To the mathematical scientist, a trajectory is a path taken by a particle accelerated in a force field. Depending on the number and nature of the forces involved, the trajectory of the particle can be computed and its state be predicted with a high degree of accuracy and precision at any given time. However, the predictability of the motion of such a particle is only within limits allowed by approximations of deterministic chaos. The predictability decreases with increasing number of forces acting on the particle and, beyond certain limits in time, the predictability vanishes completely. Thus the system has developed
‘chaos’ or it is said to
be absolutely chaotic. This condition is responsible for the occasional cases observed in Nature whereby things deviate from what is thought to be their ‘normal course’. Such instances include: comets and asteroids leaving their orbits to encounter planets, satellites of planets or just atmospheres of some planets. Even the deviation is, as paradoxical as it may sound, governed by the laws that kept the object in its ‘proper’ orbit. It sounds so strange and appears to be a deviation because the longterm actions and validity of such laws are unknown to man; our data collection is severely limited.
The dynamics of societies are also governed by the same laws that govern the dynamics of inanimate objects. Only that in the society, the forces responsible for social dynamism take a different form or manifestation from those behind the dynamism of mechanical objects. In this regard, I am in a complete disagreement with the proponents of the ‘contingency of history’. This thinking, which has pervaded almost all schools of historiography today, projects social changes in the river of time as absolutely and freely probabilistic. This implies that sequel to any historical epoch that serves as a turning point, the society is faced with a myriad of directions with equal probabilities. Nigeria, for instance, is where it is today because it has taken one of many equally likely paths after the independence or after the civil war or after the return of democracy in 1999. The paths of history are endowed with equal degree of possibility. This kind of thinking completely exonerates human actions such as leadership and attitudes. Not even previous experiences do affect the direction of development or otherwise at a given point in time from the perspective of the contingency of history.
I am strictly of the opinion that history is, rather than being contingent, is stochastic. By this, I mean that the dynamics of any particular society are determined by a plethora of factors that include human actions and natural forces that compel certain actions and choices. Therefore, at any historical turning point, known as the critical epoch, the society or, more specifically, individuals and groups in the society are faced with an infinite number of choices for actions that ultimately determine the direction of motion of the society in the pool of time. It is the choices that the society makes that determine its path not the opposite. Such choices may be made wittingly or wittingly; but, whatever way, the society must bear the responsibility of its choices by facing the consequences. Nevertheless, if the choices are unconsciously made, the society might be taking the path of least resistance and may ultimately end up deep down the valley instead of the mountain top.
Nigeria as country has witnessed so many critical epochs in the past; the amalgamation, the political independence from Britain, the civil war and a series of coups and counter coups with a sudden return of a civilian leadership in the end. However, it is difficult to say Nigeria has ever made a conscious effort to utilise any historical epoch such as the oil boom, the Yom Kippur surge in oil price and the Gulf War windfall. All were golden opportunities that we have brazenly squandered.
Some of the undesirable effects of our nonchalant attitude; our historical passivity, include the fact that we are left with a federation with a high concentration of political power at the centre and economic power at the sharp end of the pyramid whereas the level of social integration, ethno-religious and regional chasms at the base has made our notion of nationhood a big hell of a joke. Poverty, malnutrition and diseases have become the birthmarks of ordinary citizens. We are ultimately left with a failed state where the elites, with sheer street wisdom, are manipulating every factor to ensure their survival to the detriment of the poor and downtrodden majority.
At this point in time, we are at another highly critical juncture which is itself made up of manifold contributing factors. The deadly insurgency and the monumental failure of the federal government, several cases of gigantic corruption and ‘stealing of public funds’ that have brought what was left of the economy to its knees and many more have all together constituted a kind of a historical shocker for the nation.
The only difference is that when in the past, at any major event of history, it was only a group of oligarchical elites that has been scheming to exploit it for their own selfish ends since there was no broad based representation of divergent socioeconomic interests in running the affairs of the country, there seems to be a slight change in that regard. The common man seems to be fully awake now and the single oligarchical group is now facing a serious challenge to its very existence.