Let me say that my greatest anger with Nigeria is that it wasted my youth. And I saw the best minds of my generation, to make a riff of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, destroyed, driven mad and into internal and external exile, by a mindless lootocracy of military Generals and politicians, and their handful of recruits who have managed to recycle themselves over and over in Nigeria since the end of the last civil war.
In the annals of this nation, Nigeria basically came to an end in 1967, and has been living on half-pumps. It has tried all cosmetic things to cover the deep wounds of its history, but it has not reconciled itself to itself, nor has it truthfully re-established the nation as a historical imperative.
What Nigeria has become since January 1970 when the last civil war was said to have ended is indescribable. The least that can be said is that this nation became a Faustian space; a frontier of greed and looting, the result of sudden wealth from oil that drove everyone mad. We have inherited a Mephistophelean nation. It is the fit subject of a play – a great epic tragedy, in which no one escapes.
As Ibrahim Babangida, one of the major actors on that theatre of history feels the approach of the end of his mortality, he must wonder what it was all about – all that power to menace; to play God. The greatest gift providence offers to any living person is to afford them the chance by any means to affect and impact on the lives of people whom chance gave them the opportunity to serve. Such individuals choose their spot in history, consciously or unconsciously. Let me say now, that the annulment of the June 12 elections will not go down as the greatest basis on which Babangida would be estimated and judged, and confined either to the rubbish bins or to the pantheons of immortality.
It will be by the entire detail of his work particularly as political leader of Nigeria from August 1985 to August 1993. No one reads Chidi Amuta’s Prince of the Niger for a reason. It is hagiography. Mr. Babangida certainly has a high sense of history, and does certainly worry about his place. This is probably why last week he said in lament that he feels constrained about writing his autobiography because, “no one will read it,” and his lament that Nigerians have not been considerate or kind to “those who fought to keep the unity of Nigeria.”
Babangida has often talked about the unity of Nigeria as if “unity” is in itself an abstraction. The late Odumegwu-Ojukwu in fact did once suggest that unity must not be for some, the situation of Jonah in the belly of the fish. Otherwise it is pointless. The unity of Nigeria has not been beneficial to majority of Nigerians. This is why today, Nigeria disdains those who “fought for its unity.” The great symbol of Nigerian unity and nation-building, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe is now relegated to some kind of middling footnote in the trinity we have long invented as the founding tripod of Nigeria.
The great regionalists and ethnic nationalist leaders, are now the great heroes of Nigerian people. Why? Because Azikiwe’s nationalist project and vision failed. It is said to have failed because it was constructed on a lie – the lie that “unity” is a primary historical and material condition rather than a state of mind. But at least Azikiwe could be forgiven for idealism. Those who came after him were not builders of “national unity,” they were always cynical and greedy.
The condition for unity for them was that they and their inheritors alone must decide how to kill and divide the carcass of the great elephant called Nigeria, while the rest of us are quarantined, and if we make a little noise about injustice, attacked and sometimes killed for speaking out against the treachery of political leadership. That is the legacy Babangida leaves behind: the legacy of cynicism and repression that has created a profoundly alienated people who no longer believe in the unity of Nigeria, or that Nigeria has meaning for them, and who are so cynical about Nigeria that they prefer to die in the deserts in their bid to flee from Nigeria in their thousands.
It is like calling Buhari a “nationalist” leader promoting, “national unity.” It would be a cynical, and terribly insulting description for a man who now is so clearly out of touch with Nigeria, and who clearly had no conception of the meaning of Nigeria as a historical imperative, because afterall, the narrative that shaped Buhari’s enduring consciousness was not the narrative or philosophy of the anti-colonial nationalist movement. It was the protectionist mindset and nativist isolationism that viewed nationalist integration and ideology as a form of cultural conquest. During the last elections, Mr. Buhari was trolled out and marketed to Nigerians as the great solution to Nigeria’s problems – to end insecurity and the scourge of Boko Haram. Jonathan’s critics were suggesting that his administration had adopted kid-glove tactics against Boko Haram.
Buhari was marketed as the anti-corruption saint who would end corruption, bureaucratic entitlement, official mendacity; medical tourism, and other unearned privileges. Nigerians should now be the judge on whether the sound of the kolanut is the same as it tastes in the mouth! He was trucked out to London by Amaechi, Oshiomhole, Fayemi and Tinubu, to meet “the three jackals” – Brown, Blair and Major – to back him against Jonathan in 2015. Buhari returned from that trip, particularly after the Chatham House event, a new man. It is almost as if every time he goes to London, Buhari returns with a new baggage. Somehow, whenever Mr. Buhari gets to London, he also finds the mettle to insult Nigerians.
Last week, he was at the Commonwealth Economic Forum and he reported to his friends and mentors at the Commonwealth, that part of Nigeria’s problem is that most of Nigeria’s youths are lazy. They feel entitled, Mr. Buhari said, because they think Nigeria as an oil producing nation is rich, and must offer them free everything. They do not go to school. They do not work. They just simply laze around waiting for government to solve all their problems. This is quite new. Of all the things that could be said of Nigerian youths, laziness is just simply the most outlandish. These young men and women known around the world for their fervent innovative spirit. Truth is, Nigeria has a young population, which as Buhari quite correctly said, constituted about 60% of Nigeria’s population.
No one has offered them work and they have refused to work. The general cry in Nigeria is the cry of systematic unemployment and underemployment.
I have young men and women, relations, who have all gone to tertiary schools – none on any government scholarship or subsidy. Heroic young folk all of them: one who trained as a Mechanical Engineer, tried his hand in bakery, quit that and apprenticed himself to a plumber, and now runs his own small plumbing business; another, with a Masters degree in Economics, tried his hand in tourism in Abuja but returned to Imo State trying now to build up a small farm with his young bride, a young woman, who trained as an Architect, and has apprenticed herself to a carpenter to learn carpentry because her school, a Federal Polytechnic where she studied Architecture had no Architectural Carpentry workshop; and she’s today trying to set up business designing and producing her own furniture; another, took to photography, hustles up a few gigs with newspapers to whom he pitches his work, and some from social events which he covers, while still studying Mass Communication; another with a degree in Sociology hustling to build up a small transport and logistics business in the cut-throat environment where he has little capital with his young wife too, who with a PhD in Education is still employed as a part-time teacher; another with a good uppers degree in Physics from FUTO, who once told me, “with the right tools, I know how to redirect the global satellite system from the privacy of my room,” or my little sister, who after an English degree at Nsukka has repurposed herself into a Fashion designer and is working with difficulty to establish her own Fashion design and production studio. These are young people in their early to mid-thirties; the oldest among whom is 40 years.
Any nation will be proud and lucky to have these young men and women. These are my heroes – resilient and determined. These are the people, and there is a multitude of them in Nigeria, whom President Buhari has called “Lazy Nigerian youth.” These are no lazy people. These are the people Nigeria has failed under the leadership of President Buhari and others like him who have recycled themselves into power because they acquired the entire resource of nation for themselves and their families.
These “youth” have never had constant electricity since they were born in Nigeria; they have had no clean water; no decent public housing that would allow them to begin life decently as “youth,” no entitlement programs; no student loans; no access to credit and loans to build their businesses; no jobs; no benefits from the oil that Buhari talks about. We don’t have lazy Nigerian youth: we have lazy, entitled old men who have razed the foundation of the nationalist hope that should have built Nigeria.