When Dr Martin Luther King jnr stood up alongside others to insist on civil rights for blacks in the United States, many people, even fellow clergymen, criticised him for being ‘impatient’. They felt that King and others like him should ‘wait’, and allow ‘time and events’ to sort out the issue of civil rights for blacks. They were sufficiently certain that ‘with time’, the natural course of history would solve the problem.
But in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr king pointed out to his critics that ‘time’ by its nature is neutral. He observed that both the evil man and the good man were capable of using ‘time’ to achieve whatever aims they set out to, and that if the good man failed to use it while the evil man did so, society would only be filled with evil, and the good man, for all his goodness, would never see his desires materialise because he stayed passive while the evil man worked. Dr King in his submissions, actually echoed a stream of thought that had been voiced in an earlier era by British statesman Edmund Burke, who lived during the 18th century and served for several years in the House of Commons. Burke, in calling for action with regard to the burning issues of his day said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”
Today, the American society is all the better for the work that Dr King and others did. Even fifty years ago, no one could have imagined that a black man would one day sit in the Oval Office as President of the United States, but owing to the long and hard battle fought by Dr King and his colleagues, and the great sacrifices they made many years ago, it is a reality today.
For too long, we have remained passive while our society burned. We have watched, while our values were turned upside down. The looting politician, the terrorist, the armed robber etc, have all been working while we took the role of spectators. But I believe that the time has come when as a people, we must take our destiny in our own hands. The urgency for this has never been greater at any time than now. We must stand up while we still can, and say no to the evils holding our nation hostage today. We must decide what kind of society we want and insist on having the freedom to build it.
Several years ago, I went to interview Prof Omo Omoruyi, former Head of the Centre for Democratic Studies. I asked him a question on the “Economic Reforms” of then President Obasanjo, and he dismissed the former President with the wave of a hand. I can never forget what Prof Omoruyi said to me on why he didn’t believe in Obasanjo’s policies. He said: “We have to agree first on how we’re going to live together before deciding how much money we want to make.” In other words, political restructuring, before economic reforms, not the other way round.
With the benefit of hind sight, we know that Obasanjo’s economic reforms, which centred on privatization and deregulation, failed woefully. In one of the first courses I took in UI’s Department of Political Science, my lecturer then, Dr Onyeoziri (now Prof), taught us that “the essence of politics is the formulation and execution of public policy”. Governance is not magic. It is not a mystery. It functions on an imput/output principle, just like it is in a manufacturing plant. In other words, if you put in substance, you get substance, and if you put in garbage, you get garbage. The success or failure of a given society can be determined by the following equation: Strong political foundation + right policies + integrity of leadership and followership = successful attainment of social goals and aspirations. It cannot be otherwise.
The problem with Nigeria today is that on all three counts of strong foundation, right policies and integrity, we are hopelessly deficient. So how can we record success? No one can make an omelette without first breaking eggs, nor can anyone begin the construction of a skyscraper from the penthouse!