By Suyi Ayodele
This is not the best of times for Nigeria and Nigerians. The North of Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa has turned into a colony of insurgents, infidels and daredevil exterminators, yet, the sleeping president is unfazed by the strident calls to declare his killer cousins as terrorists. The case of the Nnamdi Azikwe’s South-East is akin to that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Beyond IPOB and ESN, drug addiction and cannibalism is on the prowl! Truth be told: Nigeria (not the north alone) is bleeding. Sadly, Buhari, same one we all regarded as a valiant war general, has willingly left the flanks to the marauders while taking a deathly nap to the chagrin of everyone except his lapdogs and fast eroding colony of discordant hosanna orchestra. They said Jonathan was not able to keep them save. They encouraged us to chase away the Otuoke man. We did. Now, our case has turned to that of a man who sold off his hen because it hatches a few chicks and used the proceed to buy a guinea fowl. The guinea fowl laid six eggs and hatched only one. We have moved from frying pan to fire. Pity!
I engaged in a discussion with an elderly fellow some days ago on the present state of the nation, Nigeria. The man, a Septuagenarian, nostalgically submitted that Nigeria had seen better days. I quipped that I witnessed some of the good old days. He laughed derisively wondering what gave me the competence to make such a declaration on account of my age, compared to his’. Of course, I insisted that I also witnessed the golden years by regaling him with tales of the good life I lived with my elder sister, a teacher at the Community Commercial Modern School, Ilupeju Ekiti in the 70s, and how she used to buy coloured pants for me every market day. I told the elderly man that as an “omo tisha”-child of a teacher-, I used to mix ‘Nido’ (a brand of powder milk) with my garri in my bulging pockets and was the toast of other pupils at the Local Authority Primary School, Ilupeju Ekiti and St Benedict Primary School Ayede Ekiti, where I again lived with her when she became a secondary school teacher at Ayede Grammar School.
The old man laughed again! He found it funny that my idea of a better Nigeria was when I could “mix nido and garri”. He was not persuaded that even a middle class Nigerian today cannot afford to buy that same milk; that the idea of having tea as breakfast has disappeared from many homes, and that nowadays, families have to skip one meal a day in order to be able to afford the next one. He went on a riposte with beautiful stories of how life was in Nigeria in “their time”. He romanticized his days at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, where students turned on taps at the cafes to get tea and when four students used to share one full chicken. He mentioned how he got a brand new Peugeot 404 car, months after he graduated and how his wife, a nurse, got a brand new Volkswagen car the moment she started working. He praised the men of the Public Works Department, PWD, who used to fix any damaged items in his official quarters and maintain the lawns. He went on and on in profuse reminiscences as a great raconteur would.
Suddenly, his enthusiasm dropped. He moaned: “They have ruined this country”. I was silent for a moment. “Suyi, are you there”? He asked. I responded in the affirmative. “I thought the network has cut us off”. I answered that the picture he painted was what elicited the palpable silence from me. The old man was emphatic that whatever I witnessed in the 70s and 80s, was nothing compared to what he just narrated. “Woo Suyi, je ka pa oro Nigeria ti. Oluwa a tun ilu yi se”- Suyi, let us leave Nigeria’s matters, God will repair this nation, he prayed. We ended the telephone conversation. As if coincidence was on cue to support my old friend’s claims, I heard a beep on my Whatsapp application. It was a recall of the September 22, 2017 news report in the Vanguard newspaper headlined “IMF borrowed from Nigeria in 1974”. The newspaper attributed the insightful quote to the former Minister of Finance in the Second Republic, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, when he was visited by Senator Sheu Sani. The sender of the link added a message: “I think this is a good talking point”. I could not agree less. What a coincidence! So Nigeria had once been in a position to lend out money to the IMF? I asked myself in quizzical rhetoric.
The report quoted Alhaji Alhaji as saying: “’In 1974 when I was permanent secretary at the Federal Ministry of Finance, the IMF approached us for a loan. I signed the agreement on behalf of Nigeria. Unfortunately, today the expenses of the government have driven us into recession’’. The Sokoto-born bureaucrat postulated that Nigeria missed the mark when the nation became “over-dependent” on oil and failed to develop other sectors. “Aside from oil and agriculture, Nigeria had industries that were earning foreign exchange for it. Agriculture and the industries were allowed to recede and when global fuel prices crashed, we are nowhere today”, the double Alhaji lamented.
