A Time Traveller’s Troubling Reflections

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The last time I wrote a column was on December 2nd, 2010. A lot has happened since then; I didn’t have time to extend courtesies of the Christmas session and the New Year, given the fast-paced nature of events in my life. The exigencies of professional life in journalism can be very exacting, if you catch my drift. But in the intervening period, I have imagined myself a time traveler, removed from the realities of Nigeria and then getting the vintage point of that remove, to look in. My fascination with the possibilities of time travel was triggered by Carl Sagan’s COSMOS series from the nineteen eighties and in recent days, I have gone back to watch the DVDs of that series and re-read the fascinating book which accompanied the highly successful television documentary.

Anyhow, the issue is that Nigerian life remains a troubling mosaic of colours and in the period between December 2nd, 2010, and now, I watched the unfolding drama of a post-colonial state that continues to lurch from one crisis to the other, rather like a punch drunk Samuel Okon Peters, the infamous “Nigerian Nightmare”, our heavyweight pugilist, who made a habit of losing his fights very scandalously. At the point of my exit from these pages, I wrote an unpublished piece on the face off between the National Assembly and the CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, which I described as a classic confrontation between the brawn of the National Assembly and the brains of Sanusi. Nigerians got the opportunity in that confrontation, to catch a whiff of the depth of the problems which we confront as we try to fathom why the return to civil rule in 1999 has not translated into a genuine democratic transition. We seem lost in a time warp, because the more things seemed to change the more they have remained the same.

If you needed a confirmation of that fact, Chief Tony Anenih gave us in abundance with the lapse into his domain of vacancies and occupation at the seat of the presidency. The underlining philosophical import of the Anenih platform is that the space of democracy is a black hole that party barons like the chief can willfully manipulate with utter contempt for the Nigerian people. And in recent days, the PDP’s “open and transparent” convention became the finale of that contemptuous attitude, as for-the-highest-bidder delegates did a dust-to-dust ritual for the corpse of their party and whatever remained of its troubled soul, in the name of casting votes to choose a candidate to run for presidency in the April elections. The ritual pattern and obscurantism at the heart of the Nigerian public sphere had been so much on hypocritical display even in the days before the political conventions, when Nigerian newspapers grandly presented a front page picture of Jonathan Goodluck kneeling in front of a leading clergyman in a simulated expression of political piety, with embedded insinuations about the religious-cum-political favour Jonathan was seeking, by that act of piteous surrender.

In politics as in warfare, every means can be corralled for as long as the end point is to achieve victory, never mind the path that is strewn with collateral losses! And which can be more punishing than the disgraceful toppling of Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo from his perch as national chairman of the PDP. He has outlived his usefulness, in a very short time, even by the standards of the PDP! Chief Vincent ‘the Prince’ Ogbulafor, had a longer period at the PDP “watering hole”. Someone the other day told me that Jonathan Goodluck was a wonderful student; he graduated with honours from the Obasanjo School of political manipulation and seemed to have outfoxed the wily old dictator in his game. The graveyard of politics is becoming filled with individuals that Jonathan used and dumped, since he became the central issue of our politics, in the wake of Umaru Yar’adua’s indisposition and subsequent death. From Ken Nnamani through Aminu Masari and the young Turks like Nasir El-Rufai, the seemingly clueless and incompetent Jonathan Goodluck knew when to pull the string for the puppet and when to cut them out soon as they have outlived their usefulness.

Today political survival obliges Jonathan to be in bed with the powerful governors. It is that need for survival that will make the governors continue to have a central place in the scheming leading to the polls in April even if the gut feeling for the Jonathan camp is not to trust the ever-ambitious governors. So while in their romantic embrace of political survival, each party is keeping under the pillow, on his own side of that king-sized bed of intrigue, a sharp dagger, looking for the auspicious moment to stick the blade into the hind place of the other. Politicians must necessarily ride piggy back on the tiger, because it is that act of daring which opens access to the power which confers on them the right to misbehave with the funds of Nigeria, as they do. That is why those who expected the governors to do other than endorse Jonathan, even if it is against the emotional preferences of their people, miss the point. The power of incumbency trumped loyalty to the people, because at the end of the day, a second term in power means far more than any appeal to Northern solidarity. If in doubt, please ask Isa Yuguda and his colleagues!

In this classic expression of the personal trumping the collective, we must find a word for the unbecoming attitude of Bukola Saraki, the governor of Kwara State. By making the delegates from Kwara state vote for Jonathan, he repudiated everything he allegedly stood for, and his spin doctors have come out to say they ditched the Northern agreement, because he was not chosen as the candidate. But IBB and Aliyu Gusau could have made the same argument, but they chose the path of honour. Bukola Saraki is young, but he has damaged his own political career forever. He forfeited the trust of Northerners and the Jonathan Goodluck he voted for will never trust him, given what he did before making a volte-face. If he had also delivered the votes of his delegation to Atiku, Jonathan would still have won, but he would have upheld honour and Jonathan Goodluck might be angry, but would have respected him and made the extra effort to woo him, in the same manner he is trying to make peace with those who stood by their principles. Bukola Saraki has dual citizenship, of Nigeria and England, so maybe! What eventually happens here will depend on the response of the people. It is not enough to be indignant about what happens around us; let us translate indignation into action and reclaim our country from the army of occupation which despoils it! There are possibilities inherent in us as a collective, especially if we ponder what has happened in recent days in the Maghreb. For decades, political life there was dominated by some of the most corrupt dinosaurs in Africa; but in Tunisia, they chased away Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. That is people power!

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