Nigeria’s Theater of the Absurd

by Akintokunbo A Adejumo

The people who are trying to make this world worse are not taking a day off ….how can I? Light up the darkness!” – Bob Marley

Most people in the Arts, or more specifically, theater and acting world will know what the Theatre of the Absurd is: A designation for particular plays written by a number of primarily European playwrights in the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, as well as to the style of theatre which has evolved from their work. Plays with in this group are absurd in that they focus not on logical acts, realistic occurrences, or traditional character development; they, instead, focus on human beings trapped in an incomprehensible world subject to any occurrence, no matter how illogical.

According to Martin Esslin, Absurdism is “the inevitable devaluation of ideals, purity, and purpose” The characters in Absurdist drama are lost and floating in an incomprehensible universe and they abandon rational devices and discursive thought because these approaches are inadequate. Many characters appear as automatons stuck in routines speaking only in cliché. The more complex characters are in crisis because the world around them is incomprehensible.

This theater of the absurd is apt to the Nigerian socio-political situation, economic evolution, national and human development, all rolled into one play. For the past 49 years, it has been a vicious cycle of absurdities for the country’s inhabitants, held ransom by greedy, inconsiderate and corrupt leaders and their acolytes and sycophants, so much so that any glimmer of hope that sometimes flicker at us is soon extinguished, seemingly never to be lighted again, like a dying comet.

I had not wanted to write anything about the fiasco called Ekiti State re-run elections, because all had been said, and merely repeating what others have seen, done, written about, will just amount to just that: repetition. However, my frustration, conscience and that urge to say or write something got the better of me. I am really very despondent now.

It is unfortunate for Nigeria’s Government (and definitely, people too) that this Ekiti State debacle came right on the heels of their so-called “re-Branding” exercise, which was given maximum publicity by the Minister for Information, Prof. Dora Akunyinli. On the positive side, it confirms again, to us and the whole world, the futility of the exercise and the insincerity and ineptness of our leaders. Nothing has, or will change. They have been exposed for what they really are again. That is why I was nonplussed by the result of the Ekiti election. So, I don’t know why people were surprised, given all the happenings. However, despondency and desperation has set in.

There was even a dash of the ludicrous and the absurd when a 74-year old woman resigned, disappeared, was pronounced sick, then declared wanted by the Inspector General of Police himself, resurfaced in the capital and then rescinded her resignation to say she was still the conductor of the election. What more could be absurd than this? In the end, nobody is thanking or praising her. And we still remain uncertain about her role in the entire farce. And where is her “Christian conscience” now? She will soon be consigned to the bins of history.
Since the Ekiti disaster, have you heard any positive word from Dora Akunyinli? No! I doubt even if herself, an accomplished media hugger, can talk her way (or her government’s way) out of this fiasco. This is a government that cannot conduct a credible and violence-free election in just a few wards of not more than 70,000 people, policed by 10,000 policemen.

The re-branding effort was further eroded by the fact that South Africa concluded a very successful national election recently, while Nigeria found it an onerous task to conduct elections in just a few wards in 10 local governments in just one state out of 36. This does not bode well for the 2011 election.

Again, the rebranding efforts immediately collapsed (bad-timing) with the Halliburton bribery scandal, which we must not allow to die down or be swept under the carpet. So instead of a positive image of Nigeria being generated, what we have is a heightening of Nigeria’s already negative image. Our leaders just can’t do anything right, can they? Re-branding of a nation’s image is a lot more than an exercise where billions are spent and government officials give great speeches, distribute flyers and badges and logos and rhetoric abound.

In all sincerity, we all know it will take a lot more than this to improve Nigeria’s negative image. This is something these so-called leaders failed to take into consideration whether deliberately or in pure ignorance of the facts at hand. What they should know is that the re-branding must start from them, from the top and then cascade downwards to the rest of us. They must clear the Siemens, the Halliburton, the Wilbros scandals and many others up. They must bring corrupt ex-Governors and Ministers to justice. They must invest in their people, us, and not in their pockets. They must provide us with good education, good medical healthcare, good roads, electricity, water, food. They must be open with us, considerate to our plights and alleviate poverty. They must let us freely and without encumbrance, fear, intimidation, fraud and coercion elect them into positions of power and responsibility. They must not deny us liberty, freedom and justice. Only when they are committed to, and are seen to be doing these simple things can we trust them, or cooperate with them to re-brand the entity called Nigeria. Only then will the world believe them.

But we should really not be surprised. This clique of charlatans, inconsiderate and corrupt politicians and technocrats will always mess up their own acts because it is an innate thing: you cannot change them overnight, and neither can they wake up one morning and tell us they have changed. Who will believe them? Their everyday actions do not say otherwise.

Thus my worst fears were realised when the Ekiti State debacle happened. I just knew it would be another fiasco. You do not need to be clairvoyant to know this, especially in the wake of all kinds of utterances and deeds that went before it: the President and his Vice-President going to the state to campaign, and assuring us that the PDP will win (How do they know? How can they be sure?); that most useless of Governors, Oyinlola of Osun State secretly recorded promising to send thugs disguised as soldiers and policemen and arms and ammunitions to Ekiti to ensure the PDP wins (nobody has sanctioned him yet); two Ekiti Senators running around the state carrying guns and having meetings and running all over the place with red-eyed, drug- and money-induced thugs in their Ekiti domains (nobody has sanctioned them yet).

