1. Disagreement with the Masters
In the folklore amphitheatres of Ndiigbo of Southern Nigeria, a calabash of wisdom holds. Nza, the tiny bird (Canary), once ate himself into the stupor of conceit. A gluttonous meal was all it took to get his valves of reason switched off. He lost his mind. In the process he deigned challenge its “chi” to a wrestling match.
Chi, in Igbo religious cosmology, is the personal god guarding the portals and sanctuaries of destiny. The story ended like all invitations to self-destruction. Whoever the gods would destroy, they first make mad. This is why when death pays a dog an unscheduled visit; it first compromises its olfactory potency. It breaches its sense of smell!
Mr. Nza’s challenge was accepted. The gods rose to avenge an insult paid them by a mortal. As the proceedings receded, Nza and his arrogance lay in mortal defeat.
This reminds Ndiigbo of another, this time; a conceited man, who goes by the name of Ojaadili. He was a great warrior-wrestler, whose fame travelled far and wide. He commanded the respects of his friends, and the fear of his opponents. For his enemies, he is dread. And for his friends he is fame. Young maidens pined for his attention. Old women composed songs off his prowess. His triumphs were the stuff of legends. Men wished their children were like him. He was a warrior’s warrior. Greatness was his name. His community reveres him. The earth trembles as he walks. His reputation was so august that it gains admittance into all strata of social considerations. He inspires fear in the land of the living, the dead and the unborn. The animal kingdom quakes in awe at the mention of his name. Danger was afraid of him. He wrestled in all these realms and came home with laurels of victory on his head. He transcended the most difficult of opponents with comic ease. He reduced legends to pedestrians. He unmasked pretenders making them look common. Danger was even afraid of him. He was a prodigy of bravery.
To this end, he decided to crown his odyssey into fame, with a wrestling tour of the spirit world. This would seem an enterprise in tomfoolery. But adventure is his nature. Ojaadili resolved to go. He got ready for it. And he went.
Udumeje, the great flutist, whose art and dexterity communes with the spirit and coaxes their attention; elected to cheerlead for him. But eternal incapacity froze him out of the equation. He was killed by the Chimps; the last opponents of the Great wrestler. In his stead, plunged in Ogwumagana-the Chameleon; a privy to the secrets of creation. He elected to take his place and cheerlead Ojaadili through his most ambitious, and yet most dangerous wrestling enterprise; namely, his sojourn in the lands of the Spirits.
They formed an unbeatable team.
Ojaadili spurred by the inspiring tunes of Ogwumagana, won a string of preliminary fights, against all opponents that the spirits could muster and pitch against him. His strings of successes were so intimidating, that the gods were really taken aback. They were insulted. They decided to punish this affront. Ojaadili was only mortal. He could not divine the intention of the gods. But he was lucky to have a privy to the dawn of all things, who witnessed creation and knew its secrets-Ogwumagana-beside him. Ogwumagana noticed the tumult in the camp of the spirits. He understood their language. He saw their game plan, which was to avenge their defeat, by inflicting an eternal humiliation that would end in death on Ojaadili. They conferred, and invoked his “chi”-personal god-to make an appearance. He was to be their instrument for this vengeance. They roused him, and pitched him in battle against Ojaadili. They dressed him in insignificance to taunt Ojaadili’s conceit. And most unfortunately, they succeeded in hoodwinking him. This proves that the easiest man to hoodwink is one in the thraldom of conceit. Pride and self conceit blows out the light of reason.
The last opponent was thrown up by the spirits after conferring among themselves. This was no ordinary opponent. He was a spirit among spirits. He was so distinguished that he was the only one privileged to announce his appearance bearing an “Ikenga”-the cultic symbol of the personal god. On seeing this, Ogwumagana knew that this is a fight that no mortal could win. Ojaadili can never fight his chi, and live to tell the story. Ogwumagana called Ojaadili, and asked him to retrace his steps and beat a retreat. That was the only sane option. The obverse is supreme inconvenience. It is only a mad man, or one bent on suicide, who rushes headlong into an onrushing avalanche heading his way. Ojaadili floored by conceit, was bereft of any rational navigation system. He mistook appearance for reality. The bedraggled apparition before him could never amount to much, he thought to himself. He forgot that insignificance has always enclosed the most potent realities ever known to man. Ogwumagana warned him. He should never dare to fight that insignificant being in front of him. That being masquerading in insignificance is of the greatest significance to his life and existence.
It was his personal god; the very author of his existence!
He dimmed his significance to camouflage his supreme potency over his opponent. Just as Christ the Son of God lay in the manger at Bethlehem (wrapped in swaddling bands, hiding the greatest divinity, in the most extreme of weakness, that it took only two sets of disposition to perceive that; namely simplicity of heart and wisdom. It took the simplicity of the shepherds, who are simple and meek of heart to open themselves up to the message of the angels on that Christmas morn. It equally took the heritage of eternal wisdom consulted by the Wise men that journeyed from afar to recognize this great miracle).
Ogwumagana possessed of the wisdom of the ages; being privy to the mornings of creation, saw through the camouflage. He saw great personal divinity wrapped in the insignificance standing before them; announcing his appearance with Ojaadili’s Ikenga in his hands. He saw danger staring them in the face. Defeat! A mortal one flashed before his wise eyes. He was roused to work. He must restrain the bundle of unthinking conceit roaring to take a go at danger. He saw clearly, that the dwarf is girding his loins to wade the waters that swallowed an elephant. He knew that Ojaadili is now the fool treading the path that wise men have forever avoided.
