By Chris Anyokwu
Someone called it a Night of Long Knives, recalling ominously and portentously the infamous years of Adolf Hitler and the global holocaust of World War II. Another said it was the only talk in town, namely: the formal declaration of intent to run for office by Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Jagaban Borgu himself, and, of course, the ensuing Pandora Box of ethical brickbats, political pull-him-downs and recriminations, this has provoked. Expectedly, both the mainstream traditional media, print and electronic, and social media have gone into an overdrive with political observers, media aficionados, columnists and social commentators taking up positions on either side of the opinion spectrum. And we know it is morning yet as far as the business of political marketing/electoral salesmanship goes.
And in the capacious emporium of political horse-trading and filibustering, many intellectual salesmen and women are steadily pouring into the marketplace even before high noon. Sundry analysts have rightly noted that the 2023 presidential election is going to be, probably, the most consequential nation-defining one since Independence, for a host of reasons, chief among which is the growing ethnicisation of our political culture, the resultant geopolitical spinoffs of the aforesaid factor, spinoffs such as the growing visibility of the ethnic Fulani in Nigeria’s political affairs, the concomitant whittling-down of the political influence of southern power blocs, among others. Furthermore, it is instructive to mention the top-heavy appointments of Northerners to the nation’s Critical National Assets and Institutions and the galling feeling of neglect, marginalisation and ostracism by Southerners. What’s worse, the current leadership and governance dysfunction has spawned and sired the disturbing phenomenon of ethnic separatism and the growing loud calls for the Balkanisation of the country (cf: Sunday Igboho of the Yoruba and Maazị NnamdiKanu of the Ndigbo).
To be certain, consequent upon that, we have continued to witness the disquieting spectrality of the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War (1967 – 70), the ghost of which has stubbornly resisted interment. Political scientist, strategist and former adviser to ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr Akin Osuntokun remarked recently that the reason Nigeria is unable to write its history is because of the extant question of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war and the ensuing blame game that has dogged its historicity to date.
All the afore-mentioned issues have conspired to emboss Nigeria as a veritable tinder-box, one that needs urgent rescuing from the precipice. There is a widespread feeling of apocalyptic end-game, a prelude to either a terminal implosion or a miraculous salvation from near-certain self-destruct. There is also considerable consensus that the PMB regime has performed poorly and has failed to deliver on the electioneering promises, to wit: to arrest insecurity, fight corruption and revamp the ailing economy. The fact of the matter as we speak is that Nigeria is globally considered the world’s capital of extreme poverty, even before basket-cases such as Yemen hobbled by a forgotten war, Afghanistan paralysed and emasculated by atavistic theocracy, and Somalia laid waste by years of piracy and terrorism and an endemic drought. The utter and complete dehumanisation of human life, highlighted in the main by serial killings, kidnappings, ritual killings, internet scamming, terrorism, banditry and armed robbery, has made Nigeria almost unliveable. If anything, the marauding and rampaging Fulani herdsmen sacking villages and settlements and leaving carnage in their wake, have been declared the world’s fourth deadliest terrorist group by the Global Terror Index (see YouTube for details).
Cognate to this appalling development is the unprecedented level of insecurity on our roads and railway lines. No place is really safe any longer in Nigeria. As if this is not bad enough, our social institutions are in distress. For instance, Nigeria’s public school system – primary, secondary and tertiary – is in shambles. The only certainty about our school system is the frequency and regularity of strike actions embarked upon by ASUU, NASU, the NUT and the like. How about the Association of Resident doctors? Do they not love to embark on strike to force the hand of government to pay them their hazard allowance? If our healthcare delivery system were in good order would our leaders and the well-heeded among us travel overseas for medical tourism, with our dearly beloved PMB always in the lead? Heartbreakingly, with youth unemployment put at 33.89%, skyrocketing inflation further making nonsense of the naira, the exchange rate hovering between N400 and N500 to one US dollar, with lack of social amenities – potable water, electricity supply, etc. – there is absolutely nothing to inspire hope and optimism in the citizenry. Petrol and cooking gas are completely out of the reach of the common man.
Besides diehard Buharists and Buharideens who are very active on social media and, of course, those officially and unofficially” “chopping” at the Banqueting Table (e.g. government appointees, PMB’s lackeys and stooges, the motley crowd of spongers and freeloaders), most people agree that the current administration is, to put it charitably, a colossal disaster. Some commentators even go as far as to suggest that this regime has almost completely erased the regnant vestiges of the postcolonial contraption known as Nigeria. They posit further that the present regime has contrived to return us to the politically-tempestuous post-1960s era of the wild “wild west”a la wetie and the civil war that had broken out in its wake. Even so, the Igbo and the Yoruba, the two major ethnicities that dominated (and still dominate) southern political affairs, could afford at the time to sit at a negotiating table to jaw-jaw. Small wonder, Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi at Ibadan could lay down his life for an Igbo man, Major General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, then Head of State when the Northern coupists came for him.
