Whither Nigeria? (2)

IT was embarrassment that made the governors to appeal to the reformer’s  bracket rather than support  evident criminality. Except that the  reforms have not come and cannot happen because there is no grand electoral law serviceable enough to constrain the loot-sharing classes. And there is none that is stringent enough to debar the habits of purchasing  elections as it used to happen in the older democracies before they discovered  the law and the mass media as owners of and sticklers for transparency. What we must say here is that the various extra-statutory means of  political finance have so outclassed the old means of political corruption  that those who came to fight it by bringing change have since re-defined it. Such that General Muhammadu Buhari, who as a military Head of state jailed politicians for up to 89 years  and more for enriching their political parties, has been giddily financing his own political parties and projects in the Fourth Republic without batting an eyelid about the absence of a proper electoral law  that can  guide political finance. Not even Professor Attahiru Jega, the great socialist and political scientist, as Czar of the Independent National Electoral Commission could  wangle a proper electoral law to ensure  that political money was sanitised beyond ethnic and regional derivatives of power.  What this tells us about Nigerian politics is that the leader-centred nature of the polity is secured by a formality of toxic economics which commands distribution channels and ensures a monolithic, or call it, a ‘monocratic’ principle that filters down to all levels in all political organisations. At the top of it, there is a necessary assurance that those who are not within the  bracket of political access will lose their standing along the principles of merit   and transparent management.

In order therefore to  know where the country could be or go, one has to follow the leader. This needs to be explained.  Under the Fourth Republic but more under President Muhammadu Buhari, the whole system has been such that the centre of the political party system has been unable to hold together. Whereas in President Jonathan’s time, it was his party that abandoned their President in search of regional solidarity, in the case of President Muhammadu Buhari, he was the one that abandoned his party in pursuit of an ethnic and personalist agenda.  He has had no formal posit or brokerage that allows for the insertion of alternative ideas or ideals. This means that there is a necessary narrowing down of the system as  in virtually all the administrations of the Fourth Republic,  so that government stumbles on and runs into contrived accidents and dead ends almost as a rule.  The better way to put it is that in a democracy, the political party is supposed to be the means of aggregating, articulating and adjudicating matters of value.  But lacking party focus, the scatter–diagrammatic of reading the body language of the leader has been exemplified by  absolutely nepotistic surrounds, that do not allow citizens to have objective expectations  of civic correctness. With most strategic appointments  being a haggle over ethnic and regional balance, the whole system enters a conundrum of amoral familism in  which whom you know may grant  trust, but does not ensure the efficacy of structures  of  government or party. Especially so, when whom you know does not guarantee that the structures of  government will  be allowed to deliver as they were constructed to do. The fallout of this is that the concept of work,  as ise, aiki, olu, as a factor of goal-orientation, is held radically in abeyance, trashed across the board, so that  charity rather than duty is turned into a code of rectitude,  functioning between a balance of power and a balance of terror. This is what is playing out on the Kaduna/Abuja road and across the whole country where those who do not want to depend endlessly on being mendicants, beggars in the system,  resort to self-help as bandits and kidnappers, as if assured that there will be no penalty for wrongdoing. In my view,  this is an issue at the heart of this lecture which requires that we all have to enter something of  a heart of darkness to find the answer.  Let me put it this way: that there is no mystery in that heart of darkness. Just that because of the way it is structured much of what has happened to the country in this dispensation is a function of what it offers.