Ogwumagana cried, kicked, pleaded, and fought to make Ojaadili beat a retreat. His entreaties fell on some well constructed pair of deaf ears. Power and pride have this facility to corrupt good sense. This great wrestler-warrior seduced by his wrestling prowess took leave of his common sense. He thought that his “chi”, who was more vertically challenged in outlook than the whole bunch of spirits he had floored, is an inconsequential pushover that he can dispatch with the least resistance. He was absolutely wrong. Deep waters are always silent, while empty vessels contrive the most noise. The long story curled to a climax, as the conceited head of Ojaadili sponged a generous helping of sand, and laid still in defeat. His arrogance appropriated Nza’s fate.
The lesson is that no man challenges the gods, without paying for this conceit in self-destruction.
There exist parallel wisdom pieces in other lands and climes. But the above is chosen in allegiance to my heritage. In the hermeneutical prisms of Paul Ricoeur, no man speaks from nowhere. To that end we carry the subconscious baggage of the various psycho-social and cultural persuasions that attended our birth or environ our lives; which go a long way to colour all our perception and appreciation of reality. We must never apologise for that. It constitutes the major furniture of who we are. That is no apologetics for our decision, but a clarification.
We are going to join Nza and Ojaadili of yore. We know that defeat is certain. But we want to capture and freeze even for a moment, the thrill of that risky adventure. In fact, this is what we are going to do in this piece. We would attempt viewing the conflict from Mr. Nza`s perspectives; the perspectives of conceit.
We are going to disagree with the masters! We are going to wrestle with some gods of literary philosophy! Do not hold your breath like fanatics fighting in defence of bigotry, because we have elected a battle that will be a joy to lose. Our defeat is certain. So, we are going to lose bravely! To do this, we must invade sacrosanct sanctuaries of certain philosophic assertions that have carried the force of dogma, because of the grains of truths contained therein.
In faithfulness to the demands of this odyssey, we presume it is now time to disagree not with the Grecian anachronisms of Aristotle. We are going to disagree with one of our most illustrious intelligences. We are going to disagree with Chinua Achebe-The eagle on the tallest Iroko; one of the greatest Africans in the house of literature. We are accusing our enterprise of brilliance. But most fortunately for the world of scholarship, we would fail in this voyage. This failure is a foregone imperative because pontificating over an issue that dwarfs our insight, is simply tomfoolery. This is why we are going to question the masters, with the kind of certainty, which profound ignorance breeds. This is because, masters are eternal. And theirs have remained considered wisdom. Hidden in their apparent foolery is the wisdom of the ages, which neither the ravages of time, nor the buffetings of tide could ever erode.
All in all, we are going to give the dwarf in us his five minutes of fame. We are going to offer up ‘common sense at the shrines of logic’
2. The Trouble with Nigeria!
In 1983, Achebe came out with a little book with big consequences. It was a pamphlet that rose to become a masterpiece. It was a summary of the Nigerian problem. In the opening chapters of that little, explosive piece, he wrote that the trouble with Nigeria is leadership. He went on to advance reasons for holding that view. His reasons all hit the mark, as Nigerian history seems to bear him out. Like a social prophet that he was, he sounded not only a jeremiad, but portrayed the problem in its nakedness.
Masters create universes. They create paradigms and inspire paradigm changes. They equally create epistemic galaxies, light years ahead of their contemporaries. Tomorrow is already fully formed in their prodigious imaginations. Their minds are factories of ideas. They either create paradigm changes in meaning or inspire movements in that direction. Their vision changes our visions of reality in a field; in a certain way that revolutionarizes the way we come to view them many moons after they are gone. Epochs begin with them and bear their impress. Masters create or inspire what rises to become orthodoxy.
Achebe was a master.
He created or rather recreated a dysfunctional universe of meaning about Africa, which held sway in Western conceptual schemes, until he happened on the scene. With him, African writers rose to life; bearing the gifts of their story and experiences, which not only made us reclaim our story that has been mangled, and used as a weapon against us; but showed the world that painting us as savages was an imperialistic colonial trick that mis-educated us in order to perpetually conscript us as willing tools in our own exploitation.
Achebe in one swoop told old Europe to go stick their colonial, supremacist hangovers where it belongs; namely in the trashcans of irrationality, because African reality does not justify their racisms. He taught them that African history and reality never justifies their savage conclusions about a continent they know and appraise through their goggles of greed.
Achebe was in that class again, when he made the assertion fingering leadership as the trouble with Nigeria. Here again, he showed his master class. He went into the eye of the monster and laid the blames at its feet where it rightly belongs. That was Achebe then; although he never elevated it to solitary sacrosanctity that excludes other factors.
Even before Achebe made those submissions, leadership as the problem with Nigeria has been the mantra of the pedestrian and the genius alike, whenever the searchlight beams on a Nigeria; a country of wasted opportunities. Very much prior to Achebe’s 1983 book, Nzeogwu and his friends rejected becoming historical witnesses to the reign of rascality, which was First Republic Nigeria. Scoundrels in power held Nigeria hostage, to the point that the Western Nigerian crises threatened to scuttle the aspirations of a newly, independent creature of British convenience. After Nzeogwu, a civil war that saw genocide being perpetrated against a section of Nigeria, and an incredible succession of military coups essayed to underline the fact that leadership was really Nigeria’s waterloo.
But ever since Achebe articulated what every Nigerian knew at that time, leadership as our problem has coagulated into an impregnable orthodoxy with a life of its own. Over eighty percent of all disquisitions and articles or listserv discussions on Nigeria dovetail into the issue of leadership, thereby consolidating this orthodoxy. But since Achebe summarized this view, he will have the ill-fortune of owning the fallouts of his articulation. That is the price that geniuses pay for being light years ahead of their peers. That is why I would lay it at his feet and not mention the generations of those who pointed the same thing out before him or those that deployed him for their uses.
