In 1993 Sam Oni, Atedo Peterside and I signed an invitation to Professionals to come out and show that politics was too important and too serious to be left to politicians alone. That was in the aftermath of the annulment of the elections of the 12th of June. The holla to Professionals followed reactions to my Oped piece in the Guardian titled ‘ We must say Never Again’
The Concerned Professionals germinated from that call to prayer for a Tribe of Educated Middle Class people to act before the adventurers laid their country waste.
CP deployed brain and brawn. In advertorials it pointed to how Nigeria should be governed and in Street protests it tried to help people find their voice. But when the military retreated to the Barracks CP withdrew to Corporate suites in the presumption Democracy had triumphed and Government would be about the will of the people and the advance of the common good.
A quarter of a century later its evident how wrong we were.
Very few serious people would call Nigeria a democracy, unless they mean it in the Fela usage of dem-all-crazy. Politicians have poisoned young people with ethnic hatred and the social media has become R rated for it instead of the domain of rational public conversation.
Politics has become firmly about spoils and the idea of service is scorned. Competence, commitment and creative problem solving in the interest of the people is mocked. No wonder we are the poverty capital of the world and the green passport signal for poor treatment abroad.
Many are asking how we got here as they withdraw their children from schools abroad because it is beyond their reach as you need more than a thousand Naira to buy one dollar.
We need a new tribe of the concerned. We are not back to 1993. We actually have traveled further South to 1964/65.
When I raised concern about the troubles of the polity among old friends and wondered how we could intervene for correction, one of the most passionate of the original Concerned Professionals who has become a Boardroom key player said he had given up on politics and politicians as a path to salvation. He said he would rather we looked at the Italy Model. His idea of the Italy model was to focus on using success in Business to advance the lot of the people by creating jobs, fanning talent and spreading skills and education that result in prosperity, while ignoring politics as the domain of scoundrels.
I acknowledged his sentiments but recognized fresh thinking could help a salvage mission for a country in distress.
I am convinced that pooling citizen power into a Dam for release unto activity not of partisan political nature could have salutary impact.
But we have to call out a new tribe of patriots. Former Vice President Yemi Oshinbajo had toyed with the concept of a new tribe. It seems unfinished Business for him . But the time for the clarion call is now. It is time for a separation of the remnants and calling them to Nehemiah duties. And I am in the Spirit of Independence this October 1 calling them to meet in Abuja next week.
Given where we are, a new tribe of patriots is needed and I have calling elements of this tribe together.
These tribesmen must be citizens firmly rooted in the universal dignity of the human person and acknowledge with our old national anthem that ‘though tribe and tongue may differ in brotherhood we stand’. Faith in the possibilities of a ‘civilization of love’ would be valuable attribute.
These new tribesmen will be motivated by delayed gratification such that the most desired personal reward is immortality in the hearts of men and welcome of the creator,for those with a transcendental vision of man.
The new tribe of patriots need a Fela Durotoye type of believe in the possibilities of the Nigerian project as producing one of the most desirable places to live in.
Whatever we do to find a new way would require that we learn how to refine politics while at the alternate salvation path because our politics has managed to find a way to spoil even that which does not concern it. This is why regulatory risk is a bigger risk for business in Nigeria than market risk.
Surely to do nothing is not an option. Neither is the kind of politics and elections we keep subjecting ourselves to likely to take us anywhere outside of Mockery Avenue.
So what is so deficient about politics that we must clean up to save Nigeria. Tardy civil society and weak institutions headline our problems alongside a media structure much too dysfunctional to serve
well the course of a democratic order. In addition, we cannot make progress if we do not acknowledge that when character is lost all is lost.
Character matters and principles, important for trust and confidence in collaboration flow from character.
Character and integrity seem to have escaped from the lexicon of today’s Nigerian politics.
Fidelis Oyakhilome, former Police Commissioner, Governor of Rivers State and Drug Czar had prophesied as reported in a Newbreed magazine cover story that the day was coming when people of criminal stock would dominate the politics of Nigeria.
No thanks to the enthronement of money politics, transactional dispositions in the arena, the nature of the political parties we have, and the mass poverty of the land the crook has a far higher chance of getting elected or appointed than the competent and committed saint.
South Africa saw an early stage of this phenomenon developing and set up the the Zondo commission on state capture. We have been in the mortal grip of state capture for years such that it seems the goal for seeking public office, yet there is no focused effort at eliminating it.
The new tribe of patriots must not only hold close to heart the fact that Nigeria lies prostrate largely because of corruption and uphold integrity in public life it has a duty to shame the corrupt and celebrate those who are transparent in their dealings.
Our politics stinks partly because a person can say one thing in the morning, another in the afternoon and yet another in the evening and continue to be taken seriously. Public sentiment should be unforgiving where no new information justifying the change of mind is offered.
Public life should be based on ideas and rational conversation around those. But our experience is that unprepared politicians quickly turn to emotions which exploit the gap between us and them.
Central to the mission of the tribe must be the awakening of civil society, a much misunderstood phenomenon in Nigeria. Here it is perceived as the domain of a few vocal individuals who set up organizations to be advocates for select causes. In truth civil society is about horizontal linkages between citizens promoting associational life that daily advance how society acts for the common good of all.
To save Nigeria today civil society must push back on the advance of crime, people without antecedents of sacrificial service to their neighbors, and transactional mercantilism into the arena of politics.
Beyond what it does to help clean up the arena of politics, the new tribe must spread elements of the Italy model to help the emancipation of the economically challenged.
Nigeria will rise up again, that ring tone I had for years, is appropriate trumpet blast this October 1 dawn.
Patrick Okedinachi Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is Convener of the New Fabian Society and the Big Tent.