The failure, so far, to achieve the promise of Nigeria, the fractured and fragmented nature of Nigerian society and polity; and the leadership lacuna in Africa as a result of Nigeria’s declining strategy value, has been blamed on many things. Not often cited, yet determinedly central to all of this is civil society. How and why did Nigerian civil society, once so vibrant, go into snooze control while others swung to cruise control?
How did civil society which crystalized in colonial times as social networking resulted in horizontal linkages for the purpose of keeping power accountable and raising the voice of the voiceless. Labour unions got in on the act of protesting colonial dominations, as did women’s groups best known of which were the Aba women’s riots, and the work of Margaret Ekpo and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti among others; and the community development associations, too. More recently than those roots in the colonial era, civil society was key to the military deciding that the cost of holding on to power was far too much, resulting in the hasty retreat in 1998.
So how come that civil society is watching politicians fixated on power polarize society so much. Why is that some society unable to be a strong enough embankment on the assault of poverty on the dignity of most Nigerians; and why has the work of that civil society not put doubts in people’s minds about ethnicity as a paramount basis of choice when other values could better shape the so called David Eastonian ‘’authoritative allocation of values’’ in Nigeria.
So much surely, has been taken away from what Nigeria could be, knowing that values shape human progress, if civil society has been enough pressure point to make the arena of choice one in which the right values determine both those who make decisions and the right values being at the core of the decisions. It is therefore not acceptable anymore that civil society continue to play Pontius Pilate in accusing politicians and the Private sector of all kinds for how Nigeria fails to claim its promise.
Let us take a few of the examples where strong civil society could have helped contain the conducts that are debilitive of progress. One prime area is the insurgency in the North East. But before that let us turn to an ever present issue of the nature of the market place of ideas, so central to effective working of democracy.
One of the areas civil society could have been of historic value is in checking abuse of the public square.
There is so much untruth being poured out through both traditional media and social media at citizens not equipped to appropriately interrogate material in the public space and find meaning.
Whether it be on TV or social media surrogates and avatars for entrepreneurs of power across parties and levels of government are posting accomplishments that range from outright lies to myths being reified into concrete form. They are also promoting ideas that divide rather than unite people and even more frightening they are promoting a new mercantilism in which rent champions masquerading as entrepreneurs are forging coalitions with politicians to exploit the people and create a new servitude citizenship.
Much of these have ominous consequences for the future yet no source of wisdom is interpreting these times to the less well equipped in a country without contending Think Tanks. This should be the domain of civil society, But that space is sparsely populated today.
When 21 years ago a group of us responded to national crises and founded The Concerned Professionals, we gave new voice to the enlightened and helped part of society less well equipped an alternative prism through which the world of that time could be seen different from the fabricated reality offered by those who sought to manipulate people so they could have power to use as it pleased them, away from the common good.
Nigeria has never more needed such civil society as it does today. But where are the professionals or the Bar Association for that matter. I have said as often as Lawyers invite me that one of the biggest threats to the rule of law in Nigeria is the embourgeoisement of Lawyers. Justice seems to be a distant second place to money in the motivation of today’s lawyer in Nigeria.
Then there is the big problem of poverty, crime and insurgency activities associated with the desperate poor and this looming anarchy. Could civil society not have pressured policymakers earlier to watch the pattern of income creation and distribution?
Not having built up consistent and sustainable civil society has brought great harm to our democracy, making it less responsive to the needs of the people and accountable.
As German Chancellor Angela Merkel said recently of Russia one of its greatest to make democracy work for it is the building up of civil society.
There is ample evidence that the Worlds thriving industrial democacies tend to have more vibrant civil society. Our experience of recent provides lots of examples of how poop civil society frustrates pursuit of the promise of Nigeria.
The examples are legion but it seem the pertinent question is how do we give new impetus to civil society and social enterprise. I founded the Centre for Values in Leadership partly for this reason and I am searching still for ways to celebrate men and women who seek to change the world through social enterprise.
I find that age, education and exposure matter in the pursuit of social causes. It is not accidental the adage says if at 18 you are not a Marxist, something is wrong with your heart but if at 40 you are still a Marxist, something is wrong with your head. Youth is the age of idealism. This is why the decline of the student movement and the domination of campus politics by Prado driving students bankrolled by politicians highlight our decline. In my time as an executive of the students union at the University of Nigeria it was unheard of that political actors influenced us.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is Founder of CVL.
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