This piece was originally published in this column on December 9, 2011. Almost three years later, the prediction on the political appointment of Mrs. Roli Bode George contained therein has come to pass. It is being republished unmodified for that reason.
Aso Rock Villa. Living Room of the President’s private residence. Israeli, American, French, Chinese, Cambodian, Somalian, Sudanese, and Ghanaian security operatives protecting the Nigerian president are in the background. They try to make themselves unobtrusive. Also in the background, chanting Quranic hymns on mats imported from Chad, are marabouts from Niger, Senegal, and Gambia. At the centre of the living room, some distance away from all the foreign intelligence and spiritual protectors of the President, the usual suspects gather, wearing gloomy faces: President Goodluck Jonathan, Chief Tony Anenih, Baba Iyabo, Ayo Oritsejafor, Mohammed Adoke, Doyin Okupe, Reuben Abati, and other inconsequential AGIPs. Nobody is talking. Soft music oozes from a central entertainment system. An old school Yoruba tune probably supplied by Doyin Okupe and Reuben Abati:
Olowo ni mo ba se mi o b’otosi se
Olowo ni mo ba se mi o b’otosi se
Ti mo ba bu otosi lana to d’olowo l’oni
Ma fi ogbon fa mora o jare
Oun to ba wu yin e fi enu yin so
Olowo ni mo ba se mi o b’otosi se
The rich man is my kinsman, not the poor man
The rich man is my kinsman, not the poor man
If I abuse a poor man yesterday and he becomes a rich man today
I will use ruse and cunning to make him my kinsman
Call me a hypocrite if you will
The rich man is my kinsman, not the poor man
Baba Iyabo finally breaks the ice
“Baba, stop rubbing it in now.”
“Ebele, why won’t I rub it in? Did I not warn you to handle that mad Kano prince carefully? Now see yawa! See potential wahala!”
“Well, Baba, I did some damage control yesterday.”
“Damage control? What exactly did you do, Pastor Ayo? Did you promise free tuition for all indigenes of Kano in your brand new private University?”
“Haba, Baba, do you offer anybody education for free at Bells University? We are all into that business for money. What I did was to immediately offer condolences to the people of Kano on behalf of CAN. Everybody knows that under my leadership, a message coming from CAN comes from the President and our great party, PDP. They will understand that the President and PDP are soft pedalling. A week after the Emir’s burial, I will lead a CAN delegation to Kano to greet all the Islamic religious leaders there. We shall eat with them and even attend a Jumat service and preach religious harmony.”
“Pastor, these are nice moves but may I come in here?”
“Yes, Baba Fix It, you may come in sir.”
“Thank you. Have we considered whether we may be able to just forego Kano altogether?”
“Em, Baba Fix It sir…”
“With all due respect sir, I think age is beginning to unfix you. How can we possibly do without Kano? We know that Lagos will never be within reach, no matter the billions we give to Bode George and Obanikoro. We have to be realistic. We will never get Lagos. That makes Kano the next biggest swing state. We cannot lose Lagos and lose Kano o. We must get Kano at all costs.”
“Yes, your Excellency, Mr. President”
“I am the President. This is the most powerful presidency in the world. Are you all saying that we cannot, you know? Baba Iyabo, isn’t that what you would have done when you were in office?”
“You mean buy off the Kano kingmakers to prevent them from choosing the loose cannon prince and finish off Kwankwaso with the EFCC?”
“Yes, Baba Iyabo, that is what I mean.”
“Well, this is already halfway into 2014. We are talking February 2015 here. You don’t have enough time for such moves. We won’t be able to create enough diversion for Nigerians. Besides, this mumu you put in charge of the EFCC is only good at running after groundnut and guguru sellers. He is not the type you can train upon heavyweight corrupt politicians. I am surprised that the EFCC under him has not started going after secondary school students who cheat in NECO and JAMB.”
“Baba Iyabo, may I come in sir?”
“Reuben, you want to come in? Even Reuben too has opinions of his own these days? I thought you were just here to agree with everything we say as usual. Okay, you may come in.”
“Thank you, Baba. What I have is not even really an opinion. I just wanted to ask if we are not jumping the gun. The Emir dies yesterday and we call a crisis meeting today as if we are already sure that the troublesome prince would be next the Emir…”
Yes, your Excellency Mr. President…”
“Baba was right. We should never have allowed you to talk. You never have any brilliant thing to say. Who in this world does not know that Kwakwanso would move mountains and do everything possible to ensure the emergence of that rude prince so that the two of them could forge an alliance to put Kano beyond me in 2015?”
“Mr. President Sir.”
“Yes, my able Attorney General”
“It seems to me, sir, that what we are all saying is that we now have a real problem. The Kano prince is now a fish bone stuck in our throats”
“He is worse than a fish bone in our throats o. If that boy becomes Emir, he becomes a mosquito on Mr. President’s scrotum. Crush a mosquito on the scrotum and you may crush the two landlords therein. We are in a real jam.”
“Yes Mr President sir”
“Have you been waiting your whole life for an opportunity to talk about my scrotum and my balls? Attorney General, you should apply our anti-gay laws and jail this man for fifteen years for talking openly about another man’s scrotum.”
“Ah, mo gbe! Your Excellency sir, I didn’t mean it that way sir. I beg you with my father’s head. I beg you with my mother’s head. I didn’t mean it as an insult. Baba Iyabo, are you looking at me? Please help me beg Mr. President.”
“Ok, apology accepted. Attorney General, what did you have in mind before you were rudely interrupted by Doyin?”
“Thank you, Mr. President. Well, looks like we have no choice but to start cozying up to the Prince. He has a few more cases in court against you sir. We could start by talking to the judges in charge and arrange for the Presidency to lose those cases. You know the prince and his huge ego. Winning or losing a court case has zero consequence for the Presidency anyway. We can just ignore the ruling against you as usual.”
“That seems a good preliminary step. What else?”
“Then we can get Doyin and Reuben here to start saying nice things about the prince on Facebook and twitter. What is the name of that boy who works here? I mean the boy who forged documents here in the Presidency to implicate the Prince in Boko Haram”
“Yes, Mr. President, Pastor Renoks has to go. The Presidency has only just been made aware of the incident. You ordered an investigation and Pastor Renoks was found guilty. You gulaked him with immediate effect as your administration would never allow the hard-earned reputation of an illustrious Nigerian like the Prince of Kano to be tarnished. In fact, Pastor Renoks had been an APC plant in the Presidency all along and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
“I have to agree with you Mr. President. The strategy suggested by our Attorney General is brilliant! I couldn’t have done better as Mr. Fix It. But there are other things we must do o.”
“Yes Mr. Fix It. Shoot.”
“Well, those chameleonic conflicting figures of his – we must find a way to accept that the figures he said were missing are missing. Whether it is $10 billion, $15billion, $20billion, $40 billion, everything he said was missing is now indeed missing.”
“But the Senate already…”
“Ah, Mr. President, the Senate? You make me laugh sir. Forget those ones. They have no integrity. Find them something sir and they will call a press conference today and sing a different tune. I will personally go and see David Mark after this meeting.”
“Good, Mr Fix It, what else?”
“Well, I don’t know how you will take this, given your great reluctance to move against women working under you sir. But at least one of the two must go in order to properly placate this dangerous Kano prince.”
“Haba, Mr. President. Madam World Bank and Madam Private Jets. One of them has to go. They are not as important as your getting Kano in 2015.”
“Which of them has the most scandals?”
“Haba, Mr. President, it is obvious now.”
“Yes, Mr President.”
“Fire her on Twitter. The President now realizes that she poses a real threat to democracy and the transformation agenda by continuously thumbing her nose at the National Assembly, claiming they cannot summon her. I won’t tolerate my ministers being rude to a very important branch of our nascent democracy. Add a few bla bla bla. The usual.”
“Consider it done, Mr. President.”
“Em, Mr. President”
“Yes, Attorney General”
“The extensive dossier I have built on the prince – his finances, the contracts he awarded, etc – will also have to go into the cooler for now. You know we were planning to prosecute and jail him.”
“Yes, keep them in the cooler but don’t destroy them. He may get to that throne and continue to shoot his mouth recklessly in which case we leak them. Do you think he will play ball and deliver Kano if we placate him with all these measures?”
“He will, Mr. President. This is Nigeria. Nigerians are expendable. Our class interests across tribe and tongue are the only permanent things in this country. He understands it, we understand it.”
“Ehen, this is what I want to hear! Oya, pump up the volume. Let’s eat, drink, and be merry!”
This keynote lecture was initially delivered as part of the opening session plenary addresses at the Fourth Annual African Renaissance for Unity Conference convened by the Africa Institute of South Africa and The Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute, Pretoria, South Africa, on May 22, 2014. A modified version of it was subsequently delivered as my valedictory lecture at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, on May 29, 2014, in conclusion of my tenure as a Carnegie Diaspora Visiting Scholar. I wish to thank Professor Tade Aina, Dr Nduka Otiono, Dr Amatoritsero Ede, and Mrs Bamidele Ademola-Olateju for critique and input as I worked on various drafts.
Your Excellency President Thabo Mbeki, organizers, sponsors and co-sponsors of this conference, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, you must forgive me for the peculiar title of this lecture. It is true that the organizers of this timely conference gave me an unambiguous mandate about what they wanted me to do: share some reflections with you on the subject of finding African solutions for African problems. Specifically, they wanted me to engage the subject from the perspective of culture. Let me state from the onset that the singular, culture, is not my making. That is how it appears in my letter of invitation. Coming from a disciplinary background where the producer of knowledge must constantly watch out for traffic cops eager to hand out tickets for the offences of monolithization and essentialism, I probably wouldn’t have dared to speak of an African culture in the singular purporting to solve African problems in the plural.
However, not even the most audacious enforcers in all the humanistic and artistic disciplines with which we engage Africa would dare to hand out a traffic ticket to the scholar who drags the hashtag into the arena of serious scholarly reflection on the unending dilemmas of the African condition in the 21st century. These, indeed, are great times to be a hashtag. In my second life, I’d prefer to come back not as a bird or a flower as is the wont of nature lovers but as the world’s most recognizable symbol, the hashtag, previously only known to Americans and the English as the pound key on their phones but catapulted to planetary celebrity status in a little under a decade by Twitter. The hashtag is the only subject that can legitimately claim to be more famous than Kimye – that conjugal combination of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.
Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to describe the hashtag as the highest stage of globalization, what with its ability to go viral within seconds, crisscross geographical borders and ideological boundaries, connect cultures and peoples in defiance of difference, break down walls between causes and create a common village square for actors as far apart as gay rights activists of the global north and anti-gay cultural fundamentalists of the global south in Nigeria and Uganda, animal rights activists in Scandinavia and the whale and shark hunters of Japan, gender rights activists in the global north and the bearded guys preventing women from driving in parts of the Arab world. Every time I reflect on this singular capacity of the hashtag to unite the world’s largest community of strange bedfellows, I am almost always tempted to conclude that more than three decades of intense theorizing in the humanities and the social sciences have been reduced into a tiny symbol.
The intellection which yielded world systems theory, globalization, and everything in between, and gave us illustrious cross-disciplinary thinkers of global flows, fluxes, and linkages such as Achille Mbembe, Mahmood Mamdani, Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, Adebayo Olukoshi, Thandika Mkandawire, Ato Quayson, Immanuel Wallerstein, Frederic Jameson, Edward Said, Arjun Appadurai, Gloria Anzaldua, and so many usual suspects in the arena of contemporary global thought now all boils down to the performative power of just one symbol: the hashtag. For the hashtag is world system, borderlessness, and globalization on steroids.
Some of you are already probably thinking that you know the reason why a Nigerian public intellectual would start an exercise such as this by singing the praise of the hashtag. Folks, don’t blame me. My country, already a famous subject of all kinds of fair and unfair stereotyping here in Africa and the rest of the world, has seen her notoriety attain stratospheric heights courtesy of the hashtag. Doubtless some of you have already participated in what may now rightfully be termed a global hashtag movement. Perhaps some of you will take selfies in the course of this conference, brandishing a cardboard on which you would have inscribed the reigning marker of collective global activism: #BringBackOurGirls.
The phenomenal career of this particular hashtag – #BringBackOurGirls – has very obvious theoretical implications for those who have been thinking and theorizing the borderlessness of our postcolonial and postmodern world and the modes of Africa’s insertion into it in the last three decades or so. But, more importantly, this conference will have to zoom in on the possessive adjective, “our”, map its trajectory and modes of articulation, listen intently to its politics in order to determine who is speaking – or more appropriately, who has acquired the agency to speak – every time you encounter this celebrity hashtag.
In essence, this conference must ask the question: who is the “our” in #BringBackOurGirls? I don’t know the answer but how you, esteemed colleagues, answer this thorny question will have very serious implications for the aims and goals of our gathering. For when I saw the theme of our conference, “African Solutions for African Problems”, and the rider stating that more than a hundred scholars from Africa, Europe, and North America would gather here to find “African Solutions” to whatever we eventually agree – or agree to disagree – are “African Problems”, my mind immediately went to #BringBackOurGirls (and even the Joseph Kony campaign before it) and I asked: who owns the problem? Or, more appropriately, when was the last time Africa possessed the critical agency to own problems that are defined and narrativized as African? What are the possibilities of localizing the ownership of problems in the age of the hashtag? To make the inevitable allusion to Gayatri Spivak, can the subaltern own her problems?
Some of you may have noticed that no sooner had the #BringBackOurGirls handle gone viral than conflict over its origin and ownership arose, with CNN and the Wall Street Journal devoting time and space to clearing the air. And this war over ownership and narrative raged even as the girls were still in captivity. Who started it? Is it an offshoot of President Goodluck Jonathan’s bring back the book campaign? Or is it more directly linked to Wole Soyinka’s variation – with acknowledgment – on that presidential buzz with his own bring back the pupils retort? Or is it Oby Ezekwesili’s making? Or is it the making of the American woman who immediately claimed ownership of it and rushed to edit her Wikipedia biography to include ownership of #BringBackOurGirls?
In the context of the politics – for there is always politics involved – of owning problems that are defined as African, it does seem to me that the advent of the hashtag and social media has introduced the dimension of separating the localized reality of problems from their modes of articulation, representation, and, I daresay, marketing. It seems to me that Africa is being told: you may own the scrawny children with countable ribs and mucus-soaked nostrils studying under baobab trees with chalkboards donated by UNICEF, we reserve the right to adopt those malnourished children with full media fanfare and scold you if you grumble – even if you are the President of a country like Malawi; you may own the lives and limbs being blown up in Kenya, in Congo, in Mali, and in the ungoverned Boko Haram Territories of Nigeria, we own the glamour, glitz, and razzmatazz attendant upon the global dissemination and narrativization of those horrors.
This leads me to a second set of questions that must detain this conference. You may have noticed that I have been using the passive voice when talking about “African problems”. In fact, I have avoided that particular phraseology employed by the conveners of the conference. Instead, I have been talking about “problems that are defined and narrativized as African”. This mode of address is deliberate on my part. Apart from wondering whether Africa has the agency to own problems and their modes of articulation, the theme of this conference also made me wonder if we didn’t need to problematize the problems before finding African solutions for them. Perhaps my unease is further heightened by the suspicion that a certain neoliberal sleight of the hand underwrites the expression, “African Problems”. I believe the ability to smell neoliberal modes of framing, of naming, of engaging the actualities of Africa from a thousand miles come with the territory of what we do as the thinkers and writers of this continent. Hence, we must ask: what exactly are these African problems? How do problems acquire African citizenship? Who does the designation? When is an African problem?
For anybody familiar with the usual laundry list, these questions may appear to be no brainers. African problems? Oh, that’s poverty, illiteracy, disease, hunger, comatose infrastructure, tribalism, bad governance, wobbly democracy and allied problems of leadership, crises and conflict, corruption, environmental degradation, the familiar tableau of human misery associated with the girl child , human trafficking and, above all, the failures of the postcolonial state – some would say her complete demission. This is by no means an exhaustive list of problems that have acquired African citizenship in global imaginaries of discourse. Each participant in this conference could draw up his or her own list but I am sure we would have considerable overlaps. Consider, for instance, Professor Joseph Ki-Zerbo’s list and see how close it is to mine:
“raging genocides, mass movements of refugees, tortures and mutilations, random destruction of the environment and bio-diversity, hostage-taking of the young generation as cannon fodder for warlords, the decimation of whole populations by pandemics, the stranglehold of the republican army, the giving away and eradication of age-old cultures and distinct knowledge.”
Professor Ki-Zerbo’s list of the pressing challenges of the continent obviously devolves from the register of wars, conflict, and crises. It is easy to run through the said list and think of Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Congo, and all the ongoing hotspots in the continent – if one wasn’t in the mood for immediate past spectres of bloodletting in Rwanda, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. However, if you leave out any geographical referents, it is also quite possible for observers in other parts of the global south to run through this generic list of problems that has acquired the tag, African, and assume that one was describing those places and spaces. What is there in my own list, for instance, that is not part of the politics of everyday life in significant parts of Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Arab World?
Consider poverty. You’ll be amazed by how comparable the indicators and the statistics are if you looked at, say, the situation in Peru, Honduras, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, the very black deep south of the USA, the First Nations reservations of Canada, and Cameroon. Yet, only Africa becomes a synonym for these problems. The same applies to infrastructure. I’ve been reading that decrepit infrastructure is going to be one of the major headaches of the new Indian Prime Minister. The New York Times recently framed this problem, drawing on the capacity of Indians for self-deprecating humour. Indians, the newspaper claims, have a saying that while the English drive on the left of the road, Indians drive on what’s left of the road. Booker Prize winner and activist, Arundhati Roy, also paints a grave picture of poverty and infrastructure in India in a post-election interview. Yet, that part of the register of underdevelopment that deals with dilapidated infrastructure is also almost always framed as an African problem.
These scenarios lead to some pressing questions. Do problems and human tragedies which also exist elsewhere become African because of perceived differences of spread and intensity? Do these problems become African because of imagined or real differences in the readiness of the institutions and opportunities of African modernity to rise up and solve them using critical human intelligence and innovation? Are these problems African because the websites of global actors in what I have previously theorized as the Mercy Industrial Complex (donor agencies, humanitarian organizations, aid and charity organizations, Bono, Jeffrey Sachs, career saviours of African children through adoption such as Madonna) almost always label them as African? More questions: do these problems become African because the continent is powerless against the modes of representation so powerfully captured by Binyavanga Wainaina in his classic piece, “How to Write about Africa”? There is even a latest variation of this problem of discursive and epistemological violence. I am told that there are particular ways to design the cover of the African novel, the African book, if you are a serious publisher looking for serious buyers of books about Africa in the global north.
The acknowledgement by the organizers of this conference that culture has a role to play in finding African solutions for African problems is perhaps a conscious admission on their part that despite contemporary pressures to the contrary, history has a huge role to play in solving many of the said problems. To solve a problem is to understand it in all its manifestations and ramifications and this includes its origins and modes of perpetuation. Yet, mentioning the colonial origin of many of the afflictions of the continent has become unfashionable in many of our disciplines. In my own discipline, it is taboo and could earn you a citation by the essentialism police.
As if Latin American thinkers like Anibal Quijano and Walter Mignolo never theorized coloniality (the persistence in our present of the fault lines and effects of colonialism), you are told that the recourse to colonial paradigms to explain the benumbing dilemmas of the African present amounts to disciplinary laziness and an attempt to excuse, rationalize, or justify the self-imposed woes and tragedies of Africa. Yet, how could Mahmood Mamdani have explained Rwanda without going back to the colonial origins of the problem? How can I explain Boko Haram, how can I propose solutions to Boko Haram, without going back to 1914 in order to understand and map the errors of the rendering that have inevitably produced this gory Nigerian present? The search for more than 200 school girls is only the latest stop in a journey programmed for tragedy and disaster by Lord Frederick Lugard in 1914. The Igbo genocide and the attendant civil war are also significant stops in that journey.
To recall Chinua Achebe, how do you begin the process of drying yourself when you are told that it is no longer fashionable to try and understand when, where, and why the rain began to beat you? How do you solve a problem when you are told that the ordained discursive procedure is to acknowledge and focus on your own contribution in making the rain that is beating you today and leave well enough alone with regard to yesterday’s rain made by foreign rainmakers? Do these two epistemological propositions have to be mutually exclusive?
If history helps us to understand the origins and trajectory of many of the problems blighting the African present, culture is what explains why the problems became African or why outsiders of the neoliberal bent have been able to attach a fixed African identity to problems that are transcendentally human, even where we make allowances for differences of intensity. Culture is the location of the original injury of modernity. Culture was the first target of the discourses and the institutions of modernity at the moment of encounter. Many of the problems that Africa still has with the orders and institutions of modernity – democracy, governance, corruption, etc – devolve from the unresolved contradictions of the original injury of modernity.
Let us not forget that modernity was imposed on the African largely through institutions of discipline and punish, to borrow from Michel Foucault. The prison, the Christian mission, and the school did not stop at inflicting corporal punishment on the “African native” while scrupulously pursuing the civilizing mission, they equally all had very specific ideas about the cultures and worldviews of the African that we do not need to repeat here. If we need any reminder about this discipline and punish approach to the introduction of the structures of modernity in Africa, we need not look beyond the workings of the said institutions in Ferdinand Oyono’s famous novel, Houseboy.
Thus, the African was culturally alienated from the institutions, protocols, and orders of modernity from the very start. This cultural alienation explains in large part the apathy to institutions, especially public institutions, in the continent. Institutions of modernity evolved as alienating structures of discipline and punish under colonialism and have retained that identity in the postcolonial phase of African life. The postcolonial state has failed woefully in detaching itself and its institutions from the colonial socius of violence that birthed it.
Hence corruption! Hence the impunity with which the public till is plundered in so many African states, especially in my own Nigeria. As Kwame Gyekye reminds us in his book, Philosophy, Culture, and Vision, the cultural relationship of the African subject to his precolonial cultural and political community conduced to a collective ownership of institutions and modes of cultural citizenship which enhanced the notion of the common good. The communal stream, communal farm lands, communal institutions of governance and public order, were not just in sync with the psychic world of the African subject, you took care of them because they commanded your loyalty and were not structures of violence and alienation.
Here then is the dilemma. Precolonial institutions, with all their warts and weaknesses, worked to a great extent and corruption was minimal – and punished adequately whenever it occurred – because those institutions acquired legitimacy and hegemony (as opposed to exercising only dominance and violence) through an historically developed sense of collective ownership. Postcolonial institutions have trouble working or functioning properly in Africa because they are orphans. Everybody steals from them; everybody leaves them to rot precisely because nobody owns them. The precolonial cultural attitudes of ownership of institutions and the collective good were never carried over because the new institutions destroyed or looked down upon the cultural values and worldviews that would have aided their insertion into the African space and psyche. These are contradictions that the modern African state is yet to resolve. She still hasn’t been able to sell herself culturally to the African.
The story is told – and it is a true story – of the late Alhaji Barkin Zuwo, a Governor of Kano state during the Second Republic in Nigeria which lasted from 1979-1983. The task of making the daily trip to the public treasury to steal money became too cumbersome for this Governor. To solve the problem, he introduced the practice of home delivery of stolen public funds into the lexicon of corruption in Nigeria. He simply had raw cash delivered to him in large quantities in his official residence which we call Government House in Nigeria. When the coup happened in 1983 and soldiers stormed Government House to arrest him, they were astounded by the quantity of raw cash they found in his bedroom. When queried, Barkin Zuwo famously quipped: “Government money in Government House, what is the problem?” This sums up the story of the African subject’s conceptualization of the institutions of the postcolonial state. Would Alhaji Barkin Zuwo have had the same attitude to public office and to public property in the precolonial Emirate of Kano? Your guess, ladies and gentlemen, is as good as mine.
Like corruption and institutions, most of the problems and challenges that postcolonial Africa has encountered in the arena of democracy and governance can be explained on the ground of our radical departure from the economic and political cultures of precolonial Africa. All over the continent today, the state and her economy are hyper-centralized because they were carried over unmodified from the hyper-centralization of the political and economic structures of the colonial state. We are all familiar with the consequences of the hyper-centralization of political and economic power at the centre all over the continent. It foreclosed the possibility of good governance and genuine democracy and facilitated the emergence of authoritarianism, supervised by the big man and his cronies.
Because the big man’s cronies are almost always from his ethnic neck of the woods, tribalism enters the picture as the handmaiden of political and economic hyper-centralization. This has particularly been the case in much of Francophone Africa’s postcolonial history, a period bloodied by the Father of the Nation and his single party monolithism. This spectre of hyper-centralized authoritarianism haunted the Francophone African novel of the 1970s and the 1980s with novelists like Alioum Fantoure, Williams Sassine, Henri Lopes, Aminata Sow Fall, and Sony Labou Tansi leading the guard in the production of dictatorship novels. Wole Soyinka would respond in Anglophone Africa with A Play of Giants.
What sort of political and economic cultures did Africa evolve before the moment of colonial truncation? The case of the Igbo in eastern Nigeria is too well known to bear repeating here. Those of you who don’t know Igbo republicanism in real life have encountered it in the political life of the six villages making up Umuaro in Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God. Gyekye has also explored what he describes as “consensual democracy” among the Ashanti and other ethnic groups in precolonial Ghana. I will therefore illustrate this part of my submissions with the precolonial political and economic cultures of my own people: the Okun people in the present Kogi state in Nigeria. Okun land is made up of a number of major towns around which gravitated hamlets and villages. Some of the major towns include Kabba, Mopa, Egbe, and my own Isanlu. Although the major traditional ruling stool was located in Isanlu, all the satellite villages and hamlets also had their own stools which related in a traditional confederal fashion with the central stool in Isanlu.
Complementing this political confederacy was the fact that all the villages were economically autonomous and had their own independent markets and other economic structures. Colonialism destroyed this intricately decentralized political and economic culture and replaced it with the model with which we are all familiar. The postcolonial state completed the rout of Okun political and economic confederacy. Isanlu and all the adjoining villages and hamlets now had to start looking up to the local government, the state government, and the Federal government in that order. I don’t believe that we need to rehash the consequences of the collapse of the culture of confederacy and consensual democracy in Nigeria and elsewhere around the continent.
