Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Thanks for being there!

In February last year I determined to write 52 weekly blogs of about one thousand words each. The idea was to track the evolving political landscape as we began the approach to the 2015 elections. Even then, it wasn’t too early. Public office is the raison d’ĂȘtre of Nigeria, with crude oil earnings the prize. Everything that happens in the country, from the sacking of the central bank governor to the fatal stampedes in Abuja, Bauchi, Lagos and Port Harcourt for a few paltry slots in immigration and customs, can only be understood in those terms. My main worry, in fact, was how to keep it fresh week in, week out. To be sure, revelations of venality overtake one another faster than we can assimilate the sordid details but they are simply variations on a single theme.
Take the recent one by the central bank governor that $20bn of oil money had gone walk-about. This upset our Harvard-educated, ex-World Bank coordinating finance minister who ridiculed his claim on the grounds that he had first alleged almost $50bn before settling for the lower figure and promptly announced that the real figure was $10.8bn. She then attempted to shift the blame to her sister in the petroleum ministry, where all the money she is coordinating comes from anyway.
To say that Nigeria is geared for graft is to say nothing new, only a wonder that anyone ever believed that our coordinating minister, who had to be begged to forego her job at the World Bank to come and serve her country (‘It would be very easy for me to sit at the World Bank and earn a nice salary’), was ever going to serve our interests. But then we have always been in thrall to the foreign institutions which know more about the price of onions and peppers at Mile 12 than do our home-grown economists and must therefore take our punishment however they see fit, complete with Trojan horse.
These foreign institutions also encompass US public relations firms with ‘extensive must-win campaign experience’ on account of knowing ‘what it takes to win in difficult situations’, in this case Mercury LLC, to which the minister fled for advice on how to shore up her tattered image she otherwise insisted was still intact: ‘I don’t think my reputation is under threat and to imply otherwise is distinctly wrong. I know what I’m doing. I know why I’m here.’ I did try and contact the self-styled ‘high-stakes public strategy firm’ through its website but never received a reply, as invisible to them as the market women at Mile 12.
This invisibility of the people is currently being acted out at the recently convened national dialogue on the country’s future. Like its predecessor under Obasanjo, the delegates were told what they can and can’t deliberate on.  Then again, no government will pay delegates $4mn a month each for three months to deliberate them out of office. The only wonder is not that you can’t find 492 people out of 170mn to accept the insult to their intelligence (the majority of whom have been doing little else for years anyway), but that others not so fortunate should continue to imagine that anything good can come of it.
The triumph of hope over experience would seem to be the besetting vice of Nigerians, which was partly why thousands of young men and women were prepared to pay for the privilege of being interviewed for a limited number of federal appointments, most of which, it turned out (man-know-man), had already been farmed out to those better placed, none of whom, I daresay, needed to risk their lives in the stampede which followed. It can only be a matter of time before these same youths, who we continue to churn out from our universities with nothing to look forward to, will rise up and tear down the whole rotten edifice. The question is: When? It is telling that those responsible for their wretchedness – as who should know? - have taken the precaution of buying private jets to spirit them to the safety of their foreign havens. This includes, above all, the self-styled pastors who urge the gullible to close their eyes while they rob them blind as they exhort them to pray for the miracle that will never come.
But I have written all this before in any number of earlier blogs. Nor am I alone. Every commentator has said as much week in, week out in the pages of our newspapers. The ‘message’ has become dulled with the repetition. And to what end? The fact that they are published at all, and that nobody in authority pays the least attention to them, was acknowledged by the previous Borno State governor who was believed to have incubated the Boko Haram which thinks nothing of murdering children in their beds. What do they want? Good question. Possibly they don’t themselves know, any more than the rest of us know what to do with this awkward colonial creation. Why, we aren’t even allowed to see the piece of paper which amalgamated us. Perhaps the delegates can begin by demanding it so that they at least know what it is, precisely, they are supposed to be deliberating. Then again, perhaps this is another ‘no-go area’.
So this is my last blog in the present series, to which I gave the generic title, ‘All about Naija’. The danger of continuing is not only a reflexive staleness but also diminishing returns. Keep saying the same thing over and over and pretty soon nobody is paying you much attention. At the same time, the plethora of opinions might in fact be part of the problem.  A cursory look at Nigerian newspapers shows that the one thing we don’t respect is the facts, which is why one searches in vain for a full list of the delegates to the current national conference. In partial fulfilment of that lack, and with the looming 2015 elections in mind, I propose to embark on a new series profiling the political actors positioning themselves for 2015 in the hope that business will continue as usual. In the meantime, I will be taking a one-month break.
Thanks for being there!
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers. His memoir, The House My Father Built, will be
published later this year.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's
amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU