For our brother Governor Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, go, go serve our sentence, we are all thieves! When you return our rusting guns will boom a thousand times for the homecoming of a good son of the soil. Go well, great thief. We shall miss you each time we take a lunch break from the hard work of looting our mothers’ treasures!
In the early nineties, I logged on to the Internet and joined a band of near-destitute but energetic Nigerian writers and academicians to fight the scourge that had befallen our nation Nigeria under the thieving jackboots of that buffoon from hell General Sani Abacha. We were mostly idealistic individuals who believed at the time that the problem with Nigeria was a lack of structures, of robust structures that would define our collective morality and ensure the survival and prosperity of our nation. We felt that the fate of our people toiling in that geographic space called Nigeria was too reliant on the morality and will of individuals. We were also convinced at the time that our soldiers could no longer make a compelling case that they were in power to build and sustain workable structures of governance. If anything, they had now become rabid termites, toothy pests intent on making away with any and everything that was not welded down. They had to go. After all, this was about three decades from 1966, the year of the first military coup that brought the first khaki-colored boll weevils into the fabric of our nationhood. I will be the first to say that I was probably a bit player in the prodemocracy movement of the nineties. But whatever part I played was not without considerable personal sacrifice and risk to me, and to my family’s fortunes. I can say now that I regret mightily that I ever had anything to do with the prodemocracy movement. I can say now that I regret each minute of that dawn when I leaned into Radio Kudirat and cursed the darkness that Nigeria had become. But that story shall wait the telling of it another day. I am afraid to curse Nigeria now. Because, look what happened the last time I cursed her. We got General Olusegun Obasanjo, the democrat from hell. For this man, we fought for democracy?
Our agitation soared with the coming of the Internet as a truly viable tool for networking and communication. Those were heady times as we found that we could communicate all over the globe and do things unheard of without even as much as seeing each other. We formed friendships that endure to this day even though those friendships are yet to be consummated in the flesh. For us, that era, the early nineties was the beginning of an amazing, if not intriguing journey of political activism on the Internet, on the radio, and on the streets of North America and Europe. We participated gleefully in a knock-down drag-out fight with the agents of darkness then ruling our country. We found that on the Internet, a handful of us could form “organizations”, “associations”, and “foundations” with fearsome sounding names; we could assign important sounding executive titles to ourselves and really make those bastards in Aso Rock uncomfortable. And we did. All we needed was a handful of email accounts, lots of coffee and energy and a website and we could reach all the powers of the world. We could reach the world. We could do a lot of damage without spending a penny and sometimes without leaving the comfort of our homes. The Nigerian military dictatorship reacted to this new electronic agitation like analog deer caught in the headlights of a digital train. They trashed around and fought back with the tools they were used to. And they did this with a lot of money. The uprising raged on regardless of the Goebbelsian antics of unprincipled reprobates (apologies to Professor Wole Soyinka, that relentless guiding spirit of our internet movement). Unfortunately the efforts of the military goons did not have the intended effect of stopping the uprising. I say unfortunately because General Sani Abacha is gone but General Olusegun Obasanjo is here, reveling in the mediocrity of his leadership, braying “I dey kampe!”; perched on a growing scandal like a bad, bad, carcinogen; and stuck to us like a needy, parasitic partner in that relationship from hell. In my good days, I think that it is a distinction without a difference; that is, the distinction between the creature Abacha and the creature Obasanjo. In my really good days, I think that Abacha was better than the shame playing out in Aso Rock. We fought the good fight and I thought we won the battle. I think now that we lost the war.
The prodemocracy struggle was not without its critics. There were many Nigerians, especially Igbo that saw the struggle as a Yoruba struggle. Indeed there were very few non-Yoruba among us in the struggle. And for good reasons. As a minority, my dignity took a heavy beating for my allegiance to what I saw as a Nigerian problem. I look back in sadness at how wrong those people were who insisted that the June 12th annulment of Chief M.K.O. Abiola’s impending electoral victory by General Ibrahim Babangida was a Yoruba issue. It wasn’t then and it isn’t today. That was my belief. It is true that most of the leaders of the struggle were Yoruba. I don’t regret meeting them; indeed I would go to battle with them by my side any day. That is not the issue. The questions for me are these: Is this what we fought for? Why have our voices fallen silent?
