Nigeria on my mind: Who will bell this cat?
by Ikhide R. Ikheloa
Nigeria is on my mind. We are living in interesting times. Many years from now, historians will agree that one of the best things to ever happen to Nigeria was the election of Muhammadu Buhari as president. It is hard to find a more corrupt and hypocritical government than Buhari’s in the history of Nigeria; indeed there is a collective national embarrassment at the thought that a malignant blight rules Nigeria.
Let it be said that in Buhari Nigerians have learned a bitter lesson. Some would say that is wishful thinking given the lusty eagerness with which Nigerians are now cheering on the sweet words of the nouveau anti-Buharists, the loud-mouthed broken GPS vuvuzelas that landed our national lorry in the valley of despair and hopelessness.
So those that told us Buhari would be the best thing to happen to Nigeria since jollof rice are now up in arms and will not be consoled. Some are even on the ground in Nigeria begging to be mauled and arrested. Wonderful. These are the same people who worked overtime to blackmail, berate and shut up those of us who refused to drink the burukutu served up by the APC.
I salute these new social justice warriors for carrying my mantle of real change in Nigeria, especially my friends who dubbed me a broken record, for they are now the broken record, singing the same song I have been belting out every day for the past several years. There is a lesson there: If you stand up and speak the truth of your pain long enough, someone will come along to carry your burden. It still shakes me to my foundations that these new wailers, curators of Nigeria’s past bloody history truly believed that given our past, their judgment to hand over Nigeria to Buhari and his acolytes was appropriate.
To be fair, there have been some true warriors for justice, equity and transparency in Nigeria, many of them young folks. The couple of concessions Buhari’s inept and clueless government has made has been due to the hard work of a few studying what little data is out there and loudly sharing their objective critiques. However, true accountability remains a real problem. We have nothing but opinions, few people are being held accountable.
No nation can survive without accountability and robust structures of governance. Our broken, dying, moribund institutions are merely symptoms of the breakdown in structures and accountability. Who will bell the cat? I daresay, not these new wailers. We have heard their songs before. And the beat goes on.
We may end up ignoring history again and avoiding this lesson but know this: Buhari’s ascension to the throne of shame, his election has demystified him, all politicians, and all intellectuals (including writers) and exposed virtually all of us as self-serving rent-seekers. We are living in interesting times and one prays that our great country is greater than the machinations of the men that have held her hostage since Independence. Again, there is the hope that Nigerians have learned their lessons from this epic mistake that is the Buhari presidency; that they have carefully documented why, how and when we got to this mess. And more importantly who led us into this national quagmire.
Hope is fleeting though, perhaps a mirage. I cannot get over this tragicomedy: Those that led us into this mess, those that carefully drove our national truck into this mess, our PhD talking heads are now the ones gleefully pointing out all the potholes that they drove us into – to loud applause from the abused. Why are victims cheering their abductors? This dysfunction is what the PhDs call the Stockholm syndrome, a perverse love affair with one’s jailers and abusers.
Nigerians have been abused for too long, and I say to them: You must gain back your self-esteem. Forgive those who drove you into this hell but stay away from them. They will hurt you again. Not on purpose perhaps, but simply because they are clueless. Outside of their pretty and seductive words, they have never supervised even a dog in their lifetime, so they have no idea what it would take to run a complex country like Nigeria. You need new heroes. In fact, believe it or not, many of you cheering them on may be smarter and more experienced than their glib words may suggest. You may be the hero you seek.
Nigerians have gotten bad advice from many talking heads, the vast majority of whom live in the Diaspora and seem to have no other qualification for national service other than that they live abroad. Nigeria has suffered. It is not their fault but Nigerians seem to be suffering from a national inferiority complex. All it takes for anyone to be taken seriously these days is to write about Nigeria’s problems from abroad, abroad as in Europe and North America. Indeed it is easy to prove that virtually all the hare-brained ideas that Buhari’s hapless regime attempted to implement came from alleged thinkers who live abroad. People with PhDs abroad who would not qualify for a 3-minute slot in a community forum in their places of abode are experts on governance in Nigeria. They demand and obtain access to the highest places of the land and proceed to try to govern armed with nothing but shallow platitudes. It is easy. I have gotten access to strange and powerful places in Nigeria because someone simply said, “This is Ikhide, he is from America!” These talking heads have every right to their personal opinions but the time for bullshit is past tense.
We know now that slick pie charts and PowerPoint slides are inappropriate tools of governance. Talk is cheap. We are lazy, let’s just be honest, we are. Our laziness will kill off our country. Consider this a call to action, we must kill off our communal laziness in order to save Nigeria. The time is now for structural reform. It is hard work, but we have no choice. It is time to end this culture that has turned a once-great country into a space for sloth and graft.
At some point it will become obvious that we cannot continue to live like this. This is a national crisis. Nigeria as it is currently constituted is a failed project, a broken lorry that needs a new engine and a brand new set of wheels. The center is too powerful. It is time to negotiate the terms of Nigeria’s existence. It is counterintuitive but this needs to be said: Be wary of those who trot out the “One Nigeria” mantra and accuse you of “tribalism” once you begin to question the leaky, shaky, sketchy assumptions upon which Nigeria shivers. They are more than likely the real agents of nepotism using cute cloying words to protect the status quo. They feed fat from the status quo and any attempt to look at new ways of doing business threatens them and their agenda. All politics is local, Nigeria is a country of hundreds of nations; it stands to reason therefore that all power should devolve to the local. The federal government as is presently constituted is an ancient relic from ancient colonial times, it is in the wrong business and it needs to go.
Look around you. The people asking you to be patriots are hypocrites. They do not believe in your schools, your hospitals, your roads, your safety, security and welfare. That is why their families are abroad enjoying these things while they rule over you with the mere force of their empty words. Perhaps we need to admit that we are incapable of governing ourselves. My generation and older have failed the nation, no ifs, no buts about it, we have created lovely spaces for ourselves from which we pontificate and excite the disenfranchised. Worse, we are raising a generation of young leaders that threaten to be worse than us – they are narcissistic, self-serving and thoroughly dishonest – and poorly educated to boot. This army of locusts you will find on social media grabbing adoring followers like honey does flies. I despair that this cycle is vicious. I honestly do. But I am not there. At some point, those that are on the ground will decide, enough is enough and rise up and do what they must do to secure their present and their future from rent-seekers. It is the only way out. Who will bell the cat?
And yes, speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.