By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, as we count down to the next general elections in 2019, we should begin to take stock of what has gone wrong with the current government in the past three years. We must do this in the hope that a few issues can still be addressed, and that the lessons learnt can be put to good use after 2019, regardless of who wins the next Presidential election. It is certainly my prayer that a repeat of this monumental mess in which we have found ourselves would be avoided come the next government, whether it be President Buhari, or someone else, at the helm of affairs. There is no doubt, and certainly without any fear of contradiction, that the ‘Change’ government Nigerians brought to power in 2015 has not lived up to its much advertised billing, or come anywhere near the expectations and hopes pinned on it. Even the most fanatical supporters of the Buhari administration are struggling to defend its performance by merely explaining, and regurgitating, the same tales by the moonlight that we’ve been forced to hear endlessly, to the point of boredom. We have been constantly regaled with stories of how past governments, especially that of Dr Goodluck Jonathan messed things up, and how Nigeria would have collapsed, but for the merciful intervention of God and the benevolence of President Muhammadu Buhari. All well and good. This is not the time to argue with anyone over these lame and worn-out excuses. What is important is to note that the government could have done better, say so in plain language and urge them to move on in peace and in prosperity.
I was inspired to write this epistle today after watching a very re-assuring video a good friend sent to me yesterday. All the vengeful bloodsuckers in Nigeria should try and find it, as I hope it may help redirect us to the right course. The video was recorded in Nairobi, Kenya, during a very powerful and massive national prayer session which was hosted and led by President Uhuru Kenyatta. I could not believe what I saw in that video. Before I say a bit about its content, let me give a brief background to my little knowledge of Kenya.
My fascination for Kenya started over 40 years ago through my addiction to reading English Literature in school and, in particular, my incurable interest in the African Writers Series. Some of my favourite writers were of East African origin, such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Meja Mwamgi, Jomo Kenyatta, Oginga Odinga, Okot p’Bitek, David Rubadiri, and others. Rubadiri, a Malawian and Okot p’Bitek both lived in Nigeria for a while and taught me Literature-in-English at the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Their influence and that of our Nigerian lecturers, such as Wole Soyinka, Oyin Ogunba, Kole Omotoso, Biodun Jeyifo, Ropo Sekoni, Adebayo Williams, Chidi Amuta, Funso Aiyejina, Wole Ogundele, Yemi Ogunbiyi, Wande Abimbola, Olasope Oyelaran, Akinwunmi Isola, Bade Ajuwon, and others aroused my absolute passion in both English and Yoruba Literature.
I read any work of Literature voraciously and Ngugi was one of my all-time favourite writers. His novel, Weep Not Child, I read repeatedly, to the extent that I knew many lines and could recite them from memory. Kenya became a country I craved to visit. I loved the story of the Mau Mau struggle, and the epic battle the founding fathers of Kenya had to fight. Two people stood out prominently, Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga. Incidentally, their offspring are in the vanguard of the creation of a new Kenya today. I fell in love with Kenyan teas, just by reading books. I discovered the importance Kenyans attached to cattle-rearing. Wealth was calculated by how many cows you owned. I read about the game reserves and every imaginable wildlife in Kenya. The climate was said to be extraordinary; Kenya has a climate similar to that of Europe. My best friend, Prince Adedamola Aderemi, spent his honeymoon in December 1986, after his wedding to Kemi Oyediran, in Nairobi, and he titillated us with the adventures they both enjoyed and savoured. I looked forward to visiting someday.
I have been to Kenya many times since then and, actually, fell in love with the place, more and more. The two things that worried me in recent times were terrorism and the volatility of their political contests. Nigeria seems to share the same proclivities with Kenya in this regard. However, Kenya has managed its terrorist challenges much better than Nigeria and now it has also succeeded in calming frayed nerves after pushing itself to the brink during the last Presidential election. Things were so tense and terrible that the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, swore himself in as a parallel leader. This is where I’m going. All President Kenyatta needed to do to set Kenya on fire was to arrest Raila and his bitter supporters, but Uhuru chose the path of peace and reconciliation and it has paid off so beautifully and handsomely. It has led to both men, particularly Uhuru, achieving the status of esteemed world statesmen. They held private meetings, signed an MOU and agreed to a ceasefire.
The icing on the cake was the National Prayer Breakfast with a mammoth congregation in attendance. What a great man Uhuru Kenyatta is! He invited his Vice President William Samoei arap Ruto to the stage. He then called on his arch-rival, Raila Odinga and another opposition figure, Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka (former Vice President of Kenya) to join them. The President then did the unexpected. He publicly apologised to Raila admitting that they had traded unnecessary insults against each other. Vice President, Ruto, soon followed with his own apology. Raila then gave a speech explaining how peace was attained, promising that never again should a Kenyan die because of elections and never a again should a Kenyan be denied electoral victory because of where he comes from. He also offered his apology to roaring applause and acclamation… There was something else Raila said that caught my attention, fancy and approval: “we shall fight corruption together…” He sincerely meant this and further demonstrated the spirit of national unity and togetherness that is lacking between government and opposition in most African countries. Nothing could be more sensible and practical.
