Chin Ce, 2005 Writer of the Year
Writer of the Year, ALJ 2005
A SMALL, neglected pamphlet dots the reference section of the Nigerian national library. The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe begins in a language and tone that would annoy its countrymen, particularly the political cheerleaders:
There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership. (1)
African literature parallels politics closely even as critics who argue from a cultural position of art for arts’ sake may tend to overlook this literary sensitivity to issues of politics, nationhood and citizenship. Yet while the Nigerian literati have since decades of political self-determination been preoccupied with social and political paradigms, as if walking on the front line, the question is how far has the literature gone towards the education of society? After forty years of independence, in any case, the readership may not have improved. Many intellectuals, as noted years ago, read very little and any writer, at the risk of bigotry, may add that this is why the development of the nation is all talk and little progress. Time is a serious handicap,
But there are other limiting factors besides time. The habit of reading itself is clearly the most important, for if it were strongly developed in our intellectuals some of them at least would find the time. But the habit is simply not there. (Creation 29)
With the obvious lacunae in imaginative thinking is it surprising the vacuity of national leadership and the country’s descent in redundancy syndrome? Coming to power in 1999 with boasts of a new deal for his countrymen, Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, typical of the military that tutored him, declared a campaign against corruption. Two years in the same course his country was to rank in the hall of infamy as one of the most corrupt in the world. It was not long after that the president reconciled his brief epiphany of public accountability with the corruptive demands of his own political survival in office. Few Nigerians would forget his glib reaction to the international exposition that the highest corruption emanated from the central government of the nation where the retired general had full control. It smacked of a remark by a central character in Children of Koloko inter alia:
Dogkiller was once quoted, off the record of course, as saying that all this grammar of development didn’t belong to high matters of state since it didn’t quite put the food on his table. (41)
Nothing, however, would more please the beneficiaries of Nigeria’s brand of democracy than the aphorism: ‘The worst democracy is better than the best military rule’. The mediocrity of this thought and its overall acceptance among them seem the prevailing order of a society with hardly any sign of transition which leaves little to wonder why they run the worst democracy in the world. The literature of Africa leaves memories of this era of history that the populace should be glad to put behind them. An excerpt from Achebe’s No Longer at Ease gives an insight to public corruption in Nigeria of the seventies:
Some forty miles or so beyond lbadan the driver suddenly said: ‘Dees b–f police!’ Obi noticed two policemen by the side of the road about three hundred yards away, signalling the lorry to a stop.
‘Your particulars?’ said one of them to the driver. The driver asked his passengers to get up. He unlocked the box and brought out a sheaf of papers. The policeman looked at them critically. ‘Where your roadworthiness?’ The driver showed him his certificate of roadworthiness. Meanwhile the driver’s mate was approaching the other policeman. But just as he was about to hand something over to him Obi looked in their direction. The policeman was not prepared to take a risk; for all he knew Obi might be a C.I.D. man. So he drove the driver’s mate away with great moral indignation. ‘What you want here? Go way!’
Meanwhile the other policeman had found fault with the driver’s papers and was taking down his particulars, the driver pleading and begging in vain. Finally he drove away, or so it appeared. About a quarter of a mile father up the road he stopped. ‘Why you look the man for face when we want give um him two shillings?’ he asked Obi.
‘Because he has no right to take two shillings from you,’ Obi answered.
‘Na him make I no de want carry you book people,’ he complained. ‘Too too know na him de worry una. Why you put your nose for matter way no concern you? Now that policeman go charge me like ten shillings.’ (40)
Here is how Ayi Kwei Armah reflects the same pandemic ravaging independent Ghana in a later novel, The Beautyful ones are not yet born:
A small bus, looking very new and neat in its green paint, came up to the barrier. One of the policemen casually waved it to a stop and then just as casually he walked away to join the othersThe driver of the small green bus stepped down and walked carefully over toward the policemen. ‘Constable,’ he said, as he got to the policemen, ‘my passengers. They are in a hurry.’
