In his 1940 novel, Darkness at Noon, the Hungarian-born British novelist, Arthur Koestler, reflects on Russia of Joseph Stalin’s times. Koestler writes about revolutionaries who fall out of the swing. The swing is society, pushed off from tyranny by the French revolution, ascending with apparently uncheckable impetus towards the blue sky of freedom. But gradually, the rate of ascent slows down; the swing hesitates, becomes immobile for a second, then begins to fall backward with ever-increasing speed, carrying its passengers from freedom back towards tyranny.
I find that imaginary misadventure a fitting metaphor for Nigeria’s circumstance. Metaphor. That is what it is and that should be clear enough. It is important to make that point because we live in uncertain times. These are times when many do not read beyond a newspaper headline or title of an opinion piece before drawing conclusions and then begin to react. Agreed, so many are our demons today, but tyranny isn’t one of them – at least, for now.
That done. Now, I want to believe that, the way things have suddenly turned for the country, no one living or dead would envy President Muhammadu Buhari. Not even Jean-Bedel Bokassa or Mobutu Sese Seko or Idi Amin Dada in the glory of their brutal omnipresence would be willing to be in Buhari’s position right now. And this is just 18 months after Nigerians lined the streets, singing Hosanna as he blazed into power. So, what has happened? What really has happened so drastically miserably between the time we said good morning and when it was time to say good afternoon? What has happened that the chant has suddenly changed from ‘crown him’ to ‘crucify him’? What happened? What happened that the allies we saw a few minutes ago are breaking ranks and lining up behind the jeering and stone-casting nerd?
It is indeed not a position any one would want to be. Certainly, the man himself, in his heart of hearts, would at least be wondering whether he did not overreach himself; whether it was not wise to have given up the chase for presidency when the third attempt failed. Well, he confessed as much recently when he told senior executive Course No 38 of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) at the State House, Abuja on November 3 that, considering all the odds, especially the paucity of income flow, “I felt like absconding.”
Just slightly more than one year of hopes and high expectations, the swing of the Nigerian state is falling backward with ever-increasing speed, carrying the people to despondency and anxiety. So, what happened? I’d say that among other possible explanations, from my little understanding, it is partly a result of an undistilled political ambition and partly, the consequence of unconscionably steady pillaging of our common wealth. I will explain, beginning from the former. In the beginning were ACN, CPC and ANPP as stand-alone political parties. In orientation, temperament and attitude, they had no meeting point, no nexus. It then happened that some persons in these parties wanted power and wanted it so desperately. But individually, as political parties, it was impossible to wrench that power from the ruling PDP, the holder at the time. So, they reasoned it was wise to poll and pull together. They became APC (Alliance for Progressives Change). They pulled hard, worked hard and wrestled PDP to the ground.
Regrettably, in their desperation for power, they fell into the pit of undistilled political ambition. They neither do what Business Management would call ‘due diligence’ on the assets and liabilities of the entity they were angling to take over, nor did they give thought to how to fairly and equitably share among themselves the spoils of war. Which is akin to how so many young ones today go into marriage. They think and concentrate wholly and solely on the wedding day. They forget, or are less bothered, about the day-after, which is the beginning of marriage. And that is one of the causes of our trouble today. APC, as political party, wanted power, but didn’t quite consider that power goes with responsibility to govern and govern effectively. Those who fail to plan, as the lingo goes, plan to fail.
That is one leg of it. Again, you don’t seduce two or more bulls to come drink from the same pot and expect them not to fight and break the pot. Lest we forget that, in this clime, politics is all about sharing. Politics, for us, is about who is where and who gets what; it is about power, it is about position and positioning. And in the struggle for a position in the sun, governance suffers. Does it surprise anyone that in the whirl of confusion over our land today, is the fact that some political potentates have begun to shuffle the cards ahead 2019? It’s the way these things go with us. See?
That is partly why Nigeria is in this cauldron, seething.
The other part is clearly obvious. The country has no money. We are broke. Our leaders have stolen all we had. Buhari said he met an empty treasury. He didn’t lie; it is true. The manner our leaders had been raiding the treasury, no one would expect that anything would be left in it. It was almost free for all. It was like public tap. The greed was crass and darkly, even Satan, in all his dark humours, could well have felt pity for Nigeria. Now the chickens have come home to roost. Yesterday, we ate both our harvests and our seedlings. Today, our bans are empty and our rafters yawning. “From 1999 to 2015, the average cost of Nigeria’s barrel of oil was $100…And I asked, any savings? I was told there was no savings,” Buhari told the NIPSS executives. We have no money and recession has come upon us.
