You want change? Start with yourself!

In an earlier blog (, I argued the case for a constitution that is drafted with the knowledge and consent, and preferably, under the supervision, of the People. The question which I left unanswered is whether we, as a People, are ready for this type of social contract. Is there any evidence that Nigerians are willing to accept the responsibility that a People-driven constitution entails?

The answer to the preceding question lies partly in how we have so far responded to previous challenges and how we view the role now envisaged for us. Sadly, while the challenges facing our country have accumulated rapidly over the years, we are yet to reach an understanding on the causes of our ailment, much less agree on the appropriate remedy. Instead of putting heads together to cure the malaise, we seem too eager to quibble and cavil, not caring whether the patient lives or dies.

The nearest we have ever got to unanimity on anything is when discussing our situation. There is no disputing the fact that our situation is pathetic and a comedown from the lofty heights of yesteryears. It is pretty much settled that only a few Nigerians are comfortable with the current state of our nation and are unreservedly upbeat about the future. Almost everyone has one grouse or the other against the existing order. Even those who appear to be fully catered for under the current dispensation are inwardly apprehensive about the sustainability of the arrangements.

When you come to think of it, which of the signs on the horizon are uplifting? Is it the frequency with which the sovereign authority of the state is vociferously and brazenly challenged? How about the growing tendency on the part of opinion leaders to stoke rather than settle ethno-religious differences, the widening social and welfare deficits, the swelling ranks of the urban and rural unemployed, the growing incidence of crime, the monumental policing and security slip-ups, and the devastating impact of systemic corruption on our economy and external image?

Against the backdrop of the multiple and complex challenges, it is no news that Nigerians pine for change. Whether men or women, old or young, Jew or Gentile, Muslim or Christian, atheist or polytheist, the entreaty is the same: give us this day a new era when we, Nigerians, would also partake of the benefits of civilization! Go to any church or stop at any mosque. The word on the tongues of congregation members is the same, change. As a prayerful—even if, not altogether God-fearing–nation, we beseech the Almighty to send us leaders who would guide us from the wilderness to a land flowing with milk, honey, and, while at it, bales and bales of Naira. With our bodies shaking as if throttled from inside by invisible spirits, our hands outstretched, and our bearing humble and submissive, we pray for the enthronement of leaders who would promise us, yes, just start by promising us, the rights taken for granted in other climes—the rights to life, limb, and a measure of happiness.

Regardless of whether we are Christians, Muslims, or polytheists, we pray for the day when people of different faiths would co-exist peacefully—that is, live like brothers and sisters without one group entertaining the fear of being annihilated by another. We want a police force that is able and willing to secure life and property, resist corrupt temptations, contain armed robbery and urban terrorism, and cage dangerous criminals. We won’t mind having a judiciary that handles cases expeditiously and in a manner consistent with fair dispensation of justice. We would gladly exchange a cadre of civil servants who are uncivil enough to pass as our masters with a new breed of public employees that are trained to render quality service promptly, at minimum cost, and without expecting anything in return, except possibly, their regular pay.

The dawn that we eagerly await may be nothing spectacular elsewhere, but it is a big deal in Nigeria. The hope is that when that dawn arrives, Nigeria would be reinvented as a state that is founded on, and deriving its legitimacy from, the will of People. The state that we dream of would not look anything like the one foisted on us by an external colonial power and subsequently hijacked by a self-serving indigenous elite. As an entity created with the knowledge, consent, and active involvement of the People, the state (and its agents) would act as specified in the fundamental law and subsidiary legislation, and would take as its paramount objective the provision of exemplary service to the People. The word of that state would always be its bond.

A state founded and consistently acting on the will of the People is after all not too much to ask, and is in fact long overdue. A state that Nigerians have a hand in birthing would, at the very least, provide the security that its citizens need to live and work in any part of the country without feeling like an “expatriate” or “settler”, or worse still, like a squatter that can be evicted without notice by the “indigenes”. That type of state would afford any Nigerian the opportunity to reside in any part of his/her country without having to worry when ravaging gangs would chase him/her back to his/her “homeland”.

This then is the face of change–the change of our dream, the change that any discerning person can easily recognize and totally believe in. The question is if change looks this attractive, why is it taking an eternity to appear before our eyes in Nigeria? Could the explanation be that God hates our country so much He has stopped listening to our prayers for improvements in our daily life, and has instead, decided to block the change we need to succeed? I almost forgot about the evil spirits. Are they behind our missteps and misfortunes? If they are, they must have something to gain from making us behave irrationally—like repeating the same old mistakes and expecting new and favourable outcomes, re-telling old lies and recycling unproven assumptions and demanding to be believed, and, most serious of all, hanging on to age-old phobias and prejudices while condemning “others” for not placing Nigeria’s interest above their ethnic communities’. I am still waiting for someone to say what it is that the evil spirits stand to gain from wilfully “misleading” us, and heading off the auspicious change that we dream of day and night.

