Governor Danbaba Suntai’s plane mishap is unfortunate. I rejoice with him for surviving the crash. I commiserate with the families of those who perished in the crash. As the Nigerian trademark of accusations and counter-accusations over the tardiness of even the simulacrum of search and rescue operations we operate in accident circumstances have already set in; as we hear that preparations are on course to airlift yet another member of Nigeria’s rulership for treatment in a foreign hospital built by politicians with much less money and much more brain power than the rulers of Nigeria, we must pause to reflect on the teachable moments of this accident.
Don’t let anybody guilt-trip you with the usual hypocritical canard about limiting your apprehension of these unfolding circumstances to just wishing the Governor well at this time of human frailty and leaving it at that. That is a conditioned, silly mindset which forms part of the psychological armoury of the Nigerian political class. When they induce such feelings in you and even transform you to a vector of such sentiments on social media, you arrest critical thinking at precisely the point when it is most needed and our civic process suffers. Furthermore, because the exercise of sober reflection and the drawing of lessons from teachable national moments is not the forte of members of Nigeria’s rulership, it is your responsibility as a citizen not to follow their bad example of always abdicating their critical faculties at grave moments. Perhaps it is not right to state that they do not draw ample lessons from moments of mishap – especially if they are involved. The problem is, perhaps, the kind of lessons they draw and I will address that at the end of this treatise.
Double D. Downfall and death. Downfall. Death. These are the two most democratic of human experiences. In the province of downfall and death, no nepotism is possible; no big man and small man; no long leg; no man know man; no settlement. The democracy of downfall and death is akin to the democracy of the bathroom – that great class leveler which insists on your nakedness every morning. Each day, President Jonathan, Aliko Dangote, and any Lagos Danfo driver are united by the democracy of nakedness in the bathroom. No rich or poor here; no powerful or powerless. Whether you drink merlot in Lekki or paraga in Ojuelegba, we all ford the territory of the bathroom with the only allowable uniform: our birthday suit.
Such is the democracy of downfall and death. Think of James Ibori. Think of Lance Armstrong. The sight and the sounds of a man crashing ain’t pretty but they remind us of the powerful democracy that is downfall, of our vulnerabilities in the province of downfall and death no matter our station in life. Illness – especially when you survive it – is a momentary downfall. It is in fact the most powerful reminder of our equal vulnerability before the Double D of human experience. Unlike death, if you survive the downfall that is illness, you live to reflect, to reconsider, to rethink, to reperspectivize life, to see why your harem of private jets does not make you superior to the endangered okada men of Lagos.
This explains why most normal human beings in every clime are at their most reflective, most sober, most philosophical when they live to tell the story of a downfall or they miraculously escape death in whatever circumstance. Like the rest of humanity, this capacity for sober reflection abounds in ordinary Nigerians. They are at their most reflective – and most religious – in moments of trial. It will take a combination of psychologists, psychoanalysts, and human behavioural biologists to determine why and how the Nigerian loses this fundamental human capacity the moment he moves into the political orbit and begins to operate in the circuits of power. There is simply no evidence of the ability of members of our rulership to reflect and draw critical lessons from the death of their ilk or from their own downfall and near-death experiences.
The list of examples is long. Olusegun Obasanjo went to prison and escaped Abacha’s noose by the whiskers. He came out of that experience poor and broken. Initially, he even managed to deceive the nation by waxing philosophical about his experience. He had seen the other side of life, he assured us. He had been among the lowliest of the lowliest. He had learnt valuable lessons in how to be human from those people. He had learnt that they too find ways to laugh even when the only thing they possess is life. He had been humanized by the ethos of the little people. Their dignity, despite poverty, had humbled him. He had lived what they lived. He drew considerable social capital from these narratives. This was the foundation of his broad based appeal in 1999. This man had lived life like one of us down below. He should understand. Well, Obasanjo got to Aso Rock and shut out that part of his life and the people therefrom. That experience left no trace in how he subsequently treated the poorest and the most vulnerable segment of our population – the majority. He met them poor in 1999 and left them poorer in 2007, after stealing billions from them to become one of Africa’s richest men. So much for his ability to transform a spectacular downfall into a personal and redemptive experience!
David Mark took ill early in the year. He was flown to Israel for treatment. He didn’t deserve to be treated at our expense. Remember, this fellow is a villain whose name is permanently inscribed in the negative column of our national memory. Apart from egregiously running his mouth against the poor, he has looted and looted and looted again since Ibrahim Babangida foisted him on us as a military governor in the mid 1980s. In his political career, he has never won an election. So, he is a thief and a career election rigger. There is simply no reason why the Nigerian people should foot the medical bills of this character but we did anyway. You would think that his moment of temporary downfall, of democratic human frailty would bring about some critical reflection that would humbly be deployed in the service of the Nigerian people. For where?
David Mark returned triumphantly to Abuja. Some foolish Federal Ministers even abandoned the Nigerian people’s work for a whole day to organize an airport welcome jamboree for the returnee Senate President. Since our friend returned from Israel and resumed his seat at the gravy table in Abuja, can you point to one thing he has said or done to show that he learnt anything from that experience? Oh, he remembered to thank Nigerians who were praying for him while he was in Israel. That is the standard rote of his political ilk. They return home to thank us for praying for them. I think their aides, associates, and family members somehow deceive them that we pray for them while they abandon our people to die in hospitals they refuse to fund at home and jet abroad for medical treatment at our expense. So, apart from regurgitating that rote, what has David Mark done to show us that he learnt anything from his trial? Where is his advocacy for at least one standard hospital in Nigeria so he will not need to run to Israel again if, the Holy Mary forbids, he ever gets sick again?
The Dame would not be left out. She would not be outdone. She too returned from a prolonged medical safari to Germany – turned into a circus by a pompous, lying presidency that would not level with the Nigerian people – and thanked the Nigerians who prayed for her recovery just after denying that she was hospitalized. She then veered into the arrogance of tongue-lashing those who had dared to ask critical questions about the Presidency’s disgraceful handling of her case. She forgot that the mere sight of her alighting from a presidential jet that had been dispatched to ferry her from Germany was evidence that the people she was garrulously abusing picked up the bill (or did Dr. Jonathan fuel the jet from his pocket?) of her trip to Germany and had the civic duty to demand answers from her husband’s arrogant and I-don’t-give-a-damn presidency. Are there any signs that the temporary downfall of illness is an occasion for sober reflection by this woman? Are there any reasons to believe she would become the Advocate-in-Chief of the health sector so she won’t need to ever return to Germany via Dubai on health grounds? I think you know the answer to these questions. Death and downfall – the double D – do not bring about reflection in the corridors of power.
This is why I fear that Governor Danbaba Suntai may not be able to shed the stubborn spots of the leopard that is his political ilk. Members of Nigeria’s rulership are all the same, sleeping with heads dragooned in the same direction. This is what makes it so easy to predict them and never fail. Will Governor Suntai return from a hospital sojourn abroad to thank Nigerians who would have been praying for him? Yes. Will Governor Suntai return from treatment abroad with a determination to spend the rest of his tenure revamping the health sector in Taraba state? No. Will Governor Suntai return and strengthen the process for evacuating him, members of his family, and members of the government of Taraba state to hospitals overseas, making it more effective in case of future health emergencies? Most probably yes. Will FAAN give Governor Suntai the best pilot of the year and Yola Airport the best airport of the year awards next year? Yes.
As for the damaged private plane, I pity the people of Taraba state. This brings me to the lesson I think everybody in the political establishment – from the President to Governor Suntai’s fellow Governors – will learn from this accident. If only he was flying a brand new plane, they will all exclaim to themselves, this tragedy would not have happened! Suddenly, their harem of planes – some bought just last year – will look too old. They will rush orders for new private jets to Bombardier Canada in Montréal. Unless they summon the will to resist through popular unrest and other means, the people of Taraba state must brace up to fund a brand new private jet whenever their Governor is back on his feet. A Yoruba proverb says “ile oba t’ojo, ewa lo bu si”. When the palace burns down, do not weep for the King. A burnt palace is always an excuse to build a grander, more opulent palace. If the people allow it, there is enough allocation to be stolen from Taraba’s treasury to fund the replacement of Governor Suntai’s plane.