Grandpa in Politics: The Necessity of Sober Reflection, By Pius Adesanmi

Pius Adesanmi

The good news for Professor Ango Abdullahi is that no Nigerian who has followed his history of public utterances since the 1980s runs the risk of accusing him falsely of being blessed with the ability to place reflection before speech. To ascribe that particular attribute to the spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum would be tantamount to bearing false witness against the man. Indeed, if Nigerian social historians decided to map the history of spectacularly careless and ill-reflected talk in the 1980s, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, Senator David Mark, and Professor Ango Abdullahi would claim the gold, silver, and bronze medals respectively in no particular order.

The order of these medals in the Careless Talk Olympics would depend on how Nigerians ranked the 1980s verbal diarrhea of the aforementioned competitors. While one told the nation that he needed to see Nigerians feed from the dustbin before he could believe that there was poverty in the land (alas, his political ilk ensured that it happened in subsequent decades!), the other scolded over-ambitious ordinary Nigerians for aspiring to own telephones. Telephones, David Mark snarled, were not for the poor.

However, the “pabambari” of it all, that is to say the father of all careless talk in the 1980s, for me, belongs to Professor Ango Abdullahi during his tenure as the Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University. In his book, Modernization and the Crisis of Development in Africa, Jeremiah Dibua has this to say of Ango Abdullahi’s tenure at ABU: “The 1986 students’ crisis which originated at ABU, Zaria, was caused by the authoritarian nature of the administration of Ango Abdullahi, the vice-chancellor of the University. Abdullahi’s administration was highly undemocratic and high-handed. He subverted the committee system of governance and was constantly at loggerheads with lecturers and students” (page 285).

Ango Abdullahi’s handling of the 1986 ABU aluta left a trail of sorrow, tears, and blood. As the nation did the body count of students, disputed numbers of the dead flew back and forth across the country, paving the way for an outraged Ango Abdullahi to make his own indelible contribution to the Nigerian elite’s legacy of careless and ill-reflected talk. Our friend got into an argument with the country over casualty figures, wounding the nation’s soul by throwing out his own statistical determination of the number of students who died on his watch with a dismissive bone-chilling declaration introduced by the most infamous use of the word, “only”, in Nigeria’s history.

Ango Abdullahi’s trajectory in public discourse is important to us for a number of reasons, chief among which is the need for Nigerians to always remember the antecedents of those who strut their stuff on our political landscape today claiming to be “elders” or, worse, “elder statesmen”, and perpetually exploiting our legendarily short memory. In essence, if, today, an elder is rolling in the mud with Mujahid Dokubo Asari and running his mouth in the most arrogant manner possible, putting the nation on notice about who will or who will not be President on behalf of the Northern Elders Forum, Nigerian’s must look closely at that elder’s history for explanations. It will become clear that today’s loose talkers are mere older but not necessarily wiser versions of yesterday’s careless talkers.

Generationally speaking, there is more where Ango Abdullahi came from for Nigeria is afflicted by an epidemic of political grandpas. More on political grandpas later in this treatise. First, we must engage the problem of Ango Abdullahi and those he claims to speak for. Suffice it to say that Ango Abdullahi and his band of ultimatum-wielding clowns in the Northern Elders Forum are trapped in the past. They are determined to continue to relate with the rest of Nigeria, to continue to engage Project Nigeria, from the arrogant, feudalistic, entitlement-driven template of the Kaduna Mafia of yore.

The tragedy is that this brood of feudalistic oligarchs boasts the same gang that has turned even their own northern Nigerian enclave into one of the most underdeveloped, poverty-afflicted warrens on the face of the earth. They are the ones who destroyed the agricultural potential of that region and tethered her to the feeding bottle of the Niger Delta’s oil. They are the ones who have spent the last fifty years inflating census figures and creating largely moribund states whose lips must be permanently glued to that feeding bottle to survive. They are the ones whose political and class survival depends largely on zero investment in the human capital potential of the North, their philosophy being the more almajiris the merrier.