What needs to detain us here is the price that the continent continues to pay by stubbornly holding on to the machineries and institutions of political and economic centralization inherited from the colonial state instead of retracing her steps back to the precolonial cultural template in order to adapt, modify, and modernize it for contemporary usage. The first and perhaps most significant casualty of political and economic centralization is African innovation. The contest for resources at the centre has stunted African innovation because we have evolved a culture in which an entire nation is fixated on just that one source of prebendal patronage. A rapacious political elite very often enlists the help of a confused intellectual class to think and theorize programs aimed at the consolidation of the current arrangement. For instance, Nigeria’s erstwhile military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida, was notorious for his generous use of Professors to theorize and legitimize his policies.
Yet, recent developments in the continent point to the continued relevance of culture to any idea of renaissance and innovation. It is no longer a secret that Nigeria recently rebased her economy and announced her new status as the Africa’s largest economy, a distinction which promptly earned her the hosting rights for the recently-concluded World Economic Forum Africa (WEFA). I am a man with an ear to the ground here in South Africa so I was made to understand that the news of being overtaken by Nigeria – with her pre-medieval infrastructure and epileptic power supply – was considered a huge joke in this country. I am told that you received that news like a rude slap in the face. You are not alone. Those of us who are consistent critics of the Nigerian establishment also took the same tack. However, reality is reality: Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and culture played a significant role in the attainment of that feat.
What went into Nigeria’s rebased economy were the IT revolution and the cultural innovation represented by Nollywood and the Nigerian music industry. Just two decades ago, in the 1980s and 1990s, the party scene, the dance floor scene, in this continent was dominated by American rap and R & B. On University campuses all over the continent, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, R Kelly, 112, Next, Changing Faces, Joe, and Boyz II Men reigned supreme. I particularly liked rocking in the nightclubs to the tune of 112’s “Only You”. Some of you may remember the lyrics. Sing along with me if you do:
Ohhhh I, need to know, where we stand
Do we share this special thing called love *
I know I do, what about you
I just can’t get enough of your love *
I need you in my life
Where do we go, what do I do
I can’t live without your love
Thinkin of you * makes me feel
Like I’m the only one for you
And how about this one from Boyz II Men? I am sure you still remember? Let me hear you:
Although we’ve come to the end of the road
Still I can’t let you go
It’s unnatural, you belong to me, I belong to you
Come to the End of the Road
Still I can’t let you go
It’s unnatural, you belong to me, I belong to you
These are great memories of the ancient times of the 1990s on the dance floors of Africa. Today, there has been a cultural revolution on dance floors and party halls across Africa. Whether you are in Belle Aroma night club where I unwind most weekends in Accra or you are checking out Lagos, Nairobi, Kampala, Monrovia, or Cotonou by night, the new cultural gospel is called azonto, skelewu, eminado, and dorobucci. Let me treat you to a youtube clip of dorobucci so you can have a taste of what we are talking about. Ladies and gentlemen, these Anglophone African musical styles, along with Francophone African offerings such as “couper decaler”, “mapouka”, and “sagacite”, have checkmated American musical imperialism on the African dance floor. And this cultural revolution has had such a seismic consequence in the arena of political economy that Nigeria quite almost literally danced her way to the top spot as Africa’s largest economy. I guess you can tell from my familiarity with the latest grooves from the nightclubs of the capital cities of the continent that some of us are deconstructing and funkifying the image of the Professor.
There are two lessons to be drawn from these scenarios. Culture is where Africa was written out of modernity; culture is where her development, genius, and innovative spirit were discounted. Culture is where her path to self- recovery is located. Cultural innovation is where Nigeria came into its own as Africa’s largest economy and also joined Mexico, Indonesia, and Turkey in the MINT economies. Nigeria has no infrastructure fit for the 19th century, she can hardly generate a week’s supply of electricity, and corruption is stratospheric. Yet, cultural innovation intervened and saved Nigeria’s behind when it mattered most.
Secondly, you are nothing if you cannot even own and narrate your own problems. You are nothingif you are a fringe player in the global theatre of naming and ascription. Those who name your problems for you will prescribe neoliberal solutions that fly in the face of your realities. As we have seen, the instruments for a global narrativizing of what constitutes African problems are cultural: social media – that is, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linked-in, Myspace etcetera; and, of course, print and broadcast media.. Problems are essentially African and not human problems because global culture names them so. It does not mean that Africa does not have and suffer disproportionally from the said problems.
However, losing the means to own, narrativize, and engage your problems on your own terms is a double jeopardy. I am also not proposing Africa’s isolation from the arena of bilateral and multilateral solutions to problems in this age of globalization and inter-dependence. Solutions would be skewed if problems are owned, narrativized, and skewed on your behalf. It is only through a conscious ‘re-basing’ of culture, that is, a re-creation and owning of culture in the 21st century that Africa will be able to identify, name, and engage her own problems on her own terms.
Sometimes when an op-ed touches a raw nerve and enjoys wide circulation in Cyberia, there’s the one reader who bypasses known public channels of communicating with me, invites himself into my gmail inbox, and insists on not leaving till he gets an answer to a particular query. This type of reader comes to your inbox with his own chair in case you are thinking of not inviting him to sit down. Sometimes, I answer the query behind the back of the public. Where the query is of public interest, I answer the question here on Facebook or in my column.
I’ve had one such gmail visitor since my treatise on northern elders went public. My gmail visitor is a very polite gentleman who claims to be from Zamfara state. His query: do we still have common purpose in seeing Goodluck Jonathan out of Aso Rock in 2015? More on his “we” later. He has very nice things to say about my op-ed. He says there are many places in the north where the things I said about northern elders are now discussed in hushed tones by members of his generation. I assume he is generation selfie: thirty-years-old and below. Again, his question: do we still have common purpose in sending Goodluck Jonathan out of Aso Rock and taking power back to the north in 2015 in the interest of justice and fairness?
There is a lot to digest here. The anti-Jonathan camp is huge in Cyberia and cuts across every geo-political zone in the country. Even the international community has finally begun to see what we have all been screaming about, judging from the near unanimous verdict of the headlines of their major media and the talking points of all their key figures all the way up to Hillary Clinton. They now see the cluelessness, the incompetence, and the callousness we have been talking about. Those who are savvy in reading their signals and messages would have noticed the choreographed nature of it, from Washington to London to Paris. It simply means that The White House, 10 Downing Street, and The Elysee have reached a conclusion about Goodluck Jonathan based on the reasons we have been screaming and writing about since 2011.
But beyond this unity of purpose in seeing Goodluck Jonathan go in 2015 lies a parting of ways on the definition of justice and fairness. There are certain assumptions on the part of many in the northern brigade of the anti-Jonathan camp in Cyberia that must now be addressed. When our friend in Zamfara talks about a “we” united in the desire to free Nigeria from the incompetence of Dr Jonathan in 2015, the vision of that “we” must now be scrutinized. In essence, when Pius Adebola Adesanmi and Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai say that “we” want Jonathan out in 2015, are they saying the same thing? Are they in perfect consonance? When my friend from Zamfara and Dapo Rotifa, Agbaosi Sevezun Gloria, Petra Akinti Onyegbule, Yommi Oni say that “we” want Goodluck Jonathan back in Otuoke in 2015, are they saying the same thing?
No, there are two different sets of “we” saying opposite things here. The “we” of El-Rufai and my new friend from Zamfara have an understanding of justice and fairness that must see power return to their own corner in 2015 – a corner still massively overdetermined by a bunch of cruel, wicked, greedy, and patently anti-north northern elders. These northern elders are anti-north because the regain of federal power in 2015 translates to only one thing for them: renewed access to oil blocs and licences, renewed access to juicy federal contracts fed by oil revenue, renewed access to juicy federal appointments fed by oil revenue. The common northerner is not and has never been in their calculation. Outside of their narrow interests, polio, VVF, illiteracy, and backwardness can continue to ravage the north for all they care. The north of today, home to some of the world’s worst statistics in poverty and underdevelopment, is a product of their over three decades of chokehold on the Presidency.
The second set of “we” is saying something totally different. Take my own case for instance. I have explained things privately to my new friend from Zamfara. I am sorry he ever assumed that my own definition of justice and fairness is for Jonathan to leave in 2015 and for power to return to the north – in the hands of the northern elders I describe above. I am not responsible for his erroneous assumptions sha. If I am saying that Jonathan needs to go in 2015 for all the reasons I’ve been writing about, have I told you that I am tired of a south-south presidency? I am saying that the south-south cannot tell me that the clueless, incompetent, uninspiring, and wholly corrupt Goodluck Jonathan is the best they’ve got to fill that slot. Have I told you that I am not interested in a Donald Duke presidency? Have I told you that I don’t have a wishlist of bright, smart, and inspiring compatriots from the south-south? The only obstacle to my wish is APC – she will never do the needful, the revolutionary, by fielding a fantastic south-south candidate with Kwankwaso or Ribadu serving as running mate.
And when the south-south is done in 2019, have I told you that my understanding of justice and fairness will involve a shift of the presidency to the north? Have I told you that I am not interested in an Oby Ezekwesili or a Sam Amadi or a Chidi Odinkalu presidency for eight years after the slot of the south-south? That many Igbos are deceiving themselves that they are having “their turn” now with Goodluck Jonathan does not mean we should accept that logic. Ebele Azikiwe is Ijaw from the south-south, not Igbo from the southeast. We should sympathize with the Igbo who are “enjoying their turn” through him. It is evidence of the psychological violence visited on them by this country. That you have been so thoroughly worsted that you are willing to agree that an Ijaw south-southerner is filling your slot by default is evidence of the colossal injustice and unfairness that is Nigeria. So, my own sense of justice and fairness says that there is a southeast turn after the south-south’s turn.
And when we have gone round this tour of justice and fairness with an Igbo Presidency of eight years, when the presidency truly and genuinely ought to return to the North, will my friend from Zamfara, Nasir El Rufai, and the “northern elders” who are always giving orders on behalf of “the North” agree that a Presidency occupied by northerners such as Sam Nda-Isaiah, Pius Adesanmi or John Danfulani is a fulfillment of the North’s desire to regain the presidency? If they disagree, why?
And while waiting for their turn after the Igbo, northern elders can spend their time gainfully by learning that there is such a thing as life outside of Federal contract patronage and oil bloc distribution. They can apply themselves to a robust vision of an agricultural revolution in the north, bring back cotton and the groundnut pyramids they neglected and destroyed while feeding on oil, and transform the region to the world’s number one supplier of onions and tomatoes. Above all, they can spend their waiting time working with the rest of us on a redesigned, genuinely federal Nigeria in which no region shall need the feeding bottle at the centre. If we do this, they may not even need their do or die battle for the presidency any longer.
Trust them to sneak it in like a Lionel Messi goal. Somehow, somewhere beneath the din of #BringBackOurGirls and the bang of Nyanya II, Ogbeni Usman Bugaje and the usual suspects who love to irritate the rest of us with their insufferable arrogance whenever they assemble under that nebulous umbrella, “northern elders”, announced to the country that Goodluck Jonathan has lost his bearings, has failed in his most solemn responsibility of protecting the lives and property of Nigerians. Therefore, power must return to the North in 2015. Underline that “must”. These guys are not interested in your preferences in a democratic contest. They are not campaigning. They are not interested in selling you a superior vision and a higher idea of Nigeria. They are giving orders. And you, apes, must obey.
Where they stand, the power birthright they reluctantly loaned you must now return to its natural habitat in the North. They gave your leprous selves the handshake of Obasanjo’s eight years, you are now asking for the hug of Jonathan’s eight years. These charitable donors of federal power, of the Presidency of all us, don’t find this funny at all. They want their toy back. Trapped in the good old days of the Kaduna mafia, these guys are some thirty years out of tune, out of sync with the Nigeria of today. They are still barking orders informed by caliphal hubris – the same phenomenon I analyzed in my last treatise on Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Consequently, this column has assigned itself the humanitarian duty of jolting these hubristic clowns, of making them smell the bitter reality of 21st century Nigeria.
The first assignment is for Nasir El Rufai and Nuhu Ribadu. They are cosmopolitan and enlightened but it must be that their words carry no weight in the assembly of these irritating caliphal Luddites who insist on doing business with the rest of Nigeria based on the old model of internal colonialism. Were the words of these two sons of the North – and those in their bracket – to carry any weight, surely, we would have witnessed a more humble approach to the politics of national co-existence by those who purport to speak to the nation as “northern elders”? Evidently, there is very little rubbing off of the ideas and predispositions of this younger generation on their elders.
El Rufai and Ribadu must therefore undertake a mission to take the Nigeria of today to elders who insist on barking orders at Nigeria from yesterday, trapped as they are in the old master-servant model of relating with the rest of us. It is clear that the Bugajes of this world do not know what time of the day it is, what day of the month it is. Those who know, like El Rufai and Ribadu, must translate the word, “antipathy”, to Hausa for these men.
It is obvious that they are unaware of – or grossly underestimate – the degree of national antipathy towards them. The surest way to get Goodluck Jonathan re-elected is for anybody to bark orders at Nigerians under the banner of “northern elders”. For me, Goodluck Jonathan is a complete failure, a tragic nightmare that Nigeria will hopefully start to recover from when we send him back to Otuoke in 2015. That decision, however, collectively belongs to the Nigerian people. Goodluck Jonathan is not going to be fired on the say-so of some arrogant and self-serving northern elders. In fact, the unwelcome voice of these so-called northern elders could make folks who are unsympathetic to Jonathan cast protest votes for him.
I have said it before and it bears repeating: those who deployed nearly forty years of visionlessness and unsurpassable greed to bring Nigeria to her current comatose condition should not be talking when we are talking Nigeria. If they must talk, they must come to national conversations with the humility of wet chicks, mindful of the fact that their colossal failure in decades of stranglehold on the centre is the reason why we are an embarrassment to Africa and the black world today. Besides, if all you’ve got to show for your decades of chokehold on power at the centre are Ibrahim Babangida’s hilltop mansion in Minna, Ali Modu Sheriff’s private jets in Maiduguri, and avoidable cases of polio all over the place, it is the height of schizophrenia for you to jump up, beat your chest, and scream that power must return to you. The cheek of it!
There is also a serious issue that Bugaje and his gang of passé co-travelers are not taking seriously into consideration. Somehow, they must be kidding themselves that the theory of Boko Haram being the handiwork of elements in the northern political elite has no purchase across Nigeria. Whether it is valid or not is of no moment. What is significant is the purchase it has. The narrative that you set up this Frankenstein to make Nigeria ungovernable, show Goodluck Jonathan up as hopelessly incapable of securing Nigeria, is a seductive one that people are buying into. And you have not helped matters by coming out at this inauspicious moment to declare him unfit to rule Nigeria on account of insecurity. Even the greatest doubters of that theory and narrative must have received your recent outing like a blow in the face. People are accusing you of being goat thieves and you show up in the village square playing with baby goats!
So, if you push Goodluck Jonathan out in 2015 because you successfully made Nigeria ungovernable, you are just going to move into Aso Rock and resume feeding that villa from the creeks and we all live happily ever after? The militants in the creeks are just going to let that happen? Let me remind you that the enemies you are making today with your irredeemable arrogance have their own ways of making Nigeria ungovernable if and when your own time comes in 2015. Unlike you, they don’t have to bomb their own people to make a political point. Dokubo Asari and Government Tompolo have a more effective way of bringing you to your knees in a mono-revenue national economy. If you are already dreaming of new and renewed oil blocs, if you are already salivating over gas licences, and sundry allocations after 2015, a rude awakening awaits you.
To make matters worse for you, you never thought that the day would come in Nigeria when the master-servant paradigm would be severely undermined and rendered untenable. You focused your greed entirely on that one feeding bottle in the creeks. You impoverished the North and pauperized Nigeria. You come from a region that could supply the whole of Africa and a significant part of the rest of the world with tomato, onions, cattle, etc. This region by now should be boasting of mega-agro and agro-allied industries developed around tomato and onions. There are orange billionaires in Florida. They grow only oranges. There are potato billionaires in Canada. There are lettuce billionaires. In British Columbia where I did my Ph.D, there are salmon billionaires. Where are the North’s tomato billionaires?
Where are the North’s onion billionaires? No, not one. All your billionaires are rent collectors from oil and other offshoots of oil. Instead of thinking hard and critically about these issues, Usman Bugaje is still talking rubbish about how the oil belongs to all of us. Shame on greedy elders who cannot think of their people and for their people.
Here is an advice: if you do get back your Aso Rock in 2015, you better start thinking of how to feed that Villa with the proceeds of tomato and onions. It is doable if only you have vision and you apply yourselves to a mega agro-industrial revolution for the region. There are provinces in Canada that live only on the mega production of lettuce, cabbage, and cucumber. They don’t rely on Ottawa for anything. And the strategic advantage is yours. Oil is finite. Humanity is accelerating toward other sources of energy. A post-oil world is in the horizon and when that posit-oil moment arrives, we shall be able to tell Dokubo Asari and Tompolo: e nor finish? However, there will not be any talk of a post-tomato or post-onion human civilization any time soon.
If you, northern elders, fail to see these things; if your greed and ambition do not go beyond the envisioning of an Aso Rock that you are going to regain in 2015 and feed with the same old feeding bottle from Dokubo Asari’s backyard, Goodluck to you!
This column is kiss-ing Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala this week. It will in fact be the shortest piece I’ve ever offered on this platform. I know y’all got dirty minds. Don’t worry, it simply means we are keeping it short and simple for Nigeria’s de facto Prime Minister who has programmed herself never to get it.
I was in fact working on a different piece when I stumbled on a Facebook update by Seyi Osiyemi, one of my ‘personal people’ on social media. I decided immediately that his short but powerful update was going to be my guest on this column today. If you are tired of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s data and statistical Boko Haram (i.e. her constant bombardment of the public sphere with rosy data and statistics almost always immediately contradicted by her bosses in Bretton Woods), you need to pay attention to Seyi Osiyemi below. As we say in Naija, nothing to add. Says Osiyemi:
“Until Iya Ramota, the tomato seller at Mile 12 Market, can be guaranteed uninterrupted power supply…any economic statistic indicating that Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa will continue to sound like ‘advanced Greek language’!
Until Sefiu, the vulcanizer at Ajegunle, can turn on his water tap without relying on borehole…any talk of Nigeria being the largest economy cannot be worth more than the paper it is written on!!
Two years ago, I relocated from one of the richest countries in the world to one of the world’s poorest. However, my quality of life has remained the same. I do not own an inverter system, talkless of power generator. If at all there’s a power outage, it’s only for few minutes…..yes, few minutes!
And there’s a call centre I can call to complain about bad service. In fact, I can contact the local power distribution company on social media. I have water running through the tap 24/7…..no boreholes, no water tanker!.. and this is happening right in Uganda and not Oklahoma or Monaco!”
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, shey you hear?
I am not done with Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s post-suspension politics yet. I stated last week that he is poorly served by the combination of his advisers and his personal arrogance and this explains why he has been travelling on the dead-end road of justifying and rationalizing the one area of his service in which his judgment collapsed tragically and completely instead of focusing on the areas in which he is the undisputable owner of the moral high ground.
Instead of disturbing us with insulting rationalizations of his reckless and wasteful intervention funds regime, he should go after the masquerades of authority stealing he exposed and provide public leadership in a sustained crusade to keep that issue on the national front burner until specific culprits are identified and punished to the full extent of the law. Thanks to Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s patriotic but belated whistleblowing, President Jonathan, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Mrs. Diezani Allison and Madueke, and other as yet unidentified heist facilitators in NNPC stand indicted for supervising the greatest heist in the postcolonial history of this country and SLS should not allow them to continue to sleep easy.
The ill-educated yobs who have been all over our national airwaves saying that the said monumental heist should be rolled under the carpet because Sanusi Lamido Sanusi kept throwing out conflicting figures should be ignored and their Stockholm Syndrome attitude to the missing $20 billion – defend the indicted who stole from them, deny that money is missing – should attract only one reaction from us all: contempt.
While fighting on the missing funds front, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi should also consider coming down from his perch on Mount Olympus to do something about Pastor Wendell Simlin alias Reno Omokri alias Special Assistant to President Jonathan on Facebook and Twitter. Apart from reiterating the fact that an ethically-challenged and thoroughly dishonest fellow who brought the institution of the Nigerian Presidency to disrepute by committing such a monumental fraud in her name ought to have been fired a long time ago, we need not rehash the details of the Reno Omokri tragedy. If you missed that news cycle, check it out here on BBC: (http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-26481508).
What needs to detain us here is why the principal target and victim of Reno Omokri’s wickedness and fraud, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, has done absolutely nothing about it when he has limitless resources to dig further than patriot Feyi Fawehinmi and the BBC, assemble evidence, and sue Mr. Omokri. We know from his antecedents that President Jonathan thrives in the company of such fraudulent characters and moves against them with great reluctance and only after sustained public outcry. His presidential instinct is always to wait out public outcry against any of the fraudulent characters around him, assured that the Nigerian public has no staying power over any issue. He moved against Stella Oduah only because the Nigerian public uncharacteristically sustained the outcry in that one instance.
Like his boss, Mr. Omokri’s crisis strategy has been to quietly retire Pastor Wendell Simlin from active public service and wait out the public outcry. Mr. Omokri knows his people. We have since moved on with our lives to other issues. Knowing all of these, why has SLS not moved against such a fraudulent, devious, and vindictive character who was doctoring documents to link him to mass murder? Is there any difference between trying to assassinate you and trying to link you to terrorism and mass murder? Why would a victim of such unspeakable wickedness not lift a finger against somebody who wished him dead? Besides, does it not stand to reason that anybody who successfully sues any of the fraudulent characters in Aso Rock and hurls the ass of such an offender to jail would have performed an invaluable service to the Nigerian people by fumigating that festering space of fraud and corruption called the Nigerian presidency?
I want to submit that the reason SLS has not moved against Pastor Wendell Simlin is not dissociable from the reason he met the President’s initial call for his resignation with rudeness and condescension: caliphal hubris. In his heavily pro-Sanusi essay this week, my good friend, Segun Adeniyi, regretted Sanusi’s insubordination and rudeness to the President but was careful to avoid going into where that attitude to the President – and by extension to Reno Omokri – was coming from. Also, many Nigerians wondered – and still do wonder – why and how SLS could have been so openly rude to the President, looking down on him, thumbing his nose at him, and boasting that he cannot be sacked, almost elevating the office of CBN Governor into a parallel and superior Presidency within the same Republic.
Those Nigerians wonder because they may be aware of the immense power of the Caliphate in its present political ramifications, they are much less aware of that abstraction that I am calling caliphal hubris and how they feature within it. They are not aware of it because not very many of them would have read Chapter 20 of the collected essays of Professor Adiele Afigbo entitled, “In the Shadow of the Caliphate: Culture and the Politics of Structure and Administration in Nigeria.” The caliphal self, we must note, is not to be reduced to the geographical space of the old Sokoto caliphate. It radiates beyond it.
Let’s just say that in the caliphal mental map of Nigeria, the time shall never come when any political or other institutions of civic and secular essence shall not be deemed inferior to the caliphal self. The only relationship that can exist between this caliphal self and the rest of Nigeria is that of the horse and its rider. It is even more frustrating that these master-servant sentiments between you and the rest of Nigeria can no longer be expressed openly – it used to be possible to express such sentiments in the past – but can now only be discussed in hushed tones behind high fences in Kaduna, Kano, and Sokoto. Sometimes, long repressed caliphal hubris bursts out in the inconsequential public noisemaking of Professor Ango Abdullahi and Dr. Junaid Mohammed and they begin to give orders to the rest of the country about who they have decided can and cannot rule Nigeria in 2015.
When you are a scion of caliphal hubris, it must have seemed to you like the end of the world that somebody from the backwaters of Otuoke could purport to have fired a scion of the throne of Kano! Not even if he is President! At any rate, in your mental map, the Nigerian Presidency is inferior to the throne that sired you. The idea of being sacked must have seemed to you like a huge joke. This is the origin of all that rudeness, all that insubordination that Segun Adeniyi identifies. However, sympathy for and kindness to SLS would not let Segun go beyond mentioning the insubordination. Having placed a patriotic finger on the heist, the logical thing to have done, as Pastor Tunde Bakare opined in his essay, was resign and lead a principled fight from the outside. What stood in the way was caliphal hubris. And if somebody looked down on the President, it is not too difficult to imagine that a junior aide like Reno Omokri is way too low to be reckoned with, too small a fly to swat. He is not even a needle in a haystack. He does not exist. The novelist, Amadou Kourouma, would say that he is not worth the fart of a hyena.
In a funny, ironic way then, Mr. Omokri is benefitting from caliphal hubris because his fraud and wickedness have been completely ignored on account of it. Yet, Sanusi and his strategists are wrong to pass on this opportunity to make an example of a fraudulent Presidential aide in a competent court of law. If nothing, by assembling evidence against Mr. Omokri with a view to suing and prosecuting him, they’d be sending a clear message to the President that every opportunity to fumigate the pestilential environment he has created around himself Aso Rock shall be seized and exploited to the full by the Nigerian people. That is one more way in which SLS could be of service to Nigeria.
Led by Nasir El Rufai, Lamido Sanusi’s throng of friends, admirers, and supporters don’t seem to like him very much. There are some bitter in-house truths they are obviously not telling him and it is starting to show in his extremely poor post-suspension public engagement strategy. This explains why they have allowed him to run riot with his lips this past week in precisely the one indefensible area of his service as Central Bank Governor. In Sanusi’s shoes, I would be praying and hoping that the Nigerian people would forget my reckless and irresponsible use of their money for intervention funds – alias Corporate Social Responsibility in Sanusiville.
Strangely, what we have had this past week is Sanusi doubling down on justifications, rationalizations, and arrogant chest-beating over the tragedy that passed for Corporate Social Responsibility during his stint as Central Bank Governor. I have said it publicly before and I am saying it again: what Sanusi did was Corporate Social Irresponsibility. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is talking crap when he defends his record with regard specifically to his irresponsible use of our money as intervention funds. He is being clever by half and it is infuriating. He should shut the heck up and stop insulting our intelligence. If nobody in his camp will tell him this bitter truth, I will.
Confession: I am a long-term admirer of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. I still am. I wrote glowingly in support of his nomination as Central Bank Governor when ignorant folks unworthy of polishing Sanusi’s shoes intellectually and being totally unaware of his encyclopedic mastery of Western philosophical traditions, discourses, and thought, tried to peg him in the lazy straightjacket of Islamism and Al-Qaeda because he had studied in Sudan – as if there was anything wrong with mastery of Islamic, jurisprudence, philosophy, and scholarship in the first place. But my admiration of Sanusi stops where my obligation to Nigeria begins. And part of that obligation is to ensure that he does not deploy his formidable intellect to befuddle our under-read and unsophisticated public sphere in this matter of intervention funds.
