By Muyiwa Adetiba
Her maiden name was Dayo Akin-Williams. Her friends and many acquaintances called her D-Willie. She was a likable but feisty woman who stood up for causes she believed in. One of those causes was Nigeria.
She was petit in stature but very tall in intellect. She came on my radar when she represented Queens College Lagos in inter school debates. She was a worthy debater. She made you forget her gender and stature, and forced you to focus on her eloquence and prowess in the spoken word.
It was her forte.I got to know her better when she joined me along with Julie Edokpolor now Oyegun -another worthy debater for Queens College—on the Editorial Board of Teen and Twenty Magazine, a magazine produced and edited by youths for youths in the early 70s. There, the lively debates continued as we tried to set agenda for Nigerian youths. We were young and full of idealism. We believed in Nigeria.
We believed in ourselves and our places in the country. We had big dreams. Harold Robbins said: ‘Dreams die first’ in one of his bestsellers. How true. Our dreams for Nigeria died spectacularly. I wish I could ask all those who were on the Editorial Board with me how they now feel about Nigeria. Unfortunately, some of them have passed on. D-Willie joined them in March. May her soul rest in peace.
The death of D-Willie (Mrs Olaofe) jolted me in many ways because I had not seen or heard of her in a while. It also brought many things home to me. They say the death of a contemporary sends a cryptic message to the living. Part of her message to me was on the death of our idealism.
Our youthful passion. And ultimately, our country as we knew it. If anybody had told me back then that Nigeria of 2021 would look anywhere near what it is now, I would have walked away from such a person in disbelief. And probably in disgust for daring to think of such rubbish.
Unfortunately, I witnessed its descent into this morass, perhaps more than most of them, because I stayed on in the media while they moved on to other areas of endeavour. For me as a ringside chronicler, the age of hope gradually eased into the age of disillusionment when I saw the deterioration in the calibre of leadership and better understood the system that produces it. We moved from the era of a leadership that wanted to prove something to the White colonialists and to country, to a leadership which thought only of the good of its region, to one which thought of tribe, to one which thought of self but hid behind tribe and religion.
As a journalist, I was able to see a selection process which ignored technocrats and naively thought the engine of government could run by itself—the Western countries tend to put their best brains in the Civil Service. We do exactly the opposite.
Sadly, we didn’t seem to care as long as crude oil was being pumped and more money was available to support an indolent lifestyle. Successive leaderships, perhaps because of a faulty selection process which made them owe their allegiance to cabals rather than the people, typically forgot to take the talakawas along.
So as they rotated the lucrative wheel and moved from one looting position to the other, they contemptuously forgot the soil from which they sprang and refused to nurture it. The gap between the rich and the poor widened. If successive leaderships noticed it, they were not alarmed by it. In fact, they began to exploit it. The poorer the people, the more dependent on the largess, the droppings by the table, they would become.
The cancer of poverty, disillusionment and listlessness was slowly eating into the bones of the society but our leaders offered analgesics. We were treating cancer with Panadol. Even now that the cancer is nearing stage four and it is getting aggressive, our leaders are still in denial. They still don’t know enough to turn to oncologists and seek expert help.
Right now, we are hearing of wars and rumours of wars. Chaos and anarchy are descending upon the land. Nowhere seems to be safe anymore. Even to go for a walk in the neighbourhood is fraught with danger. Depending on who you are listening to, the chaos is contrived; the anarchy planned. Something akin to what writer Robert Ludlum called: ‘organised chaos’ in some of his spy books. The aim being to destabilise the country and bring it to its knees.
It is not as implausible as it sounds. There are antecedents. For as long as there is wealth inside the ground and there are leaders who are stupid enough and greedy enough to collude with foreigners to loot it, nations will always be ravaged. For as long as there are religious fanatics who have messianic fervour, nations will always be destroyed. For as long as leaders are not proactive and choose to see crime with tainted lenses, nations will retrogress.
There are people who benefit from chaos; who profit from war. They exploit fault lines wherever they can find them to achieve their aim. Concerning right now are the voices calling for secession; violent secession if peaceful one is not feasible. They ignore the processes that lead to secession and the consequences of it. These people are unwittingly helping the anarchists to succeed because divided, our resistance will be feeble. United, it will be strong. Hopefully strong enough to defeat the dark forces that have ringed us in.
We created this monster. It is up to us to try and tame it. The process of taming the monster starts with the government at the centre stopping its divide and rule policies. It is weakening the unity of the country and strengthening the hand of the anarchists. A few inclusive appointments can calm frayed nerves. So will an immediate positive announcement on restructuring. Then it should enlist the help of the states by giving them teeth to bite.
The governors are toothless bulldogs at this critical moment when it comes to fighting crime. They need state police like yesterday. It will be a mistake for Buhari and his advisers to think they can fight this from the centre alone. Assuming of course, that he and those allegedly ruling on his behalf, still want a united country.
Incidentally, one of the school debates D-Willie participated—and distinguished herself in—was titled: ‘it’s better to jaw-jaw than to war-war.’ I hope our leaders from both sides of the divide think of this.