By Sunny Awhefeada
Last Thursday, the movers and shakers of Nigerian politics gathered in Abuja, Nigeria’s corruption laden capital city for the public presentation of Brutally Frank, the autobiography of elder statesman and nonagenarian, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark. As such gatherings are wont to be, it was another opportunity for our big men to talk about Nigeria and talk down on Nigerians. The big men and women were there in full attendance and voluble agbada and crispy babanriga rubbed one another just as well laundered suits glittered in competition. Headgears and makeup faces outdid one and another. The hall glittered with opulence and the rotund men and women sauntered in, exchanged banters and laughed loudly in provocative contrast with the hunger and anger in the land.
The convivial mood in the hall belied the despondency across the Nigerian landscape. The hall was a stage, a stage where pretense was the order of the day. It was a stage where contentment reigned over the harsh reality of our condition.
It was a stage of make belief despite the harrowing condition in which we now live. Those men and women acted in defiance of the over one hundred and thirty million Nigerians hemmed in extreme poverty. The agbadas, babaringas and headgears speak to a false order of things which do not align with our reality. Nigeria presently, or maybe it has always been so, has two realities; the one inhabited by us the people and the other inhabited by them i.e. those who rule us. So, whenever the pronoun “we” is uttered, it should be ascribed to us at the receiving end who live the reality of what it means to be a Nigerian.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was not at the book presentation event. He was represented by the nation’s chief scribe, Senator George Akume, a former governor of Benue State. Speaking on behalf of his principal, Akume waxed philosophical saying, “He (Tinubu) has also asked me to tell this gathering that we are going through a difficult phase in the history of our country. But these pains are pains of birth, birth of a new nation…”. When the clip of Akume making the speech was aired on television, his visage didn’t show that he believed in what he was saying. It was just another of that moment of talking down on hapless Nigerians. What is more, those for whom that message was meant were not in the hall to hear him and they also no longer care what government people say.
Akume and his ilk probably don’t know that the majority of Nigerians have stopped listening to what government officials say. Does Akume really know that we are “going through a difficult phase”? Does he believe in the idea of the “birth of a new nation”?
These are questions to which Akume and his co-travellers need to provide honest responses.
Government official are adept at telling the people about the virtues of perseverance, hope and patriotism, yet they, government people, rank very high in the abysmal lack of these same ideals that are the building blocks of nationhood. Again, let us hear Akume, “We can endure this for a moment. What we are going through today is for a better tomorrow. Nations are great because citizens have hope. They have hope that tomorrow will be better than today”. Akume’s submission would have received a “brutally frank” response were that assembly to be a pan-Nigerian one.
Only the rich and powerful were in attendance so it was not a pan-Nigerian gathering. In that hall were no poor parents eking out reluctant living in a perilous environment. In that hall were no victims and mourners who have lost lives and limbs to insecurity. In that hall were no students who have had to remain longer in school due to government’s failure to fulfill its obligation. In that hall were no teachers who work their lives out and remain grossly under rewarded. In that hall were no artisans and market men and women who have had to contend with diminishing patronage and looming penury.
In that hall were no Nigerians who have no work, who lack electricity, who have no roads on which to travel and no food to eat. In fact “we” were not in that hall.
If “we” were in that hall, we would have been “brutally frank” with Akume. We would have told him to tell us something else. We would have told him we have heard those lines before. We would have reminded him of General Ibrahim Babangida’s book with the promising and even edifying title For their Tomorrow we gave our Today published over three decades ago. But “we” were not in that hall and Akume got away with what he said, but which he never meant. Year in year out, we are told to endure. The hope homily has become a constant on the menu which induces only hunger and more hunger without the least attempt at assuaging our plight. This has been the case since 1984.
We have since then been told to “endure” and “hope” too many times we have lost count. The better tomorrow promised us in 1984 as a child has not come, yet the “smart” guys of my generation have become grandfathers. We are still waiting for that tomorrow in the light of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Our hope has been betrayed and violated again and again.
Akume should not have uttered the expression “we can endure this for a moment”.
That was a verbal aberration. Akume and those in that hall do not number among the “we”. The authentic “we” are the hoi polloi who toil and toil and have nothing to show for their efforts. The “we” are the exploited who are daily driven to the cusp of impoverishment by government’s asphyxiating policies. The “we” do not ride in expansive and expensive jeeps like Akume and his cohorts. The “we” do not live in air conditioned abodes or eat lavish breakfast, lunch and supper.
The “we” are trapped in multidimensional poverty, struggling, crying and plodding on without respite in sight.
What other tomorrow was Akume referring to when the tomorrow of yesterday hasn’t materialized? The bitter reality is that every administration leaves us worse than the previous one and the “better tomorrow” gets deferred.
The morning tells the day and the government Akume is serving has so far not shown any index of redemptive will or character. The government became rudderless too early in the day. The ongoing socio-economic strangulation that elicited Akume’s insincere talk is the product of the kneejerk act of Tinubu decreeing petroleum subsidy out of existence the very hour he was sworn in without the necessary contingency plans to ameliorate the negative effect.
Since that ominous moment, the government has been turning round in circles. The net result is our present affliction. Certainly, Akume and his erstwhile brother-governor and sinator, Godswill Akpabio of the “token” and “prayer” fame do not belong to “we”. But Akume can still convince us that he is among the “we”. I am inviting him to my Abraka base. I have Tiv friends who have big appetite for ukodo and relish ogogoro. So, Akume will enjoy his stay.
But he must come through the Benin-Sapele road and experience the nightmare at Ologbo. He also should not ride in that black expansive jeep. He must ride in the kind of car “we” ride.
And no escorts please! Then, he can prove that he truly belongs to “we” and there will be no need to ask who are the “we”? George Akume, Abraka awaits you