In 2013 in South Korea – the land of Hyundai and Kia – the Toyota Camry won the car of the year award. This wasn’t just any foreign car though; this was a Japanese foreign car. A cursory glance at the history of Korea and Japan lets you know how much anti-Japanese feeling persists in Korea till today. Indeed, in terms of value, South Korea is now importing about the same amount of cars it exports.
Every year the UK imports millions of eggs. At the same time it also exports millions of eggs.
Think of Saudi Arabia – what’s the last thing you’d expect them to import? It’s a desert country. Well, they do import quite a lot of sand from Australia. To add to the confusion, Saudi Arabia also imports camels from Australia.
When one begins to look at trade data, a lot of interesting and counterintuitive things begin to turn up. Turns out, apparently, that Saudi Arabian sand is not very good for construction projects and its camels are better used for transport as opposed to eating.
But nuanced positions like these do not matter much in Nigeria where some arguments have been so persistent for so long that they now qualify to be called ‘strongholds’. They are not easily dislodged and they frustrate economic progress. For decades we have decided that we should make things in Nigeria and the way to achieve that is to ban those things we are able to produce in Nigeria from being imported. It should then follow that when those things are banned, someone will fill the gap by producing it in Nigeria, creating =billions of jobs in the process. Ideally, when things don’t turn out as planned, you’d expect new ideas to be given their chance.
Not in Nigeria. The same ideas come back and are tried again ‘for the first time’. To make matters worse, the ideas always seem to ‘make sense’ intuitively to most people which reduces the chances of them being questioned, creating some kind of vicious cycle. Change is thus slow and makes people lose sight of what is possible.
Pulling down these ‘strongholds’ is not a job that is sexy at all. You can’t force people to change their minds as that only replaces one problem with another. It’s a long (of open-ended duration) and hard job that involves chipping away at strongholds until it collapses under the weight of its own preposterousness. Indeed, apartheid wasn’t ended because the white supremacists became weak or ran out of guns to keep blacks down; it was defeated as an idea (mind you, it hung around well past when it was clear that it was quite a bad idea).
It’s now been five years since Enough is Enough (EiE) started doing a version of this job in Nigeria. Every Nigerian will agree that there is a huge space in our democracy for non-partisan active citizens to keep our hard-won democracy in line and in check. The problem is everyone prefers to think of it as someone else’s job. You are unlikely to get rich doing it and in a society without a safety net and everyone gripped by the hysteria of trying to stay alive, being an ‘active citizen’ is often way down the to-do list.
But EiE has pressed on and managed to stay true to the cause. Slowly but surely, it has removed the ‘veil’ that limited access to elected politicians, especially legislators. The website, shineyoureye.org, lists names, email addresses and phone numbers with which any citizen can contact their elected representatives and air grievances – provided at no cost to users.
EiE has also been able to greatly leverage the power of celebrities as influencers in Nigeria. Whatever one thinks of the messengers, they remain an important avenue to reach Nigerians. If you won’t listen to some random EiE person telling you why you should register to vote or collect your PVC, you might listen when your favourite musician tells you to.
And then, of course, there’s leveraging technology, within the frustrating constraints of the Nigerian environment, to get out the message and sustain it. For the coming elections, the ReVoDa app is promising in the way that it will turn ordinary citizens election monitors helping to safeguard the integrity of the process.
In-between all these, there is always someone to take to court to lay down a marker, an FoI request to make to increase transparency, or even a protest to organise when all else fails (which it frequently does). Overall, the tools of the trade are a mixture of conventional and unconventional tactics held together by a steady-she-goes philosophy.
All this is worth celebrating as EiE turns five. To say otherwise – to deny that it has advanced the argument for a vibrant democracy and moved the needle in terms of active citizenship – is to be cynical to the point of outright disbelief. It is not a contradiction either to say plenty more needs to be done.
The ‘strongholds’ that irk me the most are the economic ones. The arguments that refuse to die, in the process consigning millions of Nigerians to a life that is less than ordinary; poverty where wealth is by no means impossible. Nothing is going to change overnight but 10 years from now, one might have started today. The evidence is that when Nigerians are educated on anti-stronghold arguments, they are remarkably receptive.
EiE has shown what can be done – the art of the possible, as it were. But it has also shown how much more work needs to be done as well as reducing the number of excuses for not rolling up your sleeves and joining in. Strongholds are not easily pulled down. The best time to start chipping away is yesterday. The next best time is right now.
Congratulations, EiE. Here’s to the next five.