Looking For The Big Picture In Nigeria – Trouble
A conclave of elders – former heads of state living, lords spiritual and temporal, and all those admitted by existing protocol – after seven days and seven nights of praying and fasting requested that Obafemi Awolowo should be allowed to come back and join them in their deliberations on the future of Nigeria. They had come to the difficult conclusion that Corruption is not just a police man asking a commercial driver or a dubious private car owner for a bribe. Neither is it a civil servant awarding his contract (his ministry’s contract really) to himself. Nor is it relatives mophing into and becoming relathieves. Corruption is a system of power, and it has become the formal and legal political system in Nigeria.
Is this not the place that public promises went unfulfilled, public processes aborted because the outcome was against the criminal class, where phantom coups are announced to get rid of rivals and massive millions of the country’s oil earnings, all proclaiming a place where corruption reigns? What about fake drugs, baby factories, kidnapping dens and forests where human parts are available wholesale and retail? Is this not the place where we get lists of illness like this: typhoid, dysentery, diarrhoea, malaria, corruption, tuberculosis, river blindness etc? Let Awolowo come back!
But why him? Why not Murtala Muhammed who had died a penniless hero? Why not any of his contemporaries? The conclave has finally accepted that no politician had ever pursued a particularly radical social policy in the name of his political party for his particular constituency and achieved it with such incredible historic consequences. What about the civil war and managing the affairs of the country without pushing the country into debt over the small matter of disagreements? After all, the person who represented the disagreement did say that Awolowo was the best president that Nigeria never had. So, Awolowo come.
He could not come. The message from him was that Nigeria stood on a tripod. Right now one of those legs of the tripod was wobbly and damaged. Awolowo was holding up the damaged leg and he could not leave such a heavy responsibility. Nigeria rested on a tripod. What was the make-up of the tripod? Was it Awolowo, Sardauna and Azikiwe? Was it Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa? Was it majority, minority and Neuters? Or male, female and undecided genders? Was it Christian, Muslim and Adifas? Or civilian, military and Technocrats? Was it the judiciary, the Church/Mosque and the Media? Or cocoa, palm kernels and groundnuts? Was it Northern Region, Eastern Region and Western Region? Which of the legs was wobbly? Was it one particular leg or was it one leg at a time? Could there be a time when more than one leg would be wobbly at the same time? Who or what would hold up the country?
While the conclave mused on this several questions, each person present sniffed at the choice of the other as the person holding up the country and put his or her own person there. So, in the minds of those who were there praying and fasting, there was no agreement as to the most relevant figure in the history of the country. Where is the big picture into which all details fitted?
The big picture must be the talents of individual Nigerians. Talented individuals keep this country going as against collective endeavours. Individual talents keep succeeding while collective endeavours keep failing. That is the puzzle of the country. Think of the sports men and women who over the years have blazed the name of the country worldwide. Remember Hogan Kid Bassey, the boxer? And Thunder Balogun, the footballer who mesmerized the English football fans of the early fifties? What about Emmanuel Ifeajuna, the high jump specialist? The writers are too numerous to name including the first Nobel Prize for Literature laureate in Africa. Novelists, dramatists, poets and fabulists continue to amaze the world in various languages including English, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Arabic, name it, we have it.
And we have had the business tycoons, men and women who have made money in business buying and selling, wholesale and retail. We have had successful professionals like lawyers who plied their trade throughout the West African region and even beyond. We have had adventurers who have travelled in countries far and wide and have written of their experiences – Ajala travel all over the world! And the man who wrote “Oju mi ri ni India”. Recently we have had another Nigerian taking on the deserts of the continent. How can I forget our musicians? Our film makers, dream makers?
Put against these successes of individual talents the corruption and greed; the secrecy and the social injustice; the political incompetence and the administrative inertia with the poisonous stagnation of public life; the selling of the young by the old and the gridlock that is symptomatic of our neither forward nor backward sit down strike. How do we prevent our youth from losing hope in collective communal activism? How do we prevent scepticism from descending into cynicism? There is no doubt that most individual Nigerians do not despair of their individual possibility. Yet, they do know that that individual possibility is for ever short-changed by the failure of collective communal political activism. Those who have made it in Europe, in America, in Brazil and in China, in India and in Iran do not have two heads on their shoulders. Many of us have been in the same classes and workshops and seminars and courses with many and all of these people. We beat them.
But few of our politicians have been talented individuals freely seeking political power. Most of our politicians continually thank God that they did not know they could get as far as being head of state. They had not been talented power seekers, clear and focussed about what they would use political power for. As soon as elections are over , these same characters who have been begging voters for their votes declare that it was God or Allah or destiny that gave them power.
Yet, ordinary Nigerians, without leaders, without organisations have not lost their energy, their imagination, their passion or their individual talents. Ask any foreigner in Nigeria and they will tell you the magic mix that keeps these people above the waves.