By Wole Soyinka
I am notoriously no fan of Olusegun Obasanjo, General, twice former president and co-architect with other past leaders of the crumbling edifice that is still generously called Nigeria. I have no reasons to change my stance on his record. Nonetheless, I embrace the responsibility of calling attention to any accurate reading of this nation from whatever source, as a contraption teetering on the very edge of total collapse. We are close to extinction as a viable comity of peoples, supposedly bound together under an equitable set of protocols of co-habitation, capable of producing its own means of existence, and devoid of a culture of sectarian privilege and will to dominate.
On Africa Day, May 2019, organised by the Union Bank of Africa, I similarly seized an opening to direct the attention of this government to warnings by the Otta farmer over the self-destruct turn that the nation had taken, urged the wisdom of heeding the message, even while remaining chary of the messenger. That advice appears to have fallen on deaf ears. In place of reasoned response and openness to some serious dialogue, what this nation has been obliged to endure has been insolent distractions from garrulous and coarsened functionaries, apologists and sectarian opportunists.
The nation is divided as never before, and this ripping division has taken place under the policies and conduct of none other than President Buhari – does that claim belong in the realms of speculation? Does anyone deny that it was this president who went to sleep while communities were consistently ravaged by cattle marauders, were raped and displaced in their thousands and turned into beggars all over the landscape? Was it a different president who, on being finally persuaded to visit a scene of carnage, had nothing more authoritative to offer than to advice the traumatised victims to learn to live peacefully with their violators? And what happened to the Police Chief who had defied orders from his Commander-in-Chief to relocate fully to the trouble spot – he came, saw, and bolted, leaving the ‘natives’ to their own devices. Any disciplinary action taken against ‘countryman’? Was it a spokesman for some ghost president who chortled in those early, yet controllable stages of now systematised mayhem, gleefully dismissed the mass burial of victims in Benue State as a “staged show” for international entertainment? Did the other half of the presidential megaphone system not follow up – or was it, precede? – with the wisdom that they, the brutalized citizenry, should learn to bow under the yoke and negotiate, since “only the living” can enjoy the dividends of legal rights?
To reel off any achievements of a government – genuine or fantasised, trivial or monumental – is thus to dodge the issue, to ignore the real core concerns. No government, however inept, fails to record some form of achievement – this was why it were elected, and it takes real genius to succeed in spending four years actually doing nothing. What it fails to do, or what it does wrongly, deceitfully or prejudicially is what concerns the citizenry. Across this nation, there is profound distrust, indeed abandonment of hope in this government as one that is genuinely committed to the survival of the nation as one, or indeed understands the minimal requirements for positioning it as a modern, functional space of productive occupancy. Donald Trump is not without a governance pass mark here or there – indeed, he has been touted for the Nobel Peace prize in some quarters, backed, predictably, by the quota Nigerian columnist – yet who dares deny, outside Republican diehard circles – that the great United States of American is brutally divided, and is even unraveling under the Trumpian phenomenon!
Back to our own yaws however: Are pensioners still considered human, deserving the rewards of labour without further labour? Many collapse from that extended labour of recovering routine entitlements. Even routine access to that basic human requirement – food – is now under question, as farmers are chased off their farms in large numbers. Instead of timely action – urged stridently by beleaguered governors and of course by ‘professional agitators’ — appeasement of the violent food saboteurs was the preferred route to food security – operating under fancy names like RUGA. So how do you persuade graduates and young school leavers to try their hands at farming instead of flooding urban centres looking for non-existent white-collar positions? To get killed and dismembered? And what is the score within those much-coveted urban precincts? Lop-sided appointments to crucial positions in Civil Service and parastatals! Consider the prime economic cash cow – petroleum – exposed a few months ago as a reeking cesspit of nepotism. Who is the Minister of Petroleum under whose watch such an unprecedented contempt for geographical parity – uncontroverted till today — became entrenched? That happens to be none other than the nation’s president – and he did make a show of astonishment at the gross disparities, promised to subject the anomaly to immediate enquiry. May one ask what action has been taken to rectify that presumably “nation-unifying” compilation?
It all casts a long, unedifying shadow backwards to those days of agitation by Tai Solarin and the mercuric engineer, Awojobi when the same Buhari took forceful charge of that ministry, promised to get to the root of the flying charges – anyone still recall the saga of the missing millions? He made a beeline for the home of a prominent political leader and carted away loads of files in his illegal possession. In vain the nation awaited enlightenment – Nothing!
National divisiveness? Just where does culpability lie? Does centralist usurpation divide or bind? The answer is obvious in daily effects. We have even heard the charge laid at the feet of governors. When the constitutive units of this nation take steps to rescue themselves into the ‘unifying’ quagmire into which they have been plunged by a creaking, clearly unworkable centralised system, guess who squawk, gnash their teeth and threaten to call down thunder even where such remedies are backed by constitutional provisions! Alas, the dare of ignorance! And after being confronted by the legitimate right of states to at least salvage their existence and protect their citizens, guess who trundles out constrictive parameters, and attempts to dictate to governors how such state prerogatives should be exercised! Come under the umbrella of a failed Inspectorate Usurper – ordered the Garbled megaphone. Just on whose authority?
