By Chris Anyokwu
Change is the catalyst of endeavour, the motive force of life itself; it is the raison d’etre of temporal existence. Little wonder, the Latin poet, Ovid, enthuses in Metamorphoses that: “There is no death, no death, only change”. Had there been no possibility of change in any venture whatsoever, it would have become unlikely that there will be any human being alive who will get out of their bed in the morning to “hustle” (to use a Nigerian expression, even though it means a totally different and negative thing in the real and accurate sense of the word.) It is this undeniable fact about change as an empirical experience that makes life and living worth it in the first place. But make no mistake,change comes in different forms and shapes, some positive and others negative.
Yet we must also realise that too much of everything is bad, as the saying goes. Thus, too much peace and prosperity can engender languor, torpor and inertia or lethargy and, conversely, too much pain and sorrow can break the heart and foul up good things. Hence, there’s the after-taste of sweetness after a consumption of bitter-leaf sauce and an after-taste of tartness when you drive water after eating, say, pine-apple. The point to be made is that existential dialectic – that endless conflictual interaction of opposites: light versus shade, heat versus cold, health versus sickness, poverty versus wealth, pain versus pleasure, peace versus war, autocracy versus democracy, inter alia – is the very essence of life as we know it. How to manage this intrinsic and ineluctable permanence of change in human affairs is what has pitched reformers (or bourgeois reactionaries and conservative fuddy-duddies) against materialists of every ideological stripe, notably Marxists and Socialists).
Whilst the former favour a Fabian gradualist amelioration of the social being, the latter ideologues root for a scotched-earth, searing interrogation of the normative order, a viscerally radical torpedoing of the (usually) moribund status quo ante and the concomitant inauguration of change qua change. In a word, the materialist school of thought favours revolution. This is the “meat” of IkemOsodi’s lecture “Views of Struggle” delivered to university students at Bassa in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah.
The question of how to midwife change in postcolonial governance is one recurring theme in Achebe’s fiction in particular and much of contemporary African literature in general. This all-important subject of political leadership which is fictionalised by Achebe in his novel, Anthills of the Savannah is still very much with us today. The Fourth Republic continues apace since 1999, but the question that should agitate our mind is: how much has changed in terms of the quality of life of the people? From Olusegun Obasanjo to Umaru Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan to Muhammadu Buhari, all occupants of the Highest Stool in the land, the position of president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria – how have their successive administrations better the collective lot of the masses?
By what indicators or parameters may we measure the impact of change in our body politic? Infrastructure development? Microeconomic indices? Or the extent to which successive governments have been able to shrink the gap between the rich and the poor? By how many people the power-holders have been able to lift out of poverty? What, to be sure, is the use of paradisiac mansions and well-paved road networks to a dying citizenry? A citizenry being mercilessly decimated in the most horrendous manner by rag-tag armies and rogue bands of bandits, terrorists and “unknown gunmen”?Change! Change, indeed!
We’ve never had it this bad, so, that’s some kind of change, right? But this is certainly not the promised change. It is also germane to ask: how much has changed in the status of the generality of the people from their position as subjects under colonial rule and now, their ‘cognomen’ as citizens in post-Independence Nigeria? Alldongoturenchi, the long-winded talk about leadership and governance in postcolonial Nigeria can be measured by how the quality of life of the people has been improved, otherwise it is not worth it.
From time immemorial, power-wielders have always pleaded altruistic public-spiritedness as the sole reason they seek power. Whether in myth or in history, the affluent Northern Hemisphere or the Global South, politicians everywhere and in every epoch have always insisted that “national interest” is the singular reason they keep awake at night, cudgelling their brainsover how to fix the collective mess, how to make their constituencies more prosperous and their constituents happier. Implicit in this general tendency is the (sometimes unspoken) accusation or allegation of a dereliction of duty on the part of the incumbent power-holders. It is also assumed that, where the state of affairs is arguably tolerable, healthy and good, it is in the very nature of things, that there is always room for improvement, for progressive change, however cosmetic. This is a universal norm. But in our case here in Nigeria, the question of change is far from straightforward or cut-and-dried. It is mind-bogglingly confounding, complex and convoluted. It is, to be certain, far worse than any attempt to loosen the proverbial Gordian Knotor to unknot the mythical Ariadne Thread. How does one begin to define “change” under the present dispensation where things have utterly and completely fallen apart?
