There are many ways to assess the social, political and economic evolution of a country. You can make recourse to hard data, the facts and figures that tell a story of innovation and progress or one of regression and contraction. In this age of the religious reverence of analytics and pedagogy, there is still space, I believe, for some old-fashioned, hard-nosed observation based on tasting the temperature and tone of political discourse and engagement. It would seem to me that in Nigeria’s case, our recent history has been less a rosy tale and more of the humour of gallows.
Shortly after the 2015 general election, I watched with keen interest as the All Progressives Congress cruised to victory under the mantra of ‘change,’ their protagonists triumphantly heralding their ascent to power over the smouldering carcass of an incumbent Peoples Democratic Party, that had maintained a vice-like grip on power since the birth of the Fourth Republic in 1999. The promises were many and overflowing, the optimism in the air was palpable. What could possibly go wrong?
What ensued has essentially been three years of doom, gloom and the dishearteningly unshakeable feeling that nothing has, and in fact, will change. The current administration, led by Muhammadu Buhari, has superintended over a polarising, ethnically chauvinistic and nepotist government exemplified by the remarkable insolence of this administration’s image sellers, the presidential spokesmen who engage with an increasingly restive public with an indifference so unprecedented in recent Nigerian political history that it merits a critical examination on its own.
And yes, I am rating this government above the Jonathan administration (that Jonathan administration!) in my rather informal ‘impunity and insolence’ ranking.
The government of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was deficient in many ways, and between the splintering of the ruling party at the time and the formation of a new mega opposition party, his political opponents let him have the full of it. The level of intensity the opposition applied towards bringing that administration down, with the active help of the international community reached levels that in some moments seemed to put the very existence of this country at stake. This was not helped by the unforced own goals that administration scored – the aborted fuel subsidy removal, a stalled national reform process, failing to initially square up to the scale of the Boko Haram insurgency, and perhaps most infamously, the Chibok girls abduction and the atrocious mess of a response that followed.
But let’s set the record straight and refresh our memories. That government never sought to shout out the opposition, tacitly use legislation and the security services to muzzle and gag the press, and use the tools of name calling, deflection, manufactured facts and indifference to obfuscate from the defining issues of its day like this administration has – think the economic misery and recession, political limbo despite the ruling party controlling all the federal arms of government, the alarming increase in loss of Nigerian lives because of a myriad of insecurity fault lines, not to mention the rancid display of corruption and impunity by federal officials of an administration that promised to clean the swampy filthiness of Nigerian governance.
This present government is, far from a democratic one, what I would call a ‘Demojunta’ where even the hallowed principles of free speech are disallowed and critical commentary on its policies (and often times, the lack thereof) is styled as “hate speech” and “unpatriotic”. It is hardly the system of government that children in many Nigerian schools are taught that the American President Abraham Lincoln once described as “a government of the people, by the people and for the people”. With all due respect, Mr Lincoln will hardly recognise this current Nigerian government as democratic, accountable and responsible to its constituents.
The collective tragedy is that we have found ourselves in a situation where as a country, we do not tolerate the opinions and perspectives of one another and respect each other’s cultural differences. This national state of affairs where it is now a case of ‘us’ against ‘them’ is perhaps the worst I have experienced in my time as an analyst, writer and columnist. This is simply not the same country I used to know – where we grew up, national crises and tragedies aside, admiring the antecedents, culture, ethics, heritage, even the idiosyncrasies and beauty of living in a multi-ethnic, multicultural society that left one a sense of being part of a larger, beautiful human tapestry. Currently, there is a rancid air of acrimony, mutual suspicion and political rivalry that is poisoning our national life in ways that we are yet to begin to make sense of.
In the heat of this withering of our societal fabric, a supposedly democratically elected government has decided to look the other way, especially when the security services, ostensibly created to guarantee our safety and deal decisively with those who disturb the public peace engage in the reverse. Buhari’s government, by pretending to be blind to this, and a host of other concerns has sent a terrible body signal that is not good for the health and vitality of Africa’s most important nation. By not doing enough to forestall these daredevil offenders have a tea party over the lives of countless Nigerians, thus leaving many families reeling in the pain and heartbreak that follows the loss of a loved one, we are eating at the essence of remaining together.
If this is allowed to continue, more Nigerians will begin to doubt and query the social contract of outsourcing our security and welfare to a hardly existent, non-feeling, uncaring, uninvolved and distant government which continues to exact patriotism, loyalty and taxes without returning anything of substance in favour. Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq and presently Syria and Yemen are door posts to remind us of the consequences of willfully ignoring an engaged but agitated populace for too long. The geopolitical consequences of a fully disintegrated Nigeria at war with itself are best imagined than experienced.
We are the country where Fulani herders who have raped mothers and girls, maimed people on their farms, destroyed homes, set human beings ablaze are allowed to roam free and are “accommodated” by the government. We are also the same country where during the height of the advocacy of the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) group, peaceful protests by people laden with legitimate grievances against the Nigerian state were met with the full weight of the military. We are also the country where every leader since Independence has proclaimed is “one Nigeria”. Who are we deceiving? Possibly, the most infuriating sub-plot to this escalating security crisis is that some sycophants, from the air-conditioned sanctums of soulless power corridors in Abuja to the power centres in several parts of this country are canvassing for a second tenure for a president who is clearly in and over his head. In what sane society is this kind of maladministration tolerated?
As we approach another national election cycle in 2019, President Buhari and the APC need to be reminded that Nigerians are long on memory and short on patience. The president would be well advised to put the national interest above personal gain and be more concerned with what is before him now, seeing out the rest of his mandate and not be too concerned about what is after him. President Buhari and his team cannot be pursuing an agenda for continuity in 2019 in good conscience when his first stab at ruling is now almost unanimously seen as a disaster. He has successfully broken the social contract and gotten many of our countrymen openly questioning the core essence of our collective nationhood. It will be the most selfish of acts for a historically uninspiring and polarising figure as Buhari to seek a second term as commander-in-chief and head of state and president.
We have had enough of a never-ending fight against corruption that has not made much headway and ignores the blinding fact that it must be designed to address the issue from the grassroots. We have had enough of a government that is dangerously lopsided to the interests of a certain geographic section of the country to the detriment of the rest as if our beloved belongs to any special set of people or ethnic group. We have had enough of the narrow-sighted politics of blaming the poor performance of the current administration on the PDP as if the PDP were surreptitiously minded controlling the APC into sabotaging itself and refusing to get down to business. We have had enough of technical recessions, surging inflation, fuel queues, rolling power cuts and underperforming schools even after nearly a thousand promises. We have had enough of the unresolved Chibok tragedy, as well as the new ones at Agatu, Dapchi, Guma, Jema’a, Kagoro, Logo and Ozubulu among many others. We have had enough of the bickering, the infighting, the scheming, the lack of coordination and cadence within all sections of this government that has poisoned the political paradigm in this country and made us unwilling to engage on the issues that matter to us as a country.
Nigerians have had enough President Buhari, and in 2019, that is what will motivate them more than any other thing. Just my little ‘kobo kobo’ advice for you, Mr President.
Samfor Boblin Nwankwo, a political analyst writes from Lagos. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org