This is the orthodoxy that must be challenged today because of its inherent dangers. Orthodoxy may be a socio-epistemic and cultural parameter that helps in ordering the epistemic disorders of the universe environing us. But orthodoxies are susceptible to becoming epistemic totalitarianisms and intellectual monstrosities that brook no affront or entertain any questioning of its validity. Orthodoxies have this uncanny ability of matriculating into dogmas. And once“orthodoxy” becomes a dogma, it gathers a lot of imponderable irrationalities under its wings to defend this privilege. It then cashes a blank cheque that warrants it to stifle every rational inquiry into its raison d’être. This is the stage where an orthodoxy that was supposed to be a platform of further inquiry becomes a cemetery where inquiry goes to die. This explains why orthodoxies in history have always convoked funeral pyres or inquisitorial bonfires to barbecue inquiry or opposition to death.
Following from this, it is my view that if leadership continues to be the problem with Nigeria after all these years, and that did not engender any revolution or attempts at changing a situation that is of supreme inconvenience for the majority of the people; then it graduates into a symptom of a deeper pathology. That means that we have to look further than leadership to discover the subterranean pillars sustaining this problem; since leadership alone cannot account anymore for the excesses of leadership, which is a given in all political embraces; and the stony silence and inaction of the majority of Nigerians, who are the victims of this inconvenience.
We cannot solve today’s problems by applying the ways of the past, which has not offered any solutions to that problem. Leadership has been our problem. That it persists has reformulated the equation. Leadership is now a symptom of a deeper pathology. It is no more a problem. It must now be degraded to the status of a symptom. Why is that the case? It is because every society gets the leadership it deserves, and the leadership works to stabilize the status quo. To th
at end, to change our leadership or to make the leadership effective, the whole society must through its tendencies, value formations and social reinforcements show itself worthy of a functional government. If that happens, a functional government will happen. If not, the obverse will forever obtain.
Achebe was a master. Challenging him is like challenging one’s Chi, like Ojaadili did. But challenge him; I must because this occasion calls for it. Though the possibility of my head sponging great helpings of sand hangs over me like the Sword of Damocles, I wish to risk it.
Achebe’s assertion that the trouble with Nigeria is leadership may have been the only realization that comported itself understandingly to this genius, after studying Nigeria since its inception till 1983, when he decided to publish his conclusions. Today, after years of studying Nigeria and studying Achebe as well, I can, standing on the shoulders of masters like Achebe, and with the benefit of hindsight, respectfully disagree with this assertion. My disagreement is that this assertion is simply a part of the causal factors accounting for Nigeria’s problems, and not the whole of it.
3. The Man Dies in Him!
While Soyinka sat in his dreary prison cell, review the lives and choices of his fellow countrymen, which led to the conflagrative injustices of Biafra; he stumbled upon a fact, which had eluded all pedestrian minds for so long. He came to that hill of realization, where every cloud is pushed back, and vision becomes so very clear as to mimic the mountains of transfiguration. On those isolated deserts of silence, he encountered that nebulous vision, which is destined to greet anyone, who dares to venture this far into the frontiers of conscientious self-examination. In those sanctuaries of quiet reflection, every dot connects to the centre from which it took its origin. Reality becomes one. Mind and matter embrace in ontological purity. At those altars of truth, every matrix of conspiratorial commission and the omissions of poltroonery yield their masks to the mind, like a body yields its opacity to the piercing gazes of x-rays; revealing the sinecures of diseased bones. In the tranquilities of an unjust prison sentence, the heavens of knowledge opened itself up to this genius, and uttered in his mind’s ear: The man dies in him, who keeps silent in the face of tyranny!
This social prophet gulped this realization. He did not mistake it for the synaptic meanderings of a tired brain. Soyinka the oracle did not keep it to himself. He knew he was only a mouthpiece of the gods. The temptations to hoard the message for his personal edification, though seductive stood no chance of winning the day. This national town-crier was never conceited to the metaphysic, which underwrote his relevance. He knew that his relevance rests in not hoarding this message, but in delivering it. He gave the message to the world. Like his kindred spirit-Achebe, who opined that to “go through life swallowing real insults is to compromise one’s self respect ; Kongi reverberated like Ogun his demiurge would, that “in any people that submit willingly to the daily humiliation of fear, the man dies” .
Every social embrace has its share of prophets. These have deluged history with messages of various provenances. Some sang the dirges of their most intimate heritages, when these heritages relapsed into the unsustainable lanes of debauchery, like Ezeulu did in Achebe’s Arrow of God. We have had pseudo-prophets too. These sang the praises of sycophancy; cheerleading the trains of societies hurtling towards perdition. The value of every social prophesy derives from its truth. Truth has forever been the benchmark for the prophet. This was the service that Wole Soyinka did Nigeria at that instance, when he uttered and set down those eternal words in print. The man dies in him who keeps silent in the face of tyranny!!!
