Sheep without shepherd

By Tunji Adegboyega

Pius Anyim, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and a former senate president said nothing new when he expressed sadness that 22 years since we returned to civil rule once again on May 29, 1999, our leadership deficit has continued to manifest. Anyim bared his mind while delivering the University of Nigeria, Nsukka’s Faculty of Social Sciences Distinguished Annual Public Lecture titled: “Political succession and nation-building in Nigeria: problems and challenges.” According to the former senate president, “Let me also say in general terms that transition from civilian to civilian administration in Nigeria has also been rancorous, grossly violent, manipulative and in many cases threw up the wrong outcomes where the wrong men for the jobs emerged. This has retarded our progress as a nation. However, whatever the challenges have been, I make bold to say that we have hope. In view of the above, permit me to state that at the core of any discuss on political succession and nation-building is the question of leadership.”

Other eminent and not-so-eminent Nigerians had expressed similar point in the past.

Just like many of our older citizens who enjoyed the best part of Nigeria have been wondering how we came to this sorry pass, many of even the relatively younger generation that did not witness the old-time Nigeria have kept on asking: why us? And why now? All of this in the context of the unprecedented hardship that has been the lot of Nigerians in the last 22 years, and especially in the last six years or so. I have seen hardship in this country. But I never could have imagined a situation where things would be this bad. Not in my widest imagination. Not even in my dream.

We thought we had seen the worst of times when, in both the Olusegun Obasanjo and the Goodluck Jonathan years some people were calling for a revolution. Little did we know we were just breaking our fast then, in preparation for fasting that was to come. Normally, the obverse is the case: people fast and later break the fast. But in our own situation, we have reversed that process, as we normally do with many things in the country. We have broken our fast in those years of innocence and are now fasting. We have a high sounding concept for such process reversals: it is called the ‘Nigerian factor’. This factor comes into play because things that worked seamlessly elsewhere would simply not make a dent here, no matter how hard we try. What is shocking now is that none of those vociferous voices calling for revolution then when things were by far better, when our exchange rate was relatively stable and affordable; when a bag of rice sold for about N10,000 and when cement was still within reach, and Nigerians enjoyed night travels and in fact slept with their two eyes closed – even remembers the word ‘revolution’ now despite the unprecedented hardship in the country. Does this tell us something?

I remember vividly in the Obasanjo era how his Yoruba kinsmen were his worst critics. As a matter of fact, they rejected him at the polls then even as other parts of the country routed for him. A piece I wrote in my column at ThisDay titled ‘The rejected stone’ put that bile in proper perspective.

I remember, albeit nostalgically, that fateful Saturday May 29, 1999, when Chief Obasanjo got the baton of leadership and one of the things he said repeatedly was that he would lead the country aright. President Buhari as others before him, including our military rulers, said the same thing. None of them told us that they had come to flog us with horse whips, whereas that has always been what largely, they ended up doing. The WhatsApp post below captures their failed promises.

I guess this was recorded during President Buhari’s inauguration in 2015. Titled 2015 Book of Remembrance, the video opens with the pictures of the President and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo beside him. It has only two animations. The lead animation opens the book, which contains Buhari’s supposed campaign promises to Nigerians: “We’ll govern Nigeria honestly in accordance with the constitution, we’ll strive to SECURE THE COUNTRY and efficiently …the economy, we will strive to attack poverty through broadly shared economic growth and attacking corruption through impartial application of the law. We will turn Nigeria to a position of international respect through patriotic foreign policies” (at this point, a baby animation saunters in). Buhari continues: “Preserving the nation’s future is a sacred public obligation to all of us in this great party.” Buhari then asked, rather rhetorically: “Shall we at home continue to live in a condition where the power holding company and its successors seem only to have the power to hold us in darkness? Shall we continue in a situation where 250 of our daughters are being abducted and the government has been unable to rescue them? Or provide credible information about what steps they are taking? Shall we live in a nation where several people were trampled to death in search of jobs in a stadium and yet no one has taken responsibility for the tragedy? You are first and foremost a Nigerian in my eyes, I shall treat you equally as my people, my national family, my brothers and sisters. We will be a compassionate government for, out of compassion arises the truest form of wealth and progress a society can attain. Just as APC stands as a new party for a new Nigeria, our government will institute new policies to realise a new Nigeria. On corruption, the government will enhance EFCC’s power to investigate independently. Pregnant and poor women and children will be entitled to basic healthcare. When all is said and done, let it be written that Muhammadu Buhari gave his all for this nation and the concern for its present condition, and as a resolve to make things better for Nigeria.”

