Chude Jideonwo: No, Chichi, you don’t get to give up on Nigeria
I would be dishonest if I said I didn’t expect that my last piece to have some effect, but I certainly didn’t anticipate the intensity of the connection; people who felt exactly the same way, who thought someone had reached deep into their hearts and retrieved their anger, and their disappointment, and their sadness.
It was communal catharsis.
“My God!” one reader, Ewa said. “The writer speaks for a lot of us. I couldn’t put in any better. My Nigeria.”
“I’m glad at the spate of response to your piece, Chude,” @adde_korede said on Instagram. “In times past this would have been met with such cynicism focused on you instead of the situation at hand. A level of cynicism borne out of the shortsightedness that has ingrained itself into our fabric as a nation.”
“Thank you so much for this Chude,” Yemisi Wada wrote. We have never met but this piece!! This piece!! It voices the feelings of soo many of us. We couldn’t have coined it any better or any worse. It speaks volumes of exactly what is going on. God bless you and I hope it goes far and reaches wide. I like how it ends that in his quiet moments I hope Mr President’s heart breaks too.”
“Welcome to disappointment avenue,” the entertainment icon, Alibaba added. “I campaigned for GEJ in his first outing and as much as I prayed for his successful four years, and God willing, another 4 years, I entered the disappointment avenue when he let his government get hijacked by bounty hunters. He refused to listen to many wise people, until after the scale fell from his eyes. Your piece to Mr President is another writing on the wall.”
All of these, alongside long private messages and phone-calls from people eager to share these same hurts, these same pains with someone who understands exactly how they feel… it was both heart wrenching and hopeful to be reminded of how deeply people feel about Nigeria, in spite of all the disappointment.
“To say I am disappointed with President Buhari is an understatement,” said one of the emails. “Personal and professional friends, call me Buhari’s son. This will tell you how much hope I had in Buhari, before and after the elections.
“Two years later, one nepotic appointment after the other, an aloofness that has set a world record, flip flops in policy formulation, a plethora of blame games and a general lack of direction, has made me conclude, that we probably entered ‘one chance’. This could be the most unprepared president, in the history of mankind.
“To echo you, President Buhari is a patriot,a man of integrity and fiercely private. This would have helped, if he was the Chairman of Daura local government or the governor of Katsina state. It takes much more than personal accolades, to lead any country, how much more a complex entity called Nigeria.”
In the outpour of responses however, I got one that shook me, and inspired this piece.
“I just finished reading your write up,” Chichi Ajayi wrote. “I remember that evening 2 years ago when the result that heralded Pres. Buhari’s victory wax announced, I danced mockingly in front of my husband who was a staunch Jonathan supporter I bought Buhari’s portrait on the streets of Lagos and hung the picture behind my desk in my office just above my heard I was so full of hope, I was so proud of him…
“Then the erosion of that hope started. First, 5 months after inauguration my darling president was yet to put a team in place. One bad policy upon another until it got to the place where I currently find myself… a place where I had to take down PMB’s portrait from my office into the store where things that are best forgotten are kept.”
And then this is where my heart skipped:
“As for me, I have given up on the ruling political class. Never again will I make a fool of myself in public support of any presidential candidate again.”
This frightened me.
It underlined a fear that a friend, the filmmaker Kenneth Gyang tweeted at me on the same day: “I think you have finally succumbed to pressure,” he said. “The situation you painted is too bleak. Stop spreading the message of gloom and doom and let’s pick up the gauntlet and go out there.”
But then he continued, delivering an effective response to Chichi: “Nigeria could have been worse and you did your best,” he wrote. “A whole lot of us supported the change because the only way to succeed is by trying and failing and trying. We need to stop circulating the fear that it is wrong to try something new because it is going to fail anyway. We are still going to go out there again to try something new next time, until we get it right.”
And this is truly the crux of the matter: that none of what is happening in Nigeria to day is enough for any of us to throw our hands up in helplessness or hopelessness. We have no reason to and no excuse to.
Nation building is a continuum, and it’s a long drawn, long-term process. After all said and done, and it is important for this point not to be lost, we are on course.
This is not a popular view on either side of the political spectrum, but the truth is, since democracy returned to Nigeria in 1999, the nation has in fact been getting better, steady on the journey towards restoring our lost years. It doesn’t look like it often, and for understandable reasons, but democracy has been good for us. I
Goodluck Jonathan is anathema to many of the people that voted for Muhammadu Buhari, for good reason. But his election and administration in fact constituted progress for Nigeria. It broke both the idea and spirit of a hegemony that had held the country hostage and made it possible for us to see what was truly possible, for Nigeria and as Nigerians.