The man will forever die in him who keeps silence in the face of tyranny. Patrick Henry, a kindred spirit, who dialogued with history long before our greats showed up on the scene, was of the same view. For him, it was either death or liberty. There was no midway. He never cared what path men may choose. It never interested him that many of his fellows would prefer a life of comfortable slavery to the possibility of struggling a little, to reach freedom’s shores; it never scared him that his co-wayfarers may decide to sell their birthrights to liberty, for sordid money. He knew that liberty can only be attained through a vehement struggle against the armadas of toxic god-complex and entrenched sense of privilege. For him, the choice was clear. It was either you gave him liberty, or he will die fighting for it. He prefers to die a freeman, than to live a bondsman. The thoughts of flying under tyranny’s banners; owing one’s life and liberty to the caprice or good pleasures of some Lords of the Flies, was never on the table. It is an aberration that should never be dignified with a consideration on freedom’s negotiating table. And men who are fired up and ready to stand up for the ideals, which they hold dear, have forever remained the reason why freedom berths on those shores. Their absence in critical mass in other climes points to a fertile ground for the germination and blossoming of tyranny.
I have sworn on the altars of providence that the man will not die in me!
To that end, my vocation is not a recipe for neutrality on issues affecting humanity. Like John Donne the metaphysical poet; not only that the death of every man diminishes me; the poverty and pain, the injustice and hopelessness of every man diminish me because I am a man who ‘is’, because others ‘are’. Likewise the life and happiness of everyman enriches mine. We are all participants in life. The life, happiness and prosperity of every man enrich mine, not only negatively by at least making our universe safer and keeping the dark forces resident in the cores of unhappiness and predatory competition at bay. Or at least saving us a descent into the Hobbesian state of nature, where the life of man becomes solitary, nasty, brutish and short. It elevates and edifies our lives with the harmonies and beauties of community, commensality and co-operation. This explains why my existential mandate embraces speaking out against injustice and structures of oppression. In this regard, I have come to view consolidated ignorance as the greatest structure and citadel of oppression. Knowledge remains the key to cancelling every captivity. Knowledge will forever remain power. That is why I am all for the constant review of all settled issues or orthodoxies, to see ways of making new knowledge and new realizations come alive in them, to make them more efficient and compel them to yield the last bastions or grains of wisdom lying dormant in their cores. This is why like Ojaadili; I am ready to challenge the orthodoxy of the Acheberian take on the root of Nigeria’s problem.
4. The Dictatorship of Mediocrity
There is another orthodoxy, which peddles the agreeable rumor that every country gets the government that it deserves. There are many countries that have gotten leaderships they neither deserved nor worked for. We have cases of benevolent dictatorships or governments which have arisen in places, where no reason could be adduced for their deserving it.
If we are to pay heed to the tenets of this aphorism, we would have automatically a disquisition proving that Nigeria’s problems is not necessarily leadership, but the fact that Nigeria as an embrace has earned the right to have leadership as its trouble. When that becomes the case, the causal relationship that has been given prominence all these while would collapse on its own; imploding on the weights of it inherent contradiction. Leadership becomes then an effect of a gamut of processes through which Nigeria gained admittance into the bad odors of dysfunctionality that must necessarily yield an anorectic leadership equation as its consequence.
Even though following that orthodoxy will lead me to the same conclusions as I hold here; I still believe that following that orthodoxy without examining it, would be a flight into the refuge of intellectual laziness. I would not be relying on that orthodoxy for my conclusions. I will be consulting facts and my own reason; and not arguments based on authority, which I am fighting to stand on its head here.
Nigeria’s predicament is a complex construct of anomie, which leadership alone is notoriously inadequate to explain. Some other factors complement leadership to stabilize the scaffolds, which supports the Nigerian predicament. Over and above the fact that Nigeria was never designed to function by the British colonialist, the trouble with Nigeria is not necessarily leadership. Leadership is a symptom. It is a consequence of a series of fundamental abdication of social responsibilities, or non-realization of those responsibilities by all participants in the nation-space called Nigeria. This abdication of social responsibility by the mass of the people, and their consequent resignation into the fraudulent idolatry of fatalism is what creates the enabling environment for the germination of the totalitarianism of mediocrity. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Any people that allow themselves to be lulled to sleep on this score, prepares their necks to bear the oppressors’ yoke or wear his chains.
That is the core of the Nigerian problem. We have prepared our necks to bear the yokes of irresponsible leadership through our culpable ignorance; through our civic apathy; through our timid abandonment of our rational faculties at the shrines of superstitious fatalism; through our undue attachment to the most primitive of social acquaintances like ethnicism and cynical pseudo-religions; through our ignorant and shameless genuflections to the golden calves of primeval acquisitions, which has forever being a sign of omni-dimensional poverty of spirit. All these came together not only to enthrone a dysfunctional society on its way to hell, they mixed in unhealthy proportions to construct a dictatorship of mediocrity, that will forever scuttle Nigeria’s attempt to progress.
The trouble with Nigeria is the dictatorship of mediocrity. Mediocrity is adored and celebrated at all levels of our national existence, so much so that ours is now a society frozen in anomie. It is a festival of an all round mediocrity. Better put, it is the totalitarianism of absolute mediocrity. From the ridiculous portals of mediocre leadership to the incomprehensible sanctuaries of mediocre followership; it is the case of a cabal of blind men leading a crowd of blind folks.
Irresponsible governance will always germinate will there are no checks or balances massed as bulwark against it. Whatever makes a people capitulate and acquiesce to the least excesses of tyranny is the real problem. Be it a cultural disposition or an acquired propensity. There lies the root of that society’s dalliance with tyranny. Leadership is not in the position to make itself responsible. This fact is contrary to Achebe’s opinion that Nigerian leaders have failed to rise to responsibility of personal example. Here I will state that Nigerians failed to make their leadership susceptible to responsibility. We allowed them to be scoundrels. We are the ones that empowered their rascality and excess. Leadership deals with power. Power deals with some monopoly of violence. And anyone who holds such scepter in his is bound to see himself as a God. Only the society can moderate that. Where the society for whatever reason fails in this regard, power is bound to erect statutes in narcissistic self worship and perpetuation, as has been the case with almost all tyrants of history. To this end, power on its own can never be responsible. It is compelled to be responsible. This is because ordinarily, power seeks to acquire more power and consolidate its privilege. Power is compelled to be accountable because the hawk will always frolic and convert the land of chickens where no one raised any resistance into his playground, where he carts off any chicken he desires for breakfast.
