing with the humiliation of that most degraded inhuman trade and treatment.
In the Nigerian scene: After the end of the Nigeria-Biafra War in 1970, some Igbos came back only to discover that their property – houses they built in other parts of the country before the war, and money they had deposited in Nigerian banks no longer belonged to them. Their houses were declared abandoned property and money deposited in the banks frozen by the Federal Government of Nigeria. A good number of the Igbos who couldn’t bear this untold hardship got devastated and nearly lost hope in the whole system, the Nigerian project.
On the family sphere, some married people have sought for separation or divorce because of the difficulties of living together as couples. But in spite of that, they still found out that the happiness they sought for through divorce or separation is still far from realization.
However, this was not the case with Moses. In other words, the life of Moses challenges one to continue the struggle, to go extra mile even when everything around us appears to be going the opposite. Of course, after many efforts, we should ask, what results have one gotten? Perhaps, mediocrity which tells us that beyond that we cannot do more. The Acts of the Apostles, however, is telling us that it was while in such a situation and dilemma that God began to engage Moses with his life.
Thus, in the third stage we meet the period of discovery of the divine initiative in the life of Moses. Often it is where others have put us that God comes to meet us, opens our eyes there and helps us discover ourselves and his divine chosen mission. The nights that one never slept, night passed in the deserts. Why do we like Moses pass such sleepless nights in the deserts? Moses chose solitude, lived in solitude. He responded to his experience through life of solitude.
Let’s face it. Moses chose solitude and not isolation. In isolation, one does not feel like doing anything again with people. This is not solitude. Solitude is emptiness in life which only God can refill. This is what the spiritual writer would call the “dark night of the soul.” It is like recalling what one once experienced while in school: I was this or that, but now, I am nobody. What is happening to me? In such a situation, Moses turned to God, began a life of prayer. Any genuine vocation should begin with a feeling of sense of humility and emptiness before God, who has helped one reach this experience of life. It is from there that God begins to rebuild the person for a more meaningful life.
Is this not the meaning of resurrection? The triumph of life over death! Jesus came that we may have life, life it in abundance. We are created to live in dignity and not under the forces of death. This means that God expects us to fight through determination, righteousness, life of honesty and sincerity, and defeat all those things that dehumanize our very being as creatures of God and bearers of our own destiny.
The question now is in which of the experiences of Moses do we, as individuals and nation found ourselves today – in joy and in pain? Again, like Moses do we understand this journey of our lives as individuals and the present state of our nation as something that has to do with God’s plan for us as individual and as a people? Can we say that we have come to know ourselves better through the experiences that have passed our way in the past one hundred years we have been staying together as a nation-state?
Through his own experience, Moses came to know the way of the Lord. It is not Moses that had compassion for his people, but God. It is God that wants to liberate his people and not Moses. “Not with our power but with the way and power of God,” was the prayer of Moses in the desert (Psalm 31). Can we now put this prayer within our collective and personal experience?
Therefore, as individuals and a nation we are often confronted with the challenges encountered, some moments of joy, happiness and hope. But we should also be aware and enriched as well, especially, by the despair, near frustration, feeling of betrayal and discouragement which have come our way as individuals and nation all this while. It would be a disservice to the ourselves to pretend that there is never a time we did not feel tired and depressed enough to exclaim like Elijah: “I’ve had enough, Lord, I can’t make it any further” (cf. I King 19:4-8).
The fault of Moses however, and for which he paid dearly since he was not allowed to reach the Promised Land, is that he forgot it is God himself who is leading the people. He forgot that all that is asked of him is to bear with the people’s intransigence and rely on the power of God who first chose him for the mission. God knows his people and plan for them (Jeremiah 29:11). It is not for us to judge or condemn the other person or people, even when they have inflicted us with some serious wounds and injuries. The judgement belongs to God, who in the first place, has offered us his mercy through his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
One who wants to serve God and his people with sincere heart, in truth and in Spirit, must, at times, find himself or herself in great difficulty. Experience shows that many a time, good people are marked out for persecution and suffering by wicked and unjust persons or establishment. As the Holy Writ puts it: “Lord why do you allow good people to suffer, and wicked people to prosper in the world?”
Sometimes, even religion, the life of our communities, families, places of work, friends, may seem to be letting us down. We are saddened by conflicts, envies, meanness, gossiping, calumny or defamation of character, inconsistencies, betrayal by friends, and even loved ones. This also includes verbal assassination of one’s credibility, dignity and professionality by colleagues. In such situations, we may be so depressed as to give in to despair and say bitter words like those of Elijah or Moses. Even our Lord felt that way as he embraced the Cross and his Passion.
Looking up and seeing the weight of what awaits him on the way to the Cross, Jesus prayed to His Father to take away the suffering from him: “Father, take away this cup from me; though not as I willed, but let your will be done” (Matthew 26:39-40). And when the weight of the Cross seemed unbearable, our Lord exclaimed: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:47). Again, in his feeling of betrayal by one of his apostles, our Lord said: “It is better if that man by whom the Son of man was to be handed over, was not born” (Matthew 26:24). In spite of all this, Jesus continued the journey till the end and through it he redeemed the world.