One of the policemen looked up and said, ‘is that so?’
The driver understood. Without waiting to be asked for it he took out his license folder from his shirt pocket, brought out a cedi note from the same place, and stuck it in the folder. Then, with his back turned to the people waiting in the bus, the driver gave his folder, together with the bribe in it, to the policeman.
The policeman looked with long and pensive dignity at the license folder and at what was inside it. With his left hand he extracted the money, rolling it up dexterously into an easy little ball hidden in his palm, while with his right he made awkward calculating motions, as if he were involved in checking the honesty of the document he held. (182)
Literary accounts of everyday situations in societies of that time depict an attitude of citizen complicity in an obvious state of anomie. Interestingly, while Achebe’s society and leaders seemed to give up on corruption Armah’s did not. Ghana’s Aegean stable was fairly cleansed in the Rawlings revolution and modern Ghana transited from the venal society as presented in Armah’s novel to one of the few stable and descent places in Africa. The Nigerian republic, on the contrary, has kept a steady, geometric progression in public corruption that threatens to drown her nationalities in the pool of its affliction. At present, it includes an executive that claims to fight but performs the Hecate dance around the monster with senators and assemblymen in line. It is this celebration of mediocrity, and a sadly mistaken pretension to greatness, that scholars identify as the bane of Nigerian leadership. Achebe notes:
In June 1979 former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of West Germany made this comment about his country: Germany is not a world power; it does not wish to become a world power.
In August of the same year General Olusegun Obasanjo said of Nigeria during his “Thank You Tour” of Ogun State: Nigeria will become one of the ten leading nations in the world by the end of the century. (10)
The laughable declaration was made during military rule by those whose tendency for deception in the seventies altered very little after the nineties. Nigeria now at forty, with the distended bellies of democracy like Obasanjo and his PDP cabal steering the ship, still dons the garb of gargantuan folly. The foppery of mundane minds emerging presidents and lawmakers in the country has since become a recurring theme in the drama of its own undoing. During the eighties and nineties, there was spirited campaign for army generals to continue the leadership of the country under a civilian arrangement. Government-owned radio and television stations would point to an American general who became president as a good example. But they never acknowledged that in 1799, Thomas Jefferson, before he became president of the United States, had said:
I am relying for internal defense, on our militia solely, till actual invasion, and for such naval force only as may protect our coasts and harbors from such depredations; and not for a standing army in time of peace, which may overawe the public sentiment; nor for a navy, which by its own expenses and eternal warswill grind us with public burdens and sink us under them.
David Trask, on the defense of democracy in the United States, observes that the minuscule size of both services (Army and Navy) was a further guarantee of their almost invisible role in national political life and of the principle of civilian control (13). Trask notes:
The military profession also retained its strong commitment to civilian leadership. In 1948 General Dwight Eisenhower, while discouraging efforts of supporters to nominate him for presidency summarized the dominant views of the professional military. He insisted that ‘the necessary and wise subordination of the military to civil power will be best sustained and people will have greater confidence that it is so sustained, when lifelong professional soldiers, in the absence of some obvious and overriding reasons, abstain from seeking high political office. (14)
And so with the conspiracy of May 1999 that grafted General Obasanjo to civilian leadership, Nigerians have paid the price of untold suffering and hardship which the military turncoat visited upon his people, with public outbursts so foolish, so uncharitable, and comparable only to the legendary notoriety of Idi Amin of Uganda. Which is probably why the president could run the most corrupt nation in the millennium and proclaim ‘I dey kampe,’ (Nigerian pidgin English meaning he’s in control) to an early impeachment bid that could not see him out of office. And why the façade of his anti-corruption commission – rightly called his witch hunt machinery – meant to gain him some regard among the comity of nations never convinced the civilised world.