Nigeria’s is a pervasive culture of pathological anomie. Here civic ignorance and apathy mixes with an insular imprisonment in primitive acquaintances, which emphasizes sheepish allegiance to narrow ethnicism. If that is all there is to it, then our salvation would have been purchased without the prospects of spilling any blood. But the situation was dire from the start due to the fact that elitist opportunists of all shades and flags have been at the forefront of engineering and sustaining those primitive fault-lines, as to enable their exploitation of the majority for the obscene profit of the few. Even the force of arms is deployed to sustain those fault-lines, where treachery, perfidy and bribery fail. The people are then conscripted in their own exploitation. They are then impoverished into an inexplicable resignation to dysfunction. Political structures, which in other climes are guarantees of social felicity and welfare, are in ours reconfigured into an Orwellian construct that is for the eternal enslavement of the majority. This is naturally conjured off our frozen timidity, apathy and ignorance.
On various occasions, through our collective apathies of pathological proportions, we bore silent and emasculated witness to the progressive destruction of our educational system, and all other values that we have cause to cherish, by a cabal of political roguery. This cabal has nothing else but a blueprint of perpetually enslaving us to their feudal and avaricious estates ad infinitum. These estates engineered the erosion of our educational systems, while sending their sons and daughters abroad to get the best of western education, and come back to perpetuate the feudal enslavement of Nigeria started by their fathers.
That Nigerian rulers are so infernal that Dante would be compelled to reconstruct Hades to accommodate their superlative iniquities is never in doubt. The deepest part of his present hell will never essay to propitiate justice for all the despicable crimes they committed against their own people, pursuant to their greed. But what is really incomprehensible is that these bovine jokes of our realms are not even afraid of any discontent emanating from the people. They are so sure that they have this patch of oppressed humanity under control. Whatever accounts for this sheepish and incomprehensible acquiescence of the majority in the face of unspeakable tyranny is the real problem with Nigeria.
In 1789, the French refusing to bear it any longer, rose up in murderous anger, and decapitated the Bourbon Monarchy. The crowds bayed for the blood of their oppressors. As their anger receded, the Guillotine and chopping blocks of France has already entertained the heads of the King, Queen, noblemen and women of the various estates of the realm; which believing that they were “Kings by Divine right” were bent on oppressing and holding them in feudal bondage until the days flee. Those days of blood signaled the dawn of a new era in European political consciousness. The people reclaimed their status as the sovereign. All the pretensions of the royal houses of Europe were put on notice that the French example was a local action that has global consequences. Till this day, tyranny will never rule France ever again. History is there to show anyone entertaining such illusions, what the consequences of such madness are.
The obverse obtains in Nigeria. We allowed ourselves to be given the Pavlovian conditioning fit only for dogs. The oppressed are then offered religion to enable them transition their ignorance into faith. They are urged to pray, where resistance is called for. Prayer has never sacked any dictator. Guns have. Since prayers have never sacked any dictator, the oppressors are assured of some eternal reign. The poor and the oppressed have been so conditioned that even when they get the guns, they turn it on themselves, instead of on the sources of their discomfiture.
5. Symbols of Our Addiction to Mediocrity
It is only in a republic of mediocrity that clowns like Ibrahim Babangida; and an accident like Goodluck Jonathan would be running for the highest offices. These two prominent jokes had precedents that are not so very great. Babangida sat on the saddle as the absolute ruler of Nigeria from 1985 till 1993, when civil discontent drove him off his inglorious perch. He had the time, the power and the resources to change Nigeria’s negative trajectory for good. But since a shrew cannot smell better than his genes would allow him, he mangled and frittered away that opportunity like a drunken sailor. The only achievement of repute; nay notoriety, is that he enthroned a climate of moral amorphousness which pulled corruption out of the miry dungeons of peripheral indiscretion to the mainstream of our national life. He decriminalized fraudulence and elevated it to a fine art of governance. His moral variousness earned him appellations like “the evil genius”, and “Maradona”- a negatively wooden depiction of his ability to ruthlessly out-dribble the country; embezzle her unto economic insolvency, and mortgage her future to the totalitarianism of a syphilitic-crazed butcher-Sanni Abacha, while bearing a toothy smile.
Under him, letter-bombing of opponents by operatives of the military intelligence entered its inglorious appearance on our psyche. Dele Giwa was eternally muzzled; reduced to a mangled sack of cordite-grilled flesh. Human rights activists were hunted down by his Gestapo-like secret police. He was busy raping our heritage, while urging the people to tighten their belts and embrace SAP.
At the end of a long, windy, hair-spinning transition to a civil rule program, which gulped over 40 billion naira, he went on ahead to scuttle the will of the Nigerian electorate. Today, this crooked ex General is a stunningly rich man. He is not rich because he invested in a blue-chip company that yielded stupendous returns. He is not rich because he earned and invested his salaries to that end. He is not rich because he wrote a software, which trumped up the market and netted him a handsome fortune. Neither is he a doyen or mogul of industries. He is rich because he is a common thief. He made a fortune by dipping his hands in the treasuries of our commonweal to enrich his yawning avarice. He went on ahead to articulate his mockery of our collective stupidity in a book, which was titled in a Freudian slip gone awry, “For their Tomorrow, we gave our Today”.
