'You must start with beliefs'.
Margaret Thatcher's words, years after she resigned as Prime Minister, will always ring true for us as Nigerians. To the former Prime Minister of Britain, there is no such thing as society; just men, women and families. Society is just a collection of beliefs.
Dr Yuval Noah Harari, a popular historian, re-echoes this belief in beliefs. For humans to work together, he argues, whether as a modern state or a pre-historic tribe, we must hold steadfast to certain collective beliefs. For instance, nation-states are rooted in common national myths around identity, freedom, welfare, and constitutionality. This is what brings them together, even when the only connection between them is their geographical state of origin.
Likewise, legal systems are rooted in well-known beliefs about justice, equity, and punishment. This is why lawyers argue from the same set of assumptions about what the law should be, or what it is. It is these shared beliefs that facilitate human co-operation. It is these shared beliefs that unite people from around the world, simply, through ideas.
It is a favourite criticism of Nigeria that neither our leaders, military nor political and economic institutions have any real set of beliefs. Some have even argued that we are not yet a country.
On May 25th, 2019, we will either change Presidents or we will not. One of these must happen. But it is still unlikely that our political culture will change. Why? We lack believers.
Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative compatriots believed that what needed to be changed in British politics was the political culture of the country, and they set out to do that through intellectual guerilla warfare. She believed in conviction politics, not consensus politics. And her team set out to fundamentally change a political generation's way of thinking. It was this determination to apply her beliefs and never compromise on things that matter, that led to a reshaping of the British economy. It was, simply put, philosophy in action.
So, if you asked the former Prime Minister of Britain 'what are the tasks of government?', she would have replied:
"First keep finances sound. Second, ensure a proper foundation of law so that industry, commerce, services, and government can all flourish. Third, defense. Education, the fourth, is the road to opportunity. The fifth is the safety net."
She may have been wrong, but there was no doubt in her mind about what she was supposed to do. What she believed.
If we attempt to bring this standard of political beliefs or action to Nigeria, we immediately fall short. Ideological differences are scarce, mainly because ideologies are scarce. This is a major problem, because if we must build this nation, then we must build it on a set of core, fundamental beliefs. Whether these beliefs are socialist, fascist or democratic is secondary to a belief in something.
For instance, if we believed in the value of casting an informed vote, then voter education, rather than voter purchasing, would be funded. If we believed in the value of free and fair elections, then campaign teams would not budget for thuggery, vote rigging, and bribery.
These beliefs matter because we will all soon face choices and we may be unprepared. For some, the choices will be simple – total support (or not) for the current administration. For others, it may feel like a decision between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Some will be called apologists and others will be called wailers. But both have a role to play in any democracy. After all, opposition politics is one of democracy's greatest virtues. Yet these two groups need not spend too much time arguing if only they communicated their beliefs to each other.
This publication believes that believing something is as important as the belief itself because without believing something, you give no one else the opportunity to challenge you.
Democracy day is usually an opportunity to assess the administration on its past performance and deliver a report card. But really, it should be more about testing the beliefs of those who seek to govern. If they do not believe in something, then maybe they should not govern at all.
So this Democracy Day should be less about trying to rate President Buhari. It will be futile if the President believes in nothing. Instead, let us ask ourselves 'what does Buhari believe in?'. And when we get an answer, let us then ask ourselves 'do we also believe in his beliefs?' This line of thinking will give us far more insight into our past, and our future.
Nigerians may disagree with this line of thinking, but perhaps this is because we do not dedicate enough time to stop and think. We really should be learning from leaders who led with beliefs. After all, as Thatcher said 'You must start with beliefs. Yes, always with beliefs'.
Stears Editorial Board