Competing Stories Of Nigeria And The Style Of Jesus: Between Politics And Economy
For sometimes, now, one has been following with great interest the debate in our political scene, which appears to highlight once more, the competing stories of Nigeria as a heterogeneous nation-state. On the one side of the debate are those who project economy as the number one problem facing the country today, and therefore, as the one, that ought to be given priority and fixed first to move Nigeria forward! On the other side of the debate, are those who argue that what Nigeria needs most today, is to fix first its political structure and re-foundation as a nation-state. Without political stability and functional institutions in that regard, no meaningful economic growth or any growth at all, will ever prosper in the land!
However, let me state categorically, that Nigeria needs both political and economic stability and structures to prosper. In fact, we need every segment of our cultural nomenclature to define ourselves as a people with identity and nation with destiny. Be it as it may, and for our purpose in this article, I would like to align myself with the proponents of ‘political stability first, for economic growth to flow.’ There are reasons for taking this position. For purposes of space, however, I can only sketch out a few of them here.
Our starting point is that Nigerian situation as it is today, is calling for a new story. We have been trying to build the nation, especially, the economy on a faulty foundation of Nigeria as a nation-state. However, with a faulty political foundation and institutions or structures, no economic program may ever prosper in Nigeria, no matter how hard we all work towards that end. Until we address the present political structure and founding history of Nigeria as nation-state, we will continue to beat about the bush and produce nothing tangible.
Our inability to address this faulty political foundation and create an alternative story for our nation is the problem. In some of my previous articles, I dedicated a lot of space discussing various segments of our nation’s founding story. Therefore, I will not border you further on that in the present article. Rather, I will concentrate on the story of Jesus and his style in ushering in an alternative story in his work of redemption of humanity and the world. Thereafter, a brief reference will be made to the recent experience of the Euro zone – the cracking experiment of European Union which created a monetary zone for itself few years ago without taking into consideration the existing political structures and stability of member-states. With the recent Brexit from the Euro zone and the infamous Greek economic crisis, the results are there for all of us to see what happens whenever we put economic considerations first before political re-foundation and restructuring. What are the implications of all these for Nigeria today?
An Alternative Story in the Style of Jesus
Again, our short reflection on the above point takes its bearing from the gospel story of the feeding of the crowds. This story is told in varying detail by all four gospel writers:
“When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them: “They need not go away: you give them something to eat. …” (Matthew 14:15-21).
In the first place, in this gospel story, we meet Jesus resisting the attempt by his own disciples, to create a different image for his ministry: “Send the crowds away …we have nothing here.” A realistic and pragmatic response of the disciples that the crowds should go back to the villages where they had lived all their lives as marginalized people.
However, Jesus has a different view. For Jesus, the problem will not be solved by sending the crowds back to the villages. Neither is it a question of lack of commitment by the crowds in providing their own needs, which can be easily addressed through alms giving or moral and spiritual motivation. The problem has to do with rethinking the system on which the society has been built – a system that was never intended (or built from the bottom up) to respond to the basic social needs of the crowds but rather to serve the interest of the minority ruling class. This is a society the crowds are running away from because it has failed in its basic duty of providing security of lives and other social needs for the poor masses.
This is what this episode is all about as Jesus’ response in the story confirms: “There is no need to send the people away, “You yourselves give them something to eat.”
Here, Jesus is inaugurating a new society that is people-oriented. Jesus’ feeding of the crowds with five loaves and two fish is not simply the story of the miracle of “multiplication” or show of “compassion.” It is a drama of competing stories – the old order giving way to the new order inaugurated in Jesus. The story of scarcity (“we do not have enough”), gives way to the performance of Jesus that provides an alternative to it: Where there was scarcity, there is now not only enough (everyone had their fill) but superabundance. Instead of scattering of community as the disciples suggested, there is now Jesus gathering of the crowds (let people sit down); where there was a desert, we have now a lush field (people are ordered to sit down “on the grass”). Is this not an invitation to rethink our practice of politics and social engagement with one another, our behavior towards our fellow citizens and immigrants alike?
The question is – are we committed towards creating a new story, capable of ushering in a different story that reproduces and makes real this foundational narrative of five loaves and two fish in our Nigerian political landscape? How did Jesus do it? To answer this question we refer to another gospel story, the meeting of Jesus with the disciples of John the Baptist. Again, this is a story of what an alternative story means in concrete terms, in the style of Jesus.
Matthew and Luke both tell us that one day John the Baptist sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask him: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus’ answer was:
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame work, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who is not scandalized of me” (Mt 11:2-6; Lk 7:18-23).
This is what some biblical experts and theologians have referred to as the “scandal of Jesus to the Baptist.” The “scandal” consists on the fact that Jesus’ style contrasts with the mentality of the time, of the image the people have of the Messiah who is to come, an image of “a warrior messiah”, who is expected to wage war against their perceived enemies, and establish a fortified sovereignty against them in the style of the ancient kingdoms of Babylonians and the Romans. Jesus, however, refused to be photographed in that image.
