The Sun News » Offside Musings - Voice of The Nation Thu, 02 Jul 2015 07:19:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 APC, start governing, not whining Tue, 30 Jun 2015 01:47:08 +0000 Last week, I suggested that President Muhammadu Buhari has squandered a full month of his presidential tenure doing little. ]]>

Last week, I suggested that President Muhammadu Buhari has squandered a full month of his presidential tenure doing little. Many readers understood the spirit of the piece, which is, quite simply, that Nigerians deserve nothing short of engaged, stellar leadership from Mr. Buhari. And that sort of leadership should start – should have started – on May 29. It should not be triggered two months after the president’s inauguration.

I’m willing to attempt again to capture my argument – as an act of generosity towards those who, out of mischief or self-interest, chose to misread me. In both body language and substance, President Buhari gave the impression of being overwhelmed by the demands of governance and statecraft.

Let me restate a point I made last week. The problem is not only that, a month into his tenure, the president hasn’t figured out his cabinet. That’s bad enough. But an even larger crisis was the president’s failure to make a single significant policy pronouncement in one month.

If a man sought the highest political office in his country a record four times, I’d hope that it’s because that man is in possession of some viable, perhaps, even tested, ideas for moving his society from point A to point B. It doesn’t make sense to seek political power, sans ideas, and then start groping about for what to do only after being entrusted with power.

That’s a recipe for disaster. Some critics of my column reminded me that one or two past presidents took longer than a month to name their cabinet. It is a particularly exasperating argument. If a delinquent child flunks an exam, is it much comfort to remind the child’s parents that another child, who similarly failed to prepare, had also failed the exam a year or two before?

Why don’t we hold our leaders, and ourselves, to higher standards of performance and conduct? Why don’t we encourage President Buhari to hit the ground running, rather than adopting the snail style and mediocre performance of his predecessors?

In a personal email, one reader cautioned that my criticism of the young Presidency could help shape a skeptical national mood about Mr. Buhari. The email was both misconceived and ascribed too much power to me. I can only describe what I observe, not create or sweep aside reality. If Mr. Buhari’s first month in office was a model of diligent, focused leadership, and I wrote a column to argue otherwise, I would be making a fool of myself – for the facts would be there to contradict me.

In other words, President Buhari remains (largely) the master of his presidential fate. If he’s doing a terrific job, Nigerians will see, touch, hear and taste it. In that event, the naysaying of a malicious critic would be seen by all for what it is – an effete hatchet job.

Writing has its place in shaping perception, but that writing has to stay close to verifiable facts.

And one of the bizarre facts of our current politics is that Mr. Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) looks less like a party that won an historic election three months ago than a choleric bazaar of strange bedfellows, who detest one another.

Nigeria is in dire straits, the economy in the doldrums, oil revenues significantly down. It is a time that demands that men and women of mettle stand up to be counted. And what does Nigeria’s new ruling party offer us? A squalid, fractious political mess, I’m afraid.  Several factions have emerged, and they appear determined to work at cross-purposes. In the National Assembly, the APC has staged a brawl-fest worthy of American professional wrestlers. With the exception that the legislators, unlike the superstars of American wrestling, were not playing to a script.

And here’s what is deeply consternating about the APC’s whole implosive affair. There’s no hint of a positive redeeming value at the heart of it. It’s not a debate about how to provide Nigerians with shelter, jobs, healthcare, sound education, how to lower Nigeria’s misery index. No! There’s no sense that a search for the best path to Nigerians’ well being is a factor in the numerous squabbles. There’s not a tad of evidence that the APC’s various factions are animated by a humanistic vision.

Instead, what appears to be at stake is the usual scramble for lucre – or an inelegant race for power that can be constantly traded in for cash.

Nigerians have little to show for all the billions of dollars that have propped up an edifice that first announced itself as a nascent democracy – and then turned plain nasty. The APC rode to power on the mantra of change. Yet, the only change the party has so far demonstrated is the swiftness of its recourse to balkanisation. It doesn’t seem as if President Buhari talks much to Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who owes his post to an alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party.

I’d be at ease if the schisms were dictated by intra-party ideological differences. But one’s hunch is that this is all about power, and power in its rawest, rudest, basest form.

When APC officials take a break from fighting their internal wars, it is to whine to Nigerians that the Goodluck Jonathan administration vacuumed up all the money in the treasury. I’ve just about reached the edge of patience with that repeated line. How about a little bit of action?

Guess what? Nigerian voters sent President Jonathan packing precisely because of their conviction that he was not a good husband of their resources. I was one of the former president’s staunchest critics. Rather than regale us daily with complaints about how the Jonathanians looted, the Buhari team should tell us what they intend to do about it. They should take action. Mr. Jonathan and those who worked with him should be rigorously questioned about their stewardship. And, if implicated in acts of corruption, they should be prosecuted. But – and Mr. Jonathan himself made this point – the Buhari team should also investigate and prosecute Nigeria’s other former heads of government and their circles.

In the meantime, the reclamation of Nigeria’s stolen funds is no excuse for the suspension of governance. For me, the frequent disclosure that Nigeria is near broke serves to underline the nature of the challenge, facing the Buhari Presidency. That challenge is three-fold. One is to find creative ways of sourcing or attracting the funds he needs for the work he must do for Nigerians. Another is to spell out how he intends to wrest looted funds, including those in the hands of APC officials. Finally, he should move to block the holes deliberately designed into the Nigerian system in order to enable public officials to steal with impunity.

If President Buhari and the APC are not up to the task, then they ought to be served notice that whining alone does not translate into leadership.


• Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe 

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Unfueled, at time of transition Tue, 26 May 2015 01:30:16 +0000 I don’t know what’s going through President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s mind at the moment, but his job daunting to begin with just got tougher. Nigeria is beset by one of the worst fuel shortages in its history. ]]>

I don’t know what’s going through President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s mind at the moment, but his job daunting to begin with just got tougher. Nigeria is beset by one of the worst fuel shortages in its history. And in a country where something as basic as refined fuel frequently becomes scarcer than gold, the current crisis is Olympian in scale.

I had recently suggested that the incoming president’s mettle would be tested early by Nigerians’ high (some would say excessive) expectations. Add to the pile of expectations the volatile issue of fuel scarcity, and you have a recipe for real trouble.

All week, each call I placed to or received from Nigeria had the fuel shortage at its front and center. Each person described the direness of the situation, its unrivaled hardship. One relative said he had missed work numerous times. His car ran out of fuel nearly two weeks ago, and he was tired of carrying about jerry cans, searching for fuel. “Am I supposed to walk to work every day?” One caller, a company executive, spoke about the disruption of flights. “Aviation fuel for domestic airlines is becoming impossible to come by,” he said. He added: “The scene at the Abuja Airport is absolute chaos. When an airline has a flight, there’s a fierce scramble for it. In fact, you see people fighting for a seat on commercial flights as if they were jostling to get on a molue [bus].”

For rejected President Goodluck Jonathan, the mess is both ironic and an accentuation of his disastrous tenure. The irony lies in the fact that he began his presidential term by promising to make fuel scarcity a thing of the past and seeming to make good on his word. Early in his Presidency, I had an interesting mini-debate with one of his hawkish fans. The man had written to scold me for a column that was critical of Mr. Jonathan. “He’s the best president Nigeria has ever had,” the man wrote, invoking a typical absurd argument. Then he spelt out the basis of his assessment. “Here in the [south]East, we used to have fuel scarcity all the time. But since Jonathan took over, we now have fuel everywhere.”

I wrote, in a testy response, that only a people with pathologically low expectations would declare somebody a champion president on such flimsy grounds. In other polities, where expectations are high, great leaders are measured, a, by their ability to ennoble citizens, b, to deepen or strengthen the sense of optimism and community, and, c, by policies that lead to jobs creation, the expansion of the middle class, and dramatic improvements in a variety of sectors, including infrastructure, education, healthcare.

Yet, if Mr. Jonathan became Nigeria’s “best president” because he supposedly fixed the fuel snafu, what does it mean that his presidency is ending on a note of one of the worst fuel crises in years? Is it a metaphor, then, of a promising presidency nurtured into abject failure?

Some of President Jonathan’s fans blame the fuel imbroglio on the APC’s irresponsible partisan rhetoric. They contend that fuel marketers, discouraged by the APC’s hostility to fuel subsidies, simply suspended imports, hence the current crisis.

Not true, APC folks declare. The root of the problem, they insist, is the criminal collusion between the Jonathan administration and fuel marketers to use fuel subsidies as a ruse to launder funds. According to the APC’s narrative, in preparation for the 2015 elections, the PDP and the Presidency permitted fuel marketers to over-inflate their invoices. Much of the excess funds were then funneled into the PDP’s war chest.

For us, “ordinary” Nigerians, the only consolation is that the truth, sooner than later, will be out. For now, however, Nigerians have a crisis on their hands. For the next couple of days, that crisis belongs to President Jonathan. From May 29, 2015, regardless of who or what caused it, the crisis becomes Mr. Buhari’s headache.

At the very least, the fuel crisis should remind the incoming president in case he forgot of the urgency of leadership. When Nigerians hailed Mr. Buhari as the answer, they implied the answer to known and unknown, present and lurking problems. Nigeria is an idea founded on problems. It is a problem that keeps giving. The president-elect better arrive in Aso Rock without any illusions. He better insist on hiring the best, trustworthy, tested hands out there. He better buckle up, for it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

And how he handles the fuel crisis will go a long way to set the tone and terms of his relationship with Nigerians. Part of Mr. Jonathan’s deficits was not only his failure of statecraft. He was, also, an inept, delinquent communicator. His wretchedness as a communicator was writ large in the aftermath of the April 14, 2014 abduction of schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State. First, a day after the tragedy (compounded by an earlier suicide bomb attack that killed scores at an Abuja bus station), Mr. Jonathan went dancing at a campaign event in Kano. It was one of the defining moments of levity in his presidency.

As a military ruler, Buhari was not exactly big on communication. But he must learn to speak to Nigerians, as frequently as the occasion demands, and as honestly as possible. Some supporters of his still believe that he has a magic wand, a sure-fire abracadabra that would erase the demon of corruption from the Nigerian space, jail all corrupt politicians (including those who financed his campaign), build new roads and rehabilitate the old ones, deliver regular, uninterrupted electric power, create millions of new jobs, revamp the educational sector and give Nigerians a robust healthcare system. He should be the first to dispel this superstition.

In the lingering fuel crisis, Mr. Buhari has a perfect challenge and opportunity. The challenge lies in proving himself as a true leader, a problem-solver. It won’t be enough to adopt an episodic approach to a problem that is awfully recurrent. Yes, he must find an answer for this current crippling crisis, but he ought to, also, show that he understands how to spare Nigeria the shame of being a major oil-producing country that often can’t find fuel.

The opportunity here is to take Nigerians into confidence about the factors that triggered this fuel shortage crisis. If as we found out in 2012 oil marketers have continued to fleece Nigerians through illicit multiple-tripping schemes, Mr. Buhari should have the courage to expose it. And he should propose policies to stop the drain of public funds through fraudulent fuel subsidy claims and to recover as much of the stash of stolen funds as possible.


Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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Further thoughts on Buhari and a corruption strategy Tue, 19 May 2015 01:32:57 +0000 My column last week, entitled “Corruption and Buhari’s Perfect Storm,” provoked vigorous debate on social media. In addition, I received numerous emails from readers who wished to weigh in on my central ]]>

My column last week, entitled “Corruption and Buhari’s Perfect Storm,” provoked vigorous debate on social media. In addition, I received numerous emails from readers who wished to weigh in on my central prescription, that incoming President Muhammadu Buhari ought to consider setting up a restitution commission that would offer corrupt officials amnesty from prosecution if they would voluntarily confess their acts of graft, and return a portion of their loot.

I heard from those who relished that central argument, those who strongly disagreed, those who agreed with the broad spirit of my stipulation, but found some bones to pick with aspects of the letter of it, and those who demanded some amplification or clarification.

It’s all evidence that Nigerians are particularly attentive to the subject of corruption, and to strategies for exorcizing that particular ghost that has haunted their dreams of development.

I must apologize that, given the breadth and complexity of the subject, the constraints of space, and the sheer number of reactions, this response is bound to be incomplete, even fragmentary. Indeed, my ambition is to provide some context, to touch on a few salient points raised by my interlocutors, and to offer a sense of the evolution of my thinking over the last week as I reflected on the considerable correspondence triggered by my column.

I have been frustrated by what has passed, over the last 16 years, as Nigeria’s war on corruption. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo oversaw the inauguration of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC), Nigeria’s main anti-corruption agencies. During his Presidency, the EFCC, then headed by Nuhu Ribadu, gave the impression of hounding corrupt officials in the public and private sectors.

In reality, that much vaunted and promised war was more flash and theater than substance and sting. Rather frequently, the EFCC titillated Nigerians by declaring its compilation of mountains of evidence against numerous corrupt officials, including governors and ministers. On occasion, the agency staged dramatic arrests of government officials. Yet, juxtaposed with the loudness of its claims, the EFCC’s anti-corruption record has been unimpressive.

Under Obasanjo’s reign, the agency arm-twisted a handful of state legislators to impeach Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State and Joshua Dariye of Plateau State after British authorities had accused both governors of money laundering in the UK. Mr. Dariye subsequently convinced Nigeria’s Supreme Court to overturn his impeachment. And, once done with being governor, he won a seat as one of Nigeria’s “distinguished” senators. The commission secured a conviction in the case of Mr. Alamieyeseigha, the former governor sentenced to several counts of two-year sentences that ran concurrently. He was released hours after his sentencing based on “time served.” The EFCC also prosecuted former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, but his six-month sentence was a joke.

Under Presidents Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, the EFCC and ICPC and hence the ostensible crusade against corruption were impeded by presidential meddlesomeness. It was no secret that Mr. Obasanjo used the anti-corruption agencies as part of a vindictive machine against his political foes. His political allies could stink to high heavens with corruption, the anti-corruption czars knew better than to trouble them. To one degree or another, Mr. Obasanjo’s successors adopted the same policy.

Apart from remote presidential control, Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies are also encumbered by a cultural conundrum. It is this: that Nigeria, as a country, is rigged for the biggest, baddest, most politically exalted and connected thieves. One example: the clause in the Nigerian constitution granting immunity to certain officials, including the president and governors, is one of the most grotesquely expansive such clauses in the world.

In the US, for example, the immunity clause only shields designated officials from lawsuits arising from the exercise of the legitimate duties of their office. If they commit crimes, they are exposed to prosecution—as happened when former President Bill Clinton lied on oath about the nature of his relationship with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Another American example: the FBI arrested then Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois for seeking to sell the Senate seat that fell vacant after then Senator Barack Obama’s election as US president. Mr. Blagojevich had not received a cent, but his mere attempt to shop for a buyer of Mr. Obama’s seat earned him a 14-year sentence in jail.

By contrast, Nigerian government officials are protected even when they squander or pocket vast amounts of public funds, or commit other crimes that betray their oath of office and the public trust indeed, especially then.

Given this context, it is clear that a viable war against corruption must begin by giving strengthening Nigeria’s law enforcement apparatuses, including the police, the EFCC and the ICPC. These agencies, along with the country’s judiciary, should be inoculated against executive interference and transformed into institutions that have muscle, integrity and fierce independence.

It would be a tragic mistake to put the burden of fighting corruption on Mr. Buhari’s shoulder—or that of any man, for that matter. President-elect Buhari has friends who are awfully corrupt. Unless we have anti-corruption agencies that strike fear in the hearts of all corrupt people, including those who dine with the president, the so-called war against corruption would remain little more than a farce. And those who believe that the president-elect is going to haul every suspect before the EFCC, even his closest associates, must have an inflated sense of the man’s eccentricity.

