By Sunny Awhefeada
Charles Dicken’s perception of the Victorian world defines how humanity apprehends that era more than one hundred years after it elapsed.
The Victorian era eponymously christened after the phenomenal Queen Victoria also saw Britain attaining the peak of greatness. Britain ruled the waves and the world, and she was not just a significant factor in the colonial enterprise, but she was very wealthy through the unsympathetic plundering of her rich colonies.
Despite the fortunes she enjoyed, the citizens were afflicted by grave misfortunes and that great island became a monument of contradiction which Dickens reflected in his large oeuvre of fiction.
In one novel after the other, Dickens offers us the grim reality of how life was lived in a period that best approximates Thomas Hobbes earlier configuration of life as nasty, brutish and short. Perhaps, Dickens most poignant novel remains A Tale of Two Cities (1859) which opens with the frightening, but enchanting passage: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom.
It was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of belief. It was the epoch of incredulity. It was the season of light. It was the season of darkness. It was the spring of hope. It was the winter of despair.
We had everything before us. We had nothing before us”. That memorable passage attests to the brutal experience of that moment.
The Victorian era, despite its corrosive character, offered the people two options in both extremes. They had the best of good and the worst of bad.
They, therefore, had a choice to make. That they had a choice ameliorated their condition. What if they had no choice? What if they were only confronted by the worst of bad reflecting in foolishness, darkness, despair and nothing? They had a choice and that offered solace that they could always look the other way and see hope or reprieve. Let us now view Nigeria in the light of the foregoing. Can this matter of choice be viewed as holding a promise for Nigeria? The answer is no! Nigeria right now seems to have no choice.
The citizens are faced with the grim reality of the worst of bad. What we have come to realize and come to terms with is that yesterday always end up being better than today. The year 1999 not only ended the last millennium, but it also drew the curtain on sixteen years of draconian military dictatorship in Nigeria. That the last century terminated that year and that Nigeria returned to democracy that same year was viewed as symbolic as it pointed to a new beginning.
Although, the people saw horror and went through harrowing years to arrive at that juncture, there were no signs of overt exultation among them when the soldiers returned to the barracks.
The people didn’t trust the new leaders who they soon discovered to be dealers and rulers. In no time they were also to discover that what the nation returned to was not democracy, but just civilian rule.
Nigeria has since 1999 become a nation with tales of many woes.
Our ordeals keep multiplying and yielding severer ordeals. The old problems have become intractable. Twenty-four years after the exit of the soldiers, we have not been able to get our bearing right. And to think that we once heaped all our problems on military rule. It is now apparent that there is no difference between the soldiers and their civilian counterparts in power.
Both classes are Nigerians indeed. In fact they are collaborators. The ills that plagued Nigeria more than thirty years ago are still the crises undoing us today.
That is why crude human rights abuse, the kind to which Comrade Joe Ajaero, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), was recently subjected, is still with us. Ajaero’s public standing enabled his ordeal to be heard and it stirred national outrage.
Many Nigerians are daily brutalized by security agents and the politically powerful without anybody coming to their defence.
The Ajaero situation easily brings to mind the bestiality exhibited by state actors under military rule. We still see through our mind’s eyes the bloodied faces of pro-democracy activists that were subjected to brutality by soldiers under the successive military regimes that rode roughshod over Nigeria.
The battering of Comrade Ajaero in Owerri calls to question the sanity and humanity of those in positions of authority. Two narratives of the incident are now in the public domain. There is the official narrative offered by the police and the Imo State governor.
Then, there is the version by officials of labour unions regarding what happened. Of course, government narratives are never true in Nigeria. Government would always come with embarrassing fibs reconstructing incidents. The labour unions are holding the police and the government of Imo State responsible for what happened to Ajaero.
The unions have called for the sack and prosecution of the police officers and every other person involved. They further issued an ultimatum for a nationwide strike next week. What happened in Imo State should not be condoned or else the nation will deep further into bestiality. Nigerians must rally and realign their thinking to insist that political power should now flow from the people’s voice and not from the barrel of the gun.
The nation’s judiciary has also emerged as reflecting our tales of woes. Since 2003 when the first round of elections was held under the present dispensation, the judiciary has largely come to equity with dirty hands. Once the thinking held sway that the judiciary was the last hope of the common man. This is no longer so.
The Nigerian judiciary as it is now has been accused of every infraction under the sun. What is more? A retiring justice of the nation’s apex court, Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad, recently took the judiciary to the cleaners. At a valedictory session to mark his exit, Justice Muhammad took on the judiciary where he served for over forty years and ripped open its dark and ugly inner recesses.
That this is coming at a time that the judiciary has been subjected to searing attack, and from an insider, is quite telling.
We are buffeted by too many problems on too many fronts. Official sleaze and insensitivity stand tall as impregnable adversaries. Those ruling us insist on buying landcruisers in billions, renovating official residence in billions, purchasing a yacht in billions, procuring cars for the first lady in billions, yet our people are hungry and dying in multi-dimensional poverty.
Government’s poor understanding of the situation is fuelling inflation, corruption and insecurity.
These have multiplier effects for our woes. Crude oil theft is booming despite wasting billions in securing our pipelines. The shocking information in town right now is that Nigeria would have to import crude for Dangote and Kaduna refineries. This is unbelievable.
Our debts continue to mount. Government, unable to think, is asking poorly funded universities to remit 40% of their internally generated revenues (IGR) to the federation account! Sounds like a sick joke. Nigeria is right now lying prostrate on all fronts.
There is no respite anywhere except in Aso Rock and all that it represents because they neither feel nor know about our tales of woes. But we cannot and will not continue like this. We must stop expecting that our salvation will come from these dealers and rulers. We must embark on the search for hope.
And let me say that hope is not far because it is right here in our hearts. We must rethink and articulate the ideals we want for ourselves and Nigeria, and right away begin working for their realization. We must overcome these tales of woes.