By Jerome-Mario Utomi
It is reasonable to argue that ‘history is an unending dialogue between the present and the past through a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts’.
Likewise, the year 2020, a year ‘garnished’ with controversies and other forms of ups and downs, may have come and gone. Yet, the lessons/controversies it left behind will linger for a very long time.
For reasons, the global community and Nigerians, in particular, must not allow these ingrained lessons and controversies go with the political winds.
Aside from the age-long believe that any society or group that ignore the lessons of history wonder in dilemma, abandoning the lessons of the year 2020 will amount to a decision that future historians will certainly describe as terribly mistaken on issues of human and societal interests as the shadowy spirit of such ill-considered past will continue to haunt the world.
Beginning with the controversies that trailed the COVID-19 pandemic which dominated the 2020 discourse, looking at the ‘harvests’ of deaths recorded across the world within the year under review, it is obvious that the world was indeed troubled. Adding to that state of global desolation was torrents of accusation and counter-accusation about the real and imagined cause of the pandemic between the two world powers, the United States of America (USA) and the People’s Republic of China.
While President Donald Trump of the United States of America (USA) had earlier told the world that COVID-19 is a China virus, the Chinese government’s view is that, although the flu virus may have started in Wuhan, this doesn’t mean it was “made in China.”
This communication collision and another poor handling of other leadership challenges on the part of President Trump made him a president reputed for adopting a different position towards democracy and global issues. And as a consequence, propelled Americans and of course the entire world to conclude that the torch of democracy was wrongly passed to him.
Trump on his part has since learnt his lessons as his undiplomatic handling of COVID-19 crisis, undemocratic tendencies/remarks and other misgivings have accurately led to his being voted out as President in the just concluded presidential elections held in the United States.
Trump’s trivial stands as a leadership lesson for the present and future world leaders
Even as President Trump continues to lick his wounds, one indelible lesson the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic taught the world is that there is an amazing democracy about death. ‘It is not aristocracy for some of the people, but a democracy for all of the people.
During this period of COVID-19 pandemic, Kings died and beggars died; rich men died and poor men died; old people and young people died. As humans, we have finally come to terms that death comes to the innocent and it comes to the guilty- death is an irreducible common denominator of all men’’.
With the above highlighted, let’s focus on some specific lessons that are Nigeria-specific.
The first has to do with economic and security lessons. it is no longer news that, despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s led administration promise to tackle insecurity and revamp the economy, the Nigerian economy in November 2020 slipped into its second recession in five years, and the worst economic decline in almost four decades as the gross domestic product contracted for the second consecutive quarter with the nation’s GDP recording a negative growth of 3.62 per cent in the third quarter of 2020.
At about the same time also, the security challenge in the country became so alarming with many calling for the immediate sack of the Service Chiefs while the rest demanded the immediate resignation of Mr President.
The greatest lesson that Mr President needs to draw from the above occurrence recorded in the year 2020 is that the credibility of leadership can only be established through actions and not words. Another moral lesson that every member of his cabinet has to draw is that it is easier to criticize than raising fingers to solve a problem.
This moral lesson is predicated on the fact that in May 2013, General Buhari, a former Head of state and presidential candidate of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) (as he then was), going by media reports, told Nigerians that the economy of the country would continue to slide unless the security and other challenges were checked. Many agreed that though Buhari may not be an economic buff, his statement paints a precarious picture of the ugly economic situation in the country, especially regarding the revenue accruing to the nation.
It also reminds me of how in July 2014, the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babatunde Fashola (as he then was), while marking his 2,600 days in office at an elaborate ceremony held at the Blue Roof of the Lagos Television premises, said that voting out the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from power in next year’s general election was the only way the country can have stable electricity.
Electricity crisis in the country he added is caused by a lack of ideas and insincerity of purpose on the part of the federal government.
Today, Nigerians have marched with Buhari as President for over 5 years. Yet, the country is still going through the pangs of hardship resulting from those economic challenges he (Buhari) complained about in 2013. In fact, those challenges such as power outages which Fashola complained about, are not only alive and active.
Viewed differently, this leadership failure teaches that presently, sustainable development and the related notion of sustainability as preached across the globe by development professionals are becoming increasingly important policy objectives for the government at different levels as well as in the private sector.
It suggests that there is a growing need to strengthen the conceptual understanding of different notions of sustainability and their implications. In particular, there is a need to design effective policies that aim to achieve sustainability objectives, and more importantly, to analyse the implications of the proposed policies.
What about the #EndSARS campaign experience that rocked the nation in October 2020?
In fact, no one seemed to have seen it coming that Nigerian youths previously described as ‘lazy’ could one day build; stakeholders’ engagement, demand accountability from leaders, advocate nation-building tradition and good governance activism.
Essentially, from their sustained/relentless campaign which spanned for weeks, it was not only evident that Nigeria’s youngest citizens have crawled out of their shells to make a demand that their elected government treat them with dignity and protect their constitutional rights and democratic freedoms, rather, what is in some ways newsy and apparent is that the youths grouse against the ruling party enjoys the support of well-meaning Nigerians of diverse background, profession, religion and tribe.
From the above position, flow two different lessons.
Foremost is that it justified the words of Martin Lurther King Jr that when millions of people have been cheated for centuries, restitution becomes a costly process.
Inferior education, poor housing, unemployment, inadequate health care each is a bitter component of the oppression that has been our heritage.
Second and very fundamental is that youths have come to term that sovereignty as provided for in Section 14 (2) (a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) belongs to the people.
Hence, they are ready to hold the government accountable makes demands for prudent use of the nation’s resources and kick against man-made code that neither squares with moral laws nor uplifts human personalities.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.
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