We do know – let this be stated for the umpteenth time! – that the rains did not just begin to beat us yesterday in this nation. We know when the clouds began to gather, where the deluge began and turned to severe pounding. We can pinpoint the first trickle of the torrent of appeasement, of illegal extortions and concessions. Past leaders will not be permitted to forget or gloss over own self-centred interests and nation corrosive lapses that brought us to this parlous present. But we do endure in this here and now, in the immediacy of current governance, so let no uppity flunkey attempt to divert attention from current realities, realities that now clearly pronounce this nation of once promising prospects a basket case of abject penury and insecurity, where hordes of trained minds and sturdy limbs roam the streets as beggars, as haphazard vendors of the products of other peoples, other lands!
Inequity reigns, and solutions are trivialised. Again and again voices are raised to urge the dismantling of a crude, militarised centralist contraption – repeatedly exposed in illegalities — and substitute a more efficient governance system, decentralised, providing broader access to opportunities. All such efforts are turned into opportunities for legislative junketing and budget padding. Legislators watch with indifference in this day of human advance, as individuals are sentenced to hang for expressing their views on the relative apprehension of religious avatars, not a squeak emerge from such lawgivers. Pedophiles and cross-border sex traffickers are honoured in the act, granted immunity on cooked-up alibis of religion. Is this nation a theocracy? Nigeria is a suppurating slaughter slab, and it boggles the mind that supposedly wise and lettered men, sheltering under any religious mandate, would go into a solemn huddle to ‘legitimately’ augment the toll of mindless killings that now plague the land.
Presumably, the ongoing ‘national security’ persecution of Obadiah Mailafia is a sign of national unity? I invite our marionettes to read deeply into history. Oh, excuse me, history has been banned from learning structures, so look not for history books! However, straightforward, first-hand testimonies abound, exposing structural flaws, deceits and conspiracies against this presumptive national edifice. They are perpetrated by highly placed servants of the state, some of whom have since risen to even higher national positions. I draw attention, for instance, to detailed revelations of plots against the nation, plots that resonate in the present. Such is the two-year old interview of a former ambassador to the Sudan, Bola Dada – The Punch Newspapers. Archives remain ever obliging. They avail us vivid material to decide whether or not a sinister script is being acted out today with copious libations from Nigerian blood.
I think, in public interest, The Punch should re-run that interview, most especially in view of recent claims by a columnist in The Nation – Femi Abbas Sept. 4 — regarding how and by whom Nigeria was corralled into the OIC. When you abolish History in institutions, you open the gates wide for rampaging revisionism while the same gates are shut against a grasp, however tenuous, of why, for instance, a Mailafia becomes a target of serial interrogations and harassment, rather than those boldly named in his revelations. Is it he who constitutes a danger to the nation, or the indicted fanatics of unlimited impunity and callous disregard for humanity? Why the ostentatious pretence of investigative zeal? The man has told you where to look. Well, look in that direction and report back to us! In the meantime however, ensure that he meets with no accident!
Still on security: any tear that is shed for the arch-bandit and multiple murderer Akwaza, known as Gana, is an obscenity. However, tears of trepidation are falling fast and furious over the conduct of an army that eliminates a captive in cold blood, side-tracking the rationality of professional investigations and legitimate pursuit of felons and other enemies of society. The issue here is not one of the appropriateness of a policy of Amnesty – that constitutes a larger debate in its place. The issue here – and a critical one — is that a Wanted Man, on his way to surrender, has been killed in cold blood. I read yesterday that the Army has followed this up with a demand for the bounty earlier placed by the Benue State governor on the head of the WANTED man. However, all reports so far indicate that he was on his way to surrender? And so, is this bounty demand a joke? An end then to such gallows humour! And certainly not now, not while the nation is freshly reeling from the latest horror of the targeting of unarmed Road Safety officials, gunned down in cold blood in their commuter bus, and the mass kidnapping of survivors. Shall we presume that the surviving casualties of routine duty rosters are also nation-dividers if they scream out for protection and deplore a breakdown in the entire security architecture of the nation?
We must however concede one remedial initiative to this government. Perhaps it was a belated awareness that the roof of the national edifice was on fire that instigated the effort to appropriate all available water resources in the nation — a desperate move to put out the flames with one hefty splash! Presumably, even the rains that fall on earth will belong to the Exclusive List? We shall have to learn to gather such rain before it strikes the earth, or else queue for a licence to tap it later for domestic use. Get ready to pay stiff fines when we get rain soaked for lack of public transportation. Distractions upon distractions, but dangerous distractions! Provocative moves that deeply erode any lingering faith in the even-handed claims of governance, of respect for the rights of independent peoples that were brought together to form a nation, and the justice of equality of access to the land’s resources. But the fault is not one-sided. Let governors also wake up to their constitutional rights and duties. There are vast areas of those rights that have been trampled upon, usurped for far too long. Forget legislative jamborees of constitution reviews – we have had our fill of them – all the files are gathering dust. It is time for Reparations! Dust up those files and head for the courts. Prepare for name-calling, just as long as such names embody – Dividers-in-law!
Only then shall we uncover who are the real Dividers-in-Chief? If individual voices rankle, then perhaps it is time to convoke a Nation Survival Conference. Let all sections and group interests place their cards on the table and starkly articulate what we all know and endure on a daily basis, and proffer solutions, debate moves towards a collective – rational and sincere — undertaking of nation formation. The ongoing governance posture of aggressive evasion spells only one end: collective suicide.
Professor Wole Soyinka wrote from A.R.I. Idi-Aba Abeokuta, Sept 15, 2020