February 25, 2024

Silence in the East, by Obi Nwakanma

Silence in the East, by Obi Nwakanma

Obi Nwakanma

A terrible time has fallen  on Nigeria. There is no hiding it. Hunger is not just rampant; it is now an epidemic. There is a food crisis, and it is inevitably leading towards massive national food riots. However, a few weeks ago, a minister in the current government said that there was no scarcity of food in Nigeria. 

Well, I’m not quite certain about this minister, since most of Tinubu’s cabinet is made up of second rate, mediocre, provincial types – but elementary economics theory of scarcity connects with a price theory which is determined by the dynamics of supply and demand. Equilibrium occurs when the rise in supply meets the rise in demand. But disequilibrium happens too. This, when the demand for the resource outstrips the supply, and it leads both to exclusion, and to scarcity.

Scarcity could even be artificial. And only those who have excess resource or liquidity can afford goods, and can therefore claim that there is no scarcity. Like this minister of government. These lot are so out of touch with the Nigerian reality, it feels like they speak from their bumsies and fart from their mouths. For instance, minimum wage in Nigeria is N30,000. But a bag of rice has hit N80,000. How about that, minister? Just this past Tuesday, Mr. Kashim Shettima, Tinubu’s Vice-President, while addressing a conference on Public Wealth Management in Abuja, accused those who lost the 2023 General elections of subversion.

According to reports in the media, Mr. Shettima accused his erstwhile political opponents of staging the crisis and fomenting anarchy. They are willing, he said to plunge Nigeria into a violent crisis. They are sabotaging Nigeria, and the effort of the administration, he said,  by smuggling food to neighboring countries and triggering scarcity and the exponential rise of food prices in Nigeria. “They are the practitioners of violence, advocating that Nigeria should go to the Lebanon way,” Kashim Shettima asserted. 

There is no evidence of sabotage by APC’s political opponents. This is dangerous talk by Shettima Kashim, whose background in the use of violence is fairly well known. What is evident is that the price of commodities rise by the hour, which indicates that this government has lost control of the price mechanisms.

 Nigeria was already on the road to Lebanon before now, from the eight years of Buhari, which was marked by looting, depredation, and extreme lawlessness. Shettima was a very key beneficiary of the Buhari years,  yet he summoned the temerity to suggest that Nigeria was bigger than everyone, and now that elections were over, there needs to be a pulling together; a unity of purpose. “We have to make this country work” said Shettima, “we have to move beyond politics…  .” But everything is politics. Stealing an election is despicable and diabolical politics. It might have given the APC power. But it did not give them authority. Authority comes from legitimacy. If there are forces who do not wish this administration to succeed, well of course, it is also politics. But the point is Tinubu and his party, the APC are in charge. 

Within the period of their superintendence of Nigeria, the nation’s condition has taken  such a turn that many Nigerians have become suicidal; some have gone mad from the troubles; many children now go to bed feverish with hunger. They cannot even get the scraps to eat off the streets. There is scarcity. The markets are emptying, and increasingly shutting down, with the exponential decline of the value of the Naira against other exchange currencies. The price of commodities is spiraling out of control. Energy costs – fuel, gas, even firewood and coal – rise by the day. Many economists have blamed Tinubu’s thoughtless inaugural act, hearkening to the IMF which has praised him, for removing fuel subsidy and floating the Naira, as the cause. It gets worse. It gets curiouser too. 

Nigeria’s economic system has entered an arbitrary and normless stage. What follows this arbitrary and normless stage? Here is what I dare to predict: one of these days, before May 29, a full year to his inauguration as President, to which he was installed against the will of Nigerians, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, who campaigned on the principle of “Emilokan,” will sneak out of the Aso Rock fortress, enter his private jet with the veil of darkness, and escape to France, for exile. He has already amassed the resources to live out the rest of his life in heady luxury in the French Rivera. 

Tinubu has private wealth, just from serving in public office, that would make an Arab Sheik and oil billionaire red with envy. Like many of the Nigerian elite, who have perfected their “Noah’s Ark” policies, he has the resources to escape, even as Nigeria burns to the ground. My other prediction is autarky – the unbundling of Nigeria into independent frontiers of self-sufficient monocracies. I do pray that I am wrong. And I urge everyone who still loves Nigeria to help stop this slide.

