This is an example of a country that has fallen down; it has collapsed. This house has fallen — Prof Chinua Achebe
“Something startles where I thought I was safest” — Walt Whitman
A couple of months ago, the Minister of Education, Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, came to the Independent to meet with top Editorial staff of the newspaper. The meeting commenced with the normal ritual of introductions, and as my brother, Mr. James Akpandem, the Managing Editor, who introduced the Independent team, got to me and said: “This is Mr. Ugochu—”, the minister cut in: “I kno-ow him! He is the angry man!” And the whole room erupted in loud laughter.
When later it was my turn to speak, I began by saying that there was somebody else whose column, “Conversations of the Angry Man”, appeared every Monday, that I was not the person, and that the minister was, perhaps, mistaking me for him. This caused another round of loud laughter, with someone raising his voice above the loud mirth: “You are angrier than the Angry Man!”
To make sure she was actually referring to me, each time the minister, in the course of her speech, recalled an incident that offended her, she would say: “When I saw that, I became angry, but not like him!” And she would point at me or use a gesture to indicate she was referring to me. At some point she said: “I am even more angry than you are. That’s why I am doing what I am doing to change the situation. It takes someone who is really angry about the situation of things to do what I am presently doing at the Ministry of Education.”
Now, I do not think that what I feel about the dilapidated state of Nigeria is anger. I would rather say that I am deeply pained. I am deeply pained that a nation like Nigeria could be practically abandoned to rot away by a gaggle of heartless and conscienceless men who have managed to get themselves into power. Nigeria today presents the perfect picture of how a country could look like in the absence of any form of government. I agree with Prof Chinua Achebe that Nigeria today is too dangerous for silence! In fact, in this country, everyone is on his or her own. Virtually, no one in Aso Rock today wakes up each day with genuine thoughts about the welfare of the citizenry. Whatever one occasionally sees in form of motions or semblance of actions are mere political stunts enacted solely to give the masses the impression that some form of governance is in place in Nigeria, and to let them know that very soon, elections would hold, and they would be required to come out to vote, so that their turn-out could be used to justify the outcome of the hideous rigging that would surely be perpetrated.
We live in a country where the government has become perennially incapable of causing any form of cheering news to occur. One thing anyone can predict with unfailing accuracy in Nigeria is the failure of this government in virtually every aspect of our national life. My kind prayer for those who think I am exaggerating here is simple: May God help you to survive to tell the story any time you find yourself in any of those very perilous situations that bring home to you the rude reality of the dangerous state of Nigeria.
On New Year’s eve, my entire family and I would have perished, but for the mercy and intervention of God. We were travelling to the East on the very mischievous and perilous Lagos-Benin Expressway. It should have been a very joyous, pleasant ride by a happy family through the country-side, observing the beautiful forests and enchanting hills, all sandwiched between several villages and towns, under a clear bright sky, but for those cruel potholes, which were purposely left there by those who should eliminate them, to ensure we never for once have any cause to be happy in Nigeria. As we approached Okada in Edo State, we became captives to a most stressful and terrible traffic hold-up, caused by the horribly bad road which the authorities had deliberately refused to repair, and we were made to crawl in this suffocating trap, amidst curses and over-boiling anger from fellow drivers, and the heart-rending cries of children who could not understand why anyone with blood running in his veins could subject them to such a heartless torture, for about five hours.
When it seemed we had escaped this one, we ran into yet another, an even more complicated one that delayed us further. As the sun gradually shed its brightness and receded to its lonely, dark-blue hut, and a canopy of darkness eagerly sought to enfold and blind us, I began to pray that we escape the unyielding trap before it became really dark, because, given the reputation of that area with hoodlums, I could imagine what would happen to those still trapped in the midst of that thick, intimidating forest when the darkness becomes really thick and murky.
We eventually escaped as it became darker, and into further adventures on that road amidst impatient, angry drivers, many of who were, like us, unduly tasked by the nightmarish, manmade affliction we had just left behind us, and whose tempers had been driven to the edge by the excruciating experience. In short, the road became a mini-battle ground, and to cut a long story short, as we entered Asaba, when it had really become dark, we had an accident that severely damaged my car, knocking it into a very violent and benumbing coma. But thank God who is our only Hope in this unmanned jungle called Nigeria, we all escaped unhurt, including my two-year old son, who was picked up from the floor of the car where he had fallen from the back seat. My wife who had removed her seat belt at that instance to attend to the kids who were already freezing with cold smashed the windshield with her head. But although her head was decorated with very tiny bits of broken glasses, she sustained no injuries. It was a miracle.
As we got out of the vehicle, and discovered that no one was hurt, gratitude to God welled up in my heart. Indeed, we may not have a government, but we have a God! Sympathisers came and helped push the badly wounded car out of the road. When they saw that no one was hurt, they all dispersed. Suddenly, we were there, all alone, on that lonely stretch of land, under the freezing cold, abandoned to our fate and ourselves. I looked this way and that, and it became clearer to me again, that in Nigeria, you are always on your own. Whether you lived or died is entirely your business!
