Why should ignorance and illiteracy always take the blame for the failings of the weak democracy in Nigeria? It takes some extremism or disturbing denial to ignore or even use derisory evidence and poor logics to affirm President Muhammadu Buhari’s government since 2015 is either competent or successful. Obstinacy and benefit-seeking are culprits. Under Buhari’s watch, Nigeria finds itself taking a steep dive in the economic, political and social arenas of the country. The economy is in tatters with no recovery in sight. Security and safety are hopeless enough to be the responsibility of God. The tribal rivalries are making the country more unstable than before the civil war and the future of Nigeria uncertain than ever. Buhari’s ascendancy to power was not the outcome of an ignorant or illiterate population. It took the scheming of the best educated and most enlightened Nigerians to achieve that feat.
The reason economic powers like China, Japan and Korea could take the world by surprise in plain view is the Western arrogance that if you could not speak a colonial language, you cannot be intelligent. Avaeyobor! Illiteracy is the inability to read and write in a language. Many in Nigeria consider the North as a population rife with illiterates and their claims to education are dependent on memories of verses of the Quran. Such people are ignorant of Islamic schooling in the North. Kids up in the North receive lessons in “A-Ba-Ja-Da,” the Islamic Alphabet. Reading, writing and spelling come next. However, literacy in Arabic is considered illiteracy in Nigeria. Would a Nigerian stricken by sudden illness refuse the services of a doctor because his medical degree was taken in Arabic [or Chinese, Japanese or Turkish]? Literacy is literacy. There are also countless illiterates in the South. Over 38 per cent of Nigerians are illiterates. Why is Nigeria one of the three nations with the highest proportion of illiterate citizens in the world? Just a point to reflect on.
The intellectual elite of the country comprising of Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge graduates, super-entrepreneurs, reputable technocrats, great scholars and even the Nigeria’s lone Nobel Prize winner went out of their way to ensure Buhari won the 2015 elections. Newspaper columns/reports, television debates/interviews, energetic discussion groups, civic committees presenting the most competent minds of Nigerian stock were the mediums used to facilitate Buhari’s election victory. Where were the voices and actions of the ignorant and the illiterates in these vigorous and bare-faced manoeuvres?
We must take into consideration something called “rational ignorance.” It is the reluctance of voter (and even politicians) to make regular updates of their knowledge of party policies and the representatives they vote for or against at the polls. It would take at least three hours daily for voters to latest summaries and developments on party policy and electable representatives. Rational enlightenment of the political processes and promises in the run-up to elections is very costly and tedious in a time-consuming busy world with shrinking time; it is left to the intellectual elite to write or talk about through the media. The result is voters in countries with the best-educated and most-enlightened populations, and a massive middle-class can repeatedly vote the wrong parties or candidates into power. Is such then due to illiteracy and its associated ignorance? However, the voting patterns in Nigeria are blamed on illiterates as if the educated Nigerians vote any wiser. Look at the support of the educated for Buhari as a guide.
Another factor we must never underestimate is the role Big Money plays in today’s politics. Buhari made it into the president throne on the back of the money of Gubernatocrats. The Gubernatocrats are the thieving former governors of Nigerian states under the sixteen years of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rule. Their thieving helps to decivilise Nigeria on a fast lane. Many Gubernatocrats and even the PDP former Chairman were appointed to head ministries in the Buhari government after a six-month post-election selection process. Buhari, the so-called “Mr Integrity” soon became “The Prince of Thieves” in that single act; he was ‘princing’ thieves in earnest. The fight against corruption, the raison d’etre, of Buhari’s election campaign outcome is a resounding debacle. Did the illiterates in Nigeria and its accompanying ignorance provide the money-bags for Buhari’s election victory or did they appoint thieves to run the country?
The intellectual elite and the fight for their interests have always been Nigeria’s problem in the political sense. George Ayittey documents that immediately after the Nigerian Civil War, General Yakubu Gowon was ready to hand over power to civilians. It was intellectuals that successfully discouraged Gowon, a scheme to protect their interests. The cabinet of President Shehu Shagari was closest Nigeria ever got to a sapiocracy (government by professors and PhDs), but again the intellectual elite let the country down. Military dictators also appointed many intellectual elites to high office with dismal outcomes. President Olusegun Obasanjo ushered neoliberal technocrats to run the affairs of the country but the free-markets did not work even modestly. What did illiteracy and its accompanying ignorance have to do with such an unfortunate state of affairs?
In a country where illiterates do not count as significant, they should not be responsible for the political failings of Nigeria. It is too lazy and thoughtless a thing to think. When the political elite makes political calculations that stumble and fall, they should be held responsible – a truth that perfects Buhari’s 2015 election success. Such, we agree is a challenging but worthy undertaking. Try it.