Ethnicity and Falling Education Standards in Nigeria
Nigeria’s multiethnic composition has been stated as the single most constraining factor in the evolution of that nation state. Its decline to civil tyranny under Obasanjo only confirms the desperate attempts since the first coup d’etat to keep a collapsing federation together. Undoubtedly the country has the largest concentration of ethnicities in Africa numbering well over three hundred and fifty two. The domination by the majorities on the point of still debated numerical strength has engendered much angst in that while the bulk of revenue generated through oil exports come predominantly from so-called delta ‘minorities,’ infrastructural development from oil income is squandered on Lagos and Abuja ‘majorities.’
Currently the Niger delta region is being run like pre-revolution France where, as Peacock tells, peasants gave up their land in despair and took to brigandage and smuggling (6). With the youths of the delta turning to terrorism and other crimes lately, armed rebellion against the state, with more organised terrorist strategies, portends grim news for the future. The aggressive peasant groups of eighteenth century France were wont to be given shelter and protection by sympathetic villagers. That tax collectors were then murdered and soldiers constantly used to suppress food riots (7) echo present conditions in the delta where most have had their rights to decent life violated with the callousness and brutality of parasites and absentee landlords of medieval Europe. A young environmental poet writes what none will deign to read at the country’s government houses:
First it was the Ogoni/ Today it is Ijaw/ Who will be slain this next day/ We see open mouths/But hear no screams/ Tears don’t flow/ When you are scarred/ We stand in pools/Up to our knees/ We thought it was oil/But it was blood. (Blood 14)
Official history may proclaim that Nigeria survived a fratricidal war of national unity but this was merely a war of attrition by mutually antagonistic leaders and self-serving decision makers at home and abroad. The conditions that led to that war have since replicated in far worse dimensions. Massacre of other ethnicities continues in the northern states such as Kano, Kaduna, and Jos. Almost every northern state has enjoyed the barbarism of slaughtering the southern nationalities for reasons of religious differences and political disagreements rooted in primordial ethnic chauvinism. Where political murders and inter-tribal rivalry have not blown into another war they seethe in the cauldron of competing forces striving for petty advantages to the detriment of the whole. Inordinate ambitions and switching loyalties remain the hallmark of its national and political life – leaving out the international football where citizens seem to respond to a common purpose. But there, too, the sports ministry, like electric, power, steel and other national establishments, insures its endemic failure with nepotism and corruption.
Ever since the educational sector blazed in ruins by Northern-backed incendiary using the quota system, an avid ethnocentric admissions policy as a rule became entrenched in Nigerian tertiary institutions. Universities funded with ‘federal’ resources began to clamour for mere sectional advancements in a country that claimed to have fought to preserve her unity. It was not long before other nationalities in their exuberance copied the Northern policy. Thus the 1990s witnessed the final crumbling of all that constituted its educational heritage as foreign nations began to decertify the plethora of degrees awarded by Nigerian universities after 1989.
The sanction led by the United States may have been timely and appropriate in that the nineties was the apogee of bastardies in public educational systems. While the national institutions were overrun by ethnic lords of their various localities, the state-owned universities, sprung with the haphazardness of state creations, were determined mainly to produce as many graduates as can compete in federal labour positions. Standards and procedures for admissions were jettisoned for entrees that could never have passed senior high. In some educationally-disadvantaged states (one of Nigeria’s jargons for elevating mediocrity above merit and quality) these half-baked certificate holders became teachers in their turn. Having neither the diligence of ‘little frogies’ who went to school nor ‘polished’ to any degree whatever, the local champions simply filled the vacant slots of their state towers as of right.
Nowadays it is common to find positions like departmental heads and faculty deans occupied by ‘acting’ misfits, or sitting professors with hardly any research contributions to society. Some universities in their rush to award higher degrees begin their postgraduate programs with barely a backward glance at prior undergraduate competency. Standards are jettisoned for third rate ‘indigene’ candidates in the academic race. Our tertiary institutions now produce graduates who reel out semi-literate clichés redolent with pidgin and American hip hop. Yet while United States may succeed by a trained and motivated force in combating their own mediocrity and gangsterdom in schools, ours may never know what to do with her own equivalents where high-ranking society’s leaders are either members or founders and patrons of campus cults. The impact of degenerating education structures has taken its toll on citizens with the alarming rate of unemployed graduates, the collapse of the economy, and the erosion of tradition and values. These are the days when legislators, those active collaborators in national ruination who could afford to cart local currencies in large fibre-woven bags, now send their children and wards to study in neighbouring countries for qualitative education.
