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419 reasons to like Nigeria

In two weeks Nigeria will attempt yet another deception by claiming to ‘celebrate’ 51 years of independence. There will be the usual speeches, parades and flag waving by undignified dignitaries. Bloggers and tweeps will simultaneously rubbish the country, ask for God’s salvation, pray and claim it’s not really that bad and continue the search for reasons to like Nigeria.

Today the country is faced with daily attacks by Boko Haram [an islamist group that seeks the imposition of Sharia law], religious and ethnic violence in Plateau State, rumblings from ex-militants in the Niger Delta, political assassinations and an increasing number of kidnappings, not to mention the abuse of children and the labelling of people as witches. Growth is at seven per cent but there is no national grid and everyone relies on generators. Billions have been made from oil yet the region where it is produced is impoverished.

Encircling all of these is the ongoing corruption and I’m not only referring to politicians and civil servants here but just about every aspect of life including religious institutions. And let’s not forget the decades-long crises in education, health, infrastructure, environmental destruction and the ongoing violence of poverty.

Of course none of these are unique to Nigeria and there are countries where corruption, poverty and violence are far worse. But I don’t want to get into the trap of comparisons. The point is, how do we as citizens respond to our realities? How do we respond to the gang rape of a young woman or the extrajudicial murder of a young man that were both broadcast on YouTube?

Apparently by launching a campaign called ‘419 Reasons to Like Nigeria and Nigerians.’

The 419Positive Project which began the initiative invites Nigerians and their friends to come up with ‘419 positive attributes of Nigerians’ and write nice things about Nigeria itself. The campaign uses the number 419 in a reverse of its usual association with the financial scams connected with Nigeria (article 419 is the part of the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with fraud).

Given the country’s serious failings and ongoing crises this seems to me to be wholly misdirected. The energy spent trying to come up with positive reasons to like a country would be better used organizing and campaigning around the many problems which are being neglected. The 419 positives so far listed, such as a Nigerian gaining a political post in Poland or another winning a sporting event, though wonderful personal accomplishments, have no bearing on the shaping of political and economic forces in the country.

There is a political immaturity about the 419 Reasons... which is little more than a tabloid gimmick with minimal substance in a country which is addicted to corruption, militarism, individualism, religion and hypocrisy. Though I fully respect her decision to stop writing, how I miss the insight and critical thinking of one of the very few serious Nigerian political bloggers, Nigerian Curiosity.

Nigerian leaders have always viewed criticism as unpatriotic or even amounting to treason and many a journalist has paid the price for daring to speak out. We as citizens should not fall into the same stupor of denial. To be critical is not a betrayal rather it is our duty as citizens to raise the national consciousness and seriously engage with political processes.

Take the gang rape of the young woman, the YouTube video of which, incidentally, people continue to watch four weeks on. Abia State University deny the rapists are students. Neither the police nor the state government officials have come out to even make a statement let alone investigate and hopefully arrest the rapists and so the rape goes on and on. Even some of the comments on the Facebook page Nigerians Against Rape are voyeuristic.

Of course there are positive things happening in Nigeria. Here we can turn to the numerous examples of women who historically have been at the forefront of struggles for social and economic justice such as the pro-independence protests by the market women of Aba and Egbaland, and more recently the anti-Shell actions of the Ogoni and Ijaw women. But these are not individual achievements, they are actions by communities. What would they have achieved by trying to come up with 419 positives instead of opposing a colonial state or an irresponsible multinational?

There is something disturbing whereby people feel the need to be liked because of their nationality. It is the encounters with people and communities and how we experience each other that influences the way we feel about particular people or groups of people, not self-promoting gimmicks.

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