By Banji Ojewale
IF Sudan and Hong Kong should visit Nigeria today, the world might not be in much shock at the outcome of the trip. I’m sure of two consequences. First, we would be unprepared for them, despite the handwriting on the wall alerting us that we’ve been found wanting in the balances. In much of our post-independence history, we were never seen to be ready for events that came calling like a ‘thief in the night’. How do we handle nocturnal robbers? We don’t cuddle them. We cull them.
Secondly, flowing from the first, our leaders would misread the signs of the times and accord the strangers a most satanic, sanguinary and smoky reception. Ditto for the local ‘malcontents’ hosting them. Our leaders would chase them to the outermost and innermost parts of the land and mete out penalty outstripping their impudence that brought in Hong Kong and Sudan. They wouldn’t listen to the plea that nobody needed to extend them any invitation, that the world has gravely shrunk such that nations now exist like condominiums.
We can hear you snore in the apartment across. We are in touch with each other at the press of a palm-size device without flying out. Though thousands of kilometres away apart from each other, separated by land and water, we still compare notes to find out what to pick from others to fill up what’s missing in our life. It’s a natural course.
A few among us have said Sudan can’t make a landing here because over there it was an unappeasable sit-tight president who made it impossible for peaceful change to take place. Omar al-Bashir had been in absolute power for three decades. But his implacable palate for power sought more days in office. The citizens disallowed him and when he wouldn’t leave in peace in the face of worsening economic woes, a popular uprising took over and toppled him.
So, Sudan was caught fulfilling the sapient saying of JF Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States of America: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable.” Now, some of us say we don’t have the same conditions to grow the discontent that threw out the ‘eternal-term’ Arab leader in North Africa. They argue we don’t have a frozen president who has repelled moves to be melted or thawed out of office.
But Nigeria has had petrified existence as a result of the unbroken succession of leaders and governments that symbolise the sit-tight syndrome of the recycling of the same figures. Their names and political parties change each election season. Yet they bear the same spirit. That’s still the scene in nearly 60 years of our contemporary history. A crowd of different faces. But it’s all a going and coming of the same political and economic philosophy. The abiku or ogbanje of Nigerian politics.
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Let’s seek help from the epigrammatic declaration of the 19th-century French critic, journalist and novelist, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. He wrote: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Loose meaning: The more things (appear to) change, the more they stay the same. The question is: can we spot a difference between one man who has been in office for a century flaunting the same feckless ideas about government and a changing cameo of rulers who displace each other periodically with a display of the same jejune notions over the same period?
Are the choices so constricted between having one man do the bad government over a long time and having a chain of others share the long season of bad government among persons of the same destructive ideas? What’s paramount, deep-seated content and quality of governance that improves the lot of the masses or its ephemeral ‘democratic’ appurtenances that rate perpetually flawed elections and their gladiators more prized than the people?
So Sudan has been a quest to rid the country first, of a man and his gang who prevented the people from benefiting from advantageous politics, and secondly, to deal with the military who are hijacking the liberation agenda after the removal of al-Bashir. The world is empathising with the Sudanese nationalists as they watch them move from one phase of the ongoing struggle to another.
Nor has Hong Kong escaped the global gaze. Hong Kongers have been holding unprecedented protests involving hundreds of thousands of citizens demonstrating against a bill requiring the extradition to China for suspects accused of criminal misdeeds like murder and rape. The authorities have been forced to scrap the law, but the streets and other visible public places are not empty. The protests are spreading to accommodate comprehensive demands for ‘democratic’ changes to enable more people access political power in the territory.
The point to note in Hong Kong is that the people have had their way in overthrowing a law they didn’t want. The government’s way shouldn’t count in the long run if it contradicts the yearnings of the people. Common challenge to noxious official policies like what Hong Kongers succeeded in aborting is needed to teach psychological lessons, chief being that the dustbin is the home place of a piece of legislation that is detested by the populace. Government does not need to go round in circles over anti-people decisions that draw out protesters.
It is also a flight from reality to claim, as the amiable presidential media spokesman, Garba Shehu, did the other day that “the days of … revolutions are over”. They are not over, according to what’s going on around us. But we won’t see it if we replay the experience of Rip Van Winkle. In Washington Irving’s fiction of colonial America setting, Rip Van Winkle falls asleep for 20 years. When he wakes up, he has missed one of the biggest events in world history, the American Revolution. The Poet Laureate of Great Britain in the 19th century, Alfred Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem, “Idylls of the King”, where the main character expresses the dynamics of unavoidable change: “The old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfils himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”
As long as there is secular society with manifestations symptomatic of imperfections, injustice, inequality, illiteracy, ignorance, poverty, corruption etc. all due to a baneful and godless administration of state resources, there will be demand for radical and disruptive changes.
Garba Shehu can’t deny that we’ve had the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle-East and North Africa in this age. We are also ear- and eyewitnesses to the current clamour in the Sudan, Algeria and Hong Kong. A corroded structure can’t withstand a strong current.