We do not need to rehash the mind-boggling sums of money he Father Christmased all over the country during a mad period of binge spending in which he met every call for caution with a no break no jam condescension. What needs to detain us here are the reasons he is now advancing for this sordid dent on an otherwise glittering stint as CBN Governor. My good friend, Professor Moses Ochonu, has offered a summary of Sanusi’s defense of his intervention binge spending that is worth quoting here. Says Ochonu:
“What’s the gist of this response? Sanusi basically admits to all the prolifgate spending–all the arbitrary donations and allocations of UNAPPROPRIATED national funds (almost two hundred billion naira) to institutions and projects picked by personal fiat and without tender or due process. His defense? Jonathan asked me to do it or approved it (the list of projects funded by SLS’s CBN includes massive renovations to an Aso Rock meeting room!). And the monies I doled out on my own were approved by the CBN board. Wow! Which is worse, the proof from Sanusi that he indeed reconfigured the CBN into a wasteful, patrimonial, unaccountable institution of largesse and parallel government, or the revelation that he colluded with GEJ in this brazen mismanagement of unappropriated national funds?”
To recap, Sanusi is telling Nigerians that he spent our money recklessly and irresponsibly on donations because: (1) President Jonathan made him do it; (2) he donated to good causes and institutional capacity building; (3) there are appropriate laws in the books legalizing Corporate Social Responsibility by the Central Bank of Nigeria; (4) he is not the first CBN Governor to indulge in binge spending in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility; (5) Central Bank Governors do it too in some other countries; (6) et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Now, these callow rationalizations would be amusing if they weren’t coming from a man of such enormous learning and erudition as Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Coming from him, they are tragic. Readers of my previous submissions on him would recall that my fascination with SLS started with my discovery of the scope of his learning and erudition when I stumbled on his essays back in 1998 when I was a doctoral student in Canada. The power of that mind, the sheer brilliance of his analytical methods, and, above all, the commanding sweep of his references demand unalloyed respect, even if you disagree with him. Sanusi’s intellectual world is where you meet an admirable command of epistemology, ethics, logic, metaphysics, social and political philosophy – in short, a masterly deployment of Western traditions of thought which he blends with his breathtaking knowledge of Islamic philosophy and jurisprudence to provide an excellent theoretical framework for any subject under elucidation. Sanusi is a man of great learning. When you read him, you feel like you are reading Odia Ofeimun.
But I have also written that great learning and erudition come with responsibility and you cannot expect to be assessed on an equal footing with most of the under-read and under-educated caterwaulers who occupy public and political office in Nigeria. For instance, I may excuse, tolerate or even expect a certain degree of foolishness and unsophisticated, pedestrian reasoning and actions from a charlatan like, say, Nyesom Wike – an unread mind despite his degrees. However, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, whose mind has been humanized by the best intellectual traditions that the West and the East have to offer, and who has demonstrated evidence over the years that his grasp of these philosophical traditions is not superficial, cannot expect that we shall let him get away with pedestrian and shoddy reasoning.
When you are quoting Foucault, Hegel, Gramsci, Derrida, Bertrand Russel, Richard Rorty Jurgen Habermas and so many others in your essays, the minimum that one expects from you is to approach the function of the Central Bank Governor of a financially lawless, reckless, and profligate country like Nigeria with an ethical base and a personal philosophy which, combined, send a clear message of financial prudence, responsibility, and circumspection to the financially irresponsible system you have been asked to supervise. The body language, ethics, attitudes, and personal philosophy of the Central Bank Governor of a country determine to a great extent where such a country is headed in the domain of fiscal prudence and responsibility. You don’t attain such a position and begin to spend money irresponsibly like Godswill Akpabio and his corrupt and spendthrift ilk running most of the thirty-six states in Nigeria.
In other words, that there a laws and statutes in the books justifying Sanusi’s intervention funds nonsense does not in any way excuse his colossal exercise of poor judgment and his total banishment of common sense in that respect. In fact, accusing him of exercising poor judgement is to be kind to him. What happened here is a total collapse of judgement on the part of Sanusi. From Kano to Madalla via several Universities in the country, he went on a financial rampage, doing what the Yoruba call “shiki shiki ma mi owo de” (dance and sway where you will, Mr. Moneybag is here!) What symbolic message did he think he was sending to Aso Rock, Governors, Ministers, Senators, and other traditional spendthrifts in our system? When the Head of the Central Bank, whose conduct should send a clear message of fiscal restraint, prudence, responsibility, and wisdom storms through the country doing “shiki shiki ma mi owo de”, it’s like hurling stones in the direction of birds already poised for flight. All the reckless spenders in the system will take their cue from him.
Put simply, Sanusi did not lead by example in the specific area of fiscal prudence, restraint, and responsibility. It is infinitely annoying that a man of such enormous and fine learning insists that his recklessness was backed by law, ordered by the President, or that others did it before him and he can point to foreign examples of fiscal recklessness by Governors of the Central Banks of a few countries. He is insisting on this annoying line of reasoning because he knows the public he is dealing with: the Nigerian public. But those of us who are prepared not to let him get away with rationalizing reckless financial conduct must remind him that this is not about legalese; this is about common sense and good judgment and he failed on both counts.
This is why he must concentrate on areas where he passed and where a sizeable chunk of the Nigerian public can be one with him. His belated crusade on the missing $20 billion – warts, conflicting figures and all – is commendable. He should try to keep our focus on that subject. He should continue to hold the feet of the President and those of his former allies in the war against Occupy Nigeria, Diezani Allison Madueke and Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, to the fire over that missing money. I hope he read Pastor Tunde Bakare’s essay, “Ai Tete Mole”. If he did, he’d understand that the missing money is where he has a point even if, as Pastor Bakare rightly observed, he ought to have resigned in principle to fight that battle.
But any student of Sanusi would have no trouble reaching the conclusion that the man mixes arrogance with the brightest kid in the classroom syndrome. This is an affliction common with first class minds and gifted intellects. You are so used to deploying what you believe is superior intellect and submissions that nobody else can be right. You are taken aback by the fact that anybody can even disagree with you. You are surprised that they cannot see or understand your “superior” logic. You keep harping on the same point no matter how wrong you are since it is impossible for anybody to confront you with superior arguments.
The brightest kid in the classroom syndrome is the greatest enemy of humility. And because our man is a hostage of this syndrome, I suspect that he will continue to defend his intervention funds fiasco in supreme contempt for contrary opinions on the matter. If he continues on that track as I suspect he will, those of us who believe that he still has a lot to offer Nigeria in the future must contribute our own intervention funds to seal his lips. The more he insists he was right to have spent our money so recklessly on his warped notion of Corporate Social Responsibility, the more damage he does to our ability to defend him.
Keynote lecture delivered at the inauguration of the Connections Week of the Caribbean and African Association of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, March 10, 2014
I bring you warm greetings from Accra, Ghana, where I am currently based. I understand that winter has been particularly brutal this year. You could use some of the warmth I brought from Africa in my hand luggage. I am told by the organizers of this event – to whom I owe immense debts of gratitude for inviting me to deliver this keynote lecture – that “loud and proud” is the theme of your Caribbean-Africa Connections week this year. In other words, the Caribbean and African Association of the University of British Columbia has decided to scream the cultures of Africa and the Caribbean from the rooftops this week. You want to proudly highlight what connects Africa and the Caribbean in the arena of culture – and in defiance of the Atlantic Ocean. You want to inscribe your so-called otherness loudly and proudly on this beautiful campus of UBC. When I thought about your theme on receiving the invitation for this lecture, it evoked a sense of drama. How do you proclaim Caribbean and African connections “loud and proud” without being dramatic? I have therefore taken the unusual route of plotting this lecture as a one act play in five scenes. At any rate, on my way here from Accra, I did get into some drama in London…
ACT ONE, SCENE ONE
Date: March 6, 2014. Location: Terminal Three, London Heathrow airport. Mission: awaiting an Air Canada connecting flight to Ottawa en route Vancouver for this lecture. I was coming from back to back keynote lectures in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Accra, and Lagos. Although I was jetlagged and tired, I already had a draft of this lecture in the bag. Nevertheless, there was something I wasn’t quite satisfied about. I was trying to look at the Caribbean-African thing beyond the routine of memory. Must the ties that bind always be about memory? I wasn’t sure that what I had in the first draft had satisfactorily answered that question. I had seven hours to kill at Heathrow. I decided to shell out sixty pounds to rent a room and shower cubicle for three hours in one of the “capitalist” lounges of the airport. I needed that space and time to continue my reflection on what lies – or what ought to lie – beyond the horizon of memory-making and memory-reliving whenever Africa and the Caribbean actuate a handshake across the Atlantic.
In essence, I did not need anything or anybody to remind me of how memory ties the Caribbean and other parts of the black Diaspora to Africa. I wanted to move conceptually beyond that paradigm. As I moved wearily through the familiar mass of fatigued bodies dragging a cornucopia of hand luggage through the malls of Heathrow, making my way to the F Lounge, I bumped into just the one thing I wanted to avoid: memory. It came in the exact body shape, height, skin tone, facial features, and even dressing style of Professor Ato Quayson. I am sure you all know Professor Quayson? If you don’t know him, you have a very urgent problem that only google can help you resolve.
In the engaging business of theorizing Africa and her diaspora in academe, Professor Quayson has been one of my formidable mentors in the last decade and a half. I had not seen him since the African Literature Association’s meeting in Dallas in 2012. I’d been to his University of Toronto base to deliver lectures on occasion but he’d always been out of town. And there he was before me, like an apparition, in a crowded airport lounge in London. I screamed and grabbed him in a hug that certainly wasn’t a bear hug. Loads of back patting. Deft feet movement and shuffling that you could call some kind of esoteric dance. Strings of jazzed up sentences delivered in a mishmash of English, Pidgin, and West African slang intrusions. These happened in seconds.
In other words, I was performing, right there in the open in London, an unscripted and impromptu reunion ritual which I somehow expected Ato Quayson or any other African brother to connect with and respond to appropriately. “I’m not Ato”, screamed the bemused figure in my arms, struggling to set himself free from my black hug while laughing in bemused acknowledgement of the accompanying semi-dance rituals. Remember, all this was happening within seconds, a succession of quick-paced actions and events. I realized to my utter embarrassment that I had grabbed the wrong man! The guy I grabbed and held in such a warm embrace was not Ato Quayson, just his Siamese look-alike!
I was going to start apologizing profusely when my “victim”, very friendly but obviously relieved to be released from my grip, assured me that no apology was necessary. In fact, he was very intrigued by my enactments of recognition and the effusive ritual of warmth I enacted when I thought he was Ato Quayson. According to him, everything about that instinctive, unplanned, impromptu but ritualized performance was also native to him. He would have done exactly the same thing in my shoes, he reassured me.
“And where are you from?” I asked. “Trinidad”, came his swift response. At this point, ladies and gentlemen, I knew I had to offer the brother a beer. I mean, here was my Nigerian self thinking it was engaging Ato Quayson’s Ghanaian self in ritualized modes of African warmth and connection only for those cultural enactments to be claimed by a Trinidadian also seeing himself, his people, his culture, his story, and his memory in those moves. On my way to an airport lounge to think beyond culture and memory in terms of how best to reconceptualize African and Caribbean modes of engagement, culture and memory beckon, saying, “Ogbeni Pius, we’re not done yet!”
ACT ONE, SCENE TWO
Maybe I should have known that memory and culture wouldn’t lend themselves to the easy glossing over I was going to do at that airport lounge before I received a Trinidadian jolt of reality. After all, another place, another time, memory and culture had served me notice of their power of persistence in any evocation of the linkages between the Caribbean and Africa. That other place is none other than this lovely city of Vancouver in this beautiful Canadian province of British Columbia. That other time was the 1990s when I pursued my doctoral degree right here in this very University.
Back in those hectic days of doctoral work, some of us needed the occasional escape from the cast of French poststructuralist thinkers who, in the hands of North American academics, had turned postcolonial and postmodernist theory into an obscurantist terror machine. In a good week, your migraine was limited to struggling to blend the impenetrable prose of Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak, and Homi Bhabha into a deconstructive paradigm for the novels and cultures of Africa and the Caribbean. In a bad week, you had to add Jacques Lacan, Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, Helene Cixous, Luce Irigaray and so many other usual and unusual French suspects to that mix.
To reinforce that overdose of high theory, you were required on occasion to rent a few names from the Frankfurt school of theory. You completed this theoretical cocktail, which left African and Caribbean novels struggling for oxygen, with Antonio Gramsci and a necessary throwback at Karl Marx. In preparing one’s theoretical paradigm for African and Caribbean fiction, one often felt like Getafix the druid preparing the magic potion for Asterix and Obelix. We threw so many names into the pot of that theoretical magic potion. Trust me, ladies and gentlemen, when you have spent a week trying to foist Foucault’s power/knowledge combo on Chinua Achebe and Mariama Ba or attempting a Derridean deconstruction of Edwige Danticat and Patrick Chamoiseau via différance-speak, you needed to unwind desperately. Ah, the good old days of graduate school!
For those of us in the African and Caribbean communities, unwinding twice a week happened ritually in one watering hole: the Anza Club, close to Main and Broadway here in Vancouver. That night club was not just the place where we went to booze and do all the wild and unmentionable things that students do in their riotous twenties, just before other realities of life set in, it was also for us some sort of pilgrimage to a location of culture and memory. The Anza was the only night club in Vancouver at the time dedicated to African and Caribbean music. We went there to swing to reggae, calypso, zouk, soukouss, makossa, and soca. We went there to subject our waists to rhythms of high life, afrobeat, juju, and the kora and balafon offerings of the sub-Saharan African sahel.
Whatever we danced to, the cut was in how we all danced and what we all recognized. Recognition of source and of origins. When the Caribbean students danced, we, their African cousins, would marvel in recognition of rhythms, styles, and movements that took us all the way back to our respective villages in Africa. And when we, Africans, danced, our Caribbean folks remembered. They just remembered. Like the Trinidadian reacting to my reunion rituals at Heathrow, Caribbean students of my day at UBC watched us, Africans, dance at the Anza club and remembered their respective homes in the black Atlantic. “Ah, we have this dance in Saint Lucia!”, you would hear somebody exclaim if I was enacting variations on the “elele kure” shoulder dance of the Okun people in Kogi state, Nigeria.
Whether it’s in the passenger mall of an international airport or on the dance floor of a Vancouver night club, the Africa-Caribbean nexus, spelt out in terms of encounters between continental Africans and their cousins in the Black Atlantic, has spawned imaginaries of the self rooted in memory and culture since the historical moment of separation. If you are from the continent, you frame narratives of source-culturehood around these issues. If you belong in the black diaspora, you weave imaginaries of cultural survivorhood around the same issues. What lived, what survived, and how you produced newness from the old become, for you, the loom of identity-making in the present. But, mostly, you remember in order to re-member.
ACT ONE, SCENE THREE
The literature and discourses of both sides are rich in constructions of the self rooted in the politics and memory of remembering. For the Caribbean self, return narratives are crucial to the architecture of remembering and re-membering. The business of remembering and re-membering sometimes involves, among other gestures of reconnection, symbolic voyages to Africa to visit the sites of memory. Those voyages to the Atlantic slave coast of Africa, those emotional narratives about returnee sons and daughters breaking down in tears in Gorée, Elmina, Cape Coast, and Badagry, are all part of a multilayered ritual of reconnection. For the Caribbean self and other black diasporic selves, the return narrative, especially its 20th century enactments, was one way of trying to answer the query in Countee Cullen’s famous poem, “Heritage”. The poem speaks for itself and we need not remind ourselves more than its first stanza here:
What is Africa to me:
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
Jungle star or jungle track,
Strong bronzed men, or regal black
Women from whose loins I sprang
When the birds of Eden sang?
One three centuries removed
From the scenes his fathers loved,
Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
What is Africa to me?
Not all return narratives romanticize Africa like Countee Cullen and our friends in the Negritude movement did. Some, like Henry Louis Gates, belong in the dirty linen school of return narratives. They return to Africa to see the faces of the descendants of the greedy ancestors who sold them to slavery. Their problem is not with the white slaver but with my ancestors who sold their ancestors. One model of return narratives romanticizes Africa and demands reparations from the descendants of the white slaver, another criminalizes Africa and demands an apology from me for the sins of my ancestors who sold their ancestors. However, both models meet at the crossroads of meaning. They share a desire to make Africa mean. The question thus arises: what exactly feeds the impulse of these return narratives on the part of the black Diaspora and their modes of actuation? Why were return narratives so crucial to the making of the Caribbean self in the 20thcentury?
ACT ONE, SCENE FOUR
The answers are myriad and complex but I think we should focus here on one possible reason why the 20th century offered us the return narrative as one of the major routes to identity-making by the Caribbean self. Despite disagreements on modes of engaging the continent as source-culture – were we stolen by white slavers or were we sold by our heartless African cousins? – there can be no denying the fact that, before the mourning after independence set in, the 20th century was the moment of Africa’s heroism and African heroism. It was the century which saw Africa successfully challenge, undermine, and overcome some five hundred years of truth claims by modernity; five hundred years of placing a question mark on the humanity of Africans and black people elsewhere. It was the century of political and cultural nationalism, of decolonization, of the anti-apartheid struggle, of coming into peoplehood, of coming into postcolonial statehood.
Indeed, the 20th century was an extremely auspicious time for black people all over the world to plug into this African spectre of global heroism. Your source-culture was heroic. What is more, the making of this grand narrative of heroism – that is, the challenge to and dismantling of colonialism – was not an isolated enterprise undertaken by continental Africans behind the back of their cousins in the black Diaspora. In fact, the intellectual, cultural, and political bases of these forms of African heroism were mostly born in the Diaspora and devolved from an organic collaboration between Africa’s emergent political, nationalist, and intellectual class and their counterparts from the black Diaspora.
Pan-Africanism and Negritude are two good examples of the collective contributions of continental Africans and the Black Diaspora to the making of Africa’s 20th century anti-imperialist heroism. A great deal of the intellectual energy that later went into African nationalism was honed in London and Paris in collaborations between the nascent African nationalist class and their counterparts from the Caribbean and black America. So formidable and far-reaching were these collaborations and joint efforts that two of the most famous theorizers and chroniclers of Africa’s 20th century heroism were from the black Diaspora. I am thinking here of the Frantz Fanon of The Wretched of the Earth and the Walter Rodney of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
If the pervading sense of having participated in the heroic self-recovery effort of the mother continent was a contributory factor to the flourishing of the return narrative, the principal mode of African heroism in the 20th century greatly enhanced it. The struggle for cultural and political freedom yielded the persona of the nationalist-statesman as a towering African hero. He was that colourful and charismatic character, that brilliant and powerful orator who became a transcendental African moral and ethical figure (before tragically becoming other unmentionable things in a good number of cases). The magic of this figure made association with Africa as home, memory, and source-culture very appealing to the continent’s sons and daughters in the Diaspora.
Think of the magnetic charisma of Kwame Nkrumah and how many Diasporic Africans made their first pilgrimage to Ghana largely or partly because of him – the Ghanaian trajectory of W.E.B du Bois can hardly be discussed outside of the politics, appeal, and charisma of Kwame Nkrumah. Think of the beehive of black diaspora activism that was the Conakry of Sekou Toure. Stokely Carmichael and Harry Belafonte stoked the fires of black cultural and musical internationalism with Mariam Makeba and Hugh Masekela when they were all in Conakry. Think of Leopold Sedar Senghor, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Patrice Lumumba and so many others in their league whose leadership and praxis of heroism made Africa such an appealing proposition to her children in the Diaspora in the 20thcentury.
This model of African heroism, I believe, found its culmination in the praxis and brand that was Madiba Nelson Mandela. This global icon made return narratives very compelling and irresistible for the black Diasporic self. Ladies and gentlemen, please don’t tell me that you do not know that Oprah Winfrey’s emergency discovery of her Zulu ancestry back in 2006 had a great deal to do with the Mandela magic and appeal. Ms. Winfrey was not alone. We need not run through the list of African American celebrities who discovered their South African ancestry because of Nelson Mandela.
If you look at things closely, the discovery of African ancestry tended to move to wherever the star of a great, transcendental African nationalist hero and statesman was shining. All roads of ancestry discovery once led to Accra before the fall of Kwame Nkrumah; then the roads made a detour and led to Conakry before Sekou Toure became what he became; then the roads migrated to South Africa because of Madiba. If, tomorrow, Nigeria gets her act together and produces a towering global leader of impeccable ethical stock, I wager that many Diasporans will discover their Yoruba, Igbo, or Hausa-Fulani ancestry.
ACT ONE, SCENE FIVE
The passing of Madiba Nelson Mandela to a glorious African ancestorhood has a special significance for our purposes here today. Mandela’s death effectively signals the end of the era of the modes of personal, transcendental nationalist heroism and statesmanship which his generation had held out to Africa and the black Diasporic world. His exit effectively closes the era of those who gave Africa and the black world such affirmative praxes as “African personality”, “black pride”, cultural nationalism, and political nationalism. These were the people who were so instrumental in providing the justification for the Caribbean self to seek psychic and cultural anchorage in a matricial idea of 20th century African heroism. When Countee Cullen and 20th Century black Diasporans asked, “what is Africa to me?”, Africa’s nationalists and statesmen and women provided answers in their words and actions, especially during the era of the anti-colonial struggle. You saw Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere and you had a pretty good idea of what Africa was to you.
But Mandela’s death also came on the cusp of a very significant moment for Africa and the rest of the world. Mandela made his exit at a time when what has been described as “the selfie generation” was taking over the commanding heights of global culture through the formidable power of social media. Charles Blow of the New York Times has appropriately defined the selfie generation as folks between the ages of eighteen and thirty-three. In other words, the selfie generation comprises young people. I am assuming that the members of the Caribbean and African Association of the University of British Columbia who invited me here to deliver this lecture today are all generation selfie. Ladies and gentlemen, is this true? Ok, Mr. Blow asserts, also correctly, that one defining characteristic of the selfie generation is that you are the first generation that has not had to adapt to the internet, to social media and allied technologies. In essence, you are citizens of the internet by birth. You are the original owners of what I suggest we call ‘appsland.’
If you are tempted to think that Mr. Blow is stretching things a bit by saying that members of the selfie generation are the only authentic natives of the internet who have not had to adapt to anything, just think of what happens to you when you are not a member of that generation and you try to do things like them without first learning the rules of engagement. Let’s say your name is Barack Obama. You go and take a selfie with the beautiful Prime Minister of a European country and you get into a load of trouble.
But taking selfies is not all they do in the selfie generation. Members of the generation are driving global culture and agendas in significant new ways. They are asking questions and raising issues. With them, the revolution is televised live in your living room. You saw them in Tunisia, Egypt, and the rest of the Arab world. You saw them in Turkey and Brazil. You saw them all over the streets of America in the Occupy Movement. You saw them live in Ukraine during the orange revolution and more recently. I live in Ottawa. I see them carrying placards in front of Parliament all the time. I saw them in my own country in Occupy Nigeria. One foolish aide of the Nigerian President who has tragically fallen into the wrong column of history even described them as “the collective children of anger.” All over the world, the selfie generation is the new cool.
I think it is unfortunate that the rise of this generation coincides with the collapse of that particular mode heroism that is tied to the praxis of genuine nationalists and statesmen and women in Africa. What is Africa to me? For the Caribbean self in the 20th century, that question was answered significantly by the quality of leadership that the continent had to offer especially in the context of political nationalism and the struggle for freedom. If the selfie generation in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the black Diaspora asked the same question today – what is Africa to me? – what sort of answer would they get? Just what is Africa offering them?
This is a question that has detained me since I delivered the keynote lecture at the International Leadership Platform Conference of the University of Johannesburg and the Africa Institute of South Africa a few weeks ago. Among the many issues raised by the brilliant and generous discussant of my lecture, Professor Peter Vale of the University of Johannesburg, was the question of leadership and role modelship for the youth of Africa after the demise of the continent’s nationalist and statesmen and women generation symbolized by the passing of Mandela. “Where are the leaders and role models that Africa is offering these young people?”, Professor Vale had queried. We kept citing dead African statesmen and women…
As a teacher in the classrooms of North America, I encounter variations on this question all the time from Nigerian students of the selfie generation. These are undergraduate kids born in Canada or the United States. They’ve never been home. When they pronounce their Yoruba or Igbo or Ijaw or Edo names, those names end up looking like mangled victims of a terrorist attack. They are Nigerian kids of the new Diaspora. And they stop you after class and ask: “Professor, tell me, why should I have a stake in Nigeria? Why should I visit Nigeria? What’s in Nigeria for me?” There are selfie generation kids from the fifty-three other countries in Africa torturing their Professors in Canada and the United States with such questions. There are African American and Caribbean kids of the selfie generation asking these questions. Whether they are Africa kids of the old or new Black Diaspora, the selfie generation is not asking – what is Africa to me? – for that is so old school, so Countee Cullen and his generation. Rather, these kids are now asking: what’s in Africa for me?
In essence, the selfie generation of the old and the new African Diaspora asks questions that cannot be answered easily. The nationalist, the statesman, the orator, the charismatic leader, the philosopher king – all that ended with Nelson Mandela. Today, the leadership landscape in Africa is so abysmal that you dare not tell the selfie generation to look up to the current crop of heads of state and heads of government across Africa as credible role models and heroes. To the Caribbean and black Diaspora self, Africa is currently offering a selfie of abysmal, uninspiring, and disgraceful leadership.
You only need to look at the current leadership of the two major states in Africa – Nigeria and South Africa – to appreciate the full extent of the tragedy. In South Africa, the current President is a certified clown, a huge joke. In Nigeria, aides of the current President consider an extraordinary achievement the rare moments in which he successfully places one incoherent sentence after another incoherent sentence in scripted or unscripted speeches. He is a dour, uninspiring, and corruption-friendly man.
Elsewhere, the news is not any better. Omar Bashir of Sudan and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya are customers of the International Court of Justice; Faure Gnassingbe of Togo and Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon are scions of Presidents for life who may continue that continental tradition; Yayi Boni of Benin and Alassane Ouattara of Cote-d’Ivoire are offsprings of the financial philosophy of Bretton Woods. And we have not even mentioned the Paul Biyas, the Teodoro Obiangs, and the Blaise Compaores of Africa. There is just no leadership worthy of our attention at the moment in Africa. Among the current crop of African Heads of State, I’m afraid there are no transcendental statesmen and role models worthy of recommendation to the youth of Africa and the black Diaspora as worthy role models. Luckily, there are stateswomen in the ranks but their inspirational stories are the rare exception and not the rule.