This is the reality the great Christian mystics and spiritual writers have also tried to communicate. For instance, John of the Cross tells us that, the soul that wishes to reach divine union, or union with “the Beloved”, must actively submit itself to a dark night of the senses. In this night, the soul willingly detaches itself from all sensual desires, for such desires impede the progress of the soul on its journey. Once the soul has passed through this night, it finds itself in the night of the faith, where it must give up its knowledge and understanding in order to embrace God’s love, knowledge, and understanding. Finally, once the soul has given up both sensual and rational desires, God begins his active work of grace as the soul gives itself up to him. Though the journey is arduous, the divine union is blissful.
Again, the Bible tells us that: “The Lord is near to the broken hearted, and will save the humble in Spirit … Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord will deliver them out of them all.” God accompanies the afflicted and persecuted person, prepares him food so that he may recover his strength.
But one thing is certain: God does not exempt his prophet from the test. He does not stop him from going on with hard journey, and does not send his angels to transport him miraculously. The man of God and a true leader of his people has to keep walking farther and farther into the desert with all its dangers and difficulties. God is on the other side of the mountain, waiting for him or her to complete the journey and receive the crown of glory. Without the journey, its dangers and difficulties, we shall neither reach the Mountain of God, nor receive the crown of glory: As the saying goes: “Without Good Friday, there will be no Easter Sunday of the Resurrection.”
In our own case, as individuals, people and nation, we can be sure that God deals with us in his own way. Although, ours may not be as dramatic as the ones recounted in the Bible, or experienced by great and holy men and women down the ages, yet we can see the hands of God in our lives’ journey and experience. Paul summarizes that experience thus:
“You tolerate anyone who orders you around, or takes advantage of you or traps you, or looks down on you, or slaps you in the face. I am ashamed to admit it: we are too timid to do that” (2Cor. 11:7-29).
Implications for Nigeria: Towards an Alternative History
As the reality of failure of leadership in the Nigerian political landscape stares us in the face, it is our candid hope that the experience of Moses and other Biblical, great men and women whose lives are recounted in the Book of life and history, should inspire us for a new history and alternative story in Nigeria. The present Nigerian government leadership’s style of exclusion and persecution of perceived “enemy” ethnic groups and individuals has inflicted on us all, hatred of one another, continued underdevelopment, poverty, economic hardship, unemployment, non-payment of workers and pensioners’ salaries, etc. We have reached the critical moment where we must call a spade by its name and work for an alternative history for the people and nation.
The Nigerian leadership as we have it today has polarized the nation almost beyond repair. Our political leaders and elites have knowingly or unknowingly, promoted hatred among its diverse citizens, created an environment of violence for the thriving of Islamic Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram terrorists against Christians and other non-Muslims in the country.
From all indications, those in leadership of Nigeria today, appear to be tactfully, lending support to ethnic-cleansing of Christians and indigenous ethnic Africans in the Old Eastern region, Non-Muslim Fulani and Hausas in Northern Nigeria, Southern Kaduna, Middle Belt, South West as well as other parts of Southern Nigeria. This is because while all these are happening, Nigerian political class and elites appeared to be looking elsewhere. The opinion of our political leaders and Guardians of the Empire (as they are called nowadays), is that all that is needed in Nigeria today is a return to the 1960s mindset.
The 1960 mindset of our political class is best captioned in the Civil War slogan of the then Federal Government based in Lagos: “To keep Nigeria One is a task that must be kept.” No less a person than President Buhari himself would reecho this slogan at Abuja on Friday, March 10, 2017, though in a subtle but powerful way, in the few words he addressed to the nation on his return from the nearly two months medical leave in London. President Buhari said, among other things:
“May I appeal to our people to continue to pray for the country’s unity, progress and prosperity.” (Muhammed Buhari).
This is not the first time, the President is reported to have said such words. In the past, he was once quoted to have said: “Over my dead body, Biafra will not happen … I will do everything to keep Nigeria one.” Lawal Kaita, a prominent Northern Nigeria Fulani Muslim leader said similar thing in a more poignant manner, loaded with words of violence and provocation. According to him, “North will fight again to keep Nigeria one.”
While nobody wishes to see Nigeria disintegrate in pieces, the question is: In the midst of the Nigerian situation today, is this the type of narrative one would expect from our political leaders who pretend they mean well for the entire nation. With this type of mindset and narrative, do these people at the helm of nation’s affair and political power, still see themselves as men and women with rare qualities of leadership?