This short aphorism that became the title of his collection of speeches has quite some history. Mediocrity is known for being obscenely hyperbolic about its role in any event of significance. It is a gimmick. Mediocrity uses that ploy to place itself in good odor, with an eye to securing a privileged place in our esteem. Such privileged places in our esteem can confer power or historical immortality on anyone who secures it. That is why scoundrels spend the first half of their lives ripping decency to shreds, and the second part whitewashing and revising history to suit their projects of repackaging their broken reputations.
The full text of those words originally reads thus:
When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For their tomorrow, we gave our today!
Those words were attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds (1875-1958), who put them together among a collection of 12 epitaphs for WWI. It is today more widely known as the Kohima Epitaph, adopted by the Burma Star Association at the end of World War II. This association adopted it because it did justice to their battle for the soul of what they believed in. Kohima was the scene of a crucial battle in March, 1944 between the Japanese 31st Division numbering over 15,000 supported by supplies of 10,000 ammunition-laden oxen; and the British forces numbering 2,500 men.
The Japanese forces had moved north-westward in Burma, took Naga hill, invaded India and came to Imphal and Kohima. The allies were at the brink of a disaster unless the onslaught of the Japanese forces was stopped. It came to head in Kohima. The battle raged for weeks. After 64 days with terrible casualties on both sides, the Japanese were sent on a retreat. Kohima marked the waterloo of Japanese dominance in Northern Burma.
And these words attributed to Edmonds arose to become a befitting epitaph to the memory of those brave men, who played their roles well to stop the Axis forces overrunning the globe with their eugenic ideologies of hatred and racial supremacy.
This was the sacred theatre of meaning, which a Nigerian, thieving tyrant raided to yank out a branch celebrating uncommon bravery, denuded of its meaning, and deployed it to dignify his rascality and plunder of Nigeria, which he celebrated in a collection of his dissimulations.
That book should have been titled “For my today, I stole their tomorrow”. That is the only fitting title for such a wooden attempt to smuggle his way into reckoning after making a mess of our nation.
What about Goodluck Jonathan? He is an accident. Nigeria has seen enough accidents who found themselves on the corridors of power. They achieved nothing save leaving the country worse than they found it. These accidents had a godfather and archetype in Olusegun Obasanjo, who as an accident profited from the death of Murtala Muhammed, and became president overnight. The Igbos of Nigeria articulated the outcomes well. He who never dreamt of ever attaining the Ozo title, once providence throws it on his laps, will deafeningly advertise his unearned privilege by wearing the Ozo ivories beyond his knees. That was Obasanjo in his first missionary journey. When fate hoisted him atop Nigeria’s presidency for no justifiable reason, he took Gowon’s announced stupidity to heart. This stupidity articulated by Gowon to the effect that Nigeria’s problem was not how to make money but how to spend it became Obasanjo’s mantra and operational software. His was a government of jamborees and white elephant projects. He was fingered in raping the nation using OFN and ITT deals with Abiola. He organized FESTAC in 1977 which was another drainpipe and White elephant project, which neither got Nigeria on the path to industrialization nor gained her the unearned prominence she sought in the comity of nations. He achieved nothing save handing over the nation to a set of puerile undertakers, ran by Shagari and Umaru Dikko. And Nigeria’s burial by installment continued.
That was the first Obasanjo.
After ensuring that Nigeria will be in the paws of bandits recycled from the First Republic for the foreseeable future; he hibernated in his farms, writing books to burnish his democratic credentials, revising the Biafran war history to put himself in a better light, and marinating in the unearned status of an African statesman; a meaningless ego massage conferred on him by the Western press and regurgitated at the least excuse by local ones, for his “willingly” handing over to a civilian government in Nigeria. Since a cow in a china shop would never disappoint, he was not slow in showing the world the level of his Intelligence Quotient, and appreciation of reality, when he asked the world to use juju in fighting Apartheid in South Africa. Not to be outdone in his avid desire to celebrate mediocrity at the least excuse, he went on ahead to contest the UN secretary General seat, which he thankfully failed to convince anyone of his worthiness for that office.
The Deutro-Obasanjo was equally an accident. Sanni Abacha the ogre of Aso rock had him roped into a coup, which was a ruse. He was sent to prison to await his execution, since his co-wayfarer Shehu Yar Adua has succumbed to the needles of Abacha’s executioners. Abacha was not only a mean tyrant. His mental depravity makes Emperor Nero look like a choirboy. He was hell-bent on not only eliminating every opposition to his madness, but to murder anyone who dared oppose him. His hatchet-men coordinated by Al Mustapha, and led by Sergeant Rogers, roamed the streets of Nigeria, dispatching death like songs yanked of off the murderous sonnets of the Shakespearean Macbeth and her Lady:
Hear this not Kudirat; Hear this not Rewane, for Abacha’s bullets are the knells that summons you to heaven or to hell”.
Sergeant Roger’s at Abacha’s orders prowled the nation; his guns spitting death. Many died. Others fled.
The coup from heaven came. Abacha died atop imported prostitutes and the Deutro-Obasanjo who was languishing in jail counting his days, got a new life breathed into him. Within a few days of Abacha’s death, Abiola the purported winner of the June 12, 1993 elections, was murdered in circumstances that mirrored Jacob’s voice singing, and Esau’s hand playing, to pave the way for the emergence of Obasanjo into national reckoning. He moved from prison into the PDP.
