By Sunny Awhefeada
My earliest memory of change of political power dates back to the first day of January of the year 1984. That was New Year day! As children we had shared in the excitement that greeted the anticipation of Christmas and New Year celebrations.
The harmattan was present with its sweet harsh sometimes cold sometimes hot dry wind. The annual ritual of bush burning had taken place and residents of the vast college premises could catch glimpses of one another.
We were all happy in our pastoral setting quite oblivious of the political turmoil that was unfolding in Lagos and Abuja.
We went to bed late as we were wont to on New Year eve which we called “watch night”. We went to bed after screaming HAPPY NEW YEAR as the clocked chimed 12 midnight. Our sleep was not long as we anxiously turned in bed hoping that it was dawn so we could lay our hands on the chickens and carry out other chores that will climax in the merriment of the New Year.
Dawn came not just with a bright new day that was the New Year, but it came with the news of a coup d’ tat!
While we embarked on convivial rubadub in Evwreni, soldiers were rolling out tanks in Lagos and Abuja to oust the government of the day. The college premises rose in double celebration when the news of the change of government came in through the radio. The jubilation was palpable and in no time, many of the teachers huddled together to not only talk about the ills of the last regime, but to also celebrate its fall.
A similar scenario was to play out the day after the 27th of August 1985. The same band of soldiers of fortune who struck on the last day of 1983 was again at the gate of Dodan Barracks to effect another change of government, an act that was later dubbed “a palace coup”. Again, the celebration was loud and widespread as it was twenty months earlier.
There were other bloody attempts at change of government which Nigerians received with mixed feelings. The trend has been that Nigerians always rejoiced and welcomed change of government. But there was an exception. That exception was the 18th November 1993 coup choreographed and executed by a depraved coup merchant. That coup came ten years after my generation’s first conscious experience of a coup.
The difference was that the coup was pooh-poohed and there was a prolonged struggle for the actualization of the June 12 mandate that the coup scuttled. The change of government was not welcomed and the regime was a pariah.
Nigeria’s political journey took a detour in 1999 with a transition from military dictatorship to civil rule drawing the curtain on the last century. Before that momentous day, 29th May 1999, Nigerians had been under the jackboots of soldiers for sixteen long years beginning from 1983.
Those were perilous years and Nigerians couldn’t wait to sing songs of redemption as the soldiers pulled back to the barracks from whence they came. Although, the incoming helmsman wasn’t what Nigerians yearned for, it was good enough that the soldiers had taken their leave even when the symbol of their replacement was one of them but now in agbada.
The celebration that greeted the transition in 1999 was largely infectious, but those old enough to appreciate the current of history and its ineluctable lessons were cautious and held back. Two other regime changes occurred in 2007 and 2011, but Nigerians ever so used to being betrayed adopted a “let us wait and see” attitude. And they were right.
The nation’s fortunes plummeted on all fronts. Whatever hopes and aspirations that greeted the return to civil rule were all dashed as Nigeria degenerated to the point of massive disillusionment for the citizenry. What followed that disillusionment was the quest for a political messiah who should lead the nation out of the wilderness.
The foregoing was the scenario until 2015 when Nigeria was sold a dummy in the guise of change. By 2015, Nigeria was tottering on the brink of disaster. The economy was packing up, corruption was more than ubiquitous as it had become daring showing up everywhere, while insecurity menaced every corner of Nigeria.
It was in this ambience of national chaos and hopelessness that the mountebanks came out to campaign with change and presented a candidate that was thought to be forthright, incorruptible and patriotic enough to rescue the nation and push through the Nigerian dream. The spin doctors promised us that insecurity would be over in six months. They promised us that corruption would be a thing of the past and that the economy would bounce back so that naira would rub shoulders with the pound. Sadly, the promises were never fulfilled. Nigeria was not only taken for a ride, but the citizens were herded on the disastrous road to Golgotha.
The political locusts camped in Nigeria for eight years during which we became the poverty capital of the entire world.
Nothing added up in the last eight years.
Our sordid experience only made the previous years, no matter how terrible they were, appear like golden years. The president simply gave up on Nigeria and the ship of state went dangerously adrift. That Nigeria is still standing as one is deserving of deep contemplation and research. Other nations that went under didn’t experience a measure of what Nigerian took in the last eight years. Nigeria simply failed, but it didn’t pack up.
Government spokespersons are wont to pipe what only their eyes see as the achievements of the last regime, but the ultimate judge of whether the administration succeeded or failed is the people. And the verdict is that the last regime was a woeful failure and that it remains the worst regime in Nigeria’s sixty-two years as an independent nation.
What followed the exit of the last regime was quite antithetical. The run of expectations should have been that the succeeding regime was welcomed with approbation, but that wasn’t so. Nigerians having been so betrayed by the political class have come to be wary of dealers who called themselves leaders. Nigerians have stumbled too many times on the same path. So, there were no ululations and applause on the 29th of May, 2023.
The events of the last eight years, the dashed expectations, the ruined hopes and the crash of what the millennials saw as the ideal in what they codenamed “obedients” all turned the change of government into something like a funeral for hope. Nigerians have never been this pessimistic.
As if to give credence to their fear, the vexed issue of subsidy removal popped up like a genie on the first day of the new regime and threw the nation into anguish. Our people believe that the morning tells the day. Is this now a case of the last regime chastising us with whips, while this will chastise us with scorpions? The day after the inauguration of the new regime, Nigerians were thrown into a situation akin to mourning.
There was no sigh of relief. Hope receded further and the people became more acutely aware of how dreary the next day could be. The day after the inauguration, the cost of petrol hit the rooftop and the people saw the fangs of disaster more frightening that it had ever been. The day after the inauguration, the people saw nothing to cheer about. Gloom, despair and disillusionment were let loose on our streets the day after the inauguration. Our lot is to continue to embrace hope.