Memo to the Nigerian Street

Bros! Bros!! How now? How far? Body dey inside cloth? Hope you dey manage. Abeg read this short passage and guess who the author is: “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

Any luck with your guesswork? No, these lines were not authored by any of those nationals of other African countries whose lives would have no meaning if they couldn’t bash Nigeria and Nigerians. They were not authored by the latest entrant into the precincts of Euro-American racism. That’s our beloved Chinua Achebe administering tough love. Very tough love. Brutal frankness. Cutting us down to size. There are two problems though. The sage calls Nigeria a nation. I am not that generous. On a good day, I call Nigeria a failed assembly of unwilling nations; on a bad day, I call her a non-nation tout court. The second problem: Achebe authored these lines in 1983 when he thought Nigeria was the elder brother of hell. You and I now know that what Achebe mistook for a family member of hell in 1983 was in fact paradise, given what Nigeria has become today.

You and I know how we got to this sorry pass. We both know that Chinua Achebe’s statement is dated and needs to be revised to reflect our considerably sorrier condition as a country. We know who got us here and that is why you and I need to talk very urgently. I don’t need to bore you with stale news about your condition. Nigeria is happening to you daily. You are a living embodiment of the hell Achebe is trying to weave into imagery. The news I have for you is simple: an opportunity has just presented itself for you to begin to turn things around. The Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and our irresponsible National Assembly (NASS) have provided that opportunity on a platter of gold! Bros, shebi you know the history of NASS since 1999? You know the corner-corner routes NASS traveled to become the most corrupt, most incompetent, most visionless, most useless, and most expensive legislature in the world. You know that none of the half-illiterate idle-hands in NASS is capable of stealing in millions. They just must steal in billions. You know its been one scandal after another since 1999. When they are not awarding themselves mind-boggling accommodation and entertainment allowances, they are spending billions on car gifts for themselves. Or just indulging in barefaced stealing. And now, hiding behind a profligate RMAFC, they have awarded themselves a 100% salary increase!

Yes, bros, 100% salary increase!! Bros, let me take a good look at you. Your appearance tells me you are a hard-working primary school teacher, a conscientious member of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT). Please, don’t ask me to explain why your appearance made me conclude that you are a primary school teacher. People will accuse me of stereotyping. The important thing: I guessed right. You and NUT just had a roforofo fight with the government of President Yar’Adua. You wanted a 27% salary increase because you have realized the folly of listening to stupid politicians and government officials who are robbing Nigeria blind tell you that your own reward is in heaven. Your reward was in heaven in those days when you worked in missionary schools under the colonial dispensation. For all their hypocrisy under colonialism, the missionaries valued you. For the “natives”, you were tisa, a very important member of society. Do you remember your well-starched khaki shorts that reached down to your knees, stopping just where your long socks started their descent into your well-polished black shoes? Do you remember pressing the khaki shorts so hard with your charcoal iron that the edges – called “gator” in local parlance – almost cut like a razor blade? Do you remember the starched short sleeve white shirt that you tucked in and your immaculate black tie? Do you remember your glistening black hair, about half the size of the African American Afro style? Your wife combed it for you every morning, faithfully putting the obligatory “parting” either in the middle or on one side of your head, just before you went to the schoolyard for morning assembly. You looked into the eyes of those pupils as they chanted, “H-I-P for the Hip, P-O-P-O for the hippopo, and T-A-M-U-S for the hippopotamus, hippopotamus!” You saw the future of Nigeria and Africa in those eyes…

Bros, those were days. Those were days. Your reward started here on earth and continued in heaven. Tragically, October 1 1960 came, the missionaries left with whatever “pagan” gods they looted from the shrines that Jesus defeated, and Nigeria happened to you. Now, see what you have become. Tears well up as I remember what you used to be. I can’t reconcile this skeleton, this thing walking the streets of Nigeria under Yar’Adua with your image under the colonialists. For two months, you begged President Yar’Adua for a 27% increase. That sleepy Mallam – a University teacher for Pete’s sake! – said there was no money. He repeated, in a most unimaginative manner, what his orishas at the IMF and the World Bank asked him to tell you: government is not Santa Claus. And now RMAFC and NASS have come with this 100% madness. It gets worse. Here is how a silly RMAFC official justified this brazen assault: “Given the government budget profile, the proposed remuneration package is quite affordable and sustainable. Evidently, approximately 17,500 officials, constituting 0.014 per cent (less than a quarter of a per cent) of Nigeria’s estimated 140million people are under consideration. It should also be noted that relative to the broader public servants engaged in the civil service and government parastatals, only a small number of officials, that is public and political office holders, will enjoy these emoluments.” Bros, please wake me up!! Tell me I’m dreaming!!! Didn’t Yar’Adua say there was no money when you were on strike?