Those were the days of chivalry and heroism, when a soldier was ready to fall on his sword to demonstrate unflinching loyalty and unsullied integrity and character; the days when the Yoruba ethic of Omoluabi meant something beyond a lousy ploy to get Nigerians to be inebriated, if you get my drift.
The 1950s and early ‘60s were the Golden Era of Pan-Nigerianism, comparatively speaking. It therefore beats one’s imagination and beggars belief that “Nigeria’s owners” have never seen fit to memorialise Fajuyi, the leader who embodied everything that is finest and exceptional in a soldier and a gentleman. They do not make them like that anymore.
Since the ‘60s, the spirit of Pan-Nigerianism has steadily waned, the political vision of our elite has equally dimmed, blinkered and blinded as they are by ethnicism, tribalism, cronyism and allied primordialities. Consequently, this atomism of vision with its accompanying ethnicisation of everything Nigerian has fatally brought us to the present pass. We should remind ourselves that the nation is composed of three broad social categories, namely: (1) the political class, (2) the intellectual elite comprising, among others, newspaper columnists, social critics, political scientists, public intellectuals and editors, feature writers, reporters and (3) the masses or, if you prefer, those Frantz Fanon refers to as “the wretched of the earth”. Ironically, members of this underclass are reported to be the owners of the polity; power supposedly belongs to them. But these lumpen-proletarian forces are historically hamstrung by amnesia and myopia. They are quick to forgive and forget the past and also hardly make informed decisions about the future. Thus the amnesia and myopia of the herd are existential afflictions which are logical products of material poverty and ideological befuddlement imposed upon them by their unconscionable rulers by design. Unsurprisingly, therefore, power-holders dread mass enlightenment of the electorate, that is why we have over 12 million out-of-school children roaming our streets today, ready recruits for bandits, terrorists and prostitution rings. These “God’s Bits of Wood” do not usually ask for too much of their rulers. All they pray for is their daily bread, modest accommodation, good and efficient health-care delivery system, schools for their children and little money in their pockets.
But the subsisting tragedy of our situation is that, like the grave, our politicians are never content with carting away our common patrimony, our “scarce resources”, their kleptomaniacal penchant always drives them to equally bleed us white and leave us high and dry. Were one to be guided solely by the evidence of one’s senses, there would be only one conclusion to be drawn, namely: there is no hope! The vicious cycle of mass immiseration will certainly continue until death mercifully grants them reprieve, if you believe in reincarnation, or total deliverance and freedom, if you don’t. This is where the role of the intellectual elite as the moral barometer of the nation, the bulwark of reasoned optimism, is critical. This group admirably combines the optimism of the Will and the pessimism of the Intellect and, as such, represents society’s lighthouse of mass enlightenment. However, if the write-ups in the media, both mainstream and social, are anything to go by, it does appear we as a nation of sentient beings are in for a long day’s journey into night, the so-called “Night of Long knives”. What does one make of the extremely incendiary language employed by columnists to canvas and advance their views and opinions? One shudders to imagine where all the name-calling, the Do-Me-I-Do-You back and forth is leading Nigeria? The deeply-ethnic coloration of political opinions is quite disturbing, to say the least. One may describe columnists in this regard as “The Portrait of the Columnist as an Ethnic Revanchist/Irredentist”. Everyone in the profession has become so territorialising, thereby essentialising the grab-grab mentality. Indeed, we are in the season of blandishment in which hagiographers and un(paid) pipers sing their voices hoarse and dance themselves lame, most times with the only reward of seeing their kinsmen at the helm. Such damp squibs! The Big Question to ask is: how much are you worth, Mr Columnist? How much are you willing to accept as the price for your soul? What is the value of your character, your brand? Is everything now about “Stomach Infrastructure?; Our-Turn-To-Occupy-Aso-Rock mentality? Isn’t this mind-set disrespectful and disdainful of other ethnicities, especially the so-called minority ethnic groups? What right have you got to cast aspersions on the present if you wish to perpetuate it? What right? Are you more deserving, more Nigerian than others? Shouldn’t we ask of the prospective candidates, the presidential wannabes, the possession of such critical ingredients of leadership as vision, competence, character, track record, a sense of history and patriotic élan?
Those of you who have turned the pages of newspapers into an agonistic coliseum of verbal daggers, ask yourselves: are you better than the ballot-box snatcher, a hired thug, an election-results “doctor”, a goon of a political desperado? Let us not forget that decisions matter, they determine destinies – the “yea”, the “nay” and the indifferent onlookers are all implicated by their decisions. All are involved. The decision you make today shall make or mar your future and that of your children. So tread carefully. This is not the time for emotion, it is time for hard and clear thinking; time for difficult and painful but ultimately salvific and remedial decision making. Let’s not settle for crumbs; let’s not sell our vote; let’s not mortgage our future and our children’s future. Let’s put on our thinking caps and make informed decisions as 2023 beckons.
*Chris Anyokwu writes from University of Lagos.