Nigeria at 59: I am so sorry!

I am sorry” can be an admission of guilt or wrong-doing and an apology; it can, however, mean exasperation, surrender, and throwing in of the towel. Like that boxer who refused to come out of his corner for the next round of boxing, shouting “no mas, no mas”; which means “no more, no more”. He has taken enough punishment and was not willing to continue. He has had enough! His handlers appeared to think he could continue; at least he could hang in there and complete the remaining few rounds, so he would not be seen as having gone down on technical knockout. Some even thought he was running head-to-head or even ahead on the score cards of the judges – but the boxer insisted “no more” Frustration? Who feels it knows it, says Rita, wife of Bob Marley. Who wears the shoes knows where, and how, it pinches. Take a census and you might be surprised that at 59, many Nigerians have given up on their country. Will this man-child ever walk, to quote Ghanaian novelist, Ayi Kwei Armah? Was this why Chinua Achebe spoke of Nigeria in the past tense: “There was once a country”?

We had hopes when the journey began. The early leaders, warts and all, stood head and shoulders above their successors. Nigeria started out on the road of nationhood the betters of many European, Asian, and American countries. We had the first television in Africa, when some countries in Europe were yet to achieve the feat. We were at par with, if not ahead, of Brazil. We were far superior to today’s “Asian Tigers” Malaysia came here to take its palm kernel seedlings. Today we import palm-oil from the same country. We held a lot of promise. We had potentials. We still have potentials but while others with lesser potentials have transformed theirs into real possibilities and power, we wasted and continue to fritter ours. Our problem has been nothing else but leadership – deficient in leadership but sumptuous in natural resources. We failed, and continue to fail, in elementary Economics. Factors of production make a right mix between human and material resources sine qua non for development.

The rains started beating Nigeria since 1966. The coming of Samuel P. Huntington’s “Men on Horseback”, rather than bring the touted “modernisation”, set the nation back many decades. The military proved not the envisaged and advertised modernisers but wanton troopers, to quote Mokwugo Okoye, who killed our fawns. They killed federalism and instituted Unitarism; they brought civil war and accentuated the animosity between tribes; they wasted our resources and arrested development on all fronts and on a massive scale. One dictator after another practised with Nigeria, with each group leaving the country worse than they had met it. Each experiment led to the Nigerian people themselves withdrawing into their shells and moving farther away from the Nigeria project; until we arrived at the no-man’s land that Nigeria is today. It must be a no-man’s land for Fulani herdsmen to come from all over the place to possess it without let or hindrance. Sunny Okosuns, author of “Who owns Papa’s land?” would turn in his grave.

As usual, all manner of pretenders to leadership – political, religious, traditional, name it – made speeches yesterday preaching unity that does not exist; giving hope that long vanished from under these skies; and giving promises that the people knew too well not to think about for a fleeting moment. False promises! Fainted hopes! Illusory unity! Year-in, year-out, past speeches are dusted up, the names, venues of events and dates are updated but the substance remains the same. This is one clear instance when the deceiver and the deceived are on same page! If the Lord tarries, the same rituals will be performed next year ad infinitum! Some of the dramatis personae may change but the drum beats will most likely remain the same – unless the unlikely happens. Only if the revolution preached by Omoyele Sowore happens before 1st October, 2020 can we have anything different from the motion without movement; and sounds and fury signifying nothing of the past decades. Every year since 1966, the cries of Kaduna Nzeogwu et al of a corrupt and big-for-nothing country silencing its best and putting forward its dregs have waltzed their way from the graveyard with deafening clarity and automatic alacrity!

Unfortunately – very unfortunately – it does not just rain for Nigeria; it pours! Such that, today, paranoia, to quote Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, defines the leadership. To make matters worse was Buhari’s Independence Day speech or, better still, threats, to further clamp down on free speech and fundamental human rights under the guise of defence of national security. If not warped reasoning, a nation is basically its people and the security of a nation, thus, is the security of its people. A nation cannot be divorced from its people and national security speaks first and foremost to the well-being of the people themselves. In 1984, General Buhari as head of a military dictatorship promulgated Decree 4 of 1984 which criminalised any publication which “embarrasses” a public officer. The real intent of that decree and its authors was to scare away commentaries and publications focussing the dictatorship itself; the inclusion of “public officers” was just a ruse. It did not matter whether the publication was factual, correct and incontrovertible. Two “The Guardian” newspaper journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, went to jail on account of that obnoxious decree. Sad, today, that one of them makes excuses for Buhari while the other signed the press statement that annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election won free, fair and square by the late MKO Abiola! But I digress!

The leopard cannot change its skin, says APC leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Buhari is the leopard who has found it difficult to change its skin, despite his protestation in 2015 that he had become a converted democrat. Not deceived, I had warned that we note the stark difference between a converted democrat and a convoluted democrat. Without mincing words, if the term “democrat” can at all be ascribed to Buhari, he is certainly more of the latter than the former! The charge his government presses against Omoyele Sowore, convener of the “Revolution Now” movement, proves this beyond all reasonable doubt. Suddenly, Nigeria has been reduced to a Banana Republic of same rank as that of Jean Bedel Bokassa, Idi Amin Dada, Mobutu Sese Seko and such other fawning characters where “insults” to the president was treasonable felony. Idi Amin reportedly fed those who insulted him or his concubines to crocodiles. Is that where we are headed in Nigeria? We used to think – and say – that such tomfoolery belonged elsewhere. Unfortunately, the same chickens have now come home to roost right under our very nose! One of the hallmarks of the free world and of free people everywhere is the right to ventilate grievances as well as vent one’s spleen upon errant leaders. Just recently, we saw angry Europeans heckle and pelt Boris Johnson while the British PM simply dodged under umbrellas and went his way. No one was arrested, least of all getting charged with treasonable felony.

It is clear that the Nigerian goons behind efforts to muffle freedom of speech and muzzle us as a people want to drive us from the public space. They should note that while they may succeed with some, they will fail with others. Many of the people so driven away will also not just go away quietly but will rather march into the cellar where real revolution, not the joke that Sowore was parroting, is made. To be sure, some will go the Afghanistan, as it were. In fact, many are comfortably perched there already. Whereas Afghanistan is a trouble-will-never-end Asian country where the Islamist Taliban oscillates between rebels-government-rebels, “going to Afghanistan” as a term means playing the ostrich or playing safe with dictatorship. The ostrich buries its head in the sand to become oblivious to unsavoury happenings around. Rather than comment on topical (political, economic, religious and social) issues of the day, a writer or leader chooses some other innocuous issues to comment upon. Avoiding trouble is the name of the game. Many writers and leaders are doing that already. Those not willing to go to Afghanistan and who have continued to stick out their neck stand the risk of ending up in Siberia. Siberia is one of the coldest and most inhospitable regions of Russia. In the days of dictatorship, that was where dissenters and political opponents cooled their heels. Many never returned! The beauty of it, however, is that the voice of freedom everywhere outlasted the jackboots of vile dictators. Nigeria will not be an exception!

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