The Greater Tragedy of Nigeria

The Greater Tragedy of Nigeria

Friday, May 7, 2021 1:00 am

Dr. Chris Anyokwu

By Chris Anyokwu

Characterising  the spatio-temporal chaos called Nigeria has  always been something of an all-comers affair: whilst a prominent Northern politician in the 1950s was quoted as dismissing the colonial contraption as an entity welded together in “fraudulent togetherness”, Chief Obafemi Awolowo at about the same period described it as “a mere geographical expression”.  From time to time, other norm entrepreneurs and leaders of thought have equally sought to make sense of their natal country mostly in pejorative terms.  Perhaps the most colourful and poetically memorable characterisation of Nigeria is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s put-down in Half Of A Yellow Sun.  She asseverates that her country, Nigeria, is “a collection of fragments held in a fragile clasp”.  Can you beat that?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The lexical item “fragments” semiotises and emblematises the constitutive dismemberment or the Balkanisation of the ethnic nationalities which together make up the Nigerian Federation.  And fragments betoken interstitial fractures and deep crevices in the original oneness before the colonist came as the Atundasque iconoclast and shattered everything.  Hence, the description of Nigeria as subsisting in fraudulent togetherness or a mere geographical expression, among others.  For a host of reasons neither the white man who came as a locust of depredation and dispossession nor the local black heirs saw fit to properly solder this multiplicity of ethnicities into a truly organic whole.  What seemed to drive both the erstwhile colonial masters and their black indigenous successors was the desire to turn the entire country into personal fiefdoms; an inexhaustible heist of sorts.   For the local rulers, (rulers, never leaders!) regime after regime, the normal country-citizen relationship which is characterised by mutual protection, respect and maintenance is thrown overboard.  It is, indeed, doubtful today if any Nigerian knows anything about the rights and responsibilities of a citizen of Nigeria.  Little wonder, country and citizen co-exist in a parlous state of mutual cannibalism.  As George Orwell famously intones in 1984, “under the spreading chestnut tree, you sold me and I sold you”.

George Orwell. Credit: The Airship

Doesn’t this sound ominously prescient with regards to “our own dear native land”?  Motherland has become the sow which routinely devours her farrow and conversely, citizens devour their motherland in order to survive.  It is against this backcloth that Wole Soyinka’s sobering characterisation of the 60s as a “Wasted Generation” resonates.  To be sure, given the approaching hoofbeats of war (i.e. the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967 – 70), presaged by the January 15, 1966 coup and the counter-coup of the same year, events that metastasised into the “Igbo Pogrom” of 1966 as well as the incendiary troubles in south-west Nigeria, it was only apposite to describe the roiling polity as “wasted”.  The postcolonial hell-hole emerged warts and all from the ashes of the fratricidal imbroglio like the fabled phoenix.  But things have fallen apart.  And the centre can no longer hold.  Sadly, mere anarchy has been our lot ever since.  Small wonder, shortly afterwards, that is, the post-war epoch, Nigerians had to battle economic hardships amid the petrol-dollar glut.  As the saying goes, a hungry man is an angry man.  Niyi Osundare inimitably dubbed this era of suffering-in-the-midst-of-plenty “the Angry Generation” (1970 – 1990).  Accordingly, many Nigerian novelists, poets and playwrights wrote works of literary art which highlight this socio-economic anomie.  Art and life interpenetrated one another in weepy mimesis as text and context couldn’t be separated by any hint of defarmiliarisation.  The Angry Generation, weaned on chronic immiseration, gradually morphed and metamorphosed into the “Anxious Generation” (1990 – 2000)  a la Osundare again.  Thereafter, many more generational cohorts have materialised picking up the baton from their immediate predecessors as they race to nowhere in particular.  Or, perhaps, to the present Apocalypse; “the Lost Generation”.

Chinua Achebe.

