Through the glass darkly
By Tunji Lardner
Lately I have been having this recurring vision that it is at once intriguing as it is disturbing. Now given the peculiar Nigerian interpretation of the word, I am compelled to preemptively quash any cynical retort about my ‘seeing visions,’ I must quickly add this disclaimer, ‘no hallucinogen and or religious epiphany were used in the production of this vision.’ There, as I was saying, in the vision I am on the second floor a house, peering through a square and clear glass window, twice bisected and thus framing the window into a quadrant of four neat squares. It is invariably dawn with the Sun rising and steadily brightening the vistas I see as I peer in wonderment through the glass brightly.
I see a wonderful land, lush and verdant, like an idyllic savannah, with wonderful and happy people purposefully tilling the land, growing things, making things, building things and all harmoniously working together to build something in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This green paradise stretching far into the horizon and capped at the furthest point by bright luminous white clouds, with just a hint of azure skies in the background, immediately conjures up something familiar in my altered state of consciousness. Even as I struggle to make immediate sense of this green and white montage, the beguiling beauty of this landscape holds me spell bound; I look again in bold arcs of looking, taking in the view and tracing it right back, it seems, to my door steps. I look again at what should be my very own garden and I see the fractal geometry of this beautiful land fully replicated in my own backyard, suggesting that it is within reach, literally at my own doorsteps.
I immediately race down the stairs and in two bounds I am on the ground floor, pivoting on the balls of my left foot and making a sharp right, arms out stretched reaching for the door handle. I yank the door open to be confronted by something not all together unexpected, familiar even; as I taken in the sight I shake my head in amazement. What lay before me was a dank, grim and dysfunctional nightmare. I saw people suffering and shackled by their own fears, greed, violence, cowardice and deceptions, sloshing through the excrement of their own making, crying no, howling for someone, anyone, to save them, even though they could save themselves, if only they chose to. I quickly shut the door on this self-inflicted nightmarish hell on earth that I strangely felt was co-created by my own complaisance and the willful complicity of tens of millions of others.
I dejectedly make my way up the stairs and back to the window. I hazard another furtive peek at the window and there it was again, that marvelous vision of a country in which everything worked in consonance and concert for the greater good. As I take in the beautiful green horizon that lay boundless in front of me, the significance of the green and white motif hits me. This is Nigeria, or more realistically this is what Nigeria could be. I especially look sharply downwards to my own garden and again, I see my own backyard as being part of this greater whole, and I am tempted to again rush downstairs to frolick in my garden and partake in the collective of this joyful celebration of a purposeful, orderly and productive life, but I restrain myself. I know what lies in my garden, Nigeria today.
As I scratch my head in bemusement, I wonder aloud about these two different realities. The one the utopian vision of a country that has been endowed with everything it needs to be a successful global leader, and the other, the dystopian reality it has created and seems determined to sustain. Lost in my thoughts, I gaze through this window, trying to reconcile these two phenomena, the illusions of greatness and the reality of mediocrity. What is the common denominator in this puzzle, then as my eyes pull back from staring at the horizon, I took a step back and actually looked at the window. Suddenly it struck me as I respectively trained my sight to look intently at the squares from the top right quadrant right through to the bottom left quadrant. It was the people. It is the people that can make the difference.
To fully share this vision, I want you to look in your mind’s eye and imagine that you are looking at the window and there are four contiguous squares that make up that framework of the window and each square that you see is a quadrant. You see them? Good. Now imagine with me as I seek to populate the quadrants with the type of people I saw in the vision.
The top left quadrant These are the ruling elite comprising mostly of the beneficiaries of the Military-Political Complex that capture the state in 1966, and have since then been rapaciously plundering the common wealth and deliberately impoverishing their own people to maintain this dysfunctional and unsustainable status quo. This band of thieves is composed of the direct inheritors of Nigeria’s political independence whose predation started almost immediately after the Union Jack was lowered on the 1st of October, 1960. This group comprises of three main classes, the military-having fought to ‘keep Nigeria one’ regard the wealth of the nation as war booty to be shared according to their whims, the civil servants and other apparatchiks of the state for whom the workings of government is simply a toll gate to extract bribes and rent for every transaction or contract that they care to implement, ostensibly for the good of the commonwealth, and the politicians comprising professional political operators and other assignees from the two previous groups that collectively sustain the graft and patronage machine, much to the detriment of the common good. These kleptocrats know that the jig is up, and that after five decades of unrestrained pillaging, the Nigerian state is danger of collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions, but can’t stop stealing. It is too easy, and besides the odds of you being brought to justice is virtually zero. The present crop of brigands know that they are riding the tiger but are too afraid to dismount for fear of been eaten. The group numbering no more than 5% (five percent)t of the population have access to over 80% (eighty percent) of its wealth and are fully replicated at both the federal , state, and local governments of this country. Their educational attainment ranges from the barely literate, to the well educated, nonetheless they have found common ground in grand larceny and effectively they are ‘our ogas at the top.’
