By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL BEGINS TODAY
Chinue Achebe and Wole Soyinka as prophets? Yes, they are, as the case may be. And they remain the best to prophesy what Nigeria is today. Who is saying this?
Our erudite Dr. Ugoji Egbujo is saying so strongly in our special Independence Day Anniversary Report. Nigeria will be 58 on Monday. We begin our special package today with a piece brilliantly scripted by Dr. Egbujo, a master of prose and satire.
It’s the story of Nigeria as foretold in two characters Achebe and Soyinka captured in their books, A man of the People and The trials of Brother Jero respectively. We opted for a different way to serve you this weekend’s delight. Enjoy it – Onochie Anibeze
We are 58. We played as toddlers under the moonlights of the third world with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. We were weaned off colonial breasts about the same time although Indonesia’s was earlier. We had similar family backgrounds. Everyone said we would be greater than them. We started off better. But we can only look at them now with envy. Neighbors look at them and look at us and shake their heads.
There is nothing to celebrate
We have lived near the river and washed out hands with spittle. We know that if a child washes his hands he could eat with kings. But the world does not mock us today because we failed to punch above our weight. We have held the world spell bound with our baffling prodigality. We once thought we were held down by the scavenging white colonialists. But it’s unlikely they would have allowed us have the highest number of chronically malnourished and out of school children in the world. We let our infants die because we cannot fund immunization programs. But we spend much more organizing political jamborees and bribing party delegates.
What are we celebrating?
We feed the brothels in Italy with the cream of our youths. Daughters sell themselves in foreign lands to feed their fathers. It was once said that Nigerians were too smart to be suicide bombers. Not anymore. Abdulmuttallab cleared our doubts. But we are now in the same league as Afghanistan and Iraq. We once asked Ghanaians to leave. Today the world watches thousands of our young people perish in distant seas fleeing the wretchedness of their blessed fatherland on precarious rafts.
We took our freedom but our rot ,like that of the bean seed, is within. A child that is destined to get lost would get lost in the middle of his mother’s cocoyam farm. We were brimming with human and natural resources. We had everything. Everything, except foresighted leadership. We sit on so much oil but we can light up our way out of penury. The average daily power output has been between 3000- 4000 megawatts since the last 15 years.
When power was privatized it was put into the pockets of cronies who have neither the capacity nor the temperament for businesses that have long incubation periods and require hard work. They couldn’t even come with meters. And the government stares helplessly, bound hands and feet by the contracts signed by those that came before it. But why does a man without testicles promise his in-laws instant triplets? Why does the government make promises about power and industrialization?
Our prophets are dead and dying
The nation gropes and flounders. Its seers sleep and hallucinate, and see like children. It was Chinua Achebe who in 1966 gave us a truly prophetic piece – ‘A man of the people’. That was when our prophets told us substantial things, before they happened. Not these latter-day guesses by men , self appointed oracles, who cant tell more than the coming of seasonal floods. Achebe foresaw the coup and the counter coup of 1966.
The Bible told us to beware of men who walk about in long robes and love to be greeted in market squares, and who crave the front seats in the synagogues and village feasts. The bible warned us about them. They have proliferated. I see them everywhere. I see them in government houses and parliaments. I see them in the houses of God. They take for today and accumulate for their generations yet unborn.
They know we need a national census . Without it we can only plan like the blind. But they have made accurate census impossible. They have pitted the poor against the poor. They have infused them with paranoia. So at 58 we have never managed a simple honest head count. They wont preach birth control. Because they are essentially rent seekers whose bargain rise when the number of those they have in political captivity soar.
Our population is left to grow at a suicidal rates. They care only about their bank accounts and their statuses not about their place in history. It doesn’t matter to them whether the population is permanently deformed by illiteracy, disease and poverty. It’s enough that they can exploit them. They are not bothered about their joblessness.
Achebe’s Chief Nanga seemed a caricature of the Nigerian politician. After all he cornered contracts and built big houses. The white colonialists whom they had replaced had similar disdain for the people but exploited them not for their wives and children but for the Queen and her kingdom. There was a bit of patriotism in white man’s evil. Chief Nanga and his descendants apparently didn’t take note of that.