In essence, in the absence of the Mandelas, Nkrumahs, Senghors, and Nyereres of this world, the selfie generation in Africa and the black diaspora is the first generation to stand in real danger of having to accept Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, and even George Zimmerman as heroes as Africa fails to offer them credible heroes and genuine role models in the public sphere. The selfie generation is growing up in a celebrity culture powered by American TV. Yesterday, as I prepared to fly here from Ottawa, George Zimmerman was on CNN signing autographs at a gun show somewhere in America. Occasionally, Africa has the good fortune of being able to ward off the danger posed to the selfie generation of Africa and the Caribbean by the globalized reckless celebrity culture of America. Africa tells those kids: don’t look at George Zimmerman, look at Lupita Nyong’o. But, like the female Presidents, these luminous examples don’t come in nearly enough numbers.
What’s in Africa for me? Perhaps the search for an answer is what has led Africans of the new Diaspora in the selfie generation (born in Europe and North America post-1980s) to Afropolitanism, the new cultural fad on the block. This is not the place for me to go into the debate on Afropolitanism. Google it. Beyond Achille Mbembe’s philosophic-discursive take on Afropolitanism, pay attention to what Taiye Selasie and her followers say it is. Pay attention to why Binyavanga Wainaina says he isn’t an Afropolitan. That is your google assignment.
What is of interest to me here is that Afropolitanism seems to be the last refuge of a new African Diasporan selfie generation in search of ways to log on to a continent that is offering very sparse cultural wifi access in terms of credible role models in the public sphere. But at least they’ve got Afropolitanism, those selfies of the new African Diaspora. What about the kids of the old Diaspora in black America and the Caribbean who cannot describe themselves as Afropolitans and who do not belong in the generation of those going to weep at doors of no return in Cape Coast, Goree, and Badagry? What’s in Africa for them?
Perhaps they and their Afropolitan peers ought to look in the direction of the collective cultural heroism of their peers in Africa. Out of nothing, their peers in Africa invented and developed Nollywood into the world’s second largest movie industry. Nollywood to a great extent has broken the monopoly of Western modes of representing Africa for the black diaspora. And out of Ghana, Africa and the black Diaspora is swaying to the rhythm of Azonto. Transcendental nationalism heroism and statesmanship of the Mandela type may be dead in Africa, Nollywood and Azonto, with all their warts, are powerful selfies of cultural heroism that Africa is offering the world as a window into the regenerative power of what Kwame Nkrumah once famously referred to as “the African genius”. The genius of the selfie generation is also taking over the African street and making very loud statements. I know that the Anza nightclub is still open in Vancouver. I know that it is still the place where Africa goes to meet the Caribbean on the dance floor twice a week. Perhaps, after listening to this lecture, some of you are going to make your way there this weekend to sway your hips to Azonto. I expect to see your selfies on Instagram!
I thank you for your time.
(Keynote lecture delivered at the Obafemi Awolowo Birthday Anniversary Symposium Convened by the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation. Lagos, March 4, 2014) Continue reading →
If you cannot even come together against the local terrorism of an Iyaloja in Lagos, how do you hope to ever rise against the might of the corrupt Nigerian state in Abuja? Continue reading →
[Reader, the piece below was addressed to my social media audience on Facebook today in reaction to the Sanusi Lamido Sanusi saga. It stands in for this column today. Forgive the casualness. It's initial audience are regulars on my Facebook Wall and I have deemed modifications unnecessary as it goes to a wider audience here.]
Dis Nigeria sef! You miss a day’s news cycle and you wake up to news that you’ve missed ten lifetimes’ worth of odoriferous higi-hagaric kookaburra (apologies to Patrick Obahiagbon). Yesterday morning, I was ferried from Johannesburg to Pretoria at the instance of Anesh Maistry, Deputy Director, Foreign Service, at South Africa’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to give a talk on the possibilities of cultural diplomacy for Africa. Anesh had heard at the last minute that I was in Johannesburg for a lecture and insisted that I must come to Pretoria for a talk in his fief at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (alias Foreign Affairs Ministry in Abuja).
Unknown to Anesh and I, as I marveled at the impressive number of diplomats and foreign service Ogas and personnel he had been able to scramble at a day’s notice to come and listen to me, as we enjoyed two hours of a most intense intellectual communion in their conference room (my audience was very engaging), as I secretly wondered which Director or Permanent Secretary in our Foreign Affairs Ministry in Abuja would hear that a Nigerian public intellectual with an audience in the continent was in Abuja and would scramble to put this sort of intellectual event together unless there was something in it for him or her, as I made a mental note that only a white European or American intellectual in my bracket would be fawned over by Abuja officials the way the South African’s were fawning over me in their Foreign Affairs Ministry in Pretoria, little did my hosts and I know that katakata had burst in Nigeria.
After my lecture, I was driven straight from Pretoria to the airport in Johannesburg for my flight back to Accra. I arrived Accra late in the evening and went straight to bed, still blissfully unaware of events in Nigeria. I woke up this morning and decided to catch up by phone with family in Nigeria before going online. My first phone call was to my sister, Bamidele Ademola Olateju, and that’s where I got my first indication of all the wahala back home. “Nigeria ti daru o”, she screamed, before giving a quick account of developments since yesterday. As she spoke, I looked at my roof here in Accra and was relieved to see that my house was not on fire. So, I told Bamidele that I was going back to sleep because my roof was not on fire. I deserved more hours of rest and recuperation after two days of back to back lectures in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Besides, I told her, I wasn’t keen on going online to join the brouhaha because I wanted to avoid the risk of encountering submissions from Nigerians that could give me a heart attack. I didn’t want to hear stupid submissions that it was not in Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s place to have blown that whistle; I didn’t want to hear asinine comments that he didn’t even get the missing figures right; I didn’t want to hear brain-dead rationalizations of the heist. Somehow, between NNPC and Aso Rock, some idiots numbering probably less than 200 people have disappeared twenty billion dollars from the lives and potential of 170 million people (sometimes you wonder if it isn’t a case of smarts stealing from idiots. If you are able to steal 20 billion dollars from 170 million people and still make a large chunk of your victims defend you, are you really an idiot? I think you are a genius) and you are going to hear every manner of stupid rationalizations from folks you thought were sane. I told Bamidele that I didn’t want any of that.
Having now woken up to follow some of the traffic online, boy, am I glad that I went back to sleep! Folks defending the President and his Diezani; folks defending impunity; folks completely indifferent to the reality of a twenty billion-dollar heist. Anyway, I’m up now around midday and I have just noticed that my roof is still not on fire here in Accra. The only thing I have to worry about is Accra’s unforgiving heat. Ah, I forget, I’ve got AC! So, I don’t really have a problem.
As for you, SLS, you did well my brother. None of your very significant sins should be allowed to erase the monumental service you have rendered to your fatherland by exposing these criminals and traitors who have now fired you. And, boy, your sins were myriad. 1) You sinned against us during Occupy Nigeria. Such was the level of your vomit-inducing elitism that you didn’t even know that most Nigerians do not power their I-better-pass-my-neighbour with diesel; 2)I did not like your dabbling into Islamic banking in a volatile religious context like Nigeria; 3) then, you started donating money like a drunken camel rider (sorry, there are no creeks in Kano so one cannot call you a drunken fisherman sailor), I did not make my criticism of you public. I emailed you and you replied citing spurious and nonsensical provisions in the statutes of the CBN which empowered you to embark on corporate social responsibility. I told you what you were doing was corporate social irresponsibility even if I agreed with your argument that your donations were not motivated by sectional and ethnic interests as you spread the donations across Nigeria. These three significant sins against Nigerians notwithstanding, you came, saw, spoke and were conquered by the forces of corruption. I wish you well in your future tasks.
In my Facebook inbox, in my gmail inbox, you have been relentless in your messages. Some of you have asked me: Prof, what’s going on? Why have your columns for Sahara Reporters and Premium Times gone cold? Why has your Facebook page gone cold? Have you given up on Nigeria? Have you deserted your readers and followers? Some of you have no room for niceties. You don’t feel that you have to be nice and charitable so you ask me point blank: Prof, have you gone quiet because you have been settled? After all, you just returned from a trip to Nigeria…
Let’s answer the last question first. No, I have not been settled. I cannot be settled. My answer has never changed anytime anybody from the establishment has approached me to test the waters of ‘settleability’. You must understand that you cannot do what I do, write the stuff that I write, say the stuff that I say, without being approached carefully by self-appointed folks testing the waters to see if you can be “encouraged” to go easy on whichever Oga you are focusing your laser on. They think they are wise. They speak in parables. But if you are smart, you know what they are driving at: name your price.
I have always told such emissaries that, yes, indeed, I can be purchased. I have a price. If you can pay it, you have me where you want me. My price? I always name it. A good friend of mine who was once a Nigerian High Commissioner in a Western country would relate easily to this if he is reading this piece. I always told him what it would take to go easy on his Ogas. My price is very reasonable. There are 170 million of me. Give ALL 170 million of me water, light, job, infrastructure, security, health. When you have done that, stop stealing from all 170 million of me. That is what it would cost to buy my voice. That is what I always ask for. That’s the only condition for my silence. I just haven’t found anybody in the political establishment willing to pay that price. They always give me the impression that I am asking for the impossible; that my price is too high; that I am not important enough to be bought at the price of, say, stable electricity for all 170 million of me.
Now that you know my price, stop inboxing me on Facebook or emailing me at gmail to ask if I’ve been bought. Whey they eventually pay my price and buy me, you will feel it directly around you in water, light, job, infrastructure, security, health, etc.
So, if I have not been bought, why have I kept away from public life in recent weeks? There is an immediate answer and a remote answer. The immediate answer is simple: I have been extremely busy doing capacity building here at the University of Ghana, Legon. That is what Carnegie Corporation New York sent me here to do. Worrying and writing about issues you refuse to worry about in Nigeria or issues you justify, rationalize, and find unbelievable explanations for – even if they directly affect your life and not mine – isn’t what puts bread on my table. The grind of academe is what puts bread on my table. Besides, I am starting to learn slowly and painfully that there is great joy in my not taking Panadol if the owners of the head in Nigeria, those suffering the direct consequences of the unending imbecilities of their leaders, say they have no headache. I am discovering the joys of despondency on account of the Nigerian tragedy.
Now, to the remote cause of my silence. The presidential election of 2015 has been slated for February 14, 2015. It’s just that there is nothing I have to say to you now that I did not say to you thirteen months to the 2011 elections, thirteen months to the 2007 election, and thirteen months to the 2003 election. Why should I start croaking about that same issue now? There is such a thing as sounding like a broken record. I told you in the build up to all previous presidential elections that it does not make any sense – in fact, it is profoundly insulting, degrading, and dehumanizing – that you finally get to know who the contenders are for the highest office in the land less than six months to a given election.
It is January 25, 2014 today. You still don’t know who is running on the platform of which political party and on what issues. You will be treated to elite catfights and mudfights, and slingfights; elite calibrations and recalibrations; elite decampings and recampings between and among political parties till, say, June 2014. Then they start telling you who is running on which platform. Then 170 million people are left with less than six months to scrutinize and examine those who aspire to lead them for four years. The campaigns and debates are then reduced to superficial sound bites and useless soapbox posturing. They wear party ankara on the soap box, waive party emblems, and work you to a frenzy. No Joe the plumber moments. Lamidi the mechanic will never get to ask nationally televised and unscripted rope line questions about why he still cannot pay his rent in 2014 despite promises made in 2011; Kasali the vulcanizer will never get to ask nationally televised and unscripted rope line questions from the APC candidate about why he cannot afford to send his son to LASU despite having been a law abiding and hardworking citizen of Lagos state his entire life.
When you don’t get to ask these questions in the build up to a presidential election, it is treatment worse than the situation of those herbivorous South African Christians made to eat grass by their pastor. Nigerians shared that deplorable news from South Africa and laughed. I shook my head in disgust. Folks who are being treated with so much contempt by the so-called democracy in their country are laughing at South African Christian herbivores. Is their situation not worse than those chewing grass in South Africa? Are their leaders in Nigeria not making them chew worse than grass?
In the run-up to all previous presidential elections, I screamed myself hoarse. I told you that the political players will never respect you – no matter which party they belong to – unless you demand respect and begin to work on the ground rules for respect. Demand for respect begins by saying no to candidates you did not have enough time to scrutinize. How do you scrutinize a presidential candidate in less than six months? You need time to identify the issues on which a candidate is running. These issues span the political, economic, social, and ethical realms of our national life. You need time for all the strategic stakeholders in our national life – political groups, social, groups, civil society groups and organizations, student groups, just to mention a few – to scrutinize each candidate on the basis of these issues. They need to go round the country on various platforms for scrutiny. How do you do this when politicians and political parties get away with the arrogance and insult of not telling you who is running until the very last minute. Gosh, some candidates even add insult to injury by failing to show up for presidential debates.
This insulting scenario is unfolding again in the build-up to 2015. We know that the election is thirteen months away. No candidates. No issues. No scrutiny. They keep you busy with distraction after distraction; they multiply presidential brigandage and irresponsibility in Rivers state to keep you talking. By the time you shine your eyes, it’s almost 2015 and there little time left to scrutinize anybody or anything. This is the point at which those who should know better – educated members of the public who are active on social media – will jump up and begin to rationalize nonsense. They will find explanations and justifications for anything. They will tell you that the idea of the political process respecting the citizenry by giving them enough time to question candidates and scrutinize the issues they are running on is not compatible with our realities and it is not fair for you to keep insisting on “foreign scenarios”. They will propose “realistic and home-grown scenarios” for accommodating insult and tolerating mediocrity. So, I ask myself, why should I continue to swallow Panadol on account of the headache that these folks claim they don’t have?
The insults pile up from every corner of the political spectrum. You tell the victims that even while we agree that the PDP must be booted out of our lives in 2015 by every means legal, lawful, and non-violent, there is an even greater responsibility not to reward APC with precisely the sort of docile and irresponsible followership that could transform her into a laminated photocopy of PDP in power. You tell them that APC must be saddled with vigilant followership. As Nigeria’s only viable hope for escaping one and a half decades of PDP hell, APC must be helped against her own demons. Then some Nigerians suffering at home write you: “Prof, you have been so critical of APC recently. Even if the thieves in PDP are now migrating en masse to APC, don’t you think it is better for us to try the same set of thieves on a different political platform? Why should we always try them on the same political platform and expect different results?”
You almost suffer a heart attack, reading such an unbelievable message from educated Nigerians. You try to tell them that as followers of the only viable alternative political platform to the hell and rot that is PDP, now is the time for them to make it clear to APC leaders that it is not going to be followership as usual; that vigilance will be the keyword. They tell you that things must work according to our realities. For “our realities”, read grass chewing by the people at the prompting of laughing politicians. So, I ask myself, why should I continue to swallow Panadol on account of the headache that these folks claim they don’t have?
That explains my silence in recent weeks…
Aso Rock Villa. Yoruba music-themed day in one of the expansive presidential reception rooms. Ebenezer Obey is crooning from a sophisticated sound system:
A l’owo ma j’aiye
Eyin le mo
Awon to j’aiye l’ana da
Won ti ku won ti lo
(If you have serious money
And you don’t enjoy life to the hilt
That is your fucking business
Those who enjoyed life yesterday
Are dead and gone today)
General party atmosphere and genteel conversations in the ajebutter mode of the rich and powerful. Baba’s raucous peals of laughter are the only throwback to unpolished bush mannerisms. In the room, the usual suspects: President Goodluck Jonathan, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, Baba Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, General T.Y. Danjuma, Chief Tony Anenih, all kinds of rebel Governors, representatives of the Northern Elders’ Forum, plenty of food, plenty of drinks, and assorted aides carrying the cellphones of their principals. President Jonathan can be heard above Ebenezer Obey’s financial advice:
“Ah, Baba himself! For the Baba himself! Ladies and gentlemen, it’s amazing how we all here continue to owe our necks and good fortunes to Baba’s quick thinking o!”
“Mr. President, I agree with you. You are absolutely right. I mean, look at me, I’m supposed to be Mr. Fix It. Yet, I was caught completely off guard by that idiot Kano prince. But for Baba’s quick action, we would all have been in a lot of trouble. I doff my hat and heart for Baba o”
(General murmur of agreement across the room.)
“Em, my people, if you praise me too much my head will swell o”
“Ah, Baba, let’s praise you. You deserve it. You have saved the President from a very tight corner.”
“Ok, praise me. It was my usual work of genius. As I sat down at the stadium in Johannesburg for Mandela’s funeral, I kept thinking of the damage that this lunatic Kano prince could potentially do to our plans with his useless letter. Then I thought of the one thing that never fails to work with Nigerians: emotion. You see, no matter how grown up and educated a Nigerian is, you must always remember that his emotion never develops beyond the Choco Milo stage throughout his or her life. Give children Choco Milo and you can divert their attention away from anything. I knew instantly that a letter containing more sensational tsunami than that of the Kano prince would divert their attention from our money. Throwing Nigerians Choco Milo worked for those who ruled them before us; throwing Nigerians Choco Milo has worked for us since we started ruling them; throwing Nigerians Choco Milo will work for our children who will rule Nigerians when we are dead and buried.”
(Thunderous applause in the room)
“Em, Your Excellency President Jonathan.”
“Yes, my dear General IBB.”
“Well, now that Baba has mentioned our money, I think it is time to get down to business. I still need to be in Minna today to receive another APC delegation. You know that those fools literally sleep on my verandah these days.”
“Ah, yes, you’re right General. Gentlemen, the meeting is about to start. If you are not supposed to be here, please exit now.”
(All aides exit. Patience Jonathan remains seated, beaming. Baba whispers into President Jonathan’s ear.)
“Em, Jona, your madam is still here now.”
“Yes now, Baba, I can see her.”
“Haba, don’t you understand? Tell her to go out too now.”
“Ehn, Baba, you want to kill me? Tell Patience to go out? Baba, leave matter, she is the real President o.”
“Ah, Jona, wo aiye e nta! See your life! Okay, let me help you get her out of here.”
“Ah, Baba, please I beg you, leave her alone o.”
(Too late. Baba is already approaching the First Lady.)
“My one and only Madam Peshe!”
“Baba, you are our father.”
“Peshe, Peshe! The lionness of Okrika! May Soponna strike any other woman who looks at Jona.”
“Baba we thank God. We thank you.”
“Ehen, Madam Peshe, shebi you know that whenever I’m here in the Villa, I will only eat what you personally cook because I am yet to see any woman who cooks soup like you in the whole of Africa.”
“Ah, Baba, you are flattering me again o.”
“It is not flattery o Madam Peshe. This one that you are seating here with us. It means you want me to eat food cooked by Villa cooks today?”
“Ah, Baba! Okay, let me leave you men alone and go and personally cook your own meal.”
“That is what I’m talking about my daughter. Thank you. O kare omobinrin yi.”
(The First Lady exits)
“Ah, Baba, how did you do it?”
“Leave me alone jare Jona. O ti de ju. Must I teach you everything including how to flatter a woman to get her to do anything you want? Start the meeting jare.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are all here to review Operation Fifty-Billion-Dollars-For-2015. Now that Baba, through a stroke of genius, has been able to divert the country’s attention away from the money and to his letter, we have to move quickly and discuss the sharing formula.”
“Yes, Mr. Fix It.”
“First I want to congratulate you for raising the fifty billion dollars.”
“I didn’t raise it o. Nne One and Nne Two did it. I only provided Presidential leverage.”
“Sorry for interrupting you but how do you go about picking those your Nnes? One bought bulletproof BMWs for some cool dollars and another two have raised fifty billion dollars for 2015. Anyway, Mr. Fix It, you have no mouth to congratulate anybody o. When we put you in works, how much were you able to raise? Now ordinary women have raised fifty billion dollars and you are talking. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“Baba, please let’s stay on point. General IBB, your opinion?”
“Well, President Jonathan, have you determined the traditional courtesy cut for us the elder statesmen here? How much is going to Baba, General Danjuma, General Abdulsalami, and I? And since General Integrity will never attend these meetings and will reject his share if we send it to him, we can add it to ours. So, as usual, we take our cut first and decide how to disburse the rest for 2015.”
“Yes, General IBB, in view of all the contending issues, I have fixed the traditional courtesy cut for you elders at ten billion dollars. As usual, you will work out the sharing formula among yourselves. We are left with a balance of forty billion dollars. Baba, I hope that works for you?”
“Jona, you know by now that no amount of money works for me but let me not be an agbaya. Let me agree this time. Now let’s move on to these noisemakers in the Northern Elders’ Forum. General Abubakar should handle that side.”
(General Abubakar turns to the representatives of the NEF and speaks)
“Folks, I’m a man of few words. Four years of waiting is nothing if you are busy investing ten billion dollars. Take ten billion dollars and bury your agitation for the Presidency to shift to the North in 2015. You don’t have to openly work for President Jonathan. Just go and get busy investing your share of the ten billion dollars and disappear from circulation. Remember that if you refuse to take this money, he has the might of the Nigerian state and will still rig that election anyway. Guys, grow a brain. Don’t lose both ways. Take ten billion dollars and advise the North to wait for 2019.”
“Okay, General Abdulsalami, we hear you. But this ten billion is for how many of us? Can the President add three oil blocks to it?”
“Alhaji, don’t push it. Ten billion and nothing more. It’s dollars o. The sharing formula is for you members of the executive of the Northern Elders Forum to decide when you get back to Kaduna.”
“Ok. We agree.”
“Yes, General Abdulsalami.”
“We have the north. Ten billion dollars.”
“Ok. Baba, shey you hear. We are down to thirty billion dollars.”
“Ehen, these rebel rascals, there are seven or eight of them?”
“Well, Baba, they are all here but I don’t know in what combination. They were seven. Then they were five and two, and then they were five and one and one. But we have seven of them here.”
“Give them one billion each and let them go and sempe”
“Ah, ok. That makes seven billion dollars. But Sule Lamido already cornered ten billion naira through his sons. Should he also get a billion dollars?”
“Jona, give those boys what I said. By the way, where is Rotimi? Rotimi! Rotimi!”
(Rotimi Amaechi approaches the centre of the room and kneels down. Baba addresses him)
“Ehen, Rotimi, your drama has gone on long enough.”
“Yes, I know, Baba.”
“You will leave this meeting with one billion dollars. The money is to organize your campaign for the Senate in 2015. Once you leave this meeting, go back to Port Harcourt and engineer how to lose your ongoing battle with the Presidency. You understand that the Presidency must not be seen to have lost out in a battle with a governor.”
“I understand Baba.”
“Okay, Jona, what else do you have for Rotimi.”
“In addition to the one billion dollars, he gets two oil blocks. He gets to continue his association openly with APC but must come back to us once he is elected to the Senate.”
“Rotimi, shey you hear President Jonathan. Do you agree?”
“I agree Baba.”
“Okay, go and arrange how Bipi will impeach you. Protest a little and disappear into APC. See you at the Senate in 2015. Jona, where are we?”
“Well, Baba, ten billion for Elder statesmen, ten billion for the Northern Elders Forum, seven billion for the rebels. That’s twenty-seven billion dollars.”
“Okay, we must earmark ten billion dollars for Bode George now that he is completely free to work for us again.”
“Haba Baba! Ten billion dollars for Bode George?”
“Jona, I think you are underestimating the importance of Lagos. Until we take that state, we cannot really say that we own Nigeria even if you win in 2015. You understand that the owner of the treasury of that state is singlehandedly financing APC and poking his rude finger in our noses all the time just because he owns that treasury? Whatever we do, we got to capture that treasury. Capturing the treasury of Lagos state is a do or die affair.”
“But Baba, we can always fly him here in the dead of night and cut another deal.”
“That will be another temporary solution. Bode is the only stormy petrel capable of handling him. But Bode needs money.”
“But Baba, what will ten billion dollars do? Do you know how much the man rakes in monthly from that treasury he owns in Lagos? Lamorde showed me his file last week and I nearly had a heart attack.”
“That is why you will give Bode five oil blocks in addition to the ten billion dollar mobilization fee. Besides, something will work for us. Sooner or later, the people of Lagos will get tired of their money being used to build a personal empire across the southwest. They will begin to insist that the money for Lagos must be spent exclusively on the development of Lagos. Once that happens, we move in for the kill.”
“Okay, Baba, ten billion for Bode George. So, we have run through thrity-seven billion dollars. What about Nne One and Nne Two? Without the extraordinary work of those two women, we won’t be here.”
“Ah, yes, they tried. Encourage them with $1.5 billion each.”
“That’s three billion dollars. We are at forty billion dollars.”
“I think the whole house here would agree that the remaining ten billion dollars should be disbursed at your discretion, Mr. President.”
(Outside the room, some eavesdropping disgruntled aides whisper)
“Wetin now, Renoks?”
“You no hear? The money don remain ten billion dollars o.”
“What do you mean ehen?”
“They have not mentioned aides now. And the money don nearly finish. It takes billions to effectively monitor social media these days…”
“Wetin now, Oga Doyin, was I talking to you? I was talking to Oga Ruby.”
“Ole ni e. You are a thief. No respect for elders. Elders are sharing money that will guarantee your future here beyond 2015 and you are doing longa throat. Foolish boy.”
“At least nobody in Benue and Imo states has accused me of contract jibiti.”
“Ehn, Renoks, are you talking to me? Ruby, you are here and this small boy is insulting me? I will…”
(Madam Peshe’s voice screaming from the kitchen interrupts him)
“Renoks! Ruby! Doyin! Where are these boys when you need them? Renoks! Ruby! Doyin! Have you set the table?”
They all roar, “Yes Madam!!” and rush to the kitchen.
“Fellow Liberians: As I speak to you today, I am most gratified by the caliber of the delegations of our own African Governments, Foreign Governments, partners and local partners as well, who have come to join us to celebrate this triumph of democracy in our country. I am particularly touched by those you see – our dear brothers, the delegation from the United States, headed by the wife of President Bush and my friend, our mediator, who has been with us so long and brought us to this day.
