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Nigeria: Revolution in the air

By Obi Nwakanma

Students of the history of nations are bound to agree that Nigeria has entered a stage or what I call the demonic phase of postcoloniality which demands from us a critical scrutiny. I have been tracing out in an on-going work, a theory of the postcolonial nation using the catastrophe model.

I theorize in this work that postcolonialism is a phase of world history that can only be fully comprehended within the category of catastrophe and hysteresis. Thom’s Catastrophe theory offers us a productive way of understanding this phase of post-imperialism and its reflections in the instability of the last nations to emerge from modernity.

These nations are often elliptical and ambivalent; existing at the cusps or the umbilic of nation-time. It is the ellipsis that produces conditions of disequilibrium within their dynamical systems. Here is no place of course to elaborate on this theory but it is important to reflect on Nigeria and the butterfly effect of two signal moments of its history: the civil war and the military coups.

These moments created a bifurcation in the vision of the nation and ruptured its possibility as an organic, infinite and parabolic form. To now put it simply, it is the aspect of this bifurcation, clearly created as the reality of Nigeria that Colonel Moumar Ghadaffi of Libya sees and for which he has suggested this past week in a well publicized statement to divide Nigeria into two nations; North and South; Christian and Islamic.

There is a critical bifurcation already clear to Ghadaffi in his interpretation of Nigeria. In his statement, the partitioning of India and Pakistan was a “radical act” by the departing British which he said saved many innocent lives from what would have been perennial acts of violence, the kind we’ve seen in Nigeria. Ghadaffi’s statement has roused a very loud protest especially among the ranks of Nigeria’s proto-nationalists.

It has also elicited an official action by the Federal Government which quickly asked Libya to recall her Ambassador to Nigeria. In other words, the rulers of this “bifurcated” nation have taken Ghadaffi’s statement with a lot of anger and seriousness. David Mark has called him “mad.”

Some have in fact not without some justification, suggested that Libya, like many of countries in Africa are desirous of the break-up of “big-for-nothing” Nigeria in order for more serious countries to assume a more serious leadership of the continent. Not that Nigeria in its current state matters anyhow. Currently, only the rulers of Nigeria still believe that fiction about being the giant of Africa.

Among Nigeria’s claims of being a great African nation has been its contribution to peace-keeping forces everywhere in the continent, even if there is not much peace in its own space, and pumping gazillions of oil to feed the appetite and lust of more serious and productive nations. It has never been on the quality of life index of its population.

Even though it produces oil, Nigeria is always suffering energy crisis. It is a country full of complications. Poverty riding in gilded carriages; rampant disease of the mind and of the body, and rising disorder that might make the situation in Somalia in comparison seem something more like a school yard scuffle.

Nigeria is a true study in contradictions: the ways in which it is seen by two clearly and radically differentiated categories of its citizens is equally crucial. An overwhelming number of Nigerians today may side with Ghadaffi if he brings in an army to divide Nigeria and create two separate states. This is both dangerous and possible and it is important that we understand this question, of why Nigerians have become utterly disdainful of the possibility of Nigeria as an organic and wholly constituted nation. The reason is not too far out: it is that Nigerians have been subjected to a condition so terrifying by a very blind and greedy ruling class that no one outside of this class now believes or is in fact willing to believe in the nation as an indivisible and spiritual union. The killings in Jos only highlight the contradiction.

But the truth is also quite depressing: poor Nigerians are frequently armed to kill themselves while the “rulers” send their families to the safety of foreign, but more stable nations. Nigerians have lost hope in the capacity of the civic order to create or recreate society. Nigerians have dreamt about some knight in a white-horse riding through the mist to save the nation.

They have also almost always watched flatulent elite pontificate abstract solutions to the basic questions of existence.  The detonation of a bomb this week during the Vanguard Newspaper’s Post-Amnesty conference in Warri is dastardly. But it does reflect the rising mood of discontent and even skepticism about these “elite” forms of dialogue.

As I see it, the Warri situation is a clear indication of something in the air. It is an uncomfortable truth: the revolution has started in Nigeria. Every sign indicates that the formal national government has become incapable of containing the centrifugal forces at play, possibly because these forces are far too diffuse and far too elaborate for the resources of the nation.

The government has lost control of the nation, and across the country, armed militant groups are daring the state, burrowing into its structures, and weakening its capacity to exert oversight and create containment. The only means of containment clearly is to re-civilize the population through the distractions of jobs, families, leisure, debt, ambition, education, and other lawful pursuits; but the Nigerian population has grown far too weary and skeptical and has entered the stage of hysteresis and unpredictability.

The capacity of the state to deploy a coherent force, maintain surveillance, establish control of the dynamic system and re-establish structural stability is thus in jeopardy. The revolution has started in Nigeria, and historians will someday ask whether the first shot was the massacre in Jos or the car bombs in Warri. But it is only a matter of time before the streets become the staging grounds of discontent that has been growing and that will explode inexorably. But while we are at it: it is important to point out that a revolution without a clear-minded revolutionary vanguard leaves only anomie in its trail.

This thus is a warning that Nigerians must be wary of what they have prayed for, because every revolutionary or radical moment is much like a double-edged sword which cuts blindly and doubly.

I hear the anguished cry of the poet, Okigbo again, rising through time: “O mother, mother earth/ unbind me/ let this be the ram’s hidden wish to the tether.” There is no doubt about it: the clouds have fully gathered, and if the chatter one hears is true, the revolution is in the air. It is up in the air.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.