Chief Nanga was greedy and debauched. He slept with people’s wives. He hired thugs and beat up his political opponents. He was born wretched and lowly. When he got into public office in the capital he didn’t spare the treasury. He filled his pockets to overflowing. He manipulated and enticed voters with whimsical tokenist gifts of public infrastructure. He was a pseudo philanthropist. He was a minister of culture who didn’t know the name of the authors in his country. He sold his selfish interests to the people as public interests.
But Chief Nanga could very well be a saint today.
Every constituency now has a number of established and highly regarded Chief Nangas. They are called grassroots politicians. The proliferation and democratization of the Nanga phenomenon has helped the normalization of corruption in the society. A respected polygamous senator was found in a seedy hotel in an active threesome with female university students, a few months ago. The girls must have thought they could create a scandal by leaking the secret recording. The big senator and a cynical public brushed the episode aside.
Chief Nanga in all his greatness must be a lilliputian before a certain revered retired General. He was born poor, he became head of state, and looted public treasury and public morality. But rather than become an outcast, he is a political Pope today. He is consulted like an oracle, with reverence and supplications.
Nigeria has been indolent but it has produced many of such political popes. Their papacies have been sustained by rabid ethnicity and sectionalism by the sentimental poor , and the criminal espirit de corps of the roguish elite.
There is this other sophisticated woman. She bettered the men. She received a training that should have circumcised her mind. But when she was catapulted to high public office, she stole money from her domain and bribed electoral officers. When her party lost the election she remembered she had been ill. And ran to London for medical treatment. She must be living in luxury in London today. She has been forgotten. We used to go with crates to find those who emptied our treasury and sought refuge in London.
We are no longer capable of such moral anger. When she returns she would return to a heroine’s welcome. Her supporters will throng the airport in their bright and colorful ‘asoebis’. Drums and dancers will complete the repertoire. She would tell them she suffered political persecution because of them. She would promise to continue her fight against injustice , poverty and discrimination against women.
Chief Nanga, evidently, no longer captures sufficiently the fullness of the duplicity of the modern day Nigerian politician.
Achebe had not imagined he would reject a national honor before he died. But he watched a certain all-knowing president grow beyond the frivolities and self indulgences of a chief Nanga. This father of the nation literally handed over Achebe’s Anambra state to political miscreants. They attempted to kidnap a sitting governor . They desecrated the state capital. Achebe’s heart was broken.
Yes many nations went through teething problems at infancy. But we have remained infantile at 58. Whole villages are wiped out and our leaders waffle. Chief Nanga was depraved. He could have organized a hit on a political opponent. But he couldn’t have allowed killer herdsmen and bandits wipe out whole villages without a matching deterrent response. Our leaders come with debilitating handicaps.
When we come by money we spend in a hurry. We have lived like drunken tourists. Our economy is a house built on sinking sand. Last year the federal government received 1.1 trillion naira from oil. But we spent 1.8 trillion paying federal workers and their indolence. Most of what we get from oil we lavish on maintaining an opaque petrol subsidy. Last year we practically borrowed to service debts, to pay creditors, and we didn’t feel dizziness.
The Chief Nangas on the sidelines, in opposition, remind us daily that we are now the poverty capital of the world. But that headquarters, like Rome, was neither built in a day nor in three years. It was built by the great greed and malignant kleptocracy of generations of political messiahs. And when you look into the bleating opposition you suffer an irregular heart rhythm.
Achebe’s Nanga didn’t keep Swiss accounts. But 20 years after the death of one of sanctimonious heads of state we are still repatriating what he siphoned into rat holes abroad. Yet his name adorns monuments in Kano. Today’s Nangas steal insanely, without imagination.
Chief Nanga didn’t falsify election results. He didn’t preach religious disunity. He didn’t incite one ethnic group against another. Nanga loved pomp and drama. And frivolity. Yet he seemed such an outlandish character. Achebe saw the future. But he couldn’t have foreseen a man who has been a legislator literally all his life having close to a hundred houses scattered all over the world.
Chief Nanga had a brief encounter with colonialists. He saw them treat the people with contempt and plunder the colony for the queen. Chief Nanga could be excused. Chief Nanga didn’t see Dubai and its transformation. Today’s politicians knew when Dubai was a mere fishing post. They now go there to have a foretaste of heaven. But they are not convicted by the purposefulness of the Emirati leaders. It’s possible the Dubai and perhaps Rwanda of 2018 would have made Chief Nanga a little sober.
