A giant by human understanding is a super-human being that contrasts with other mortals in many ways. Physically, he towers above all other human beings around him and makes everyone look like a dwarves. His strength is akin to that of a raging bull; grabbing mere mortals by the throat and tossing them aloof with the ease of lifting a feather with a finger.
Quiet, soft spoken and with bemusing clairvoyance, the giant is nonetheless feared and revered by other mortals. The folklores that were retold to many of us under the moonlight in the villages portrayed the giant as gentle and compassionate towards the just but unforgivably punitive to wicked folks. So, each time a story was told of a wicked king or stingy rich man or a murderous scoundrel, the image of the giant loomed in our innocent heads immediately wishing that he grabbed the evil individuals by the neck and fling them into hell fire. We were often disappointed when such stories ended without mention of the giant or retribution of any sort. As we grew into adulthood however, many of us came to realize that giants exist in real life.
Tall, muscular and broad shouldered oft with ripping veins, we saw many of them at least in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) arena and World Strongest Man competitions. This is in the human realm. We also came to realize that giants abound in other spheres of human endeavor. Education, sports, business, military or politics. But nowhere is the oppressive, or rather redemptive power of the giant better displayed than in international politics. We may faintly recollect the annexation of Austria, former Czechoslovakia and Poland by late Adolf Hitler’s Germany during World War 2. If many of us only read that from history books, what about the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq under late President Saddam Hussein? Or the almost unilateral response of the United States to Hussein’s miscalculated adventure by also cajoling some ‘follow-follow’ nations into a hasty and uneven handed coalition to invade Iraq to topple Hussein’s regime under a bogus claim that the late dictator had weapons of mass destruction. As you read this, hundreds; perhaps thousands of destructive Russian missiles, mortars or bombs may be raining down on Ukraine.
These are examples of giants in international politics who take unilateral decisions in their best interests whether or not it suits others. Nigeria like most African nations belong in the exalted global comity of nations called the ‘United Nations’. Although many persons have questioned how united is the UN that comprises arch rivals like the USA and Russia, USA and China or Israel and Iran, the organization nonetheless provides a platform for ventilating grievances and has proven a veritable talk-shop even if without corresponding positive actions. It is to the credit of UN however that the world has seen fewer international wars until recently, on Feb. 24th, 2022 when Russia attacked Ukraine.
Expectedly, the UN gathered its members to agree on releasing a common resolution to condemn Russia’s action. No discerning observer of world politics expected unanimity of members while voting for the resolution. At least history has taught us that at least one or two of the five permanent members of UN’s Security Council (France, UK, USA, China and Russia) would always veto passage of any resolution they deem out of sync with their respective national interests and aspirations. So, when Russia voted against the resolution condemning its actions in Ukraine with China abstaining while UK, France and USA voted in favour, only few persons were surprised. The real surprise however was in the pattern of African votes that marked a visible departure from the past. According to a BBC survey on the pattern of African voting, 17 or approximately half of the 35 abstentions came from the African bloc.
An African country outrightly voted against the resolution while no less than 5 others did not show appearances at all during the process of voting. This was more puzzling against the backdrop that most of the former colonial masters of African States voted in favour of the resolution and it was expected that their former colonies will follow in their wake as usual. This was however not the case as it seems ‘the Falcon no longer listens to the Falconer’. The BBC survey adduced the sharp departure to three principal reasons to wit: the current Russian rapprochement with Africa, the effects of security cooperation between certain African states and support or indifference of the Russian president to dictatorial tendencies of most African leaders. The report spoke about how Nigeria as a regional giant failed to use its position as an African giant to galvanize other African nations into a voice for a common front on a crucial matter as war in Europe.
At least Nigeria voted in support of the resolution to condemn Russians actions against Ukraine. How about South Africa that is considered another African giant that uncharacteristically abstained from voting on the resolution? Or some North African giants that also abstained or avoided the process altogether? Are we witnessing a new era of shifting allegiances or are African giants in slumber as usual? Do African giants so-called possess capacities and capabilities to do what other regional giants like Russia, the U.S., China, Israel, Turkey etc. are doing or are they mere clay-footed giants that could disintegrate like the fabled humpty-dumpty of our kindergarten rhymes? Whatever the case, what is happening in Ukraine is instructive for African leaders, particularly Nigeria.
The nation has been adrift for a long time. Why it has not ran aground or sank completely can only be explained as some type of divine attention. But we are not any more religious than Ukraine or Iraq or Libya or even Syria. Yet, their sovereignties were violated by other international giants variously and repeatedly. And as emerging patterns of violations by international giants have shown, it does not require dispute over natural resources or boundary disputes before one country attacks another. Perception of a threat is enough. The U.S. perceived Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and invaded the country. Similarly, Russia perceives a credible threat from the West using its closest neighbor Ukraine as a buffer. So, it attacked Ukraine, despite all entreaties. Soon, any of the giants of international politics may perceive our country’s growing population as an existential threat and attack us with a chemical or biological agent to reduce our population. It may sound ridiculous and remote but it is a possibility. Perception is innocuous and fluid but it is increasingly becoming a conflict trigger.
That is why African giants like Nigeria must wake up from their long slumber and re-invent themselves. The late African sage, Nelson Mandela once said that Africa and Africans will not be taken seriously unless Nigeria uses its huge potential to evolve a functional and progressive country that will not only be emulated by others, but which will provide direction and leadership to other African countries. Official corruption, mediocrity, religious bigotry, ethnic chauvinism, moral decadence, indiscipline, greed, armed robbery, banditry, insurgency, terrorism, advance fee fraud (419) scheme and lately human rituals to get rich quick have robbed us of attaining the desired leadership position in Africa.
These scourges are mostly self-inflicted and tough to eliminate. They are however not insurmountable by all means. Regrettably, all the hopes that we harbored in 1999 with the return of democracy have evaporated. Nigerian politicians hardly learn any lesson. Like dogs, they often return to their vomit. The PDP government of 16 years was accused of corruption and mismanagement of the nation’s fortunes. Nobody can deny that there is no iota of truth in that accusation. At least PDP is populated by Nigerian politicians and even if you bring Angel Gabriel to be their Chairman, one will still find one or two corrupt individuals among them. So Nigerians needed a change and the APC cashed in on the change mantra to vilify PDP to high heaven. The APC also promised Nigerians that it would root out corruption, resuscitate Nigeria’s collapsing infrastructure and ensure adequate security of lives and properties.
Any party or leader that can achieve these would have awakened one of Africa’s giants at least. Can anyone in good conscience say that Nigeria and Nigerians fared any better since 2015 when we were promised ‘change’ till date? Are Nigerians not wallowing deeper in poverty and insecurity currently than they were in 2015? Yet, Nigerian political parties and their politicians are currently preoccupied with winning the next elections in order to either perpetuate or join in corruption, nepotism and crass incompetence in governance that had defined us as a nation over the past 7 years. We cannot continue this way and the only solution is for Nigerians to become more discerning in choosing those that will govern us.
Let us pay less attention to party, ethnic, religious or regional loyalties but pay more attention to the character, competencies and antecedents of the various individuals jostling for power and positions currently in Nigeria. It’s time to rebuild Nigeria courageously otherwise we risk inflicting more suffering on ourselves before other international giants come for us someday.
As I always advise, Nigerians shine your eyes please!
Usman Okai Austin writes from Abuja.
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