On the Spot with Eric Teniola

January 21, 2020

This house has fallen (2)


By Eric Teniola

INTERNATIONALLY renowned singers such as Sade and Seal hail from Nigeria, as do African music superstars as the late Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade. And artistic excellence is not new to Nigeria.

“Terra-cotta figures discovered at a tin mine in the northern village of Nok are believed to have been produced around 450 B.C. Now they are on regular tours of museum in the United States and Europe.

“Nigeria has proved to be by far the most confounding, frustrating, and at the same time engaging place I have ever visited. It simply overwhelms the senses, one of those rare examples in which the sum of its parts is, at least to date, immensely greater than the whole. It is a work in progress, though one is never too sure whether it is being assembled or torn apart.

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“That would involve decades and many volumes. Rather, its purpose is to portray the most intractable crisis points and the ethnic and regional tensions threatening the survival of what is perhaps the largest failed state in the Third World.

“Nigeria provides a stark lesson. If Nigeria remains trapped in the quicksand of political malaise, economic decline, and ethnic rivalry, the world will be worse off for it.

“Nigerians from all walks of life are openly questioning whether their country should remain as one entity or discard the colonial borders and break apart into several separate states. Ethnic and religious prejudices have found fertile ground in Nigeria, where there is neither a national consensus nor a binding ideology.

“As late as the 1980s, a long spell of good governments and modest economic growth might have provided the breathing space and the common interest for Nigerians to feel it was continuing as one country, however artificial its origins. Now things have declined too far for that. Nigeria is on an altogether more dangerous trajectory.

“The only long-term solution in Nigeria to the crises that arise in a multiethnic state is for the various parties, however many they may be, to sit down and negotiate how they want to govern themselves and how they want to share their resources, and to decide whether they ultimately want to live together. Until they begin that process of internal reconciliation, at best Nigeria will lurch from crisis to crisis. At worst it will fall apart”.

Karl Maier, an American said a lot in the book about Nigeria’s leaders including General Sani Abacha, Chief Bola Ige, Ibrahim Zakzaky, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, General Abdusalam Abubakar and others.

On late Chief Bola Ige he wrote “Typical is the view of Bola Ige, a prominent Yoruba leader, a former state governor, and the new minister of power and steel in Obasanjo’s administration. Ige grew up in Kaduna and learned to speak Hausa at an early age. When I asked him who actually controlled Nigeria, he said bluntly.

“There are not more than two hundred Fulani families and they are connected with the conservative emirates and the military. They are the only group that has no territory because they are immigrants. They are all over the place; they have no home.

“But all-powerful northern monolith is a myth. Nearly forty years after independence, poverty is as great or greater in northern Nigeria as it is elsewhere. Investment in the economy is virtually non-existent, infrastructure is decaying, and the fuel shortages that recurred throughout the 1990s were even worse in the north than in the south. A shortsighted elite has tried to keep it that way.”

On Ibrahim Zakzaky, Mr. Karl Maier wrote “Ibrahim Zakzaky, many believed, would lead that revolution one day, though I had my doubts. When I first met Zakzaky in 1993, he was living in the hearts of old Zaria in rented quarters in a back street to the side of the emir’s palace. He was harassed constantly by the police and maintained the bearing of an angry young revolutionary.

“Since I had last seen him, his landlord had become tired of the police searches and thrown him out. The authorities bulldozed a second house he was building, and he was taken away for two years in detention. In December 1998 Zakzaky walked out of jail and returned to a hero’s welcome after a Kaduna court dismissed charges of sedition. There was little sign that he felt cowed by the prison experience. They wanted to crush the Islamic movement, and they did all they could but to no avail,” he declared.

“Fiery and charismatic, Zakzaky immediately caught the eye of the public, and all too often the police. He surrounded himself with gangs of young men who acted as bodyguards and as a ready-made crowd of supporters through which he dramatically walked like a boxer heading for the ring on fight night. Zakzaky was born of radical roots. His great-great-grandfather, Imam Hussein, had migrated from Mali at the turn of the nineteenth century to join Usman Dan Fodio’s jihad and served as religious adviser to Mallam Musa, the Fulani commander who routed the emir of Zaria.”

Take it or leave it, the book is a thorough analysis of Nigeria’s problems. No doubt the book is a good read. Sometimes you just have to listen to what others say about you however hurtful it could be. The hard truth is this, Nigeria is in a terrible decline.