This context informed my prescription for a restitution commission. It is not the first time I mulled this idea. In June, 2011, shortly after President Jonathan’s inauguration, I wrote a column titled “Time for a New Anti-Corruption Manual.” In it, I stated, “One proposal is for (President Jonathan) to champion a truth and restitution option. The import would be to offer public officials the opportunity to confess to their participation in graft or money laundering, and then to return their loot in exchange for the offer of no jail time.

“There should be certain elements to this proposed method of addressing the nation’s Number One blight. One, participation in the program should be voluntary to serving and former government officials. Those who choose to enlist in the program would agree to submit themselves to thorough asset verification by the EFCC or other agencies. The idea is to have an independent agency corroborate the veracity of each official’s account of the size of his loot. The recovered funds or physical assets should then be placed in state or federal accounts that are periodically audited, devoted to massive infrastructural development.

“Public officials who refuse to take advantage of this amnesty should then be subjected to scrutiny and if found to have pocketed public funds compelled to face prosecution and certain imprisonment.”

Many who reacted to my column last week objected to the idea of demanding that corrupt officials return only a percentage of what they stole. I sympathize with those who have such profound misgivings. In 2011, my position was, in fact, for a full restitution. I revised that because, a, the recovery of 40 or 50 percent of what’s been stolen from Nigerians would represent unprecedented progress and yield a substantial amount to invest, say, in infrastructure;  because Nigeria doesn’t have enough courts, judges, prosecutors, investigators and funds to undertake a rigorous investigation and prosecution of all corrupt officials. Therefore, if a commission could persuade some of these suspects to make voluntary confessions of their graft, followed by the return of a sizeable portion of their loot that strikes me as a promising and pragmatic step.

Still, I’m not against insisting that every stolen kobo be returned, if we can find a way of enforcing it. As I indicated in 2011, I also envisage that the EFCC (or some other agency) will verify all declarations of loot, so that we don’t presume on the honesty of those who stole from us.

Some corrupt politicians may choose to flee Nigeria while Mr. Buhari remains the sheriff-in-chief, returning once a more permissive president takes over. If that happens, Nigeria should file extradition requests with the countries harboring the fugitives. And if we cannot get them back, why, we should try them in absentia.

A friend wrote to me and urged that those who volunteer information about their graft as well as those who are found out through investigation must face additional punishment, in addition to forfeiting their loot. He specifically suggested that they be barred, for life, from holding public office. I say a resounding yes to that proposal!


Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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Corruption and Buhari’s perfect storm Tue, 12 May 2015 02:33:22 +0000 President-elect Muhammadu Buhari will inherit something of a perfect political storm when he takes office in a few weeks. He ran a well-orchestrated campaign as an outsider, an agent of “change” and the “answer” to everything that ails Nigeria. ]]>

President-elect Muhammadu Buhari will inherit something of a perfect political storm when he takes office in a few weeks. He ran a well-orchestrated campaign as an outsider, an agent of “change” and the “answer” to everything that ails Nigeria.

Well, it happens that Nigeria is in deep, deep doo-doo. And, come May 29, every Nigerian will look to Mr. Buhari to start fixing things.

Buhari, I predict, will have the shortest honeymoon of any recent Nigerian leader. His political acts will be closely scrutinised, right from the outset. His ministerial list better be beyond reproach, or he’s going to hear about it. Let him nominate a man or woman with an odoriferous past, and Nigerians are bound to cry betrayal!

We have already seen a glimpse of what awaits his presidency. When Mr. Buhari’s aides made the disastrous decision to exclude AIT Television from covering the president-elect, that ill-advised move provoked great outrage. “It’s not the change we asked/voted for,” became the refrain on social media. As president, Buhari’s every misstep is bound to attract such similar censure.

He better gird himself, then, for a bumpy ride. He will become Nigeria’s first citizen at a time when too many things are out off synch, and he has little – very little – margin of error.

Come May 29, Nigerians will look to the “Answer” to answer about corruption. They will look for evidence that their new president has plans to jail those who, through acts of corruption, have contributed to wrecking Nigeria. They will look to him to neutralise Boko Haram. They will demand a roadmap to reliable electric power. They will want to see movement on fixing their country’s dilapidated infrastructure.

Nigerians’ great expectations are going to test Mr. Buhari’s mettle, as a politician and his measure as a leader. How is he going to balance the business of fighting corruption against the duty of addressing Nigeria’s developmental woes?

This question is of the utmost import. After all, many Nigerians desperately want to see the incoming president battle the monster of corruption. But some of them may not have reckoned with two salient facts. One is that any war against corruption would, for one, demand time and other resources. The second one is that the very nature of political realities that shaped Mr. Buhari’s election is likely to constitute an impediment to his full prosecution of an anti-corruption policy.

The incoming president will not have enough time to uproot corruption, which is too deeply rooted. Nor does he have the political wherewithal to launch an all-out assault on corruption.

Let me contextualise my assertions. An effective war on corruption cannot be a flash in the pan, or a mere exhibition game. Many Nigerians tend to talk about corruption in the limited sense of the egregious acts of presidents, governors, ministers, commissioners and legislators. But the malaise is entrenched in every sector of the Nigerian society.

Sometimes, it’s civil servants who perpetrate the more devastating acts of corruption. Too many customs officers receive bribes to enable importers to evade the payment of duties to the government. Rather than focus on fighting crimes, many Nigerian police officers prefer to set up checkpoints that are, simply, bribe-collection points. How about bureaucrats, who sell civil service jobs to the highest bidder, regardless of credentials? How about lecturers who award grades to their students in exchange for cash or sex?

Yet, when many Nigerians expound on a war against corruption, all they want to see is the jailing of people with high-profile political offices. Mr. Buhari cannot ignore this dimension of the fight. That’s why it’s encouraging that he has vowed to revisit the whole controversy of the billions of dollars in crude oil revenues that were not accounted for. The unmasking and humiliation of men and women, who betrayed their high political offices is utterly important. For one, it can serve as a deterrent to those in less visible positions.

In a perfect world, Mr. Buhari should go after and jail every political office holder, who has fiddled with public funds. The reality is that he will NOT. And he will not because, among other reasons, he CANNOT.

For all his pretention to being an outsider, the president-elect is, first and foremost, a politician – and a seasoned one at that. He made a calculated decision to run on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a party that – in character and personnel- closely resembles the much-despised Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Let’s not delude ourselves: The APC is far from a party of saints. It has an ample contingent of crooks to give the PDP a run for its money any day. But many of these crooks worked hard, spent tons of ill-gotten funds, to champion Mr. Buhari’s presidential run. Unless he’s more eccentric than we ever suspected, the president-elect is not going to throw his corrupt political sponsors into jail. And if he doesn’t, then where would he find the political capital and moral authority to shame corrupt men and women, who belong to other political camps?

This does not suggest that he should do nothing – or little – about corruption. In fact, his peculiar predicament presents an opportunity for an approach to fighting corruption that can be at once comprehensive and effective, even if it is not to the public’s appetite for drama.

Here, then, is an outline of a modest proposal for combatting corruption. First, Mr. Buhari ought to take steps to place institutions, rather than persons, at the centre of any war against corruption. His greatest legacy would lie in taking steps to strengthen and professionalise institutions like the police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The EFCC and the police should be empowered to go after any criminal, regardless of position or status, without first seeking the president’s permission. In the same spirit, the president-elect should initiate measures to ensure that the Nigerian judiciary is fiercely independent, and that only persons of proven ethical disposition and sound knowledge are nominated for judgeships.

That’s in the long term.

In the short term, he should set up a commission on restitution of proceeds of corruption. He should offer a grace period of six months to all public officials, past or incumbent, to approach the commission and make full confessions about their acts of corruption, including revealing the size of their illicit accumulation. The law setting up the commission should stipulate an offer of immunity from prosecution to all self-confessed looters, on condition that they return a certain percentage (anything between 30 and 50 per cent would make sense) of what they stole.

Such a commission meets the demand of equity, enabling Mr. Buhari to treat all corrupt politicians, including his foes and friends, with fairness. The incoming president should warn all, including his political friends, that they risk investigation and prosecution should they fail to take advantage of the mercies offered by the commission.

Of course, if President Buhari is serious about curtailing corruption, he should also specify that, going forward, all who betray the public trust, whether political friend or opponent, should be prepared to pay the price.

Please, follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe. 

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Tamas Aczel: A writer who inspired me Tue, 05 May 2015 01:09:40 +0000 One of the special joys of my time in the MFA programme at the University of Massachusetts was taking a fiction workshop with Tamas Aczel. It was during the spring semester of 1993.]]>

One of the special joys of my time in the MFA programme at the University of Massachusetts was taking a fiction workshop with Tamas Aczel. It was during the spring semester of 1993.

Aczel’s teaching style in academic lingo, his pedagogy was the first thing that got me hooked. At the professor’s behest, our class met at a restaurant, specifically the Lord Jeffery Inn, a regal establishment that had long been a fixture of the centre of Amherst, Massachusetts.

There were twelve of us in Aczel’s fiction workshop, men and women of different ages and just as many styles and tempers. Yet, as the semester progressed, we began to evolve into a vibrant community, forming a strong bond.

One reason for this was our shared passion. We were all deeply invested in the business of reading and writing. I’d suggest, however, that a far more important reason was Aczel himself. He was an understated but quietly magnetic presence, and he acted as the glue for our small creative community. There was an avuncular gravitas about the man. That gift enabled him to hold our idiosyncrasies in check and beseeched us to coalesce into a close-knit, cohesive tribe, a republic forged by letters.

I’d hazard that the ambience of the Lord Jeffery shaped the dynamics of the workshop. At each weekly workshop, Aczel picked up the bill for our drinks: beers, wine, spirits, juices and sodas. Sometimes, when his generosity was on an expansive scale, he also paid for hors d’oeuvres. We’d eat and drink as we responded to our peers’ short stories or excerpts from novels, or grappled with some question of craft or broad issue of literary practice provoked by Aczel’s comment.

The experience of being in Aczel’s workshop was inspiring. It fed my intuition that few other sensations triggered imaginative flights and disposed the mind to creative contemplation than the sight and fragrance of food. It also gave me a new appreciation of the seductive power of beverage on the tongue.

Aczel was a remarkable man in many ways. In physique he was rather smallish in stature, but managed to project a patrician carriage. He had the kind of facial features that would be a portrait artist’s delight, a face that suggested erudition and aristocratic bearing. To me, he looked older than his seventy years. Yet, time did not mar him; it decorated him, lent him an aura of power. An impressionist rendition of his face would include a pipe hanging from his lips, a wisp of smoke curved upward, slightly obscuring sharp, lively eyes, narrowed.

By the time I met him in 1993, Aczel was seventy-one – and a year away from his death on April 18, 1994. He was hunched over, often walked with a stick, his gait slow. Sometimes he seemed lost in his long, dark winter coat. Yet, there was nothing deathly about his appearance or manners. He had a commanding presence, one that filled any space he entered.

He spoke an urbane English, in a deliberate, cultivated vein. His voice, clear and resonant, belied his age. And there was a faintly Oxonian quality to his enunciation. His speech seemed shaped by the years he had spent in the UK after breaking with the communist rulers of his native Hungary in the late 1950s.

At our workshops, he spoke sparingly, as if words were the most dear of commodities, the over-use of which he considered unconscionable. Sometimes he offered broad comments on the story or novel excerpt we were critiquing. Sometimes he zeroed in on some technical detail. Sometimes he asked a question or a series of questions, nudging us to think about some aspect of a work. A man of prodigious intellect, he often mentioned some familiar or remote author or unknown or known text that a work under critique recalled for him.

I hung on to his every word. Despite his parsimoniousness—or, in fact, owing to it—whatever he had to say seemed to me to have a weight to it, precious as heck.

I was curious about the man. So I scavenged for bits and pieces of his biography, his past. What I found was, I believe, a concatenation of facts and fiction, but it transformed the man for me. In my eyes, at least, he was a legend.

Once upon a time, Aczel had been a towering figure among the literary figures of communist Hungary. He’d won the highest state-sponsored accolades. In the end, he had become despondent about the Hungarian communist regime, particularly the predations of its apparatchiks whose fealty was to their Soviet masters. He’d risked life and limb for a while as a dissident. He ultimately fled to London. In the UK, he had found both love and a space that empowered the flowering of his imagination. Then, fed up with an intellectual atmosphere in Europe that sometimes flirted with or romanticized communism, he had made another flight, this time across the waters to the US.

A year or two before I became his student, Aczel had published what proved to be his last novel, The Hunt. The work had appeared after a hiatus of close to a decade since the writer’s previous novel, Illuminations.

Even without reading his books, I took it on faith – and felt – that I was in the presence of a writer of immense consequence.

At any rate, I admired Aczel’s courage in forsaking all the preferment he stood to receive had he stayed back in Hungary, had he ingratiated himself with the communist machinery. Instead, he’d elected to renounce the system; he had chosen not to remain a complacent producer of ideologically rigid, formulaic verse and fiction. That act of defiance appealed to me.

As a writer, I desperately wanted to earn Aczel’s approval, especially to impress him with the seed of what became my first novel, Arrows of Rain. One day, at the very end of the first round of the workshop, I offered two consecutive chapters of Arrows for the workshop.

I arrived at the Lord Jeffery in a mood split between mild excitement and anxiety. I took ample gulps of my glass of Guinness, to steel myself. As was the custom, I read a few paragraphs from my work. My classmates responded to it. Most liked it, others made suggestions for revisions, and one or two were no fans. It was a typical kind of day at a workshop. Except for one awfully odd development: Aczel had not uttered a word about my work. Not one. His silence unnerved me.

Class ended, and I fully intended to make a swift escape, confused as hell.

“Okey,” the professor called out. His magisterial voice stopped me in my tracks. “I’d like you to come see me in my office.”

“Okay,” I managed, a lump caught in my throat.

A day or two later, I mustered the courage to knock on his door at Bartlett Hall, the English Department.

“Come in,” he beckoned in a strong, commanding voice.

His head was set down when I walked in. He was reading something, the bridge of his pair of glasses at the very tip of his nose. Without much raising his head, he lifted his eyes and gave me a quick wash of a look. Then, raising a hand, he gestured to a chair. I sat down, at the edge of the seat. He read for another two or three minutes, then scribbled a note in longhand. Finally, he looked up at me, removed his glasses, and regarded me with those piercing eyes.

“Do you know why I asked you to come see me?”

I wasn’t about to confess it. Yet, I felt certain that my writing had so thoroughly disappointed him that he couldn’t find a gentle way to voice it. He must have called me to his office to break it to me, delicately but firmly: “You’re not cut out for writing. Quit.” I wasn’t about to tell him I knew I had failed. So, I said, “No.”

“Well,” he said, “of the stories we’ve looked at so far in class, yours strikes me as the one with the greatest potential of becoming a book. So, I’ve called you here to make me a promise. Promise me you’ll continue to work on it until it becomes a book.”

He regarded me with intense, curious eyes. I beamed a big smile, my body still shaking slightly from my doleful scenario.

“Do you promise?” he asked, like a strident judgem asking a parolee if he would promise to resist the lure of recidivism.

“I do,” I said, still beaming.

“Of course you would! Otherwise I’d kick your ass!”

He roared with laughter. Infected, I laughed too, out of relief.

I can’t imagine that any writer anywhere has quite taken the threat to kick his or her ass with the giddy delight I felt that day. That encounter boosted my confidence. It was one of the greatest gifts I received in my days as a fledging, uncertain writer prone to bouts of diffidence.

Please, follow me on twitter @okeyndibe.

