“My small friend, you have three problems. You appear smart, you act smartly and you are smart. With all these, you cannot last in politics”.
The above was the candid advice given to one of the young and productive ministers in President Obasanjo’s cabinet by the former president himself. All because the naïve technocrat was doing what should be done by an intelligent and effective public officeholder in a normal and saner society. But in Nigeria; that is too bad! The poor minister, true to the words of Baba and barring any miraculous comeback, did not last. Let’s take a ride…
On Saturday October 1 1960, Nigeria was agog. Young and old, men and women; all beamed with mouth-wide smiles and waved different sizes of the work of Taiwo Akinkunmi: the newly hoisted green-white-green flag of Nigeria. I wasn’t born then but even now I know how Nigerians celebrate events; the day Fashola was declared the winner of the election that brought him in as the governor of Lagos State for his first term, we did not sleep in my Mushin neighbourhoods as all-night parties were spontaneously organized at every nook and cranny of the area. So, I can imagine what the euphoric spirit of my kinsmen became on that day we felt we were matching to our Disneyland. Five decades and three years after, how have we fared? Hit and miss, if you ask me. And thus the joys of that glorious day have given birth to a gigantic and glorified imbecile. Nigeria, my Nigeria; a huge, comely and popular entity that is full of internal diseases. What a bed-ridden Giant of Africa!
Politics of Superiority
Our problem started right from the time Nigeria was set free. Going by all records and accounts, Nigeria no doubt had well-meaning and intelligent politicians then but the virile seeds of discord were not absent. Tribalism and nepotism bared their fangs and the war of superiority among our founding fathers laid the foundation of our collective woes. Awolowo against Ahmadu Bello; Zik against the Yoruba; Akintola against Awolowo; middle-belt politicians against the core northerners, and then the infamous ‘wet – e’ in the wild, wild west. Even on that same October 1 1960, there were raging cold wars among our political gladiators but it was managed until it could not be managed any more. And thus corruption and battles of supremacy resulted in unrest and tension in the land. The soldier boys put a stop to the malady but what do you expect when a blind man tries to correct the errors of a one-eyed man? It is therefore pertinent for us to understand that it has never been ideal from the start. But are we saying that a disorganized room cannot be properly arranged? Of course it can, but those that try to arrange the room are branded too smart that cannot last.
Politics of Corruption and Death
Who says there is no money in Nigeria? Ah! There is money.
Each time I hear any of our ‘men (women) of God’ call for a prayer for Nigeria and, even ridiculously most time, for our leaders I sigh. Which of the leaders am I to pray for? Are we running a theocracy or an ecclesiarchy or an angelocracy which is controlled by celestial beings and only prayers can soften their mind? Do the developed and the developing nations of the world become what they are by prayers? Can we just stop hurting common sense and face the facts squarely? I am not a politician, neither am I close to those in power but what we see on a regular basis and the accounts of both honest and dishonest but frustrated public servants and politicians are too real to be false. One satirical fiction I just love to read every time is Wale Okediran’s Tenants of the House. Get a copy if you can; and also check on some other good books like El-Rufai’s Accidental Public Servant and Segun Adeniyi’s Power, Politics and Death. You will get a glimpse of what our guys up there at every cadre of governance do with our collective fortunes. You wonder why ASUU’s demands cannot be met, why our roads are in bad shape, why our educational system has been sick of palsy, why the square pegs occupy the round holes, why the same old rusted and wrinkled faces and tired brains still advertise their toothless mouths behind the scenes. Do not sweat too much; your money, my money, our money is being passed from one greedy hand to another avaricious hand; and in Ghana-must-go bags in most cases. So, where do we get the money to maintain our social amenities? Bribery is the order of the day and we are not ashamed. But those who are smart enough to point out and attempt to correct this endemic malaise do not last. The lucky ones go back to their businesses having been humiliated while those that are not so lucky end up dying mysteriously.
Land of the Educated Illiterates
Yes, everywhere in the world, politics is all a game of dexterity in the art of social maneuver but public literacy plays a vital role in the final outcome of the game. In the US, you cannot be voted into a public office without having been vigourously screened and tested by the citizens through debates, interviews, campaigns, etc. But in my fatherland (or is it motherland?), some bags of rice and some wads of currencies are adequate to earn you any post. All because poverty and greed have eroded our reasoning faculty! We go to school, we are educated; but we are not literate. It takes illiteracy for a set of people to be cajoled and deceived every year by the same set of people. A woman was telling me why they (some female politicians in my area) prefer a particular candidate to always win their votes. According to her, each time the candidate visited their constituency meeting (which stupid meeting?), she doled out a sum of N2,500 to each person which they called ‘owo ikoko obe’ (money to prepare soup). What! For a paltry sum of N2,500, our mothers do not care if the candidate is delivering on her electoral promises or not. Jesus Mary Joseph! O su mi (I’m fed up)!
Now, if the electorates are illiterates, what do we do about the elected rogues and gangsters? A former Speaker of the House of Representatives drove past one day in a heavy traffic. Kasha! Danfo drivers are even more civic. One would think it was one of Jean-Claude Van Damme movies; and he was the one driving in person! I do not blame him really. This is what he had learnt in the hallowed chambers of the House where ‘honourable’ members try to outdo one another in serious combats. One even happened recently. The way one of them handled a chair, my good God, it was a superb show of rascality – Area Fathers!
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo had one of the best collections of young, intelligent and hardworking chaps during his regime. But where are the Ribadus, the Soludos, the El-Rufais, the Remi Oyos, the Ezekwesilis, the Akunyilis? They are all too smart for our politicians’ liking; and so they do not last in politics.
Gasping for Breath
We all bear this brunt! The poor ones, I mean. Our universities are mere centre of mental recreation. Our degrees are worse than normal diplomas; and we are still taunted to either have several masters or forget about career advancement. I am not saying that higher degrees are bad but in Nigeria, what are these pieces of paper worth? How fantastic are the awarding institutions? Those that understand and have the financial strength take to their heels and search for higher degrees in foreign institutions. And after wasting precious time chasing these ridiculous degrees, the corporate world politely expects you to have worked for 10 years and above before you can fit in. God save Nigeria!
Thus, we all look up to the benevolent rays of mother luck since the smart ones are not welcomed in governance.
Where do we go from here? Nigeria is 53 years free!