Before Wole Soyinka became a Nobel Laureate in 1986, he wrote a book called Madmen and Specialists. That was in 1971. That year, Nigeria was an eleven year old kid taking his first steps as a sovereign state. The world watched keenly as Nigeria took these steps because everyone had great measure of faith in the Nigerian, and also perhaps because of the expectation that the Nigeria will harness the abundant endowments she is blessed. Those hopes were frustrated with every step that Nigeria took. These steps eventually led us to a Civil War and several coups. All of these were to help truncate the Nigerian dream and transform it to a nightmare.
Madmen and Specialists was a literary expression of a dearth of confidence in the Nigerians who took over from the British. The ‘madmen’, according to Soyinka, were the politicians who allowed their ethnic and tribal sentiments turn Nigeria into a theatre of war. The politicians of that epoch allowed these ethnic and tribal sentiments becloud their sagacity and negatively influenced them in the decisions they took in running this country. In that light, everyone thought that the ‘specialists’, the elite, would somehow be able to rescue Nigeria from the brink. But that was not to be. They turned out to be the agent provocateurs both for the politicians and the purveyors of the military incursions that plundered this nation.
But the book did not produce the effect that Soyinka expected. He had assumed that those concerned would at least read it and emend their ways. So what did the indefatigable dramatist do? He staged the play and invited key actors on the larger political and economic stage to come see their little selves. As soon as the play started, these politicians and specialists interpreted the play on face value. They began to laugh and giggle. But one of them was not as naive as his compatriots. He decoded the implied insult in the entire arrangement, told his colleagues about the hidden message in the play and pretty soon they all stormed off in a gruff.
The antecedents that inspired Soyinka’s Madmen and Specialists are still very much around us. Nigerians are still being butchered on the altar of religious insensitivity, Nigerians are still being treated like aliens in their own country. The whole arrangement is hinged on a dubious principle called the federal character, where some parasites eat off the fat of the land and control the resources that they do not produce. And just as the world used to watch us take those infantile steps in the post-colonial era, they still do today, probably because of Nigeria’s strategic position in Africa and as a key player in the oil and gas sector.
One of such persons, an African leader in Maummar Gaddafi recently came out with his own version of rebranding for Nigeria. In the wake of the ethnic cleansing that took place in Jos [is this really an acronym for Jesus Our Saviour?], Gaddafi said that the panacea to these embarrassing and incessant cases of killing of Christians by Muslims is for the country to be balkanized in two – one for Christians and the other for Muslims. He has also canvassed the abrogation of the obnoxious federal character principle that favours only certain sections of our country.
Among the avalanche of reactions that have trailed Gaddafi’s recipe, Senate President David Mark’s was much more strident and virulent. He was quoted as saying that Gaddafi is a mad man for deigning to say what he said. And already, the mainstream press is agog with those who concur with Mark that the Libyan strongman is indeed mad. I do not think so, that is, if you examine both debutantes.
After he took power in the early 70s Gaddafi not only remained a colonel, he became a gadfly. He became the black sheep of the international community after the Lockerbie Affair. Gaddafi has not hidden his love as a champion of terrorist activities. He is the stormy petrel of African politics, what with his dream of a United States of Africa. But while Gaddafi is seen as a villain abroad, his people see him as a hero in the form of Robin Hood. Sometime in the early 80s Gaddafi organised a mass marriage ceremony for more than 10,000 of his country men and women who hadn’t the wherewithal to do so. He did not stop there. He made sure they were all accommodated after that mass ceremony. Just as Nigeria produces oil, so does Libya and Gaddafi has used proceeds from oil to better the lot of his people and transform his country to a modern and semi-egalitarian community comparable to any in Europe. Yearly, scores of Nigerians migrate to Libya, an African country, in search of greener pasture. Most of them are robbers and drug pushers. Yearly too, the Libyan government deports them to the eternal embarrassment of the Nigerian government. While average life expectancy for the Libyan is 70, that of the Nigerian is a mere 45.
Yes, David Mark – he was the minister for communications in IBBs regime who wowed us all by saying that telephones are not meant for the poor. In the interregnum that ensued with IBBs stepping aside, we all got to find out that Mark and his cohorts in the army had already balkanised us and shared how power was going to rotate from IBB, to Sani Abacha and then to David Mark and then to IBB again and then to Abacha and then to Mark again. Now, if this is not sanity of the highest order, then sanity must be given another name. As Senate president, he recently became as mute as a pole in the imbroglio that engulfed the nation over the impasse generated by the unfortunate illness of Umaru Yar’Adua. No one knows where he stands in the wake of the senseless killings of Nigerians in Jos. He recently led his colleagues in the Senate in an ego war with members of the House of Representatives over something as mundane as the venue for deliberating certain sensitive national issues.
Those who are criticizing Gaddafi’s recipe for peace to reign in Nigeria base their criticism on only one part of that recipe. For me, I will not subscribe to the notion that the solution to these embarrassing cases of killings in Nigeria can be solved by the balkanisation of this country. But when a person of Gaddafi’s pedigree begins to suggest that we must jettison the federal character principle and allow merit and achievement to be the templates for our march forward, we should eat the humble pie and listen, especially as Gaddafi seems to practice what he preaches.