NO ONE NEEDS A DONALD Trump to know that this country is currently in a pathetic state.  For twenty-five years, we have been saying the Prayer for Nigeria in distress.  Yet, every sector of our life is in distress.  Nigeria has been sliding from one bad government to another, and there is little to persuade one that any particular government represents an improvement vis-à-vis any previous government.

But one would be hypocritical if one were to lay the blame solely at the doorsteps of politicians.  The major factor behind our lamentable condition is the over bloated and uncurtailed ego of the typical Nigerian.  Now, egotism is not peculiar to Nigerians.  It is in fact an unhealthy condition that affects every human being.  It cuts across race, culture, creed or gender.  There is, in each of us, a strain of self-centredness.  The degree of infection may vary from person to person, acute in some, benign in others.  But the infection is real.  In theological terms, it is one of the symptoms and consequences of original sin.  It is what St Augustine of Hippo described as "Amor sui iusque ad contemptum Dei", that is, self-love to the point of treating God with contempt. Left unmanaged, self-centredness destroys the self and other selves, because to treat God with contempt is to treat the image of God in oneself and in others with contempt. 

Self-centredness is inimical to personal and collective growth.  In Nigeria, we treat each other with contempt.  The only thing that matters is me.  No one else matters.  So, we exploit and manipulate each other. We brutalise each other.  We deceive each other.  We steal what belongs to all.  There is little or no sense of common good. Again, this is not peculiar to Nigerians.  The major difference is that, whereas in a truly democratic polity, there are institutions to protect citizens from each other and from the state, in our own case, such  institutions  either do not exist, or, if at all they exist, they have been rendered ineffective. 

State institutions are meant to mitigate the damage that self-centredness wreaks.  But there is something else other than institutions and their laws.  It is what theology calls grace.  We are able to overcome our condition of self-centredness when, cooperating with the grace of God, we embark on the journey of endless purification that conversion is.  In the journey of conversion, thanks to  the  grace  of God, a good quality which  God bestows on us and which requires our  free acceptance, we are able to rise above our pettiness,   able  to overcome the exaggerated self that belittles and strives to overcome other selves.

In our self-centredness, power is coveted.  In this covetousness for power, we join political parties.  In these political parties with neither internal democracy nor credible blueprint for governance, there are competing strategies for the capture of power with the ultimate intention of capturing Nigeria's riches.  So, we are at the mercy of a political class known for deceit and violence, a class that mirrors the egotism in each of us. This political class is itself divided into two-in-one group, the group that is not in power, does everything to capture power, while the other group, the group in power, does everything to hold on to power.  Meanwhile, little or nothing is done to render service to the common good.  Egotism and propaganda, self-serving sophistry, these have been elevated to the rung of public policy.  This is the situation as we approach the 2019 elections.  As it is in many African countries, ruling parties deploy resources of state to retain power, just as opposition parties are determined to match and outscore ruling parties in the desire to get into power at any cost.  In or out of government, they communicate, in the same body language, an unreadiness for credible elections.  In 2019, Nigerians will be called upon to make a choice between a party that will do anything to remain in power, and a party that will do anything to return to power.  All this is happening because our relationship is driven by the ambiguity of power.  Love of power takes precedence over power of love.

We cannot all be in Aso Rock.  There is only one seat there.  Neither can we all be senators or members of the national assembly. There are only 484 seats there, and we are said to count 180 million.  So, we have to choose those who will represent us in those places.  Such representatives must be accountable to us.  In a democracy, those who are voted into office and those whom the law permits to be appointed into office are servants, not masters of the people.  But when those in public office treat us with contempt, then there is a violation of the democratic order. 

Watching and listening to our politicians these days, we see and hear men and women who believe they do not need our votes, and who, for that reason, are confident that without our votes they will be in office.  There are therefore clear indications that prospects for a free and fair election in 2019 are very bleak.  Everything points to an election that will be manipulated by the two big parties, an election to be driven by fraud and violence, with parties funded from known and unknown sources.  And when politicians get into office without our votes, that is, without our consent, would it be realistic to expect them to be accountable to us?

But it is difficult to demand that our politicians be of good behavior when our own behavior is less than good. There is therefore need for change.  Not the change that has been made into a party slogan, but a change that begins with positive and profound attitudinal transformation of the average Nigerian.

Whenever we dribble ourselves and each other into a cul de sac, the question is asked: "what is the way forward?" Or, "what shall we do to move this country forward?"  But whoever is conscious of travelling on a fast lane to perdition should not be looking for the way forward.  What he should be looking for is the point to make a U-turn.  For when you are going in the wrong direction, you do not move forward.  You make a U-turn.  For us, it means moving away from egotism and moving in the direction of the common good, from a state of injustice to a state of justice.  And that is what conversion is about-a transmutation from the state of sinfulness to the state of righteousness, from selfishness to selflessness.  Such is the choice Nigerians and their political leaders have to make in 2019 to avoid imminent catastrophe.

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