Nigeria: A food for thought By Kunle Oderemi

One of the books I have had to re-read lately is ‘Why we Struck’ written by one of the three Army Majors that led the first military putsch in the country, Adewale Ademoyega.
 
I am always fascinated by the account of the author on the political intrigues that culminated in the coup that had become a watershed in the history of the country. Most captivating is the analysis of Ademoyega on the then British colonial masters of the country, who according to him, brazenly manipulated the politics of the era and the complicity of a section of the political elite to suit their own selfish agenda, even before Nigeria’s independence.
 
It was in the course of going through Ademoyega’s book again that I was privileged to get a copy of another interesting publication entitled ‘Time To reclaim Nigeria’, a compendium of essays written by Chido Onumah, a widely travelled Nigerian activist and journalist.
 
The 280-page publication contains incisive articles on the tragic adventures of the country in recent times in the hands of the political class that appears to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Therefore, the title of the book was instructive on what the Nigerian people must do without further delay if they hope to save the country from the current miasma.
 
Nonetheless, of all the articles read, the one I found most appealing in Onumah’s book is the one entitled, The Trouble With Nigeria. It wasn’t that the issues the writer identified as constituting the problems of the nation’s progress were new. Not at all! Most of them are the core challenges that the vast majority of the more than 160 Nigerian population have come to live with and which have almost brought the country to its knees even under the present political dispensation.
 
In the article, Onumah brought back the sad memories of the ruin that started a long time ago and has turned into a national plague. He availed his readers with the lone, but familiar voice of a Jamaican-born academic, Dr. Patrick Wilmot, lamenting the steady descent of our country into the alleys of want and penury. The author extensively quoted Wilmot’s timeless commentary on the country, richly endowed but being strangulated by the yoke of poverty because of the heartless and conscienceless of a minute percentage of the political class.
 
Going through it, I felt a total sense of anger and despair about the Nigerian state. You wonder if it was this same country that gave to the world such generations of Nigerians like late Director General of World Health Organisation (WHO), Professor Adeoye Lambo; Professor Adebayo Adedeji, a former Minister of Health; and late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, world acclaimed pediatrician; as well as celebrated writers: Professor Chinua Achebe and Professor Wole Soyinka; the former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku and many other worthy ambassadors. You would begin to imagine if such personalities could not have been consigned to the history if the affairs of the country had been managed by those Wilmot tried to depict in his article.
 
Wilmot needs no introduction. He taught Sociology at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, for about 18 years, during which time he consistently exposed the hypocrisy of the Nigerian elite. But the IBB regime could not tolerate his guts and frankness, so in 1988 decided to bundle him out of the country for teaching what he was not being paid to do, that is, to be a zombie in the academic environment, whereas Wilmot’s articles were, in every material fact, infallible and actually meant to add value to serious intellectual discourse in the quest to build a virile, prosperous and stable country.
 
Though Wilmot is no longer within the precinct of Nigeria, he appears to be fully abreast of developments in our country. His thoughts on it, its people, politics and the dynamics are so contemporaneous than the commentaries of many of us that are permanently resident in Nigeria. After all, The World, to quote an author, Thomas L. Friedman, is flat, and not just a global village. This is what Wilmot has to say about Nigeria very many years ago:
 
“In 20 years, China’s absolute poor sank from 56 per cent of the population to 12 per cent. In 30 years, Nigeria’s poor rose from 20 per cent to over 70 per cent. Today, China is a world power, Nigeria a basket of case.
 
“In no other country in the world, with the possible exception of George Bush’s America, do leaders show more contempt, less compassion for their poor citizens. If a man who has stolen billions from the nation announces a party to celebrate a successful operation on his ingrown toenail in Europe, every Big Man from the farthest corner of the country rushes forth like rats from their holes in search of cheese.
“An explosion at one of these ‘society’ weddings, naming ceremonies or funerals would decimate the entire ruling class…. Many Nigerian politicians, especially those with military background, possess modern farms, where they raise livestock. They provide nutritious food, clean water, sanitary housing, the latest medicine and the best veterinary services. They have an interest in the welfare of their animals because they want to make profits. If they had the same interest in their citizens, Nigeria would be a far better place and 70 per cent of the population would not be classified as dirt poor.”
 
According to him, “People were not going into government to transform the Nigerian economy or benefit the ordinary Nigerian. They were in government for one purpose only: to control power and to use that power to steal. They take money outside Nigeria and put it into banks and institutions. This is totally opposed to every other nation in the history of the world. In a normal nation, corrupt, powerful brutal leaders go out and plunder other countries and bring it back into their own countries.”
 
I need not add anything to Wilmot’s analysis of the Nigerian situation, as it is picturesque of events in the country today. Suffice to say, however, that his commentary is a veritable food for thought for all well-meaning Nigerians at a time that fuel subsidy and pension funds and their likes constitute largesse for the few cabals in the land.

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