Independence truly handed us over to repressive internal colonialism
We used to have white missionaries. They came with bibles . They witnessed the plunder. They facilitated our submission. But they must be credited with self sacrifice. At the individual level they led lives that could be emulated. They built schools the poor attended. Today we have pastors who live more lasciviously than the dissolute Chief Nanga. They could have been less harmful if they stopped at watering down the gospel and worshipping money. But they mount the pulpit to fan embers of disunity. They see antichrists everywhere they see political opponents from another religion. They no longer aspire to be vessels unto honor. They are content with rousing the rabble and stoking fires with reckless divisive religious conspiracy theories. The white missionaries were self effacing. And preached peace. Such missionary work now seems outdated. The church leadership is now filled with pompous people committed to self aggrandizement and exhibitionism. And lately, bigotry.
We can celebrate the mercies of God. We have hit the self destruct button many times.
Chief Nanga was prodigal but he didnt move around with so much bitterness. He was given to merriment. Our politicians of today do nude parties and do incendiary sermons on television. How they manage apparent fastidious religiosity with closet wanton financial promiscuity is baffling. Some who preached sharia forever and issued fatwas were later discovered by the EFCC to be common rogues.
Our leaders, spiritual and temporal , took all the bad habits that could be found in the colonial master but left him to depart with his virtues.
The government that Nanga served refused to implement austerity measures even when cocoa, the main national export commodity, prices fell. It was more concerned with winning elections. But Nanga and his peers didn’
t earn the billions of dollars we earned in the recent past . They stole but they left enough to pay workers. Now our public servants fast and pray but do not get paid . And pensioners are treated with contempt. A sitting governor who claims genius once asked his pensioners to sign off a part of their accumulated pension arrears. Nanga in all his stupidity tried to please the people. Demagoguery has become a doctrine. Nanga was a demagogue too. But the demagoguery of Nanga and that of today are as dissimilar as the bulky Cadillacs of Nanga days and the aerodynamic jets are the toys of today’s Nangas. Nanga’s demagoguery was a little innocent. The design of a cunning mind. Today’s people’s demagoguery is sinister. The design of savagery. The naked pandering to religious and ethnic bigotry.
Chief Nanga spoke the language of the people. Though he used to be a primary school teacher, he mocked intellectuals. And the people counted it to him for political righteousness. Today’s Nangas only identify with the rural poor by occasionally eating before cameras in roadside ‘bukkas’. Bill Gates and Jimmy Carter come when they can to help them.
Nigeria has been independent for 58 years. And while the world has waited for the revelation of a wakanda , Nigeria has teetered on the brink of becoming another Rwanda. The Rwanda of 1984 to be precise. Because even Rwanda has learnt its lessons and forged ahead with the wisdom that only a brutal experience can teach. Nigeria had a similar experience but learnt nothing. So while Rwanda dreads ethnic fires, Nigeria has been taken over by pyromaniacs.
Not long ago we were told that without a sovereign national conference and political restructuring of the federation we would perish. But today those who preached that sermon fervently now earnestly tell us that we only need to restructure our minds. And these backslidden evangelists of sovereign national conference include the most intelligent and the holiest men in the land. They could be right. But they ought to tell us what power actually does to the mind.
Chief Nanga would admit he played a little too much. But during his time we had the best hospitals and universities in Africa. But now at 58, we borrow to send our children to universities in Ghana. And when we are sick we run to India.
Wole Soyinka is old now. He gave us Brother Jero when he was 26. Those days our youths weren’t lazy. In the ‘trials of brother Jero’ our leaders were revealed in their true colors. Jero was a self proclaimed prophet. He was spiritually blind so he saw whatever caught his fancy. Those days prophets didn’t just name themselves. We saw prophets in their prophecies. Soyinka was a true prophet. The ‘trials of brother Jero’ was a divine prophecy . Not the sort of prophecy we heard from Ikotun Egbe about the missing MH370.
