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…