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Is Africa fated to be a metaphor of disaster? Tue, 28 Apr 2015 02:33:30 +0000 In May 2000, the British Broadcasting Corporation asked me to contribute an online opinion piece that would x-ray the prospects for socio-economic progress on the African continent. ]]>

In May 2000, the British Broadcasting Corporation asked me to contribute an online opinion piece that would x-ray the prospects for socio-economic progress on the African continent. The BBC’s commission was triggered by a series of articles in major British, US and European publications that portrayed Africa as bereft of hope, mired in crises and disasters, and bound to failure.

My task was to puncture these (almost giddy) projections of a whole continent’s imminent – or inevitable – collapse. On some level, mine seemed a simple task. Africa, I felt, had been through bleaker crises and had survived. The horrendous enslavement of millions of its vibrant young men and women had shaken up the continent, but had not torpedoed it. The phase of profit-minded imperialist exploitation had fazed and dazed the continent, but had not erased its people or its promise.

I wrote for the BBC: “Confronted with a dismal tableau of war, corruption and natural disaster, many voices in Europe and North America have reached for morbid metaphors. Africa is pronounced dead or dying.

“But anybody remotely familiar with the complexity of Africa’s experience would recognise these facile judgments for what they are. Africa’s seemingly terminal symptoms have confounded the certitudes of casual observers and obituary writers before.”

Despite that upbeat tone, I freely confess that the BBC assignment was also daunting. The reason owed in large measure to the African continent’s seemingly inexhaustible menu of misery. To follow the news of African countries, whether in the foreign or African mass media, is to be overwhelmed with the sense of an unremitting, incessant and irreversible march towards perdition. How uphold and project hope about a continent that too often inspires fatigue?

Lately, I have been thinking about that 2000 opinion piece I wrote for the BBC. I have been reminiscing because, once again, the African continent has caught the world’s attention for the worst possible reasons.

The spree of callous, xenophobic killings of black African immigrants by black South African “natives” caught me utterly by surprise. In my desperation, I wished that this outbreak of black-native on black-immigrant violence would prove a short-lived, isolated skirmish. Instead, the horrific attacks have lasted several weeks, pointing to cruel orchestration, a widespread and deep-seated animus, and methodical execution.

During the long, violent struggle against apartheid, it seemed that all conscientious Africans became South Africans. The racist humiliation of our brethren in that enclave of apartheid was our humiliation. We died along with our South African brothers and sisters when they were massacred in Soweto. The apartheid regime’s slaughter of black resisters in Sharpeville was every African’s holocaust as well. Regardless of our location in the world, we felt the bruises inflicted on our “racial” kind in South Africa. We knew the laceration of the lashes, the vicious bites by apartheid police dogs, the maddening fever of hot bullets cooking, deadening the body.

When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison in 1990, after a 27-year incarceration in several apartheid prisons, he was not just a South African hero—no, he embodied the resilient, unbowed spirit of an entire continent.

Why then did our South African (black) brothers turn against the rest of us with such homicidal fury, such murderous gall? Why did the South African authorities fail to anticipate killings on such a scale, or to protect the African victims from their African predators? How, ever, are Africans immigrants going to look into the eyes of native South Africans and reconnect as comrades, as kin?

As if the tragedy of xenophobia wasn’t disturbing enough, the news came last week that some 800 African refugees packed like canned sardines had perished on the Mediterranean Sea when their boat sank. It was the single largest number of drowning deaths in that sea. What’s worse: since January of this year, more than 1500 Africans have perished in the Mediterranean.

Why are so many Africans so desperate to escape from their homeland that they would countenance any risk, even savage death in turbulent waters? What has made Africa such hell on earth that thousands of Africans are hungry to flee as one would run from some pestilence? Why are thousands of African lives feeding the fish of the Mediterranean deeps?

These drowning deaths are tragic enough. But they are compounded by the humiliating response to them. The European Union’s response has focused on ensuring that the African desperadoes never make it to the shores of Europe. There’s little attention paid to the fact that many of the fleeing refugees are direct victims of the anarchy unleashed by the US and EU-led operation to topple former Libyan strongman Muamar Gaddafi.

If the EU’s policy has been anal, the African Union has, simply, slumbered through the tragedy. It is a case of African abdication, African silence on an issue that is profoundly African. Again, it is a deeply disconcerting experience, this absence of Africa’s voice on an issue that is thoroughly African in location and implication.

All of this speaks to a profound dislocation. In terms of natural resources, Africa is one of the richest addresses on earth. Yet, Africa’s resources – whether it’s crude oil, diamond, gold, copper, bauxite, or uranium – have brought little more than curses to Africans. The great competition between Euro-American and Chinese corporations for Africa’s resources has often created tectonic tension on the continent, rendering parts of Africa too unsettled and violent for Africans. The concomitant is the rising exodus of Africans to Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

Add to this picture the reprehensible ravages of the Islamist groups ISIL, Boko Haram and Al Shabaab – and what emerges is a sobering portrait of a continent ripe for re-colonization, if not in the throes of it. Unfortunately, the African Union appears blissfully ignorant of the dire, far-reaching implications of developments on the continent. Else, why is the so-called AU silent on the African tragedy playing out in the perilous Mediterranean? Why is the organization silent on the food crisis in the Sudan and other parts of Africa?

Why is Africa perennially announced to the world as a problem, but African voices hardly feature in analyzing their continent, in charting the path out of crises? Why is the EU meeting, speaking and setting the agenda on Africa’s latest graveyard in the Mediterranean, but the AU remains staunchly taciturn? Why are Brussels, London, Rome and Paris pronouncing on the hordes of African desperadoes staking everything to reach Europe while the tongues of Abuja, Pretoria, and N’Djamena remain cold, stilled?

In 2000, I had concluded the BBC piece by touching on Africans’ gift for laughter. I wrote: “It is, also, the laughter of those who have a stubborn pact with hope. It is laughter that speaks about a long view of life, a faith that, however impenetrable the darkness, light comes. Whatever the strife, the true African spirit never ceases to strive.

“It is a shame that many in the West, ignorant about their complicity in this tragedy-in-progress, seem ready to declare Africa a hopeless case. The good news is that this kind of prognosis is hardly new.

“The prediction of Africa’s imminent collapse is a long-founded cottage industry. Africans will once again outlive the current frenzy of dour prophecies and gloomy forecasts.”

These days, watching events in South Africa, watching images of Africans flailing and drowning in the Mediterranean in their thousands, one isn’t so certain about the sense of confidence.

Please, follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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What we all owe Buhari Tue, 21 Apr 2015 01:34:03 +0000 Muhammadu Buhari’s triumph over Goodluck Jonathan in the March 28, 2015 presidential election has unleashed a fever of hope in Nigeria. Everywhere I turn, I ]]>

Muhammadu Buhari’s triumph over Goodluck Jonathan in the March 28, 2015 presidential election has unleashed a fever of hope in Nigeria. Everywhere I turn, I encounter among Nigerians the sense that our country is on the cusp of redemption, about to achieve a veritable renaissance.

Nigerians’ expectations are not just great; they are also, I am afraid, ominous. Some of us believe, for instance, that there won’t be a single Boko Haram terror attack anywhere in Nigeria the moment Mr. Buhari takes the oath of office. Abubakar Shekau and his ragtag bunch know better than to provoke Buhari’s ire, some contend. Some think the ugly guy called Corruption will buy a one-way ticket and fly out of Nigeria the day the retired general moves into Aso Rock. What about Nigeria’s electric power woes? Some Nigerians appear convinced that the incoming president will flip some switch and inaugurate a season of uninterrupted electric power.

Well, the president-elect asked for it, didn’t he? He has been more tenacious than most in seeking the presidential office. In fact, four times he asked Nigerians to entrust him with their number one job. The first three times, they declined; the fourth time, they said a resounding yes!

Can you blame Nigerians for coming to think that the man has been so persistent exactly because he is the answer, the secret elixir to put right our misshapen condition?

Some of Mr. Buhari’s close associates have assured me, a, that the man understands the gravity of the task before him and, b, that he’s determined to give it his best, honest shot. I find that inspiring. Still, it appears that many Nigerians are looking not merely for a president who would try but for a problem-fixing wizard, a leader with the magic touch.

But sobering reality stands, stubbornly, in the way. It took Nigerians more than five decades to accumulate their album of crises, from a receptivity to obscene graft to deep ethnic divisions, deepening sectarian intolerance to a coarsening moral atmosphere. There isn’t enough fibre in Buhari’s body to subdue problems that have been five and a half decades in the making. But even if the man possessed the energy, the job requires cash, a lot of cash, in fact. And the reality is that there isn’t enough cash in the treasury to do the job. And even if there were the money, there aren’t the solid institutions to midwife the process of turning a long dysfunctional country into a tip-top society.

The sooner we all reckoned that the ‘M’ in Mr. Buhari’s first name does not stand for Magician, the better for him and for us. Too many Nigerians believe it’s up to God to clear the mess in their country. But one of the great lessons of history is that people, applying their human intelligence, ingenuity and lofty vision, shape their societies. Even if God were in the business of righting countries, why take on Nigeria – a country whose man-made folly has mocked its rich endowment of natural and human resources? I don’t know of any country in history that merely prayed and fasted its way out of a jam.

In a variant of the divine path to Nigeria’s regeneration, too many of us speak about God “using” So-and-So to fix our country. Again, this attitude speaks to a profound misconception. It suggests that the arduous business of reviving Nigeria can be consigned to some superhuman. It would be up to this Gilgamesh-sized fellow to pick up after the rest of us, to stay awake and alert, ensuring that our lives are in order – whilst the rest of us make merry, have a jolly time.

For years, many Nigerians have nursed what I call a Rawlings fantasy. As a young military officer in Ghana, Jerry Rawlings had inspired some soldiers to spring him from jail, as he awaited execution for plotting a failed coup d’état. Shortly after being installed as military leader, Mr. Rawlings approved the execution of General Ignatius Kuku Acheampong, a former military ruler, and other generals. While Rawlings remains a divisive figure among Ghanaians, in some quarters reviled as passionately as he is venerated in other quarters, he is an altogether heroic, even messianic character among Nigerians. Ask Nigerians what must be done to combat the scourge of corruption in their country, and one of the top answers would be, “We need Jerry Rawlings here.”

For some Nigerians, then, Mr. Buhari is the nearest thing, our Rawlingsian approximation, our made-in-Nigeria facsimile of the real deal. Some Nigerians are convinced that, on Mr. Buhari’s inauguration, there won’t be enough room in prisons for all the doomed agents of corruption.

Mr. Buhari’s body language, so far, has been impressive. He has refrained from encouraging the notion that he is a “fixer-aller,” that he has a wand that would take care of Nigeria’s broken education, its non-existent healthcare, its antiquated infrastructure, and its numerous schisms.

What Buhari owes Nigerians is to invest his time and energy everyday to turning Nigeria around. But – even at his best – he can only get us so far. Nigeria’s fortune is in the hands of all of us – all one hundred and seventy million of us. If we want a different country, a healthier, more robust Nigeria, we better realise that it’s up to us, not to one man.

Let’s take one example: Corruption. Jailing a few corrupt politicians, or even a lot of them, won’t make corruption disappear from the Nigerian space. The police, customs officials, or reporters cannot, with one hand, demand and receive illicit gratification, and, with the other, declare that they want a clime free of corruption.

If Nigeria must be rid of this malaise, then Nigerians must face up to their culpability in fertilising this unwholesome practice. Every Okeke, Segun, Okon and Musa should resolve neither to offer a bribe nor demand one. We should abandon the habit of excusing or defending corruption when the accused perpetrators happen to belong to our ethnic or religious group.

The message is simple: There isn’t one man or woman who alone has what it takes to beat Nigeria into shape. That job belongs, not to one man, but to all of us. If we lull ourselves to sleep, convinced that Magician Buhari is going to slay the monster, we will wake up to the nightmare that the monster has grown bigger, steelier and more vicious.

If Mr. Buhari is to succeed, he must define his agenda and stay the course. But – of even more critical import – he’d need Nigerians’ collective commitment and eternal vigilance.


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Goodluck’s notes to Buhari Tue, 07 Apr 2015 00:41:52 +0000 Dear General, On behalf of “Mama Peace” and myself, I would like to congratulate you again on your historic victory in the March 28 presidential election. Why do I call it historic?]]>

Dear General,
On behalf of “Mama Peace” and myself, I would like to congratulate you again on your historic victory in the March 28 presidential election. Why do I call it historic?
It’s not only because it became the first time in our country’s history that an opposition candidate would defeat an incumbent president; that’s an unquestionably historic feat. But there’s even more impressive history elsewhere. There is the fact, for example, that you finally triumphed in a presidential election on your fourth try. There is also the fact that, for the first time in our country’s history, a political party with roots in Nigeria’s southwest aligned with politicians from different parts of the northern half of our country to win power at the center.
Your victory was also historic in that it aborted the goal of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Africa’s largest political party to rule Nigeria for sixty unbroken years. However, our consolation is that many of our great party’s original founders are now members of your soon-to-be ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In a sense, then, the PDP has purchased shares in the PDP, ensuring that our interests will continue to be served in the forthcoming dispensation.
As your immediate predecessor in office, and your dubious partner in the making of political history, I feel duty bound to offer you these parting notes about the lessons I have learned as a politician, president and commander-in-chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The most important lesson I would like to share is the last I learned as president. It is this: money can buy you endorsement, but hardly brings you votes.
As you well know, the moment the presidential election was postponed for six weeks, my campaign team and I hit the road, loaded with cash. By cash I do not mean naira, which has become as commonplace as tree leaves and now serves as the currency only of Nigerian commoners. No, by cash I mean Nigeria’s official political currency, the American dollar.
Before the election was postponed, my team and I had ensured that you and your team had run out of money. And to be without money whilst running a political campaign in Nigeria is tantamount to a car without fuel but set on a marathon trip. That car, like a cashless political campaign, is supposed to get nowhere. That’s why I was surprised, indeed shocked, that you somehow found the momentum to win.
My campaign and I had done our best to press our dollar advantage. I visited numerous royal fathers in all the political zones of this country. At each stop, I dropped bags and bags of dollars. Trust me, it was a dollar bonanza, a bazaar of huge cash gifts. I netted numerous endorsements; I knelt down before many a traditional ruler and received their royal blessings. I also received a deluge of endorsements from the men and women who call themselves “political chieftains” or “stakeholders.”
Having spent dollars as if the currency was going out of style, I was confident that the election was clinched, my victory guaranteed. It never occurred to me that most of the so-called royal fathers I wasted dollars on did not even have PVCs. And, even if they had their voter’s card, that they have only one vote.
I never reckoned too that those who call themselves stakeholders are widely loathed in their communities, that they are men and women of shady reputation who would be tied to the stake and executed if their people had a say in their fate. On collecting dollars from me, the first thing some of these so-called stakeholders did was to buy first class tickets to jet off to London, New York or Dubai before the election.
So let me warn you: the time when money can buy an election in Nigeria may be over. Over, I suspect, for good. I wish somebody had forewarned me before I squandered all that cash on PVC-less obas, obis, emirs, “chieftains” and “stakeholders.” All that cash would have brought me hundreds of thousands of votes—perhaps millions, even had I spent it on projects that improved the lives of all Nigerians. So I learned the hard way, when it was too late, that the only endorsement that REALLY counts is that of registered voters, not that of wretched “royal highnesses” and fly-by-night stakeholders who relish to reap where they do not sow. I now know, when it was too late, that those who arrogate to themselves the name of “stakeholders” are often impostors. Every Nigerian, all 170 million of us, is an equal stakeholder in Nigeria.
My dear General, trust me, some of your political associates will come to you a minute or two after your swearing-in and begin to spell out what you must do to win reelection in four years. They will advise you to start stashing away billions of dollars for deployment in 2019. They will tell you need the cash to purchase media affection and to line up endorsements by “royal fathers” and all manner of “chieftains.”
I implore you: pay these advisors no heed. If mustering a huge chest of campaign cash were an effective strategy, I would have blown you out in a landslide on March 28. You know that I had enough dollars to drown you and all your supporters in a sea of cash. Yet, what good did all that money do me? Did I not still come out more than two million votes short? Mama Peace and I are packing up to vacate the Villa for your wife and you.
My counsel to you is this: Use every dollar of Nigeria’s revenue to work for the Nigerian people. I know: I did not follow my own advice. But I assure you I would have easily secured another four-year term if I had not listened to those who convinced me that the presidency would always belong to the person with the fattest, dollar-rest wallet. I wish now that I had spent all that hoard of dollars fixing Nigeria.
Another important lesson: in making appointments, always go for the people you trust, not the people thrust upon you. Again, I allowed different political interests to decide who became a member of my cabinet and who received other major appointments in my administration. The result was that I had many appointees whose loyalty was to the interests that foisted them on me, not to me. Sadly, when I figured out that some of these appointees were sabotaging the country and undermining me, I was remiss to fire them. I have paid for that failure.
Let me forewarn you, General Buhari, about flattery and other forms of inflation that, if you don’t take care, will be your doom. As a Nigerian president, you are condemned to living in a virtual “virtual” reality space. You are a stranger to the people you’re supposed to govern and lead (or, as we prefer to say and do, rule). Your advisors, ministers, aides, party “stakeholders,” prayer warriors, and contractor-friends work round the clock to keep you thoroughly blinded to the harsh reality of conditions in Nigeria. The first thing they do is to pump your vanity up.
Do you know that, after a while, I came to believe what my advisors, ministers and associates said about me? I believed I was a transformational leader. I believed I was the one who made Nigeria’s economy the largest, by GDP, in Africa. I believed I was a political icon and genius, an economic wizard, and that God had declared there was no vacancy in Aso Rock. I believed them when they said First Lady Patience was the most popular woman in African history. I believed them when they said you were the guiding spirit and financier of Boko Haram, and that the best policy was to ignore you by ignoring Boko Haram.
In 2011, Nigerians said they hated the PDP but loved me. Today, they’re saying they adore you, even though they have misgivings about some of the crowd around you. Start from Day One to work for the Nigerian people, or you may find that their fury is even quicker than their affection. The pastors and imams and other lucre-seeking minions will admonish you to relax; they will declare you a savior of the Nigerian people even before you’ve lifted a hand to do one thing. Don’t let them fool you. There’s a lot of work to do for the Nigerian people. Our country’s educational system is so broken (the reason we ship our children abroad); there’s no healthcare (which is why our medical tourism dollars are enriching several foreign countries); our power sector continues to deteriorate, killing off industries and forcing Nigerians to buy more and more generators from Japan and elsewhere; and too many of our citizens, including graduates, now find jobs as armed robbers, kidnappers or political thugs.
Unless you wake up every day determined to roll up your sleeves and serve the Nigerian people, be assured they will turn against you and your party in four years—just as they did me.
I wish you—yes—Goodluck!

Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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Early winners, losers of elections 2015 Tue, 31 Mar 2015 01:31:49 +0000 By the time you read this, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would have announced the outcome of last weekend’s presidential and National ]]>

By the time you read this, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would have announced the outcome of last weekend’s presidential and National Assembly elections. But I’m writing without the benefit of that information, with only a few results that have trickled out, some of them yet to be authenticated by INEC.

Even so, I feel equipped with enough information to speak about some early winners and losers in the first round of voting.

Nigerian voters strike me as the biggest winners. Last week, an impressive number of voters went to the polls. Defying rain, the scorching sun, Boko Haram and sundry forms of official and unofficial violence and threats of violence, these men and women went to polling units across Nigeria to cast their votes. In some places, these determined voters met police and military roadblocks, but they refused to turn back. In some places, thugs beat them with sticks, stole ballot boxes, and even shot at them, but their spirits were not cowed. In many polling centres, INEC officials seemed to have decided on sleeping late, arriving at their posts hours after voters had been standing around, waiting, but these voters would not shirk their civic responsibility. In some voting centres, the novel card reader technology for accrediting voters malfunctioned, but the voters were ever patient, ever ready to do whatever it took in order to vote.

For that, I offer my admiration for the Nigerian winner.

I’m sure many of them were driven by clannish or ethnic sentiments – a desire to vote for the candidate from their small corner of the world, the son or daughter of their soil, the speaker of the same tongue, whether s/he’s the right candidate or not. I hazard that many were fueled by religious considerations. Perhaps, out of excessive and misplaced sectarian zealousness, or an excessive fear of another religion, some voters went out to ensure that the candidate who avows the same faith won. I’d speculate that some of the voters out last weekend were induced with a few hundred crumpled naira notes or a few cups of rice (or salt) – or, even, the mere promise of these.

In time, the clannish voter and the ethnic champion and the voter energised by religious fanaticism and the one moved by a miserable bribe may yet see the light, reform their ways, and become more informed voters. For now, I celebrate all the voters, who made it their business, for one reason or another, to go out and vote, despite the (sometimes) forbidding odds.

The next winner, I hope, are Nigerians’ individual and collective nerves. I have lived through several elections, none with the decibel level of this one. It was as if too many Nigerians lost their minds at once. Friends poured scorn on friends, some family members stopped talking to one another, fanatical supporters of one party or another aimed stones across various divides at those vending a different party. I know that the campaigns led to the abrogation of many friendships. I won’t be surprised if the partisan bickering sundered some marriages, created or widened gulfs between siblings, spiked some people’s blood pressures to dangerous levels and even sent a few to their (untimely) graves.

So, I’d propose to all of us: Take a deep breath, hold it, and then exhale. You ought to give your nerves the reprieve they desperately need. Pick up the phone and call that friend or family member you’d excised from your life because s/he was impervious to the partisan case you made for this or that party, this or that candidate. Go ahead: Take the initiative to reconnect, renew relationships you renounced after some incendiary verbal exchange with a friend, a colleague, a brother or even a virtual pal on social media. There is life after the PDP and APC and KOWA and UPP.

Another winner: President Goodluck Jonathan, Muhammadu Buhari and other political candidates, who drummed the message that partisan jousting need not spell death. True, many of their supporters went ahead to inflict bodily harm – and even death – on supporters of opposing candidates. It was as if these hawkers of violence never received the memo on civility and non-violence. Even so, the menace of violence would have been far worse had the candidates not displayed verbal restraint.

Now, let’s look at some of the losers. It’s important to indicate that some of the entries in this category are composted, partial successes mixed with inexcusable failures.

With the exception of a few smaller political parties, some of them barely visible in the political firmament, the political campaigns were devoid of issues. In the main, both the PDP and APC ran uninspiring campaigns, content to hurl brickbats at each other. In sum, then, they neglected to be strong on message, failed to articulate and sell a vision of a reinvigorated Nigeria and to define the path to that goal. The two main parties’ campaigns substituted facile, one-word mantras -“continuity” and “change”- for rigorous programmes.

On the whole, Nigeria’s security agencies earned a pass mark. Yet, in certain politically volatile states, Rivers and Edo being prime examples, security agents seemed to view themselves, as the armed wing of the ruling PDP. The level of violence, injuries and deaths, should be unacceptable. It doesn’t make sense that armed thugs were able to raid some polling booths and flee with ballot boxes. One of the urgent challenges for Nigeria is to recreate its military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies into professionally sound and non-partisan groups. It should never be the case that an incumbent president can summon these agencies to advance his or her parochial political agenda.

Finally: INEC. One thing that became clear last weekend is that the electoral commission could not have possibly been in any shape to conduct the presidential and legislative elections on February 14. In too many parts of the country, INEC officials arrived several hours late at polling booths. It was also sad to see so many card readers fail to work. Their rate of malfunction suggests a measure of sloppy preparation. Worse, INEC staff seemed ill-equipped to troubleshoot the card readers. One of the saddest images from the elections was President Jonathan, standing at a polling booth for more than thirty minutes because the card readers, literally, failed to recognise him.

For all the praise INEC has received for the first round of this year’s elections, the whimsical performance of card readers represents a serious dent. Attahiru Jega, who is undertaking his last assignment as INEC chairman, now has two weeks to fix the system before the next round of elections come up on April 11. He should want to exit as a winner, ending his run at INEC on a high, near-flawless note.


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The victory goes to… Tue, 24 Mar 2015 01:05:58 +0000 Finally, the week has arrived when Nigeria will face the oddest and staunchest test for its electoral experimentation.]]>

Finally, the week has arrived when Nigeria will face the oddest and staunchest test for its electoral experimentation.

Odd because, as I have argued for some time, the two acknowledged top contending political parties are ideological twins, united by a shared predatory vision of governance. And if my hunch is right, then Nigerians stand to see, at best, cosmetic and fleeting benefits should the opposition APC win – and the certain continuation of a ruinous order should the ruling PDP retain power.

Staunch because the stakes are even much higher than the 2007 elections when outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo declared a do-or-die battle, or the 2011 elections when many Nigerians, in full sobriety, insisted that they would vote for Goodluck Jonathan, whom they declared congenial and committed to the common good, whilst proclaiming their distaste for his political party, the PDP.

I warned then, hardly heeded, that it was nonsensical to embrace the man and claim to abjure the party that both produced and defined him. I was also at pains to point out the pitfalls of falling for Mr. Jonathan’s narrative of growing up poor and shoeless. It wasn’t so much that one disbelieved the story as much as that, true or false, it was self-evident that the narrative had clearly failed to shape Mr. Jonathan’s political career. It was not as if he was coming out as a political cipher, devoid of a track record. No: He had a well-known middling record. He’d been a deputy governor, a governor, a vice president and an acting president. And, since there was little in his political past to demonstrate a deep awareness of and affinity with the downtrodden, I was doubtful that he would suddenly develop a humanistic instinct or activate a broad social acumen once elected president.

The substance and style of Mr. Jonathan’s administration bore out my skepticism. Under his watch, the few continued to thrive, squandering the country’s resources, at the detriment of the majority. Confronted with the prospect of utter defeat on February 14, it’s no wonder that he and his associates sought a six-week postponement of the polls. He has used the extra time, not to defend his record – of which there’s little to defend – but to literally buy up affection.

The debate is no longer whether he ran a corrupt shop, but whether he outstripped Mr. Obasanjo’s record in that regard. There’s little argument about his ineptitude; the debate is whether he raised the bar so high that no predecessor would be able to compete in that dubious department.

Given the ruling party’s record, not just under Mr. Jonathan but since 1999, one would have expected Nigerians to be anxious to break in a radical and decisive way with the reigning order. I insist that the All Progressives Congress (APC) hardly fits the bill. The party’s best and worst weapon is Muhammadu Buhari. I respect the man’s uncommon example of self-restraint when it comes to illicit accumulation of riches. He served as a petroleum minister and a military head of state, but – unlike many a retired general – has little material possession to show for it. That’s admirable. But a little sense of history ought to instruct us that personal example is hardly enough. For have we forgotten that former President Shehu Shagari was also, by most accounts, allergic to looting? Yet, his government incubated corruption on a vast, monumental scale. Ironically, it fell to Mr. Buhari to dethrone the Shagari administration in 1983.

One feels a profound disquiet that Mr. Buhari and the APC are saddled together. The party is filled with men and women whose dominant reputation, well earned, is one of moral bankruptcy and absence of wholesome vision. Their presence, indeed dominance, in the APC; the party’s failure to develop an identity significantly separate from that of the PDP and its inability to outline a bold set of prescriptions for Nigeria’s malaise – all these expose the APC as little more than a patchwork, a hodgepodge of strange interests and bedfellows driven by a craze for power.

After “capturing” power, then what? The APC seemed reluctant to share. It and its candidate refused to debate the PDP and Mr. Jonathan. That struck me as rather bizarre, for any serious party and candidate should be able to demolish the PDP and their presidential candidate in a debate. I chalked it all up to the party’s reluctance to expose its own barrenness to Nigerians.

Mr. Buhari may be a good man, but is he prepared for the physical, mental and other demands of running a complex, riven country in the 21st century? He’s many Nigerians’ idea of a mini-Rawlings, but there’s no space in a democratic setting for a Rawlings, lite or at full dose. The question, then, is whether Mr. Buhari possesses the energy to be a hands-on, driven president, one able to make his presence felt in the various sectors of our troubled country’s life? And, even more fundamentally, whether he has the capacity and courage to envision and push for a restructured Nigeria, one in which institutions, rather than individuals, are the engine, and accountability as well as transparency serve as watchwords.

The PDP has contended that Mr. Buhari is physically enfeebled, and that he’s lost a step or two mentally. The APC presidential candidate’s unwillingness to present himself for a debate with Mr. Jonathan has fertilized the perception that he may not be up to the grade. That, in turn, has fed speculation that he’s a tool in the hands of interests whose agenda is, at bottom, questionable.

I believe that the APC’s defeat of the PDP is bound to give Nigerians a great emotional lift. The PDP’s threat to rule Nigeria for sixty years frightens the hell out of many Nigerians, me included. But I don’t see a way around the sneaking suspicion that we’re faced, this week, with a choice between two factions of the same ideological camp.

Still, if on March 28 and April 11 the results of the elections reflect the wishes of the majority of Nigerian voters, rather than a fraudulently manufactured outcome, then it might be said that the victory, for what it is, has gone to all of us and our undoubted commitment to a deepening democratic culture.


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Endorsements for sale Tue, 17 Mar 2015 00:59:37 +0000 I have often argued that the entire Nigerian political machinery that bears the name “government” is little more than an arrangement to enable a few individuals to mindlessly loot the resources of the larger collectivity.]]>

I have often argued that the entire Nigerian political machinery that bears the name “government” is little more than an arrangement to enable a few individuals to mindlessly loot the resources of the larger collectivity.

This argument has been eloquently illustrated in several ways this current electioneering cycle. Let’s look at some of the anecdotal evidence.

First, there’s the postponement of the elections for six weeks. Here’s a short synopsis of how that event transpired. First, National Security Advisor, Sambo Dasuki, went to Chatham House in London to declare that he had advised the Independent National Electoral Commission to postpone the elections. According to the NSA, the case for postponement rested on two planks. One was the poor distribution of permanent voter cards, with thirty million such cards lying in INEC’s various offices across the country, uncollected. The other was the security unease in the country’s northeast zone.

Many Nigerians hastened to portray Mr. Dasuki’s suggestion, as a partisan attempt to give some air to President Goodluck Jonathan’s tottering, deflated campaign. There’s no question that the eventual postponement served Mr. Jonathan. The president’s campaign seemed to have little momentum and traction. He seemed to reel, a panting political boxer whose back was against the ropes, guards down, as the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) pummeled his torso.

I was appalled that Mr. Dasuki failed to see the sad neo-colonial mindset implicit in his choice of a think tank in the UK to make a public case for postponing the elections. Even so, his central contention – that the elections were not viable, with 30 million voters yet to pick up their biometric voter cards – made eminent sense.

Mr. Dasuki’s call to postpone the elections triggered such a deafening decibel of partisan bickering that few people were able to pay attention to the NSA’s other remarkable pronouncements. Speaking in an uncharacteristically undiplomatic tone, Mr. Dasuki had accused some Nigerian soldiers deployed against Islamist insurgents, Boko Haram, of cowardice. “Unfortunately we had a lot of cowards, so there was a problem in the recruitment process,” the NSA, who is a retired colonel, told his audience in London. According to a BBC report, he accused some soldiers of “(giving) every excuse in this world not to fight.” In an obviously testy mood, he warned, “If you don’t want to fight, it’s not your fault; get out of the army.”

