Se­lec­tive rea­son­ing and in­fan­tile mind-sets

Daily Trust - - DAILY TRUST - with Sanusi Abubakar sanu­si­abubakar@dai­lytrust.com

Not be­ing able to write for some time gave me the chance to read more of what oth­ers are fo­cus­ing on; what they find fas­ci­nat­ing, and why? The im­pres­sions I came out with are sur­pris­ing, some­times shock­ing: there seems to be lit­tle cor­re­la­tion be­tween the pre­oc­cu­pa­tion of the self-ap­pointed ex­perts and the lived ex­pe­ri­ence of most of us, nor is there a bal­ance be­tween ob­jec­tive jour­nal­ism, fair com­men­tary, civic re­spon­si­bil­ity and self-in­ter­est. We are right, oth­ers are al­ways wrong. Even the Govern­ment seems more in­ter­ested in dig­ging into its trenches’ and re­fuses to lis­ten to fair crit­i­cism. It even tried, for ex­am­ple, to dis­miss con­cerns over il­le­gal and opaque em­ploy­ments that we all knew ac­tu­ally took place.

Take most of the re­views of Pres­i­dent Buhari’s one year in of­fice, for ex­am­ple. I will start with a true story. A trader from a small town near Maiduguri came to Kantin Kwari, the big­gest tex­tiles mar­ket in Kano, with the hope of re-stock­ing her shop af­ter years of ly­ing low due to the in­sur­gency that vir­tu­ally crip­pled her busi­ness. She en­tered a shop, sat down and started se­lect­ing the mer­chan­dise she needed while ad­mir­ing a por­trait of pres­i­dent Buhari and gen­er­ally talk­ing busi­ness with the shop keeper. Her or­ders came to a lit­tle over N200,000.00 for which she paid cash and moved on. At the next shop she se­lected sev­eral items to­talling about half a mil­lion Naira. Even though she did no­tice the pres­ence of Buhari’s pho­to­graph in the shop she did not, ac­cord­ing to what she later said, gave that any sig­nif­i­cance un­til they started ne­go­ti­at­ing for some dis­count. The man just could not stop him­self. He com­plained about the fall­ing Naira, the end­less pres­sure on smug­glers who find it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult at our land bor­ders, the rise in the price of rice and other com­modi­ties, kid­nap­ping, power short­ages and so on. When he fi­nally paused she looked him straight in the face and sim­ply said “You are an in­grate”. As peo­ple started gath­er­ing to hear what was go­ing on she pointed out that she has lived in Maiduguri all her life, lost her hus­band to Boko Haram in­sur­gents, had to hide her two boys in the over­head wa­ter tank for al­most two years to keep them from be­ing ab­ducted, and had to close her shop for over five years, nor travel out­side Maiduguri, the state cap­i­tal. She had no pa­tience, she said, for fools and in­grates who are now try­ing to claim that noth­ing has changed over the last one year. She col­lected her money, went back to the first shop and col­lected more sup­plies with the half mil­lion, promis­ing to only shops that dis­play the por­trait of her hero.

While both may be ac­cused of be­ing se­lec­tive in their rea­son­ing, the one celebrating her free­dom from Boko Haram clearly points to why most Nige­ri­ans, es­pe­cially from ar­eas dev­as­tated by the in­sur­gency and Jonathan’s in­ept, cor­rupt, (and some would say op­por­tunis­tic) han­dling of the fight against the mur­der­ous and mind­less in­sur­gents, have a more nu­anced un­der­stand­ing and gave an ap­pre­cia­tive nod to Buhari’s first year in of­fice. Those re­li­giously deny­ing any progress at all fall back on armed- rob­bery, kid­nap­ping, cat­tle-rustling, pipe­lines and oil in­stal­la­tions sab­o­tage in the Niger Delta, and even some fic­tion called Fu­lani­herds­men’s “in­sur­gency” spon­sored, ac­cord­ing to them, by Buhari to “Is­lamise” Nige­ria. Th­ese they present as “proof” that noth­ing has been achieved on the se­cu­rity front. That some of th­ese crimes have been around for some time, that Niger Delta is a dif­fer­ent ball-game, that new up­ris­ings are prob­a­bly be­ing spon­sored by anti-Buhari el­e­ments un­der scru­tiny for cor­rup­tion and other crimes, or that the Fu­lani have been around for years herd­ing their cat­tle with only sticks not AK47s, all th­ese are ig­nored in the hys­te­ria be­ing whipped up. If you hate some­thing you have to dis­credit it no mat­ter the ev­i­dence, or so they rea­son. A non-se­lec­tive mind-set could find con­crete ev­i­dence of suc­cess in the fight against Boko Haram even as it con­cedes, and rightly so, that other se­cu­rity is­sues need to be ad­dressed.