We pay homage to all of you. We respect you. We welcome you. Bien vene a tous. My dear Brothers and Sisters of West Africa: You have died for us; you have given refuge to thousands of our citizens; you have denied yourselves by utilizing your scarce resources to assist us; you have agonized for us, and you have prayed for us. We thank you, and may God bless you for your support to Liberia as well as for your continuing commitment to promote peace, security, stability, and bilateral cooperation within our sub-region – and beyond.” President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (excerpts from inauguration speech)
Shortly after inauguration, she was on a thank you visit to the United States and addressed a joint session of Congress thus:
“But our ties greatly exceed the historical connection. I stand before you today, as the first woman elected to lead an African nation, thanks to the grace of Almighty God; thanks to the courage of the Liberian people, who chose their future over fear; thanks to the people of west Africa and of Africa generally, who continued to give hope to my people. Thanks also to President Bush whose strong resolve and public condemnation and appropriate action forced a tyrant into exile and thanks to you – the members of this august body – who spurred the international effort that brought blessed peace to our nation.”
…which brings me to my point. This was the Liberian President in 2006 giving credit on two occasions to George Bush in particular and the United States in general for services rendered to her country mainly by Nigeria. For who does not know that ECOMOG is a synonym for Nigeria’s petrobillions and Nigerian limbs? Yet, in both speeches, one could barely make out the silhouette of Nigeria, lost in broad remarks about West Africa and Africa.
Before Liberia, you could possibly count fifty something other ungrateful lepers across the continent who, at various points in Africa’s postcolonial trajectory, have been beneficiaries of the bottomless pit of petrobillions of Abuja, only to run to Washington, London, Paris, or Lisbon to give thanks upon being healed. At least one of the ten lepers returned in the Bible to give thanks to his healer. In Africa, Jesus heals them and they run to render thanks unto Caesar.
I am therefore “maniacally bewildered” (apologies to Patrick Obahiagbon) that, upon the latest insult by South Africa, Nigerians are behaving like they’ve only just discovered this fact today. From Abakaliki to Zungeru, the din of our outrage is threatening to invade my second ear. South Africa, folks claim correctly, seems to have forgotten the source of the petrobillions that funded the struggle in the 70s and the 80s and has given the funeral oration stage to those who put Madiba and the ANC on terror watchlists while money that should have been invested in our roads and other infrastructure went to buy ammunition for Umkhonto we Sizwe and to provide Federal Government scholarships for thousands of black South Africans to study free in Nigerian Universities. All of this is true. But why are we behaving like it has only just started to happen? Nigerians have this irritating habit of going to bed every night with indignity for decades only to wake up one day in the middle of the afternoon and scream: “Mr. Indignity, what the heck are you doing in my bed? How did you get here?”
It means that those who are screaming today about the insult from the South Africans aren’t even aware of the previous insult from the Liberians. In short, they do not know when, where, and how the rain began to beat us. All these cries of insult remind me of Tortoise who fell into a pit latrine and was there for seven years. Then one day, his neighbours discovered where he was whereupon Tortoise began to scream, asking them to get him out quickly lest the stench killed him.
Folks, we have been in this stench of Africa’s ingratitude for our incurable habit of Santa Clausing our petrobillions for a very long time.
The point is not to scream outrage today. Your responsibility is to think very critically about why and how we got here. Are there any connections between this state of affairs and the quality of Nigeria’s leadership, especially since 1999? If we had leaders who could think and deploy critical intelligence, would this be happening to us? What is your own role in canonizing mediocre and intellectually inferior semi-gods in our political process? Are you contributing directly or indirectly to this state of affairs when you display a programmatic hostility to any criticism – no matter how justifiable – of the quality of service and leadership of your canonized political gods?
Perhaps in 2015, you should vote in folks with enough brain power to understand that you cannot buy love and respect with petrobillions? Perhaps you should vote for those who understand that if your citizens are healthy and well fed and gainfully employed, if your infrastructure is world class, if your Universities in 2013 don’t look like the University of Timbuktu in the 12th century, respect and global esteem shall be added unto you? There are connections between things. Let us think urgently about all these connections and make something constructive of today’s insult. I salute you.
Our columnist, Pius Adesanmi, has been blogging on Facebook since Nelson Mandela passed on on Thursday. Find three of his random thoughts, which he calls memos, below.
Africa, you lost a father and gained a towering ancestor! Africa, do not mourn your Madiba. He is now the eyes of a kestrel, watching over you from beyond the beyond. Madiba is here. Listen to Birago Diop:
BREATHS – By Birago Diop
Listen more often to things rather than beings.
Hear the fire’s voice,
Hear the voice of water.
In the wind hear the sobbing of the trees,
It is our forefathers breathing.
The dead are not gone forever.
They are in the paling shadows,
And in the darkening shadows.
The dead are not beneath the ground,
They are in the rustling tree,
In the murmuring wood,
In the flowing water,
In the still water,
In the lonely place, in the crowd:
The dead are not dead.
Listen more often to things rather than beings.
Hear the fire’s voice,
Hear the voice of water.
In the wind hear the sobbing of the trees.
It is the breathing of our forefathers,
Who are not gone, not beneath the ground,
The dead are not gone for ever.
They are in a woman’s breast,
A child’s crying, a glowing ember.
The dead are not beneath the earth,
They are in the flickering fire,
In the weeping plant, the groaning rock,
The wooded place, the home.
The dead are not dead.
Listen more often to things rather than beings.
Hear the fire’s voice,
Hear the voice of water.
In the wind hear the sobbing of the trees.
It is the breathing of our forefathers.
To those of you who find it painful and offensive that some highly rated players in Africa’s Bundesliga of sit-tighters and Presidential lifers like Paul Biya, Teodoro Obiang, Blaise Compaore, Yoweri Museveni, etc, – all antitheses of the Mandela essence – and the Premier League of the continent’s corrupt non-lifers led by the binge drinker of Abuja, are the ones wearing sackcloth, pouring ash over their own heads, and mourning Madiba a little too loud, while determined never to run Africa in accordance with that particular ancestor’s exemplary vision and example, I say worry not. Take solace in what Chinua Achebe foresaw: “Do you know that in a great man’s household there must be people who follow all kinds of strange ways? There must be good people and bad people, honest workers and thieves, peace makers and destroyers; that is the mark of a great obi. In such a place, whatever music you beat on your drum there is somebody who can dance to it”. Africa is the obi of that great man, Mandela. One must expect to encounter mourners of every hue.
A friend just asked me if Madiba’s passing would have any impact on Nigeria. I said no, his passing will not but his funeral will. His funeral will have a serious impact on the Nigerian treasury and cause a logistical nightmare for the South African authorities. I foresee all ten jumbo jets in the Nigerian presidential fleet heading out to Johannesburg with the largest official delegation to the funeral.
And that is not counting the convoy of private jets of uninvited Nigerian state governors that will head out to Johannesburg for the obligatory I-was-also-there ritual. And that is not counting the chartered flights that will convey half the National Assembly to Johannesburg. And there could be private jets of opposition leaders claiming to have been invitedto the funeral by Jacob Zuma the way they were invited by Barack Obama to the democratic convention. Anesh Maistry , my diplomat brother, knows one or two things about the size of Nigerian delegations from seasoned experience. He’d better advice his people to start preparing. Does O. R. Tambo International Airport have enough room for the impending torrential rain of jumbo jets from Nigeria?
One final memo to our South African friends before I move on with my one ear to my regular internal Nigerian migraine. This talk of the possibility of a low key burial that I’m hearing, is it true? You guys should not play with bad thing o. In Nigeria, passage to ancestorhood after a life well lived beyond 70 is an occasion for carnivalesque of epic proportions. Depending on your means, you empty a brewery and send several cows to meet their maker. In a certain part of the country, ruinous bank loans are in order for aso ebi and days of owambe partying to usher the departed into a gentle breeze of bliss alias “afefe rere”.
I warned you guys yesterday that we could be hitting Joburg with about a hundred jumbo jets – half of us uninvited. We don’t travel for low key affairs. So, I must warn you that it is never beyond us to do these things properly on behalf of the owners of the affair. It is never beyond us to do things properly on behalf of Africa and the black world. When it comes to spending our petrobillions, we make it our responsibility to weep louder than the bereaved. Ask brotha Barack Obama. When his people in America showed signs of not knowing how to organize a proper fund raiser for his last Presidential election, we gathered together in Lagos and organized one of the most expensive fund raisers in history to fund the re-election of brotha Barack in America. The fund raiser was led by the then Chairperson of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
Never mind that it was completely illegal and there was no way to get the money to brotha Barack. To this day, we still don’t know what happened to the funds raised but we taught the Americans a vital lesson in how to organize an electoral carnival. I’m saying this just so you know that we are perfectly capable of returning to Abuja from your reported low key affair in Joburg to organize a proper and befitting funeral of Nigerian proportions for Madiba. You, the real owners of Madiba, may not even be invited but we’ll do it before the world’s cameras in order to teach you how to party. We could shut down Lagos and Abuja for a week of partying. Do not say we did not warn you.
Aiye! The English language calls you “earth” or “world” because she lacks the resources to convey what you really mean. In his endless quest for the miracle of overnight millions, the Nigerian prosperity Pentecostal Christian gives you more colourful names, such as “powers”, “principalities”, and “dominions”, and spends the most productive hours of every day abandoning Nigeria’s work to bind you, rebuke you, come against you, and send every manner of contrary stuff back to sender. Yoruba Nollywood translates you in every movie as “terrestrial forces”. Aiye! You are a combination of all these things and much more: earth, world, powers, principalities, dominions, benevolent and malevolent terrestrial forces, and chthonic forces. Ah, aiye, I salute you!
Because you are all these things and much more, the patriarch knows that he must salute you too in the morning, whenever your face meets his face at dawn, hailing you in a manner that is cognizant of your unfathomable depth. “Aiye akamora”, the patriarch hails you at his doorstep, looking skywards as your dew caresses his ancient face. And I can hear the solemn baritone of his voice saluting you further: “eni wa o o ri o” (he that seeks you finds you not), “eni ri o o mo o” (he that finds you knows you not). And the patriarch bows before the resplendence of your enigma, saluting the osoronga mothers of the earth in that solemn moment of Eucharistic obeisance. And I hear the osoronga mothers of the earth – protective divinities that they are – I hear them remind the patriarch that man is not totally powerless in in his daily navigation of your sinews, aiye. Creation endows him with the singular weapon he needs to navigate every challenge you and your trickster forces throw at him: ifunra (vigilance).
Vigilance, that’s really what all your hokey pokey is all about, aiye! Wearing the armor of ifunra (vigilance) does not mean that man will find you if he seeks you or know you if he finds you. It just means that he stands a far better chance of not being swept away by the hurricane (iji aiye) that you are. Ifunra is not cynicism. Ifunra is not pessimism. Ifunra is not a permanent state of negativity. Ifunra is just alertness and the condition of questioning and questing that is so crucial to the preservation of man. Ifunra is affirmation of life through enhanced consciousness. Ifunra is that stage of superior consciousness which saved the life of the tortoise at the entrance of the lion’s cave. Did the tortoise not pause to observe that all the footprints, sorry, pawprints, at the entrance of the cave were going inside, none coming out? Did he not then conclude from the evidence that none of the animals who visited the lion on hearing that the king of the jungle was indisposed came out of that cave? Ifunra is what prevents setting forth at dawn on the day the road is famished. Tortoise held counsel with his feet and returned home alive to tell the story of those who uncritically embraced the latest fad in town without exercising their right to question, to be curious. They voluntarily relinquished ifunra. They did not return. Tortoise embraced ifunra. Tortoise returned.
Aiye! You can happen to a single man. You can happen to a people. Whether you elect to happen to the singular or the collective, there is no substitute for ifunra. However, the drama is considerably more gripping, more arresting, and more pathetic when the collective allows trials, tribulations, and the abomination of desolation to deaden their sense of vigilance. You have been known to pardon and go easy on the foolish individual who throws ifunra to the dogs and walks blindly and uncritically into the snares and vicissitudes of life. You’ve been known to overlook the idiocy of such individuals. You’ve been known to cut them some slack. They get a second chance and learn one valuable lesson: a man who parts ways with ifunra might as well carry a shovel and dig his own grave for he is a walking corpse.
But you are famously unforgiving of collective foolishness. When a people hold a plebiscite and collectively agree to turn their back on vigilance, your judgment is always swift and fierce. For every second of foolishness, you reward them with Pharaonic plagues from which only subsequent generations may recover if they look back on the collective foolishness of their forebears and return penitent to the domain of ifunra. Such is the case of the people who parted company with ifunra in 1999. After a civil war, after decades of dehumanization by a succession of treasonable felons in military uniform, after SAP, after austerity measure, after the truncated hope of June 12, 1993, they were ready for anything wearing a patina of difference. They were ready for anything with a vague resemblance to democracy, no matter who delivered it, no matter how it was delivered.
They had one problem: ifunra. Ifunra stood between them and carelessness. Ifunra stood between them and the blind alley. Ifunra stood between them and iji aiye, the hurricane of life. So they turned on ifunra and collectively assassinated it. Thus, when Ibrahim Babangida (the singular author of more than half of the tragedies plaguing their postcolonial journey as a nation, the creator of the culture of settlement and corruption that has turned them to a global laughing stock, the annuler of the best election that has ever happened in their lives); when this evil man singlehandedly became the deliverer of their democracy in 1999 by picking up and rehabilitating a fellow General just released from prison, ifunra was missing in action. The people had killed it. Hence, there was no serious national questioning of a democracy delivered by a radiculopathy-infested career coup plotter who singlehandedly picked the anointed presidential candidate for the 1999 charade, travelling from Ota to Kaduna via Abuja before informing the people through the media that “we” have found the next president of Nigeria. That “we” referred exclusively to the cast of contemptible born-to-rule northern feudalists and the pockets of useable but brain-dead southern quislings they allow at the table.
The people were not consulted and have not mattered ever since. The only importance that this “we” of contemptible northern feudalists (they keep calling themselves elders but I don’t know when and where we agreed that such ignominious characters are elders) and their even more contemptible southern allies in the political elite have attached to the people is to use their collective bodies as mannequins for party ankara in political rallies after everything has been decided behind their backs. When ifunra is collectively sacrificed by the people, you end up with government of the people by the kleptomaniacs for the rich, the peculiar brand of democracy we have had in Nigeria since 1999.
You’d think that a people thus blighted, thus worsted by ‘aiye’ as a consequence of their blindness to the virtue of collective vigilance would understand the need not to reward any new entrant and pretender to the title of “progressive alternative” with the gift of blind, unexamined, and unscrutinized acceptance. You’d think that a people who have been declared unworthy of consultation in the elite paradigm that has prevailed since 1999 would cautiously ask any new messiah who comes bearing the good tidings of salvation in the name of democracy: I’ve been made worthless since 1999 by the elite paradigm, what do you intend to do about it? You’d think that the moment the first rumours of the coming of APC hit town, a people beaten once, twice, thrice, and the repeated time, would be waiting, wearing the armour of ifunra. Welcome, Mr. APC, what’s your understanding of the elite paradigm and what do you intend to do about it?
Elite paradigm. In fenced off villas in Maitama, Asokoro, Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Lekki; in private estates (bought with stolen money) in London, Washington, Dubai, and the French Riviera, you gather in little groups and circles of affluence to form alliances, cut deals, allot positions, reach gentleman’s agreements, and decide on the destiny of 170 million people. Don’t worry, you don’t need a vision and a mission. You don’t need a programme. You see, these mumu people are not going to insist that you need to meet them in the spaces of civic agency to sell yourself and your programmes to them.
Only the troublesome electorate in the civilized world requires such inconvenient exertions of political office holders and public leaders. Just imagine, even when Obama is no longer going to run for an election, his aides and the Democratic Party are endlessly monitoring public opinion about policies, gauging the public’s mood, conducting poll after poll. Even the media insists that the people are important. They are constantly harping on the approval rating of the President and political office holders. Public opinion, polls, approval rating: these are some of the mechanisms of a genuine democratic culture which ensure that the political elite ignore the people at their own peril.
Hence, even after elections, the President, Governors, City Mayors are often on the road to sell their policies to the people: town hall meetings, focus group meetings, meetings with civil society groups, campus tours, etc. And you see Obama crisscrossing the country, holding public podium stomp speeches trying to sell his healthcare policy to the people. And you see Francois Hollande crisscrossing France, selling his policies even after election. Ah, what a pain to be a member of the political elite in a genuine democracy. In Nigeria, your life is easy. You don’t need any of that. You have the elite paradigm. It has worked since 1999 in that mumudom. The Nigerian people are the best gift any political elite intent on running a state for the exclusive benefit of the elite could have. They are the perfect clients and will never insist on a democratic ethos in which they matter and are the final arbiters of anything. They have lost ifunra and are comfortable being rolled around by iji aiye, the hurricane of life.
Hence the insulting impunity with which APC has been reinventing the wheel of the elite paradigm. All the permutations, calibrations, jostling, alignments, and realignments that went into the formation of this “opposition progressive party” were an unimaginative photocopy of the worst forms of the PDP’s elite strategies and procedures. I watched in horror as strange bedfellows gathered in banquet halls of five star hotels or in the living rooms of “chieftains” and “leaders” for consultations after which Tom Ikimi would issue arrogant statements telling the people to await further directives. None of these so-called game changers, enemies of the PDP who would wipe away our sorrows, deemed it necessary to start working on a framework that would involve the people from the very start. None of them deemed it necessary to hit the pavements of Nigeria to talk to the people. So thorough was their grasp of the atrocious psychology of the Nigerian that they knew they could take the reward of blind, uncritical, and unquestioning followership to the bank.
They were right. Without ifunra, the people embraced them and even turned on those who dared to ask questions about the elite paradigm, calling them traitors and cynics who see nothing good in anybody. So grave is the wrong psychological wiring of the Nigerian – and the APC leaders knew they could count on this – that they do not know that opposition to the depredations of the PDP is no ground for an unexamined legitimation of the methods of the APC. In a democratic dispensation, all players – the incumbent and the opposition – must be subject to the same modes of scrutiny by the people. Scrutiny of all sides and vigilance: that is the singular civic obligation of the people in a democracy. Where the people betray this critical imperative, they embolden their traducers. Hence, the first notice the APC served the Nigerian people was a foundational act of betrayal: they left the inauguration room of the party and headed straight for Minna to embrace Ibrahim Babangida. They did not go to the Nigerian people. They did a little to the right, a little to the left, and zigzagged their way into the living room of the greatest symbol of Nigeria’s postcolonial decay. That was a symbolic message. Luckily for the APC leaders, none of their dancing followers in the streets and on social media understood the tragic significance of the sacrilege.
When I first heard rumours of the intention of the leaders of the APC to deify Ibrahim Babangida, I picked up the phone and called one of them to ascertain things and to caution against such a horrendous and tragic betrayal of the Nigerian people. “Haba, Prof, Babangida ke?”, he exclaimed, “even if you heard such rumours about us, you should be the first to tell the people that it cannot possibly be true. How can we do that? Go to Babangida? God forbid bad thing!” One week later the chieftain who assured me thus on the phone was one of the leaders of that first delegation to Minna.
You’d think that after the APC served Nigerians this initial notice of its intention to perpetuate the elite paradigm and even perfect it beyond the wildest imagination and ambition of the PDP, the people would immediately begin a broad-based clamour to send an unmistakable message to the elite hustlers in the new party: it’s either we see a clear and decisive shift from the paradigms of the PDP or we reject you. But a people who have turned their backs on ifunra have by that token lost the capacity for sophisticated discernment. Thus, APC was rewarded with even more fanatical followership after this foundational insult. Emboldened, they ignored the people even more, perfected the elite paradigm even more, and have been treating the nation to a sordid and disgraceful spectacle of elite recruitment ever since.
While still not hitting the pavements of Nigeria to meet with the people and sell any kind of programme and vision, they have been busy struggling to recruit and lap up the political excreta of the PDP. Sometimes they don’t even wait for the excreta to fully come out of the PDP’s anus before they put their lips to it and try to suck it out: damaged and corrupt Governors and Senators ostracized by the PDP have suddenly become top recruitment priority for APC leaders, not the Nigerian people. And these are the same clowns who went to town not too long ago saying that nothing good could ever come out of the PDP. We must therefore ask them: just what is good about these characters that you are so busy recruiting instead of changing the game from the elite paradigm in order to convince Nigerians that you are indeed worthy of being that sought-after and much-desired alternative to the vermin in the PDP?
This week, they returned to Ibrahim Babangida’s living room in Minna. Those who killed ifunra and rewarded them with blind, undiscerning, and uncritical followership, especially on social media, deserve this second insult. For the second time, a clear unmistakable message has been delivered to them that Ibrahim Babangida is more important to the calculations of the APC than the Nigerian people. And we ain’t even seen anything yet. I think there is a Faustian dimension to the character of the leaders of APC. You all remember Faust? That’s the chap in the famous German legend who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for favors. Well, that’s what you saw in Babangida’s Minna mansion this week. APC went to sell her soul to the devil in exchange for favors.
Methinks you’ll see these APC Fausts in other funny living rooms in the days to come. I expect to see them praying at the grave of General Sani Abacha in Kano; I expect to see them in Al Mustapha’s living room in Kano; I expect to see them in the living room of Bode George in Lagos; I expect to see them in the living room of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha in Yenagoa; I expect to see them in the living room of Farouk Lawan in Abuja. If they have room for Babangida and corrupt PDP renegade Governors, surely they have room for all these other important political assets and potentially useful allies? Above all, I expect to see them in the living room of Stella Oduah. They need to recruit her urgently. They need Stella Oduah in APC for when, eventually, the mumu followers who are currently rewarding them with blind, unquestioning, and uncritical loyalty wake up to the fact that politicians wearing progressive masks have once again taken them for a ride just to consolidate the elite paradigm, these APC chieftains will need bulletproof BMW jeeps to shield them from the anger of their blind followers.
(Excerpt from a public lecture I delivered in 2009)
“There is Elizabeth Udoudo, a mother of two children aged five and three years respectively. Sometime in February 2008, this woman and her children had the temerity to share the road with the convoy of state governor in Lagos. Permit me to enter some details on the psychology of Nigerian convoys for the benefit of our Canadian friends in this audience. That is what you call a motorcade here in Canada and also in the United States. Purely ceremonial here, the motorcade wears a human face and respects ordinary Canadians and extant speed limits. I have always argued that the convoy is Nigeria’s worst postcolonial tragedy. The convoy of the Nigerian government official is obscene ostentation, intimidation, unbridled arrogance, and abject alienation from the people. It is an isle of inebriation by power, an oasis of total lawlessness. In his convoy, the Nigerian government official – often an empty barrel also known locally as a “Big Man”, “Chief”, “Alhaji” or a combination of all three – is no longer human. The speed limit of his convoy is determined by how far the speedometer of each constituent bullet-proof SUV can go.
President Obama’s convoy comprises his limo, a decoy limo, one or two media buses and a few police outriders on motorcycles. That is the length of the convoy of a self-respecting Local Government Chairman in Nigeria. At higher levels, a respectable convoy should be at least one kilometer long. I am not going to tell you the price they normally invoice for an SUV. You will have a heart attack. I am not going to mention the soldiers and/or stern mobile police men wielding AK-47s and horse whips. I am not going to tell you that many Nigerians have been crushed by the convoys of our lawless and inhumane rulers over the years. The Nigerian convoy of course comes with the sort of siren blaring that you people here associate with the emergency services: police, ambulance, and fire engines. When you see a convoy and hear the wailing siren in Nigeria, you jump into a ditch or drive your car quickly off the road for the man of power to pass undisturbed by the people he is supposed to be serving. When the people of Nigeria eventually wake up, the convoy will be one of the first targets of their ire. It is one symbol of oppression that they need to take out. Violently if necessary.
My generous recourse to imagery here is to highlight the atmospherics of oppression in which the convoy thrives and also to give you a true portrait of Nigeria’s rulers and government officials since they wear a totally different persona and pretend to be cultured when they are here to interact with you in the West. Don’t ever believe what you see or hear when Nigerian government officials come here grinning from ear to ear. They are just acting for you or, as we say in Nigeria, they are “forming”. That is not who they are back home. They brutalize our people daily. If you belong with the little people, you’d better not mess with the convoy of a Nigerian government official – especially if you are a woman. Elizabeth Udoudo was driving and broke this rule that is so crucial to the architecture of power and democracy in Nigeria.
Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo state and his convoy would broach no such violation of the rules of engagement – by a woman for that matter! They stopped the convoy – even time stops when the ego of a big man is at stake in Nigeria – dragged her out of the car and proceeded to beat her black and blue in broad daylight and in the presence of her young children…”
John Dramani Mahama, President of the Republic of Ghana, the location where my bread is currently buttered, sorry, where my kenkey is currently spiced by shito, is a spoiler and a thrower of spanners in the works. Just when I’m halfway through an op-ed column about an encounter with him that I hope to release to my readers next Friday via Sahara Reporters and Premium Times, he forces me to issue this short and rapid fire statement about how he runs his country and how his style must be causing very serious problems for his counterpart in Abuja. Dear Reader, don’t worry, the column will come to you fresh from the oven next Friday. It’s just that this appetiser on matters arising cannot wait. If you have not heard that President Mahama sacked the lovely Victoria Hammah, his Deputy Minister of Communication, within twenty-fours of the outing of a tape in which the errant Minister is heard claiming that she hopes to make a million dollars before quitting politics, it means you are not a netizen and you probably get your news from Nigeria’s regular local media, always light years behind social media and online news media. I will not bore you with details of the sacking of this Ghanaian minister. You have a handset with access to google. Use it. What I want to say in this brief statement is that those of us who were hoping against hope that common sense, which has been in a state of induced coma in Aso Rock since 1999, may eventually wake up in the irritating case of Stella Oduah and Oga Goodluck Jonathan, against all expectations, would suddenly do the right thing. That hope has now been dashed by the swift, decisive, and muscular leadership of President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana. By swiftly sacking a member of his cabinet for so much as evincing the possibility of corruption, he has checkmated any hope that Aso Rock would somehow find the uncharacteristic will to fight corruption by acting decisively in the nauseating case of Stella Oduah. Now, Nigeria’s pride and prestige are at stake. How does our corruption-tolerating, indecisive, prevaricating, and equivocating friend in Aso Rock sack his pen-robbing Minister of Aviation without appearing to have taken a cue from his Ghanaian counterpart? How does he proceed on this Oduah matter now without appearing to be a pupil of his more straightforward and decisive neighbour in the arena of leadership in Africa? And when we tell these coconut-headed guys in Abuja that Nigeria pays a price for their irredeemable behaviour, they never listen. Now, see ‘babanla’ disgrace and embarrassment. Sadly and tragically for Nigeria, Ghana has once again stolen the moment. Everything we do or do not do about Oduah going forward, the barometer and the benchmark have been set in Accra. We must now behave like wet-eared kindergarten pupils of the anti-corruption leadership style of the Ghanaian Presidency. Honestly, the man Nigeria offended and who consequently cursed her with the leadership of Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan is dead and buried. If he was alive, we would at least go and beg him to forgive Nigeria. It’s a sad day when those who should be learning from us are telling us: this is how we do it! (apologies to Montell Jordan).