PDP and Politics of Nationhood
It should be needful to state that the fourth attempt at democracy in Nigeria hijacked by the Peoples Democratic Party is a charade of society’s dregs. These are either unenlightened military despots with claims to some level of education only available from their military schools, or a criminal gang of political hirelings, touts, jobbers, fraudsters and some academics who managed to commandeer the business of government to parade themselves as Nigeria’s leaders at federal and state levels of government. From these have emerged Nigeria’s past and present presidents, state governors, local council chairs, and, from 2004, an inane array of ministers, special advisers, commissioners and party leaders.
The queue for leadership succession equally comes from among these ranks as few enlightened statesmen and women decide not to tarnish their image in the craze for plunder of public resources preferring, instead, a more respectable opposition. Those in this category include writers and activists like Wole Soyinka, winner of Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, Gani Fahewinmi, distinguished lawyer and social crusader, and Beko Ransome Kuti whose family had engaged in frontline struggles against the repression of the colonial ruling class, to name but a few. Unfortunately these members that kept aloof from the charade that is Nigerian politics are few indeed. The literary maestro, Achebe, and distinguished diplomat, Emeka Anyaoku, have persistently resisted calls to join politics out of fear of being compromised by the vociferous majority of brigands that fill that class in Nigeria.
Many writers had warned that this methodised plundering could lead Africa to further abyss of darkness and despair. In the 1980s a Soyinka play entitled The Beatification of Area Boy captured the festering shame that Nigeria had metamorphosed under General Ibrahim Babangida (1985-1993) and General Sani Abacha (1994-1998) – two dictatorships that exceeded General Gowon’s (1967-1975) in corruption and bestiality. Beatification soon became a mirror of modern Nigeria whose internal contradictions could, however, produce enlightened street kings such as Sanda only in the creative imagination. There is something in the mentality of ‘Military Officer’ in Beatification that resonates successively with Abacha’s murdering of Ogoni dissenters and Obasanjo’s executive pogrom at Odi and Benue. Here is an excerpt from The Beatification of Area Boy:
SANDA. So Maroko is really gone? Gone for good?
MILITARY OFFICER. Didn’t you see the bonfire? We didn’t merely bulldoze it, we dynamited every stubborn wall, then set fire to the rubble. That place was disease ridden! No point developing it for decent citizens only to have them die of some lingering viruses from way back. Those squatters might be immune to anything but we have to think of the future residents. We took them by surprise. They woke up as usual but found themselves staring into the muzzles of guns. Few of them had any time to pick up their belongings. (80)
Earlier in 1988, Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah had made a prophetic testimonial about the revisionism of the Nigerian military that came to light in the nineties of Nigerias political history. The strong point in these works by Soyinka and Achebe, easily ignored by many a reader of Nigerian writing, is that these leaders of state have been mere pretenders to charisma cheered by the usual motley band of sycophants. The second point is that the predilection for anomalies in various strains of government is sustained from the crude, destructive Unitarian structure that survives one regime after another in corruption and abuse of power. But since, as noted, Nigeria’s ruling elite do not care for literature, or any creative work for that matter, there is hardly a hope that its liberating thought can ever coalesce in the form of a liberating philosophy. Insights garnered from the literature of their brightest minds to restructure the polity have been ignored. This witlessness is due to the inherent structure of the postcolonial state designed to suit the interests of unenlightened political godfathers and their serving mass of minions.
