You are familiar with that French saying, right? “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”? The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Well in Nigeria we are used to the spectacular: spectacular heists; incredible acts of corruption and even remarkable gestures of never really getting things done!
Those who rule our country seem to know the penchant of the people for gestures, even when they are like a ride to nowhere; a journey without a destination in sight or in mind.
Just keep them moving, like that Johnny Walker advertisement. Away from Nigeria over a two-week period, I reflected upon the absurdity that governance has increasingly become in our country over the years, but in its very grotesque appearance, since 2011.
The fresh air that President Goodluck Jonathan promised has become so foul and toxic the country is suffocating politically and otherwise. But there is a 28-day theory of everything in the Nigerian public space which underlines all that we deal with, as I will explain in this narrative.
But did we truly expect that things would actually have come any better? On a general historical plane, the recruitment of leadership in Nigeria has been one of Nigeria’s greatest weaknesses. The penchant has been to go for the lowest common denominator.
So, like Chinua Achebe once observed, we end up playing our leadership league matches with the Third Eleven, so we never win. It is part of the tragedy of leadership in our country that succeeding generations of leaders seem to be worse than those they takeover from.
So starting from the First Republic, which is seen as the golden era of leadership, even with their inadequacies. Yet from then onwards we have seemed to be on a roll down the slope. Our Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall aeons ago and it is obvious that nothing can put it together, as things stand today, unless there is a radical change of course.
Most of what we have inherited as leadership has been forged in the crucible of military dictatorship, as we all know. When I was editor of DAILY TRUST newspaper, MalamAdamu Ciroma gave an interview to one of our titles. Ever perceptive about Nigerian happenings, Malam Adamu said it wasn’t a coincidence that there was some form of organic linkage between the political parties and actors of the First and Second Republics.
Politicians generally gravitated to tendencies they had belonged to in the earlier period and there seemed to be some level of ideological continuity, despite the severe shortcomings of the periods. Well, by the time the military returned and the political process became subject to elaborate manipulation, things had taken a turn in Nigeria.
The political economy was erected on a new foundation of SAP, with its central concept of life as jungle, with each fighting for survival and not caring for the other. Life became Hobbesian: nasty, brutish and short for the majority of the Nigerian people.
But a handful of crooks, opportunists and clients of military dictatorship made good from the new scenario. They became the much-vaunted ‘new breed’ politicians of the military’s political transition.
They were rootless, unlike the politicians of the First and Second Republics and therefore depended very much on the structures of military dictatorships for their power. But since the entire contraption of military politics was far removed from the interests of the Nigerian people, these newbreed politicians were tarred with the same brush of dubious legitimacy.
It was this group that became the ruling elite since 1999, and with each election, they have replenished their ranks with new recruits. But the standards of governance or of decorum in the public space have continued to deteriorate. Our political process is a sham, built on a foundation of a fraudulent political economy. It was never constructed to work in the interest of the Nigerian people.
They were born of the corruption of military dictatorship and in the years since, they have taken corruption to dizzying heights. For most of the period since 1999, there has deepened the division of the Nigerian people along ethno-religious and regional lines because these are very useful instruments to corner political prebends, to participate in the elaborate heists which political power facilitates.
When acts of obscene corruption as ‘Oduah-gate’ come to the fore, the political leadership responds in the most natural way in the world of politics: they set up investigative committees precisely to ensure the befuddlement of the issue. In the meantime, politics gets nastier by the day: the ruling party is hopelessly factionalized; the opposition is consumed in efforts to consolidate its power grabbing fortunes.
It is as if they live on a different planet, away from the ASUU strike that closed the university system, the medical doctors’ restiveness and the blatant anti-state manifestations all around the country.
Elaborate burial ceremony
There is spectacle thrown in for good measure, though. The president is making a show of religious devoutness. Away in the Holy Lands on pilgrimage, he reinforces his position as a Christian because Christian votes might become crucial in the 2015 scheme of things.
Not to be outdone in all these things, Madame Patience Jonathan also staged an elaborate burial ceremony for her mother who died tragically on roads conspicuously neglected, despite a presidential son-in-law.
At least a ‘befitting burial’ offers succor and spectacle an entire community can be part of. These come against the backdrop of the genie of national conversation that Jonathan carefully let out of the bottle of Nigeria’s fractious political process.
Ethnic entreprenuers of all shades, civil society advocates and regional groups of thugs are having a field day. There is a most welcome respite for an otherwise embattled presidency.
Extra time was found for strategising on the route to 2015 as much as the show of naked knuckle. The opposition is at the receiving end of state zealousness: meetings are disrupted and even planes are delayed from flight. Those who think Jonathan is meek as a lamb have another think coming!
So where is the theory of 28 days in the public space in all of these? A few months ago, Nasir El-Rufai told me that during the Obasanjo presidency, a study was conducted which showed that the maximum duration for any issue to grip the Nigerian public space is 28 days. No matter how serious the scandal, the corruption, the assassination, whatever!
The issue grips the Nigerian public space for 28 days and then fizzles out. Nigerians move on. We seem to be easily forgetful. Those who rule us know this and they hedge their bets, drag their feet and just pray that 28 days catch up with any issue. We will move on. This explains Jonathan’s dithering over Stella Oduah’sarmoured BMW cars.
There is a time-tested template of action, long used to befuddle the Nigerian public space. It didn’t start today. It won’t change unless we radically re-order things in our country. So the more things change, the more they remain same. Plus ca change; plus c’est la meme chose!