By Tatalo Alamu
Once again ominous clouds are rumbling across Nigeria. The lights are going out and may not return for a long time. It is not yet Christmas, but fireworks and huge firecrackers are abroad, dazzling and dazing in their fearsome intensity. Unlike the ominous clouds of the past, these ones are coming with a big difference. All the contradictions are coming together—political, economic, cultural, regional and spiritual at once. It is a perfect storm in Nigeria.
If there is still anything worth saving about this unfortunate and tormented country, this is the time to pull back from the brink. Unfortunately, never has the country been this badly divided and bitterly polarized. In the absence of genuine statesmen, the space for rational discourse has been taken over by people of doubtful or dubious states of mind and traumatized individuals who cannot care a hoot about the import of their utterances and pronouncements.
Like a malignant demon, the Nigerian tragedy feeds on tragedy and more tragedies. It has now taken the gruesome murder of Funke Olakunrin, the daughter of the revered Afenifere leader, Pa Rueben Fasoranti, to make everybody realize how close the nation is to the brink. The nation has pushed itself to the edge of the precipice.
While separatist howls reverberate across the south, supremacist grunts emanate from the north. Meanwhile, moderate, middle of the road Yoruba patriots are beginning to take an audit of illustrious Yoruba women assassinated in the struggle to rescue Nigeria from the path of perfidy and perdition. The middle ground is beginning to disappear.
This column commiserates with Pa Fasoranti, a fine gentleman and a refined statesman if ever there is any remaining on these shores. Snooper commends the noble forbearance and calm fortitude of a nonagenarian patriot who has borne the brunt of evil governance in post-colonial Nigeria, from unjust detention and torture by the military authorities after the fall of the Second Republic, routine political persecution for his belief and now the brutal dispatch of his beloved daughter.
It is curious that no one has claimed responsibility for this dastardly crime. But the presence of military grade weapons and the professional ruthlessness of execution suggest that Nigeria may be playing host to transnational rogue militias offloaded from the Maghreb and their local mutants waging a combination of economic and spiritual terror. It is the last sigh of the Moors.
The situation has not been helped by the clumsy management of the crisis by the federal authorities who are behaving as if they have something to hide, and the inept attempt at pushback by the police. First, they claimed they have apprehended the culprits only to swiftly retract this. We urge caution and calm at this precarious period when danger signals are flashing for the nation. We also ask our leaders across the political divide against insensitive and provocative utterances.
The subsisting problem of the nation is not about who elected President Buhari or who did not but our perennial inability to fashion some core values out of this ethnic, regional, religious and political maelstrom which will power national goals and aspirations. Without this foundational understanding, there can be no national development or the entrenchment of genuine democratic ethos.
This column has been shouting from the roof top that elections do not resolve national questions. In fact, they often exacerbate them. Last year, we wagered that whoever won the presidential elections under the prevailing circumstances may find Nigeria ungovernable. It is not elections that move a nation forward but elite consensus. Without elite consensus, there can be no democratic consensus.
Elections are mere mechanisms and rituals for choosing state personnel in countries where there is substantial agreement about the national destiny. In the absence of this agreement, elections become very divisive, with the outcome bitterly contested and with legitimacy and authority becoming very elusive. Without elite consensus there can be no democratic consensus. This is the bane of Nigeria since independence.
In the coming months, President Buhari will discover that his messianic self-righteousness notwithstanding, he does not enjoy the mandate to bend Nigeria to the iron will of a primordial vision of the country which canonizes poverty and morbid frugality. The anti-corruption drive would have become a huge joke eliciting nothing but howls of bitter derision and costly sniggering. He will then either retreat further into an ethnic cocoon or become frankly repressive, a situation that will further aggravate the subsisting crisis.
The selective and partisan outbursts of the government on certain national issues even as the loud silence on other germane issues reverberates across the land do not help its case. The Buhari government has been its own worst advocate in the court of public opinion. It is impossible at this precarious point in our national evolution to attempt to impose any hegemony on the nation based on ethnic, religious or regional supremacy without provoking extreme countervailing reactions from other locations of power in the country.
