Obama and the Nigerian Dream
In the past few weeks I have found it difficult to put pen to paper. With Obamamania and the message of hope and change rising in crescendo against the suffocating gradualism and annoying hypocritical realities of the Nigerian state, I chose to proceed on a self – imposed intellectual exile. I lapped up the historical drama unfolding in North America and indulged in some reminiscences on the Nigerian Dream. The Nigerian Dream? Yes, the Nigerian Dream! That was the title of an article I wrote in my column in September 2007. In that piece I examined the Nigerian Dream in contradistinction to the more popular global reference point: the American Dream.
Until the gangling forty – seven year old senator from Illinois, Barack Hussein Obama, trounced tight – lipped fellow American senator, John McCain, and broke a 230 year old jinx on November 4, 2008 to become the first person of African descent to be elected as President of the United States of America, the idea appeared audacious and partly illusory. Today, Americans have brought home to us in living colour the reality and the power of that fortress of hope called the American Dream. Now Nigerians at home and in Diaspora have saddled themselves with a new jigsaw puzzle: can Obama happen in Nigeria?
Nigerians of all shades of opinion and, I dare say, on all sides of the moral spectrum, have striven to proffer an opinion on the possibility of an “Obama” emerging within the Nigerian context: that is, whether it is possible for a simple, well – educated, visionary person brimming with ideas and charisma plus a large dose of the gift of the garb to present himself for election into a leadership position in Nigeria – and for such a candidate to be elected on the sheer strength of his popularity or public acceptance of his candidature.
The answer to that question seems pretty obvious. With opportunism, mediocrity and nepotism holding sway, many of those vested with public office in Nigeria seem to be persons anointed by all kinds of pretenders that masquerade as ‘leaders’ and political godfathers. When Harold Robbins titled his famous novel “Dreams Die First”, he probably never even heard of Nigeria. But those words depict the Nigerian reality. Nigeria is a country where the party, the government in power and the electoral umpire advertently and inadvertently combine to scuttle dreams and kill visions. At each election, they mouth empty promises of providing “a level playing field for free and fair elections”. At the end, the playing field is hardly level and the elections are neither free nor fair.
Political parties in Nigeria have an unflattering record of including only those they want in their primaries: other bona fide members of the party are excluded for no apparent reason. For aspirants, obtaining, filling and returning nomination forms are a nightmare. During the campaign process, violence is common, popular candidates run the risk of being assassinated, deported to some country to which their ancestry is suddenly traced or simply rigged out not through any scientific ingenuity but through crude allocation of voting figures.
If there is anything that Barack Obama’s victory has done, it is to bring to the fore the stark difference between the American Dream and the Nigerian Dream. It has become axiomatic that, in deed, America and Americans are fascinated by the power of ideas! On the contrary, Nigeria and Nigerians are captivated by the idea of power. They seek it viciously, cling to it ferociously, flaunt it shamelessly and by the time they realize how illusory it all is, they are saddled with many enemies that they ought not have made in the first place. Those who are captivated by the idea of power become captives to power.
The average Nigerian politician who relentlessly pursues or tries to ensconce himself in a position of power sees power as an end in itself. He sees it as a position of self – enrichment and self – aggrandisement. Often, the typical Nigerian public office holder, as a result of the process through which he emerged in the office, has little or no value to add to the system or to the improvement of the living conditions of the poor masses whose interests he is supposed to protect. Instead, he struts around like an ostrich and goes to any level to satisfy his obscene appetite for luxuries and personal acquisitions at the expense of the people. The Nigerian elite generally, to say the least, are guilty by association. The Nigerian public, paralysed by poverty, weighed down by the rat race for survival, or confused by a warped value system that glorifies impunity grumble a bit and go about their business with suppressed angst.
Only in America can the son of an African immigrant rise through the social and political ladder to be elected to the highest office in the land. And no one is going to court to use some procedural, legal, immigration, or electoral oversight to snatch the victory! With over $600m USD, Obama’s campaign war chest was hefty. But most of the money reportedly came from over three million small and large donors – not from one or two political tin-gods as we frequently have in Nigeria who would later turn around to grapple with the candidate after victory is won over appointments, allocations and other perks of power.
It is commonly said that nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. Indeed. It may be said that a man of colour in the White House is an idea whose time has come. But everyone knows that Barack Obama won the 2008 US Presidential Election more for the power of his ideas and his personal charisma than the colour of his skin. Even if every single brother and sister was registered as a voter, all the African Americans in the US could never muster the numbers to single-handedly make Obama or anyone else President. Obama won because he is Obama – an idea whose time has come. It is that simple.
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