As is to be ex­pected, the econ­omy is where the dis­cus­sion is least ob­jec­tive, and less in­formed. Jonathan left a trail of pa­per flaunt­ing end­less “achieve­ments” and “trans­for­ma­tions” even as the cit­i­zens suf­fered chronic un­em­ploy­ment, avoid­able hunger, end­less cor­rup­tion and de­crepit in­fra­struc­ture. This was when oil was be­ing pumped out at 0ver 2.2 mil­lion bar­rels per day, and sell­ing at $110 to $130 per bar­rel. As the price of oil col­lapsed to around $30 a bar­rel, and pro­duc­tion os­cil­lates be­tween 900,000 to 1.2 mil­lion bar­rels, and with an in­her­ited im­port bills for food and re­fined pe­tro­leum prod­ucts, ev­ery­one stated hoard­ing dol­lars lead­ing Naira’s cur­rent near-col­lapse. Now the line is that a year is enough to have turned the econ­omy around and there­fore the Govern­ment has failed. The ex­tent of the mess it in­her­ited is un­der­played and the fact that it is still suc­ceed­ing in keep­ing us go­ing is not ap­pre­ci­ated, de­spite the dis­as­ters we are notic­ing in coun­tries suf­fer­ing from sim­i­lar oil col­lapse. And it is not just the so­cial me­dia or the South-East elites for even peo­ple who ought to know bet­ter are into this game of Buhari bash­ing, with no re­gard for any in­con­ve­nient truths.

Nor is the Govern­ment it­self help­ing mat­ters. The eco­nomic man­age­ment team be­lieves it has all the an­swers, and re­quire no in­puts from any­body, ex­cept per­haps a few trusted friends and paid helps. What the pol­icy di­rec­tions are, and how they are sup­posed to work out and ben­e­fit the vast ma­jor­ity is left to us to guess. In the ab­sence of any gen­uine com­mu­ni­ca­tion re­gard­ing eco­nomic pol­icy or di­rec­tion we are left to watch the power strug­gle and reg­u­la­tory takeover by in­ter­est groups. Even the pro­fes­sion­als have re­duced all news and com­ments to per­sonal am­bi­tions and mo­ti­va­tions, not be­cause they can­not see what is go­ing on, but be­cause each is pick­ing pieces that in­ter­est their agenda and the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tives they wish to spin. Per­haps if we all try to be more in­tel­lec­tu­ally gen­er­ous and con­sider even in­con­ve­nient facts and ev­i­dences we could end up analysing bet­ter, and propos­ing more work­able solutions.

My third ex­am­ple of such bi­ases and se­lec­tive rea­son­ing is the catch-all called “re­struc­tur­ing”. That all at­tempts at re­struc­tur­ing had been, at best, self­serv­ing is con­ve­niently ig­nored. The last one was so crude that even the hid­den agenda was not well hid­den. The rep­re­sen­ta­tion was not only lop-sided, but even those to rep­re­sent the North or Mus­lims were cho­sen with ar­ro­gant dis­dain and bad faith. And sud­denly we are told it rep­re­sents a ba­sis for re­struc­tur­ing Nige­ria? By all means let us see if we can im­prove our po­lit­i­cal ar­chi­tec­ture. By all means al­low whoso­ever wants to go out of Nige­ria to do so. But that fraud­u­lent re­port, forced on peo­ple by po­lit­i­cal fiat, can­not be the ba­sis of any­thing pos­i­tive. At­tempts to white-wash it by the me­dia, and forced it down our throats will just not sell. The deep ha­tred and in­tem­per­ate lan­guage, the lies and in­sults heaped on “the other” when­ever some peo­ple want more ap­point­ments or more re­sources, can­not be jus­ti­fied as sim­ply a ne­go­ti­at­ing strat­egy be­cause the ha­tred ex­hib­ited and the meth­ods adopted can never give rise to a united coun­try be­cause the ba­sis of unity is be­ing eroded by that cho­sen ap­proach. One just hope peo­ple re­ally un­der­stand the full im­pact of what they are clam­our­ing for?

There are too many such is­sues be­ing twisted by a very sec­tional and big­oted me­dia that we re­ally need to be more vig­i­lant. The elites need to cau­tion their youth to un­der­stand that some dam­ages can­not be re­versed. The me­dia must seek to rein­vent it­self and move away from hys­te­ria, un­sub­stan­ti­ated gos­sips, self-serv­ing nar­ra­tives in aid of eth­nic or re­li­gious hege­mony. Fol­low­ing the me­dia should be en­light­en­ing and in­vig­o­rat­ing, not de­press­ing and an­noy­ing.

A non-se­lec­tive mind-set could find con­crete ev­i­dence of suc­cess in the fight against Boko Haram even as it con­cedes, and rightly so, that other se­cu­rity is­sues need to be ad­dressed

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