The prodigality of the PDP-led political regimen will persist as long as Nigerias ethnic plurality ensures the rejection of holistic perspectives on issues that could turn the state around. National questions are often polarized along ethnicity, and then, around religious dichotomies. The British colonial government, not too aware of ancient African religions and traditions, sought to vilify them through their missionaries. While traditional life could absorb or blend peacefully with even the most fundamental thoughts, the divisive and violent northern Muslim and southern Christian affiliations that came with Imperialism have tended to bifurcate the countrys tenuous federation. Nigerian leaders, perennially sprung from this haunted religious divide, and lacking in any nobility of spirit and altruism of vision, fail to counterbalance the centrifugal forces. Each leader rather appeals to a religiously brainwashed populace seemingly incapable of independent reasoning. Every leader retains a blanket attitude to religion and lip service to the secularity of state which have robbed the country of transformative possibilities.
With the religious attitude of Nigerians to problem solving technology can turn to a superstition. Despite its population advantage, the country remains backward in the use of online facilities. At the dawn of the 21st century the ‘millennium bomb’ became an atomic project that was programmed for divine destruction of the world. The abject disdain for contemporary challenges becomes the incentive for despotic regimes that have impoverished the country from the military rule of the eighties to the current chicanery of democracy. Nowadays many a Christian faithful can look forward to biblical Armageddon in its whole sense of Zionist racialism. Citing tendentious scriptures and rabbinical forgeries, black scholars of Christian or Muslim extractions promote beliefs in a Jewish or Palestinian ancestor – if only to spite more ancient records of human civilisation. This mental servitude is rooted in foreign religions that are here embraced with the fervency and unquestioning loyalty of uninformed populations.
Nigeria therefore became one of the most religious countries of the world not for spirituality or love of truth but mainly for competing Christian-Muslim interests and the primordial supremacy battles that rage between them in corridors of government. Paradoxically, news exposes this ‘most religious’ country, where the people consult their deities regularly, as a most dangerous, filthy and decadent enclave – a place where all manners of rituals thrive with executive complicity and, in the eyes of her neighbours, where ritual murders and cult patronage come from the rank of political leaders and government executives. One can agree no less with the supposition that such a country cannot be great, cannot attain greatness, nor ever have greatness thrust upon it, in spite of any religious faith or executive bravado; as Achebe states:
Listen to Nigerian leaders and you will frequently hear the phrase this great country of ours.
Nigeria is not a great country. It is one of the most disorderly nations in the world. It is one of the most corrupt, insensitive, inefficient places under the sun. It is one of the most expensive countries and one of those that give least value for money. It is dirty, callous, noisy, ostentatious, dishonest and vulgar. In short, it is among the most unpleasant places on earth! (Trouble 19)
State Brutality and Nigeria Police
Nigeria is clearly a police state in today’s democracy where leaders or winners are selected from political drawing tables and executive lists. Under military command it easily reverts to an army state. Both faces are distinguishable only from the colours of their uniforms but in their primitiveness one.
It was the British colonial West African Frontier Force (WAFF) which provided the early military structure in the region. The WAFF soon metamorphosed into the local armies of the former British colonies. If other countries succeeded in reforming and civilising the colonial army and the internal security systems of the police, this was not so for Nigeria whose leaders have continued to thrive under the same abuses that sustained and preserved the colonial status quo. Consequently the police are constituted to serve the interests of a corrupt executive, perpetuate the latter’s hold on power for as long as the system lasts, and use all available machinery to quell civil uprising and intimidate opposition. Because it is an unimaginative institution, being run in the monstrous hierarchy of its executive manipulators, its exploit in politics was already a foregone conclusion at the hands of successively crooked establishments in the country. The unbridled venality of the entire police rank and file seems their price for returning the federal and state executives to their power stools by mindless rigging of elections. And when their inefficiency in coping with civil unrest grows intolerable, the army is invited to assist in the objective of internal subjugation.
