Why is it that Nigeria is still cursed with generally bad governments? It is because we are a resilient people. Is that bad? Let’s discuss. The reason for our perpetual bad government can at first glance be found in that very wel known gem from Karl Marx, one of the greatest thinkers ever. He said, “The people deserve the government that they have!” Not too many truer maxims out there. At a first glance, Marx’s statement about people deserving the government that they have rings true in Nigeria. Too many Nigerians believe that other Nigerians are bad people, so it is no surprise that the rest of the world has picked up on that. I have had my fair share of being harassed at international airport terminals in many of the 17 different countries that I have visited.
In Turkey, the immigrations guy brought out a magnifying glass. He looked closely at my U.S. and U.K visas to make sure they weren’t forgeries. I was tempted to remind him, in very hot language, that my Turkish visa was what concerned him, not my U.K. or U.S. entry permits. But I only felt a measure of pity for him. He was of a very closed mind, and in my arrogance, I felt, “that’s the reason they put you here.” His only fault was ignorance, not racism. He genuinely believed that I could be a bad person, because of what he “knows” about my people. Same thing with the chaps who stand by the entrance of the plane with dogs in Amsterdam; they genuinely believe that we are all drug traffickers.
The lesson here is something I have repeated quite a bit before. In my life, I’ve learned that perception is more important than reality. The way people see you, is how they will react to you, hence maxims such as “How you are dressed is how you are addressed”. People, the world over, judge you based on appearance. Appearance could be your dressing, your speech, your skin colour, your passport, and those decisions are based on mindsets that they have developed because of their level of exposure. So I ask again, are a “bad people” really the cause of bad government? I would argue not. Truth is that a “bad people” can have a “good government”. But that is if, and only if, the government is genuinely afraid of the people. That sadly, is something that has never happened in Nigeria.
Going back in history, we find that even the most advanced Western countries of today, once had really bad governments. The Germans back in 1919-1945 weren’t a bad people, they were a defeated people. Yet, they were saddled with the Weimer Republic then Hitler.
The Brits from 1901 to 1919 weren’t necessarily bad people; they had a class system that ensured that idiot kings ruled almost unchallenged. It is almost unarguable that were it not for Die Kaiser, England today would have still had that class system that kept the majority down. Remnants of that system remain until this day, and the truth is, that was bad government. Even empire could not cover that fact.
In France, for centuries, they had the Bourbon dynasty, an extremely bad and detached government, even by the standards of Nigeria’s today. Despite this, for almost a century following the death of Louis XIV, they were plagued with progressively worse governance. The conditions for a French Revolution were all in place, but between 1715 when Louis XIV died, and 1789, the start of revolution, nothing!
Does that mean that between 1715 and 1789, France was somehow full of bad people? Did the French people at the time deserve Louis XV and Louis XVI?
The truth is that, in the seventy-four years between Louis XIV and the Revolution, all the conditions for revolution existed, and there were a few attempts at insurrection, all failed. So, the question becomes, what was the game changer? What was the condition that finally changed? What brought people out of their “complacency”, and into the streets to force a change? What was it that was present in France in 1789, present in Russia in 1917, and absent in Ukraine’s fake revolution in 2013?
What eventually triggered the French Revolution was a rash of woeful decisions made by Jacques Necker, the de facto Finance Minister. Necker’s decisions plunged the French economy deeper into the toilet than it already was, and eventually, the middle classes felt the heat. When the middle classes began the almost inevitable slide into poverty, they finally reacted. The trigger was finally provided by a rumour. Word spread that the Queen, living in another reality, had said, “If the people can’t find bread, let them eat cake.” That was the trigger.
In Nigeria, we have on numerous occasions come quite close, but have not quite had that final trigger, yet. That, our famed resilience, and lack of critical mass of a middle class to drive it, are the reasons why there will be no revolution soon. The missing trigger will be provided if someone, somewhere, with some stupid decision, finally breaks Nigerians’ famed resilience. When even the option of going back to the village to farm holds no promise of food on the table, Nigerians will put aside tribe and creed.
Unlike in other countries where finally there was the very real prospect of mass starvation, Nigeria has never reached that point. The Soviet Union finally collapsed when the food banks were empty. It did not collapse during the worst of days of Stalin’s purges, even during the privations when Brezhnev began cutting back, even during the beginnings of glasnost and perestroika, the USSR stayed put. The Russian Empire before the Soviets survived Bloody Sunday. It finally collapsed when war privations brought starvation to the people.
The people may desire freedom, but history teaches us that the final trigger for change in any people’s circumstance is an empty stomach. No dictatorship ever, anywhere, has fallen solely due to the people’s desire for freedom, whatever that is. It all starts with empty shelves.
Cheta Nwanze can be reached on Twitter@Chxta