One of the first notable figures to raise the prospect of violent upheaval was Dr Ben Nwabueze - ‘I don't believe in small changes; we've had ad hoc arrangements; Nigeria needs a revolutionary change, and it has to be bloody’ - and notable because the discerning have long known that wahala dey but were easily ignored, especially if they happened to include a drug-crazed musician not averse to wandering about in his underpants. But an elderly constitutional lawyer as establishment as they come is a different matter. And he’s hardly alone. Only recently, the prelate of the Methodist church concurred – ‘I agree seven times. When you keep people unemployed for a long time, you are asking for a revolution’ - as indeed did Obasanjo, himself one of the architects of our current misfortunes but let us leave that to one side. We will have occasion in a later blog to dissect the many sins of this general-turned-gentleman farmer who had the good fortune to rule this nation twice and failed spectacularly both times.
It is reckoned that the Nigerian ruling class comprise less than 1 per cent of the population. Their names are widely known but it could hardly be otherwise. Money doesn’t hide, as they say, especially in a country where a daily meal is a problem for the ‘teeming masses’. In some parts, the local bigwigs actually encourage grown men and women to leave their homes to eat in theirs - three times a day if they like. It’s possible, of course, to get a few crumbs through honest labour – some work has to be done, even in Nigeria – but then you will be obliged to settle your connection, such is the limitless greed of this cabal and their hangers-on. When the former Speaker of the House of Representatives is queried over
N10bn gone walkabout and the current First Lady proposes a N4bn monument to her vanity then we know
that all is lost, like Sodom and Gomorrah, perhaps, which is why the more
successful pastors are able to afford private jets as they preach the message of Christ
- love thy neighbour, turn the other cheek, render unto Caesar - to the miracle-longing masses they are busy milking.
The timidity of Nigerians is taken as a given: ‘Papa dey for house, Mama dey for house, I wan’ build house, I no wan’ die,’ as Fela put it. This seemed to be confirmed during the demonstrations early last year against the fuel price hike. Suddenly, all the talk was of Occupy Nigeria as people spontaneously gathered to voice their anger, but then what happened? Like so many civil servants, the demonstrators packed up on Friday afternoon, only to return on Monday morning to find soldiers at the potential flash points given that power, whether maintaining it or seizing it, is no respecter of weekends.
On the other hand, I see no reason why Nigerians should be considered more timid than Americans, French, Russians, Chinese, Cubans - or any of the others who collectively prevailed against tyranny when they could no longer stomach it. Nobody wants to die, although what we do conspicuously lack is dedicated individuals united around an idea, a cause - indeed, a Vision - which can appeal directly to those same teeming masses. All we have really had to date are outbreaks of hooliganism, some understandable, some not. If I were an impoverished inhabitant of the oil-producing Niger delta I might very well take up arms against the state, but I find it impossible to enter the mindset of religious fanatics who blow up churches during Sunday Mass. Tellingly, the former only killed soldiers; they never harmed the foreigners they kidnapped, having previously warned them to stay away from the area.
Most dispiriting of all are the civil society organisations which might otherwise have been expected to provide some sort of direction, if only intellectually. Alas, they seem more concerned with satisfying the latest thinking of their American and European benefactors than agitating for fundamental change in their own country, the better to maintain their bourgeois lifestyles. When you hear of an ‘activist’ sending his wife and children to Switzerland for their summer holiday – since when did we have summer in Nigeria? - you get an idea of their aspirations.
In other words, a revolution in Nigeria seems less likely than the continued slide into the anarchy that is slowly but inexorably engulfing us. Moreover, those who advocate revolution invariably add the rider that this colonial creation is somehow sacrosanct. But there is nothing organic about Nigeria, which may be one reason why there is no coherent movement to suggest how it may be rescued from the depredations of those hastening its end. There is no such creature as a ‘Nigerian’ as there is an American or a Russian or a Cuban outside the symbols that appear to make them so – the flag, the anthem, the UN seat, even the green passport which nobody wants, Nigerians no less than immigration officials in any number of countries.
All this, of course, is beyond the ken of the country’s politicians, whose only thought – if it can be so called - is how to scramble for office in order to grab what they can from a fast-diminishing national cake. That this is unsustainable is a lesson they are about to discover.
Copyright: Adewale Maja-Pearce
Copyright: Adewale Maja-Pearce