At this point, the lead animation tore the book of remembrance in frustration and anger and this is followed by the one million dollar question: “NIGERIA HOW FAR?”

It is instructive that the lead animation had to keep away the obtrusive baby animation that apparently did not know the importance of the book of remembrance and its import to the lead animation and was therefore trying to disturb him without success, as the lead animation kept changing position whenever the baby moved close.

Apart from the unseen audience laughing heartily as the animation turned from one page of the book to another, in apparent disbelief of the disconnect/disonance between words and deeds, there are also some interesting comments on top of the video. For example, the commentator gave the Buhari administration 100 when the president talked about securing the country. When he talked about preserving the nation’s future, the comment was “the same FUTURE being silenced “?? Awwwww. When the president said his predecessor did not tell us the steps it was taking to rescue our abducted school girls, the comment was “PROVIDE CREDIBLE INFORMATION??” We also have comments like “TAKEN RESPONSIBILITY? 20/10/2020 nko?” That I guess was the Lekki episode. Then, the animation also checked the dictionary for the meaning of the word ‘compassion’ when the president said he would show compassion. When he said basic healthcare would be made available for pregnant women and children the sarcastic comment was that it is “Now available NATIONWIDE??”

Fellow Nigerians, this has been the story of Nigeria since independence. Failed promises. Failed leadership. But our rulers get away with them because we, the so-called led, do not interrogate them. Some people have said, and I agree with them that all we need to change are the dates and probably names of the dramatis personae when writing about Nigeria, from independence to date.

Despite being an incurable optimist, I keep asking myself if it is possible for this country to be restored to its glorious past, given the extent of the damage done to it, especially in very recent times. Anyim does, but I doubt the possibility with the style of the government in power.

I hope by now President Buhari’s spokesmen who usually deny that the blood that was needlessly shed in their time is by far more than that of the  Jonathan era would agree now that this is a truism. I knew it would get to this because rather than work on reducing the bloodshed, they were ever eager to say they were yet to beat the Jonathan administration’s record. It is now clear, even to the blind, that the record of bloodshed under this regime surpassed that of the Jonathan administration.

Regrettably, there is nothing to suggest that the experience with Buhari would not even be worse by 2023 when, hopefully, the regime would be due to leave, given what we have seen in the last six years. The same Buhari who told us in 1983 that our hospitals had become mere “consulting clinics” has had cause to shuttle between the country and foreign hospitals several times since he took over in 2015, the most recent being about a month ago when we were told he went for routine medical checkup in the United Kingdom, almost six years into his eight-year presidency. If he has been unable to have a dent on hospitals in six years, we can conveniently close the book of achievements in that area as well as many others. Apart from the government’s legendary incompetence and cluelessness on the country’s basic problems, it has taken parochialism and nepotism to heights never witnessed in this country. That is why the clamour, whether for restructuring or secession, has heightened under his regime.

Those who might want to ask what the government that Anyim served did to change the narrative are right. But I do not think that should be the point here. For me, that was an angelic or saintly era compared with what we have been having in the last six years. Things have gone progressively from bad to worse.

And it was clear the country would come to this sorry pass at the initial stage of the murderous herdsmen and farmers’ crisis, when the government stood aloof and the security agents took a cue from the president’s body language by doing nothing to rein in the bandits.

We do not need any prophet to tell us it would come to this. I wonder how the president could be sleeping given the quantum of blood that is shed daily today under his watch. What we have seen from herdsmen meant that Yinka Odumakin and others who taught the rest of us the implications of RUGA and the ill-fated water resources bill knew what they were talking about. There is real danger in giving the herdsmen land because it is clear that they have a different agenda beyond mere cattle rearing. People who believe that they can just do as they please with others’ lives, livelihood and ancestral lands cannot be trusted with too much space outside of their enclave. We should be suspicious of anyone who still believes in moving about aimlessly with cattle in the 21st century. A farmer who stays into the night in the farm can definitely be accused of harbouring the sinister motive of wanting to loot his colleagues’ barns. It is still failure of leadership that could have made all of these possible.