Alhaji’s postulations tallied with what my elderly friend said during our conversation. The old man mentioned that all the developments Chief Obafemi Awolowo brought to bear as the Premier of the defunct Western Region, were achieved without oil and external borrowings. Same thing went for Sir Ahmadu Bello of the Northern Region, and Nnamdi Azikiwe of the Eastern Region, who both developed their regions without borrowing from any country or financial institution. Those icons managed, not only the economy of the nation, but all other fragile elements that would have thrown the nation into a great turmoil were curtailed. Those were men with ideas and ideals about how a country should be run and how our diversities should be harnessed as our strength and not a contrived weakness that we have the misfortune of witnessing today under those we thought were leaders, but turned out to be plunderers and economic locusts. They eat up the nation’s greenery and consume its earth brown resources with reckless abandon. They sweep the public treasury criminally clean and then go cap in hand begging for loan facilities that distant generations will not be able to pay back, even as the helpless citizenry cannot help wondering where the loans keep going!
Something must be wrong with Nigeria or its handlers. A nation that lent money to the international lender itself, IMF, in 1974, but in 2021 is owing virtually every nation of the world cannot be said to be alright. Each time I read random jokes about how Nigerians should start to learn Mandarin so that we would all be able to communicate when Chinese “colonialists” eventually come calling to recover the debts incurred on our behalf by our conceited leaders, I lapse into uncontrollable trepidation. While one may be considered uncharitable to blame the current ill fortune of our nation solely on the present efulefu administration of General Muhammadu Buhari, it is equally preposterous to exonerate the Daura- born General from culpability in the rot. Except those who are unashamedly filiopietistic about Buhari, an average Nigerian considers Buhari as the compulsive undertaker of the nation’s economy. From a nation which lent to the IMF in 1974, the Buhari government has taken the nation’s debt to an all high 32.9 billion US dollars in 2021. Sadly, the administration has gained speed on its borrowing spree as if Nigerians purposely elected the president to embark on a masochistic drive to borrow our future away!
Aside the economic woes, the persistent issue of insecurity has gotten to a point that the erstwhile obsequious Fulani kinsmen of the president are at the forefront of the agitation for the government to declare bandits, killer herdsmen and other felons on free range killing expeditions, as terrorists. Nigerian Tribune, in its December 16 edition, had a semiotic banner photograph on its front page. The banner had the inscription: “Northern Nigeria is Bleeding! BUHARI IS SLEEPING! That speaks volume. It goes to show that while down South, Nigerians are at the mercy of killer herdsmen and other sanguinary elements, the North is on a fatal haemorrhage. The activities of bandits, Boko Haram, ISWAP and killer herdsmen, added to the intractable poverty in the region, are killing off the region in alarming instalments. The era of pretense is over. The time, when an average Northerner would regard any criticism of Buhari’s jaded disposition to insecurity, as being against the north is gone. The people over there are feeling the heat like the blacksmith’s fiery furnace. They have elected to cry out, probably to rouse President Buhari from his deep sleep. Only a sleeping, unfeeling president would abandon the killings in Kaduna for a book launch razzmatazz in Lagos. Little wonder the northern protesters called on Buhari to resign over his abysmal failure to combat insecurity in the region. Those who wanted Senator Matthew Urhogide’s head on the platter for a similar call in the past are now the ones hollering the loudest. The call for Buhari’s resignation by the northern protesters is better understood when one considers how many states in the north are under the control of bandits and other killer agents. It is therefore gratifying that the president’s once die-hard supporters are the ones asking him to quit.
As our woes as a nation continue, The Nation newspaper, on Sunday, December 19 came up with an ingenious verdict on the Buhari government. In naming its “Person of the year 2021”, the newspaper said the winner is “NOBODY”! It went ahead to name the “bandit” as the first runner-up. Analysing how it came about the verdict of “NOBODY”, the Itsekiri born Chairman of The Nation Editorial Board, Sam Omatseye, penned: “This newspaper searched, and there were many episodes. Storms without heroes. We sought the man of action, the selfless avatar, the David against a Goliath of evil, the imagination overturning a riddle. It was a fruitless search. Big events tended to be about fear and trembling. The nation, as we exit the year, is still in the grips of fear and trembling”. The verdict is damning enough. The one Nigerians placed their hopes to rise to the occasion and put an end to the “fear and trembling” is the one the northern protesters said is “sleeping”.
Now we can ask ourselves, how did we get here? How come the Western Region Awolowo developed and which had peace is now a theater of kidnappings, killings and other sundry crimes My home state of Ekiti is the worse for it. My Ikole Local Government Area of the state appears to be the South-West headquarters of criminal abductions with intent to kill, maim or extract ransoms from helpless victims. From Itapaji to Irele, from Ayedun to Oke Ako; from Isaba to Usin, to Ijebu Agege, kidnappers and killer herdsmen make mincemeat of fellow compatriots. The situation is such that the bandits who kidnap do not necessarily stay on the highways again. They boldly burst into homes, pick their victims like chickens in a poultry cage and stroll leisurely back to their evil kingdoms knowing that no security apparatchik is coming after them.
Now, to whom do we look for the redemption of this dying giant?