Is this what we fought for? I am older now and perhaps wiser. I still think obviously that we need structures. We also need individuals of stature and character to build and nurture those structures. In the absence of structures, and, as it now appears painfully, in the absence of individuals of character and integrity, a nation crumbles and joins the ranks of failed states. Nigeria is reeling on the tattered ropes of what is left of its statehood. Indeed, I agree with those who say now that Nigeria is a failed state. Nigeria is tottering on the edge of malignant irrelevance, hastily nudged on by our best minds for reasons that are profoundly self-serving and I might add, criminal. Our best thinkers and leaders who are trained and equipped to know better continue to manipulate us with policies that are grounded in dated geographic and ethnic details. All for personal gain. We ought to be profoundly troubled, for instance, by the notion that when the Governor of Bayelsa State swindles his state’s allocation, the burden of grieving this extra-judicial rape belongs mostly to his people, the Ijaw. We are entertaining notions like this in the year 2005. Hell, even with Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the boundaries were already becoming porous.
Is Nigeria really a failed state? I fervently believe that Nigeria is a failed state. Actually, all nation-states as we currently know them are “failed” states. The old paradigm of states trapped inside tightly defined, mostly impregnable physical, ethnic, racial, and cultural boundaries is laughably passé. If America is a robust state, it certainly doesn’t look like it anymore. We see the quagmire that America’s leaders have sunk America into in the war in Iraq, and in the war against the mostly poor in America’s delta and barrios. It is obvious that America’s leaders continue to shape foreign and domestic policies based on dated assumptions about relationships. And daily we in America are reminded of the fallacies of such thinking, by the deadly results that confront us. But if America can afford the mediocrity and senility of her leaders, Nigeria can ill afford the same. As thinking persons, we must access our condition with the new paradigm shift in mind; otherwise any dialogue on our current dispensation is futile. In that regard, much of what one reads these days about the way forward comes across as ossified history posing as the present tense. We must step out of the box of traditional thinking that we have trapped ourselves in and help those who scraped together pennies to send us to school. This was not why they paid our school fees. We ought not to be silent in the face of what is easily the greatest threat to the survival of what passes for our nation. Our nation is like twin elephants on our heads, yet our toes persist in wrestling with crickets. More than ever, our nation needs those of us in the Diaspora to turn our rage on the virulence that is attacking our land in the name of democracy. I have said ad nauseam that the unintended consequence of the digital revolution is to lull our best minds into self-sufficiency to the detriment of the quagmire that surrounds them. For the new dispensation that we live in allows the prosperous nations of the West to harvest a land’s best brains and leave their physical selves behind in Lagos, and in Bangalore. In other words, thanks to this new and virulent form of brain drain, most of our intellectuals merely reside in Nigeria; their hearts and minds are overseas making them a good living.
Wherever we are, as Nigerians we must stand up as one and tell the truth, just like we did in the nineties. Nigeria is a failed state. If it is not, it is doing a poor job of hiding it. Listen, in Nigeria MASSOB is out roaming a geographic space it calls Igboland and trying mightily to incite people into yet another pogrom. Maybe when it is over, Ralph Uwazurike will celebrate with a 15-year old bride and accept refuge in Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu’s former mansion in Cote D’Ivoire or whatever is the name du jour of that country. Nigeria is a failed state. Afenifere is dusting off its placards, girding for war, its thieving elders peering out of Aso Rock, their ruddy cheeks trying to find that geographic space called Oduduwaland. And of course the Hausa/Fulani still hold sway over the rest of us because their son Obasanjo is in Aso Rock. Enh, you say Obasanjo is Yoruba? Yeah right! I must be Irish.
Yes, listen to our thieving leaders, to your tents O Nigerians. Pack your bags, you wretched offal of the earth and go back to your ancestral lands. War is coming. So our leaders tell us. Our leaders must be quarrelling with each other again. And they are asking us to take sides. Again. In the year 2005, in the age of the miracle called the Internet, the thieves posing as our leaders are asking our truly poor and destitute to pack their bags, go look for an imaginary ancestral home that left them many moons ago and fight a yet to be defined war for a yet to be defined land space. And all through this mayhem of ideas, we are saying that our country is not a failed state. Indeed, it may not be such a bad idea for each thief to take his own share of fawning congregants, and go, go find his part of what is left of Nigeria. And continue the mayhem now playing out in Aso Rock. Instead of one broken Nigeria, let us have many broken Nigerias. Because if anything, I have yet to see a leader from any part of Nigeria that stands out in endeavor other than in the art of brazen unadulterated thievery. In the absence of structures of accountability we have seen the worst in us. We look in the mirror and the monster we see is truly us.