We may blame others and the spirits all we want. We may look skywards until our eyes get bleary. We may peer under our neighbour’s bed or around the backyard for as long as we wish. We are not likely to find the clue we seek in any of its presumed hiding places. We shall not find the clue to change’s elusiveness unless and until we redirect the search from our external environment to one place that we have long overlooked—that is, inside ourselves. Instead of combing our immediate surroundings, groping for tips on what or who is holding us back, we should pause for a few seconds and look inside our very selves.

How do we go about peering inwards when our eyes have been trained to look outwards? This brings to mind what Jesus told Nicodemus when the latter visited him one night: “Verily verily I say unto thee. No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Nicodemus, not sure he got the hang of what Jesus said, asked for clarification. Would an adult have to crawl back into his/her mother’s womb to be born again? Nicodemus wondered. Jesus duly obliged the enquirer with an answer: to be born again is to be born of the spirit. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3). In this sense, to be born of the Spirit warrants seeing the universe in its sublime form, appreciating the latent value of manifest objects, taking pains to capture the beautiful side of ugliness, or getting out of your temporal body to see life in a way you are not accustomed to.

Like its Biblical counterpart, the Holy Qur’an places high premium on a reflective mind—a mind that ponders change in its infinite possibilities. In Surah Ra’ad, Ayat 10, Allah Almighty explicitly says that He will not change what is in a people until they change what is in themselves. The change mentioned in the Qur’an is, like the one that the Bible has in mind, spiritual—the type of change that Imam al-Ghazzali, in his Ihya ulum al-deen, terms praise-worthy. However, the Qur’an expects that change to start from the material world. Changing what is in ourselves warrants re-assessing our priorities, reshaping our daily life, loving our neighbours as we would expect them to love us, controlling our urges for self-gratification, looking at the world differently, and making choices which would enable us to enter the kingdom of God.

My dear readers! Do not for a moment think that I am asking you to forsake the world. I am not, by any stretch of imagination, asking you to pack it all up and relocate permanently to monasteries, convents, masjids or khalwas. Rather than ask you give up on life, I am suggesting ways in which you can live it meaningfully and to the benefit of current and future generations of Nigerians. I am suggesting that you consider reinventing yourself as an active participant in the process of creating a new, re-energized, and confident Nigeria.

In readiness for the momentous task ahead, notably, that of bracing yourself and mobilizing the people around you for participation in the process of re-making Nigeria, I am urging you to consider exorcising anything in yourself that might feed or exacerbate your loathing for those who (a) do not speak your language (b) do not belong to your church or mosque congregation (c) do not share your religious belief and (d) as a matter of fact, hold opinions contrary to yours and see the world differently.

To round up, let me leave you with the following random thoughts on how I believe you might reinvent yourself as a proactive change agent:

(a) Know where you are coming from, but do not allow your past to determine your present and compromise your future;
(b) If you are prone to depression, make a serious attempt to find and tackle its underlying causes before it takes total control of your life;
(c) Never wait until your petty grievances develop into neuroses, phobias, prejudices and outright intolerance;
(d) Cut yourself loose from bigots and bigotry and be an opinion leader/change catalyst in your own right;
(e) Come to terms with, and fully embrace diversity—particularly, diversity of tongue, faith, gender, and opinion;
(f) Get used to the idea that Nigeria is a multi-religious, not a secular, monopoly-materialist, uni-directional, state;
(g) Challenge opposing facts and logic with your own irrefutable facts and superior logic;
(h) Stay out of ethnic quarrels, for no-one chooses into which tribe/race to be born;
(i) Desist from denigrating opposing faiths, for God Almighty is not running for any office and does not need you as His campaign manager or polling agent;
(j) Unless you can produce evidence to the contrary, the God of one is the God of all;
(k) Your listener stops listening to you as soon as you start attacking his/her person, faith, ethnicity, or any objects and symbols that s/he treasures;
(l) The rest of the world is changing, even if you might have decided to remain locked up and ossified in your familiar, ethno-religious, box;
(m) Remember that failure to “think out of the box” has left you with technology relics (like calligraphy, typewriters, mimeograph machines and stencils) at a time when the rest of the world is constantly coming out with new generations of high-speed computers.

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