Columns

June 9, 2024

Nigeria, we hail thee? By Obi Nwakanma

Nigeria, we hail thee? By Obi Nwakanma

Obi Nwakanma

There was a tradition recorded by the Roman historians, Suetonius and Tacitus, of the Naumachia, the spectacular, very large scale, gladiatorial public entertainment, which the Romans themselves also called Navalia Proelia because it was held at sea, or large lakes, or flooded arenas. 

Those who were rounded up, or selected to these Naumacharii, normally prisoners of war or state captives already condemned to die, were expected to enact naval battles before the emperor and fight to the death. And on this one occasion, those prisoners already condemned to fight to death, stood before the disfigured and lame emperor, Claudius, and declared, “Ave, Imperator! Morituri te Salutamus!” (“Hail Emperor! We who are about to die salute you!” Neither Suetonius nor Tacitus remarked at any hint of, or intention for irony in making that salute by these tragically fated fighters. 

It was a declaration made, as a matter of fact. It signals a very tragic sense of powerlessness – inexorable, fated, and absolute, by minions of the state, whose only form of honor or expiation is by death only. I begin with this story, because those tragic figures already fated to die feel today like Nigerians, wriggling before our own contemporary lame and disfigured Praetor, Ahmed Tinubu, who last week corralled the lame senate to restore the old Nigerian anthem, which begins with, “Nigeria, we hail thee…” Yes, indeed, “Nigeria, we hail thee! We who are about to die salute thee!” 

What else can we make of this trick of the senate, presided by Akpabio? That of the greatest of the issues before Nigeria, their major charge or obligation or priority is to revive an old anthem, given to us by the departing colonials at independence? I do, of course, sense a kind of nostalgia for a world that has passed: An anthem full of hope, and full of memory of a time when Nigeria mattered. 

When it still had this spring on her heels, raring to go to the highest pedestals among nations; when it still had this illusion that its population alone made it the giant of Africa, and not what it has now been turned into by its “pot-bellied watchers”: Africa’s very giant pile of shit. I am sorry I have to say this about Nigeria, but we are in a dark zone. Nostalgia is one thing. But the pragmatic, and very practical practice of statecraft, is another. 

It has been one year now, since Ahmed Tinubu became the president. In that one year, he has demonstrated that he does not have what it takes to govern. He is a provincial pretending to some cosmopolitan, universal genius. That is what we can see, and it is now very clear, that one does not just cuddle the bottles in Lagos, and think they know all the brews in Kafanchan or Orlu or Idah, or Obubra. How else can one explain, that within one year of his presidency, Tinubu’s Nigeria has slid even further down from where it stood under the never “awia” Dinosaur of Daura. 

It gets worse by the day. And they think changing the Nigerian anthem will change Nigeria? What is required is far more than the symbolic gestures. Nigeria needs to be rescued from a horde of self-seeking plutocrats who are out of their depths, and out of touch with the reality that is actually Nigeria today. There is also the other dimension to this change of the anthem championed by Mr. Tinubu: it is a blood feud: Bola Ahmed Tinubu is intent on dismantling any of the legacies of his arch tormentor and Yoruba nemesis, Olusegun Obasanjo. 

It seems very Soyinkaesque: the aging “Baroka” – the Fox of Ilujinle in a fight with his own Lakunle, now strutting about in Aso Rock. These subtle provincial feuds have now assumed national significance, in this return to the old anthem story, because that now erased anthem, was written and commissioned by none other than the Balogun of Owu when he was General and Military Head of State as his parting gift to the Second Republic. Now comes the Irgabaji upstart to cast it all into the dustbin of history. 

Perhaps Tinubu should do more with his current cohort of the senate. Since he wants to retrieve the past, let them return Nigeria to its original Four Regions of the First Republic before all the crises. The senate might then, legally, constitutionally create a balance of two more regions from the North, to complete the current six regional models that Nigeria unofficially operates. It will require that adjustments be made: we should restore the old Eastern Region, according the coordinates of the Willinks Commission. 

