A few nights ago, I got into a twitter exchange with someone who took umbrage with something I’d tweeted. I was responding to someone randomly pondering why God made her African in spite of the fact that her internal constitution was clearly European or something like that. My response was a very hyperbolic (at least that was my honest intention) “Africans kill people not from their own tribes…and rob their people blind when they get to office” (earlier that day, about 140 people had reportedly been killed in inter-tribal violence, somewhere in East Africa).
I was accused of over-generalising by two people, one of whom who also implied I’d insulted him and the rest of his ilk who make personal sacrifices in their respective communities and places of work. We discussed norms (my suggestion that a norm didn’t stop being one simply because it was rejected by a very small minority was disputed) and the theme of not waiting for government to make the changes we want to see in our country.
That position is becoming increasingly popular and, for sure, corporate and individual social responsibility are good things. However, where our government is not one that lacks the funding to do what it should (after all, its budgetary allocation for insurgents is now reportedly higher than that for education), should we really be letting them off the hook? For example, the road leading to my parents’ house in Ibadan has never been tarred and is well-corrugated by erosion. In the books of the state ministry of works, the contract for fixing the road was awarded AND COMPLETED over 10 years ago. What should the role of the activist be there?
What should (or can) the activist-patriot do about primary healthcare delivery or basic education? Yes, individuals can make donations of cash or equipment, which really should be no more than palliatives, but how does that solve the problem of the corrupt officials who conspire to prevent allocated money from reaching its proper destination? I even personally know of a local government that refused to allow a private citizen tar a major road in the locality because the chairman would not have control of the funds. And what can individuals do about the perilous inter-state highways or civil servants and pensioners not receiving payment as and when due?
I would suggest that the next step for real activism in Nigeria, rather than absolving the government of its responsibility, is to give government no quarter in demanding accountability and budget performance (one of the reasons why Budgit -@budgITng – are one of my very favourite people to follow on Twitter). Yes, fill the potholes in with rubble when available but don’t let the fraudulent contractor and the complicit supervising civil servants escape. Hold training workshops for rural farmers but don’t let the minister or commissioner get away with not empirically demonstrating what they did with the money with which they were entrusted. Organise the neighbourhood watch don’t let the police hide behind “security is everybody’s business” – their bosses must do more about patrolling and the general business of law enforcement.
I think it sounds nice and motivational to encourage people to assume the functions of government but, at the risk of sounding unpatriotic, I completely disagree. The tweet/saying goes that the activist is not the person who notices that the river is dirty but the one who cleans it up. That is altruism. I say the real activist is the person who makes sure that government fulfils its own part of its social contract with the governed.