The number of checkpoints on highways and city corners, with their vile conduct attests to the connivance of the highest echelons that benefit from the activities of this morally reprehensible assemblage of men in uniform. Four politically emasculated states of the east, namely: Enugu, Anambra, Imo and Abia have succumbed to the coercion and blackmail of the populace by police – all geared to extend the comfort zones of those in power. The federal executives are all aware of the excesses of these men in dark regalia but the crimes of Nigeria Police are crimes against civil society so they look the other way.
Unfortunately, nowhere in the history of Nigeria’s mendacious governments have police unmasked crimes perpetrated from echelons of executive office. Two poignant cases out of the plethora of orchestrated assassinations will suffice: The murder of Nigerian journalist and media proprietor, Dele Giwa, in 1987, described as gruesome and barbaric, has never been uncovered by the police even when the instrument of dispatch, a parcel bomb, was easily traced to military intelligence in General Ibrahim Babangida’s junta. The recent political murder of Nigeria’s justice minister, Bola Ige, mildly deemed embarrassing to government, has not been resolved by the PDP-led ‘democratic’ regime under whose watch the crime took place. This constitutes more than an outrage considering the ‘anti corruption’ posture of this government. Yet the executive that presides over the state of affairs has not seen this failure as its own. Successive governments will carry on even more comfortably in their fortified Aso Rock State house. Always it is ‘business as usual’, a sort of administrative amnesia that precludes any possibility of righting wrongs or learning from past mistakes except where it comes to dispatching their enemies with the active or conniving support of state security.
In addition to political murders are crimes that take place in the midst of incessant checkpoints on roads where police have the most visibility. Daily ordinary people are subjected to harassment, extortion and murderous robbery by men supposed to protect them. It is the only country in the world where police kills for mere twenty-Naira bribe. Nigerian writing is replete with gruesome details of such notoriety at checkpoints, an activity that qualifies in any civilised society as pure banditry:
The police sergeant was dragging her in the direction of a small cluster of round huts not far from the road and surrounded as was common in these parts by a fence of hideously-spiked cactus. He was pulling her by the wrists, his gun slung from his shoulder. A few of the passengers mostly other women were pleading and protesting timorously. But most of the men found it very funny indeed. She threw herself down on her buttocks in desperation. But the sergeant would not let up. He dragged her along on the seat of her once neat blue dress through clumps of scorched tares and dangers of broken glass. (Anthills 215)
Now if any reader should think this incredible in a modern nation, how about the ensuing event, utterly larger-than-life, as a Nigerian reality:
Chris bounded forward and held the man’s hand and ordered him to release the girl at once. As if that was not enough he said, ‘I will make a report about this to the Inspector-General of Police.’
‘You go report me for where? You de craze! No be you de ask about President just now? If you no commot for my front now I go blow your head to Jericho, craze man.’
‘Na you de craze,’ said Chris. ‘A police officer stealing a load of beer and then abducting a school girl! You are a disgrace to the force.’
The other said nothing more. He unslung his gun, cocked it, narrowed his eyes while confused voices went up all around some asking Chris to run, others the policeman to put the gun away. Chris stood his ground looking straight into the man’s face, daring him to shoot. And he did, point blank into the chest presented him. (216)
To such atrocities by Nigerian men in uniform as presented in this account government response is usually apologetic and cosmetic. It will proffer occasional stylish raids by a ‘task-force’ (a term still prevalent in democracy) to bring few culprits to book. These tokens, borne from the usual backward approach to problem solving, appeal greatly to the psyche of leaders and citizens. Within the system, the victims are the unprotected ranks – unprotected, that is, from the nepotism of the godfathers. Nepotism is the rule of thumb that guarantees any reward or career prospect in Nigeria’s entire public organization.