Before I started writing this piece, and long before the Ekiti State re-election, I was preparing another article where I was positing that the only way we can get rid of these murderous and useless politicians is to use democratic means to throw them out and deny coming ones access to our seats of governance and hence the treasury. That does not seem to be a most appropriate solution now, does it? The Ekiti show of shame will most certainly be repeated across the nation in 2011, as it was done in 2007, wouldn’t it? It does not augur well for us.

After the results were announced, I read many comments, all of them saying it was a “sad day for Nigeria”. No, not really, since Nigeria was created, it had always been “sad days” for us, only we did not realise it or refused to acknowledge it. Tell me, when it was not? 1966? The Civil War? 1979? 1983? 1993? 1999? 2003? 2007? And now 2009?

Unfortunately, and ironically too, with the challenges flying in court and tribunal, the Nigerian people

are still paying and suffering for it. You might ask me the reason why? This is because our politicians, whether in power or opposition, never use their own money to fight elections, whether it is ballot or election petition. It is with our money which they have somehow managed to misappropriate. This is the bottom line. It does not matter which side of the fence you are. It does not matter if you are PDP, AC, ANPP or whatever stupid acronym they ascribe to their ideology-lacking excuses for political parties.

And what do we have? Nothing really! As Prof. Niyi Akinnaso wrote (The Guardian, Friday 8th May 2009) “As an allegory of the human condition, the myth is particularly relevant to the Nigerian situation in which failure and futility are both endemic and enduring. Nothing works as they should. Schools don’t work. Hospitals don’t work. Roads don’t work. Electricity doesn’t work. Even ordinary water, a free-flowing natural resource, could not be captured, treated, and piped to people’s homes. On top of it all, the people cannot freely elect their representatives because the government cannot manage the simple democratic acts of casting, counting, and collating votes. Yet, citizens go about their lives in a futile search for fulfilment, hoping against hope that one day salvation will come.”

In the past, I had written that I do not consider Nigeria a failed state in the real interpretation of the phrase. I still stand by my opinion, but the problem is we are not really trying, are we? Those entrusted with trying are far from trying and those of us expecting them to try their best on our behalf just sit passively by and let them run things the way they seem fit, which is not conducive to our interests as a progressive people. In short, we bury our heads in the sands like ostriches, praying that God will liberate us, or waiting for others to do it.

I am definitely not the only Nigerian very much concerned. Even the incumbent President is concerned (And that is what I call “hearing it from the horse’s mouth”) and recently Nigeria’s former military head of state, Dr. Yakubu Gowon, obviously very much concerned too, predicted that high profile corruption and long neglect of the masses’ welfare since 1960, may soon make the preferred civilian administration lose its valued place to options, saying that “the continued presence of corruption, its attendant unemployment and poverty; social insecurity and uncoordinated governments’ policies and programmes, over the decades, would make government by the people lose its appeal. Nigerians have continued to be traumatized by poverty that they are left with little or no time to defend democratic ideas and ethos. While democracy remains the expression of the people’s choice through the ballot, the struggle for survival has continued to take away the little strength left in our people to stand and defend that choice”.

For many years, we have been warning our leaders about their behaviour, specifically massive corruption (of all types), neglect, mismanagement, negligence, arrogance, lack of focus and depth in governance, etc which are anti-people in practice, and they do not seem to be heeding the warnings. Or maybe they are deliberately ignoring us (as did Pharaoh in the Old Testament, when God hardened his heart so as to postpone his punishment).

They should not ignore the people much further. Enough is enough

We have been beset by unpopular social, economic and political policies of successive administrations, which at best, continued to identify national problems without any noticeable impact, as witnessed by the gradual but steady decline in Nigerian’s standard of living, infrastructure, general welfare (education, healthcare, water, food, electricity, roads, and other basic human services), characterised by high unemployment, low wages, poor education, poor shelter or housing, inclement business environment, widening income inequality, rising cost of goods and services and above all, the selfishness and greediness of those put in charge to take care of us.

It is amazing that despite many social programmes championed by organs of governments and substantial funding by international organisations over the years, there had been no substantial positive effect of poverty reduction in the country. The reason is not far-fetched, the money from the government international organisations are always being diverted into private pockets.

Governors all over the place throwing billion naira parties for the weddings of their children (Oyo and Gombe States); spending our money on useless propaganda about what they have not done (Oyo, Ogun and Osun States), while the masses suffer and look on hopelessly.

As Sylvester Odion-Akhaine wrote in Nigeria Today Online (11 May 2009) “the incumbent governing clique missed a historical opportunity as always to re-brand itself, and to boost the country’s energy. For as Huntington once said, the truly hopeless society is the one that lacks the capacity for change. Nigeria has been made hopeless by its ruling clique; and its hopelessness calls for a dose of subjectivism at this point in time. Historically, its foundations were suicidal and perhaps the country is doomed to suicide

It may seem hilarious to watch the Theatre of the Absurd, but when it affects and threatens our very existence and jeopardises our lives, then, my brothers and sisters, it cannot be rightly regarded as a comedy of errors.

Please, let us take our country back.

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