To save time, I have chosen to start by looking at the nerves and vision of the incumbent government from the most familiar grounding on the platform of the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation: that is, on  the issue of education as the touchstone of national salvation. Not that I wish to re-theorize what is already well known about Awolowo’s consummate offer of education as the means  by which  we could put all the knowledge in the English language into our indigenous languages and all the knowledge in our indigenous languages  into the English language; and so to universalize them, and equalize the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized,  build equality and  commonality between all the ethnic  groups across the country; so that we may defeat those who think that Nigeria cannot be raised to unity or coalescence because of regional and ethnic differences. Following Awolowo, unity is not to be assumed, but  worked at, worked for, to turn what he saw as a mere geographical expression into a cultural expression. It means sound deliberation, hard work: knowing that it is not ethnic or linguistic differences that create division and tribalism but their mismanagement by power seekers and power holders. Of course, the narrower the pyramid of power, the more inhumane and inhuman it tends. With restricted access to education, it becomes more difficult to widen the base of civic commitment to a cohesive society; or to thinking together, planning together and strategizing for the emergence of a polity that  can serve the dream of an Africa awakening  among the strong of the world.   And so, it happened that, after  so many decades of governments  paying lip service  to mass  education while  raising opposition to it in practice, it seemed Nigeria was reaching some plateau of acceptance or understanding when President Umaru Yar’Adua came to power in 2007. He brought into government a very robust indication that a speedy education policy for Northern Nigeria was what was needed to free up the rest of the country. The good part is that President Goodluck Jonathan, as his successor, followed it up, believing that education of the North was the driven approach to end the major drawback to educational advancement in the country. He built 165 almajiri schools, and 27 colleges. It was meant to be a cross-party, non-partisan development of education and transformation. President Jonathan did not just plan to build schools and colleges. With the windfall from oil, he prepared for an era in which the country could begin to dream of wiping out illiteracy from the country, building industries and employments that could lay a basis for a different kind of development. In a country where fifteen million children of school-going age were lying fallow on the streets, mostly as almajirai, baited as recruits by sundry terrorists masquerading as clerics of the  Boko Haram variety, what could be more apt than a response intended to ride terror to a halt through education! So, he created a special military unit, the Safe School Initiative, endorsed by the United Nations in 2014, for covert and open protection of schools and colleges in the era of education-hating Boko Haram. Energy through education was what he thought would bring up a new generation that would run smart farms and factories and gradually wipe out the divide between the North and South. Jonathan resolved on it as part of a quiet preparation for the alleviation of poverty even if it had to take a whopping reliance on the central treasury to round it all out for the whole country. But it all turned out wrong.

Once General Buhari removed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and settled down to business, one of the first things he did was to close down all the educational ventures that had taken such great expectations to strategize. As if the Federal Government had simply become an arm of the notorious Boko Haram, haters of schools and kidnappers of school girls, and blockers of the spread of so-called Western education, all the grand plans were simply routed and abandoned. Weeds were allowed to claim and outgrow the venturesomeness that was taking over sloth and planlessness in education. In place of what should have been a campaign for  schools and colleges, in  the way that Obafemi Awolowo and later his followers, LK Jakande, Bola Ige, Ambrose Alli, Bisi Onabanjo and Michael Ajasin  had spent years building and campaigning for the free primary and secondary education schemes, what the people got was a campaign for a different promise of revolution. Not schools but grazing reserves for cattle; not colleges but cattle republics, and the search for ancient cattle routes, forgetting that it  took education for India, the Netherlands, Australia, even next door South Africa to create the revolution in animal husbandry instead of the ancient form of normadism that manages to produce less than  19 % of  national requirements  with the rest of  Africa having cows that produce  15 litres of milk per cow while our own produce less than two litres. I will return to this.

Today,  an industry that supplies only 19 per cent of Nigeria’s annual cattle needs is really not being considered in terms of triplication of its output within the shortest time possible. That is sad. While the   civilized solution requires herdsmen to build ranches,  some people, it would appear, are wishing for Nigeria, which has “19 million cows or thereabouts”,  to apply methods and approaches that would fit Brazil, a country of similar human population  size, with about 305 million cows over a land area nine times larger than ours. Obviously, with so much less land to play with than Brazil, and even if we had more, it ought in fact to be neater thinking about ranching instead of punishing the cows over wide distances. The snag is that in Nigeria misusing the cows  has been accepted as tradition. So adversarially are they treated over unfair distances that, in spite of the presumed love of the cows, they produce so much less milk than all cattle rearers across the world. Audu Ogbe, as Minister of Agriculture, lamented that  our cows produce one litre of milk per day compared to 15 litres per cow in Kenya, Botswana, Uganda and South Africa, and 50 litres per cow in much of Europe. Reduced by maltreatment to inferior specie, our cows are not even calving enough to meet demands ranging from 6,000 cows every day in Lagos state and about 70 to 80 thousand cows per day across the country.  A truly serious country, confronted by the realities would  first impose a ranching code without wasting time, and ensure that the ranches are in the areas in which the ranchers have cultural empathy  in order to avoid the violence  which, in the Nigerian situation,  can be blamed on the state’s complicity.

  • Being excerpts of the virtual 2021 Obafemi Awolowo Lecture delivered by the Polemicist, Odia Ofeimum, as part of activities marking the 112th posthumous birthday of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, on Saturday, March 6.


To be continued.





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