For Nigerians living through these times, asking which is better between the past and the present is like asking which is better between women and wine. In treatment and in effect, both are the same. Both intoxicate and are very dangerous to your health — especially when taken in excess. And you can’t be more careful really. The bad stories are the same. Poor Edo State awards N200 million retirement mansion to each of its ex-governors, including the khaki-wearing Comrade. So what? I read worse versions of that story years ago when the big men in Lagos and Port Harcourt exited office as governor, so it’s not new. Nothing really is new or news anymore. This is the post-news era when nothing is truly new and nothing honestly shocks nobody again.
Former presidents have unpaid salaries. Billions stolen by big men in big places. These are not new things. “Time past and time present are contained in time future and time future contained in time past.” The same sad tales have always dominated our nights of dark moons. We read of billions missing in 1979 when Shehu Shagari took over. We read of even more billions stolen when Shagari was overthrown by the military. After the military was overthrown by the people in 1999, were there not horrific tales of billions stolen? So, why should we be shocked when politicians eat the yam and the yam seeds. They own the future just as the past served them.
Sambo Dasuki diverted billions of dollars as the National Security Adviser. Story, story, stories. Have you forgotten there was an NSA under Abacha — Gwarzo? Didn’t we read of billions of dollars ferried directly from the vaults of the Central Bank by the office of the NSA during that period? Can’t you remember all the sleaze and the noise and our arrogant vow that never would such happen again in this country? The big men of those eras, where are they now? If they are not in some government houses somewhere, they are in Abuja, serving us, graciously.
Nothing is new under the sun. Three years ago, I wrote that all you need to do to know that our world has refused to move an inch from its horrid past is to just read any old newspaper, no matter its age. The headlines would always fit into any date with disturbing exactitude. Three years ago when the Nigerian Tribune was 64 years old, the story of the day was about teachers protesting bad treatment. Last week as the newspaper clocked 67, was one of the dominant stories not about university teachers on warning strike? Sixty-seven years ago, the lead story of Tribune’s maiden edition of November 16, 1949 was: “Chemists protest.” You just substitute “chemists” with “teachers” and you succeed in perfectly grafting Nigeria of 1949 to 2013 and 2016 Nigeria.
Edo House of Assembly is dashing the state’s former governors mansions of N200 million in any city of their choice. This is apart from other perks, known and unknown. I searched for the perks the ordinary retired worker enjoyed under these hard-working ex-governors. What popped up were cries of hunger and hopelessness. Just three months ago, they were on the streets, demanding their pensions. A national newspaper quoted some of them telling tales of poverty and of neglect by angels in government. As if one of them giraffed what his representatives in the House were planning for the big men in the government house, that person showed he wasn’t only hopeless, he was homeless too. “Some of us are tenants; we have been ejected. We are living in the apartments of friends. A man at 60 still squatting with a friend is a terrible situation”, he cried. Three months after his ejection, some well-housed dudes have new mansions donated to them by everybody, including the homeless.
Another hungry, angry pensioner at that protest was one Osa-Aighobarueghia. Angry, hungry, hopeless, he was quoted in that report as saying: “My pain is that the governor has not paid me my arrears. He is owing me almost 30 months arrears and he only started paying in April this year. What happens to the previous ones? We have borrowed money to keep the family alive. It is disappointing.” Pullen Noruwa, leader of the pensioners claimed, in that report, that his people had been living on a meagre N2,000 monthly and then appealed to the then exiting comrade governor to pay their outstanding pensions as a “parting gift”. And did they get the parting gift? Does it really matter if they got anything? At least one person got a mansion as his own parting gift, ironically, from these same homeless people. That is an achievement. It is marvelous in our eyes. And we have not read it that the comrade turned the mansion down. We have also not read it that the hungry and homeless have not been clapping for the makers of this law dashing the ex-governors houses of gold.
As I said in 2013, nothing has changed. Nothing will change. Edo was not the first state to give palaces of gold to its ex governors. It will not be the last. Very soon, a healthy competition will ensue from the north to the south. The refrain among our ex-governors will be ‘my mansion is bigger than yours’. And the hungry will also compete with the hungry as they clap for their over-fed saviours. We have never really learnt any lesson and may never learn. We think every preacher has God›s anointing. We take every winged monster for an angel. We take serpents for friends. Whatever answers snake is no belt for holding trousers. What happens to the one who ties his load with a snake? We have been doing just that, scratching our itching noses with the teeth of a black mamba. Every offer made with smiles is accepted as made in good faith. It is not so. The mind of man is dark. It is darker when he comes offering to be your servant pro bono.
There is the old joke of the wine connoisseur who rams his car into a lady’s. The story, author unknown, goes: “Both of their cars are totally demolished but amazingly neither of them is hurt. After they crawl out of their cars, the woman says, ‘So you’re a man. That’s interesting. Wow, just look at our cars! There’s nothing left, but fortunately we are unhurt. This must be a sign from God that we should meet and be friends and live together in peace for the rest of our days.’ The man replies, ‘I agree with you completely. This must be a sign from God!’ The woman smiles and continues, ‘And look at this, here’s another miracle. My car is completely destroyed but this bottle of wine didn’t break. Surely God wants us to drink this wine and celebrate our good fortune.’ Then she hands the bottle to the man. The man nods his head in agreement, opens it and drinks half the bottle and then hands it back to the woman. The woman takes the bottle, immediately puts the cork back in and hands it back to the man. The man asks, ‘Aren’t you having any?’ The woman replies, ‘No. I think I’ll just wait for the police.’” The man is the guilty party. He is drunk. The evidence is right there in his hands. Wine and women…
We are the drunk man. Never learnt anything. Even when providence saves us from a tragedy, we quickly drag ourselves into another. We give every stranger with the right smile access into our inner rooms. We take every being with a stethoscope to be a doctor. We throw out the old wisdom in not using the cassock to judge the monk. We invest in a promise that actually fulfills the past we are running from. Nothing will change. Hunger will stay and breed its monstrous like unless we accept this moment that the future will be the past unless we truly work hard and well to break the chains.