But let’s not start with the accusation of who ran the economy aground. If we go down that lane, no politician who had been in government this last 17 years or so will be walking free today. All right, let’s agree that Nigerians have short memory and so can quickly forget many things. Definitely, they can’t forget how recklessly reveling and criminally debauchery our politicians had been since 1999. I said we should not begin to point fingers because we all know the magic of putting meat in the mouth and getting it to disappear, in the same way it is very convenient to stand on the winner-side and be throwing mud at those on the loser-side. At the risk of being accused of running the tar on all, irrespective, I’d say that anyone who has been involved in active politics in this country since 1999 cannot say his hands are clean – or at least, he can’t tell that to himself. Most of the ‘archangels’ now waving the sword of anti-corruption and screaming, “crucify the demon!”, “burn the witch!”, were also members of that same coven, causing havoc.
We may have to excuse Buhari here. People say he is as straight as pole and clean as whistle. But that does not excuse him from carrying the can of how dangerously the swing of the Nigerian state is rushing downwards. It may not be his making, but that is the job he consciously, if stoutly fought to take. That is the massage former President Olusegun Obasanjo was trying to pass across last week, when he asked the incumbent to do something and stop wishing that the economy would come alive, or that it (economy) would respond to command. The other day, it was Bishop Matthew Kukah who first stirred the waters, but he was more direct and point-blank. He charged President Buhari to stop complaining and get on with the job, because that is why he is there. In other words, he was telling the president that he is there because there is a problem and he has to solve that problem. The bishop was short of telling the president: “Hey, if you feel you can’t stand the heat, leave the kitchen.”
And truly, it is not the best of jobs in a situation as we have them now. In the season of discontent, the worst enemy any president can take on is not a section of the elite; it is not even the elite taken together. No. The worst enemy is the mass of the people. And what can easily provoke such fight is when their very basic existence is under threat, as we have it presently. Nigerians are really suffering. Forget the smiling faces you see on the streets; the many cars on the road and the gaily-dressed number you behold every day. Most are make-believe, and many more are just operating on the edge of the cliff.
People are losing their jobs by the day, many families are living precariously and hopelessly. In Nigeria of today there are many homes that depend on the goodwill of others to get by, every day. Many men are no longer men in their homes because their financial circumstance has taken away their responsibility and given it to their wives. And some things must go with that, one of which is the loss of the men’s authority and influence over their homes. The wives, expectedly, now call the shots and the children are rebelling. Normally, what can effectively emasculate a man is not necessarily that his wife is not submissive or that his children are wayward. No. It is when he loses his capability to provide for his family.
Businesses are not looking up. Many Nigerians, men and women, wake up in the morning and go back to bed. They have nowhere to go to – no office to go to or business to chase. Even those who are lucky enough to have an income are also caught in the centre of the arc, in the sense that, for every one of such persons, there is a legion of dependants. So, it comes down to the illogic of six and half-a-dozen.
The times are indeed dire and taxing, and discontent is palpable. It is in the recesses of millions of homes as much as it is on all the streets across the country. But I don’t want to believe that the government is not trying to make a dent, at least. Problem is that Nigerians are not seeing it and they are not feeling the result. Rather, our condition keeps getting darker and prospects grimmer. Perhaps, our president should be talking to us. Ok, he doesn’t talk much, even to talk at all is big work, we know. He is a very private person, most times a taciturn of the Buddhist type. That is no crime. Nigerians want to hear directly from him, what it is that he is doing. It will make a difference.
Many people in government are talking and they are not talking from a point. Sometimes they contradict one another, the other times they talk most tentatively. It does seem that people in government are just running around frenzied, bumping on one another – as they say, ‘busy doing nothing,’ or ‘motion without movement’. Let our president talk to us. Let him tell us exactly what he is doing to get us out of this bind. This suffering is too much. In the season of discontent, we need the soothing, assuring voice of our president to summon us to rise above ourselves without his usual contemptuous, dismissive air.