A Bleak Vision of the Civil State
Postcolonial Nigeria is bogged by the fraud that engineered it from the beginning. The ingenious British scheme of handing over in a controversy of number and geography to a northern oligarchy that would be convenient to manipulate played itself out to the full detriment of the Nigerian state. CODESRIA researchers state:
The colonial powers with the aid of missionary-anthropologists attributed characteristics to different groups that corresponded to their fantastic imagination, classifying some as ‘courageous, gallant, resourceful’ and trustworthy and others as cowardly, unreliable, rebellious, and crafty and setting them on the part of conflictual, zero-sum competition. (2005)
After colonial Britain left behind the security apparatus that enforced its divide-and-rule policy with coercive taxes, the new locals inherited and added their own recipe of ethnicity and pseudo-nationalistic pretensions. Nigeria’s Tafawa Balewa at independence banquet was proud to have the British first as masters, now as friends. But in their 1776 declaration of independence over two centuries ago the United States had preferred to treat their colonial masters as enemies in war:
We must endeavor to forget our former love for them, and hold them as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war… Therefore we the representatives of the United States of America in General Congress assembled, do in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these states reject and renounce all allegiance and subjection to the kings of Great Britain and all others who may hereafter claim by through or under them; we utterly dissolve all political connection which may heretofore have subsisted between us and the people or parliament of Great Britain: and finally we do assert and declare these colonies to be free And for the support of this declaration, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. (Oxford 11)
The newly independent Nigerian elite who walked into the offices of their past masters and acclimatized to the status quo so thoroughly enjoyed the colonial largesse and subjugated their own people that the only difference lay in their barbarity. Onwubiko tells how during the Aba women’s riot of 1929-1930, troops were called in to help the police in quelling the disturbances and, in the process, fifty unarmed women were killed (263). Now this, or even the Coal Miners revolt in Enugu, was nothing in cruelty and executive mindlessness with Nigeria’s recent example seventy years later in the Odi massacre of 2003. While the colonial police killed fifty unarmed women, President Obasanjo’s army decimated a whole village of men, women, children and livestock.
For all its size and nature’s endowments Nigeria’s image remains unflattering. Tourism is virtually non-existent. Foreign visitors would be smart to prefer countries like Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire or even Cameroon to a nightmarish venture in Nigeria. It has been noted that the single most corrupt institution in the country is the police. But this is probably one country in the world where senators, assemblymen and presidents share the national loot in large fibre-woven bags errantly dubbed ‘Ghana-must-go’ – in reference to the expulsion of West African nationals from the country by the inept 1980s administration of Shehu Shagari. Ironically, it is the turn of Nigeria’s unemployed youths to migrate to neighbouring countries as prostitutes and petty fraudsters. While the Black Star nation had recorded some success in its clean-up restoration of the state and the unification of its nationalities only by the exemplary leadership of Rawlings and his team, the Giant of Africa records majestic failure in any rehabilitation effort due to the serial fraudulence of its leaders since independence. The political lesson it did not learn from Ghana (preferring deceitful and empty boasts) was that no leadership succeeds with the predacious mentality that precipitates eventual downfall. At the height of the Buhari revolution of 1985, with their ludicrous claim to links with the preceding Murtala misadventure in politics, the poet Niyi Osundare warns:
A horseman gallops to power/ And tyrants of all the world rejoice/ Torture chambers multiply apace/ And the noose thickens, descending/ A new horseman/ With guns in the saddle/ One for dissidents at home/ Another for maddening rivals/ In the land of the rising sun/ A new horseman/ With trust in might/ He will build arsenals/ In place of barns/ And prod the poor/ To gorge on bullets. (45)
The warning is echoed by many younger poets of the new tradition. A poem on Obasanjo’s ascension to the presidency in 1999 haunts us with its contempt for a fraudulent political arrangement that was masked under the euphoria of democracy:
A sluggard has slouched/ His paunches/ On to Aso Rock/ To smear the palace sides/ With his sloven mirthIt is kakistocracy day/ And he makes klieg lights/ Of minds cracked/ With the disease of road blindness/ What future curse of the/ Triangle/ Awaits our children, folks,/ If you let him. (Eclipse 12)
Regrettably the overawed masses of Nigeria seem to pitch their tents with the same elements that unleash this running spate of havoc in their lives. One of their popular slogans is ‘You chop, I chop,’ a euphemism for public corruption. This is how the undiscerning elite celebrate democracy as tutored by the regime that cancelled the only election deemed most free and fair in 1993 and nearly embroiled the country in war. Similarly, beneficiaries of the current dividends of serial corruption are ardent for their men to retain the power showcase at next elections. This is imperative for them considering how easily they squander their loot round about Europe, all round the hey-days of the military, and on to the present civilian debacle. Evidently the insane elite in politics do not care about a revolution. They know that Nigerian masses are not cut in the cloak of their French counterparts but will remain content with their own men in government – the cronyism that seems the fast lane to covetous loots.
