(Pulled from his regular column on ThisDay newspaper)
Fellow Nigerians, let me start by apologising for my absence on this page last week. I could not believe the torrents of comments on social media and the number of calls from friends and well-wishers from far and near enquiring about my welfare. Everyone was concerned because they know how much dedication and discipline goes into writing a weekly column. Even I sometimes wonder how I’m able to keep a date with you week in and week out.
Once in a while we all suffer from what’s often referred to as mental block. It is a writer’s affliction that makes it impossible for you to think and write meaningfully. That was exactly what happened to me and I’m glad you understood and accepted my predicament in good faith. Your love for Pendulum propels and keeps me going. Once again, I experienced that love last week and I was deeply touched. From the bottom of my heart, I say thank you and may God shower you with His abundant favours always.
Thank God, I’m back this week with my weekly epistle to fellow Nigerians and Africans. You must be wondering about the title of my article today, especially the word “they” and who it refers to ultimately. You don’t have to guess too much as I will explain to you in a jiffy. The “they” are those groups of men and women who litter the corridors of power in our dear beloved country Nigeria. They are some wonderful people who understand how to manoeuvre their ways through the labyrinth of power. They are professional hijackers who know how to hold powerful people, particularly our leaders, hostage. Nigerians usually call them the cabal or Mafia or whatever nomenclature is in vogue at the time. Truth is, they exist in reality.
What is often baffling is that these folks perch like rattlesnakes and pounce at the slightest opportunity on the men of power. They inflict their poison and, sooner than later, their victim begins to behave unusually, even sometimes irrationally. The more the poison permeates the body, the more the victim sinks deeper into the abyss and onlookers begin to observe a complete transformation and transfiguration. Surprisingly, these guys were and are never around during the struggles. Once the struggle is over, they crawl out of whatever holes they were ensconced in whilst things were hot! And they soon become the greatest beneficiaries of a campaign they never partook of. Trust me, every government has them. If you ask me, it is one reason most of our governments have failed so spectacularly.
My preamble is predicated on my deep observation of what is going on in Nigeria at the moment. I can say I know President Muhammadu Buhari reasonably well even if I was a latter day convert to Buharism. But once I got hooked like a drug addict, I was ready to go the whole hog and I have never looked back. Buhari’s appeal is based on his populist credentials. We all saw him as a man of the people and a Mr Scrooge who would never waste scarce resources on frivolities. But the “they” of Nigeria have repackaged Baba to the extent that many now refer to him as the “Gucci President”. Every fashion designer’s delight, as he has become a veritable fashion trendsetter. Of course, this is not to denigrate the President because his previous austere style suits him as much as his now trendy look becomes him! The fact is that by his handsome, gangling and fit nature, the President will always appear impeccably turned out and well groomed. However, now, his paraphernalia of power has become somehow bloated and overly flamboyant as well. How are the mighty changing!
The existing theory is that President Buhari has inadvertently fallen victim of political 419ners who have persuaded him about how powerful a Nigerian President is and why he must play the part always by being overtly fashionable. I’m sorry to say that they are stylishly setting Baba up for monumental failure. I expect their agents to swarm the internet and abuse anyone who dare say anything about the grand scam currently going on but it won’t be strange. Every government I have known since I became an adult had such acolytes to sing their praises and hold them up as infallible. But no sooner than the baton of power changes than they disappear only to reappear sometime and somewhere in the no distant future screaming adulations of the unsuspecting new leader.
I vividly remember the period of the Shehu Shagari Presidency. The poor teacher and humble farmer could do no wrong. There was a popular Yoruba song specially composed and sang for him: “Oluwa lo yan Shagari, Shehu Shagari…” Shagari’s apotheosis was instantly assured. Those who saw the rot in the outlandishly profligate government were tagged dangerous dissidents and told to shut their traps up. Wole Soyinka, our own William Shakespeare, was one of the most vociferous critics at the time.
As days climbed days and months rode on months, the Shagari government became neurotic and saw enemies everywhere real or imagined. Out of fear for its safety and stability, the Nigeria Police Force was over-militarised as if in competition with the Nigerian Army. We watched incredulously as the police under the iron grip of probably the most powerful Inspector-General Police Nigeria ever employed, Mr Sunday Adewusi, became ostensibly omnipotent. The Shagari government controlled the heavens and the earth. The 1983 general elections was the last straw that broke the back of that government.