These were strong, direct words. In effect, he repudiated the oft-repeated argument that the soldiers were ill equipped, poorly armed for the assignment of combating Boko Haram. Mr. Dasuki noted how fleeing soldiers often surrendered large caches of weapons to the Islamist fighters. How could soldiers with such weapons claim they were inadequately armed, he argued?

As the debate inspired by the NSA’s Chatham address raged, Nigeria’s security chiefs echoed him. If the elections began on February 14 as they had been scheduled, they said, then their services would be in no position to guarantee security around the country. However, if the election dates were shifted by six weeks, the Nigerian armed forces said they would have enough time to dislodge Boko Haram fighters from their entrenched locations throughout the northeast. In the end, INEC was compelled to move the elections to March 28 and April 11, 2015.

The whole messy deal, I suggest, buttresses my opening contention: The dominant ethic that shapes Nigeria’s public space is the empowerment of a few gluttonous parasites, who hijack the resources of the state.

Both INEC and Nigeria’s security apparatuses knew, four years ago, that elections were coming in 2015. What then explains INEC’s sloppy preparations? Why, despite its array of staff and budget, was the electoral commission unable to do a sounder job of distributing biometric voter cards?

Many were skeptical when the Nigeria’s military said they would rout Boko Haram in six weeks. Yet, once the elections were postponed, the military began to surprise critics. In battle after battle, soldiers decimated the insurgents. They have been able to recapture scores of towns, large and small, that the insurgents had seized with relative ease over the past two years.

Nigerians ought to wonder: What the heck changed? Why is the military doing in a matter of weeks something it had failed to accomplish in several years? If some of the soldiers were cowards, as Mr. Dasuki stated at Chatham House, had the military authorities injected them with some courage-boosting hormone? Or is the decisive turn in the war a result, perchance, of Nigeria’s alleged recruitment of mercenaries from South Africa? Or does it owe, even, to the gritty spirit and determination of soldiers from neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon?

I’d suggest that none of the foregoing scenarios explains the turnaround. Instead, we are witnessing a rare act of what’s possible when the ruling class in Nigeria is desperate enough to embrace the idea of governance, as a mechanism for addressing problems. The mindless accumulation of wealth serves as the singular agendum of the Nigerian political class. Like his predecessors, military and civilian, President Jonathan and his co-operators of the Nigerian state are wedded to this debilitating ideology. But for the first time in the country’s electoral history, an incumbent government at the centre was confronted with the prospect of utter defeat. In order to stave off that prospect, their military wing suddenly brought their “A” game to the table. That, I conjecture, explains why the military became transformed overnight into a nimble, diligent bunch able to stare down Islamist insurgents.

It serves the interests of the military arm of the Nigerian state to showcase itself as a responsive, primed-to-deliver force. I don’t think that Nigerian soldiers became less cowardly. Nor do I believe that it’s all about the infusion of a few South African mercenaries. I doubt that warriors for hire have what it takes to so decisively reshape the fortunes of a war that, until a few weeks ago, was a series of humiliating retreats for the Nigerian military. More likely, President Jonathan and his civilian as well as military cohorts saw the doleful sign writ large on the wall. They realised that, unless they rose to the challenge of taming the insurgents, their political access to state largesse would be doomed. So, the military got cracking, both to save the incumbent president’s job and to preserve the interests of its top brass.

But Mr. Jonathan has not been able to wean himself altogether from the old rubric. Since the postponement, he’s appeared to depend on the logic of doling out raw cash – dollars, no less – to buy political mileage. Once the elections were postponed, the president seemed re-invigorated. He began to zip around the Nigerian landscape, but not necessarily to spell out ideas or to press the case that he has been, in truth, a transformational leader. Rather, his junkets have been, literally, about buying affection and political traction. By some accounts, he’s taken to holding cash-sharing conclaves with traditional rulers, ex-generals, civic “activists” and a host of so-called “stakeholders.”

A dollar-boosted president, who looked all but lost a few weeks ago, has been strutting the stage with a new spring in his gait. But he’s merely exuded the swagger of an operative, who is infinitely more loaded than his opponents, but with dollars instead of ideas. The Punch of March 15, 2015, carried a telling headline: “Jonathan rains dollars on South-west Obas”. The paper reported that some obas received as much as $250,000 each!

In a season where presidential “endorsements” have become a minor, dollar-denominated industry, nobody is asking where all the slush funds are coming from. Or, for that matter, why the president – who enjoys a clear edge from the reign of free cash – didn’t deem it fit to use all that money to reshape Nigeria for the benefit of all citizens.

If raw cash has given Mr. Jonathan what amounts to a political resurrection, the relative lack of cash has hampered the opposition APC. In fact, the postponement of polls represented a kind of masterstroke for the PDP. The ruling party has the leverage to conjure up cash from all kinds of places, including public treasuries, the oil sector, the energy sector, banks and other corporate entities. The APC is similarly funded from state funds. But with revenues to states dwindling, the party’s purse suffered. Unable to do much without money, the APC’s presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, shipped out to the UK. The party seemed to go into a state of hibernation. It was one more moment when the APC proved itself to be Siamese twins with the PDP. And since the party is not distinguished in its vision, but shares, with the PDP, the same ideology that money rules – it went into a state of suspended animation once cash ran low.

Whichever faction of the ruling class triumphs in the 2015 elections, Nigerians will have the next four years to think hard about a system that empowers a few looters to disinherit the rest of us. And they will discover that the whole system must be radically uprooted and restructured if our condition is not to remain hapless.


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The Patience standard Tue, 10 Mar 2015 00:44:11 +0000 Patience Jonathan, aka Dame Patience, aka First Lady, aka Dr. Chief (Mrs.), aka Mama Peace, has emerged as the standard for Nigeria’s current political season with all the consequences and implications of that designation.]]>

Patience Jonathan, aka Dame Patience, aka First Lady, aka Dr. Chief (Mrs.), aka Mama Peace, has emerged as the standard for Nigeria’s current political season with all the consequences and implications of that designation.

Nigeria has had its share of attention-grabbing “First Ladies,” but none anywhere quite as remarkable as Mrs. Jonathan. She has no peers in the department of loquaciousness. She leaves the impression that she is endowed, if not quite by the constitution, then by the superior instrument of divinity, with executive powers. It’s as if, in selecting her husband as president, Nigerians had also acquired her as a co-executive, if not the co-executive-in-chief. Perhaps she imagines hersel for so her carriage suggests as a kind of two-in-one deal, God’s buy one, get one free gift to Nigerians. Sometimes, in fact, Mrs. Jonathan comes across as believing that she runs both her husband and Nigeria.

Her capacity for inserting herself in the affairs of state played out before the world’s astonished eye three weeks after Boko Haram insurgents snatched more than 300 schoolgirls from Chibok, a town in Borno State. With some government officials and friends of the Jonathans questioning the reality of the abductions, Mrs. Jonathan decided to hold court in one of the halls of Aso Rock. She had law enforcement agencies haul Asabe Kwambura, the principal of the Government Girls High School in Chibok, before her august presence for a dose of “First Lady” grilling. Then, as the world watched, Mrs. Jonathan delivered her “diaris god o!” sermon in the Villa.

The video of that faux comedic performance became a global sensation. Various versions of it were watched by hundreds of thousands of people. Professional and amateur comedians had a field day adapting, mimicking and ridiculing it. One BBC presenter who interviewed me on the abduction noted in a wry, understated tone, “Now, that was a rather interesting performance by the wife of the president.” In the build-up to her staged tearful climax, Mrs. Jonathan asked rhetorically, “Now the First Lady is calling you, come I want to help you, come to find your child, your missing child, will you keep quiet?” The assembly in her court chorused, “No!” Seemingly moved by the pathos of the moment, the dame swayed from side to side and declaimed, “Chaye, chaye, diaris god o, diaris god o! De bloods we’re sharing, diaris god o! Diaris god o!”

An excerpt of Mrs. Jonathan’s emotional outburst, reproduced above, exemplifies another significant feature of her personality. She is a one-woman factory of malapropisms. On one occasion, she exhorted women on raising their children. “The children are our future leaders of tomorrow,” she said in her colorful English. Then, in a seamless follow-up, she informed her audience: “Mr. President was once a child.” No kidding! Until that amazing revelation, perhaps some had imagined that the president was born a full adult!

The president’s wife, it turns out, is irrepressible. Few other people in Nigeria would endure the scorn poured on the venerable dame’s spoken English and yet continue to disdain prepared speeches, preferring the certain risk of speaking off-the-cuff. It’s either that she has not made any trips to, where she ranks among the most lampooned figures in the world, or she derives curious (perhaps perverse) pleasure from being mercilessly roasted.

In a country where life can be is often too grim, Mrs. Jonathan provides much needed service. Her linguistic novelties and adventures are fodder for jokes at the bars where Nigerians gather to relish pepper soups and quaff away their sorrows. In a sense, then, she is to invoke Milan Kundera the First Lady of laughter and forgetting.

Yet, Mrs. Jonathan is not always or even mostly laughing matter. Her interventions in Nigerian politics are often ominous. Often crudely schoolmarmish, she once famously issued a very public scolding of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, her home state. As if that was not provocation enough, on another occasion, her security detail restricted the same governor’s movement in the capital city of Port Harcourt because the imperious First Lady and her retinue were about.

Her forage into the Chibok abduction issue provided more heat than light, sheer theater where serious action was imperative. Her ostentatious style frequently rakes open the sores of millions of Nigerians crippled by poverty. In a country with deepening rates of misery, her taste for opulence is a calculated way of pouring salt on bleeding injuries.

In the past week or two, Mrs. Jonathan has proved herself an adept master of the ideologically arid and substantively pallid game of Nigerian politics. In a way, she has set the agenda for the tone and tenor of Nigeria’s elongated electioneering season. Attributing near-divine powers to her husband, she told an audience of artistes that Mr. Jonathan made them indeed, that he engineered the shift of cultural power from LA (yes, Los Angeles) to Nigeria. She then urged Nigerians to stone anybody who calls for “Change” the mantra of Nigeria’s main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). On a different outing, in Sokoto, a minister read Mrs. Jonathan’s speech. In it, the First Lady served us notice that her husband’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would run and rule for another sixty years!

On yet another occasion, she told a campaign rally this time with her mouththat the APC’s presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, was “brain dead.” Perhaps the flinging of that epithet was a deliberate verbal slingshot from a woman whose husband has been called all manner of unflattering names.

It’s safe to say that the First Lady, far more so than her husband, is one of the standard-setters in Nigerian-style politicking. In a way, her last week’s “brain dead” remark set the agenda for Nigeria. The remark invited a caustic response from the APC. And then the PDP echoed Mrs. Jonathan, justifying her rhetoric.

I can’t quite shake off the feeling that Mrs. Jonathan, in showing off such virtuoso skills in the art of mudslinging, epitomizes both her husband’s shortcomings as a leader as well as the diseased state of Nigerian politics. Even if it served any purpose to declare the president’s opponent mentally dead, was that the place of the president’s wife to do that filthy job? And how has Mrs. Jonathan advanced our knowledge of her husband’s marvelous policies or his main opponent’s deficient proposals by such inelegant, sickening and unladylike descent into the gutter?

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Political madmen and specialists Tue, 24 Feb 2015 00:36:11 +0000 Even at the tamest of times, Nigeria can be an infuriating address. In an election season, it becomes maddening, a space where nothing is sacred any more. Lies, which are often the politician’s favorite currency, enter a festering phase. ]]>

Even at the tamest of times, Nigeria can be an infuriating address. In an election season, it becomes maddening, a space where nothing is sacred any more. Lies, which are often the politician’s favorite currency, enter a festering phase. Tall tales are traded across partisan divides. In the age of the Internet, where the most mendacious of claims needs a mere click to travel all over the globe, overzealous party apparatchiks and hirelings thrive, waxing with perverse energy. Every imaginable lie – and many unimaginable ones – are manufactured and put into circulation. The credulous and gullible appear always in large supply, always at the ready, always willing to gulp down the latest confection of a new kind of professional: The liar-for-hire.

These hired liars accuse their master’s opponents of suffering from anything from kwashiorkor to cancer, and heap allegations of all kinds of moral lapses and crimes on their targets, a menu that frequently includes addiction to bleaching, obsession with cultism, engagement in adultery and fornication as well as sponsorship of terrorists.

It’s a madcap orgy of lies, but there’s a method to the madness. It lies in a careful game of obfuscation. If all these verbal brickbats were not being hurled across partisan lines, why, people would expect -perhaps – even demand that each politician or party provide clear plans as well as specify the roadmap to implementation.

Neither the madmen, who are our ostensible saviours nor the hirelings, who serve as their specialists would permit anything as unpredictable and treacherous as a civil political atmosphere to reign. For a climate of sobriety would then provoke people to seek what politicians are hardly ever capable of offering: A dissection of the current malaise and a blueprint for redemptive action.

Nigeria approaches the 2015 general elections in an atmosphere that could not be more fractious, more terrifying, more fraught with dire prospects. The alignment of political factors and tendencies strikes me as perfect for an explosion. Sectarian sentiments are often volatile even without mischievous people, stoking the fires of religion.

In 2015, desperate politicians and their army of hired hands have turned religion into a macabre plaything. In many quarters, the impression has taken root that the elections represent a referendum on which religion would triumph or become triumphal, which subsume or subjugate its fellows.

It’s windfall season for crooked pastors and imams. These traders with God’s name are having a field day. Some of them, boasting nothing less than direct telephone contact with heaven, are “seeking God’s face” for one candidate or another. Daily, Nigerian newspapers and online sites report “divine” revelations to one man or woman of God or another about the winners and losers in the coming elections.

But all that is the innocuous, harmless stuff. In fact, if Nigeria did not have a particularly violent history of sectarian conflict, one might have found residual entertainment in the profusion of disparate, conflicting messages said to be issuing from divinity. But the game, even at this level, is no laughing matter. And we certainly cannot afford hilarity when many politicians, through their Christian or Islamic clerical proxies, are manipulating religion in more dangerous ways.

Many of these clerics have turned prophets of perdition. They specialise in filling their audience’s heads with doomsday predictions in the event of victory by this or that party, or this or that candidate. Thanks to their labours, the elections have become, in the estimation of many, a veritable duel between religions, between faiths, between clashing notions of divinity. Elections in Nigeria always ignite a fire; religion often throws fuel into that fire. The current climate of bellicosity suggests that, unless moderate-minded religious leaders and enlightened citizens awake to the lurking danger and act to counteract the exploitation of religion for political purposes, this may well be the year when the sectarian fuel makes a conflagration of things.

The sheer toxicity pervading Nigeria’s political air also finds expression in ethnic and geo-political channels. The circumstances have never been better to trigger an issue-based, programmatic conversation about Nigeria’s future. Yet, the political parties and their candidates – at any rate, the PDP and APC -have been content to traffic in generalities and the clichés. Political debate has revolved around such vaporous phrases as “moving the nation forward” (a spurious statement, a, because Nigeria is far from being a nation, and, b, because it does not answer the question, forward into what?) and “delivering the dividends of democracy” (a phrase, I suggest, that ought to be banished from the public arena on account of its fatuousness).

Even more troubling than the reluctance to engage at the level of ideas and issues is the polarizing accent of entitlement that defines the presidential race. Many who champion President Goodluck Jonathan insist that, regardless of his performance, he is entitled to a second term in office, if possible, by hook or crook. In fact, ex-Niger Delta militants have made veiled and open threats to shut down oil production in the event of Mr. Jonathan’s defeat.

