Tip of a New Dawn

December 7, 2016

Nigerians, happy, loyal, slaves

Nigerians, happy, loyal, slaves

President Buhari

By Tabia Princewill 
“You are saved”, cried Captain Delano, more and more astonished and pained; “you are saved: what has cast such a shadow upon you
?”—Herman Melville, Benito Cereno

Quote is from a novella, Benito Cereno, by Herman Melville, an American novelist. It tells the story of a revolt aboard a Spanish slave ship. Its captain, Benito Cereno, is forced by his ex-captives to pretend that all is well on board when the vessel is discovered by Captain Delano after a storm. Delano wonders why Cereno and his crew, whom he has just rescued from potential shipwreck, act so awkwardly and nervously around the slaves who paradoxically show little or no respect for their authority.

The strange ambiance on the ship gives way to many questions (of which the one highlighted above) which eventually leads Captain Delano to guess that an uprising occurred and that the slaves are now the masters. Like Delano, the uninformed observer of Nigerian politics could wonder why some Nigerians are so unhappy with Buhari whom many saw as their champion, their saviour. He was to free them from the economic servitude enacted by corruption.

The “shadow” Delano sees towering over Benito Cereno and his crew, is the realisation that all their certitudes regarding the world and the way it works (or ought to work) are wrong. Indeed, Benito and his crew could never have imagined that one day slaves would revolt, the idea goes against everything white supremacy engineers. Delano himself cannot imagine the possibility of the slaves’ revolt as an explanation for the crew’s odd behaviour because he has been conditioned to believe that black people are naturally subservient and docile.

In a perverse way, Delano, like many Nigerian politicians, believes that some are born to serve others, to die in poverty and bondage, to accept indignity and injustice while others simply rule over them, enjoying benefits which aren’t shared. Beyond rhetoric, Nigerians want to see the “shadow” of such beliefs (which still inform politicians’ behaviour), abolished for good. When Delano discovers the slaves’ rebellion, he is motivated by fear of the possibilities this introduces (what if all slaves revolt?) to recapture the ship and sell the slaves for his own profit. He seeks comfort in the return to “order” which he orchestrates, denying to himself the slaves’ terrible fate.

Is there a part of Buhari which has given up on fighting corruption, or at least, on fighting it the way Nigerians wanted it, through punishment? The belief in Buhari was (and still is) the belief that someone can fix Nigeria by bringing justice for the common man. If he can’t do it, who can? Recovering loot isn’t enough of a deterrent to future criminals if there isn’t any punishment.



I hope the Delanos of this world haven’t got to Buhari. Those men and women who justify evil as “the way things are”, simply for their own financial gain. These people see Nigerians as “happy, loyal, slaves” (to paraphrase Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison’s description of the “gratefulness” and innate subservience falsely ascribed to poor blacks, as seen by white people). Such people are satisfied with the illusion of a fight against corruption and the appearance of pro-people governance while seeking to self-perpetuate their kind in power. Buhari must free himself from such people. One day the slaves will revolt. Perhaps not with their fists but with their votes.

Ralph Ellison, author of “Invisible man”, a story about a man whose skin colour (he is Black) means he is invisible to the white establishment, starts off his novel with the quote we’ve been discussing. His novel describes the same enmity between the powerless and the powerful which is at play here in Nigeria where money replaces race as the one factor which decides all individual outcomes. “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me,” he writes. It’s a terrible thing for both the slave and the master when the slave questions just what exactly serfdom means.

Many Nigerians believed Buhari would usher in a new Nigeria, one where opportunity was based on talent, not nepotism, where the best and the brightest among us would finally be rewarded rather than passed over in favour of those better connected. If we are ever to have such a society, we need to see people jailed, convicted for corruption, otherwise we cannot be serious about this dream. The task is daunting but not impossible. It still isn’t too late for Buhari to distance himself from those who only see Nigerians as “happy, loyal, slaves”, people whom they can feed all manner of lies without any consequences. But we the people must also prove ourselves worthy of such a dream, by pushing for it and insisting that we get it.

Nigeria has so much to offer: if only the right men and women made it into positions of authority, where they could do their best for all Nigerians, irrespective of religion or tribe. In that sense, I agree with the Vice-President, Professor Osinbajo who says that Nigeria cannot progress till appointments are made based on merit rather than quotas. I’ve said so many a time in this column. There are Nigerians out there who are ready to work hard for this country, to deliver on the promises of equity and fairness which all Nigerians dream of. Why is it so hard to find them in the corridors of power? We must stop giving the excuse that the “Captain Delanos” of this world won’t allow them in and using this as an excuse to not get involved.

The “happy, loyal, slave” is one who sees himself as defeated before he even tries to get anything done. Will we, can we, find the courage to refuse corruption, to refuse to bow to powerful men and women who do next to nothing for us? Change comes with a hefty price: hard work. If we can sacrifice and abandon our own greed, then a Nigeria we can all be proud of is surely within our reach.

Lawmakers’ qualifications

INEC recently listed the number of Federal lawmakers (45) with only O’levels as their highest qualifications. If this lack of further education was compensated by real business experience, that is, businesses which these men and women could have started without the help of government or allegations of corruption, then their lack of qualifications wouldn’t be so important. However, this isn’t the case. It explains why so little policy and real discussion comes out of the National Assembly.

Government in this country often ridicules education (e.g. through non-payment of teachers’ salaries). But there is a reason why in other climes, education is not just a fundamental right, but a necessity to gain access to certain positions. With complex policy decisions at play, exposure, critical thinking, the ability to think creatively, are more than necessary. Unfortunately, one hasn’t gained enough of these skills when leaving school at 15 or 16.

No wonder then, that year in, year out, development for the masses remains elusive if those meant to guide such decisions or perform oversight duties, don’t always have a full grasp or understanding of the issues. What a tragedy.

Who is sabotaging the change train?

The Emir of Borgu Kingdom, Mohammadu Sani Dantoro Kitoro IV recently said that those guilty of corruption in Nigeria are also guilty of attempting to portray Buhari and his government in a bad light by sabotaging their efforts. He gave the example of rich Nigerians buying up grain and other food items (using, of course, stolen resources) to enable artificial scarcity to give the impression that Buhari’s handling of the economy is responsible for hunger in the land.

As we know, corruption is fighting back.  He asked, “What do you want the government to do in such scenario?” The answer is simple. Buhari must punish those responsible for all forms of economic sabotage. To be sure, that would be his easiest means of winning an election in 2019.