On this day, April 12, 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt died; it was 3 months into his record 4th term in office (12 years in all, March 1933 – April 1945). Though he was the 32nd POTUS (President of the United States), some analysts rank him 3rd on the all-time performance scale of the POTUS – after Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, who rank 1st and 2nd respectively. To his credit are a number of trails, especially: the celebrated US Social Security, and the 1st and only nuclear bomb detonation – on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is also important to note that he ran both offices of Governor of New York and President of the United States on wheelchair, having caught polio earlier in adulthood.
This piece is not particularly about FDR (as he’s “abbreviationally” called) and the US, as it is squarely about the ordinary Nigerian and Nigeria. One last point about FDR that is ad rem to this piece is the bizarre circumstance surrounding his presidency and how he got Americans out of it. Herbert Hoover was his immediate predecessor, whose administration was hit by the October 1929 total collapse of the stock market. It is called the Great Depression because it was so great a depression, one that left America in shreds. Neither the centre nor anything else held; things not only fell apart but ground to pieces. Thousands of factories ran out of operating power, thousands of banks folded up, and an uncountable number of businesses filed bankruptcy. And what did President Hoover do? NOTHING. He relied on the unfounded assumption that the depression was a natural part of doing business, and went on to hoping against the hope that things will normalize in a year or two. But things only got worse and even worst until his tenure elapse in 1932/33.
Then came FDR. And he called his presidency the NEW DEAL. Anchored on the tripod of Relief, Reform, and Recovery, the New Deal was true to its name. Importantly, the New Deal wasn’t magic; it slowly and steadily turned things around and eventually saved the day.
The recent happenings in Nigeria, especially the excruciating pains that the average Nigerian is passing through has got everyone in a mad-chase for a lasting solution. Analysts are saying their own, critics are firing at the sitting government, the religious people are taking it spiritual, and everyone is just on it! But one thing is certain: the Nigerian situation is not yet as bad as the Great Depression, one that lasted almost 10 years. During this depression, death practically swept through the streets of America every other morning. And the New Deal got Americans out of it.
And so, I’m calling our attention to the following:
We always needed a New Deal
A wise man defined insanity thus: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. What madness! And so, what will get Nigeria out of the current economic cum political mess she’s in must be something new. Business as usual will only deliver the usual results. And what are these usual results? These include: the celebration of mediocrity, ethnic politics, nepotism, incompetent leadership, favoritism, bribery and corruption, and what have you. A good student of Nigerian history knows that we’ve been on this same spot since independence; we’ve only been improving upon the status quo. And so, we can be sure that even if luck or grace gets us out of our present mess, we’re going back there very soon; only a matter of time. Unless we at least try out something new, something different – in anticipation of a different result.
We must never forget
Nigerians are notoriously reputed for their “collective amnesia.” It was Matthew Kukah who said so. We just have this embarrassing way of forgetting. Our hate for history is unarguably second to none on the planet. One thing anyone can be sure of is that we will forget the mess we’re in the morning after it, such that we may again chant C.H.A.N.G.E. in 2019. We must not forget this episode in our national life. We must detail it on paper and pass it on to our children, requesting them to equally pass it on and on. We must say to them, “Once upon a time we all played the fool, and that should never repeat itself ever again.”
THIS IS THE NEW DEAL
Individuation. That’s the word. And that word is neither synonymous to selfishness nor anti-community.
There’s this interesting way Africans pride themselves over the West for being a communalistic people. Funny. And what have we to show for it? The list of our enduring legacies runs the gamut from celebrated underdevelopment, disease and starvation, weak political structures and poor political consciousness to human rights abuses. And then we turn to the same West for aids and loans. Does it make sense? I doubt.
Those of us in the social sciences know that communal living is one of the earlier and lower organizations of the human society. Even the Church knew about this enough to give US all the needed support with which to dismantle the Soviet’s Communist Manifesto. Why? Because communism seeks to subject the individual to the tyranny of the group. We’ll even make heaven as individuals, remember.
Note that it is the individual that thinks. It is the individual that does science. It is the individual that does arts. Inventors are individuals. Social reformers are individuals. Religion founders are individuals. Revolutions are staged by individuals. Systems of government and operations are designed by individuals. When more than one person embark upon any of the above, it is insofar as they share common interest or for convenience.
There’s just this way we mess things up under the umbrella of groups. There’s this way we absolve ourselves of the guilt that stem from collective action; we simply say, “I’m not the one,” and that’s it! In Nigeria, for instance, a good number of us think we’re safe by saying, “I wasn’t a party to voting in the Buhari-led administration.” But what difference does it make when everyone buys petrol at the same alarming price.
The novelty in individuation is that full responsibility is taken and original creativity is deployed to tackling problems.
My point: individuals must rise up to the Nigerian challenge. We must begin to treat our macro-problem like we treat our marital and business problems. It should make us cry, it should give us sleepless nights. It should shut our mouths up from complaining and cursing, and send us instead to do quality researches on the way forward.
When Nigerian individuals start doing this, a new crop of fine leaders will naturally emerge. And once leadership is taken care of, everything else has this astonishing way of taking care of itself. With a charismatic leader, for instance, patriotism simply turns into bread and butter.
Back to FDR. The day following Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, December 8, 1941, he stood before a Joint Session of US Congress to request them to declare war on the Empire of Japan. That epoch-making speech tagged “Infamy Speech” lasted just 7 minutes. Now, here’s my point: 33 minutes later, Congress declared full scale war on the Empire of Japan, and the number of Americans that enlisted in the US Army to that effect can only be second to Lincoln’s and Washington’s. That’s how it works, the individual moves the group.