In recent lectures, interviews, and essays, I have suggested consistently that our struggle for Nigeria has shifted to the psychology of the Nigerian. I have claimed that even more than corruption, the psychology of the Nigerian is Nigeria’s deadliest enemy. Rewire that wrongly-wired psychology and all other things shall be added. What I have thus far failed to address in this line of thinking is the role of location in the actuations of this wrong psychological wiring.
While not justifying or excusing manifestations of wrong psychological wiring in a large number of Nigerians based at home, I daresay it is largely understandable. If he is fifty years old and below and has never left the shores of Nigeria, no matter how educated, cosmopolitan, urbane, polished, and refined he is, you must remember that he has never ever experienced responsible and accountable governance for one second of his life. He has never experienced the humility and ordinariness of power.
He has never experienced anything outside of the arrogance, rudeness, corruption, crudeness, and utter stupidity of Nigerian government officials. He has never experienced anything other than the unbridled irresponsibility of power in Nigeria. He is not in possession of any alternative realities and experiences that would make him know that it is wrong for soldiers and mobile police men to dehumanize and whip him off roads built with his tax money just because Goodluck or Patience Jonathan is coming to town. When he sees pictures of David Cameron riding the London tube or of the Canadian Prime Minister quietly waiting in a queue behind ordinary civilians for his own coffee, he thinks there is something stage-managed about all that for he has never seen even a mere local government chairman wait for his turn behind ordinary Nigerians. When he hears that some world leaders have no official planes, travel light, and stay in average hotels to cut costs and save money for their countries, he marvels for the only world he knows is one in which irresponsible government officials commute in private jets or helicopters, ride only bulletproof jeeps and limos, stay in the world’s most expensive hotels, ordering caviar and choice champagne like there is no tomorrow. He does not know that this is crass, galling impunity; that these bacchanalian boys and girls in government in Abuja have no right to do any of these things on the public dime. How could he possibly know?
I could go on and on. You’ll be amazed at the things that this ordinary and well-meaning Nigerian does not know simply because he has never experienced responsible and accountable governance in a genuinely democratic setting and is therefore unable to project mentally into a universe of different realities. When I wrote about Colonel Texas Chukwu, the idiot who stormed the Guardian’s office in Jos with his men to arrest a civilian for publishing a story he did not like, I was surprised by the large number of emails I received from ordinary Nigerians all over the country. They were thanking me for that piece of civic education. They simply did not know and had never imagined that soldiers have no powers of arrest in a democracy. They can be forgiven.
Considering Nigeria’s terrible postcolonial romance with impunity, how is a Nigerian who has never left the shores of that country supposed to know that soldiers flogging and arresting civilians in our streets are breaking the law and ought to be court-martialled and dismissed from service? How is this Nigerian supposed to know that police men who bark, “open ya boot!” without a search warrant signed by a competent judge are breaking the law? How is he supposed to know that the soldier and the policeman have no right to do any of these things in Nigeria? They do only because the masses hardly know better and the oppressors in power ensure that there are no consequences for they themselves are guiltier of impunity than the soldier and the policeman.
It is this lack of a lived experience of the real thing, of the real deal, that sometimes transforms the Nigerian regular Joe into the most vociferous defender of his own oppression. If you know better and you hit the airwaves and the public sphere with tales of alternatives, the wrongly wired Nigerian could become your deadliest foe. He is going to come after you with all he’s got. He is going to defend with his last breath the same irresponsible government officials who are raping his present and mortgaging his future. If you look at things closely, this is to be expected. You are rocking the boat of the only world he knows. You are talking scornfully about the only experience of the world he can boast of. You are saying that his world is inadequate, corrupt, hopeless, unacceptable, and indefensible. You are saying that the only national space he knows is inferior to the paleolithic age. He will fight you. He will abuse you. This is what makes him the most reliable weapon in the hands of folks like Doyin Okupe, Reuben Abati, Reno Omokri, Ahmed Gulak and all those who make a living by retailing lies, deceit, and illusion on behalf of Nigeria’s corruption and impunity. The wrongly wired Nigerian is their greatest asset. Here, they have an army of volunteers ready to be used in the schemes of their own very oppression. They will defend the status quo and the shitstem. They will defend the sadists who sell lies on behalf of the status quo. They will tell you to bugger off.
But you must not bugger off. You must understand that you owe it to Nigeria to persist and to insist. You owe the wrongly wired Nigerian, no matter how much he screams and abuses you. You owe him empathy, sympathy, compassion, and understanding. You owe him a great deal of patience. You owe it to Nigeria not to abandon him in the hands of the government sadists for whom his wrong wiring and lack of civic awareness are assets worth more than their weight in gold. You have to understand that the rapists of Nigeria rely on his wrong wiring to be able to continue and sustain their successful rape of that country. And the way to do that is to under-educate or mal-educate him, keep him permanently in a state of blissful civic unawareness, fool him into believing that he is being patriotic by defending them in the name of religion and ethnicity. You need a lot of patience to cut through five decades of deliberate psychological miswiring of this Nigerian by the oppressor he is defending. Look up Stockholm syndrome in the dictionary and you will understand why this Nigerian deserves your patience.
However, you must understand that the Nigerian who is wrongly wired at home has a formidable ally abroad. This foreign-based ally of the home-based defender of the status quo is one of Nigeria’s most dangerous enemies. Unlike his partner at home, he does not possess the valuable excuse of ignorance. He has lived long enough in Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Ireland, Scandinavia, Australia, Canada, and the United States to understand the real meaning of responsible and accountable leadership. He has lived long enough in those places to understand that what obtains in Nigeria does not even vaguely resemble what the rest of the civilized world calls governance. From what he has experienced abroad, he understands perfectly that Nigeria is a coalition of 170 million people ruled by crass impunity and unbridled, unaccountable irresponsibility.
Yet, our friend has perfected the art of experiencing his world in Euro-America with one set of standards and Nigeria with a different, lower, inferior set of standards. Whatever it is he would never accept or tolerate as a member of the civic community in Euro-America he joins up with career rationalizers of mediocrity on the ground in Nigeria to praise to high heavens. That which he rejects for his base in London he justifies and rationalizes for his fatherland in Nigeria. In the unusual circumstance that a snowstorm disrupts power to his neighbourhood in America, Canada, or Europe, if power isn’t restored within hours, he is on the phone screaming, “this is not acceptable at all” at a poor customer service representative who is assuring him that “we are doing everything to restore power sir”. But when he hears that an entire city has not had power for two weeks in Nigeria, the career rationalizer of mediocrity for Nigeria in him takes over. He joins forces with his local teammates to shout at and abuse the collective children of anger for complaining about power failure. He takes over Facebook and Twitter, preaching patience. While flipping channels between baseball and basketball in his New York living room, he tells Nigerians coping with darkness that Rome was not built in a day. He churns out constipated data about how many electrics poles Goodluck Jonathan erected last year all over the country and urges the people to be grateful to their President.
Yet, in all the donkey years he has spent in America, Canada, or Europe, he has never encountered that strange beast called gratitude to government officials and public servants by members of the public for doing the job they are supposed to do with tax payers’ money in the first place. He has never opened the Guardian of London, New York Times, Toronto Star and encountered members of the public taking centrespread ads to thank the Mayors and officials of those cities for tarring roads, clearing snow, providing electricity to neighbourhoods, building and renovating classrooms in public schools. It’s their freaking job! Yet, when his sycophantic and obsequious team mates in Nigeria want to thank a Governor, a Minister, a Senator, or President Jonathan for awarding the contract (same contract previously awarded by Presidents Obasanjo and Yar’Adua) for the construction of an expressway, they may even ask our friend abroad to contribute to the cost of buying advertisement space in ThisDay. Joro jara joro, our friend will rush to Western Union in London, Washington or Toronto to contribute money to the “worthy cause” of buying newspaper advertisement space to thank a government official for doing his job in Nigeria.
Take the behaviour of this fellow during the recent controversy surrounding President Jonathan’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem – accompanied by the obligatory bloated entourage. Now, in all of this guy’s years abroad, he has never encountered such galling impunity as a public official dipping his hands into the treasury to sponsor a personal religious obligation. It cannot happen and will not happen where he lives. Of course we all know that President Jonathan and the members of his huge entourage are well within their constitutional rights to undertake a religious pilgrimage. I have even written in a social media statement that were President Jonathan be inclined to renounce Christianity in favour of Candomble, I will support his right to go on pilgrimage to the Orixa shrines of Salvadore de Bahia in Brazil, em…em, so long as he is paying his way to Brazil out of his personal earnings. Simply put, as the head of a secular state, he has no right to dip his hands into the public till to sponsor his religious pilgrimage. That’s impunity. The President was breaking the law. That his Moslem predecessors have been doing it is no justification for his own act. Just like him, his Moslem predecessors were breaking the law.
Some of the idiotic rationalizations we encountered for this brazen impunity can only happen in a mad country like Nigeria where it is culturally okay to cite yesterday’s crime as justification for today’s crime; where it is always somebody’s legitimate turn to be a criminal on the basis of his or her ethnicity or religion. President Yar’Adua also went on pilgrimage using public resources so that justifies the re-enactment of that crime by President Jonathan. Impunity, breaking the law, is now the turn of southern Christians. You’d of course expect a Nigerian with lived experience of the behaviour of governance in genuinely secular dispensations to understand these issues and help with the urgent task of public instruction. For where?
The Nigerian abroad, blinded by Christian partisanship, became the arrowhead of woolly-headed rationalizations. Our friend, who would be the first to scream blue murder were Angela Merkel or David Cameron to fund personal religious obligations with public funds, joined forces with his teammates at home to chant “go on s’oun” to President Jonathan and the bunch of corrupt clowns who accompanied him to Jerusalem at the expense of the Nigerian tax payer. Now, what does one owe this species of Nigerian in Euro-America? Certainly not the compassion, patience, and understanding one owes his teammates in Nigeria. I believe that one owes him only contempt and disdain for he is wicked at heart and there is no truth in him. One must treat him like an Orisha who chances on your destiny and does not improve it. You tell such an unfavourable Orisha to leave your destiny alone jeje as e meet am and not worsen it for you. The time has come for boda Nigeria to tell this foreign-based career rationalizer of mediocrity: wish me what you live abroad or get thee behind me, buddy!
Nigeria, the country on whose account we are gathered here today for a feast of reflections, is older than me.
This age gap imposes certain protocols of interaction in my culture. I cannot enter into any kind of engagement or social interaction with Nigeria without deploying modes of discourse and honorific markers that would immediately alert speakers of my language to issues of age seniority between me and my addressee. However, in this scenario of elderhood and seniority, Nigeria is not old enough to be my father. Hence, in saluting him within the context of my culture, I cannot call him Baba or Daddy like I would every adult male within my father’s generational bracket in Isanlu, my home town in Kogi state.
With Daddy or Baba Nigeria out of the question, what my culture expects of me, in saluting this elder of mine who recently turned 53, is to say, “Boda Nigeria, e ku ojo ibi o. Igba odun, odun kan ni o.” For those of you who don’t speak Yoruba, this translates roughly as “Brother Nigeria, happy birthday to you o. Many happy returns.”
Unfortunately, the Yoruba greeting does not have hip hip hip hurray! If I was speaking in the presence of Nigeria’s teeming youth, those millions of restless energies under the age of thirty that one encounters on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media, I would not say “Boda Nigeria.”
Nigerians, 30-years-old and below, would consider me an unsophisticated village old school if I said “Boda Nigeria”. For that generation, I would have to say, “Bros Naija, how is your buffday tinz?” We are still saying the same thing. It’s just a question of generations.
Let me stress the point again that “boda Nigeria” is obligatory in my case only because our subject is older than me. Looking across this room, I see many people who cannot possibly call Nigeria “boda”.
I am not saying that they are old but there is a different cultural warrant for how they would felicitate with Nigeria in my language. Such people would tell Nigeria: “Aburo, ku ojo ibi o.” I’ll leave the translation of this one to your imagination.
Let’s return to my own case. Having done the right thing, the omoluabi thing, by felicitating with an elder brother on the occasion of his 53rd birthday, having said, “Boda Nigeria, e ku ojo ibi o”, my culture does not expect me to stop there.
Let me remind you that this culture is notorious for having the widest range of salutations in the widest scenarios imaginable.
This is a culture that has a formulaic “e ku” greeting for everything and every activity under the sun including doing nothing. This culture even has a greeting, “e ku idita”, for an elder who farts in the presence of children. It is imagined that in the process of responding to that urgent ritual of nature by expelling gas, the elder’s behind must have suffered some discomfort. Therefore, while avoiding the rudeness of openly covering their nostrils on perception of any untoward perfume (or on hearing a bad smell), children in the vicinity of the elder’s fart must offer greetings and rites of comfort: “Baba, e ku idita o”!
When a culture takes politeness to the extreme of sympathizing with the behind of an elder who farts, you can imagine that the said culture would not expect me to say happy birthday to a 53-year-old and leave it at that. There is a whole range of “e ku” rituals that are designed to reflect the totality of the condition and life experiences of the celebrant.
My culture expects me to take a long, good, hard, and thorough look at “boda Nigeria” and tailor the next set of salutations to mirror his physical and developmental condition. So, looking at the shape and condition of Nigeria today, after 53 years of postcolonial existence, my culture makes it incumbent on me to greet and sympathize him thus, even as you supply the chorus, “ooo”, after each salutation:
Boda Nigeria, e ku ojo ibi o
E ku iroju o
E ku a mu mora o
E ku ofo o
Edumare a f’ofo r’emi o
It doesn’t end there. When all is said and done, when this culture looks at a birthday celebrant whose entire life is an encyclopedia of failed promises, stunted potentials, false starts, fake starts, non-starts, anomie, corruption, decay, and self-inflicted woes such as would make the situation of Sodom and Gomorrah look like paradise, when all there is to a life being celebrated at 53 is a syllabus of errors – Christopher Okigbo would say, “the errors of the rendering” – when there is nothing left to celebrate but the precarious existence of life, a bare, failed, naked, unfulfilled, and wasted life, just merely hanging on to the thread of its miserable survival, my culture even has one master stroke of a philosophical greeting for that situation for which you will supply one more ooo.
Boda Nigeria, a dupe pe emiremi o.
I will come back to this philosophical business of “emiremi” presently.
I saluted Boda Nigeria first because even if, as I already stated, there are folks in this room who are much older than him, he is in a fundamental sense older than all of his citizens because he is the symbolic patch of earth, the cosmic immanence to which we collectively lay claims of origin.
He is that patriarchal space on whose surface we stand and proclaim: I walked to this place on my head, not on my feet. She is that matriarchal space, our piece of mother earth, whose nurture over us ensures that like the children of snakes we are able to play unmolested in the forest at night.
Let the children of rats try the same moonlight games in the forest! Don’t worry about the apparent clash of pronouns. Nigeria is both our fatherland and motherland: our supreme he and she! That’s why I saluted him first on this auspicious occasion of his birthday.
Having saluted motherland and fatherland because he is older than all of us, if I continue this lecture beyond this point without other salutations, I risk the fate of the goat which entered the homestead without saluting the assembly of elders; I risk the fate of the ram which entered the homestead and did not acknowledge the elders in council. A tight leash around their necks was the last thing the insolent goat and the rude ram saw before they joined their ancestors in the bellies of the elders.
I must therefore crave your indulgence to perform a ritual of obeisance and salutation with which you are already familiar if you honored us with your presence during my last public lecture in this country on the platform of the Save Nigeria Group. Iba
To Pastor Tunde Bakare and Mr. Yinka Odumakin who invited me today – iba!
To Professor Itse Sagay, Chairman of this occasion – iba!
To the board of Trustees, Centre for Change – iba!
To the esteemed members of the high table – iba!
To you, the audience, whose ears are here in this hall to drink my words – iba!
I pray you all,
Let my mouth sway words in this lecture
Like efufulele, the furious wind which
Sways the forest’s crown of foliage
Wherever its heart desires.
I did say that we would come back to the business of emiremi: salutation to a life encountered at its most denuded, most abject, most prostrate. Salutation to a life deep in existential ennui. Acknowledgement that the said life is still somehow, strangely, oddly there. Just there as “gb’aiye lasan” – which is exactly what Nigeria is doing. But even as we acknowledge these sobering and dreary aspects of Nigeria’s “emi” on the occasion of her 53rd birthday, we are reminded by the language whose resources we have been mining for this lecture that “emi” connotes more than life and its materiality. We are reminded that a hint of the immaterial, of the transcendental, of that nebulous core beyond consciousness that we call “spirit” lurks within the semantic recesses of “emi”.
By throwing the emiremi salutation in the direction of Nigeria at 53, we thereby acknowledge that Nigeria has a spirit. This brings up very significant questions. We have already attributed a physical body and a material essence to Nigeria which, for our purposes here, shall be reduced to her fifteenth-century infrastructure and other symbologies of measurable but chronic underdevelopment. Now, we are also attributing a spirit to her. What then becomes of the third member of that triad: the soul? I am talking about the trinity of body, spirit, and soul.
In essence, beyond our traffic in metaphors and personification thus far in this exercise, does a country really have a body, a spirit, and, most importantly for us here today, a soul? Does a country in good health and good shape have a soul, let alone a country in ruins? What could this soul possibly be like, feel like? How do we apprehend and engage it? If it exists, what role or roles does the soul of a country play in the life of such a country? Above all, where a country is physically and spiritually in ruins as is the case with Boda Nigeria, our celebrant today, is it even possible to recover and retool its soul?
As some of you already know, I prefer anecdotal ports of entry into these kinds of benumbing inquiries. My most remarkable encounter with the soul of a nation, the soul of a country, happened in faraway Ottawa where I live and work. Although Ottawa is the capital city of Canada, the soul I encountered on this particular day was not Canadian. Before moving to Ottawa in 2006, I had been an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University in the United States. I was there for five years during which that great American University kindly filed for my permanent residency in America. Within one year of my stay in America, I became a proud owner of something most Nigerians love more than Nigeria: an American green card.
Although I subsequently got the Canadian permanent residency card on moving to Ottawa in 2006 and was soon on the track to becoming a Canadian citizen, I was reluctant to part with my US green card. So I did wuruwuru to the answer and pretended not to know that you are not supposed to hold on to that card if you are not living in the US and paying American taxes. For two years, nothing happened; I went in and out of the US frequently, using that card, even though I was now resident in Canada. I persuaded myself that I was still technically employed in the US, after all Penn State had kept on to me as a non-salaried Adjunct Professor. However, after two years, my green card began to be flagged at US ports of entry. US Customs and Immigration officials would swipe the card and ask me why I was holding on to it when I was clearly no longer living in the US. I would mumble inaudible and incoherent replies. And they would let me in, advising me to make up my mind: come back to live and work in the US in order to keep this card.
Naturally, I would ignore their advice. Things got to a head when I was going to Johannesburg to accept the Penguin Prize for African Writing in 2010 and my flight from Ottawa was routed through New York. I nearly missed the flight to Johannesburg because of the wahala generated by that green card. Once again, I got away with a warning to make up my mind. I knew then that once I returned from Johannesburg, I had to go to the American embassy in Ottawa to give up the green card. I didn’t need it anymore anyway; I was going to become a Canadian citizen that same month. You’d think that giving up an American green card would be a simple process, just walk into an embassy and toss Uncle Sam’s property back at him, not so? Well, my friends, if that’s what you think, you have another think coming!
As I found out, giving up an American green card can even be tougher than obtaining one! For starters, there are no consular appointments for those wishing to give up a green card so I had to apply for a US visa that I wouldn’t need as a Canadian citizen. A visa appointment was the only way to gain access to the reinforced bunker called the US embassy in Ottawa. On the appointed day, I was ushered into the visa area after clearing security. Everything was what you would expect.
The regular throng of coloured humanity – Africans, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Indians, Arabs, all the usual suspects with their cacophony of accents – were there, each waiting for his or her turn to be summoned to little window screens by imperious American visa officers scarcely out of college. Then came my turn.
Everything went very smoothly and a ten-year multiple entry visa was promptly approved for me. “Oh, there is something else,” I told the friendly visa officer (friendly only because he had determined that I am a Professor. Being a University Professor still comes with enormous social privileges and respect over there), “I want to give up this green card, how do I go about it?” I concluded, tossing my green card at him.
His face and countenance changed. “Oh, you have a green card? Why did you come for a visa? And, wait a minute, you want to give up your green card?”, he asked, starring incredulously at me from behind his thick bulletproof cubicle. I answered in the affirmative. “Sir, you want to give up your American privileges?”, he asked again, his bewilderment making him forget to close his wide open jaws. “Yes”, I answered again, coolly. He examined the card for a long time, disbelief and consternation etching patches of sweat on his forehead. He looked at me again, mouth still wide open, shock foreclosing the possibility of speech. My mind began to do the talking for him, racing through a checklist of unsayables that were probably scalding his tongue, wishing they could defy political correctness and burst out of his mouth in gusts of immigrant profiling.
He is er…er… bl…bla…black (✓)
He is er…er…Af…Afri…African (✓)
He speaks English…er…er…with a thick accent (✓)
Yeah, there is a check mark in every identity box! Something ain’t adding up! People like me don’t give up American privileges. We are from the country of Africa. We are hungry. We are poor. We die of AIDS. We die of malaria if mosquito nets donated by Jeffrey Sachs, Madonna, Angelina Jolie, and Bono do not get to us in good time. We fight tribal and religious wars. Those of us who are lucky not to be killed by disease or wild animals forge travel documents to escape to America where we contract fraudulent marriages with innocent white girls just to keep our piece of the American dream. That is what the manual says. This African who wants to return Uncle Sam’s green card is not in the manual. That was obviously me trying to put into words what I imagined was going on in the mind of the visa officer.
I told him the full story of why I needed to give up the card. I was soon to become a Canadian citizen and would no longer need an entry visa or the green card to enter the United States. The card had become an embarrassment, causing me problems at airports bla bla bla. Nothing doing. He wasn’t listening to me.
“Are you sure about giving up your American privileges?”
“Yes, I am becoming a Ca-na-di-an citizen next month. Caa-naa-diaan.”
“You understand that if you change your mind, you will have to apply all over again if you ever want to return to the United States? You cannot restore this green card once you sign off on it.”
I nodded, hoping that the wahala over rendering unto Uncle Sam what is Uncle Sam’s was finally over. I was sorely mistaken for he soon summoned a colleague of his in a neighbouring cubicle. They whisper. The new man went through the same routine of asking me questions, trying to ascertain that I did not need a shrink; that I was not out of my mind to want to opt out of America the beautiful. I smiled and gave the same explanations all over again. At last, they began the paperwork. They handed over a form for my signature. The form bore a title: “US Department of Justice.
Immigration and Naturalization Service. Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status”. In the form, the consular officer had scribbled: “Mr. Adesanmi fully understands the consequences of abandoning his permanent resident card and the American privileges thereof.”
Privileges? Privileges! Consequences? Ladies and gentlemen, that was my moment of epiphany. As they say in America, I got it. I understood what was going on. I am going to draw very heavy conclusions from this story which all have a direct bearing on the reason we are assembled here today: to determine whether Nigeria, a country that has ruined itself continuously and uninterruptedly for 53 years, has a soul and if there are any chances of recovering and reinventing that soul, no matter how battered, for the collective benefit of all in this wasteland of ours. But you will have to tarry a while and bear with me before we get on with that aspect of our reflections for there is one more anecdote from my pool of experiences that would serve as a useful contrast to what you just heard.
Fast forward to November 2012. I flew to Nigeria to deliver two major lectures: the keynote lecture at the annual convention of the Association of Nigerian Authors which held in Uyo and, two days later, the second state-of-the nation lecture of the Save Nigeria Group which held here in Lagos. Remember that at that point, I had become a dual citizen of Nigeria and Canada, carrying the passports of both countries and using them as appropriate in the destinations to which I travel. Needless to say, on arrival at Murtala Mohammed International airport, I presented my Nigerian passport at immigration.
Everything was going well. The usual tired, irritable, and dour immigration officers who gave you a feeling they’d rather be anywhere else but at work. As this particular officer flipped through the pages of my Nigerian passport, looking for where to place her stamp and append her signature, she asked me the regular questions. As I made to bend over a little bit to engage her, my Canadian passport, which was in the outer breast pocket of my long sleeve shirt, fell out onto her counter. As her eyes fell on that foreign passport, her countenance changed.
The moodiness vanished, replaced by a glint of excitement in her face. She grabbed the Canadian passport, examined it preciously like she was handling pure diamond, and exclaimed:
“Ah, Oga, you get this one too?”, she asked, waving the Canadian passport.
“Yes o, Madam, na dual citizen I be”, I replied.
“Wetin you come still dey take dis one do?”, she asked, ignoring my remark about dual citizenship and waving my Nigerian passport in the air before tossing it at me like something that had suddenly acquired the capacity to contaminate her hands with leprosy. Needless to say, when handing over the Canadian passport to me, she treated it with elegance and delicacy. As she waved me on, I couldn’t help thinking that she considered me an idiot who had a cap but no head to deck it on, she being the sage who had a head but no cap to deck on it.
Mind you, we are talking about an experienced immigration officer who, apart from being obviously aware of the reality of dual citizenship for many Nigerians in the diaspora, must have stamped thousands of British, American, French, Irish, German, Australian, Japanese, South African, Ghanaian, Afghan, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Iraqi passports presented to her by Nigerians with dual citizenship of those countries. So, what happened to her when she beheld my Canadian passport? I’ll tell you.
It was one unguarded, unselfconscious moment in which professional carapace collapses and a window is unintentionally opened into the soul of a uniformed Nigerian citizen. And when we look into the soul of this uniformed citizen, through the window afforded us by her outburst and facial expression as she queried the wisdom of hanging on to one of the most important symbols of Nigerian citizenship (of which, ironically, her department is custodian), what do we see mirrored in her soul about Nigeria?
Some of you may be inclined to conclude that the behavior of this immigration officer is just one hilarious example – among millions of daily examples – of the mutual contempt which defines the relationship between Nigeria and the Nigerian, at least most Nigerians for if you are not hissing in contempt, despair, and frustration every time you hear Nigeria, you are probably eating with the one percent. You’d only be partially right if you reached this conclusion. For me, the immigration officer’s diss of the Nigerian passport represents that solemn moment of psychic disconnection, that moment of dehiscence when the soul of the citizen opens up and reaches for a life-giving connection to the soul of the nation and is met with darkness, void, yawning emptiness. Where the soul of a nation ought to be, feeding a hundred and sixty million souls through arteries of patriotism and psychic connection, there is nothing but a gap. And a question mark.