As we waited for the friend I had called up in Asaba to come and “evacuate” us from the accident scene, my four year-old daughter began a lamentation:
“Now, Daddy’s car has spoiled, what are we going to do? We won’t go to the village again. How will my Daddy go to work again? What are we going to do? Daddy’s car has spoiled, what are we going to do?”
She was saying this and crying bitterly. These were simple lines any child can compose and render, but her very sad, mournful tone that lonely, cold, sad night, and the deeper meanings and disarming imageries her words conveyed broke my heart. I had never seen her in that mood before then, and even as I write now, I wish with all my heart that nothing would ever happen again to make me see her or anyone in that mood. Her words appeared like sad poetic lines, writte
n with pale colours on that lonely stretch of dark land. So, if I had died in that accident, that’s how my children would have been mourning me? My thoughts ran really wild.
Now the question I am forced to ask is: even if there was no road at all on the place we now have the Lagos-Benin Expressway before 1999, is nearly eight years of being in office not enough for any focused, people-oriented and compassionate government to construct a befitting and safe road for the use of Nigerians? There is absolutely no reason that can justify the horrible state of that road, the callousness and cruelty of those in power.
But for the clearly avoidable traffic hold-up that delayed us for several hours, nothing would have made to me embark on such a hazardous night-journey with my family, and be caught up in the kind of “war” the drivers engaged in on that road that night. I was even planning to spend the night in Onitsha, because, it was even more suicidal to enter the more dangerous Onitsha-Owerri Road, still in very bad shape, at night, to compete with the ever furious trailer drivers. Yet, this is the same road President Obasanjo used to flag off his campaign in the East in 2003!
Many have died on these roads and no one, except the countless orphans, widows and widowers they left behind to lick the deep wound of their sudden, violent departure are feeling it. After eight years in office what exactly can the Obasanjo government show for the incredibly huge revenues that have accrued to it since 1999? The roads have degenerated to mere stretches of cruel slaughter-slabs; the hospitals have become waiting rooms to cold and lonely graves; indeed, it is a big shame that after eight years of wasting the nation’s resources on frivolities, Alami and Bamaiyi, are receiving court orders to go abroad for medical treatment, just as government officials and their families do; schools have decayed so much that no person who can afford it can risk having his child in a Nigerian school. No, they would rather send them abroad, and that includes Ghana! Very soon, people would start sending their kids to Liberian schools and patronizing Somali hospitals!
Also, Nigeria has never been as insecure as it is now! If you were told some years ago, specifically before 1999, that a time would come when both the police and the people they are hired to protect would all become a mass of helpless, hapless, vulnerable and frightened victims of a growing army of an all-conquering and seemingly invincible hoodlums, would you have believed it? But that is exactly the case today. We are the sixth largest producer of petroleum, but what do we have to show for it? No fuel filling at stations, no functioning refineries, nothing. While corruption has been institutionalised, and leaders are building wealthy dynasties with stolen funds, the killing hunger in the land is driving Nigerians to roast themselves alive while scooping fuel from pipelines obviously vandalized by NNNPC staff and their collaborators.
Nigeria is still trapped in suffocating, blinding, thick darkness, because, the Obasanjo Government, after nearly eight years in power is still talking about 3,000 megawatts, 10,000 megawatts, while industries are closing shop in Nigeria and relocating to better-managed countries like Ghana because of the unending crises in our power sector, thereby compounding the already worsening unemployment situation. Everyday, this government invests energy and resources only to explain away its failure, and declaring phantom achievements.
Look at the situation in the Niger Delta. For years, the place was neglected, while money realized from there, at the expense of the people’s lives, sources of livelihood (fishing and farming), were squandered on damnable vanities, “woman friends” and building of ungodly and contaminated dynasties, that will surely meet with calamity in the near future. Now, the nation is paying greatly for that profligacy. The place has become unsafe for oil exploration. The Filipinos have just barred their nationals from coming to work in Nigeria any more. Many more countries may follow suit. The situation will compound further, and those who have accumulated stolen wealth may not have any peace or space to enjoy it. Na so this world be!
Indeed, this house has collapsed. I do not envy the person who will take over from Obasanjo. The person will inherit an angry, hungry, impoverished and frustrated populace, wilfully plunged into unimaginable hardship by a regime that behaves as if it was contracted to visit untold punishment on Nigerians.
Indeed, the next president will take over a collapsed country.
And the people will pour their impatience and frustrations on him, because the suffering will become worse, as the impact of Obasanjo’s “reforms” ( i.e., selling off Nigeria’s prized possessions to self and cronies) begin to be felt.
No doubt, what we see now, is but the beginning of protracted nightmare, what with all the talk about continuity. It is that bad.