This, briefly, is the Project Nigeria report card of the guys on whose behalf Professor Ango Abdullahi has been sending his mouth on careless errands, heating up the polity, to borrow that popular Nigerian cliché. When you look at this report card, it becomes obvious that somebody somewhere has no shame. It becomes clear that sober reflection is clearly not the forte of somebody somewhere. Where I come from, if you boast such a horrible report card, such a terrible record, and outsiders mock and deride you because of it, your kinsmen will drive home the point that the insults are an occasion for sober reflection, not to strut around arrogantly like a peacock, making demands, declaring ultimatums, and putting people on notice. People would wonder how and where a failure found the mouth to talk.

I am saying in essence that given the tragic condition of the North and the sorry condition of Nigeria today, Professor Ango Abdullahi and his fellow clowns in the Northern Elders Forum should be hiding their faces in shame or trying to find sober reflection wherever they misplaced it, not talking, and definitely not putting us on notice that Goodluck Jonathan will not be President in 2015. Who the heck do these guys think they are anyway? The decision to retain or sack Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 will be made by the Nigerian people and shall not be a function of the arrogant preferments of the same visionless people largely responsible for the North’s and Nigeria’s condition today. Personally, I pray and hope that Nigerians would sack Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. That’s all. I cannot start putting people on notice about anything. That would be insufferable arrogance.

Mujahid Dokubo Asari’s irresponsible, half-illiterate, and xenophobic outburst on behalf of his sender, President Jonathan, is no excuse for an elder to roll in the mud, especially an elder who was already Vice Chancellor of one of the country’s biggest Universities when Asari was still a teenager learning to wipe his own ass and preparing to fail twice and drop out of the university in the future. Unknown to Ango Abdullahi and the Northern Elders Forum, Asari has in fact presented them with yet another excellent opportunity to start reflecting on the North’s long overdue paradigm shift. A rude awakening awaits those who continue to bet the future of their region and their people on the perpetuation of Nigeria as is, a warped federalism in which control of the centre translates to an absolute control of the country’s only feeding bottle for the benefit of narrow interests.

When the hand that holds the feeding bottle to your mouth says it is tired, the thing to do is to start an urgent reflection over the existence of alternative feeding bottles hitherto neglected. If only you would take your eye of the centre and the oil she sits on for a second, sober reflection may even help you discover that you have strategic advantages over your half-illiterate adversary. After all, the under-educated Dokubo Asari and his ilk in the millionaire militants club, who go about disturbing the rest of the country with talk of “our oil our oil”, are also betting on the perpetuity of oil and its continued significance in the calculus of global geopolitics. They do not know that oil is a finite resource. They do not know that from the United States to Saudi Arabia via the United Arab Emirates, from Venezuela to Iran via Kuwait, all of the world’s major oil dependent economies are investing heavily in a post-oil future. There is a race to break away from or overcome oil dependency. The future of oil is bleak. The need to graduate to non-oil income is what drives vision, initiative, and scientific research in the developed world. The days of oil are numbered.

I am not aware of any corresponding race anywhere in the world for humanity to transition into a post-tomato future, a post-onion future, or a non-livestock future. Therein lies the critical and strategic advantage of the North – if and if only this obvious advantage is matched by vision and determination. We are talking of a region whose agriculture could rival those of the United States and Canada if only her intellectuals would supply the strategic thinking needed for the birthing of a new psyche; if only her so-called political elders would stop rolling in the mud to force Dokubo Asari’s hand to stabilize the feeding bottle in their mouths. In North America, there are states or provinces which depend heavily on a chicken economy, an orange economy, a lettuce economy – agricultural products around which industries and allied industries grow. There are orange billionaires and chicken millionaires. There are potato billionaires and cabbage millionaires. There is a middleclass and a corporate world fed by these agricultural products. There are roads, schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure built. Something as simple as the farming of vegetables is an economic life-world unto itself.

It is an indictment on the Northern Elders Forum that more than fifty years after independence, they can only point to oil-block billionaires and millionaires from their neck of the woods, no middleclass to speak of, and an ocean of poverty below. These are people who could have spent the last fifty years giving the North’s tomato and onions the fate of North America’s oranges, potato, and chicken. These are people who are incapable of understanding that they can still do it for the North in the next fifty years as oil diminishes in importance. The absence of vision and strategic thinking is the only reason why the North has no onion and tomato economy capable of glutting Africa with those products, producing billionaires, millionaires, industries, a vibrant middleclass and funding infrastructure. Yes, tomato and onions can do all that. Rather than grow a brain and go in search of vision and strategic thinking, Ango Abdullahi and his fellow travelers in the Northern Elders Forum are rolling in the mud with Dokubo Asari and betting their future on the perpetuation of a Nigeria in which they give orders and decree who gets to be President. I am sorry for these pathetic guys. They don’t understand. They don’t get it.

