Thursday, 15 May 2014

Government by rhetoric

Fresh from her triumph at the World Economic Forum in Abuja, where she extolled the virtues of investing in a failed state to ‘close to 1000 regional and global leaders’, Dr Okonjo-Iweala found time to sympathise with the abducted girls of Chibok. As ‘a mother myself’, she declared, she found it difficult to imagine ‘the agony the parents of these children must be experiencing,’ even as she understood ‘the anger and sadness [of] Nigerians at home and abroad’. Assuring us that Mr President ‘has promised that the Nigerian security services will work tirelessly to bring back the girls,’ she thanked the US, the UK and China for their ‘assistance’ even as the government itself would ‘not relent until our children have [been] returned to their families’.
Our Harvard-trained, former World Bank vice-president then went on to reassure our would-be investors that ‘we will not let any terrorist group undo the progress we are trying to make in ensuring new rights and opportunities for girls across our country,’ which was why ‘the abduction of our daughters and the attempt to truncate their education is so unacceptable’. In conclusion, she reiterated the government’s determination to ‘do everything in our power to bring back our girls, and we will never be complacent when it comes to girls' rights. We will not relax our efforts until every one of the 10.5 million girls and boys who are today denied education in Nigeria are given a chance to go to school in safety’.
It is entirely possible that Dr Okonjo-Iweala, who began life as the finance minister but was quickly elevated to coordinating minister by a president anxious to unburden as much of his office as possible while desiring to remain on seat, actually believes her own rhetoric. This is the same minister who happily reels out statistics to prove that the Nigerian economy is growing by leaps and bounds while the vast majority in whose name she speaks wonder whether she is referring to the Nigeria which is visibly falling apart – apologies to the late Chinua Achebe - or some never-never land of her imagination. Certainly, it must seem like a cruel joke to the abducted girls and their desperate families, for whom the promised ‘assistance’ from the US, the UK and China is now their last hope. The only wonder is that she and her boss – along with assorted ministers and legislators – still occupy the seats they do, but then our standards have fallen so low that we excuse levels of incompetence which would have long spelt the doom of their foreign counterparts.
That the government itself has actually acknowledged its incompetence is borne out by the gratitude with which its spokespersons now welcome the foreign ‘assistance’ which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. And it is as well to recall that in 1962, heady still with our independence, Nigerian students successfully demonstrated against a proposed military pact with the recently departed colonial power whose ‘assistance’ is now being sought half-a-century later. In other words, we are in a more wretched condition than we were then, yet Dr Okonjo-Iweala, whose own children were educated in the US that is also to be our salvation, tells us that ‘we must not overlook [government’s] efforts to tackle these challenges, nor discourage those attempting to do this difficult work’.
But what Dr Okonjo-Iweala and her ilk appear not to have grasped is that the Chibok fiasco, while far from being an isolated outrage, nevertheless appears to have finally woken up Nigerians – along with the rest of the world - to the truth of their condition, which is that they are on their own. There is no government, a fact which the government itself has known all along but managed to conceal by oppressing us with its outward trappings. How else to explain the president’s silence about the abducted girls until Nigerians stood their ground for the first time in their post-colonial history, leaving the way for Michelle, Hillary and Angelina to jump into the fray, only for him to announce that he didn’t actually know the whereabouts of the girls before pleading for foreign ‘assistance’? So much for our pepper-soup generals and demoralised police force, who only know how to brutalise helpless citizens. Show them a gun and they run for cover, as the Niger delta militants the government now pay to lay down their arms amply demonstrated.
As to whether this foreign ‘assistance’ will arrest – much less reverse – our steady slide towards disintegration is not something the president’s men and women appear to have contemplated in their euphoria that somebody else is coming to do their work for them. On the contrary, the presence of the hated Satan can only be expected to make things worse but then they probably have no other option if they are to have any hope of clinging on to whatever power they imagine they still have, even as Dr Okonjo-Iweala claims to be ‘launching the Safe Schools Initiative’ in order ‘to provide security so that parents and pupils are reassured about our determination to protect them’.
Foreign ‘assistance’ or no, I think we can safely conclude that vast swathes of the north-east have now become ‘no-go areas’, similar to the ‘tribal areas’ in Pakistan which are only visited by American drones every Tuesday to pick off suspected militants. The fault is not Jonathan’s alone but the long years of irresponsible leadership he inherited that have brought us to this pretty pass. Perhaps nobody could have rescued Nigeria by the time he took his own turn in the saddle but I think it is true to say, nonetheless, that he has proved the most clueless of the lot. But there is this at least to be said: that in being so clueless, so incompetent, so ham-fisted he has inadvertently opened up for all to see the awful emptiness of the rhetoric that cannot find 276 girls abducted from a government college nearly a month ago.
©Adewale Maja-Pearce
A slightly different version of this piece first appeared in Hallmark, 13 May 2014
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. The House My Father Built, a memoir, will be
published later this year.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:


1 comment:

  1. We need forin govt. in Nigeria! Gbam!!!