Columns

November 30, 2022

Then Uncle Sam calls me back

By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed

One foot is not enough to walk with —Egyptian proverb

ON my way back to Abuja from an inspiring outing to Lagos involving a lecture by Professor Akin Oshuntokun on Nationalism and Nation Building in Nigerian History organised by the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, I noticed that I had missed a call from Sam Amuka (Uncle Sam), proprietor of the Vanguard Newspapers.

I called him back. “Doctor,” he began,”you are resuming. From next week.” He was referring to an informal understanding we had when I asked to be relieved from my weekly column for the second time. Such has been our relationship that I could say no, but would not; and I would not give him a flimsy excuse, because he deserved better.

I did mention a few factors that will make my resumption at this time problematic: an intensely political environment in which I am neck-deep, intense competition over my time, existence of an emerging group of excellent writers who should be better choices. No, he insisted, you resume next week. Get someone from that group of excellent writers to step in for you when you cannot write, but from next week, the column is yours.

So here I am, resuming my column on the orders of a man I respect beyond words. It is happening so quick, in a world swirling with intense politicism, you could be forgiven if you do not have much to say, not to talk of where to begin. I could begin with a look back at the period of my absence, but today has very little room for yesterday.

The world we live in is engrossed in finding a path through events and changes that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Nations or countries or regions that used to determine who sat at the table and who squatted on the floor waiting for crumbs are losing their grips over what made them targets of awe and sources of fear.

Nothing in our world is sacrosanct anymore, a reality as unsettling as it is a vindication of whitened bones of left-wing philosophers who once wrote copious volumes over the certainty of the end of this phase of human history.

A few armed men routinely challenge poor leaders in Africa, urged on, quite probabaly, by President Trump’s audacious attempt to turn a loss into a disaster at the citadel of liberal democracy, the US. Other armed groups make light work of capacities of states to secure citizens in many parts of Africa, while politicians grab power and lock themselves up until the next set of farce called elections.

UK lost a game it was teaching the world, looking quite ordinary in a long queue of countries looking for answers it used to dish out. EU is looking for answers to Brexit, searching for a new coat of paint for a house that needs a new design.

 Russia is re-drawing the map with NATO and Europe, and Western diplomats are scratching their heads over why Africans and Asians are not scrambling to line up behind them. China now calls many shots, flexing muscles it developed in a diligent study of the weaknesses the West built over a studious few decades, uncertain of the value of the spoils in a world which overdosed on arrogance and desperation of its poor.

COVID-19 exposed the fragility of our humanity, the vulnerability of our assumptions and the gulf which separates the rich and the poor. Africa sank to the bottom, more deeply, its best and brightest cynically taken away in a manner that reminds you of the slave trade days. The Western world tried to stop the Qatar World Cup, ostensibly over values dear to it. Big money, another value that speaks louder in the world, stopped them. Nigerians sulked, but now sit back and enjoy a stress-free tournament where our absence speaks volumes about our decline.

This is the world that will barely notice the build-up to, or the conduct and outcome and consequences of our 2023 general elections. How times have changed. A few years ago, huge parts of the world will pour massive resources into the planning and organisations of the elections and send platoons of long-term observers and high profile short-term observers, all to make sure that we learn to be like them: countries where the only option (the democratic system) depends on regular conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections.

They will say how important the growth and development of Nigerian democratic traditions are for the rest of Africa. Then they will walk away from even the worst elections with a slap on the wrist of election thieves while the African increasingly asks of the real values of a system that is 200 years old and still bleeds when cut.

We have never had an election in which we are more on our own to make or mar than the 2023 elections. The rest of the world has virtually given up on us. We do not have an upstanding record of making or marring elections. The general rule is to grab and run away with a verdict first, faster than the opposition, and send complainants to a thoroughly compromised judiciary.

This waits to build fortunes in addition to those from pre-election cases, deciding at leisure, a huge percentage of who voters were supposed to have voted for. Fortunes have already been spent at every stage of the contest so far; such is the distrust that compels every participant to be fully settled before a politician who will not convince his mother returns to redeem promises.

Larger fortunes are being garnered to compromise the electoral process, visit far-flung places for brief moments at the cost of millions, pay clergies to fight clergies, engage youth to fight youth, invoke armageddon if your candidate loses and otherwise plan every disaster to befall the country, provided you win. You will fix it later.

Politicians are likely to lose bets that they can wreck and rebuild Nigeria when they get power. The country has already been wrecked by the outgoing administration of President Buhari. There is not much left to wreck. The best elections will not assure people primed to resist the results.

The elections are unlikely to be the best. Voting is scheduled for February 2023, but the elections have started. INEC is being burnt down in many areas with greater impunity. Agents are buying up huge quantities of PVCs across the land, presumably with the goal of voter suppression, as well more sinister motives.

Endemic insecurity is likely to keep large numbers of voters away from polling stations, but results will be written and submitted. Many supporters are being prepared to insist that their candidates will only lose rigged elections.

All in all, these are not good times for Nigeria, but then when was the last time we had good times? Life is hard, very hard. It will not get better for a long while, and we will have to get many things right. First, we need to overcome all the blindfolds and elect a few good men and women who can pull us out of our terrible current circumstances.

We have to have the type of elections that are substantially uncontested by the streets, violence and resistance that will divert considerable time and resources to put behind us. Then we have to wait and see if new leaders will actually fight and eliminate rampant insecurity; if they can lead and re-unite a nation with deep wounds from ethnic and religious divisions and conflicts; if hey can win over young Nigerians and convince them that they have a future in a country they have no faith in; if they can lead with integrity and restore confidence in critical public institutions.

Above all, if they are able to do everything differently, and produce different results. So much of the future of Nigeria depends on time. We cannot claim to have control over many essentials these days, but time is the most scarce commodity for Nigerians.