I am not just sorry for them though. I also pity them. And this is where I must come back to the question of political grandpas who are rolling in the mud and fighting over the spoils of Nigerian statehood with new actors on the stage barely older than their grandchildren. Before Dokubo Asari and Ango Abdullahi, there were Olusegun Obasanjo and Ayo Fayose trying to determine who was a bastard and who fathered the said bastard. In essence, Ango Abdullahi is not the only grandpa in politics. We have them in abundance. We have an epidemic of septuagenarians and octogenarians who will not stop disturbing the peace of the country.

Week in, week out, they are giving orders, spitting fire on the national stage, oozing smoke from the centre of their heads like D.O. Fagunwa’s Anjonu Iberu (the ghomid of fear). For Ango Abdullahi, Olusegun Obasanjo, Edwin Clark, Tony Anenih, Bamanga Tukur, and so many others in that category, it is joro jara joro every week, fighting for the spoils of Nigerian statehood with guys in their forties. So and so must be president, so and so cannot be governor. Every statement they make is an arrow in the heart of genuine democracy. One is even insisting that his son must be the next governor of Adamawa state.

We must ask: who cursed the Nigerian grandpa in politics with the fate of the door? In the developed world, these are people who, by now, would be enjoying a dignified retirement from public life, perhaps in a country cottage or on a ranch somewhere, surrounded by their children and grandchildren, and only granting the occasional interview to guide the country in the right direction. Instead of a peaceful, countryside retirement, the Nigerian grandpa in politics is fated, like the door in Yoruba philosophy, never to know or find peace. “Wahala lon pa lekun” (It is wahala that kills the door), goes the Yoruba proverb. Open, close, open, close, a door never finds peace. Such is the terrible fate of the Nigerian grandpa in politics in the evening of his life. In his advanced age, for instance, Tony Anenih is still doing joro jara joro in the dead of night between Benin and Abuja. This is the terrible fate of the door.

The Nigerian grandpa in politics is responsible for his own fate of the door. In the morning and the afternoon of his life, he did not work to create a Nigeria that would grant him a deserved rest in the evening of his life. Where will they find rest and peace of mind in the Nigeria of today that is the product of their fifty years of visionless and corrupt leadership? Even if they built fortresses in their villages and hometowns, they must still generate their own electricity and water and provide their own security. They must fear Boko Haram, armed robbers, and kidnappers who now target the elderly. Some, like Tony Anenih, didn’t even have enough vision to tar the road to his own gate. Therefore, they must continue to patronize Governors, Ministers, and Senators their children’s age in order to enjoy military helicopters and other resources of the Nigerian state. Given this state of affairs, I’m afraid that there is no guarantee that Ango Abdullahi will not still be rolling in the mud with boys his grandchildren’s age in the next decade of his life.

Of course, what Ango Abdullahi, the Northern Elders Forum, and troublesome political grandpas from the rest of the country fail to understand is that this is the 21st century and Nigerians are already stating clearly that their otiose preferments shall not determine our future. When I look at the North, for instance, I do not see noisemaking feudalists determining the way that that part of the country shall do business with the rest of us in the future. The North of the future, for me, is Zainab Usman. If you don’t know her, google her and follow her blog. The North of the future, for me, is Safiya Musa. If you don’t know her, follow her work on social media. The North of the future, for me, is Salisu Suleiman. If you don’t know him, start reading his articles. The North of the future, for me, is Gimba Kakanda. If you don’t know him, follow him on social media. There are hundreds of thousands more where these paradigm shifters came from, in a non-monolithic, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious North. These are the models of Northern Nigerian citizenship that the rest of us will do business with to the extent that Nigeria remains one, not arrogant and disrespectful oligarchs giving orders to the rest of the country.

As for Professor Ango Abdullahi and other grandpas in politics who cannot see into the future shape of Nigeria, we must leave them where they belong in the past with this parting shot from Bob Dylan’s famous song, “The Times They Are A-Changing”:

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly aging
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changing.

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