It will dishearten any reader that while Nigerian literature has continued to flourish with the elegant promise of their brightest minds, the country is awkwardly positioned as the modern scourge of Africa thanks to her political leaders. That Nigeria is far from becoming a nation in the millennium is not in doubt. It is a country ruled by illiterate men – illiteracy in Fowler’s terms ‘being not simply one who cannot read and write but one who is unacquainted with good literature’ (Creation 19).
There is one question that the bards have posed to present and past leaders jostling to return and continue the pillage where they left off: Whatever happened to all those promises of ‘Health for all by Year 2000’, ‘Potable water for all by Year 2000’, ‘Housing for all by Year 2000’? It is a question none of them would vouchsafe to answer. In tourism Nigeria will remain the white and black man’s grave. Its natural endowments which ought to make it great by sound management are tainted with neglect by lying and stealing governments, urban environments that qualify for health hazards, and public systems manipulated to swindle foreigners and locals alike. Time-priced virtues of human trust, honour and service are taken as follies of gullibility; verbal agreements, even when they are subject to written verification, are easily violated because the legal jurisdictions are capable of being bought and corrupted. Soyinka portrays the scenario so aptly in Beatification:
SANDA. Come, sir. I have an idea. (He takes BIG MAN SHOPPER aside.) Yes, sir, you are right, we could go to the police.
BIG MAN SHOPPER. Let’s do that right away. We’ve lost too much time already.
SANDA. But then again, sir, you know what the police are like. (BIG MAN SHOPPER becomes instantly crestfallen.) Yes, sir, I am glad to see you do. He’s only small fry, and his real bosses will simply come and bail him out, and that’s the last you will see of him, and your missing valuables. The police will take their money and forget you.
BIG MAN SHOPPER (sighs). I have documents in that suitcase. Even my passport. The money doesn’t matter so much, but I have important business papers…(43)
There are countless signposts from the writings of Nigeria’s talented poets and novelists; their voices trail the frightful carnage of the civil war, the foolish extravaganzas of the seventies, the miseries of the eighties, the nightmares of the nineties and the present buffoonery of the millennium. Nigerian fiction and non-fiction writers agree with one voice that her political future is doomed by a handful that refresh themselves in endless rounds of military and civilian misgovernment with their trump cards set to buy the last vestige of public conscience. We have seen evidence that government educational policy, or lack of it, can only guarantee the continued production of ignoramuses for leaders. Obviously then the singsong about ‘labours of heroes past’ is suspect when real evidence of transition from education-for-white-collar-jobs to functional literacy is non-existent forty years after. This condition can only lead to disaster in all democratic experiments. It appears that the country will be bedridden with this affliction for a very long time. As a ship with a confraternity of pirates at the helm, Nigeria is set to wobble abysmally in darkness until natural cataclysms hasten its disintegration where the degenerate crew would have led it in the first place.
Until then, in the short run perhaps, Africans may just have to pray for their big-for-nothing brother along the lines of one of Nigeria’s new female poets:
Say to us/ Desolation shall no longer marry this land/ Every ruler-thief shall be/ Burned as fuel for the fire/ My vow shall entwine its roots deep in truth/ And bear a sheltering nest, your great reward/ You’ll dare again to nurse the eggs of hope/ Trusting the chicks shall not be scrap metal. (Adewale 64)
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