But the signs are stark. I would like to remind those currently at the helms that the bread riots in revolutionary France, led to the storming of the Bastilles by citizens who had organized themselves into civil militias, and thereto, the French revolution. It is bad. It is very, very bad. And president, Mr. Tinubu has not only shown that he is actually not just clueless on this matter of steering Nigeria out of its social and economic morass, he is just simply incapable. “Bulabalu Economics” does not work. 

He continues to run and grease the wheels of the same old corrupt system which he clearly inherited from Buhari. He continues from where Buhari stopped. For instance, recent events that implicated and compromised his ministers, and his Chief of Staff, the Beta Edu corruption scandal, was just papered over. No actions taken. No definitive reckoning.  Yes, Beta Edu was sacrificed, but without consequence. She faced neither inquiry nor the assizes. Femi Gbajabiamila and Adelabu, continue to enjoy the perks of their high office, irrespective of the scandal which reflects for too many Nigerians, the real depth of systemic corruption at the highest places in Nigeria. 

Mr. Tinubu follows it all up, by appointing his son-in-law, Mr. Oyetunde Ojo, as the MD of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). The ”Ariya,” continues inside Aso Rock: the nepotism, the greasing of the palms; the squandermania; the looting – while Nigerians are coiling from hunger and desperation.  This was the point that Dr. Usman Yusuf, Paediatric Oncologist, and former Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), and a veritable voice of the North, was making in his Arise TV interview just last week. “The people are suffering,” he declared. “There is hunger in the land. This injection and prescription of suffering is felt all across Nigeria.” 

Dr Yusuf then threw in the clanger of Mr. Tinubu’s “reckless impunity and nepotism.” Well, then, Steve Ayorinde of Arise TV said to Yusuf, it seems you have failed to recognize Buhari’s role in all this unfolding poverty and hunger. 

Why did Dr. Yusuf and his Northern brethren not talk when Buhari was doing all that damage that has brought us here, and why is the South East and South-South all quiet? To be fair, Usman Yusuf was a long standing critic of Buhari, with whom he fell out, especially after he was kicked out as the boss of the NHIS in 2018. But his answer to the first question was spot on: it is “Emilokan’s” time now. He campaigned on it. He helped break Nigeria. 

It is his duty to fix it. Leaders, from the choice they make to govern, forfeit the right to make excuses. As for the second question, why is it all quiet on the Eastern front? Dr Yusuf said, “I do not know why the South East is uncharacteristically quiet…” Well, I know, and I can tell him for free. First, it is not true that the East, that is the South East and the South-South, is quiet. 

The population is seething. What Steve Ayorinde and others see as silence in the East is a stifled rage, brewing inside the social innards. People are actually angry, and restless. 

But there is also the other fact that people in the South East are frustrated, and are resolved that Nigeria is no longer their sole burden to bear. It is also no longer their main frontier. The people of the East are developing a wider concept of nation and national belonging. Those who listen to the Igbo of the East will understand this. It is of course dangerous. But it is non-violent withdrawal. 

There is no longer an Azikiwe to theorise and unify Nigeria. There is no Ekwueme to reconceptualise it. There is no Pius Okigbo to design Nigeria, or Ifeajuna/Nzeogwu to muster to save or rescue her. There is of course Peter Obi, and many Igbo are now telling him, “didn’t we tell you that you’re wasting your time?” Igbo now  feel utterly justified, saying, “we have tried too many times to save Nigeria, but we got burnt far too many times.”

It is their comeuppance on Nigeria that people are imagining to be silence. Easterners are tired of trying to rescue Nigeria. They are emotionally drained, and they are waiting for others to lead the charge to save Nigeria, while they keep watch. It is more like the silence of the graveyard. But those who are asking the Igbo not to join the protest when it begins are just wasting their breath. The East will erupt, as will other parts of Nigeria, and it will most likely be spontaneous. Why? Dr. Usman Yusuf is actually right: there is hunger in the land, and the East is not exempt.