The top right quadrant This group is roughly the traditional middle class of Nigerians whose membership in the fluid and uncertain dynamics of Nigerian class formation is constantly changing with each regime. They owe their class ascendency by virtue of their kinship and proximity to the ruling elite in the aforementioned top left quadrant. They are the educated professionals in the main, but depend on the patronage machine to successfully ply their trade. When called upon, they migrate seamlessly and sideways into the left quadrant, and once there, fight doggedly to remain in that space. For the rest of them, they wait with anxious anticipation for ‘their turn’ to feed at the trough. For this middling class, their constant complaint about the system without any real resolve to make the necessary sacrifices for real transformational change had come to define the nation’s character. This group has created a country where its potential leaders are too cynical, afraid and self-absorbed to fully understand the dynamics of its own extinction. For them salvation lies mostly in the ‘divine intervention’ that hopefully will nudge them sideways into the state subsidized creature comforts of life in the top left quadrant. Even though they frequently travel internationally to see and enjoy the results of other nation’s sacrifice, planning and hard work, their deluded sense of ‘Nigeria’s exceptionalism,’ and their inherent laziness and habituated value system of expecting reward and benefits without any real or meaningful effort or production, means that they cannot and will not change the system for the better. And although they worry about the diminishing horizons for themselves and their families, they are immobilized by fear, uncertainties and doubt to mount a sustained campaign to transform their country. They constitute perhaps 20% (twenty percent) of the population and are fully represented at all levels of the body politic.
The bottom left quadrants This group is the potential creators of a utopian Nigeria, or more realistically a new Nigeria. They are drawn from all quadrants and exist in and out of Nigeria. And with the return in increasing numbers of members of the Diaspora, there exists the prospects of the formation of a new middle class with considerable intellectual and financial capital to deploy in a last ditched attempt to salvage Nigeria before it collapses. What they presently lack is the social capital to successfully organize to occupy the top left quadrant. This group is the brain trust of the nation and it is staffed by creative and innovative Nigerians who have the technical skills as well as the right moral attitude to bring the much needed change in the country. However, they are viewed with suspicion by the people in the top right quadrant who don’t want anyone to ‘rock the boat’ or in that peculiar Nigerian expression ‘heat up the polity,’ because any potential change of the system could possibly dislodge them from their positions in line for feeding at the trough. The sentiments from the top right quadrant is even more sinister, they do not want these potential change agents anywhere near their quadrant, so they invariably deploy their strategy of the three ‘Cs:’ conscription, cooption and finally coercion to neutralize them. In spite of these threats, an increasing number of Nigerians from all quadrants are looking to this group for answers. They constitute perhaps less than 5% (five percent) of the population.
The bottom right quadrant The actions of this group over the next decade will determine if Nigeria survives as a nation. This is the largest demographic unit and comprises the over 70% (seventy percent) of Nigerians who are under the age of 30 (thirty) and not so coincidentally, the 70% (seventy percent) of Nigerians who are living below the poverty line. So as you look more closely at this quadrant, you do the math. If 70% (seventy percent) of your population is at once young and poor, living on the marginalized edge of destitution, disease, ignorance and hopelessness, then by proportionate extrapolation, your country Nigeria, is a rich country full of poor people. Furthermore, this ‘poverty tribe’ contrary to the usual ethnic classifications is the largest tribe in Nigeria. The poverty tribe in reality cuts across the broad demographics and ethnicities, whilst mostly hidden from view in our rural villages, in the large urban cities, we still see glimpse of this growing tribe every day in our streets, begging, hustling, stealing and trying to eke out a miserable living under the hot tropical sun. This group does not really care about the preservation of this system or political order, because the system historically has not cared for them. Even so, they are acutely aware of their privations and ceaseless hardships against a backdrop of the relative comforts and affluence of the other three quadrants and they are angry, very angry. We must recognize that we are all sitting on a tinderbox perched atop an oil drum of explosives and that this group will have no hesitation whatsoever to one day in fit of blind rage light the fuse. They really have nothing invested in the system because the system has invested nothing in them, and therefore they have nothing to lose if the whole place goes up in flames. As you read this, consider that you also might be collateral damage if this scenario ever plays out fully.
So, which quadrant or quadrants do you belong to?
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