If half of promises made during campaign seasons were kept, Nigeria would have become a better place to live in today. But the opposite is the case. Nigeria is an eminent exemplification of Plato’s philosophy of history according to which every regime is a corruption of its predecessor.
Promises spoken we have witnessed and promises broken we have witnessed. We were promised prosperity, but we live in poverty; promised uninterrupted electricity, we experience uninterrupted power outage; promised security, we find no peace; promised an end to corruption, we witness extortion; promised good roads, we go on bumpy rides. It is difficult, if not impossible, to deduce that campaign promises are lies uttered by desperate vote-seeking politicians.
A liar intends to make people believe what he knows to be untrue. He says what is false and what he knows to be false in order to deceive. He deliberately misinforms. And so, says Thomas Aquinas, there are three things that occur when a lie is told: the first is the lie, the second is the will to tell the lie, and the third is the intention to deceive.
But there is a contradiction in us, and that is, while we human beings naturally desire the truth, we often seek comfort in falsehood. We love the truth but prefer falsehood. Even the liar loves the truth. Tell him a lie, and he will not love the fact that you told him a lie.
Consequent to this contradiction, whoever bears witness to the truth is seen by those who prefer lies as someone who disturbs their comfort. The erroneous belief that there is comfort in falsehood engenders the belief that whoever speaks the truth is an enemy.
The most dangerous thing to do in life is not to go to war, not to go to the battlefield where bullets and bombs are flying, but to bear witness to the truth. You pay a price for being truthful. Socrates died for speaking the truth. The people to whom he spoke saw him as an irritant gadfly. Biblical prophets had the dangerous mission of speaking the truth to their nation. They became victims of waywardness of leaders and the led.
Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross because leaders of his land could not accommodate the truth of his message. John Chrysostom, as Archbishop of Constantinople, was sent into exile because he disturbed the comfort of the imperial palace. Oscar Romero, as Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated while offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass because his preaching agitated the minds of Salvadoran military dictators.
Persecution of prophets is a recurring narrative in our country Nigeria. We too kill our prophets. We live in the illusion of a Nigeria built on falsehood. That is why every effort we have so far made has led to a collapse of the pack of cards we have been putting together.
A nation sprints to destruction when its leaders and its people refuse to stand by the truth and seek comfort in lies. A nation cannot be built when we see white and call it black, when we see what is wrong and call it right, and when we see what is right and call it wrong.
Today, things are hard for us because we and our leaders love to deceive and console ourselves at the same time. Our worsening condition is not just fault of our leaders but also fault of we the people. We are not ready for the truth, and our leaders, seeing that we are not, use false promises to deceive us, promises that they can neither keep nor intend to keep.
A saying has it: fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The shame is on us. For we have willingly and repeatedly submitted ourselves to deception. We have allowed ourselves to be taken for granted. We are ever willing to idolize and eulogize our oppressors. We have turned our ethnic communities into dens of robbers. A public office holder embezzles the people’s money and he is given a rousing reception when he returns home. In the motley crowd of disparate ethno-religious communities that Nigeria is, we are willing to gloss over indiscretions and improprieties of politicians who belong to our ethnic or religious communities, while we are ready to magnify the iniquities of politicians of other ethno-religious communities. Our tolerance or intolerance of political misconduct is determined by the ethno-religious affiliation of the culprit.
This country is distant from authentic development as a consequence of our selective intolerance of bad behavior. Our utter disregard for objective moral norms is self-incarceration in a jail house of collective lawlessness. If we really desire to be a nation, and not a motley crowd of ethno-religious bigots and jingoists, we will need to distance ourselves from false narratives of mutual ethno-religious suspicion and disdain. But alas. We lack the political and moral will to integrate. Instead of assuming the noble task of nation-building, we would rather enter into malicious ethno-religious solidarity justified by stereotyping members of other ethno-religious communities.
The question today, especially after the 2023 elections, is not who is an ethnic jingoist but who is not? How many Nigerians did not vote according to ethnic affiliation in the 2023 elections? But, in sanctimonious postulations, Nigerians who voted for a candidate of their ethnic community accuse other Nigerians of tribalism because those they accuse also voted for a candidate of their own ethnic community. To us, what Jesus said to accusers of the woman said to have been caught in adultery ought to be said: given our ethnocentric politics and voting pattern, whoever has not sinned, let him be the first to cast a stone.
Nigeria has remained a broken promise since 1960 because of our penchant to deceive and console ourselves at the same time, our desire for truth while we seek comfort in lies. The political class, for its part, demonstrates an uncanny ability to divide and rule. Our diversity is exploited in a way that echoes the voice of Bob Marley: “They don’t want to see us unite. All they want us to do is keep on fussing and fighting.” Nigeria is a product of politics of deceit of her ruling elite facilitated by complicit gullibility of her people. Only the truth shall set us free.
Father Akinwale, OP.