John, like every other simple Jew of his time, were all waiting for the arrival of such a “warrior Messiah” in fulfillment of the Scriptures. The eschatological based preaching of John, all aimed at preparing the people to be ready to receive the Messiah and so escape from the irruption of eschatological judgment that would envelope whoever would be found unprepared. Incidentally, when Jesus came, John did not see him any more along that traditional way of thinking and perceiving of the qualities and mission of the Messiah, who was to come. Thus, the sending of his emissaries to Jesus to find out whether he is the Messiah or shall they wait for another.
And so, Jesus answers the Baptist’s as he does on other occasions, by referring the questioner to his actual messianic activity, to his works. The salvation foretold is at hand in Jesus and is offered to all, and not to Israel alone. Instead of vengeance and fire, Jesus brings universal mercy. The coming of Jesus Christ, therefore, is the beginning forever of the new spiritual earthly of the world, founded on the mercy and justice of God through Christ Jesus himself.
In other words, Jesus began his ministry by recreating or rather re-founding the old-order so that justice and mercy would flow as the new foundation of the society and the world. Through his preaching and action, Jesus was changing and replacing the old order of rancor, vengeance and condemnation with mercy and love. Jesus has to provide us with a new “constitution” so that justice and mercy would follow. He refused to work or to be photographed in the image of the old “constitution.” Thus, he inaugurated a new “new constitution” for all humanity to live in and follow. This is the new story or rather “new world order” Jesus inaugurated through his life, ministry, and especially, passion and death on the Cross.
Here lies the contrast between the preaching of Jesus and the Baptist. The contrast consists in the following: John calls for fruits of conversion in order to escape God’s condemnation within the “old order”; Jesus offers mercy and forgiveness as the bedrock for the new society so that conversion may follow. While John posits the question of conversion as a condition through which one could escape from the imminent eschatological judgment in the logic of the old order, Jesus, however, offers mercy and forgiveness as the new condition for the justice of God. In Jesus, we have a “new constitution”, so to say, the mercy of God; and it is on the basis of this mercy of God that we are saved and shall be judged.
The implication of this Jesus’ teaching for us today in Nigeria is that before talking of economic growth, or judging or condemning others, etc., we first, of all need, a new constitution that is all-embracing: justice-oriented, lovely, merciful and inclusive.
The Euro-Zone Experience: A Lesson for Nigeria
It is true that current world-order, is governed by politics of economy and race. Behind this saying however, is the hidden truth that whether it is economy or race, the fact remains that none of the two could function well without a firmly established stable political structure and institutions put in place. The recent crack in the European monetary zone, in less than twenty years the Union established its over-ambitious common currency to promote economic growth and prosperity in Europe, is an egregious example. European Union learnt the hard lesson, which resulted in the infamous Brexit from the Euro zone through Referendum. Already a good number of other countries in the Euro zone are opting to follow the Brexit example.
Towards the close of the twenty-century, Europe somehow rushed to establish a common currency to promote economic growth among its member states. It did this without taking into consideration the current political structures and stability of its member-states. Then came the Greece economic crisis, followed by that of Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, etc. (the so called ‘Third World of the West’). Only Germany, Britain, France and few others, appeared to have strong political stability and structures upon which meaningful economic planning and growth could hinge. Other states with chronic political instability and weak institutions became a liability to the Euro zone super-power nation-states with stable political structures and institutions.
How can a viable and political stable-nation like Germany for example share the same economic landscape with a country such as Greece with its weak political institutions and structures? This resulted in some of the stable political nations now clamoring for exist from the Euro zone common currency, just as Britain has done already.
It was already late when European Union discovered its foundational plunder of putting economy first before politics. It is like putting the ‘cart before the horse.’ The Union, instead of looking at the founding stories underlying political institutions of each member-state before embarking on the common Euro currency for all, rushed over to the gigantic project. Today, the consequences are there for all of them to swallow.
Unfortunately, the Union seems not to have even learnt its lessons. This is evident from its style of bailouts for these member-states with ailing economies. Instead of advising these countries of weak economies to go back to their respective founding stories as nation-states to correct the mistakes from-inside-out, the Union is offering them palliative economic remedies of failing economic structures and strategies of domination: The ‘conditionalities’ of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). For instance, Greece and other Euro zone ailing countries were forced into further borrowing and austerity measures as well as structural adjustment programs, which in turn alienated the poor masses all the more from the state and made them poorer than ever.
In addition, to qualify for the palliative economic remedies, the Union and the international financial institutions applied the same measures they usually use against African nations on these Euro zone states with ailing economies. The Union and the international financial institutions in some cases attempted to force upon these nations with poor economies, a certain kind of political system, which often conflict with the founding stories of the nations concerned. Thus, the crisis of political instability in some of the Euro zone countries seems to have no end in view!