Unfortunately for this government, perception is often reality. This is the basis of the current tension and disquiet in the nation with affronted southern elite groups training their intellectual and social media fire power on a north which reacts with a sense of siege and growing encirclement. The unease in the land is palpable and God helps the nation in the coming months.
The subsisting situation is eerily reminiscent of the last days of General Buhari as a military ruler of Nigeria after the campaign to sanitize the system had unravelled in its primordial naivete with the nation badly polarized and bitterly divided and with what was generally perceived as the authoritarian insensitivity of the Buhari military administration driving the nation to the edge of the cliff.
At that point in time, two civil war heroes, General Alani Akinrinade and the late Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle, began openly canvassing for confederacy in fierce objection to what was seen as the stifling unitarism of the Buhari administration. After openly calling on the Buhari administration to bring to justice the real depredators of the nation, Wole Soyinka, the imminent Nobel laureate, forswore any further dialogue with what he dismissed as a deaf government and then proceeded on a quiet, undeclared self-exile.
In what was regarded by political strategists as a coup de grace, the inevitable General Olusegun Obasanjo, in a widely circulated lecture at the University of Ibadan, lambasted those who think they are the owners of Nigeria, urging them to immediately retrace their footsteps. But the falcon no longer hearkened to the falconer. A few weeks later, the Buhari administration became history.
Thirty four years after the more things change the more they remain the same, as they say. Nigeria seems to be stuck in a historical groove with pretty much the same cast of actors and the same cause celebre but this time cloaked in civilian garb. Obasanjo is back in the trenches against the self-same General Buhari while Soyinka appears to be slowly winging his way to the muddy trough despite the profound personal animus between the two titans.
In the case of General Akinrinade, having fought with troops and without troops and having discovered the major difference, he will not be lightly pressed into battle this time around by anybody. With General Obasanjo, it is elephant and castle once again. The pachyderm from the ancient Owu ravines once again has Aso Rock within the sights of his telescopic rifle. But this time around, the nation should brace itself for the endgame.
To tease out the ironies and contradictions in all this is to be confronted by a recurring Nigerian paradox of power tussle. The trio of Obasanjo, Soyinka and Akinrinade welcomed the Ibrahim Babangida administration with open arms with Akinrinade going on to serve as a minister in the government.
Yet at the end of the day when Babangida annulled the freest and fairest election in the history of the nation, they all turned against him. But in a great irony of history, they all saw hell in the hands of Abacha, Babangida’s real successor. The goggled one impounded Obasanjo who was only lucky not to have been executed while driving the other two into harrowing exile.
With the current animosity towards Buhari from Obasanjo and the growing disenchantment of the Nobel laureate with the administration, the wheel seems to have turned full circle. Yet It ought to be clear by now given the futile back and forth of the last forty years, and the fevered change of state personnel that something more fundamental than mere change of guard is wrong with Nigeria.
There are certain structural contingencies about the way Nigeria is configured which make it impossible to produce an exceptional Nigerian with the visionary dynamism and heroic nationalistic courage to push the nation in the right path. The same structural debility afflicts party formation and an electoral process in which riggers take their turn to rig national consensus depending on the subsisting balance of power.
The nature of heroism lies in its cumulative heft and constant striving at the behest of a nation and not in the odd, system-driven political misjudgement. We should not be too anxious to rubbish our old heroes even where it is obvious that their modus operandi and brand of heroism can no longer recuse Nigeria from pressing catastrophe. Heroes are always age-bound and situation-specific.
Those of our leaders who could always see much further into the future have always warned us that this grand chicanery cannot be sustained forever. It is either the population explosion and the rise of social misfits by their millions put the entire nation in grave jeopardy or the explosion in counter-hegemonic knowledge as a result of globalization fatally imperils the status quo.
In the light of the preceding analysis, it should obvious that General Buhari is not the problem with the nation. The way Nigeria is must be the problem. Any leader emanating from the same perverse structure who is deluded enough to think that he is Nigeria’s magic wand is likely to meet a similarly distressing fate.
We may all have to thank the retired general from Daura for helping to drive the contradictions to their logical conclusion. Unless the current descent into anarchy leads to something radically new, all one can see beyond the horizon are funerary pyres aglow. One must shudder at how many lives have been wasted to sustain the horrific torture chamber that is about to expire.