Is this type of narrative and mindset what majority of Nigerians were expecting to hear from their present leaders who under their watch, hundreds of lives of innocent Nigerians have been lost through murderous activities of those who have been pursuing Islamic agenda in the country in the last two years alone? Even when President Buhari was away for almost two months medical treatment in London, those terror groups – Fulani herdsmen militia, Boko Haram, and to a certain degree, the Muslim dominated Nigerian Military and Police, have continued to be a source of worries to men and women of conscience in the country. Think of the continued brutality of the Army and Police towards innocent citizens in certain regions of the country, at least in the last 20 months.
In other words, insecurity of lives and property that have been reigning in the country since the present administration came to power is a far more important concern than the 1960s mindset slogan: “To keep Nigeria One is a task that must be kept.” If keeping Nigeria one means increasing insecurity, poverty and helplessness to millions of its citizens, then there is something fundamental wrong with the mindset of our present political class.
Painfully, about 50 years after the Civil War, one is still hearing the provocative slogan: “To keep Nigeria One is a task that must be kept.” Was it not in the name of this slogan, that millions of Igbos and other Easterners were massacred during the fratricidal Civil War? In fact, the continued appeal to this 1960s mindset Civil War slogan, furnishes us with the major reasons Igbos still do not feel fully accepted into the mainstream of the Nigerian state.
According to Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, the leader of the Biafran people during the Civil War, the reason for the Igbos not feeling belonged to Nigeria state till date is that even after the Civil War, their marginalization and stigmatization as a component ethnic group in Nigeria, has continued unabated, though subtle but very sophisticated and powerful. Thus, Ojukwu said:
“The person marginalizing me is the person who thinks he has something to gain by maintaining the war situation without the fighting. They don’t allow you to fight but they want to keep the war situation alive” (Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu).
In the context of this glaring fact, Prof. Herbert Ekwe Ekwe said, that some people make the mistake of saying Igbos returned to Nigeria after the Civil War in 1970:
“The fact is that since 1966 pogrom against the Igbo in the North, and the Igbos returned to their land for safety and survival, the Igbos had since not returned to Nigeria. Because Biafra did not surrender in 1970 to Nigeria. Rather what has happened is the occupation of Igboland since then by Nigerian Police, Army and Bureaucratic machinery.”
In other words, the Nigerian problem is the continued inability of its leaders to address with sincerity and creativity, the Igbo marginalization in the country. In the words of Prof. Wole Soyinka:
“Nigeria does not want to confront its history. Nigeria is living in denial … as long as it refuses to confront the wrong it has done to the Igbos” (Wole Soyinka).
According to Chukwuemeka Ezife, former governor of Anambra State, this is what Biafra is all about:
“A reaction to unfairness, injustice, iniquities, and inequalities against the South East by the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
This is the impression many in the former Eastern region still harbor about their relationship with the Nigerian state. No doubt, other regions of the country, particularly in the South West, former Mid-West region, North Central, Christian minorities and other non-Muslims in the North, have their own stories against the Nigeria state as well.
The ongoing murderous activities of the Fulani herdsmen militia, Boko Haram terrorism and the suspected federal government tacit connivance, are forcing many right individuals today to call to question the continued ineptitude of Nigerian leadership class and elites. These right thinking individuals are today calling for a new vision for Nigeria.
For many Nigerians today, addressing the imbalance in the nation’s political landscape is far more important than any call for “unity and faith” in a country that majority of its citizens, see as unsafe for them and their future generations. Addressing the cry of the blood of those innocent citizens killed by suspected government agents and Islamic Jihadists – Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen militia, is far more important than any call for “prayer” for unity of a country where basic human rights of millions of its citizens are not respected. Addressing the question of insecurity of lives and property, government of exclusion, disrespect to Constitution and rule of law by agents of the government in power, is far more important than the slogan, “North will fight again to keep Nigeria one.”
The new conversation for the future of Nigeria must shift its exclusive focus on “unity and faith” in Nigeria and get into business of alternative history for the country and its people.
The new conversation must undercover the underlying stories of the key social institutions in Nigeria that affect both their performance and the types of characters they produce. Shifting the focus from draconian strategies for sustaining Nigerian unity as presently structured to the search for alternative history or story provides a fresh way to talk about reinventing the country for the sake of its future and that of its citizens. Such a search for alternative history helps us to evaluate and see clearly that politics is grounded on the drama of performance in a particular story or history that requires, and in the end shapes, particular characters.
The fact is that after 57 years of political independence and over 100 years of its creation as an amalgamated nation-state, the Nigerian story has not made any dramatic performance in shaping itself and particular characters it produces. We are still living with the mindset of the 1960s and the colonial mentality of the architects of the 1914 amalgamation of the country.
The new conversation for Nigerian leadership is that which must provide a way of thinking about politics in Nigeria as a unique performance grounded in a different set of stories that shape unique expectations and characters, different from what is presently obtainable in the country. Accordingly, such focus on stories and performance not only opens up a fresh conversation about the relationship between the government and the governed, it is a way to highlight the type of politics a people-oriented leadership on politics and society can shape, and the new future it can produce.
Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic Priest. He lives in Rome where he is a Professor of missiology (mission theology) in a Pontifical University. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.