What would a visitor from outer space have made of the nature of Nigeria’s political society? Or put another way, Nigeria should offer a fascinating backdrop for the production of a master piece of magical realist literature: a political class that is lost in depravity; a society that is serially raped as its people lose themselves in an orgy of defeatist violence or the mind-numbing surrender to hollow metaphysical self-flagellation. Yet, these are the people described as the happiest in the world! Our greatest musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, lamented our “Shuffering and Shmiling”, and lyric after lyric, urged that we find a resolve to cast off the yoke of a nation perpetually unable to achieve its oft-stated potentials. Our country is the ultimate nightmare for the patriot: you know its possibilities, but you also understand the grand conspiracies that hold back the achievement of greatness.
Nigerians have naturally been very appalled at the ecstatic celebration organized around the release of the ex-convict Chief Olabode George (a posting on a Nigerian newspaper site actually called him “EWONYINKA TEWONDE EWONBODE GEORGE”!), a few weeks ago, by the chieftains of the ruling PDP. Apparently, most observers did not seem to recall that a few weeks before George’s release, the entire leadership of the party had paid a ‘solidarity visit’ to their man at the Kirikiri Maximum Prison. And in a chest-beating show of immodesty, Bode George reminded those ‘jealous’ of his grand reception back into the Central Committee of kleptocracy, that he never suffered a moment of loneliness in prison, because he regularly received visits from potentates willing to drink from his well of wisdom. Olabode George’s ordeal was even likened to that of Nelson Mandela, just as it took General Olusegun Obasanjo over a week, to discover he had been tricked into “a celebration of criminality”.
What seemed lost in our anger was drawing of the relevant lesson about the state of our country. I think Pat Utomi came closest to the best response, when he asked Nigerians to dismantle the joke we refer to as “democracy”, especially as instituted since 1999. It is not working and in truth, it never will! We have on our hands a systematic regime of plunder in which the state has been effectively privatized by the most venal set of individuals ever to grace the political society of an African nation. Nigeria for them is the ultimate ATM machine and the struggle is to possess the requisite PIN number to get access to the loot. The criminal nature of ruling class rule has also given birth to non-state acts of brigandage that allows criminal gangs to prey on citizens as effectively as the ruling class preys on the country. So we have a classical scenario of a country where majority of citizens are caught in cross fire between official and non-state gangs; the fact that people risk collateral damage has bred a thriving industry of retreat into the laager of religion. The church has become the fastest-growing “industry”, and this is not even a metaphorical flight of fancy, but an empirical fact! Where once stood factories that employed workers, we now have churches that produce a new form of ware for the Nigerian society. There is an increasingly acrimonious division of Nigeria like an errant amoeba, into all kinds groups, constructed around often, reactionary readings of identity. Professional bodies factionalize along religious lines: Christian Medical Association; Muslim Medical Association; Muslim Media Workers; Christian Media Workers. And if the absurdity does not hit you in the face, fancy that the NYSC program, created as a platform for our youth to play a uniting role in nation building, is also a cesspool division into Christian Corpers and Muslim Corpers!
But we are not done; not yet! Annually the norm is to have around 90 percent failure rate in the school certificate examinations just as members of the National Assembly consolidate the scandalous sums they earn. Nigeria’s future is being imperiled by failure, yet parliament has not thought it fit to examine the dangers which lurk for the country. Ours is a very young country, with over 70 percent of the population being under the age of thirty. Yet even official and often unreliable statistics, say 44million young people are unemployed, with an additional five million joining them annually. This is the reserve army of despair, open and clandestine prostitution; the deepening culture of drugs and a lumpen deployment of violence, in town and country. There is a frightening ghettoization of urban existence as 65 percent of our urban population lives in slums. It is also a fact of our situation that poverty level skyrocketed from over 50 percent in 1998 to over 76 percent today, twelve years down the road of an expensive, kleptocracy that some call democracy.
This is the state of Nigeria that the factionalized ruling class presides over, on the eve of another ritual of elections. Just as night follows day, one could bet they will be stolen again, because the ultimate prize is far too precious for those in power to take chances at a genuine democratic contest. Yet one can feel a yearning for meaningful change in the subsoil of the Nigerian consciousness. It cannot be that we are a people who defy the basic law of politics; that when a regime is unable to deliver on the social contract with the people it is thrown out. Since 1999, the more obviously incompetent the ruling elite has become, the greater is the amount of votes it allocates to itself. Now something must be wrong! We are either the broad canvas to write a novel of magical realism or something even worse. But the incurable optimist that I am makes me feel that Nigeria’s tremendous capacity for change can still be actualized, to us move away from that state of the absurd as norm.