But alter it a bit by ceding the Eastern Ijo to the old Midwest, while the Anioma comes to the East. Expand the Midwest to include its natural abutments in Idah and Lokoja, and return Kwara to the West. As it currently stands, with 36 generally insolvent and dependent states, Nigeria is badly organized. These states cannot function. State bureaucracy is consuming far more overheads than Nigeria, in its current, parlous, economic condition can afford. 

They are also largely poorly organized, dysfunctional, bloated, and inefficient. A great incentive to reducing the number of states would be controlling the administrative cost of running the nation. Nigeria needs to rebuild the public service into what it once was: an efficient, driven, organized, well-motivated, and highly professional service that could contain the excess of the politicians. Without a well oriented and organized Civil Service capable of running the executive arm of the state, Nigeria will continue to bleed. Corruption will remain rife. There would be very little developmental capacity. A poorly organized Civil Service is the inevitable source of state corruption. 

To destroy a nation, destroy its public service. The implications are dire. It leads to state capture. Let me paint this scenario: The actual institution that controls and determines the security of state is the Civil Service. It is not the soldiers. It is not the Security Services. These are just the operational arms of the Public Service. It is the Civil Service, because all state secrets reside within it are produced by it, and are acted on by its operations. 

For instance, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) coordinates and frames all National Defence Policies and objectives. He or she is by designation the Civilian boss of the Chief of the Defence Staff, the military Division of the Ministry of Defence which coordinates the War office, Defence Production, deployments, and all Defence procurements. If a power – foreign or domestic – takes control of such an individual, the process through which Nigeria’s defence policy is made and deployed becomes compromised; the state becomes at risk. It can no longer serve the interest for which it is established, which is the security of the public. 

National Security and the Defence of the nation, especially against transborder actors like Boko Haram or ISIS in West Africa, seeking to destroy or take over the republic, becomes compromised. A man or woman in that position, rising through the Administrative cadre of the Civil Service, must be indemnified against material and intellectual poverty. That means, she/he must be specially selected and recruited, from among the best in the nation. 

She/he must be highly intellectual and highly socialized, exposed to the most rigorous and sophisticated realms of ideas and of society. She/he must be specially buffered against the kind of material poverty and greed that might make him or her compromise the security and economic interest of the nation. There are two key ways to do it: Nigeria must return to the principle of merit in the selection and appointment of Civil Servants; especially the Administrative Service. 

The Federal Government now needs to end the quota system. It must be replaced by a Federal Civil Service Examination, administered by the Civil Service Commission. This is as it used to be. The quota system and the Federal Character Commission have outlived their usefulness. We should now rely on the simple premise of the lyric of the revived anthem: “though tribe and tongue may differ/In brotherhood we stand…” 

We should now fully admit that we have pushed our differences so far, that it has wrecked the unity of the republic. The quota system was based on an agreement reached between the nationalist leaders and the leaders of the North in 1958, to guarantee parity as a condition for the North to join an independent Nigeria. It was not aimed to be a permanent policy of discrimination. Nearly 70 years of that policy should have prepared the so-called North to close the advantage gap it feared about the South. 

But has it? The accommodations made under this policy led to the mediocrity of the Nigerian Civil Service, because it did force merit, meritocracy and professionalism to fly out of the window. It led to disillusion, and a loss of buy-in, and the ultimate corruption of the Public Service. It has crippled Nigeria. It has led to state capture, because a Public Servant who has nothing at stake, and no emotional connection to nation, or the public institution that employs him, is a weapon of mass destruction. We must now have a new public service. 

A Blind Trust. Second: We must raise the condition of service in the public sector, and indemnify the Civil Servant against the kinds of temptation which institutional poverty, poor pay, inferiority complex, and the primitive working environment in which the contemporary Nigerian public worker labours, and which compromises the security and development of the nation. But how can that happen when the Tinubu government dawdles, and plays Cat-in-the Hat with the Nigerian Labour Congress? The priorities of this government just are not right: it is a plutocracy tending more to the oligarchs, than to real Nigerians. And what therefore is there to hail about this Nigeria? Except to say to Tinubu: We that are about to die salute you!