By Sunny Awhefeada
Dele Giwa, the unforgettable journalist, preempted our today when he wrote in the mid-1980s that Nigeria had reached the stage of unshockability! Members of his generation would have applauded him for his insight, sublimity of thought and verbal dexterity. True, the 1980s was the high watermark of the tendencies that birthed today’s crises and woes. Nigeria attained independence two decades earlier and despite her promising beginning as carrying the promise of the Black race, she tottered into a bloody internecine conflict that raged for thirty months. Thus the 1960s were a mixed grill for Nigeria, her rise and fall. The 1970s reawakened and repositioned Nigeria. Despite being run by callow soldiers the nation looked ahead and marched on the solid path to progress. The New Year of January 1970 not only ended the civil war, but it ushered in a series and sequence of events that enabled Nigeria to regain ascendancy. Our history books tell us about how Nigeria pointed at the way Africa should go by making the continent the centerpiece of her foreign policy. Nigeria took on apartheid South Africa, gazed at America without blinking and one by one ensured the total liberation of Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and more!
Many people still find inspiring the 1976 “Africa has come of age” speech of General Murtala Muhammed, then Nigeria’s head of state, which emboldened Africa and left the West in trepidation. Kole Omotoso recreated that glorious moment in Just before Dawn. Africa was enthused. Murtala died a few days after that speech and with him dimmed the light that Nigeria tried to become. Nigeria, nay Africa, has been wandering between dusk and darkness since then. The kind of honest, selfness and purposeful leadership offered by Murtala Muhammed has not been found since then. Murtala was decisive, pragmatic and self-sacrificing.
His moments as head of state remain Nigeria’s halcyon days. Many people look back to the 1970s and rue the opportunities lost, the roads not taken and the roads mistaken! As a result of monumental failure of leadership and, recently, followership complicity, Nigeria has now found itself in a vortex of crises. Nigeria has become a casualty of misrule and one by one the citizens are being consumed. Even the rulers are not spared. The powerful also cry!
Looking back and comparing today to the yesterday of the 1970s, the simple and glaring inference is that Nigeria is on the fast lane to the abyss of failed states. Obiora Udechukwu, the poet and fine artist, in his collection of poetry, What the Madman Said, did say poignantly: “The LAND is not our land/This is not our land/This is not the promised haven”. Udechukwu’s deposition derives from the shocking reality of what became of Nigeria despite the promise of greatness it bore before and just after independence. Barely six years after breaking the shackles of colonialism Nigeria was on the verge of collapse.
Udechukwu ascribes the fate of Nigeria to the leaders who are actually dealers thus: “Shrill voices that drove strangers away/Word-owners that drove strangers away/What have you done to your people?/What have you done to the children of men?/What have you done to the land?”. Our dealer-leaders are predatory. They fought against the colonialists (strangers), routed them and became the neo-colonizers of their own people.
Udechukwu’s query regarding what the dealer-leaders did “to our people”, “to the children of men” and “to the land” can find lucid and loud answers to the plurality of crises assailing Nigeria today.
The crises bedeviling us today accumulated from years of malfeasance, criminal indifference, moral ennui and acute feeling of helplessness. The failure of the ruling class, relegation of justice and absence of sanctions left the citizens to be at the mercy of one another. The citizens lost faith in government and have taken laws into their own hands. The citizens started seeing the state and its agents as adversaries about ten years ago.
The curve has taken a frightening dimension as the citizens have turned against one another. That is why bandits, terrorists, kidnappers, armed robbers and the ubiquitous unknown gunmen have turned on fellow citizens. What is confronting Nigeria is the Hobbesian reality of life being “nasty, short and brutish”. The citizens have become predators and preys, depending on the circumstance.
This is just ten days into December, yet we have been confronted by many events that sear our very humanity. The murder of a school boy, Sylvester Oromoni, by schoolmates has taken center-stage of public discourse. But we are a hypocritical lot. These things happen again and again and we paper over them and move on. Bandits burnt forty-two travellers to death in Sokoto.
Eye witnesses reported that officials of the Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC) in Lagos pursued a truck that rammed into school children and killed seventeen of them. Some eight children got suffocated to death in a bus and a one-eyed thief of a government official demanded a million naira for their autopsy! Students are daily kidnapped for ransom like the five students kidnapped between Eku and Abraka where one encounters no less than five police checkpoints mounted for the sole purpose of extortion!
A trip these days, even the shortest one, usually elicits long prayers despite the many armed bearing uniformed men on the roads! Soldiers, police, NSCDC, NDLEA, FRSC, hunters, vigilantes and many more have taken over our roads, yet the unknown gunmen are still enjoying uninterrupted reign. Hunters have had to rescue policemen from abductors and even protect police stations! The University of Abuja in the nation’s federal capital has also contracted hunters to protect the campus! I think it is high time we disbanded the security services and begin anew.
We are assailed on all fronts. Many government workers across the country are being owed months of unpaid salaries. They are now being threatened that there would be no salary for December! Government claims that N199 Billion is being spent on petroleum subsidy and that Nigeria earned zero revenue from oil export. Non-payment of salaries, dwindling fortune of the Naira and galloping inflation have combined to further emasculate the already traumatized populace. This Christmas is going to be the bleakest in our history.
But should we give up on Nigeria or on ourselves? The answer is, and should be, a loud NO! We can still redeem our country and ourselves. We can still be pulled back from the brink. As I have consistently maintained, only the people can rescue Nigeria.
Let us not wait any further. The people must reinvent new terms of engagement in the political cum public space. Those who aspire to lead or rule must be made to imbibe ideals that are anchored on the common good. They must be made to live like us and experience life like us. They should patronize only public hospitals and public schools. They should travel by road and not by air, at least in the next five years. They must not move about with security details.
Their homes must not be lit by alternative power sources. Then they will put on their thinking cap, think aright and govern aright. Then Nigeria will be great again.