Jero was ambitious. So he surreptitiously displaced his master . And stole his pulpit . Then he laid out his ministry on the wide expanse of the bar beach. He knew what the people wanted. They had inordinate ambitions for money and power. But had no appetite for hard work. So he crafted prophecies to soot their gluttonous minds. He fought his sexual urges like many carnal pastors and politicians. But he advised his follower Chume not to beat his petulant wife. Many of our politicians, our champions of human rights are advertised wife beaters. But Jero gave this good advice for a selfish reason. We see that everyday too: Many corrupt Nigerian politicians begging the citizens on television to pay their taxes.
Chume discovered his prophet, Jero, was a fraud and went after him. The prophet was laying hands on a new convert. The prophet jumped out of the window but his new convert who was receiving a ministration misconstrued that disappearance as divine confirmation that Jero was a true prophet. Soyinka saw the future. Today the people hand their trust to noble men. The trusted men steal the people blind. When the law manages to come after any of the noble thieves they would jump out of the country and jump into the refuge of political victimhood. The corrupt politician would then metamorphose into a hero, a political prisoner rather than a common thief. And the ordinary people would praise him for standing up to political oppression.
Jero was shrewd. He targeted government officials and brought them into his ministry. Then he chose a new expansive name that would entice the gullible. He announced himself: Immaculate Jero ; Articulate hero of Christ’s crusade. Jero has many sons today. Names and titles; slogans and propaganda , have become the substance of our politics. Parties and churches bear all manner of outlandish names. Only a few remember what their names actually mean let alone live them. But more importantly the culture of make belief has taken root. Politicians make blatantly mischievous promises to entice voters. Pastor preach heresy to recruit and retain money spinning congregation. Jero didn’t address his mind towards naming the beach after himself.
A few months ago a wanted man was smuggled back into the country by some government officials. While he was wanted by the EFCC he was protected by the DSS. He was restored to public service by the chief law officer of an independent nation. The public screamed. The president was jolted. He dismissed the elusive man. Those who orchestrated that scandal are infinitely more duplicitous than brother Jero, the Immaculate. The wanted man was allowed to sneak out in broad daylight. But that wasn’t even the real sacrilege. An attempt by the National Assembly to make sense of the confusion was obstructed by the chief law officer of the nation. The very man employed to help kill the corruption that was strangulating the giant of Africa.
This has to be a brother Jero country
Jero ran away when Amope came to collect what was owed her. Jero ran away when Chume found him out. But we have one first lady here who hid ungodly sums of money with her hair dressers and gardeners. And when found out, rather than scamper to safety, she poked long fingers into the timid eyes of the law. Brother Jero was comparatively righteous. His conscience wasn’t that dead. When Jero resurfaced the mesmerized new convert called him master! In all Jero’s masterly cunning nature he couldn’t have imagined that a man could claim to have a certificate but when called on to produce it he would hire a brigade of lawyers and go into legal gymnastics.
Jero, Jero everywhere you go
We used to export cocoa and groundnuts. We are now struggling to go back to the farms. We once had Chidi Imo , Innocent Egbunike, Falilat Ogunkoya and Chioma Ajunwa. International athletics meets had no shine without us. We once shared Udoji bonuses to civil servants. We once had a Yankari games reserve. We didn’t need burglary proofing in our houses in the villages. Our robbers wore masks and came out mainly at nights. There was a time we didn’t export drug dealers. We once had a world boxing champion.
What are we actually celebrating?
When we saw Baba coming in 2015 we embraced him and sang Baba oyoyo, Baba Oyoyo. We knew he was old but we thought he had some of the ruthlessness of 1984. He had eliminated Maitetsine and later sent crates to London. But baba took six months to find his ministers. We knew that Baba could disobey court orders if he laid his hands on a big thief. But we didn’t know he would watch killer herdsmen wipe out villages and shed tears with us.
And ask us to pray. We know Baba has good intentions. But we had imagined that the police would stop extorting motorists once he took office. We didn’t know that Baba would tolerate a bumbling attorney general for one minute. Baba wants more time. But we want to know if Baba will come back as the Baba of 2015. The Baba who watched DSS and EFCC fight on the streets of Maitama in abuja and did nothing. Or the Buhari of 1984.
We have nothing to celebrate
Jero was a product of the ignorance of the society . Chief, the honorable, Nanga was created by the collusive passivity of the populace. As we remember our independence we must arise and chase away the Nangas and brother Jeros. We must arise so that the prophetic labours of Achebe and Soyinka are not in vain. Nigeria I hail thee! Arise!