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Instalmental Dignity

IN just one week, folks from the post-rational, fundamentalist fringe of President Buhari’s support base have exhumed a video of Doyin Okupe talking nonsense about trains; they have assured Nigerians that rice is an indulgence on the dinner table; and theyhave scolded Nigerians who may be aspiring to add the luxury of seedless grapes to their diet. Let us focus on Doyin Okupe’s video as an entry point into what ties these scenarios together.

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We are in the Goodluck Jonathan era. The whole country is abuzz with President Jonathan’s “train revolution”. As we see President Buhari launching and commissioning trains today in the build-up to an election, President Jonathan was also launching trains and, where necessary, using trailers to ferry trains to launch locations in the dead of night like he did in Makurdi.

People soon started to notice the age of the coaches that President Jonathan was commissioning with fanfare for Nigeria’s much-vaunted train revolution has largely been about the country’s moronic leadership roaming the metal scrap yards of Europe, North America, and Asia, looking for retired, metal-fatigued train coaches to buy and refurbish for the Nigerian people.

In 2011, for instance, former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, travelled to Toronto to negotiate the purchase of metal-fatigued trains that the Toronto Transport Corporation (TTC) had marked for decomissioning and scrapping as junk. He went to negotiate such scrap for the Lagos rail project. You may read about it at this link:

I wrote about Fashola’s idiocy at the time. I wondered why the dignity of the Nigerian people never matter to these wicked one percenters who travel all the time to places in the world where they and their families enjoy first class facilities but will shop for the Nigerian people in the junk yards of the developed world, buying for us the detritus of Oyinbo people. Fashola unleashed his social media hounds on me at the time.

The Toronto deal was concluded. The Lagos rail project is still going on. Eventually it is going to be launched with fanfare. And shining, refurbished metal-fatigued trains will roll out in Lagos. When the disaster eventually happens, and we lose lives to metal fatigue – there is a reason those trains were designated as scrap in Toronto – nobody will remember that it all started in 2011 when Fashola went to shop in the junk yards of Toronto.

I have given an extensive but necessary background to the Doyin Okupe video that has been exhumed by Buharideens. New York-based popular journalist, Adeola Fayehun, corners Doyin Okupe and asks him about the age of the refurbished locomotives. An irritated Doyin Okupe rambles the usual explanations you get from Nigerian officials when they are rationalizing and justifying indignity for the Nigerian people: we cannot afford new trains; our people have to make do with what we are offering; Rome was not built in a day, and bla and bla and bla. I remember writing a stinging criticism of Mr. Okupe at the time and he promptly blocked me on Twitter. He has since unblocked me.

Why have Buharideens exhumed this video? Well, Dr. Okupe provides them with a brilliant defense against the same line of criticism. If Buhari is consolidating the metal-fatigued and refurbished acquisitions of the Jonathan era, it stands to reason that the justifications provided by Okupe would apply to President Buhari’s current efforts.

These justifications are all rooted in the same tragic impulse. In a society governed by the ethos of mediocrity such as Nigeria, those whose task it is to rationalize and glamourize the mediocrity of the incumbent leadership have only one modus operandi: a sustained assault on excellence in a manner designed to dumb down the collective intelligence of the people. This process has psychic consequences. By relentlessly lowering standards and criminalizing the people’s right to expect 21st-century standards, you normalize in the people’s psyche only an expectation to low-standard and inferior things in life.

When you have created these conditions, it becomes easy for the mediocre ruler you are promoting to shine. The leader becomes the best thing to happen since sliced bread if he lifts his finger to offer something just slighty above mediocre. If the dumbing down of the people’s intelligence is standard practice in a society governed by the ethos of mediocrity, President Buhari’s media team has turned it into elevated art.

Such is the clockwork meticulousness of their relentless assault on the people’s intelligence that the average Nigerian now feels guilty to expect to ride in the same level and standard of trains available by routine to the peoples of Kenya, Ethiopia, Senegal, Morocco, and Egypt. This explains why you are summoned to watch with admiration as Rotimi Amaechi and the Alake of Egbaland roll into Abeokuta in one of those refurbished 17th-century locomotives (I exagerate for effect, I know) as President Buhari continues to launch fraudulent projects for electoral purposes. Fraudulent because many of such projects fall into disuse soon after launch.

Recall that you also had to hail the launch of a bus terminal (three decades after the cancellation of the city’s metroline project) in Lagos; just as you were summoned to hail the completion of a Mausoleum. The bar has been so lowered that President Buhari’s media team is perfectly capable of summoning the people to applause just because the President has had breakfast.

In essence, President Buhari’s media team and followers have taught the people that it is sheer indulgence to aspire to the same 21st-century conditions that have become commonplace in the rest of Africa. This is why they chastize you for aspiring to eat rice and seedless grapes. If they succeed in getting your bar of expectation lower than rice on your table, it goes without saying that everytime you succeed in eating rice, you will praise President Buhari the saviour for such an extraordinary blessing.

The sort of conceptual fraudulence which dumbs down your intelligence in order to make mediocrity look like excellence to you is not limited to President Buhari’s media team. That was Doyin Okupe’s role in the Jonathan era as seen in the video now revived by Buharideens. It is the standard behaviour of power in a society governed by the ethos of mediocrity. This should tell you that it will continue into Buhari’s second term (if he wins) or into Atiku’s term (if he wins).

This is standard establishment behaviour. If you complain, they assure you that Rome was not built in a day. They assure you that human dignity is something they propose to confer on you in instalments. It also shows you that your dignity is a constant terrain of struggle. No administration is going to guarantee or confer it on you. You must constantly fight for and insist on it. The place to start, in this instance, is to reject their narrative that trains available to Ethiopians, Ghanaians, Senegalese, and Moroccans are an indulgence and you should be grateful for refurbished, metal-fatigued coaches.


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