In 1983, Chinua Achebe wrote a little but very powerful book he called The Trouble With Nigeria.  In this book, Achebe examines, among other things, the following topics: (1) Where the Problem Lies (2) Tribalism; (3) False Image of Ourselves; (4) Leadership, Nigerian-style; (5) Patriotism (6) Social Injustice and the Cult of Mediocrity; (7) Indiscipline, (8) Corruption; (9) The Igbo Problem and (10) The Example of Aminu Kano.

The very first sentence in The Trouble With Nigeria reads: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership”.  This sentence, incredibly simple and clear as it is, summarises our tragedy as a nation.  Whilst more advanced nations of the world, notably Western Europe and North America combat the deleterious effects of climate change such as earthquakes, hurricanes, flash-floods, wildfires and tsunamis, Nigeria and Nigerians are crippled by “a failure of leadership”.  There is a growing industry of academic research and scholarship on Leadership Deficit in Nigeria’s dysfunctional political ecosystem.  Despite the brilliant research findings of numerous researchers on the vexed question of bad leadership in post-colonial Nigeria, a gulf still exists between Town and Gown making a symbiotic relationship between research and policy a non-starter.  Power has never stood in greater dread of knowledge than it does under the present dispensation.  The Nigerian Academy can chew the cud all it wants.  Power will do what power wants.  That is, reign and rule according to its own whims and caprices.  Who bloody cares?

For the umpteenth time, we may reiterate the fact that all the socio-economic problems plaguing us today are spinoffs of “a failure of leadership”.   Insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery, rape, 419 scamming, etc. are all products of unconscionable lootocracy.  Or autocratic dictatorship, if you prefer the phrase.  Under a mannequin  presidency, what you get is diffuse centres of power such that the people are governed by proxy at best.  In this anomalous  scenario, you are reminded of a popular verse in the Book of Judges: it goes thus: “In those days, there were neither kings nor judges in Israel and everyone did that which was right in his sight”.  It is this Biblical absence of leadership that has given birth to what we propose as the greater tragedy of Nigeria.  It is, indeed, bad or tragic enough that Nigeria has become a basket case, a banana republic where human life is taken at will by people from a section of the country in particular and all kinds of criminal elements in general.

Map of Nigreria

But the greater tragedy is our loss of humanity.  We have lost our soul as human beings.  Whether you are in your home or not, the story is the same.  It is all man’s inhumanity to man.  Father against son and vice-versa and mother against daughter and vice-versa.  In the homestead, sibling rivalry is rife over mundane issues such as land or property.  Or even women!  Try to get anything done in today’s Nigeria; say, driver’s licence, international passport, settle a civil offence at a police station, traffic infraction, or you need to see a doctor or nurse for a routine medical check-up.  Then welcome to Hell! You could be damned because of your looks, your accent, your dressing and, of course, your economic state-your class. It is common knowledge that ethnicism is at root of Nigeria’s endless crises.  But most have no idea how thoroughly it has permeated our sick body politic.  Religion, particularly Pentecostal Christianity, is feeble in the rampaging face of this cultural scourge.  Many sanctimonious “saints”, sadly, will be turned away from the Pearly Gate on account of tribalism or ethnicism.  The sad song that fateful day will be: “Almost Persuaded But Lost”.  Moses saw the Promised Land but could not enter therein.  That’s the fate that awaits millions except they each of them deal decisively with the greater tragedy of their lack of humanity.  Someone said that if you helped a person for money, that’s business and not kindness.  Aren’t social interactions in contemporary Nigeria a matter of business?  Is there kindness; fellow-feeling in Nigeria today?  Are we our brother’s keeper any longer?  Does anyone care about/for others?  Don’t we all climb on the back of others like scaffolds to get to the top and thereafter discard them as though they never existed?  The debate raging across the land today is over Nigexit  (cf: “Brexit”) with the opposing camps crying “Remain” and “Exit”.  The worry is that even if the “Exiters” carry the day, what is the guarantee that the cocktail of the new nations will not flare into pockets of conflagration over power-sharing?  The times call for individual and collective soul-searching with a view to recovering our humanity.  We must always remember one hand cannot clap.


Chris Anyokwu, PhD.

Associate Professor of English

University of Lagos.

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