PDP; the Peoples Democratic Party emanated from the patriotic efforts of the G-34; an attempt by some patriotic Nigerians to fight the Abacha junta. All was well with this party until Obasanjo got out of prison, spoke to Abdusalami Abubakar, who seating on Abacha’s seat was in serious hurry to steal as much, and hand over as quickly as he can; since pressures from the civil society and the international community made further association with Abacha’s memory or political heritage an untenable position.
All of a sudden, an Obasanjo who nearly expired in prison got out of it and a few days later, made a whooping donation of over 130 million naira to the PDP. That sealed the deal and ripped the soul of that patriotic attempt asunder. That was political simony of the highest order. The PDP sold its soul for 30 pieces of silver to a Judas, who was equally a no mean thief. Alex Ekwueme was out-rigged at the Jos convention to make way for the resurrection of Obasanjo. He became the party’s torch-bearer for the hurriedly organized presidential election.
He was sworn in on May, 29th 1999.
Nigerians in their timidity heaved a sigh of relief!
His inaugural address on May 29th 1999 was a litany of sterilized platitudes. They were sanctimonious and intended never to be kept. He promised to fight corruption. He promised to tackle Nigeria’s perennial power problem, which has been the albatross to our development. He promised us a new beginning. We thought that he had an “on the road to Damascus experience”, that converted this Nigerian “Saul” to a “Paul”. We were mistaken. Eight years later, he showed us that a goat eats yams pursuant to his genetic blueprints. Take a pig to best the Wellness clinic. Once you take him back, he jumps instantly back to his mire. He is congenitally drawn to it.
In his eight years in power, he cloned more corrupt sacred cows like many others before him. Over 16Billion Dollars was spent to generate darkness in Nigeria. His daughter bestrode the land like Herodias’ daughter, dipping her hands in so many corrupt pies in the country. She was in the bandwagon that swindled the health ministry. Obasanjo’s war on corruption was so selective as to be nauseating. He was so greedy for power that he wasted so much money scheming to change the constitution to allow him a Third term in office.
That was Obasanjo the accident!
What about Jonathan the accident? He was a deputy to a thief in Bayelsa state. Alamesigha was an Ali Baba among the other PDP thieves. He fell out with the scoundrel ruining Nigeria at that time; Emperor Obasanjo II. He was nominated a scapegoat in Obasanjo’s war on Atiku his deputy, and crucified among other thieves that dared challenge Emperor Nero Obasanjo. He was rusticated with extreme prejudice, and Jonathan succeeded to his seat.
His wife Patience broke new records in greed and corruption among State first ladies in Nigeria, but the EFCC was compelled to look away and not to touch Obasanjo’s anointed. He was anointed the heir to a fraudulent ticket as Obasanjo insulted reason and went on ahead to crucify Nigeria between a terminally sick man and his deputy, who was an accident. Yar Adua and his aristocracy of greed headed by Turai ran Nigeria as a feudal manor until Yar Adua expired in Saudi Arabia. Jonathan escaped his pupa to become president.
And since then, he has been in a hurry to spend Nigeria into penury. I wonder what a president is doing with 3 new presidential Jets when Nigerians lack good roads. I wonder how he could in good conscience approve up to 17 billion for the celebration of Nigeria’s fifty years of failure. At present, electric and power generation in Nigeria is simply nonexistent. Universities are on strike. Poverty is still covering the land like a blanket of darkness. Yet, Goodluck Jonathan seems to have neither a plan nor the will to go about tackling Nigeria’s problems.
Yet, Nigerians are watching waiting for their help to come from heaven.
Furthermore, it is only in our republic that medieval monstrosities are rebaptised, repackaged and relauched into relevance in the lives of our people. That is why our greatest industry today across Nigeria is establishing churches and attending them in record numbers; even while corruption ravage our body politic. We label our kids as witches and have them abused and mishandled to appease our ignorance.
It is only in such republics that petty criminals are hanged while the great crooks are celebrated and offered social titles and honors. It is in such republics that a teacher, who is charged with creating our tomorrow, is paid peanuts, while a legislator that sleeps his way through every legislative seating goes home with millions of naira and steal billions more, without anyone raising eyebrows.
That Nigeria is a country that was created to smother her geniuses, kill her saints and canonize her rogues is equally another symbol of our addiction to mediocrity. This explains why James Ibori; a thief of no mean feat, could rise to the position of a godfather in the Nigerian ruling party. On the other hand, this dysfunctional addiction is what explained our collective apathy, as succession of tyrannies took time and turns to murder Gani Fawehimi by installment.
A word about Gani is apposite here. But before that, I know that the great Soyinka must have equa
lly thought about the positive obverse of his realization. The man who never kept quiet in the face of tyranny, lives; and will never die. His abode is those shores of immortality, fit only for men of character. His recompense is eternal life in our memories. Such a man has built himself up into a lighthouse that would forever direct weary travelers on the tempestuous waters of tyranny safely onto liberty’s shores.
In that respect, Gani Fawehimi expired in the flesh, but his forever alive. Such characters never die. He never kept silence in the face of tyranny. The man did not die in him!
Gani Fawehimi was a Nigerian lawyer, who spent his life fighting to liberate Nigerians from the unthinkable collectivity of fatalistic and fraudulent acquiescence to rogue power. He severally placed his hide on the line for the ideals that gave his life meaning. While lesser mortals with oversized egos made trips to the corridors of power to get their share of the loot, this honorable soul rejected Satan with all his pomp, briberies and deceit. He rejected the inducements of the infernal powers ruining Nigeria, to purchase his silence, and auction off his conscience. His conscience, unlike that of many of his countrymen was never a casino for the amoral gambling of political rascality. He fought all the tyrants that ever bestrode Nigeria under his watch. He chose the instrument of the law for his battles. He was severally bludgeoned by the cudgels of mean power. He tasted the raw and savage excesses of tyranny’s insecurities. He was a regular guest of almost all the prisons in Nigeria, where tyranny tried many times to lock him out of circulation and out of existence. But they never cowed his spirits. He fought on the side of the law and on the side of the downtrodden. He became an advocate for the voiceless. Since naked power intrinsically hated the concerns of the voiceless, Gani became the perennial target of power’s lecherous fangs.
