By Chris Anyokwu
Responsibility can sometimes be something of an eel, slippery, dodgy. It can also be something of a fart, a really offensive wind broken in a crowd by a roguish scallywag. The guy who has polluted the air hides under the anonymity of the multitude, thus insinuating collective guilt. The disappearance act which responsibility has become in Nigeria has turned all into a nation of human eels, a farting people; a country of liars. It is really a high and burning shame that no one is man enough to take the bullet; to put it bluntly, to take responsibility for their mistakes, their offences, their crimes.
Finger-pointing is now a distinctly Nigerian way of life. It is no more so than in the serious business of political governance. A bit of back-peddling is in order at this juncture.
Before the advent of General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.), Nigeria was what the immortal Fela in kinaesthetic metaphor describes in his timeless song entitled “Overtake Don Overtake Overtake” as “one- yeye-ball-wey-one-yeye-wind-dey-blow-for-one-yeye-corner”. Simply reformulated in good English, Nigeria is a driftwood, a detritus floating rudderlessly on the tide of time. Regime after regime, those at the helm had simply made a hash of it plunging us more and more down into the slough of despondency. Whilst the rest of the world frenetically raced forward into the future, we were content to trudge backward to primeval times.
We were bedazzled by change, loving the laptop but cradling our chalk-board; excited at the sight of an airplane but groomed our camels; enjoyed canned beef and other well-packaged finished products from overseas but were locked in quasi-amatory relationship with our cattle; loved to watch on cable or satellite TV how issues-based and ideas-driven debates are exchanged robustly on the hallowed floors of the British House of Commons and the US Capitol but are forever locked in ethno-religious slug-fests. On and on and on, our dance of shame has no end.
President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, PhD, did his level best while he piloted the affairs of this “good people, great nation”. We can say that in hindsight. Success or failure can only be measured by comparison. How do you know white is white if you do not place it side by side with black? Each colour achieves perfect ontologic integrity in contradistinction to its opposite. Thus flanked by their opposite, white gets whiter, black blacker. No room for wuruwuru. It’s operation show your colour (apologies to Lagbaja the masked muse-ician). Thus, at first, it was all the dull umbra of the “colourless” Jonathan. Thirsting for sunlight, we cried out for rainbow, a suffusion of colour across our darkling plains.
Enter Buhari, the gap-toothed face of the sun. Hurray for thunder! Good riddance to bad rubbish! The media was on fire, conventional and social. The country was torn like a piece of cloth right down the middle into pro-and anti-Buhari camps. Even within the pro-Buhari enclave, crevices and fissures remained. The colour issue reared its ugly head. How dye-in-the-wool a Buhari fan are you? Are you a fair-weather supporter or a come-sun-come-rain diehard loyalist? Trust Nigerians. Semantics to the rescue: the spectrum of loyalty was captured by nomenclature. Enter Buharists versus Buharideens. Can you beat that? Okay, let’s get down to it. “Buharists” designates half-hearted moderate supporters, who, influenced by western ways, tend to follow their principal Nicodemusly. On the other hand, the “Buharideens” are die-hard supporters who, regardless of the score-card of their principal, are prepared to back him to the hilt. Thus, in the aftermath of Buhari’s rather poor showing, Buharists have since recanted, some of them, fearing Nemesis, have asked forgiveness from the anti-Buharists for not seeing the handwriting on the wall all along. Right from the get-go. How could you be so blind? They were roundly upbraided and rehabilitated. Nothing spoil. Go and sin no more. All’s well that ends well. But for the Buharideens led ably by the presidential spokespersons – Lai, Femi, Shehu and Lauretta, all of them, colourful characters aperch on the Rock’s summit, looking directly into the sun’s eye, always rally the troops, that is, the Buharideens.
They are everywhere, on radio and on TV, notably those owned by government. They write op-eds like the unprecedented achievements of President Buhari. Social media is another matter altogether. Suddenly we started hearing something like “Cheerleaders” versus “Wailers” in relation to the president’s performance or lack thereof. Whilst the former are the frontliners among the tribe of Bubarideens, a group that imbricates all social classes including politicians and paupers, the latter comprises some of the turncoat Buharists and, of course, the rock-solid anti-Buhari bloc constituting a disproportionately high chunk of the people. The cynical observers of events hint darkly that Buharideens are only doing what they are paid to do, anyway. They claim that the Nigerian character will always follow the money. Go to where their bread is buttered. And there’s enough dough to go round, only if you are smart enough to get on board, these observers insist. But these claims are difficult to verify and substantiate because, like everything else in our country, the more you look, the more you are duped, shege banza! But that’s not the point. The nub of this exercise is couched in the following question: Why do we blame Buhari for our mess? Why don’t we take responsibility for our own shortcomings? Is it Buhari that makes you idle away in bed at noon while others are slugging it out in the jungles of life? Is it Buhari that asks you to cut corners and compromise standards in your place of work? The cheating, the lying, the backstabbing, the filching and robbing that go under the broad categorisation of social life in Nigeria. Is Buhari the author of those malfeasances? Take road rage, for instance,. In Lagos, the so-called “Centre of Excellence’, you would see otherwise well-dressed upwardly-mobile people driving sleek carapaces indulging in glaring and brazen traffic offenses. Some would jockey for right-of-way on BRT Lane with blue buses and, at times, causing road accidents. Some drive against traffic just to avoid the snarl-up on the highway. Danfo drivers are a lost cause. They have practically exempted themselves from commonsense. And fellow-feeling. And, what’s worse, these dare-devils pride themselves on being smart, clever and brave.
As far as Nigeria is concerned, there is no better metaphor to capture the Nigerian Nightmare than vehicular traffic-jam in our cities, especially Lagos. Even Fela points this out in one of his hit-tracks “Confusion Break Bone”. He uses Ojuelegba, a notoriously confounding epicentre in suburban Surulere area of Lagos, as trope for the organised chaos, the ghettoised sprawl, the maniacal din and the accustomed planlessness that is Nigeria’s signature. Most Nigerians are always in haste going absolutely nowhere. They clutter the drains and canals with offal, plastic bric-a-brac, human ordure and all what not. And when it rains, oh, Lord have mercy, all sorts of stuff float into your living-room. Literally, just step out of your house and survey the environs. What do you see? Frothing gutters. Abandoned vehicles, clumps of bush, mosquito colonies and nurseries of vermin everywhere. Then go to your local market and observe the studied shenanigans called haggling. The little ritual of that battle of wits enacted between seller and buyer intimates the larger, more momentous existential negotiation going on between Centre and Peripheries. Truth be told, we are in deep shit!
From home to school, the police station, bank, PHCN office to the Waste Management Board offices, Urban and Physical Planning offices to the Immigration and Customs offices, hospitals, to the shopping malls, the story is the same. It’s all impunity. Irresponsibility. Callousness. Self-centredness. And, at times, bare-faced cussedness and wickedness. Whilst President Buhari in his characteristic cavalier insularity is ensconced in the cosy caverns of far-away Aso Rock, some ne’er-do-wells, who deliberately work to undermine the Republic and to make life more unbearable for fellow Nigerians, blame Buhari for the very mess they themselves create. May Amadioha deal you your just desserts! May Ayelala wring the neck of those who our blame the innocent ruler for their own mess. What a peculiar mess!
Chris Anyokwu, PhD.
Associate Professor of English,
University of Lagos.