However, let’s try to make sense of this definitional slipperinessof “change” by availing ourselves of a meme trending on social media and trying to deconstruct its semantic reverberations. The meme goes thus: “If I become president of Nigeria, I shall continue from where Buhari stops”. This statement is attributed to Bola Ahmed Tinubu, National Leader of the ruling APC. A response attached to the said meme reads: “Is this a promise or a threat?” Now, let’s pause and ponder on this meme. Hypothetically speaking, is Tinubu implying that the present situation of things in Nigeria is good enough for the Nigerian masses? Consider, for instance, the following combustible cocktail of social pathologies-insecurity (terrorists and bandits in Nigeria considered to be the 4th deadliest in the world by Global Terror Index), kidnappings, serial killings, skyrocketing inflation, hunger and starvation (Nigeria adjudged the world’s capital of poverty, even before Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia ), 33.89% unemployment rate, declining revenue, the borrow-and-spend policy of the Buhari regime with its abhorrent corollary of debt overhang for Nigeria’s unborn progeny, public education in shambles, nepotic appointments, mutual ethnic resentment and hatred and the continued marginalisation of the Igbo and their ongoing official persecution, and so forth. If this is what the Tinubu meme implies, then, one may ask: is this a “promise” or a “threat”? If is a promise, then, there is cause for universal weeping and wailing and the gnashing of teeth, for it means there is no change in the offing for the beleaguered people. It is a continuation of the life of adversity and hopelessness which Nigerians have been enduring for over six years now. That means, it is not a “promise” but a “threat” of aggravation of the “whip” of “Change” becoming the “scorpion” of the Next Level. That means, the hapless people of Nigeria should brace themselves for the worst.
But let us not get ahead of ourselves. BAT and the 17 or so presidential wannabes are at liberty to run for office, only that the outcome of the race is yet in the womb of Time. Between now and Election Day, a lot is still going to happen. Much water will flow under the proverbial bridge. According to Jocasta in Sophocles’ play King Oedipus: “Chance rules our lives; the future is all unknown”.
But come to think of it, Tinubu might have been quoted out of context or the meme might even be the handiwork of his political enemies, awonbaseje. For the BAT that is reputed to be a political wizard extraordinaire, is too deep, too wise to be caught uttering such blather. Accordingly, the reader is invited to pay no heed to the meme. As a firm believer in God, yours sincerely wishes BAT well since he’s declared his intention to vie for the plum job, a declaration he made on 10th January, 2022 at the Aso Rock Villa. And should he win the race, we can only hope and pray that he is able to exorcise from our collective unconscious the bogeyman of the present catastrophe and steer the polity in a kinder, more egalitarian and inclusive direction. But first thing first: the electorate must resist the temptation to be feckless and apathetic; prospective voters must go and get their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). And when it is time to vote, all eligible voters should troop out to cast their ballot. For, according to Venerable Sulton J. Sheen: “The refusal to take sides on great moral issues is itself a decision. It is a silent acquiescence to evil. The Tragedy of our time is that those who still believe in honesty lack fire and conviction, while those who believe in dishonesty are full of passionate conviction”.
By the same token, American science fiction author and a multiple recipient of the Hugo and Nebula awards, Octavia Estelle Butler once famously remarked: “Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery”. The ball is in the court of the Nigerian electorate. As Aristotle quips: “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime”. The people must allow their poverty to galvanise them, to fire them up to change the “shit-stem”. Pythagoras’s Theorem (Pythagoras 530 BC), Logarithms (John Napier 1610 Calculus (Isaac Newton 1668), Law of Gravity (Isaac Newton 1668), Wave Equation (J.d ‘Alembert, 1746), etc. are some of the equations that changed the world. Forget the so-called kingmakers, the selectorate. When the people speak with one voice emperors quake in their boots. So let the other presidential contenders and pretenders declare their intent, for the more, the merrier. Let Nigerians be spoilt for choice. But we know, at the end of the day, it shall be a two-horse race between Tinubu and Atiku. Except biology or the gods intervene to upset the applecart. And, we also know that change will be the hobby-horse that all the contenders and the pretenders will mount and seek to ride to the Presidential Villa as its next Tenant; Fingers crossed, let the race begin as 2023 beckons!
Chris Anyokwu writes from University of Lagos.