The end came on December 31, 1983. A terse announcement by a relatively unknown soldier at the time, named Sani Abacha, shattered the invincibility of the Shagari regime into smithereens. A new Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari and his ‘deputy’, Babatunde Idiagbon were promptly installed. They in turn wasted no time in pronouncing the direction of their government which was predicated on ‘war against indiscipline’ (WAI). That war encapsulated everything that was wrong with Nigeria. While it was a worthwhile, expedient and necessary move, the government failed to understand the complexity of Nigerians. Our people love the concept of change in the metaphysical sense but not in any way that hurts them and their families or friends. That was the reality that soon hit Buhari and Idiagbon like thunderbolts. While they were busy jailing and punishing the corrupt politicians, they were undoubtedly amassing enemies. They were goaded on by fifth columnists within and before long, it was time to strike. The end came on August 27, 1985.
The same Abacha who announced Buhari’s arrival pronounced his departure. It was such a cruel twist of fate. A supposedly friendlier, humane and urbane Head of State, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, was catapulted on to the national stage. He was projected as Buhari’s fairer alter ego. He opened up the cells and disgraced and humiliated politicians in their various stages of dilapidation spilled out like locusts. Buhari immediately became the bad guy and Babangida the benevolent dictator. Where Buhari was stern-faced, Babangida wore his famous toothy smile like the archetypal good guy. That was it. Everything Buhari had built got dismantled. The solid foundation of discipline and incorruptibility he was laying was uprooted in one fell swoop! Nigerians’ penchant for good life and happy living won the day.
It wasn’t long before the “they” started digging the grave for Babangida himself. He assembled arguably one of the best teams ever, no doubt, but it remains a mystery who his real advisers were that persuaded him to turn Nigeria into a game of football. His sobriquet of Maradona, though very apt, was also an albatross. He dribbled so much and resorted to endless transition time tables. So much so, that he eventually dribbled himself into scoring an own goal. Politicians were banned and unbanned according to the whims and caprices of one man. When the elections eventually took place, on June 12, 1993, they were programmed to fail spectacularly. Till this day no one knows what truly happened that led to our best elections ever being truncated and annulled. Pity that none of the influencers in the Nigerian polity could dissuade Babangida from committing this unfortunate and costly hara-kiri. Even worse, no one or group has come out to say they advised him against such perfidious act but he did not listen. Nigeria is yet to recover from that stupendous tragedy.
The fall came on August 27, 1993, when he suddenly stepped aside and handed over to a lame duck Interim National Government (ING) headed by Chief Ernest ‘Degunle Shonekan.
This government was as weak as they come. It lacked the liver to deliver on revalidating the annulled mandate freely given to the winner of the Presidential election, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. This would have enjoyed the wide support of the people but sadly such opportunity was missed by the inept team and the interim government was soon sacked by General Sani Abacha. Babangida had apparently set up the ING with a view to returning as a civilian President but man proposes and God disposes. His nemesis was Abacha his erstwhile compatriot and friend!
The understanding when Abacha seized power in a military coup was that he was going to right the wrongs of the June 12 elections, clean up the remnants of the Babangida loyalists and give power back to the man elected freely by Nigerians. That turned out to be a classic case of naiveté at its most ludicrous. The man simply collected power pronto and sat down pretty. No Jupiter was going to remove him from that gilded cage. The Abacha government failed like others to learn the lessons of history and most importantly that no leader had ever succeeded in enslaving Nigerians…
I’ve deliberately taken us down memory lane to demonstrate how the demons of power have sentenced Nigeria perpetually to stupidity and backwardness. And it seems a fool at 56 is almost irredeemable from its tomfoolery unless a miracle happens. That’s the miracle we gave to President Buhari last year on a platter of gold after his fourth attempt. But things seem to be spiralling out of control. I know the President would be told all is well by those benefitting from the current state of things but, walahi, I will always tell Baba the truth. I’ve come to see him as the last hope of the masses and if he fails we all fail.
The first truth is that this government is looking too elitist and ceremonial. I’m not sure this is intentional. The amount of time, energy and resources being deployed on hosting this and that is becoming ridiculous. Whoever suggested that the President should break Ramadan fasts with so much fanfare did not do any good for a government with too many horrendous challenges.
If I had any influence in this government, I will advise that government needs to demonstrate its commitments and seriousness at tackling the intractable problems. We should see pictures of brainstorming sessions. We should have and see a brilliant economic team at work. We should see the President supervising projects nationwide in his jackboots. We should see the President appointing the many Nigerian geniuses that litter every part of the world to assist him use the power God has bestowed on him to benefit ordinary Nigerians. The qualities of appointments we are seeing lately have become appallingly lacklustre. This is not the best Nigeria can offer.
I do not really care if even if all appointees come from Daura, I would leave that agitations to others, who may be myopic or selfish. I’m more interested in the merit, competence and patriotism of such people. President Buhari can make do with a star-studded team regardless of political and religious affiliations. It is never too late to CHANGE!