During his tribulations and afflictions, the people he sacrificed for, went about their normal business, as if everything was normal; as if the reason why he was severally confined and afflicted was of no interest to them; as if he was simply a rabble-rouser out to ride roughshod to popularity on the backs of obscene power. We never deserved him, yet he sacrificed for our common good.
We never deserved such a genius!
Collectively we kept silent at his tribulations. Collectively we backed his tormentors with our silence. Collectively we contributed to his troubles all those times we kept quiet and allowed tyranny to creep back into our power equations. Collectively we share the guilt of the slaps given to his face; the military jackboots designated for his groin; the cudgels that landed on his back; and the derisive tugging meant for his beards.
Gani Fawehimi bore in his body the sorrows of a rogue nation. He bore in his frame the agonies of a nation that forgot its destiny. His heart wailed at the frittering away of the Nigerian potential and promise. He must have died a very frustrated soul: frustrated at the incomprehensible cowardice; frustrated at the idiocy in allowing a few rogues the leeway to determine the destiny of more than 150 million people; frustrated at the pervasive foolery and the poverty of ideas and vision dominating our decision making bodies; frustrated that Nigerians instead of uniting to fight executive thievery wherever it was found in the body politic, allowed themselves the lewd leisure of being bamboozled into spending their time like the ancient Roman patricians did, watching gladiatorial shows, while our band of trans-ethnic thieves cart away and apportion our collective patrimonies to their personal estates; frustrated that we allowed the conversion of our body politic into a large amphitheatre where our home grown scoundrels and their foreign collaborators strive to outdo each other in who would steal more from a decadent nation.
Nigeria never deserved Gani.
He must have died a broken man. His heart must have bled at what a consortium of civilian thieves and brigades of military brigands made of his country. He must have been crucified by the shame that a country as blessed as ours have been led by the nose, by the worst elements that we can boast of. He must have really given up on his fellow countrymen.
These are some of the symbols of our addiction to mediocrity. And our addictions are not abating. We are increasingly evolving into complex and reason-resistant strains of mediocrity junkies.
6. We are All Casualties
J.P Clark, in his poem titled “The Casualties”, which was a dirge for the grotesquery that was the Nigerian civil war, rightly contended that the casualties in that war were not only those who were dead, as they were well out of it. Neither are they only those who are wounded, even though they await burial by installments. For this brilliant poet; since the battle failed and the problems that gave rise to the Nigeria predicament was silenced or “swept under the carpet”, as is the traditional Nigerian propensity; we all then became casualties. Even the “looters for office and wares” are casualties like the rest of us since according to Clark; they are “fearful everyday the owners may return”.
Clark is not alone in this realization. He has a great pedigree. Shakespeare had to coax and squeeze out of Cassius, a prime mover in the plot to assassinate Caesar; those memorable words that ring true even to the furthest thresholds of our time.
Why, man, he [Caesar] doth bestride the narrow world
Like a colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates;
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings
In the first part of those memorable words, Cassius was on song, mourning. He mourned the debilitating mediocrity of petty men like himself, who were condemned by their pettiness, to spend their entire lives, walking under the huge legs of a man like Caesar; peeping about in insignificance and leaving the world at the end of it all, unsung. He queried why quite in contrast to Caesar, who bestrides the world like a Colossus, they would expire in their pettiness leaving no memories upon the face of their firmaments. Lines 1 to 4 of the above citation covered the “mourning Cassius”.
That first part was equally a dirge for two epic occasions. It was dirge at the funeral of the timorous mediocrity of men like him, which his speech marked to banish for always. It was equally a dirge for Caesar, who in their consideration has risen to summarize great danger for the Rome they loved so much; and who to that effect has been condemned to be sacrificed for good of Rome. He mourned that mediocrity thus:
Why, man, he [Caesar] doth bestride the narrow world
Like a colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Cassius did not just spend his life mourning and querying, like Nigerians are wont to do. He rose from the dungeons of mediocrity, broke the shackles tying him and his ilk to timidity, and took his destiny in his own hands once and for all times. He bellowed:
Men at some time are masters of their fates;
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings
How I wish that Nigerians would pay heed. We are the masters of our destiny. If we want the leadership to keep on raping us, and carting our resources off to their private estates, it is our choice. God feeds every bird, but it never throws those foods into their nests. Theirs still remains the job of going out to find the food themselves. Sophocles is forever right. Heaven has not and will never help those who will never act. So, if we are all casualties, why wait for the leadership to fix us? The leadership is a part of the “casualties” like JP Clark has shown. We must never forget that thieves can only rule a nation of idiots.
1) Chinua Achebe, “The African Writer and the Biafran Cause“, in Morning yet on Creation Day, London, Heinemann, 1975, p.78
2) Wole Soyinka, The Man Died, Ibadan, Spectrum Books, 1972, p.15
3) My take on JP Clark was informed by the Poem itself which I read as a young Secondary School Student in Nigeria in preparation for my WAEC examinations in 1991, and the analysis I read at http://www.brighthub.com/arts/books/articles/65695.aspx accessed on the 1st of October, 2010.