In addition to that, as I have written before, there was concrete progress under Jonathan. There was the strengthening of institutions from the Independent National Electoral Commission to the National Bureau of Statistics. There was the foundation laid for the growth of the creative industries and the growth of enterprise. There was the flourishing of an active and purposive civil society, so strong that it ended up swallowing Jonathan himself.
But by far his greatest gift was the strengthening of our democracy. He solidified the idea and system for free and fair elections in our country, including the inadvertent gift of competitive political choice.
And under Buhari, we have also made progress. It is easy for those of us who live in Lagos and who have seen the national constriction of business growth and flight of capital to think that there has been no progress. But for the people of Maiduguri, for instance, who, for the first time in half a decade, are able to live in relative peace and without the constant fear of marauders taking advantage of a weak military, there has been remarkable progress. For civil servants who watched in helplessness as billions were stolen from the treasure, there is recourse to draw the attention of justice. And for a global community that had written Nigeria off as irredeemably corrupt, there is now a Western consensus that our leadership, for the first time in a while, is credible.
The problem, and the reason we lament, is that we have fallen too short of our potential. That, in spite of the lavish goodwill and the mandate given to both these leaders, they didn’t justify the faith. That is valid, and necessary, criticism. But also valid and necessary is this truth: in spite of them, and because of the citizen-led movements that brought them into office, Nigeria has continued to make progress, and it is solid, considerable progress.
Nigeria is not where it was in 1999, or 2003, or 2007. That is a fact. The country where a president disappeared without handing over to an acting president, holding an entire nation hostage in 2010, has given way to one in which it is impossible for a president to attempt that same irresponsibility in 2016. That is progress, and it is important, significant progress.
We have moved from a country where voters defended the mediocrity of their choice whatever happens to one in which supporters of a ruling party can turn against it when it falters. That is progress.
You must also look at the bi-partisan call for restructuring of our politics as progress. These politicians are having this conversation because they see how citizens got even in 2015, and now they prepare themselves for another report card.
Nigeria has been getting better since 1999. Nigeria is on course. Our efforts in going out on the streets, in fighting for what we believe in, in organizing and voting and protecting our votes and holding our governments accountable, they are working. The progress may be slow, but the progress is there still. And the progress is only happening because all of us, citizens, we have remained engaged. We have refused to give up. The moment we disengage, it’s over.
We cannot give up.
We especially cannot give in to the cynical. Those who make it seem like Nigeria has gone to hell, and nobody cares and there is no need for effort. These are the ones who vote for candidates for ethnic or religious reasons and will not speak truth or act with integrity when things go wrong. These are people who often have ventured little, offered little and felt little. The change Nigeria has gotten, from #SaveNigeria to #BringBackOurGirls and in both recent national elections have come from the ‘naïve’, those who remain hopeful, who have believed that change is always possible and have given their hearts and hands to make it happen irrespective of the ‘reality’.
And there is more progress ahead to be made – more progress with federal elections, more progress with state elections and more progress with constitutional reform, from independent candidacies to restructuring of power.
Thankfully, there are citizens who get this point.
“The broom that was used to sweep out the ex wife is with the NEW WIFE,” Ali Baba concluded in his post.
“I like the part where you said it was never about Mr President but about US… WE THE PEOPLE,” said @theochuko on Instagram. “And having learnt in 2015 the power WE have. 2015 was a rehearsal.”
“My sentinents 100% !” @bradevents wrote. “But a good came out of it. We know that Nigerians will vote and stand by their mandate. We will not lose hope and a day will come in our lifetime when we will be presented with people wo are ready to really change the course of this nation and we will vote again and again. #NoRetreatNoSurrender.”
“I worked and stood with you (in the last election), Chude,” said Kathleen Ndongmo. “Let me be the first to tell you that I will do again without batting an eyelid. Because we owe our generation and the next a duty of Active Citizenship. We will keep pouring clean water into the glass of dirty water until it gets clean.”
And from Kola Osinowo, the simplicity of the mandate: “We will continue, until we get there.”
These are all citizens, like Chichi. They feel the pain, and own the hurt.
And yet they have refused to give up.
Like me they are determined to continue to fight for what they believe in. To fight for the country they believe in. I do not know if they will support the same candidate I will in 2019 when the choices come up again. And it doesn’t matter. Because I know that they will work their hearts out, and they will invest their hopes and strength until they get the change we all seek.
I stand with them. I will always with them. We must always stand together.
All we need, like Rwanda, like China, like Singapore, like America under Abraham Lincoln, is to get it fully right once.
Until that time comes, we cannot afford to give up on Nigeria. That would be the biggest mistake we would ever make.
We all, together, we have no other choice.