To better understand the anchorage that this officer’s soul fails to find, that connecting point to the essence of her nation, to understand the void, the emptiness which greets her at the rendezvous between her soul and the absent soul of her own nation, we need to go back to our friend at the American embassy in Ottawa, Canada, and try to understand what exactly his own American soul plugged into, connected with, at that improbable moment of encounter with an accented African’s rejection of America. “You are giving up your American privileges!” he had screamed, unable to believe what was happening.
The keyword is “privileges”. That is the foundation of the American soul. The soul of a nation is an imaginary. It is an ideal. It is an idea. In the case of America, it is that which stitches together some three hundred million individual identities and differences, hundreds of ethnic differences, bitter racial polarities and prejudices, unbridgeable political differences between Left and Right, bitter schisms between various versions and factions of Christian evangelical fundamentalism, gender warfare, and the obligatory gulf between a perpetually capitalizing rich and a perpetually socializing poor. Stitching together these differences is only the beginning of the process. A national soul, the soul of a nation, does not emerge just because there is a rendezvous of individual and group differences within a given nation-space. Other things need to happen as I will show presently.
Among the many lessons we take away from Ernest Renan, the famous 19th century French philosopher who wrote one of the most significant treatises on the idea of the nation is that the soul of a nation emerges, takes shape, and comes to define that nation only to the extent that there has been a rendezvous of differences during which there is a voluntary process of relinquishing and remembering by all the constituent identities present at the rendezvous.
Part Three of his great essay, What is a Nation?, is of particular relevance to us here. Says Renan:
“A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present- day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form. Man, Gentlemen, does not improvise. The nation, like the individual, is the culmination of a long past of endeavours, sacrifice, and devotion. Of all cults, that of the ancestors is the most legitimate, for the ancestors have made us what we are. A heroic past, great men, glory (by which I understand genuine glory), this is the social capital upon which one bases a national idea. To have common glories in the past and to have a common will in the present; to have performed great deeds together, to wish to perform still more-these are the essential conditions for being a people. One loves in proportion to the sacrifices to which one has consented, and in proportion to the ills that one has suffered. One loves the house that one has built and that one has handed down. The Spartan song-”We are what you were; we will be what you are” — is, in its simplicity, the abridged hymn of every patrie.”
Notice the recurrence of the word, consent, in Renan’s definition of the soul or the spiritual principle that is a nation. Consent and will are what make it possible for the differences participating in the great historical rendezvous of nationhood to voluntarily determine that which they will forget for the greater good (forgetting, Renan reminds us, is a serious a business as remembering in project nationhood), that which must be remembered for the emotional and psychic anchorage of the constituent parts. That which will be forgotten and that which will be remembered are never fixed. They are to be constantly negotiated, renegotiated, and revisited. This is why Renan defines a nation and her soul as a “daily plebiscite”.
What emerges from this rendezvous of differences, this daily plebiscite on that which we choose to forget and remember for the sake of the nation, is the ideal or the idea which transcends all the differences and defines us all only for the simple reason that we collectively forged it together. For the American, that ideal is the unshakable belief that America is a privilege. A privilege gifted to the world. A privilege gifted to every American. Once every American subscribes to the notion that America is the one privilege you neither relinquish nor give up on, that singularity crystallizes into everything America and Americans are about.
It becomes the one essence that transcends every difference, the ideal which feeds and propels patriotism. The idea of America as privilege is where Donald Trump, capitalist royalty, Bill Clinton (political royalty), and Ms. Meshawnqua Shaniqua (poverty royalty) meet. Whether ancestors were English pilgrims who sailed to, New England, America aboard the Mayflower in the 17th century or they were Kunta Kinte’s kinsmen who made the journey to America chained to the belly of slave ships, today, your hands reach out across a gulf of differences and bitterness to seal the unquestioned and unquestionable idea of America as a privilege. No matter your station in life, you bask in the privilege that is American-ness, the exceptionality that is American citizenship.
Because it is an omnipresent ideal, whatever a nation stabilizes as her soul comes to brand everything she is or she produces. Whatever America is, does, or produces is marked irrevocably by the ideal of privilege. She may give this privilege other names – American exceptionalism, the American dream – but we know it when we see it in her science and technology, her music, fashion, food, sports, infrastructure, everything. We see it in the totality of the American aesthetic. This is the same thing you see and feel when the German soul is expressed in the expression we all commonly throw around as German efficiency or the German machine.
American privilege, German efficiency. These spiritualities derive their performative power and appeal precisely because of their ability to mobilize the citizenry. Patriotism is not what mobilizes the citizen. Patriotism is merely the outward, gestural expression of a collectively imagined ideal, the higher essence we have agreed to graft onto our perspectivizations of the nation with a view to letting it define us collectively. Patriotism is the outward cloth worn by the real thing: the soul of the nation. And when the soul of the nation summons, it summons collectively, beyond the actuations of individual and collective differences.
It doesn’t matter whether it is Ernest Renan describing the soul of nations or it is W.E.B du Bois mapping the souls of black folk in his great book of the same title, what is constant is that the soul of nations speaks only one language: the language of the collective good. The soul of a nation is therefore Pentecost and not Babel. Where a nation has forged a credible soul, no matter the language of enunciation, every citizen hears only one message: the collective good.
As souls of the nations which articulate them as collective identities, American privilege, German efficiency, and indeed every other emanation of the soul of a nation in the Western tradition devolve from this language of the collective good. The 20th century French philosopher, Michel Foucault, has given us a good account of how the notion of the collective good became coterminous with the souls of nations in the Western tradition. Foucault’s essay, appropriately entitled “The Technologies of the Self”, is a magisterial account of the various traditions of self-portraiture from the Greeks and the Romans down to the modern claimants of their heritage in Euro-America. Foucault delineates two tradition of the self in in the Greco-Roman world. The first tradition “epimelesthai sautou” captures the domain of “taking care of oneself” or being “concerned with yourself”. The second tradition, “gnothi sauton”, captures the domain of “knowing oneself”.
The first practice of the self in Greco-Roman, “take care of yourself” or be “concerned with yourself” is of immediate relevance to our discussions. I am persuaded by Foucault’s reading of this tradition while being mindful of other contending readings in Western philosophical tradition. Here is how Foucault defines it: “the precept “to be concerned with oneself” was, for the Greeks, one of the main principles of cities, one of the main rules for social and personal conduct and for the art of life.” In other words, you are concerned with yourself; you are taking care of yourself in order to be able to take care of the city. Concern with yourself is the foundation of being able to participate in the collective good. This is the foundation of the soul of nations going back to the Greeks and the Romans. This is what is at play when you hear the leaders of America talk about the American dream and the necessity of guaranteeing a fair shot for every citizen. This is the content of the privilege that is the soul of that nation.
It should be clear from the foregoing that I have adopted the strategy of illustrating what happens when the life-world of a country, of a nation, is powered by a higher, spiritual ideal, forged in the cauldron of collective struggles and memory in order to make very clear what happens when a country empties itself of a soul and presents only a wobbling and fumbling, underdeveloped carcass to the world. A country fashions her soul around the privilege of belonging and ingrains this in the individual souls of her citizens. When a citizen of such a country encounters the surreal scene in which the passport or the permanent residency card of such a country is being relinquished, such a citizen is plunged into the anguish of disbelief: no, this cannot happen! No one gives up American privileges. That was not an American citizen talking to me in Ottawa. That was the soul of America gyrating (apologies to our kegite friends) very loudly in that Embassy. On the contrary, the Nigerian immigration officer who thought I was crazy to hold on to my Nigerian passport is a uniform, just a uniform in search of that central, unifying ideal that would have been the soul of the Nigerian nation.
If you look closely at things, it wasn’t always this way with us. It shouldn’t ever have had to be this way. Really, Nigeria has no business being an atrophied, decaying giant, groping blindly in the dark in search of a soul at 53. No, we have no business being where we find ourselves today. If you look at the broad outlines of the soul of nations that I have sketched out above, from the Greco-Roman tradition, down to the submissions of Ernest Renan, Michel Foucault and other 19th and 20th century Western philosophers, you will admit that there is nothing that these guys are saying that are not junior to the antecedence of our own traditions and epistemologies of the self and society.
In fact, at the time Ernest Renan first delivered his famous lecture – What is a Nation? – in 1882; at the time Renan was pontificating on the definition and content of the soul of a nation, his own nation was preparing to go to Berlin, two years later, to set in motion, along with other European powers, a chain of events that would radically undermine the fledgling souls of Africa’s ethnic nationalities by yoking an alien political concept onto arbitrary geographies decided behind the backs of those who, as from the 1960s, would be saddled with the task of injecting life, meaning, and soul into formations imposed on them.
Furthermore, if you look at Foucault’s account of the concept of taking care of the self as a precondition for taking care of the city in the interest of the collective good in classical antiquity, you will see that the cultures of Africa boast philosophical antecedence in that department. For instance, in my own culture, the philosophy of ‘omoluabi’ is nothing more than a syllabus of individual comportment fashioned for the enhancement of the collective good. Among its many philosophical postulations, ‘omoluabi’ posits that “itelorun ni baba iwa” (contentment is the father of good behavior). This is the foundation of the self, the basis on which the self submits to the supremacy of the collective good. For where you have contentment, you will not steal 100% of the budget meant to provide roads and hospitals for the people 100% of the time. Omoluabi is therefore to the Yoruba nation what ‘privilege’ is to the American nation. Omoluabi is the soul of this particular ethnic nationality. Think of your own respective nations within the Nigerian project and you’ll find ancestral organizing ideals of the collective good which translate to the soul of your ethnic nationality.
So, our ethnic nations had souls from which a distinct Nigerian soul could have been forged. After 53 years, our report card of national soul-making still boasts a very loud F9. What happened? How and why did we fail? Why is it so difficult to think of one central ideal around which the Nigerian nation is organized? Before we answer these questions, let us quickly get something out of the way. Nigeria is what she is today – the open sore of the Black race – because of the absence of a transcendental national ideal which at once collectively defines us, is deemed sacrosanct, and bigger than any and all of us. In the part of the world where I earn my daily bread, it is common for public officials to sacrifice personal ambition, renounce the claim to public office or even resign whenever personal ambition and gain are deemed to be in the way of the collective ideal which defines the nation.
Because Nigeria lacks this ideal, it is easy for her politicians and civil servants to loot her blind without betraying anything. Where a nation has no soul, you are not really betraying anything by hurting her. You could wreck her infrastructure through corruption, destroy her refineries, wreck her national airlines, destroy her national shipping lines, restore her railway to Second World War Locomotive standards in the 21st century, destroy her Universities, spend $16 billion dollars to import darkness, and all you’ll get are people complaining that they have been marginalized from the theatre of wrecking and destruction. No damage is unimaginable or too crude to be inflicted on a nation which has no soul. Take for instance what Nigeria does to that fragment of her population thirty years and below. Historically, that demographic has been the power house of the soul of all nations.
We do not need to go into any philosophical disquisition on the role of the youth in inventing the present and the future of nations. Yet, this is the specific demographic that Nigeria has been so relentless in decimating, generation after generation. Let’s be clear: obtaining a University degree in ten years because of strikes and spending another ten years crawling the streets for non-existent jobs after graduation are the most merciful and the most humane part of the treatment which Nigeria reserves for her youth. Whenever we feel that we are suffering from youth congestion, truncated education and unemployment become luxuries we cannot afford to provide for the youth of Nigeria and so we simply allow the grim reaper to solve the problem for us. We don’t even bother to count the bodies anymore. Sometimes, when they are famous, we remember them for a week before moving on: MC Loph, CD John, Dagrin, Goldie, Bisi Komolafe. We may also remember them for a week if they are consumed as a group by our national madnesses: Apo six, Aluu four. Beyond these modes of ephemeral remembrance, thousands perish weekly and do not even make a blip on the national radar. Indeed, in a country without a soul, the fate of the youth is even inferior to that of the baby bird in this dirge:
Oro nla le da (eee)
Oro nla le da (2X)
Eyin te gb’omo eiye t’ee je o d’agba
Oro nla le da
Back to our question: why did we not forge a national soul and how can we begin to address this problem? Our first error was to go for the material where other countries forge transcendental ideals in the quest for national self-inscription. Perhaps because modern statehood was foisted on us, we did not appreciate the fact that the new political structure, like our pre-existing ethnic nationalities, is “a soul and a spiritual principle”, to repeat the words of Ernest Renan. We did not understand this aspect of statehood and blindly began to replicate what Britain did with the colonial state. Because the colonial state was an instrument of economic exploitation for the colonizer, it was not in his place to invest it with a soul like he did for his own state back home in Europe. After the revolution of 1789, the French may have spent the next 200 years working to make the ideal of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity the soul of the French nation; it was not in the nature of things to take those ideals to colonial Mali or Cote d’Ivoire. What the coloniser therefore bequeathed to us on October 1, 1960 was a predatory instrument of greed and exploitation masquerading as a state. We took this soul-less, predatory structure and organized it around the materiality of the national cake. From the Civil War to Coups to Boko Haram via kidnapping, armed robbery, and militancy, we have been paying the price of this foundational error of the rendering in body counts.
Whereas other countries define themselves nationally around a set of transcendental ideas and ideals, we insist on coming together only to carve out our respective portions of the national cake. Well, as far as nations go, you cannot eat your cake and have a soul o. And we don’t even have table manners when gorging on this national cake. Just take a look at these irritating guys in Abuja, from Aso Rock to the National Assembly, and you are reminded of the unruliness of a pride of lions gorging on a wildebeest in the Serengeti. My apologies to the Serengeti lions for this demeaning comparison of their table manners with those of Nigeria’s leaders.
The second impediment to the emergence of a national soul in Nigeria is much more serious than the first. We have a stubborn, foolish, and fundamental misunderstanding of the role of difference in the forging of a national soul. We have spent the better part of our postcolonial existence struggling to suppress difference, especially when it is expressed as ethnic nationalism and religious affirmation. So great is our fear of difference that we have transformed its most sophisticated political expression – genuine federalism – into a bogeyman to be avoided at all costs! It is as if we are even afraid to remember how much better we all fared during our brief experience of true federalism under the regional structure of the 1960s.
Ever since we dismantled an arrangement that would have facilitated the creative and useable conjugation of our differences for the collective national good, our nation-space has become a watering hole Pharisees hawking “no-go areas” in national discourse and Sadducees selling ill-conceived notions of national unity. Arrogantly, they strut their stuff, telling us that so-and-so is not negotiable; the corporate existence of Nigeria is not a matter up for discussion. We must ask them: where in the history books did they encounter the idea of the finished nation? No matter their ideological differences, all the philosophers of the Western nations who brought the nation-state to Africa agree that the said political structure is by its very nature an unfinished business, to be permanently discussed and re-discussed, negotiated and renegotiated by citizens.
That is why Renan calls a nation “daily plebiscite”; that is why Homi Bhabha calls a nation a narration which is subject to perpetual retellings (you cannot therefore claim that a final version of the story of a nation has been told permanently); that is why Benedict Anderson calls a nation an “imagined political community” subject to perpetual re-imaginings. In short, nobody in the Western tradition from which we got modern statehood, has ever been as audacious as the Nigerian elite in proclaiming the non-negotiability of the structure of greed and corruption rigged and handed over to them by the corrupt British colonizers. This is why the recent embrace of the idea of a national dialogue by President Patience Jonathan must be cautiously encouraged. I say cautiously for all the reasons you know – we’ve been taking down this road before.
When we allow a thousand flowers to bloom, when we embrace the idea of a nation as a perpetual plebiscite, we open up a critical space of negotiation in which our differences would gain a space in the sun and stop being a source of repressed frustration. Just imagine for a second an America in which to articulate your tribal identity as Irish-American, Jewish American, Italian-American, African American, etc, became a valid ground for your exclusion from the purview of American privileges! That is unthinkable, isn’t it? It is unthinkable because Western nations have come to understand that it is the state that must constantly accommodate and work with differences, not criminalize them. The Canadian state is in a permanent state of negotiation with native Indians (First Nations in Canadian-speak) and the very culturally-conscious and permanently agitating French Canadians of Quebec.
If the state constantly negotiates with and makes space for difference in the West, she must do so even more urgently in Africa and in Nigeria in particular. After all, “Oba no dey go transfer” as we say. Igbirra, Ogoni, Tiv, Idoma, Jukun, Nupe, Birom, Edo, Ijaw, Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa-Fulani and some 200 other ethnicities were here jeje before Nigeria came and rammed national borders and a collective national identity down their throats. They were here before she came. They are not going anywhere and Nigeria had better wake up and smell the coffee. A national soul can only be forged by creatively harnessing and engaging these differences, not by intimidating, denying, suppressing or preventing them from achieving self-determination within a genuine federal structure.
Respecting these differences and facilitating their right to a space under a true federal sun actually liberates their energies and potentials and puts them in a position to voluntarily determine what to shed and what to keep in the process of forging the transcendental ideal that would become the soul of a given nation. And we are very lucky indeed in Nigeria. Despite all the gloom, despite all our fault lines, despite corruption, despite decay, despite so much death in the land, despite despondency, despite the “emiremi” material condition of Boda Nigeria at 53, the same youth, those kids 30 years-old and below, who have been so badly betrayed by a country that has denied them everything – jobs, security, education, credible role models, even life – these are the same people, the same demographic who are all over social media, all over the spaces of popular culture, unknowingly articulating something that could become the transcendental ideal, the soul of Nigeria.
Listen to these young citizens in situations of banter and socializing. Whenever a Nigerian excels in something negative or mischievous, whether it’s yahoo-yahoo or a 20 year-old boy marrying a sixty-year-old white grandma for “pali” purposes, you are likely to hear young Nigerians exclaim amidst laughter: “chei, Naija no dey carry last!” Let me hear you repeat that: “Naija no dey carry last”. That, right there, ladies and gentlemen, is the seed of an idea that could become an ideal, our defining national soul. All we need do is relocate it from the sites of mischief and self-deprecating humour and turn it to something as serious as America and her privileges for the American or something as serious, as solemn as Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity for the French.
Retrieving an existing slogan from popular culture and sending it on more serious errands of national identity-making is of course not enough to event a soul for a country in ruins. If we limited ourselves to just that, we would merely be reinventing Dora Akunyili’s wobbling wheels of rebranding, a top-down money-grubbing fancy of the elite, which, like Ibrahim Babangida’s MAMSER before it, stood no chance of even remotely being able to mobilize the people. MAMSER and rebranding did not work because the youth did not really sign on to them. What makes young people sign on to an ideal? Take a look at Barack Obama in 2008. He had two things which made millions of youths sign on to what he was selling in 2008. He had a simple and sexy message: change. Secondly, he had the symbolic personal capital to power the message.
Message and personal capital must work together. MAMSER and rebranding failed because they were messages being sold in the absence of personal capital. In the case of Dora Akunyili, she was not really the one lacking personal capital; it was the political class to which she belonged. Collectively, that class cannot mobilize Nigerians to hire ideals. They lack credibility. In essence, the process of national rebirth that would hopefully begin with the emergence of a national soul would have to happen beyond the agency of Nigeria’s discredited political class. Either for selfish or altruistic reasons, members of this class may stumble on a reason to provide us with structure as is the case with the President who is now providing a framework for national discussions. Such opportunities could be cautiously embraced while being mindful of the fact that a pardoner of corruption cannot provide the inspiration for the emergence of the Nigerian soul.
We must credit the youth with the creativity and resourcefulness to recalibrate the message of Naija no dey carry last. All we need is for that message to suffuse our national space and create a new zeal for excellence in our national life. We could redefine and re-inscribe ourselves as those who no dey carry last in the sphere of excellence. That message should define our style, our arts, our science, our technology, our approach to maintaining our infrastructure, even our bureaucracy.
If the Nigerian civil servant becomes imbued with that new mentality, almost half our problems would be solved for the civil service is one of the most corrupt institutions of our national life. If you don’t want us to carry last, you’d shine the light in your own little corner in the Ministry where you work.
Only the youth could find it within themselves to recalibrate that message. Don’t underestimate them. They built Nollywood out of nothing and in Nigeria’s harsh climate; they reinvented music and made American gangsta rap and R & B totally irrelevant in our party halls; they won the nations cup despite the oasis of disorganization and inefficiency that is the Nigerian football Federation; everywhere you turn, the youth of Nigeria are excelling despite Nigeria, despite all the odds stacked against them.
All they really need to become the catalysts for the invention of a Nigerian soul are a few good role models who don’t have to come from government but who understand the need to inject their enormous personal and symbolic capital into our public life by being there in the public eye as role models for our youths. Such personalities could be socially conscious and socially responsive activist Pastors who are completely tired of and disillusioned with politics and politicians but whose personal capital and credibility are public property because they could mobilize our youth and inspire them to hire ideals the way nobody in public office could; or they could be female human rights and civil rights activists who have been photographed in Washington in the company of John Kerry and Michelle Obama.
They don’t even have to be famous. They could be you, you, you, and you, out there, encouraging and mobilizing our youth in your respective stations in life. You could take that message away from this lecture hall and let our youth understand that the one of the really urgent tasks of the moment is a recalibration of the message contained in something they utter in jest everyday: Naija no dey carry last! It is only when this message I allowed to transcend our differences in a rejuvenated and redesigned Federal structure – itself another level of struggle – that we shall all be able to rise, united by the immense power of our differences and diversity, and sing that song of ours in its real and true dimension:
Winner ooo winner
Winner ooo winner
Nigeria you don win o winner
Patapata you go win forever winner!
I thank you for your time.
A lecture delivered at the Nigeria @ 53 Lectured Convened by Centre for Change Lagos, October 15, 2013.
Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, although you are a Moslem, your cosmopolitanism is such that you surely are familiar with one of the most famous biblical aphorisms about the truth. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,” declares our Galilean friend and apostle of Jesus Christ, John Zebedee, in the biblical book which bears his first name. Freedom, that which is actuated by the truth, came, for me, in the form of a reluctant admission of one grim, sobering, and solemn fact about the destiny of my generation (40 – 60 years-old) in the Nigerian equation.
I was set free the day I decided to accept a friend’s Facebook advice that some countries are not meant to be good, fair, and just in the lifetime of particular generations of their citizenry. I was set free the day I decided to live with the fact that, as that friend of mine put it, some countries are meant to serve a higher and nobler purpose by being bad, corrupt, unfair, unjust, self-destructive, and permanently dysfunctional as a lesson to others who may point at them and learn how not to be a country. Another bosom friend of mine, one of Cameroon’s most prolific novelists, recently told me, also on Facebook, that Paul Biya’s favourite refrain is: “tout, sauf le Nigeria!” Anything but Nigeria! And that from the mouth of one of Africa’s open sores! Paul Biya can tolerate the idea of Cameroon being as bad as anything except Nigeria! When you serve as an example of how not to be a country for a buffoon serving as life president of one of Africa’s most wretched banana republics, you can hardly sink lower but I don’t trust Nigeria.
I was set free the day I decided to accept the fact that I am unlikely to see in my lifetime the Nigeria that my pen and intellect have been fighting relentlessly for all these years. I was set free the day I decided to accept the fact that, although many of the intellectual warriors fighting for and envisioning a new Nigeria, and rejecting Nigeria as defined by Goodluck Jonathan and the corrupt brood of vipers he leads in the political class, are members of my generation, ours is a generation that should look in the mirror and see Moses starring back at us. I am talking about that lonely, forlorn figure on the heights of Mount Nebo, the location from whence his eyes beheld the Promised Land whose earth his feet would never kiss. I was set free the day I accepted the fate of Moses: I may be capable of deploying the power of my imagination to “see” the Nigeria that I am fighting for, it is highly unlikely that the real thing will happen in my lifetime. Given Nigeria’s life expectancy, I’m in fact already in the ranks of lucky citizens functioning in injury time.
So, why I am still fighting, having accepted these liberating truths about my fate as a Nigerian? The answer is simple. I have to die fighting to ensure that the generation after me will not hand over the Mosaic fate to those coming after them. I have to die fighting to ensure that the Nigerian babies we are making as write will not hit their forties, fifties, and sixties writing Mosaic epitaphs for posterity. I have to die fighting to ensure that those coming after me will fight a much shorter battle and stand a much brighter chance of seeing a Nigeria that is fair, just, humane, functional, and developed in their own lifetime. This battle is, of course, in the long run, to be fought in the domain of the bigger picture.
Today, we have to contend with the short run and the smaller picture of the everyday mess that is Nigeria. That is where the problem lies. The everyday mess of Nigeria comes with certain realities that you and I had better wake up to, Mallam Ribadu. The smell of the coffee is so strong that I’m surprised you’re not choking on it. I have watched with considerable admiration this past week your continued efforts to rid our land of corruption. You took the battle to James Ibori in a London court room. And we were reminded of that unbelievable episode of the $15 million bribe you rejected from the Homo Corruptus of Oghara. That, alone, makes you the Nigerian of the century. It may take another century before we encounter a Nigerian who would throw $15 million back in the face of a corrupt bribe giver.
You have, of course, been very talkative. You have said a lot of things about James Ibori. You have said a lot of things about Mike Okiro. Ibori and Okiro are of course two corrupt jackasses and there is nothing you are saying about both men that Nigerians don’t already know. What you seem to have forgotten is that Nigeria is the political paradise of corrupt jackasses. Nigeria is where a jackass Presidency makes it a point of duty to rehabilitate, recycle, and reward corrupt jackasses; where the system awards nine lives of political relevance to corrupt jackasses and they are recycled back into the system as kingmakers, elder statesmen, and shapers of public opinion. Think of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. Think of Bode George, the ex-convict now running his filthy mouth all over our newspapers.
Going to 2015 and even 2019, this is the Nigeria that we’ve got. I am saying in essence that 2015 and 2019 are part of the short run and smaller picture of Nigeria’s everyday mess that we must deal with. With the kind of money they have in a place like Nigeria, we could very well wake up tomorrow and see a political landscape with Mike Okiro and James Ibori featuring as Godfathers and shapers of political destinies. Nobody with the amount of money that Ibori and Okiro have stolen is ever irrelevant in Nigeria. We are hearing stories of companies still making remittances to Ibori. He is still in charge of the treasury of Delta state via his cousin, Emmanuel Uduaghuan. That is a lot of corrupt money, the sort of corrupt money that the jackass Nigerian state and the jackass Nigerian system reward with political relevance, prison or no prison.
