Chinua Achebe was ostracised by the Western academy for his truthful but hard to swallow comments on two European intellectual sacred cows, Joseph Conrad and Albert Schweitzer in which he branded them as racists using the pretext of artistic expression. It is reputedly proposed by many around the world that his comments cost him the Nobel Prize. The commentary on Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” remains valid and will stand the test of time. However, Achebe’s criticism of Albert Schweitzer about the African is debatable. Achebe wrote, “A saint… along with doing good and saving African lives Schweitzer also managed to announce that the African was indeed his brother, but only his junior brother”. When J.P. Clarke wrote “America, Their America” in the tradition of artistic expression, he got as much of the vilifying “how dare you?” as Achebe did.
African societies by the virtue of their very leaders were unwilling to develop along the lines of modernity making Africa be and remain ‘junior’ in a Proustian sense to in comparison to the other habitable continents of the world. Everyday Africans are made to remember they are the world’s ‘juniors’ at every turn, event or encounter especially when it comes to the leadership and governance of African nations; it is inescapable. There is really no evidence of the ‘equality’ or ‘seniority’ of sub-Saharan African states (excluding Apartheid build South Africa) in comparison to other states. The non-African smugly and most patronisingly tells Africans it will take [a long] time for their nations to catch up, pepper! Catch up, ke! Procrastination in Africa is socialised (i.e. customarily accepted by the people, habitual and routinised) and firmly so. It is affectionately refered to as “African Time”. Procrastination is a perfect hiding for corruption, misgovernance, inefficiency, incompetence, vulnerability, irresponsibility and more. Maybe that is why it endures.
The Nigeria government has announced that it has postponed its 2015 general elections for 6 weeks. Many supporters of the move are quick to state the Nigerian Constitution provides for the postponement of elections for up to 12 weeks from the original date. Please ask these supporters how well have the administrators of Nigeria conformed to the provisions and dictates of the substantive constitution in use? Nigeria would be working well today and security would not be an election-postponing issue if the constitution was effectively enforced and complied with by the government without fear of favour. The postponement is just one act of procrastination that defines Nigeria as the expression it is. When procrastination is a socialised condition of society, miracles such as excuses, superstitions and suspicion abound. “Distractions” is reigning excuse at the moment for obvious government failures. Facts, concepts and reasons backed up by timely action are marks of ‘seniority’. ‘Seniority’ and ‘faux seniority’ are not the same.
Nigeria’s Independence was postponed (thanks to the Sardauna of Sokoto and comprador businessmen); the return to democracy under General Gowon was postponed (thanks to the intellectuals in his government); the return to democracy under Generals Babangida and Abacha was postponed (thanks to their venal ambitions). These postponements like colonisation robbed politicians of valuable administrative experience / exposure at a time when ideology made a huge positive difference in the development of nations. Nigerians are paying the price today. Institutions have their establishment procrastinated by executives and lawmakers giving them time “understand” the implication then approve it in a slow piecemeal manner that makes it into a façade of coordination or governance. In politics and governance Nigeria, is ‘junior’ in comparison to the breadth of other nations.
Between 1982/3 and 1999/2000 there was no investment in the Nigerian electric power sector. Then there has been derisory real invest in the sector ever since. The socialised procrastination in Nigeria prevented the assumption of responsibility to make electric power a pressing priority for the administrators and politicians. The result is that up 98% of Nigerians, urban or rural are living in and out of pre-industrial conditions. If you rank the Nigerian power sector that has been touted to have the best privatisation transformation ever on a table of nations it will place in a ‘junior’ position. The same can be said of water, education, health and other essential services and infrastructure. Charities are set up all over the world to ‘help Africa’… out of its ‘junior’ status with the African Child being the marketed image of choice. The “neotenisation of a continent?”
The administration of Nigeria’s democracy and elections should be getting better not worse. Nigerians can praise [socialised] procrastination and the nation may not be anywhere close to being capable of timely action in major and minor national governance matters but it indefensible in the modern wonder world. O yes! Disrespect time and it reciprocates in multiples. “That is how our fathers did”, is an index of resignation and a refusal to respect “time”. Such a customary acceptance will make many sectors and arenas of activity in Nigeria become more ‘junior’ in future than they are today or were years or decades ago. Staying still is bad enough but moving backwards or becoming more ‘junior’ with time is what it is.
I would have like to raise this issue with Chinua Achebe himself. May be the answer might lie in his book “The Trouble with Nigeria“.