Bros, you and I know what Mallam Yar’Adua is going to say. He is quite predictable. He is going to talk about the rule of law. He is going to tell you that the Executive is the right hand that is constitutionally not allowed to know or comment on what the left hand, NASS, is doing or undoing. He is going to talk nonsense about separation of powers. Conveniently. Do not look in Yar’Adua’s direction for any comment on the unbelievable insensitivity of the orangutans in RMAFC and NASS. Besides, Yar’Adua is in no position to act. He is completely compromised. Should he open his mouth, NASS will remind him that his stolen mandate is run by thieves: James Ibori, Bukola Saraki, and David Edevbie have all open sesamed their way into Aso Rock to enjoy the company of the forty thieves. Yet you must stop the madness this time around. What do you do? Wait for the usual suspects to rush opinion pieces to Nigerian newspapers and internet fora? Well, NASS is a step ahead of you. They already thought about that. In fact while drinking pepper soup and champagne in the company of girlfriends and concubines at their regular hangouts in Abuja, they already laughed and joked about this. They exclaimed: patapata Reuben Abati will scream in one opinion piece and move on to the next national calamity; patapata Okey Ndibe will blow the usual grammar in the usual flowery prose; patapata Obi Nwakanma will quote Michel Foucault and other foreign philosophers while abusing us in his newspaper column; patapata Sam Nda-Isaiah will talk nonsense in his column; patapata Moses Ochonu and Sabella Abidde will make noise and tell their listserv audience that they are horrified by our action; patapata Omoyele Sowore and his yeye Sahara Reporters will publish sensational photos of some of us taking our first improved paychecks. Who cares? After all the noise, nothing will happen jare.

Bros, this is why you must let something happen this time around. You must contact the leadership of your union. This 100% salary increase must be considered a slap in the face of NUT. It is an act of war. NASS has declared a psychological war on you and the Nigerian people. NUT must picket the buildings of NASS. Not tomorrow. NOW! Bros, you and NUT must take it personal. You must mobilize nationally. If you lead, the Nigerian Labour Congress will be forced to endorse and join your action. NASS premises must be blocked by thousands of people until the fiends in NASS come to their senses and drop this nonsensical salary increase. What the heck have they done to deserve a 100% increase?

Bros, it would be a shame if they got away with it this time. You know they are counting on your legendary ‘God dey’ disposition. They are certain that the news of their latest crime will not even shock you. They say you are beyond shock. They say your capacity to adjust to suffering and oppression is infinitely elastic. They are confident that you’ll shrug your weary shoulders and invoke God’s judgment as usual. Bros, we must very respectfully leave God out of it this time. Remember the Orange Revolution in Ukraine? Hundreds of thousands of people like you sent a message to Ukrainian politicians in 2004-2005 by blockading the capital with peaceful protests. Those who did it in Kiev do not have two heads and three legs. They are like you. Just like you. If the latest NASS madness isn’t enough reason for the Nigerian people to blockade Abuja peacefully (and violently if necessary), I don’t know what is.

Bros, there is no harm in reaching out to MEND, MOSOP, and other Niger Delta organizations. You and I know how the criminals in Abuja are going to fund their salary increase. That money is going to come from the usual cash cow that does not belong to them. Consequently, the salary increase is an act of war against the Niger Delta. This is an opportunity for the freedom fighters to stop the tragic descent into criminality that has given their legitimate struggle a terrible name. They should stop kidnapping and killing the very people on whose behalf they are fighting. They could join forces with you in blockading NASS premises in Abuja. Bros, there is power in symbolic victories as my friend, Ogaga Ifowodo, likes to say. If you win this little victory against the enemies in NASS, it could be the first symbolic step… Ras Kimono, the reggae singer, asked you to “send them to the dragon’s pit where they really belong”. The time to do it is NOW.

One thought on “Memo to the Nigerian Street

  • Great piece. One of the finest I’ve read in a long time. Funny, serious, punchy, inspiring and soul-stirring.

    I hope the rogues in Abuja will find the time to read this.

    Reply

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