Nigeria is a failed state, a perverse land grab in the hands of an equal opportunity cabal of thieves posing as our leaders. These are very smart thieves who use old paradigms and apply them to new realities because they know that the result is chaos, enough chaos to provide them cover for their murderous deeds. The more I think about it the angrier I get. Let us take that fool Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State. We are told by this buffoon that any attempt to hold him accountable is an affront against the long suffering jaw. As if the money that he stole belongs only to the Ijaw rather than to the long suffering people inhabiting that state called Bayelsa. That distinction is lost on the fool. There must be a lot of fools in Nigeria, because it is also lost on millions of Nigerians. Nigeria is a failed state. If we are not presiding over a failed state, the bar for success must be pretty low in our part of the world.
Nigeria is a failed state. We have a president who is beyond clueless; the man is purblind, bereft of ideas for brushing his teeth talk less of running a country. He wears his ineptitude with the pride of a destitute farmer who owns a fake Rolex watch; and wait, the punishment is not over for our Messiah Obasanjo desires to foist his shiny emptiness on us for a third time. Is there a God? I ask again, what kind of God will inflict this pestilence on us? Have we not suffered enough? A Nigerian “constitution” that legally mandates freedom for crooks like Obasanjo and Alamieyeseigha is only now getting a “critical” look in those places that matter to Obasanjo the most, those places where his name can be carved in perpetuity to lord it over us. As if our people have not suffered enough. What kind of God allows this kind of abuse?
Why have we fallen silent? It is time for us to speak up. There are many reasons to speak up. Nigeria may be a failed state but the people that endure its failure daily are not losers. In the chaos of that scandal, people are trying mightily to thrive. Every day, amazing success stories steal away from that chaos and show the world the possibilities in a new nation. In our new songs, in our new writers, in our new entrepreneurs, in our children we witness the glorious promises peeking out from behind the decaying agbada folds of our rotten leaders. If we have given up on that nation-state as it is presently constituted, we must not give up on the beautiful resourceful people that are trapped inside it. This point is crucial because our leaders have given up on our people, preferring the more lucrative enterprise of brazen looting. All through this abuse, our people remain vibrant in song and in industry. For them we must continue the fight that we abandoned when General Abacha died the death of a philandering prostitute.
Why have we fallen silent? It is time for us to speak up. The people that inhabit that unfortunate space called Nigeria have suffered enough. As we speak, dozens of our children just fell off the skies, innocent passengers of yet another rickety airplane, to use the term airplane, rather loosely. We are talking about contraptions that would not qualify to be crop dusters in the cornfields of America. In Nigeria, one can go to Iowa, buy a decrepit crop duster and start an airline. Leaders of character, people of conscience have resigned over much less. Our children did not need to die. Because they did not need to travel hundreds of miles away from their homes in search of an education that eludes their less-heeled siblings. As we speak, our intellectuals are roaming the land parroting Western notions of supply and demand, suggesting to us that it is economic taboo to spend public funds on the education of our children, and on the health of our people. They are strangely silent on whether it is best for a few people to steal that which economists say ought not to be spent on our people. Our voices have fallen silent when it matters the most.
Why have we fallen silent? We would have been better off leaving General Sani Abacha alone; these people, our friends have absolutely no idea what they are doing except when they are stealing our country blind. I keep waking up and hoping that the shame that is playing out in Nigeria is only a nightmare. What are we doing, averting our eyes from this shame? In a democracy, people are being hauled into jail for expressing their opinions, states’ rights are being trampled upon just to satisfy one man and we are silent. We remain silent even as General Obasanjo and his goons continue to turn Nigeria into the laughing stock of the world. Alamieyeseigha may be a buffoon and a crook but he learnt his deadly antics at the feet of the tenants of Aso Rock. The people of the Niger Delta have suffered the least from Mr. Alamieyeseigha; they have been raped the most by the likes of General Obasanjo, make no mistake about that. When that day of reckoning comes, Mr. Alamieyeseigha will have to take a number in a very long line of equal opportunity crooks.
It is time for us to speak up again. Let it not be said that we were strangely incoherent, that we were silent, that we were trapped in a conflict of interest because our friends were the new thieves in Aso Rock. Let it not be said that we did nothing, said nothing because they are our friends, we carried placards together, we were chased around and around the Nigerian embassies of the world by police dogs, by General Abacha’s goons. The new thieves in Aso Rock are our friends, you remember us, we wrote flowery prose together, wailing the end of Nigeria under dictatorships, praying for the end of darkness in our land. The enemies of darkness are still here, and the darkness persists. What have we done? Why are we silent? Where is the outrage? Somebody stop the mayhem.