Perhaps you are running your mouth against these two corrupt jackasses because, unlike me, you are yet to make your peace with the possibility that ours is such a hopeless system that both men could become political players in 2015 and 2019 irrespective of their current stations in life. This is why I must ask you a question I want you to think about very seriously: if things happened the Nigerian way and Okiro and Ibori (from prison) suddenly became very serious players in the 2015 and 2019 chess game, would you stand your ground and maintain everything you have said about both men this past week? We’ve been down this road before with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Patience Jonathan. I don’t want to awaken the ghosts of recantation. I don’t want to relive the sordid spectacle of a man of honour and integrity suddenly swallowing previously uttered words like balls of pounded yam red carpeted through the throat by egusi soup with orisirisi.
I was part of the Nigerian Village Square (www.nigeriavillagesquare.com) editorial board team that interviewed you in the build up to 2011. We had some very interesting interview sessions with a good number of presidential aspirants. We interviewed General Buhari, Dele Momodu, and Governor Bukola Saraki. Then came your turn. We in the panel had all your statements about Patience Jonathan and Tinubu in google printouts right there in front of us. It was very painful listening to you as you tried to heehaw your way out of statements you made to the nation. You screamed and swore and denied and denied and denied again. No, you never said any such thing about Tinubu’s corruption. Patience Jonathan is corrupt ke? E gba mi o. When and where did I say it? You attributed everything to the handiwork of mischievous and disgruntled elements.
Now you are back in the public square screaming that two seriously moneyed figures who, thanks to our jackass political system, could be back as serious players and makers of political destinies, are corrupt thieves. Yes, Okiro and Ibori are corrupt jackasses and irredeemable thieves – two essential requirements for political relevance and leadership in Nigeria. But you do understand that you have considerable followership in Nigeria and many look up to you as an essential player in the Nigeria of our dreams.
Personally, I do not see a path to Nigeria’s future that would exclude somebody like you. However, whether you will be in the position to play the role I believe destiny wants you to play in the life and future of Nigeria depends on you and your mouth. If you can keep that mouth consistent on the track of denunciation of corruption without shameful recantation at the first smell of political opportunity, I think you will last long in the business of working for Nigeria’s future and fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of your teeming followers and admirers. If, however, the political destinies of Okiro and Ibori changed in 2015 or 2019 and you hit the airwaves heehawing that you never said the things you are saying about them today, the two men may yet stand on their mountains of corrupt money and point at the ashes of your reputation as warning to those who attempt to rubbish corrupt jackasses in Nigeria, the political paradise of corrupt jackasses.
President Jonathan, his Commander-in-Chief, does not know; Mr. Labaran Maku, Minister of Defence, does not know; Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirika, Chief of Army Staff, does not know; the National Assembly, oversight guardian angel of our democracy, does not know; Governor David Jonah Jang, leader of the Jangjaweeds in the Governors’ Forum in whose domain the sacrilege happened, does not know; the Guardian newspaper, immediate victim of the sacrilege, does not know; PREMIUM TIMES, reporter of the sacrilege, does not know; 160 million Nigerians, regular victims of such sacrilege and violations, do not know and have never cared to know.
And because all these people do not know and do not care to know; because WE ALL do not know and are too browbeaten by our self-inflicted tragedies to bother about knowing; and because he, like everybody else in his uniformed world, knows only too well that we do not know that he has no powers of arrest anywhere in our Constitution, Colonel Texas Chukwu, Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 3rd Armored Division, Maxwell Kobe Cantonment, Rukuba, Jos, recently led a troop of soldiers to the office of the Guardian in Jos.
Their mission? Let’s hear it from PREMIUM TIMES: “Soldiers of the 3 Armored Division, Maxwell Kobe Cantonment, Rukuba Jos, on Wednesday attempted whisking away a Guardian newspaper correspondent in Jos over a court martial story; but was rescued by the state chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists [NUJ] Kaptdaba Gubum and other union officials. He was however interrogated… the Deputy Director Army public relations of the cantonment, Col Texas Chukuwu, who led the troop of soldiers to the Guardian office in Jos to effect arrest of the journalist, said the Court Marshal had not concluded its findings on the soldiers, and has therefore not passed judgment on the accused persons.”
Yes, you read that correctly. A bunch of arrogant and ignorant soldiers violated civilian spaces of agency and civic belonging in order to effect the arrest of a citizen of Nigeria who had published something they did not like. They did not like what the journalist published because, according to them, it was false and unverified information. Somehow, during his training at the Nigerian Defense Academy, and subsequent trainings he must or ought to have received in other spaces of instruction such as the National War College and the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies – who knows, he might even have attended those courses they send them to in Britain, USA, and India – none of Colonel Texas Chukwu’s instructors ever bothered to teach him that the military has no powers of arrest. Nobody taught him that being unhappy with a publication about the army does not empower you to crossover to civilian space and make an arrest. Perhaps, they taught him these things. Perhaps, like the rest of them all in the Nigerian military, he is too far gone in their imperial psychology of disdain for civilians to bother about what his Professors taught him about the role and place of the military in a democratic dispensation.
Let’s not kid ourselves. In a nation-space ushered by colonial violence into decades of postcolonial chaos and lawlessness supervised by a military establishment run by career coup plotters and treasonable felons, it probably would take four or five future generations of new intakes into the Nigerian Defence Academy before we can reasonably begin to hope for a new generation of soldiers who understand concepts such as the sanctity of civilian spaces, civilian authority and control over the military, and the fact that their Commander-in-Chief in Abuja is, in fact, an employee of the same Nigerian civilians whose rights they trample upon at will.
The collapse of civics is of course also to blame. I have always argued that the collapse of the Nigerian educational system is by design, a deliberate, purposed vision of the ruling class to sustain the level of mass ignorance necessary to run Nigeria the way they have been running that country for much of her postcolonial existence. A massively under-educated and ignorant citizenry is the only hope of Nigeria’s irresponsible political leaders for longevity. And one of the consequences of this useable ignorance – useable, that is, for the rulers – is that the masses do not even know that supreme authority over the armed forces inheres in them for they are the employers of Goodluck Jonathan, the Commander-in-Chief, who serves at the pleasure of those who elected him and at the considerable displeasure of those of us who consider him a failure. Whether he serves at your pleasure or my displeasure, he is our employee and, through him, we exercise authority over the military uniforms that we pay for.
There more consequences of useable ignorance. The people do not know that the overwhelming presence of military uniforms in virtually every space of civic being in Nigeria is an egregious violation of their rights. It is an unnecessary brutalization of civic space. It is illegal. I am not just talking of those spaces where security challenges necessitate their presence, such as the Boko Haram Territories to the north. I am talking of random spaces, where they ought not to be. At will, they spill out of their barracks in Lagos, Abuja, and other cities to perform routine law enforcement, slap a few faces, make a few arrests, and intimidate the people with their tanks and AK-47s. All of this is of course completely illegal. They have no such powers but the people do not know this and those who know are in no position to act for they shall be killed and nothing, absolutely, nothing, will happen. And what is that uniformed fellow always doing, standing permanently like a statue behind the President? Where did we even get that atrocious tradition from? Not even Africa’s worse dictators indulge in that nonsense. Has President Jonathan ever seen a military statue permanently shadowing his friends, Paul Biya of Cameroon and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea? With a soldier always symbolically breathing down our President’s neck, how can he be expected to call soldiers to order when they are behaving badly?
We are in more trouble than you can imagine. If the masses do not know because they have been deliberately diseducated (my coinage) for so long by the rulers, what about those of us in certain professions who should now and do whatever we can in the interest of public instruction? It’s time for some in-house criticism here. I was absolutely appalled by the ‘nothing spoil’ manner with which my colleagues at PREMIUM TIMES reported the story. They reported the fact that Colonel Texas Chukwu, a soldier who has no powers of arrest, led a group of his zombies to arrest and interrogate a civilian. I kept waiting for the editorial voice of PREMIUM TIMES, something, anything at all, a sentence in that report to teach the people that the military has no such powers. Nothing. You’d think they were reporting Christmas celebration. How could they have given this thing the slant of a transient human interest story?
If PREMIUM TIMES did not take up the challenge of that teachable moment on behalf of the Nigerian people, surely, their colleagues at Sahara Reporters, who dutifully syndicate many of the activist reports of PREMIUM TIMES, would notice the lacuna and do something about it? Perhaps a series in public instruction to help the people begin to appreciate their rights vis-à-vis of the military and to begin to send a clear message to Nigeria’s arrogant military authorities that the days of impunity are numbered? Somehow, Sahara Reporters also missed the story.
And what about the Guardian, the real victims of that most egregious violation of the constitution by Colonel Texas Chukwu? You’d think that this newspaper would scream blue murder and raise a lot of dust over the matter. For where? And what about the civilians, Goodluck Jonathan and Labaran Maku, who should exercise control and authority over the military? Abeg, make we leave matter for Mathayas. Those two won’t do jack. Are they even aware of their authority over the military in a democratic setting? If General Ihejirika asked Labaran Maku to kneel down, raise up his hands, and close his eyes, my bet is that Maku would ask: General, should I also do frog jump?
Sadly, re-educating the Nigerian military, rewiring their psychology and migrating it from an inclination to see you and I as bloody civilians instead of holders of authority over their uniform, can only begin if we start to agitate for a regime of dire consequences for senior military officers every time the paraga-sodden, little-educated recruits they send to the streets terrorize civilians illegally. Let’s face it: you cannot expect Master Sergeant Aremu Okikiolakan, father of fifteen children in the barracks, husband of two wives, who joined the army after dropping out of primary school to fight the civil war; or Corporal Ikemba Okonkwo, who dropped out of secondary school to join the Biafran army and was reintegrated after the civil war; or Lance Corporal Shehu Dan kabo, who was recruited as an almajiri; you cannot expect any of these folks to understand all the talk about democracy, the Constitution, and the exercise of civilian authority over the military. All these guys will continue to do is drink paraga and wait for the Colonel Texas Chukwus of this world to give them the marching orders to go and deal ruthlessly with those bloody civilians.
But if the head of a senior officer rolls every time Sergeant Aremu jackboots a civilian in town, if Goodluck Jonathan and Labaran Maku would muster the courage to do the right thing by summarily dismissing Colonel Texas Chukwu from the Army for that serious violation of the Constitution, if the Service Chiefs got the message that their heads would roll next time their boys violate the sanctity of the democratic pact, if Nigerians begin to hold the military top brass responsible for the behaviour of the largely unlettered boys in the lower ranks, then there is a chance that these senior officers would get the message: we, the people, are your supreme bosses. Your Commander-in-Chief is our employee. You have no powers of arrest!
This article was written before the Apo extra-judicial killings of Friday and that event makes the article even more poignant and timely
I never come again. I still dey faraway. Make you wait till I reach where I dey goooo… I wasn’t going to Fela’s Kalakuta Republic. My destination, two years ago, was Abuja in faraway Nigeria. Professor Iyorwuese Hagher, my very good friend and Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to Canada, was launching his new book in the Nigerian capital and had invited me to the launch as book reviewer.
The flight from Ottawa to Abuja via London was mentally draining. I spent a lot of time agonising over mode of delivery, level of language, and length of the lecture largely because Professor Hagher had assured me that all the state governors, federal ministers, senators, etc, invited to the event had confirmed to him personally that they would attend – and it turned out to be so.
My agony stemmed from my knowledge of the intellectual laziness and mental indolence of the Nigerian political class. If I was going to deliver a lecture in a Transcorp Hilton hall crowded by governors, ministers, senators, etc, what were the chances that that sort of crowd would understand anything or even listen to me beyond the first few sentences? Would they not be waiting impatiently for the book launch proper to flaunt how many copies of the book that they would buy for how much? Should I reduce the intellectual intensity of the engagement to take care of a class of people whose disdain for intellectual matters has consolidated a national apathy for books and erudition? Are these moneyed people not allergic to dogon turenchi? I concluded, rather ungenerously, that only Professor Hagher, the author, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Chair of the event, and yours truly, the speaker, would be there for my own part of the event – the intellectual part of things. If Chief Anyaoku liked the lecture, I concluded, it would be a privilege of a lifetime and any intellectually impecunious government official in the room could go and jump in the river Niger for all I cared.
This inflight mental stricture over which level of grammar to blow ensured that I got to my hotel room in Abuja completely exhausted. I travel so often for lectures that jetlag is no longer an issue for me. My tiredness, I thought irritably, had to be a consequence of worrying about the lecture I was billed to deliver the following evening. A long hot shower was the way to go! As I got ready to enjoy a shower, I took a mental note of the posh and gloss that the hotel had to offer and looked forward to a luxuriating experience under the water. In that environment, one could be forgiven for momentarily forgetting that one was in Nigeria, the earthly address that Satan rents to provide temporary accommodation for the occupants of hell whenever he needs to service the furnaces in hell.
Then came the reminder of where I was. Nigeria will never allow you to bear a false witness of efficiency against her. Nigeria will never allow you to accuse her wrongly of getting at least one thing right all the time. In all that luxury and mimicry of First World standards, I turned on the shower and hot water gushed out of only about four or five holes in the shower head. Remember that a shower head has hundreds of holes and it is the combined gushing, pulsating power of all the holes that provides the rounded shower experience. I called Reception and complained. Profuse apologies laced with sir sir sir and a promise to send the engineer (plumber, but they said engineer) up to my room right away.
The uniformed ‘engineer’ arrived less than ten minutes after my complaint. Ope o, I thought, not only was the Receptionist exceptionally professional, the service I requested was also in my room in record time. I made a mental note to report that positive side (one insignificant case but it was progress all the same) of Nigerian service delivery whenever I wrote an op-ed about that trip. Good evening sir, I hear that your shower is not working, he said, flashing a professional courtesy smile. Na so I see am o, my broda, di ting no dey work well, I offered in pidgin, reciprocating the smile.
His professional smile disappeared, replaced by a NAFDAC-certified Nigerian boisterous laughter: evidence that he now considered me a broda, a propa shon of the shoil, one of us, arawa ni, arawa ni bobo yen, arawa ni. In the spaces of sociality where Nigeria’s notoriously obnoxious and snobbish moneyed class circulate, such as posh restaurants and five-star hotels, they treat the staff much the same way they treat their drivers and domestic staff at home: like shit. Switching to pidgin often sends a message to such staff that you are not one of those useless ogas and their useless wives or concubines. It can ensure that an offended waitress will not spit in your food or urinate in your water before bringing it to your room or table to punish you for your snobbery.
Ah, oga, you sabi blow pidgin like dis? Make I go repair the di shower one time for you, he said, dancing his way into the bathroom. I made a few phone calls to Canada while waiting for him. Moments later, his strident calls of oga oga oga from the bathroom interrupted my phone calls and I rushed to join him there. His face was a blissful marriage of confusion and consternation. The shower was running, all of the four or five functional holes of the shower head hissed, coughed, and spat out water in furious staccato bursts. Oga, shebi you say dis ting no dey work? See am now. No be im dey work like dis? See, bucket even dey dis side in case you wan run di water for inside bucket sef. I understood what was going on. It was one of those situations where an utterance devours the response one would have offered. Oro di hun. Oro p’esi je o oro di hun. I apologised to him and attributed my not noticing that the shower was running perfectly to tiredness and he obliged me with more encouraging banter before leaving my room and disappearing into the hallway.
After one and half weeks in the hotel, I finally moved early this week to my official quarters on the campus of the University of Ghana at Legon. I’m here in Accra for one year as a Carnegie Diaspora Visiting Professor in African Studies. As I opened the door and breezed into the living room of my apartment for the first time, it told the story of First World standards. Cozy, posh, brand new appliances, from gas cooker to split airconditioner to toilet to bathtub to shower to king-size bed. I felt the usual pang of frustration that Nigerians feel whenever they are treated to a good dosage of Ghanaian infrastructural superiority and efficiency.
I took a shower a day after I moved into my apartment and was relieved that only four of five holes in the brand new shower head were working. Boy, was I happy! After nearly two weeks in this country, something to finally complain about! Something that ain’t working! Something to bring Ghana to the embarrassing level of Nigeria. Eta nu! I was going to milk this situation to the maximum. I was going to flog this horse and flog its carcase when it dies! I placed a call to maintenance and complained very bitterly. Listening to me, you’d think the world was coming to an end because my shower wasn’t working properly. Apologies, apologies, apologies. We’ll send someone to come and look at it tomorrow, Prof.
The technician woke me up the following morning. I showed him the bathroom. He turned on the shower and four or five shower holes obeyed his command. Prof, this is unacceptable. We are so sorry. I brought a replacement shower head. I’ll fix it for you. About an hour later, a replacement shower head was on duty, spitting out water from every hole on its surface. A dozen strings of apologies followed and the technician was on his way.
Two countries, two technicians, one problem: only four or five holes in a shower head are working. Their stratospherically different instinctive reactions, upon visual apprehension of this singular problem, tells in one powerful narrative brush the story of how either country arrived where she is today. It tells the story of the power of civic instruction and awareness. It tells the story of the only type of psychology that could power a country out of the backwaters of underdevelopment and set her on the course to joining the rest of civilized humanity in the 21st century.
It was the demeanour of the Ghanaian technician that I found so painful –painful is to be understood in the context of the statement that the said demeanour makes about my own country. His embarrassment was patent, his dissatisfaction written all over his face. You’d think that the fate of his country, Ghana, rested on him rectifying the situation and making sure it never happens again. Above all, there is that psychology of his that even if a single shower hole is blocked and ninety-nine others are working in a shower head, it ain’t right.
The Nigerian technician comes from a different world. One sordid and shitty world of rationalizing mediocrity, created by 160 million people and the useless political leaders who rule over them. All 160 million of us are responsible for this atrocious and unpatriotic psychology. Sometimes, it is difficult to tell who is more unpatriotic: Goodluck Jonathan and the bunch of corrupt clowns he leads in the political class or the people who are their victims. For the average Nigerian, in his daily treatment of Nigeria, ranks among one of the most unpatriotic citizens of any nation on earth.
Every time you accept less than perfect, justify it, impose it on people around you, you are killing Nigeria softly and unpatriotically. A taxi driver musters the courage to resist bribing a police officer, you, his passengers, turn against him. Why not settle them and stop wasting our time? How much dem dey ask sef wey you no wan roger them? Useless driver like you. Ordinary to roger dem 20 naira, you siddon here dey waste our time. If police shoot you now, dem go say na your mama co-wife cause am. Eventually, you force the taxi driver to bribe the officers. You are killing Nigeria softly with that unpatriotic psychology.
Don’t tell me. I know what y’all would have said were you in that hotel room with me and the technician and I had continued to insist on every hole in the shower head working. You would have descended on me like a ton of bricks: Oga, wetin be your own sef? You fall my hand well well o. How you go say dis ting no dey work? You think say na jand you dey? Na so una go come home dey do gra gra like say una no dey shit. Every time you agree that a shower head is working well because only five of its holes are blocked, you are killing Nigeria softly. Every time you see only about five or six pot holes in a 7-kilometre stretch of road and you continue to scream, ah, dat road good o, dat Governor try well well, you’re killing Nigeria softly for if there is even one pothole on it, the road ain’t good and you should scream for it to be fixed as if your life depended on it.
Take your average resident of Ilorin in Kwara state. He beats his chest over the spectacle offered by Ahmadu Bello Avenue. That is one of the poshest and glossiest streets in the Kwara state capital, the address of Kwara Hotels, Government House, and most ministries. At night, it is always very brightly lit. Yet, for every ten poles of street light, there are one or two bulbs missing or dead. That gives you about one or two black patches for every block of that stretch of beautiful government district road. Yet, the Ilorin resident beats his chest everyday: ah, ina wa ni be yen o. There is light there. The Governor is really trying o. The day we get this average Ilorin resident to understand and feel genuinely dissatisfied that one street light bulb ain’t working on Ahmadu Bello Avenue is the day we shall begin to win the battle for Nigeria.
I am saying in essence that the battle against corruption is not as urgent as the war to rewire the wrongly wired psychology of the Nigerian. Nigeria’s deadliest enemy is the psychology of the Nigerian, not corruption. Take corruption out of the picture, let us assume that a miracle happens and our rulers suddenly stopped stealing, from Aso Rock down to the local government headquarters, would that be a guarantee of progress? I think not. So long as the psychology of rationalization and excuses persists, we cannot make progress. Where public services are supposed to function 100%, if citizens are given 20% once in two weeks and they prevail on other citizens to be thankful to government for providing even that 20%; where they treat anyone who insists on 100% service as an outcast and an alaseju; where they collectively make it clear that we should all manage am like dat, zero corruption is no guarantee that such a people would ever make progress. Reno Omokri, the silly fellow in charge of Facebook and Twitter in Aso Rock, would even jump up and tweet silly photos of one or two roads tarred and exhort the people to gratitude.
This explains the 21st century embarrassment that is Nigeria. I’m afraid I also failed Nigeria very badly by giving up that evening in that hotel room in Abuja. I felt I didn’t even know where or how to start teaching the guy that he was wrong in his assessment of the shower situation. I didn’t bother to educate that ‘engineer’ that even if na only one shower hole block and ninety nine dey work, na im be say di whole shower head no dey work gabadaya be dat. I ought to have instructed that mind and won it for the Nigeria that we are fighting for. That was a teachable moment I ought to have seized to go to work on that Nigerian national psychology of elevating mediocrity to the rank of the last thing God created, saw that it was good, and rested on the seventh day.
(to the accompaniment of Sonny Okosun’s “Papa’s Land”)
“Ol’boy, e don happen o!”
“Ehn, wetin happen? Abati don get im own BMW gift from Oga?”
“For where? The car gift race na still 1-0 in favour of Okupe o. Maybe Abati will get his own car gift after writing a ten-part essay to abuse APC but no be Presidency parole I come yarn with una today o.”
“Okay, so na wetin come happen wey you dey agitated like dis?”
“Men, na dis country matter just dey taya me”
“Naija taya you na dat one be news? Abeg leave matter. Na who Naija no taya?”
“Dat’s not what I mean. What I’m saying is that I’m getting really pissed off with the way everybody is carrying on in this country about some women who were raped.”
“Rape? Who rape women? When?”
“No be dis country we all dey? Have you forgotten our husband has gone mad again?”
“Ah, yes, our husband has gone mad again! I know the man. Who does not know that action man in this country?”
“Well, he has gone mad yet again and raped some Amadioha women just because they are resident here in Kakanfoland instead of living in their birthplace of Amadiohaland.”
“Ah, ok, now I get it. You are talking about those Amadioha girls who were raped last week by our husband has gone mad again.”
“Yes, das why I say Naija taya me.”
“Naija taya you because our husband has gone mad again raped some Amadioha girls here in Kakanfoland?”
“No, Naija taya me because of the way these ungrateful Amadioha people have gone about the incident since last week.”
“Ah, my brother, I see where you are going. You are on point. Mesef, I never see anything like dat before. Such liars and exaggerators.”
“Abi o. They went about saying our husband has gone mad again raped 72 Amadioha girls when in fact he raped only about 14 or even less than 14 girls. This country sef. No ethics. No morality. A man rapes a mere 14 girls and you go about telling lies that he raped 72. Exaggeration is in the nature of Amadioha people.”
“The exaggeration is not even what I find most nauseating. What annoys me the most is that even people among them I thought were intelligent are making it sound like rape only happens in Nigeria. They cannot do simple statistical research. I’m sure you know that New York men regularly rape girls from other states who are resident in New York. Last year, almost 200 Nebraska girls were raped in Brooklyn; last month, 80 native Illinois girls were raped in Manhattan by the men of New York; last week, about 20 California girls were raped in the streets of Harlem. Once you are an out of state girl in New York, chances are you will be raped because New York men like to rape foreign girls in accordance with their belief that only sane and wealthy girls born in New York must live in New York. The statistics are there. Have you heard any of these people making noise in Nigeria talk about the periodic rape of out of state girls in most American states? No, they will not. It is only when rape happens in Nigeria that they start disturbing everybody.”
“My brother, you are very correct. But you are even going too far by talking about the regular rape of out of state girls in America. Have you not noticed the tribalism of all the idiots who are attacking our husband has gone mad again? Stupid tribalists. They are making it sound like he rapes only Amadioha girls.”
“Ah, my brother, di ting taya me o. I have thought about that too. I cannot stand the hypocrisy of Amadioha noisemakers. Here is a man who has frequently raped the daughters of Muhammad Rumfa and Othman Dan Fodio. In the last two years, I cannot count how many Kakanfo girls he has raped – from the daughters of Mesiogo to the daughters of Ogbeni. He has raped them all. Yet, instead of acknowledging his sense of justice and fairness as an equal opportunity rapist, Amadioha tribalists are skewing the picture to make it look like he rapes only Amadioha girls.”
“Na only dat one? What about regular rape even within Amadiohaland? How many times have girls been raped just because they do not come from a particular region of Amadiohaland? Do you hear any talk about that one? It is only the rape of Amadioha girls in Kakanfoland that you will them scream about. Even that obstreperous victim of Jesus Christ from Ikwerre land has started raping non-native girls in Port Harcourt and nobody is talking about it.”
“My brother, you are spot on. We must not allow tribalists to condemn our own. We must notlet them obscure his sense of fairness. We must continue to scream it out to the whole world that our husband has gone mad again rapes girls equally from every part of Nigeria. We must make the case that his counterparts in Amadiohaland also rape girls from Amadiohaland and are not even humane rapists like our husband has gone mad again.”
“Abi o. All the talk about rape don taya me sef. They go on and on flogging the issue as if it is more than rape. No be just rape? The more they flog the issue, the more I get bored. Abeg we need to move on jare.”
“Don’t mind them. We are ready for them. In fact, I cannot authoritatively tell you now but I hear that one of our brothers is going to deal ruthlessly with them in an essay tentatively entitled, “The Bitter Truth About Amadioha Tribalists”.
“Ah, my brother, now you are talking! Abeg, let him told dem! Let him told dem, my broda! What is that article about?”
“I cannot categorically tell you now what the article is about but I hear that the man will show them pepper. Our brother is working on that article as we speak because he is furious that Amadioha tribalists are not just claiming to be the owners of the girls who were raped by our husband has gone mad again but, also, the bed on which the girls were raped. Can you imagine that insult upon injury? Not content with exaggerating the number of girls who were raped, they are now saying that they own the girls and the bed. Our broda will teach them who own’s Papa’s bed in his article.”