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Of nostalgia and punishing reality

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
I was born in September 1960, the last month of colonial rule in our country. I am, therefore, a typical son of an independent Nigeria.

One of my earliest recollections of a national political event was the coup d’etat of 1966. I have always wondered just why those tragic events have been etched on my memories forever. I think it was during the month of Ramadan with the piety and somberness which normally surround the month.

But children would ever be children; we were playing in groups in our compound when my late uncle and Qur’anic teacher, Ahmadu, ordered everybody to abandon whatever we were doing and return to the more assured surroundings of the houses.

Didn’t you kids know that they have killed the Sardauna in Kaduna? Oh, you don’t even know that our protective shield was broken?

Words to that effect! Of course we scampered away in different directions, wondering why we would not be allowed to play! I have never forgotten that moment and can see in my mind’s eye as I write these lines the sad outline of my late uncle’s face.

Those were truly difficult moments in Nigerian history, what with the counter-coup; the killings of Igbo people in many parts of the North and the mass movement of people in different directions that culminated in the civil war.

But there were the remarkable efforts at expanding access to education, including the daily meals that kept a lot of children in school.

Things were at best rudimentary but they seemed to work, almost like clockwork: hospitals functioned, including veterinary services for animals all over Northern Nigeria and up to the 1970s those services were free. As we grew into teenage and young adults, the sky was not even the limit of what was achievable for members of my generation.

The intellectual ferment of the world of the late 20th Century influenced us a great deal and who would not flower in the context of the rich intellectual traditions that seemed to be eternally at our disposal?

I recall the traditions of Islamic scholarship that was the heritage of my forefathers and which we were richly grounded in at home and the settings of Ilorin; there were the modern wonders of scientific thought; the Western traditions of philosophy and political philosophies along with the emergence of socialism and the African liberation movements.

We consumed books, richly debated possibilities of national liberation and independent development of our national productive forces and we became part of a worldwide movement of struggle and solidarity.

But that seemed a long time ago in a different Nigeria! Hindsight can be very satisfactory and almost romantic. When the present is as difficult as it has become in our country, the consciousness seems to long even more for a romanticized version of the past.

As the pre-Socratic Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus famously said: “No man ever steps in the same river twice” because “ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers”. He added further that “all entities move and nothing remains still”.

So it became with our beloved country. Change came; but it was not always positive and on an incremental basis, it seemed to have been largely bad for most of our people. And today, “most of our people” are young!

Life expectancy of 52 years

According to a most often-quoted statistical data, 70 per cent of the population today is under the age of thirty. There is an ironic sense in which I can even add that I have become a very old man, since the Nigerian life expectancy is 52 years, my age and that of our country!

If the population is so overwhelmingly young, it means that public policy must directly address the worries, needs and aspirations of the young.

But the disconnect between the ruling elite and this mass of young people is underlined by the fact that the “youth leader” of the ruling PDP is a man of 65 years! Those who rule us are a joke, when they are not plainly stealing the nation into a crisis!

It is certainly a new Nigeria and nothing can underline the poignancy of the new times, than a presidential celebration of Nigeria’s 52nd Independence Anniversary away from the Nigerian people, under the protective surroundings of the Aso Rock Villa.

It was more comical to see the Nigerian president in the full ceremonial uniform of the armed forces’ Commander-in-Chief! The alienation from the Nigerian people is complete and those who claim to have won their mandate to rule the country handsomely are now scampering under rocks to celebrate away from their people.

The new times are a mix of the anarchic; the cynical and even the suicidal; but they are also pregnant with possibilities for liberation, change and development. Which of the various tendencies dominates the subjective factor of intervention by social forces.

If we can somehow build national platforms of liberation, and overcome the tendencies towards the dismemberment of our country, which remains the longings of certain elite groups, especially in Southern Nigeria, I have no doubts in my mind that the more positive possibilities can triumph.

As Malam Abba Kyari noted in his Independence Day essay for Thisday newspaper, Nigeria matters and its patriots must appreciate that we owe duties to Nigeria, West Africa and the African continent to work assiduously for the change which the Nigerian people yearn for and truly deserve.

Those who belong to my generation can indulge on strolls on the shores of hindsight and somehow find ways to romanticize their past. And things seemed to have been incredibly different from the Hobbesian jungle we all inhabit today.

The younger people today did not experience those times we speak so fondly of; they have grown in the wombs of the violence and corruption of military dictatorship and have come into adulthood in the ambience of the corruption and irresponsibility which have characterized the past 13 years of civil rule in our country.

The responses of the younger population are mainly cynical: armed robbery, kidnappings for ransom, yahoo-yahoo crimes and the ideologically driven violence of Boko Haram, amongst others; and the rate we are going, things can even get worse!

Those cocooned in their false lives of unearned privileges are deaf to entreaties to change their ways, but willy-nilly, things will have to change in this land. I see no other way!

Now we will buy electricity from Otedola & co

LAST week the Nigerian state announced the decision to sell the nation’s power plants to groups of Nigerian and foreign capitalist firms in pursuit of the unconstitutional, anti-people process of privatization. Stripped of subterfuge, Femi Otedola, Obasanjo’s TRANSCORP & co. will soon be selling us electricity, just as they sell us diesel and other products.

Nigeria is being systematically unbundled and sold to our fraudulent bourgeoisie. The various companies buying up the power systems are: Transcorp- Ughelli Thermal Power Plant for $300m; Amperion Consortium- Geregu Power Plant for $132m; CMEC/Eurafric- Sapele Thermal Plant for $201m; Mainstream Energy Solutions Limited- Kainji Hydro Plant for $50.76m as yearly rental fee; North-South Power CompanyLimited- Shiroro Hydropower Plant: $23.6m annual rental fee for a 15-year concession.

Chapter II of the Constitution (the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy) is its most important section. Section 16 (2) (c) specifically says that “the state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group”. Yet since 1999, a succession of PDP regimes has been selling our country to just a handful of “government-approved billionaires”; they get richer as the poor get poorer and despair takes over the land.

It was this unending “unbundling and sale” of Nigeria’s national assets which alarmed Anthony Cardinal Olubumi Okogie sufficiently enough last week to issue a statement about the corruption of privatization and unacceptable sale of national assets to a handful of billionaires.

Policy failure

The same government came out a few months ago to declare that privatization efforts of the past couple of years have been a failure; but entrapped in the mindset that only the ‘private sector’ can lead development, they have persisted with the same policies they have declared a failure.

Nigeria’s assets must be sold to themselves and their friends; and the laughable aspect is when the ultra-reactionary Atedo Peterside, chairman of the National Council on Privatization, NCP, played up the “integrity of the process”. They “transparently” sell our national assets and we are expected to applaud their very “patriotic” effort! The fundamental philosophy of our crony capitalism is to institute a process which hands over the country to a handful of billionaires. The assumption underlying that is that they will somehow then develop the country; create jobs; and there will be trickle down to the Nigerian people.

It is baloney because it has not and cannot work. Capitalism is without doubt the most revolutionary socio-economic formation in history; it transformed the productive forces of society. Its Nigerian variant has been a disaster aiding and feathering a very corrupt national ethos that has compromised everything in our country.

The people are left behind and in their despair they are fighting back, anyhow! They are scared stiff of Boko Haram now, but they are sowing the seeds of crises far worse! The poor will soon have nothing else to eat but the rich, presently sharing Nigeria amongst themselves; mark my words!


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