In similar vein, many political figures from the northern geopolitical space contend that political power must fall in the hands of somebody from their zone. This claim trumps and supersedes any argument about competence and vision.

A highly articulate friend sent me an email last week in response to my column, an argument for Nigeria’s cultivation of strong institutions instead of the persistent search for the elusive strong, messianic leader.  First and foremost, this friend argued, Nigeria needs to be restructured in a way that translates its federalism into a matter of practice – not a mere verbal claim. And he suggested that, unless the country’s structural character is put on the agenda and resolved soon, many more Nigerian lives may be sacrificed to the ostrich game that pretends that everything is settled.

It’s a cogent argument, one that I have essayed to make numerous times. I always start from the premise that Nigeria – as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and many others have stated – has yet to be founded. I also stipulate that there’s nothing sacrosanct about Nigeria. As an idea, it is up for grabs. It is up to Nigerians to decide whether they wish to coexist – and on what terms – or live apart. That question has always been an essential one. Today, the question has acquired even greater urgency.

It’s silly to persist in the fiction that Nigeria is non-negotiable. If anything, nothing else will fall right unless – or until – Nigerians negotiate their relationship. Read any online website, see the way Nigerians savage one another, and realise that we are NOT a family. Too many Nigerians regard those of their number from other faiths, ethnicities or states as sub-human – or worse. Those who pretend that Nigeria cannot be subjected to scrutiny are often profiteers from the confused, amorphous and anomalous state of the country.

Which brings me to the crux of the cult of mad people and their specialists. If Nigerian politics is shorn of issues and devoid of ideological anchor, it is because, in the final analysis, those who quest for political power are jostling for position to help themselves to the largest pieces of the “national cake.”


• Please, follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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Give us This Day strong institutions Tue, 17 Feb 2015 01:21:27 +0000 It’s all but clear that Nigerians, including highly educated ones, won’t shake from their position that the 2015 elections come down to two parties, PDP and APC, and two men, Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari. ]]>

It’s all but clear that Nigerians, including highly educated ones, won’t shake from their position that the 2015 elections come down to two parties, PDP and APC, and two men, Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari. Despite the dubious benefit of a six-week postponement of polls, few, if any, have taken the trouble to look at any other political party. Everywhere you look, people persist in advancing the argument that Nigeria’s prospects lie in staying the course with Mr. Jonathan’s “continuity” or detouring into Mr. Buhari’s “change.”  

I have gone hoarse, shouting that both positions strike me as dead-ends. I feel deeply astonished when anybody essays to persuade the public that President Jonathan has done, or is doing, something known as “transformation.” I feel an equal measure of exasperation when former military head of state, Buhari, is proposed as the answer. Answer to what, exactly?

The dominance of the two least attractive parties in Nigeria’s political landscape says something about a troubling trait among that broad class of Nigerians to whom the identifier “elite” could be applied. For the avoidance of doubt, in case anybody thinks this is a case of self-exculpation, I count myself in that group. The Nigerian “elite” is, I propose, one of the most pitiful, mentally lazy such sub-group to be found anywhere. They are, as the American street lingo would say, a “sorry-assed lot.”

I think about men and women of mettle, who led the struggle to reclaim Nigeria from the British colonial yoke. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano, Anthony Enahoro, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Mokwugo Okoye, Margaret Ekpo, to name but a few, were in their thirties, forties or fifties when they emerged major agents in history, often as fighters against British colonial authorities or decadent traditional machineries of oppression. Some of them, like Zik, Awo and Okoye, produced books that laid out their social and political visions in a systematic manner.

Today, despite massive expansions in educational institutions, those we characterise as Nigeria’s political “chieftains”, “stakeholders”, “transformers” and “political icons” are unable to do a decent job of reading a speech much less writing one. Demand that they spell out their vision of society and what they give you is bland, cliché-ridden statements. They parrot such simplistic, worn lines as “moving the nation forward” and “delivering the dividends of democracy.” Ask why they wish to get into public office, and the heights of their mental response is, “to pay salaries by the 28th of every month,” “to build roads,” to “empower the youths,” or to “provide boreholes”.

The era of the grand plan seems to have disappeared from the public space in Nigeria when the old, but yet unfledged country, needs it most. Through a succession of military regimes and civilian pseudo-democracies, Nigerians have embraced a culture of lowered standards and wretched code of conduct. In the event, we have taken to declaring that the stealing of public funds is not corruption, that a governor who pays salaries is not only an achiever but has “totally redefined governance,” that the construction of roads is the acme of political genius, and that rigs elections are just fine because, at any rate, it is God, not voters, who gives power.

Men and women who are older than Zik and Awo, and hold higher degrees than those two venerable men when they began their storied careers as leaders in the anti-colonial struggle, are content these days to function as apologists for impunity. Nigeria has become a terribly grotesque space, one whose public offices are plagued by the most reprobate and reprehensible elements, who mistake their loot for dazzling achievement. What’s even more troubling, indeed tragic, is that much of the elite has abdicated its role as clarifier, illuminator, chastening agent. The elite are called upon to bring their intellectual and ethical light to bear on the examination of social and political processes, to point out when society’s trajectory portends danger or doom.

Instead, large sectors of the Nigerian elite have hired themselves out as defenders of all kinds of political treachery. Lending their puny intellects and eroded ethics to desecrators of public trust, some certificated Nigerians offer shocking apologias for every imaginable instance of corruption and turpitude. Speaking in the name of ethnic or religious solidarity – or in the name of mere shamelessness – these elite apologists come ready to do any somersault in order to satisfy their pay masters/mistresses. If you point to massive electoral fraud, they would counter, “No election is perfect.” When their renter’s hands are caught in the public treasury, they’d intone, a, that corruption exists in every society; b, that their oga/madam is not the first or only person to steal; c, that the stealer is a target of a vast, contemptible conspiracy by those who know that s/he is a wo/man of the people or, d, that, any rate, the stealer already had a stash of cash before venturing into politics.

Nigerians have achieved a weird kind of political contingency. Few people are willing to take a position on any issue, however, fundamental and significant, without first checking on the state of origin, political identification, ethnic address or religious affiliation of those involved. By a strange Nigerian logic, a thief is only a thief if, a, he belongs to the “wrong” political party; b, is from a “bad” state; c, hails from a “stinky” ethnic group and, d, belongs to a “deplored” religious group or, worse, professes atheism.

The cure for this fairly pervasive malaise, I suggest, is not this political party or that, not Jonathan or Buhari – it is the conscious cultivation and strengthening of institutions.

A lot of Nigerians want Mr. Buhari to win the presidential election so that he’d handle the morass of corruption for them. Bad news alert: Not going to happen! Mr. Buhari may have all the Olympian intention to wage war against corruption but he won’t go far. In fact, his (we must emphasise corrupt) political sponsors have put their money on him precisely because they have figured out that he won’t pose a threat to them.

Corruption is a systemic plague, and it is best fought, not by one heroic individual, but through institutions. A culture that abhors corruption is key. Such abhorrence then tailors institutional tools that identify and prosecute acts of corruption, regardless of the name, religion and state of the perpetrator.

Can it be said that most Nigerians today are galled by corruption? Would we regale the exhibitors of sudden, inexplicable wealth in our midst with inflated praise names if we did? Still, I think Nigerians are in a position to grasp and embrace an argument about the perniciousness of corruption. That apprehension is bound to leave to acceptance of the imperative to mount the country’s first serious anti-corruption regimen since Independence.

If the Nigerian elite believe in the project, then they must lead the way – not by selling the fairytale that an anti-corruption czar is around the corner to save us all from the monster. No, they must stipulate that social consensus against corruption is the first step. And that step ought to birth a commitment to the building of institutions empowered to sniff out corruption and to go after the corrupt without first checking with the serving president. The cry should not be PDP or APC, nor is the answer Jonathan or Buhari. It is, “Let us create, this day, formidable, enduring institutions that can outlive mortals strong and weak.”

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Nigeria has ‘nakeded’ itself Tue, 10 Feb 2015 01:21:23 +0000 Last week, representatives of Nigeria’s political parties and its electoral commission met in Abuja. At the end of a marathon meeting, Attahiru Jega of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that the country’s general elections would be postponed by six weeks.]]>

Last week, representatives of Nigeria’s political parties and its electoral commission met in Abuja. At the end of a marathon meeting, Attahiru Jega of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that the country’s general elections would be postponed by six weeks.

Trust Nigerians: Reactions to the development fell along partisan lines. It had been clear for some time that President Goodluck Jonathan and his inner circle were desperate to reschedule the election, the reason being the failure of the incumbent president’s campaign to gain traction. So many of the president’s supporters – seeing an opportunity to re-set the clock, buy time, and re-strategise – took to justifying the postponement.

On the other hand, partisans of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) abominated the decision. For them, the decision represented a stealing of their party’s and presidential candidate’s momentum, a form of electoral heist, a veritable effort to subvert the will of their Nigerian electorate.

Other Nigerians opted to occupy the middle of a riven, contentious divide. Seeking to project themselves as realists, these “centrists” argued that there was simply no way the elections could have gone on the erstwhile timetable. Hundreds of thousands of voters had not received their permanent voters cards. Hundreds of thousands of voters in Nigeria’s terror-plagued northeast are displaced from their homes, living in shambolic refugee quarters within Nigeria and even in neighboring countries. Large swathes of territory in that zone of Nigeria are under the occupation of Boko Haram, or susceptible to capture by the group’s well-armed fighters. How can elections hold as scheduled when those Nigerians caught under the “Caliphate” of Islamist insurgents are certain to be disenfranchised?

Whether one sees the postponement as justified or not, the implications of the development are far more troubling than the warring partisans on either side – and the ostensible realists – appear to realise or willing to admit. I’d suggest that the decision was, above all, a moment of national undressing. As the world looked on, Nigeria’s political class removed the mask their country has worn for so long. They exposed their and their country’s sordid underbelly. To borrow the fresh phrase of an uneducated, rustic Nigerian politician, “Everything has nakeded itself.”

There’s nothing more exasperating than to listen to Nigerians, especially public officials or their hirelings, who insist that our country is a coherent entity. These official apologists are quick to euphemise Nigeria’s myriad crises, as mere teething problems. Yes, they have since retreated from the days of proclaiming their country the “giant of Africa,” but these custodians of an inflated national narrative are yet to come to terms with the reality that – to paraphrase Wole Soyinka – there’s no nation in the space called Nigeria.

A few days ago, a friend told me that the Nigerian elections needed to be postponed in order to avert the fulfillment of the prediction by some US intelligence experts that Nigeria could fracture by 2015. My response: The postponement of the elections is confirmation that Nigeria has already fallen to pieces. We who think there is an extant cohesive Nigeria are mere stubborn believers in a will-o-the wisp.

There’s no way to dissect the postponement to make it look good. If it’s the case that President Jonathan used his powers of incumbency to force the shifting of the date for elections, then we’re looking at a dire situation. In a settled – that is to say, ideologically and structurally sound – political community, no one man, however high his office, would be able to blackmail his way to a self-serving postponement of elections. In fact, if Nigeria were a nation, no one person or party would dare demand that elections be postponed to serve their selfish, partisan ends. Even the mere entertainment of the thought would spell doom for the person or political party.

Clearly, INEC was ill prepared for the elections. How else can one explain the commission’s failure to put voters cards in the hands of hundreds of thousands of eligible voters? This kind of deliberate ineptitude bespeaks the wretchedness of Nigeria as an idea and entity. It’s not as if INEC officials woke up two weeks ago and were told, surprise, surprise, to start planning elections. They knew as far back as four years ago – the last time Nigeria held general elections – that this election cycle would arrive. So, why did the commission fail to do even the basic things? If Nigeria were a society where patriotic pride is part of the national tradition, where citizenship means something vital, Mr. Jega and his management would have tendered their letters of resignation en masse – and exited the INEC building in bowed, shamed heads. Their incompetence would have provoked outrage all around.

The displaced, disenfranchised voters of the northeast of Nigeria present a conundrum. Yet, to exploit their state to justify the postponement of elections is to enter into uncertain, dangerous territory. If these roaming refugees must be resettled in their homes before elections are to hold, then we might as well perpetually put off the elections. Nobody in Nigeria knows when our military would be able to rise to the challenge of reclaiming the territories seized by Boko Haram. For that matter, nobody knows if that’s ever going to happen.

Let me suggest that Nigeria’s postponement of elections is not a new watermark of incompetence and failure. It is only our display to the world of the depths of our shamelessness, our mediocrity and our lack of seriousness. Despite our politicians’ rhetoric, Nigeria is rotten through and through. And now we are exhibiting our grotesque sore to the rest of the world.

If anybody was in doubt that Nigeria is a contraption maintained to serve the greed of a few, I hope the sordid drama of elections has dispelled it. In the last two weeks, we have witnessed the ratcheting up of violent, partisan rhetoric on several sides. It’s all about which self-selected camp of Nigeria’s misruling class will preside over the looting of the country’s fast disappearing assets. They will sacrifice the lives of innocent Nigerians to serve their greed.

If elections can be easily postponed, why don’t Nigerians propose something even more radical? Why must we continue to support a Presidency whose annual feeding budget exceeds what’s spent on the education of students in several universities put together? Why must we keep paying each of our national legislators millions of dollars each year just so they can tell ministerial nominees to “bow and go”?

Let’s demand the dismantling of this awful edifice that’s been misnamed “democracy.” No, I am NOT calling for military rule – I am deeply opposed to that idea. Instead, for a period of at least two years, let’s put Nigeria in the hands of a caretaker group of technocrats nominated by students, workers, peasants, and professional groups. The caretaker group’s major task should be the refashioning of Nigeria. That would entail addressing broad issues (of citizenship and national ethos) as well as practical ones. There’s no justification for Nigeria to have full-time legislators. There’s no reason to have the most expansive immunity clause in the world. There’s no logic to handing millions of dollars each month to governors or the president in the name of security vote.


Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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The canards of continuity and change Tue, 03 Feb 2015 01:32:38 +0000 In less than two weeks, Nigerians will unveil a new future for themselves. Or to be more accurate, a new future will be unfurled for us. ]]>

In less than two weeks, Nigerians will unveil a new future for themselves. Or to be more accurate, a new future will be unfurled for us. That future will be characterised either as “Continuity” or “Change,” depending on whether President Goodluck Jonathan gains an extension of his incumbency or is upstaged as many odds makers expect by Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Let’s me be clear: whether it’s “Continuity” or “Change” that carries the day on February 14, the real name of the thing behind the mask will be “More of the same.” I have shouted myself hoarse making this point, that Nigerians have been offered a hoax in the form of two canards. And we, though we ought to know better, are buying it.

We have a pathetic, failed president and his misnamed Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) trumpeting airy policies as evidence of transformation, and demanding that we renew our relationship with their brand of woe for another four years. And then we have the APC, which in many ways resembles a branch of the PDP, presuming to represent a rupture, a departure, fundamental change. And the rest of us, who ought to have been wizened by harsh experience to discern duplicity whatever its disguise are fervently falling for a dud.

What’s even more disturbing, many of us have fallen in line behind either the PDP and its certifiably failed candidate or the APC and its questionable man without first asking tough questions. And our fervency has led us to all kinds of absurd claims.

On the Internet, many of Mr. Jonathan’s social media warriors don’t bother any more to make the case that their man has been a superlative achiever. Instead, they are content to troll the line that, mediocre as he is, he remains a better bet than Mr. Buhari. Those championing the APC’s candidate project him as a magician capable of waving a wand and pronto, Islamist insurgency in Nigeria’s northeast would disappear. And, while at it, Mr. Buhari would also uproot corruption.