My mind went straight to Buhari’s Nigeria, where three years after the last election, and less than one year to the next, we are yet to have a reprieve and settle down in peace and tranquillity. Political prisoners are still chained down and held incommunicado without trial. Tension has refused to go away because we have refused to seek love, cordiality and togetherness. We prefer the military bragadoccio of trying to bully everyone into submission. Our country is the biggest sufferer for it. Let’s break it down properly. The Buhari government would have secured and stabilised the economy if it had not come with his usual and customary jackboots approach. He would still have been able to tackle corruption through the carrot and stick approach. The ill-conceived and self-immolating rush to expose alleged criminals and retrieve looted funds only crippled the nation, because it was not based on principles of fair-play and justice but more of ego-trip and vengefulness. A bit of patience and careful understanding of the situation would have been more rewarding. Fear-mongering may arguably have worked under the military, but it is very complicated and doomed in a democratic setting. Every anti-corruption crusade since President Obasanjo has only produced one very strong man or woman, but no strong institution, the reason it has not gone very far. We forget that individuals live or die, but institutions are permanent! By personalising the anti-corruption crusade in the name of one person and suggesting that that person is the only saint alive, it is only a matter of time before we return to square one, whenever that person quits the stage.
In any case, once the war is patently and brazenly selective and oppressive, it will fail ultimately. No one in good conscience would say that only PDP stole money to fund elections of former President Jonathan. How did APC fund its own elections in which billions went on polling agents, campaign jamborees nationwide, private jets, adverts, billboards, media, and so on. Surely the funds did not come only from the private sector, but also from top government functionaries who opened their vaults to match PDP Naira for Naira for Naira and Dollar for Dollar. In such a situation, detaining one group and ignoring the other is tantamount not only to oppression, but also abuse of office. What should have been done was to trace as much of the loot as possible way back to previous generations of government, and recover as much as possible by moral suasion, hard negotiations, forceful compulsion and, criminalisation, if all else failed. This was the impression and re-assurance given by the APC during the course of its 2015 campaigns, namely that no one would be hounded or victimised, unless they chose that path. Out of 16 years of PDP misrule, attention was focused rigidly on the Jonathan era which spent five years before things fell apart. Before our very eyes, the same guys who remained in PDP throughout the 2015 elections sauntered across, in droves, to APC after the elections, and their sins were promptly forgiven without any redress or recompense being sought. This is rather unfair and grossly unfortunate.
As I read somewhere, anger often beclouds reasoning. This is our case. The government chose to pander to populism instead of reality and practicality. Despite the grandstanding, corruption is not about to abate or disappear from our climes unless one is living in fool’s paradise, or suffering from complete gullibilty. Every new government only recycles the same template and attacks its enemies ferociously, with the next government coming on a revenge mission and retaliating blatantly. We should be tired of this crude methodology by now. Efforts should be made to strengthen our institutions first. Nigerians would cooperate with government on all fronts when they are reassured that “all animals are equal, and some are not more equal than others.” There is also inherent danger in pitching the poor against the rich. What we are playing with is mayhem, anarchy and systemic failure. The bottled up anger and bitterness may explode into a snowball that will engulf the nation and no government may be able to contain it. Each time the government tries to blame others for it’s sluggishness in making appreciable progress, it can only heighten the combustive tension. A senior member of this government once told us, gleefully, in conversation that the reason Nigerians are crying is because Buhari has killed corruption and many rich people are now very poor and miserable. However, even if true, the job of government is to increase prosperity and not to kill it or make anyone miserable, whether friend or foe. What shall it profit a country that claims to fight corruption but kills businesses, with the same poor people it seeks to defend losing jobs and dying in different stages of dillapidation? For every rich man or big company that collapses, so many poor people will go down with them. Many, if not all, of the so-called advanced nations we all run to today were built with proceeds of fraud, corruption, illegality, and even the sweat of slavery, before they started building stronger institutions and changing negative mind-sets to positive ones. They understood that everything starts from need before it escalates to greed. But here we want to kill everything without replacing it with something tangible or commensurate. It can only increase the angst and anguish.
This was how we missed the boat when we wasted precious time assembling a government team only to start fighting on all fronts from the very first day. South Africa would have collapsed on the head and shoulders of Nelson Mandela if he had chosen the path of all-out war and confrontation against supporters of apartheid, looters and murderers and too many dangerous enemies of State. His greatness derived from resisting that temptation of wanting to exhibit his macho and mojo as a King Kong. By going for reconciliation, he saved his country and people from a cataclysmic fall and avoidable elongation of the trauma of violent segregation. I know most people in Nigeria are in the mood to draw blood because of our crazy corrupt past, but at what cost. Is it not insane to continue repeating the same system and expecting different results, when it is obvious we are in perpetual crisis because no civilian government can oppress and suppress without being confronted eventually? Healing does not come by amputation, nay death, but by salves and balms. The choice is ours.
May God help us know when to cool temper, lay down our arms, and live to fight another day.