As it is, it seems that the change agenda’s persuasive power has waned terribly. There is a collective existential groan in the land; and Christmas does not appear at all like Christmas this year. It is as if change has been trapped in time, and the Nigerian government has no clue how to go about disentangling it.
One of the most popular sermons during this yuletide when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ is that the season is more than a time for mere ceremony and jamboree. Rather, according the preachers, Christmas is a sacred moment for sober reflections on life, existence and salvation. This is because Christmas, beyond the wining and dining, calls humanity to a genuine confrontation with the import of what Christ, his birth and his ministry means for living a good and meaningful life. I have heard this message countless times. And I have equally heeded it in a series of reflective moments that call to mind the essence of life and how far or near I am to life’s purposes. This kind of reflective necessity is even more apposite as Christmas comes at the end of a year. The birth and the ministry of Christ give the opportunity to take stock of one’s experiences, successes and shortcomings in a year. “Life,” says Eugene O’Neill, the American playwright, “is for each man a solitary cell whose walls are mirrors.” And those mirrors enable those who are wise and reflective enough to take careful stock of what has gone before and what lies ahead.
This is another Christmas, and it calls for due reflection again. And what better time is required for this than in a period of severe economic recession? It seems certain that this would be about the leanest Christmas ever in Nigeria, especially in terms of the cost of celebration. One of the terrible effects of the economic recession is the astronomical reduction in people’s purchasing power and the consequent diminution of the joys of celebration. Maybe this is for the best because it takes the opiate effect of celebration away from the tables of Nigeria. When Karl Marx argues that religion is the opium of the people, part of the effect of that are the sundry celebrations that allow people to drown their sorrows and disaffections in the moments of eating and drinking-involved celebrations. Christmas therefore offers a good time to reflect on Buhari and the change dynamics that seems to have gone sour. What does Christmas mean for Nigeria? What does the birth and ministry of Jesus mean for the governance of Nigeria? What could Christ have said to Buhari?
We are often told that Christ is the reason for the season. But what are the lessons that Nigeria can learn in this season of reflection? Nigeria, without doubt, is a deeply religious country. There are several million Christians for whom Christmas means a unique period that signal the birth of the saviour of the world. There are also millions of Muslims who regard Jesus as a significant prophet of Islam. Thus, in spite of the antagonisms generated by different religious faiths as part of Nigeria’s plural problems, there are core issues that the birth of Jesus raises for rethinking Nigeria’s progress at a time when the birth of Christ speaks of salvation and renewal. Christmas does not only speak to the birth of Jesus Christ, but to the entire panoply of events that collectively defines Christmas. This is significant because Nigeria is at a juncture where all ideas about progress and salvation cannot be denied on the flimsy excuses of religious parochialism. There is no rocket science to the task of salvaging Nigeria. There is only the eager humility that recognises and grasps at opportunity wherever they come from. Christmas offers some insights.
That Nigeria has not succeeded in getting all these elements in their proper administrative and governance mix means this year’s Christmas will be a silent one for Nigerians. But in the groans that pervade many homes, let us hope we all will have learnt some lessons for the season.
The first insightful moment in the Christmas story was the decisive decision of the wise men who came visiting from the East. Their decision to visit Jesus came from a determined and very diligent deciphering of the time and its import. They saw the star, and they knew what it meant. They did not vacillate or speculate. They acted with the awareness of the transience of time. Timing is a critical factor in life. It is both a philosophical and spiritual issue. When we say life is short, we allude to the temporal limitation within which life’s events flow and ebb. Time pushes us forward and also leaves us behind. One of the incredibly superficial explanations given to explain away Nigeria’s lacklustre performance, after so many years of independence, is often that it took the United States more than two hundred years to arrive at where it is today. But then, time is precisely what Nigeria does not have. It therefore seems to me that any government in power must have the governance virtue of properly discerning the time and acting on its temporal imperatives. Temporal uncertainty seems to affect nations more than individuals. Nations are caught in between time-bound events and flows, both at global, regional and local levels which do not give room for vacillation.
This is especially true for the Buhari administration which stands at a significant threshold in Nigerian history. The change mantra which brought the administration to power is definitely a time-bound phenomenon. But it is an agenda that carries a national destiny implication. As it is, it seems that the change agenda’s persuasive power has waned terribly. There is a collective existential groan in the land; and Christmas does not appear at all like Christmas this year. It is as if change has been trapped in time, and the Nigerian government has no clue how to go about disentangling it. Thus, like Kurt Vonnegut would say, “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment.” What would the wise men have done? They were wise men, and wisdom’s first condition is the understanding of the time. And the message of the time was very simple and profound: the star signaled the arrival of the Father’s promise. But a promise is nothing unless something is done to realise it. The wise men knew this, and they acted on it. The promise involved in the change agenda requires enthusiasm, decisiveness and action in the same manner that the wise men were motivated from the East to seek out the Christ.
In moral philosophy, keeping a promise is a virtuous thing. God kept His by sending the Christ to die for the sins of the world. But then keeping that promise also cost God a lot. This is because promises are circumscribed by several circumstances, both positive and negative. Of course, the Buhari administration had to outline a programme of action before coming to power. But it takes gut and concentrated focus, especially in the face of near failure, to snatch victory from defeat. Christ’s journey from the manger to the cross and then to glory speaks to Nigeria’s struggle to get out of the woods. First, Christ’s birth was triggered by a response to a call for a census that was meant to ensure proper taxation. This is real, deliberate and directed action. On the one hand, the government of Rome had no illusion about the significance of proper data collection for the sake of proper policy implementation. Rigorous tax collection was the very base of the Romans’ architectural and public works marvel.
Nigeria needs, for instance, an economic team of individuals with proven expertise to break down the intricacies of growth, development and progress, as well as translate the change agenda into concrete development bites in terms of infrastructures that positively transform the circumstances of Nigerians. That, no gainsaying it, is real change.
On the other hand, when Jesus came into the world, his life was characterised by specific and deliberate leadership principles that the Buhari administration can benefit from. For instance, Jesus deliberately chose twelve disciples. Let us forget, for a while, the numerological or theological symbolism of the number 12. What is significant is that even Jesus recognised that leadership is a concerted effort of those with the requisite competences. Nigeria needs, for instance, an economic team of individuals with proven expertise to break down the intricacies of growth, development and progress, as well as translate the change agenda into concrete development bites in terms of infrastructures that positively transform the circumstances of Nigerians. That, no gainsaying it, is real change.
For Xunzi, the Chinese philosopher, “Heaven has its seasons; Earth has its resources; Man has his government. This means that man is capable of forming a trinity with the other two.” This is the real challenge—harnessing resources and expertise to well-conceived plan that matches conception to implementation and time. That Nigeria has not succeeded in getting all these elements in their proper administrative and governance mix means this year’s Christmas will be a silent one for Nigerians. But in the groans that pervade many homes, let us hope we all will have learnt some lessons for the season.
Tunji Olaopa is Executive Vice-Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP); Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com