We have permitted both parties to parrot unverified claims, and we have not taken the time to scrutinize them. It’s hard to imagine any election in Nigeria’s history that has been more consequential than this year’s. I can’t think of one in which the stakes have been higher. Yet, we have been quite willing to bumble into it all rather blind, indeed willfully so. We have not insisted on a serious debate. And I don’t mean merely the formal, staged debate that’s often dominated by sound bites, susceptible to manipulation by well-coached candidates.

I have in mind a more rigorous, sustained debate. It is the demand that each party use every campaign stop as an occasion to differentiate itself, to focus on some aspect of Nigeria’s development impediments or structural deformations, and offer a set of prescriptions. Little of this sort of differentiation has taken place in a campaign season marked by cheap, sophomoric name-calling. Call me naïve if you wish, but I had thought that this was one election where Nigerians would insist, at minimum, on programs that are carefully thought through, and better still on hearing from political parties about their commitment to a bolder plan for addressing the systemic, structural defects that have bedeviled Nigeria and derailed its promise.

Instead, like the terribly besotted, we not only stood around and watched, enrapt, as members of our two “main” parties (or what I call two factions of the same party), hurled invectives at each other; more than that, we lent ourselves as manufacturers or second-hand circulators of these facile insults. Where we should have called for debates, we settled for being entertained by politicians bereft of ideas, but versed in the art of taking cheap shots.

In this electoral cycle, no segment of the Nigerian population has been more wretched, in my view, than the broad class of the educated. That the ideologically confused APC, with its huge segment of disaffected PDP “thieftains,” was able to usurp the mantle of “change” is an indictment on the failure (or laziness) of the young, enlightened Nigerians who should have seized the moment.

And what role has this segment played? It’s played cheerleader either for the PDP or APC. It’s bombarded the Internet with the kind of noise calculated to terrorise thought. It has not exposed the fact that the free bandying of abuse is a well-known strategy in politics, the recourse of politicians and political parties with no substance to offer. Whatever happens in February, it’s certain that obfuscation, opacity and lip service to “transformation” or “change” will mark Nigeria’s political game for at least another four years.

Which is a real pity. Nigeria has close to thirty registered political parties. How, then, did we manage to put ourselves in this bind where it’s either the PDP or the APC? How did we arrive at this moment where our electoral choice is reduced either to staying put in the frying pan or electing to hop into the fire?

Clearly, Mr. Jonathan has been overwhelmed by the demands of running a country. I always suspected that it would be so, for mediocrity had been the defining feature of his political career. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is the chief villain in all of this. He, and he alone, designed the scheme that put the destiny of Nigeria in the hands of a deathly sick Umaru Yar’Adua and a confounded Jonathan.

I’m troubled that the same Obasanjo, a man who as president set records in impunity, mischief and hypocrisy, has maneuvered himself into the role of kingmakerfor the ostensible candidate of “Change,” Mr. Buhari.

I’m not one to argue that there’s no difference between Jonathan and Buhari. There are. Each man will bring certain personal traits and values to bear on their presidency. But those personal stamps will only go so far in a political culture where the unifying ethic is primitive accumulation, the contemptible privatization of public funds. Buhari may bring his famed ascetic style to the Presidency, but he has not convinced me that he has the foggiest idea how to confront the monster of corruption in Nigeria. And especially, when some of the greediest monsters (who are too clever to buy into a suicide scheme) are embedded with him, raising his hand and proclaiming him the answer.

In the end, the best Mr. Buhari can offer may be a personal example of refraining from looting. But that won’t be enough. There will be many wolves around him to wolf what he declines to take. And where does that leave us?

I long came to the sad conclusion that it doesn’t matter who between Jonathan and Buhari wins on Valentine’s Day. Until the idea of Nigeria is restructured in a fundamental way, until the most enlightened and visionary elements learn to seize their country and the moment, things, I’m afraid, are bound to remain the same.

• Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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A giant leaves, but lives on Mon, 26 Jan 2015 23:13:27 +0000 Last week, I received a text message from Okey Anueyiagu, a consummate art connoisseur, businessman and dear friend, with news that his father, Chukwuma Anueyiagu, the Okeazu (Pillar) of Awka, had passed into eternity. ]]>

Last week, I received a text message from Okey Anueyiagu, a consummate art connoisseur, businessman and dear friend, with news that his father, Chukwuma Anueyiagu, the Okeazu (Pillar) of Awka, had passed into eternity. The deceased had attained the rare grand age of 100 years. Despite the fact that the centenarian had lived almost twice the life expectancy for a Nigerian male, the text announcing his passing left me deeply distraught and sad. I will explain why presently.

At the time of his death, he was perhaps little known outside of his hometown of Awka and among a small circle of buffs of Nigerian history. That this remarkable man was not a household name in Nigeria and beyond strikes me as a great pity. A pity, not for the man who just danced his last steps and joined the ancestors for he was a veritable giant in his own right. No, a pity, instead, for a country where men and women of stellar stature are consigned to anonymity while certified fools and mediocrities are venerated. Quite simply, the pity is that Chukwuma Anueyiagu was unfortunate to belong to a country that’s thoroughly bereft of tested heroes and lofty memories.

The late Anueyiagu belonged to a small company of extraordinary men and women whose intelligence, industry, vision and commitment gave renascent Nigeria its original hope, energy and dynamism. He was a major player in Nigerian journalism in its fledging and most critical years, in Nigeria’s nationalist struggles, and in the confounding effort to shape an impressive post-Independence Nigerian identity.

Chukwuma Anueyiagu was born on January 3, 1915, a time freighted with historical significance. A year before his birth in Amudo village, Awka, British colonialists had amalgamated Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria to found an entity that would become the most populous acquisition of the British in Africa. From the very beginning, then, he seemed destined to play a defining role in the drama of self-reclamation. By all accounts, his own father, Anueyiagu Dilibe, was a man whose towering physique and strength caught the eye of British colonialists. Though successful as a farmer and hunter, Anueyiagu Dilibe consented to work with the British in a number of capacities. British officials took him around the burgeoning space that would become Nigeria, setting up wrestling matches in which he showed off his incredible strength and prowess by vanquishing his opponents.

Convinced of the benefits of western education, the great wrestler encouraged his children to go to school. Chukwuma Anueyiagu responded to his father’s entreaty in a positive and decisive manner. At eleven, he began his formal schooling at Government School, Awka, graduating in 1934. He subsequently enrolled for further training at the London Tuition College, and The London Institute of Journalism, sharpening and deepening his skills in editorial writing, reportage, and composition.

Fortuitously, Anueyiagu’s desire to ply a career as a journalist coincided with a time that Nnamdi Azikiwe, just returned from studies in the United States, was setting up several newspapers. Azikiwe who was popularly known as Zik would become the most charismatic figure in Nigeria’s struggle for Independence. Zik was quick to recognize the talent, enterprise and drive of the young Anueyiagu, whom he hired in 1938 as a compositor for the Lagos-based West Africa Pilot. Within a few years, Anueyiagu rose to become the editor of the newspaper in 1945.

His career was marked by frequent reassignment to newer challenges. In 1948, Zik asked Anueyiagu to move to Zik’s own hometown of Onitsha in southeastern Nigeria to edit and manage the Nigerian Spokesman. Within a matter of a few months, Zik posted him to Port Harcourt to edit the Eastern Guardian and then transferred him to Kano in Nigeria’s northwest to be the founding editor of the Daily Comet.

Each journalistic post posed its own peculiar challenge, and came with serious hazards. Zik’s stable of papers became part and parcel of the anti-colonialist movement. And Zik was enamored of the young Anueyiagu, admiring his editorial fearlessness and the strong language with which he criticized the colonizers. The British were not amused. They repaid the intrepid Anueyiagu with arrests and detentions.

Given the stiff personal price he paid because of his conviction that Nigerians deserved the right to manage their own lives, Anueyiagu was deeply pained to behold the rat race unfurled by the crass inheritors of political power from the British. More than a little disillusioned, he left journalism and became an entrepreneur.

He brought to his businesses the same ethical acumen, imagination and discipline that had enabled him to thrive in journalism. He became a successful printer, oil marketer, soft drinks manufacturer, and school proprietor. He also earned great admiration as a community organizer, mentor, and political activist. The considerable fortune he earned in business enabled him to become a generous philanthropist. He invested in the education of students from poor backgrounds and in the business ventures of inventive, but financially strapped, young men and women.

I had first heard tidbits about the noble life and exploits of the late Anueyiagu by eavesdropping on my parents’ conversations. The man came up in conversations in part because his wife the love of his life was a beautiful woman from my father’s extended family in Amawbia. It was in those overheard conversations that I first formed an image in my mind of the man who just died.

Over the last six or seven years, I had the privilege of meeting the man in flesh and blood three times. At our first meeting, at his son, Okey’s country home in Awka, I was amazed by his encyclopedic grasp of Nigerian history. He was well into his nineties at the time, but his memory was quite sharp. I marveled as he recalled certain political, social and cultural events that took place in the early years of Nigeria’s formation as a colonial entity. He combined that penetrating insight with a vital grasp of contemporary events. I came away from that encounter with the sense that I had been exposed to a true human treasury of knowledge. I told him that I wanted to conduct a series of interviews with him, the better to preserve his life and work in a permanent form for the benefit of posterity. I regret that I was never able to undertake that task.

Chukwuma Anueyiagu was able to speak with moving intimacy about the personages and events of Nigerian history because he was not just an observer of them he was a central participant. If anybody could be described as an all-Nigerian, here was one. He had lived a long life, but he had not permitted his years to be marred by idleness, hollowness or mediocrity. He had lost everything his businesses and wealth to the Biafran War, but there was no trace of bitterness as he spoke about this loss. For him, material possessions were nothing when juxtaposed with the imperative of living a dignified life, as a man of unquestioned integrity.

The hundred years it pleased God to grant him on earth were spent in rich and enriching work. Here was a man who never seemed happier than when he was working to enlarge others, to leave society larger and better than he met it. Without question, his longevity was a blessing, an extended opportunity to touch more people, to leave his indelible imprints on his family and others who, like me, had the good fortune of meeting him.

Even so, his uncommon longevity also meant that he was around for long enough to bear witness to the thorough mess that the rest of us had managed to make of a country he and so many others had labored strenuously to achieve. He was a man of cheerful disposition, but I wager that he must have been pained to see how desultorily Nigeria turned out.

Here’s a fact that I find galling. Each year, the Nigerian Presidency bestows national honors on some citizens. The honors are supposed to recognize outstanding citizenship and heroic contributions to the betterment of Nigeria. It is a shame that not one Nigerian administration had the imagination and insight to honor Chukwuma Anueyiagu, a man whose life and work would stand out by any criteria. Yet, each year, those who misgovern Nigeria are able to dredge up all manner of nonentities, mediocrities, and knaves, turning the country’s honor roll into a cesspit.

Anueyiagu has departed, but here’s the consolation: he is imperishable. He will live on in the minds of those who care about good names, about integrity, and about vibrant legacies.

Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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Je suis Charlie and Nigerian envy Tue, 20 Jan 2015 00:51:21 +0000 On January 7, two gunmen - later identified as Islamist activists of Algerian descent - stormed the editorial headquarters of “Charlie Hebdo,” an irreverent, anti-religious weekly publication. ]]>

On January 7, two gunmen – later identified as Islamist activists of Algerian descent – stormed the editorial headquarters of “Charlie Hebdo,” an irreverent, anti-religious weekly publication. In an attack that seemed to be over in a flash, the gunmen executed 12 people, including editor Stephane Charbonnier, several other editorial staff and two police officers.

The gunmen were on a mission of “holy” vengeance, out to deal devastating blows on an institution that gleefully lampoons religious figures and desecrates faith.

Their attack provoked outrage, in France and elsewhere. Moments after the attack, President Francois Hollande described it as “a terrorist attack of the most extreme barbarity.” Other European leaders followed suit, with statements that expressed horror, repudiation and a determination not to be chilled into silence.

Money poured in for “Charlie Hebdo,” from the French government, which gave approximately one million euros, and several foundations. Before the attack, the weekly newspaper had a middling circulation, usually fewer than 50,000. Its first issue after the attack sold out a print-run of three million copies. The paper had to print an additional two million copies to meet readers’ demands.

A few days after the attack, Mr. Hollande, numerous French leaders and major European figures marched in Paris – along with a huge crowd – to take a stand for freedom of self-expression and against those who would kill in God’s name. Thanks to social media, reactions to the deadly siege on “Charlie Hebdo” became global. On Facebook, twitter and other forums, sympathisers adopted and proclaimed the phrase, “Je suis Charlie” (French for, “I am Charlie.”).

Not everybody was impressed. Whilst warning against the use of violence to make any point, Pope Francis prudently cautioned against the mockery of icons of faith or believers. In Niger, next door to Nigeria, anti-Charlie Muslims torched six churches and killed several people.

On social media, many also announced that they were anything but Charlie. The bloodshed irrigated vigorous debates, on the Internet and a variety of other forums. Some sought to interrogate the whole question of freedom of expression. Many made the point that there were always limits to any rights, including that of expression.

For me, one of the most fascinating responses to the killings in Paris came from Nigerians – or their foreign friends and sympathisers. Just before the daring raid on “Charlie Hebdo,” there were reports in Nigerian and foreign newspapers about Boko Haram’s gruesome attack on Baga, a community in Borno State. Some reports stated that the Islamist insurgents had killed close to – or more than – 2, 000 people. The fortunate survivors of the horrendous massacre described a mini-apocalyptic scene, streets littered with corpses, a landscape of burnt homes.

In the wake of the global proclamation of support for “Charlie Hebdo,” some Nigerians began to wonder about the relative indifference to the plight of the people of Baga – a town whose blood-soaked suffering now stands as a metaphor for the larger tragedy of Nigeria’s northeast. In sheer scale, the slaughter in Baga dwarfed the killings at the offices of the French newspaper. Even if one accepted the Nigerian government’s revisionist insistence that Boko Haram insurgents killed 150 people in Baga, Nigeria still lost 138 more people than the French.

Why, Nigerians wondered, didn’t anybody think to proclaim, “I am Baga”? Why weren’t there protests in Paris and elsewhere to abhor the Baga killings?

In a sense, some Nigerians have developed a “Charlie Hebdo” envy. We want the world to love us as the world has loved “Charlie Hebdo.” We wish that the French and their coalition of sympathisers in Europe and elsewhere would recognise that, beneath our dark skins, we bleed the same blood as the victims at “Charlie Hebdo.” If only the world would realise that each of the 2, 000 corpses in Baga was a complex human, her or his life filled with magnificent hopes and dreams, driven by a quest for fulfillment.

Some Nigerians were irked that President Goodluck Jonathan, who never lets any massacre in his country get in the way of his partying, found some eloquent words to console the French people. But Mr. Jonathan, as far as I recall, never addressed Nigerians on Baga. In effect, Mr. Jonathan wants Nigerians to grant him another four years of frolicking while his country burns.

Nigerians have a “Charlie Hebdo” fantasy, but we don’t show any inclination to demand that we are dignified human beings, and must be treated as such. Our willingness to make excuses – in the name of ethnic or religious affinity – for those who steal our country blind is evidence that we don’t take our shared humanity seriously. Our readiness to bestow chieftaincies, knighthoods and national “honours” on knaves, idiots and fools exposes the erosion, if not absence, of ethical light in our lives.

Here’s what French President Hollande did not do as soon as he became aware of the slayings at “Charlie Hebdo.” He did not take off to dance at a party. He did not take a vacation to the paradisiacal country of Nigeria, “totally transformed” by a man so gifted in the art of leadership they named him Goodluck at birth. No, Mr. Hollande and his cabinet stayed on the case, monitoring the efforts of French law enforcement agents to find the assailants. Then he was out on the streets, with other French citizens, in a march calculated to serve notice that each and every French life matters.

