Nigeria is in dire straits. What is going on in our country right now is so tragic in its absurdity that all of us should be weeping. Yet, here we are laughing away our sorrows. But what else is there to do in our tragic circumstance? Go into depression because of collective failure of leadership that borders on callousness? Doing that is tantamount to what the Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, described as double wahala for dead body. It is double jeopardy.
So, what do we do? Laugh at the folly of the rulers of this country. Take the issue of the palliatives that were provided by public-spirited Nigerians and which were stacked away in secret warehouses all over the country. So overwhelmed was one Nigerian at the quantum of food items kept away from abjectly poor, hungry Nigerians begging for the same food that all he could do was shout: “See food ooo!”
Now, the most lucrative business in town is palliative hunting. Many Nigerians have become overnight palliative hunters. All that is needed to endanger any property in Nigeria, whether privately or government-owned, is to allege that palliatives are hoarded there.
But most ludicrous is the excuse given by Nigerian governors for hoarding the food items. They claim that they hoarded them in anticipation of a possible second wave of COVID-19 epidemic. What a wonderful bunch of kind-hearted, benevolent and altruistic people. But of what use will palliatives be during the anticipated second wave if all the people die of hunger during the first wave? Did it ever occur to these paternalistic governors that most of those food items are perishable?
In any case, these items were donated by public-spirited Nigerians who appreciated that in a country classified as the poverty capital of the world, with over 80 million citizens living on less than $1 a day, the palliatives are lifesaving. Were they consulted before the governors took the decision to hoard?
But the governors are not the only problem here. What about a president who thinks he is doing Nigerians a favour? If you are in doubt, then listen again to President Muhammadu Buhari’s #EndSARS’ speech last Thursday, which Senator Shehu Sani brilliantly captured in his humorous “you asked for a speech, you got the speech and now you are speechless,” tweet that instantly went viral.
I was with a friend who was very upbeat about what the president was going to tell Nigerians that evening, two days after Nigerian soldiers opened fire on unarmed protesters holding Nigerian flag and singing the National Anthem at the Lekki tollgate plaza. My friend’s optimism was buoyed by the National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno’s assertion that Nigerians should expect something fundamental from Buhari’s speech.
Speaking to reporters in Abuja after a meeting with the president on the eve of the much-anticipated speech, Munguno said the president was expected to “come up with certain solutions” in his speech.
My friend interpreted that to mean the president may be at the cusp of finally sacking some Service Chiefs who have overstayed their welcome as demanded by majority of Nigerians and asked me what I thought. I told him pointedly that I had no expectations whatsoever from the president.
Finally, the hour came. We listened to President Buhari ramble for about 11 minutes without mentioning the Lekki tollgate shootings that brought his government global condemnation. No empathy. Instead, he told the protesting youths to leave the streets, ominously warning that if they failed to heed his call, they would be undermining national security, law and order and added for maximum effect that his administration will under no circumstances tolerate any situation that could jeopardise national security. He, literally, told the international community to keep off, admonishing them to get their facts right before making hasty pronouncements.
Buhari whined that the promptness with which his administration approved the termination of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, was “misconstrued as sign of weakness and twisted by some for their selfish unpatriotic interest” and warned that “under no circumstances will this be tolerated.”
It was a dark speech intended to compliment the Black Tuesday. My friend was speechless for almost five minutes after the speech and when he recovered from the shock, all he could do was to mutter: what did Buhari just do? But I was not disappointed because according to the Italian legal axiom, nemo dat quod non habet – no man gives what he does not have.
The president has no capacity to uplift the citizens. He didn’t have in 1984 when he was much younger. It will be foolhardy for anyone to expect that capacity from him now that he is a septuagenarian.
But the bigger worry is how quickly otherwise national causes are quickly truncated by people who hitch a ride on the locomotives of our historical fault-lines. How is it that a struggle by Nigerian youths suddenly became a plot by one ethnic group to wipe out the civilization of another? At what point did the unfortunate destruction of private and public properties in Lagos become a grand design by Ndigbo to destroy Yoruba heritage?
Some have used Nnamdi Kanu’s incendiary audio message as a peg to hang their xenophobic venom. Yet, they forget because it is convenient for them to do so that this same Kanu, who lives in London, recently told his Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, disciples to stone John Nnia Nwodo, President General of the pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, to death because he dared to disagree with him. They conveniently forget that former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, escaped death by the whiskers in Germany because Kanu instigated attack against him.
Now, they insist that Kanu speaks for Ndigbo when they know he does not. Ndigbo have more investments in Lagos than they probably have in the entire South East. So, how would they conspire to burn down the very state where they have their investments?
But for the quick intervention of well-meaning Yoruba leaders, perhaps the events of 1966 would have been re-enacted. That is a matter for another day.
What worries me most which the present crisis amplifies is that we are in a post-truth era. Protests in various parts of the country turned violent after the army shot at peaceful protesters at the Lekki tollgate plaza. The military has since washed its hands off the macabre drama. Not only have they insisted that they acted within the confines of the Rules of Engagement for internal security operations, they also maintain that soldiers did not shoot at #EndSARS protesters in Lagos.
But the bigger problem is that Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who declared a 24-hour curfew in the state prior to the tragedy has stridently denied calling in the army. The Nigerian Army on Tuesday said the governor was being economical with the truth, insisting that they were invited to enforce the curfew.
A statement by its 81 Division in Lagos signed by its spokesperson, Osoba Olaniyi, categorically stated: “The decision to call in the military was taken by the Lagos State Government after a 24-hour curfew was imposed.”
The implication is that the president, who is now saying that he refused to mention the Lekki tollgate tragedy because he was waiting for the facts of the matter, was not being honest. Sanwo-Olu lied when he said he did not call in the military. The military lied when they claimed that their men did not shoot at unarmed protesters.
At the end of the day, the unknown soldier saga, apologies to Fela, looms again. It is déjà vu. Truth be told, Nigeria is not working. It is made worse by the quality of leadership at the helm of affairs. It will be foolhardy to insist on the status quo.