Thursday, 22 May 2014

I, Nigerian citizen

‘Citizens who allow politicians to set the agenda while they just react have themselves to blame for lack of tangible results from governance.’
                                                                                                                     Oby Ezekwesili

The abduction of 276 girls now at the centre of an international outcry has proved to be a game-changer. Two events would seem to prove this. The first was the refusal of Oby Ezekwesili to be intimidated during the peaceful #BringBackOurGirls demonstrations in Abuja, and just yesterday organised a march on Aso Rock. The former education minister and World Bank vice-president for Africa simply sat unconcerned on the grass while 50 or so armed police, behaving in the only way they know how, ordered the demonstrators to disperse. The others, behaving in the only way they know how, began to drift away. Not so Ezekwesili, who told our uniformed officers point blank: ‘I, Oby Ezekwesili, am not going anywhere. This is my democratic right. I will not go anywhere. I...will not be intimidated by the police. My rights will not be violated. I don’t care who has given you this instruction. I...will not be intimidated in my own country. I am not going anywhere!'
The second was the apparent ‘jungle justice’ meted out to suspected Boko Haram insurgents in the town of Kalabalge (or Kala Belge) in troubled Borno State. According to unverified reports, the residents received information that about 400 militants in two armoured vehicles, eight pick-up trucks and seven sports utility vehicles were on their way to visit on them the mayhem that has become their signature. But instead of fleeing in fear of their lives, as other communities have done, ‘we gathered many of our young men and positioned ourselves in surrounding bushes and forests. We were armed with bows and arrows, Dane guns and pump action rifles.’ According to an Al Jazeera report, 41 of the surprised insurgents were killed and an undisclosed number captured. The rump fled.
Ezekwesili could get away with what she did because of her prominent position in the society, which was why her ‘stubbornness’ (in Nigerian parlance) received such wide coverage. Any ‘lesser’ individual would have been simply hauled away, more likely than not to be tortured by those same police officers she defied. It is for this reason that such people have a greater responsibility to take a moral stand against the outrages perpetrated daily against Nigerian citizens, as was evidenced by the outpouring of support for her actions. And this is true whether such outrages are perpetrated by the state or by private militias, who may in fact be one and the same.
Ezekwesil’s action received such widespread support because it is so rare. Those who have been elevated to prominence, whether by their own efforts or by happy chance, do the exact opposite, which is to say revel in their status by actively promoting the mores which have resulted in the impunity which holds one law for the minority rich and another for the majority poor. I have likened this to South Africa in the days of apartheid, and which, as in South Africa as was, is ultimately unsustainable, as indeed we are currently observing the length and breadth of the land.
Conversely, the only possible action open to the masses is the supposed example shown recently by the people of Kalabalge (or however spelt), which has nevertheless gone viral, if only because people wish it to be true. But whether true or not (and there are other such stories of vigilantes confronting the Islamic terrorists), it is hardly the way to run a country. And, after all, what choice do they have, even with their bows and arrows against armoured vehicles? Inevitably, the innocent will be slaughtered along with the guilty, even assuming we can separate one from the other, which we can’t, given the absence of the instruments of law that have been bastardised over five decades. But it is where we have ended up.
There are those who blame President Jonathan for our descent into anarchy and yearn instead for a ‘strong’ leader, or – even worse – the return of the military. Nobody would deny that Jonathan has been a complete disaster: weak, indecisive and clueless. But it is perhaps as well that he is all those things in order that we might understand the depths we have sunk to. A ‘strong’ leader would have simply allowed us to keep patching things over – witness Obasanjo’s wasteful eight-year tenure and his war crime against Odi in Jonathan’s own Bayelsa State - without tackling the underlying problem which has given rise to our current predicament.
This predicament – how we are to rule ourselves in a way which is inclusive of all Nigerian citizens – is currently being evaded by the latest talking shop, which pretends to an inclusiveness that was abrogated even before it began sitting. It is absurd to discuss the country’s future which is posited on continuing the current arrangement that has brought us to the present disaster in which 276 girls can be abducted and the entire resources of the Nigerian state are unable to rescue them, even as the president himself goes on television more than a fortnight afterwards to admit his own impotence.
This being so, the answer now lies in the example of Ezekwesili on the one hand, and the vigilantes on the other. That is to say, the state has become irrelevant to all but the tiny minority who leach from it, fit only for grandstanding, in the process making us a laughing stock in the eyes of the international community. In a nutshell, only we can rescue ourselves from the cesspit we now find ourselves in by the pitifully small cabal who lord it over us. That we do not do so is the reason why the US Senator John McCain said that he ‘wouldn’t be waiting for some kind of permission from some guy named Goodluck Jonathan’ to invade the joint, Goodluck himself having invited the cowboys to rescue him from himself.
©Adewale Maja-Pearce
A slightly different version of this piece originally appeared in Hallmark, 20 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. This is very incisive and thought-provoking. You have marshalled your point in grandiose rhetoric. I seriously hope your readers will understand this impassioned outrage.
    However, it is pertinent that we understand that a tree like Oby Ezekwesili cannot make a forest. Our collective consciousness as a people has met with benumbing deathness, to the degree that the masses themselves, out of sheer cretinism, have become more moronic and clueless than the rapists of our 'model' democracy. Not many Nigerians are willing to hearken to the great call of salvaging this country.
    During elections, the masses sell their future, their rights for a few pieces of silver to deadly criminals aspiring to political offices in Nigeria. We, the masses, have always been the architect of our problem.
    Do not pay any attention to high decibel diatribes vomitted by the Nigerian masses against Jonathan's seeming cluelessness, and to your credit, 'impotence'.
    In 2015, he will buy their conscience with the currently missing $20 billion.

    Emmanuel Ifediata writes from UNN.

  2. Pepper soup generals! Pls give credit to Alozie O, the former police PRO!(poor dude- he was hounded to death after he yabbed dem!) As for the remaining 165 million mumus, na suffering and smiling - Chief Priest