By contrast, let’s look at Mr. Jonathan’s modus operandi. Last April, within hours of bomb explosions at a busy bus station that claimed more than a hundred lives, and the abduction of more than 300 schoolgirls, the Nigerian president flew to the city of Kano for a campaign junket. There, he danced on stage to the lyrics of a live band. Two weeks passed before President Jonathan’s speech writers could write him a script – altogether nondescript – to read about the abductions. Ten months later, most of the abducted girls remain in captivity but Mr. Jonathan has moved on to more serious matters: Pursuit of a second (partying) term!

Two years ago, residents of Amansea awoke to the horrific sight of nineteen corpses, floating on the Ezu River. The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) claimed that the bodies were of their members, arrested by the police and extra-judicially murdered. Several “investigations” were launched but no word about the identities of the corpses or who caused their death. Nigerians had the opportunity to raise hell, to demand answers from the police and their political authorities. Instead, we settled down to drinking our beers, savouring our pepper soups.

A few months ago, a mob gathered at Oshodi to jeer at a woman, who groaned in agony, her skin hideously sheared. According to the mindless voyeurs, the woman was a witch who, flying to a blood-sucking mission, had accidentally thudded against an electric pole and crashed to the ground. With police supervising the macabre drama, the frenzied spectators snapped pictures of the woman and heckled her till she died. Nobody in the crowd had sense enough to recognise that, before them, was a fellow human being in the throes of deadly suffering. She was no “Charlie Hebdo.”

Nigeria’s so-called leaders treat the rest of us, their hapless led, as if we were a bunch of animals, bereft of dignity and unworthy of respect. What’s worse, too many of us, the led, are zealous enablers of these traitorous, treacherous “leaders.” Too many of us defend the right of our big men and women at the top to view and treat us as dispensable, subhuman beings. We hardly ever rise to resist their implicit categorisation of us as animals, or deplore their concomitant indifference.

The world will not treat Nigerians as “Charlie Hebdo” until Nigerians themselves take themselves seriously as humans. That means holding our “leaders” to account when their rapaciousness discounts our lives. That means reckoning that the lives we discount, or allow our “leaders” to degrade, are our own lives. Unless we serve notice that our lives count, and that we no longer are prepared to accept the fate of animals – or worse – the world will continue to yawn at news that thousands of us perished at the hands of Boko Haram or other man-made disasters, or from the occasional natural disaster.

•Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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Questions for Goodluck and Muhammadu Tue, 13 Jan 2015 01:29:17 +0000 Both the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress appear to have settled on obfuscation as the name of the game in this election season. Both parties, and the constellation of smaller parties, seem bent on discouraging any deep conversation around the state of Nigeria.]]>

Both the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress appear to have settled on obfuscation as the name of the game in this election season. Both parties, and the constellation of smaller parties, seem bent on discouraging any deep conversation around the state of Nigeria.

Even more sad, I think, is that too many Nigerians – including ostensibly educated ones – seem willing to let the parties have it on their terms. I won’t be surprised if there are one or two of the so-called smaller parties, raising profound questions about the brokenness of Nigeria and offering some considered thoughts about ways out of the quagmire. Yet, any such parties would be condemned to labour in obscurity, ignored by the media. The Nigerian media after all reflect the larger Nigerian society. And the consensus in that perplexing space called Nigeria is that our choice is limited to the PDP and APC.

Yet, neither of those two parties has differentiated itself in the quality of its ideas, in the vision of its most prominent figures, or – come to think of it – in the example of their members in public service. If we must adopt the binary position that we have only two viable parties, and that they represent different ideas and tempers, then there’s no better time for Nigerians to insist on serious, clarifying debates between the two parties. Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, the two parties’ respective presidential candidates, should be front and centre in that debate.

Rather than embrace the challenge of such debates, the candidates as well as their cohorts are content to trade toxic innuendoes and insults, to hurl invectives across the partisan divide and even to portray the other as the embodiment of diabolism. This strategy has created an atmosphere of heat but little or no light, a lot of noise but no sense. Both parties are basking in this noise-mediated, issue-avoiding strategy. And the rest of us are letting them get away with it, as if we are unaware that Nigeria is in an endangered position, a country raped to the point of death by vile men (and a few women) who have now pitched their tents in the two “major” parties.

In the absence of any vigorous contestation between the two candidates, the political space has been ceded, sadly, to the verbal gymnastics of the likes of Reverend Ejike Mbaka, a double-speaking cleric who, in one breath, assured Mrs. Patience Jonathan that her husband was an extraordinary leader, only to use another to traduce the same man. And what’s remarkable about this superstar priest is that he presumed on both occasions to speak under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit! What manner of spirit is it that gives conflicting messages several months apart? Or was this all, perhaps, one demagogue’s conflicted spirits betraying the man?

Mbaka’s jeremiad against Mr. Jonathan gave comfort to those who can’t wait to send the president back to Otuoke. But the reverend would have been more convincing if, only a few months ago, he had not canonized the president. His denunciation of Jonathan (the substance of which was unassailable) would have carried more weight had he not voiced opposite sentiments a mere few months ago, providing his critics with the ammunition to call his motives – if not his integrity – to question.

As long as Goodluck and Muhammadu remain reluctant to face the issues and to answer tough questions, men like former Presidents Ibrahim Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjo will continue to steal the political show. Though disasters during their own reigns, both former rulers now presume to be on pedestals, the better to lecture Nigerians on the man or party to elect or reject.

Babangida and Obasanjo’s nostrums serve to divert attention from what’s needed: A serious colloquy between the PDP and the APC as well as a series of debates between the two parties’ presidential candidates.

For a start, Jonathan and Buhari (as well as other presidential candidates) should commit to several televised, no-holds barred debates. At each session, each candidate should make an opening statement, addressing three broad issues. One, why he thinks Nigeria should remain one country. Two, each candidate should offer a description of the shape of the Nigeria of his dream. Three, he should specify how he plans to achieve that envisioned Nigeria.

Continuity has become President Jonathan’s mantra. But he ought to be asked, continuity with what? As a candidate in the 2011 presidential elections, he went on a promise-making jamboree. He would, he pledged, solve Nigeria’s perennial electric power woes, restore security, stem corruption, revamp the economy, create jobs for youths, reshape the educational sector, build a second Niger Bridge, undertake massive road construction and rehabilitation, and unveil a blueprint to revolutionise agriculture. And this is merely a tip of the iceberg of the promissory notes issued by Candidate Jonathan.

Jonathan the president has spent four years in office – or six, depending on what calendar one wishes to use for him – without making a dent in the pile of promises he made. Nobody forced him to make those promises; he did it by volition. In fact, he went out of his way to assure Nigerians that he wasn’t given to frivolous speech, that he never uttered a promise he hadn’t first figured out how to redeem.

Yet, as president, he’s been no better than a flirter. He’s come across as an alienated and confused figure, a man for whom statecraft is first and foremost – perhaps, even, exclusively – a matter of jollification and self-aggrandizement. He’s proved that no degree of bad news would stand in his way of having a jolly, swell time. In mid-April 2014, Mr. Jonathan flew away to Kano to do a raunchy dance routine at a political rally. And the rally took place a few hours after suicide bombers had inflicted carnage on innocent people in the president’s relative neighborhood of Abuja – to be followed, a few hours later, by the abduction of more than three hundred schoolgirls. Ten months later, most of those girls are still missing, but Mr. Jonathan’s partying has shown no sign of slowing.

I’d like to see Mr. Jonathan face a fearless moderator who would ask him to describe the achievements of his administration. No generalities, president; itemize your achievements. Count them off, and provide proof of their existence. I’d like to see a moderator insist that the president describe the content of what he and his handlers have tagged “transformational leadership.” I’d treasure hearing the incumbent oga-at-the-top enumerate exactly the highlights of the legacy he’s persuading us to continue with.

Should Jonathan resort to his supporters’ excuse that he’s been a victim of those who swore to make the country ungovernable, he should be peppered with follow-up questions. Why, sir, did you not deploy your ample presidential power to identify and contain some anti-people, retrogressive elements? And if you couldn’t handle those foes in four or six years, where, pray, are you going to find the spine to deal with them should Nigerians trust you with steering their affairs for the next four years?

Unlike Jonathan, Buhari’s refrain is Change. But change, in any circumstance, is easier said than achieved. In Nigeria, with decades of entrenched impunity, change can be as slippery as the ogbanje, the same disease deceitfully dressed in new clothes.

Mr. Buhari’s burden is to define what manner of change, exactly. He should be challenged to offer a sustained critique of specific policies of the present president, and to articulate the nature of the changes he would introduce. If we elected him president, in what significant, salutary way would Nigeria be different the day after he moves into Aso Rock?

An honest Buhari would agree that he’s embedded, in the APC, with some politicians whose reputation for corruption is not only legendary but indeed matches the same pathological greed that we encounter in the PDP. How does Mr. Buhari propose to tackle the monster of corruption? In the face of dwindling oil revenues, how would he diversify the economy, find the revenues to modernize Nigeria and take on the challenge of creating jobs? How is he going to fix Nigeria’s shambolic infrastructure, its damaged educational system and create a healthcare system worthy of the name?

Some of Buhari’s supporters take it for granted that he has the antidote for Boko Haram and its virulent activities. But why should the rest of us simply assume that the man has the answer? It behooves the APC’s presidential candidate to tell us, plainly, how he’s going to restore order in Nigeria, especially in the beleaguered northeast where Boko Haram has made itself close to invincible, a veritable stakeholder? And what are Mr. Buhari’s specific answers for the deep sectarian rift in Nigeria and the air of ethnic distrust that have torn the fabric of Nigeria?

Left to their own devices, the PDP and APC will keep the campaigns at the level of hollow platitudes. If it were up to them, Jonathan and Buhari will have a season devoid of any serious questions and any debates. But the stakes are too high for a country that’s prostrate, a people on whose head the sky has collapsed. Any party that proposes itself as the answer ought to be asked to lay out its plans – and to submit those plans to rigorous scrutiny.


Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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Politics in a time of bankruptcy Tue, 06 Jan 2015 00:00:58 +0000 In many nations, whenever it is felt that hard times have befallen a people, elections represent a real opportunity for contemplating a variety of options. Voters become relatively more attuned, more sophisticated, more attentive to policy debates between candidates.]]>

In many nations, whenever it is felt that hard times have befallen a people, elections represent a real opportunity for contemplating a variety of options. Voters become relatively more attuned, more sophisticated, more attentive to policy debates between candidates. Many voters jettison primitive partisanship. Instead, they leave themselves open to consider new directions, receptive to new ideas. In fact, many voters become impatient with politicians who stick to the usual, easy game of mudslinging. Eschewing the politics of personal attacks, these voters insist that political candidates wrestle with issues. Often, they listen to, and reward, candidates who are most adept at spelling out what they understand the problems to be—and most gifted at proposing ways to fix things.

Let’s take one recent example, from the United States. A man of African descent like Barack Obama was able to get to the White House in large part because too many Americans had become fatigued by the escalating cost in lives and dollars of George W. Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Candidate Obama’s promise to de-emphasize war and to zero in on revitalising economic growth resonated with voters who despaired of a recession that sucked jobs, weakened the real estate market, and gutted real incomes.

Faced with the prospect of a deepening economic crisis, US voters demanded answers from seekers of elective office, whether it was state legislatures, Congress, gubernatorial posts or the presidency.

I’d suggest that Nigeria has hardly been in a more dire time, but you would not know it from the tone and tenor of the current phase of politicking. Nigeria is not about to slip into a crisis; it is fully mired in one. Even so, with elections approximately a month away, it is for the politicians and voters alike very much a season of business as usual.

How bad are things in Nigeria? Grim, from the evidence of my eyes and ears during two recent visits in November and December. I was there as tumbling crude oil prices forced the Federal Government to devalue the naira. I had drinks at a restaurant with a contractor who bemoaned the woes of putting in bids in naira. I met another businessman in Abuja who told me, in a weary, forlorn tone, “It is impossible to get paid for any jobs now. They (political parties) have mopped up all the money for the elections.” In Enugu, a state commissioner spoke in a similarly bleak accent: “The way things are going, most states will not be able to pay salaries in a few months.” Several state governments were already behind in the payment of salaries. And the Federal Government was not about to be left out. As I left Nigeria on December 22, thousands of Federal Government workers were yet to receive their November pay!

Any government that is unable to meet its recurrent obligations might as well be declared moribund. Yet, in Nigeria, this is about to become the new normal.

In the face of such a crisis, you’d expect the political space to be abuzz with solutions. I was in Nigeria as various political parties carried out their primaries. The space was abuzz all right, but it was the buzz of vultures hovering overhead, bent on pecking away at the carcass of a near-bankrupt Nigeria.

If the candidates and delegates at the various primaries knew a thing about the desperate state of Nigeria, they did a terrific job of concealing it. Yes, there were speeches, lots of them, but there was nothing clarifying, no attempt to offer a reasoned critique of opponents’ policies and to articulate alternative, differentiating policies. There was no light at the political events, only the dust of insults hurled at opponents and hollow self-bragging. If anything, most of the speeches were feckless regurgitations of standard clichés: “moving the nation forward,” “delivering the dividends of democracy,” “total transformation” of this and that.

Above all, the primaries were a cash fest, occasions for candidates to splash obscene sums of looted cash on so-called delegates. Delegates were bought and sold, and they in turn traded their votes in exchange for the highest bid they could get. It was a particularly ugly example of political prostitution, of political mercantilism.

It is as if the broad confraternity of politicians had set out to offer comfort to those who argue that Nigeria is not tailored for democracy, that what we need is a benevolent dictator or God. Nigeria is virtually bankrupt, but few politicians are insisting that we have a conversation about it at all much less that we ponder how to get ourselves out of the jam. The price of oil has dropped sharply, but there’s nothing in the Nigerian public space about how to sustain ourselves in a post-petro-dollar time. Nigeria has squandered hundreds of billions of dollars of its oil bequest, with little or no infrastructure to show for it, but nobody is talking about effective ways of plugging the loot, holding looters accountable, or prudently husbanding what little resource we have left.

No, the country’s disappearing wealth has bred a new fever pitch among the rats racing to gnaw at what’s left. No political party, as far as I know, is seriously pushing any ideas for reducing the untenable cost of running this monstrosity we have misnamed a democracy. No party has backed the idea that legislatures, at the state and national levels, should be on part-time basis, with legislators earning sitting allowances only when they meet. Few have raised objections to the abuses of the security vote, or demanded a drastic review of Nigeria’s immunity clause, arguably the most expansive such stipulation in the world.

At a time like this, with the US shunning our oil, with our foreign reserves evaporated, with Boko Haram abducting, maiming and slaughtering victims as they please, with armed robbery as rampant as ever, with roads, universities, healthcare and electric power supply terribly wrinkled, with hundreds of thousands of graduates without jobs, one would expect this year’s elections to have an illuminating effect, a winnowing moment. You’d expect politicians to speak seriously about these crises, to proffer considered solutions, and to map roadways to a different, more hopeful future.

Instead, the politicians are strutting the length and breadth of Nigeria in festive mode, their agbada more suited to inebriated excess than to work, their speech alternating between pompous self-inflation and infantile denunciation of their opponents. On social media, oblivious to the depth of crises that have gripped their country, confused choruses of partisan commentators are having a gleeful time as their country burns. They are content to make sport of people of other ethnicities, other religious faiths, and to heap scorn on those who profess a different political loyalty. It is as if our politicians and many of us the victims believe that the answer to our bankrupt, bankrupted lives lies in mastering the art of proclaiming the virtuousness of our partisan cliquishness and spewing invectives and stigmas at the occupants of other tents.

•Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe.

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