Again, the most devastating of it all, is that to qualify for the palliative economic redemption from the international financial institutions and the Union itself, the Euro zone nations with ailing economies, were forced to forgo the religious and moral values upon which the fabric of their respective nations and being as a people had been founded. Traditionally and culturally conscious nations such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, were forced to throw away their ancestral heritage and age-long religious tradition and teaching on family and marriage morals and values to embrace the neo-liberal tendency of homosexuality and same-sex marriage through parliamentary legislation. Without it, they would not have qualified to receive any bailout from the international financial institutions.
Once these conditions are met, no one talks any more or hears again in the mainstream media of economic crisis in the countries concerned. However, the people in the streets and in their homes know that nothing has really changed in their economic conditions and daily life. Rather, the new measures, instead of alleviating their condition have worsened it. The poor masses are now living under the process of permanent impoverishment as a result, of the austerity and other measures imposed on their state to qualify for the palliative economic redemption from the international financial institutions.
Perhaps, this is just one of the main reasons some concerned people are today calling for reform of these international institutions and organizations like United Nations’ and its organs and operative structures. For instance, Willy Brandt’s commission on “North-South: A Program for Survival”, in its second report, titled, “Independent Commission on International Development Issues”, published in 1983, observed as follows:
“It is three years now since we published our Report North-South: A Program for Survival. Recent developments, unfortunately, served to confirm some of the worst fears expressed in that Report. The world’s prospects have deteriorated rapidly: not only for improved relations between industrialized and developing countries, but for the outlook of the world economy as a whole…deteriorating economic conditions already threaten the political stability of developing countries. Further decline is likely to cause the disintegration of societies and create conditions of anarchy in many parts of the world.”
From this context, the Brandt’s commission believes that nations should urgently start taking concrete steps toward improving political reconstruction of their respective states, without which the world economic situation could only deteriorate further, and possibly result in conflict and catastrophe. Furthermore, the commission asks that the world’s economic and monetary system be reconsidered and restructured under circumstances nearly as serious as those of 1944, when the lingering horrors of 1930s economic disasters inspired the Bretton Woods institutions -GATT, IMF, and the World Bank. The vision and need for a new economic order were clear then.
Furthermore, the Brandt’s Commission, argues, “these international finance institutions may not deny being major contributors to the present socio-economic and political problems of many developing countries. This is why all hands must be on deck towards giving these financial institutions a human face – so that those who are rich should use more of their wealth in the interest of peace.”
Again, according to the Brandt’s Commission, in order that a better world economic system may evolve, attention should be directed to reforming the political systems. This is the basis for laying of any foundation for economic growth of any nation, including ours, Nigeria.
Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (The Social Concern of the Church), speaks of the global era in which we live and the importance of interdependence as the new and only way to live and relate in a global existence. The interdependence extends to all facets of life: politics, economics, ecology, culture, religion, etc. Interdependence can work only if all parties which relate are equal, have an equal voice, equal rights, equal power, and so forth. However, the Pope notes that this interdependence is not possible for the moment because of the dreams or lust for power of the ruling powerful minority. In the document is found also, some of the most necessary steps to be taken by individuals, groups and especially by governments and world organizations, in order to address the political structure for any meaningful economic growth to occur.
In a similar way, Pope Francis in his recent Apostolic Letter Evangelii gaudium, speaks of developing principles for laying new political foundations and structures in our nations and the international bodies and organizations – a principle which calls for attention to the bigger picture over and above the short-term result or narrow interest of economic growth (cf. Evangelii gaudium 222). This principle must aim at generating process of people-building, as opposed to obtaining immediate results for short-term political and economic gains, which do not enhance human fullness (cf. Evangelii guadium 224). It is a principle drawn from the parable of the weeds among the wheat (cf. Mt 13:24-30) which graphically illustrates an important aspect of building a nation or society: the enemy can intrude upon the kingdom and sow harm, but ultimately he is defeated by the goodness of the wheat. Again, this parable calls for attention to the bigger picture, openness to suitable processes and concern for the long term. The Lord himself, during his earthly life, often warns his disciples that there were things they could not understand and that they would have to await the Holy Spirit (cf. John 16:12-13).
Implications for Nigeria
Since Nigeria returned to democratic governance in 1999, at least, two important meetings in a quasi-form of “National Conference or Dialogue”, have been conducted. The first was under Obasanjo regime, the so-called “Oputa Panel.” The second was the “National Conference” conducted during Goodluck Jonathan administration. Although, these meetings at national levels might not have been perfect both in its convocation and conduct, that is, in the manner it was convoked, delegates chosen or handpicked, etc., however, one thing is certain. None of the two conferences winded off without proffering certain viable solutions towards addressing our fragile Nigeria’s perennial political instability as a nation-state, and as well as pointing out devastating effects of the nation’s ineptitude leadership style of its ruling class over the years.
For example, one of the findings of the “Oputa Panel” was that “each ethnic group in Nigeria felt being marginalized.” In furtherance of this observation, the “National Conference” under President Jonathan, recommended, among other things, “political restructuring of the country.” This is where we are still today. No action yet! The calls of these two venerable meetings of eminent Nigerian men and women, should not be allowed to continue decaying in a paper without concrete action.
Our people say that “when a child is crying and at the same time pointing fingers towards a particular direction, it is either his father is there or the mother.” For years now – predating even our political independence in 1960, eminent individuals – old and young; living and dead Nigerians, have been telling us the same thing: ‘We should fix our political climate first and other development facets such as economic growth could follow!’ To paraphrase the world renowned Kenyan author and novelist, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, what is needed today in an African nation-state – such as ours, is ‘to transform from a mere unitary union of diverse ethnic and religious entities to a genuine union of African (Nigerian) people themselves, through healthy and transparent participative representative democracy.’ This was the type of Africa Kwame Nkrumah and most of the first generation founding fathers of modern African states had dreamt. A restructuring of existing political structure and overcoming the present ineptitude leadership style of our ruling elites, should be made priority if we really mean to achieve this purpose.
Our sad experience of the Civil War (1967-1960) seems not to have taught us any lesson in this regard yet. What of the continued intra-ethnic conflicts, the lingering Islamic fundamentalism and onslaught, coups and counter coups of the 1970s up to 1990s – the rule of Generals? The present chronic economic recession and alienation of the masses from the state. All these should compel us to call a spade by its name and save the present and future Nigerians from perpetual rancor and bitterness against one another.
This ugly situation has forced almost everyone in Nigeria to hate, kill or malign one another, sometimes on basis of our ethnic and religious differences. In some other times, caused by the harsh economic conditions and the continued reign of injustice and insecurity all over the land. This is what we have been doing to ourselves most of these years since our amalgamation by British in 1914. After over 100 years of our amalgamation as one nation-state by the British, we are yet to come to terms with our history and respond to its challenges in a more genuinely creative manner! We still lack ruling elites blessed with the rare qualities of personal example and selfless leadership style. This has made some of our friends and admirers both at home and abroad to posit the question: Nigeria, Quo Vadis!
Good governance and economic growth come about only through stable and workable political system. Economic growth cannot come about where there are no functional and stable political system and institutions and where there is no respect to the rule of law and order as well as security of life and property. This is the bedrock upon which every nation-state is supposed to be founded. Without it, no nation-state can effectively fulfill its obligations and services to its citizens. Once this bedrock is in place – workable and stable political climate, every other thing will fall in line, including religion, economy, culture, art, education, politics, security, etc. The present total breakdown of law and order in the Nigerian body politics and society, the appalling leadership style of our ruling elites, especially, since the present administration came to power in 2015, must force us all to look inward and allow reason and common sense to prevail.
May be we have tried God’s patience for so long! Now we are required to muster the courage and do the right thing, turn a new page, a new story for the sake of our children and future of our nation and world in general. As Julia Cameron once said: “Every end is a new beginning.”
The Lord Jesus standing before the Sanhedrin – (modern-day judiciary, and princes and princesses of world powers), said to his listeners, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:20; Matthew 26:61; Acts 6:14). In another occasion, Jesus did not hide his lament for Jerusalem:
“As he drew near and came in sight of the city he shed tears over it and said: ‘If you too had recognized on this day the way to peace! But in fact it is hidden from your eyes! Yes, a time is coming when your enemies will raise fortifications all round you, when they will encircle you and hem you in every side; … they will leave not one stone standing on another within you, because you did not recognize the moment of your visitation” (Luke 19:41-44).
Today, to paraphrase one more the Oputa Panel, ‘every Nigerian has some serious grievances against the nation.’ We should not continue to fold our arms and watch these grievances of our citizens, turn into something undesirable. As they say, ‘there is limit to human endurance.’ And the Bible teaches us that: “Once the hand is laid on the plough no one who looks back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62, Phil 3:13).
Nigeria as a nation-state needs a new story, a new beginning, so to say! We are tired of stories of catastrophe, of hatred, of religious and ethnic violence, of coups, of rule of Generals, of ‘born-to-rule mentality’, of corruption, of economic recession, of exclusion, poverty, disease, murder, extra-judicial killings, abuse of women and children, etc. We need a new story of plenty, of love, of justice, of security, of truth, of honesty, of peace, of prosperity, of good governance, etc.
As Pope Francis said: “Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective, our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart: “In the midst of conflict, we lose our sense of the profound unity of reality” (Evangelii guadium 225).
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.