“So in the Libyan fable it is told that once an eagle, stricken with a dart, said, when he saw the fashion of the shaft, ‘With our own feathers, not by others’ hands, Are we now smitten.’” – Aeschylus
Fellow Nigerians, let me start by sending you compliments of this special Season. As writers, our readers don’t expect us to go on break. And so the ardent followers of my column have indicated that I must script Pendulum even as we celebrate Christmas. As your humble servant, I have obeyed your instructions without any hesitation and here we go again, as I do not ascribe my obeisance to divine calling as our political leaders are wont to want us to believe.
I decided to start this piece with one of my favourite quotes from that Greek Poet, Aeschylus, a man of monumental achievement. We read a lot of Greek Tragedies in those days at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) as students of Literature-in-English. I don’t know what is being taught these days but I remember with nostalgia the great works of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. I also recollect a few adaptations of Greek plays by Wole Soyinka and Ola Rotimi, who wrote The Bacchae of Euripides and The Gods Are Not To Blame respectively. The latter title is probably one of the most popular plays ever written by a Nigerian author.
My mind flashed back to Ola Rotimi’s spectacular work as I began this weekly epistle to you. We are only days to the beginning of a New Year. And the year 2015 promises to be a watershed in our dear country. The reason is obvious. We are likely to have one of our hottest elections ever. It is the first time that a strong opposition party will attempt to unseat a very entrenched political party as well as an incumbent President who appears to have been popularly elected in 2011.
It is not common for the people to get an opportunity or indeed have the ability to sack a sit-in President in Africa. It is even more difficult in Nigeria where the President wields the power of life and death. It would have been impossible for the ruling PDP to remain in power these past 15 years if not for the fact that politics in Nigeria is a game of sharing the booty or what is usually referred to as the ‘national cake’. The bulk of this cake, the knife needed to slice it and the portions to be distributed are all controlled by the President. And different interest groups really don’t give a damn if majority of the people live below poverty level as long as the President is persuaded to give them a pitiable slice of the cake.
The amount of money already budgeted and squandered on frivolous, white elephant and sometimes phantom projects since our return to Democracy should have fixed most of our terrible problems but the reverse has been the case. The more we spent the less we achieved. And the ruling party in its supposed wisdom assumed that Nigerians were foolish and too docile to think and kick against their servitude. They studiously ignored the lessons of history as well as the popular adage that whatever has a beginning must have an end. Nigerians are patient and resilient. They may also be lethargic but they are neither foolish nor docile. At the appropriate time, they are forced to react decisively.
Nothing has been more frustrating than the miraculous ascension of a man from the Niger Delta as the President of Nigeria who seems to have mismanaged the great opportunity. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan achieved what the gifted Ken Saro-Wiwas couldn’t. Many had paid the supreme price for what he got on a platter of gold. It is so ironic that a man who was expected to understand the plight of the poor soon became even more elitist in disposition. I won’t join those who said our President has done nothing as that would be too uncharitable but I would like to submit that there was much more he could have done to make the country better. But the biggest undoing is the unbridled profligacy attached to this government.
A country that bears our kind of heavy challenges needed a sober and frugal leader who was ready to downgrade his personal comfort in order to rescue his people from want and deprivation. Unfortunately, our President was quickly and cleverly hijacked by those who know how to stage bloodless coups along corridors of power. I think the end of the beginning started on January 1, 2012, when our President on God-knows-whose advice removed the full subsidy on petrol and all hell broke loose. Nigerians trooped out in large numbers all over the country o stage demonstrations against such a bizarrely insensitive gift on the first day of the year. The protests almost became our own Arab spring but the biggest of them was forcefully crushed in Lagos as soldiers rolled out the tanks.
The government, and its IMF/World Bank sponsored economists were so rattled that it had to eat humble pie and make promises it never intended to keep when the people graciously agreed to some increase in the price of petrol. All manner of committees were hurriedly packaged to assuage the feeling of the people. For example, buses were supposed to have been bought nationwide to convey commuters to different destinations at next to nothing. Till this day, I don’t know how many buses were ever bought and who boarded them. We read about SURE-P and its activities but I don’t know how widespread its impact was felt simply because I cannot see what it has done. The committees wrote tons upon tons of reports that are gathering dust wherever they are right now.
The price of oil has collapsed and the real Nemesis has arrived. While government is trying to paint a picture that all is well, it is becoming increasingly clear that we have landed in big trouble. It is disheartening that the dividend of crashing international oil prices, which should have been the lot of Nigerians through reduced petroleum product prices, will not even be allowed to them. As the Chief Economist to the Government has said, Nigerians must wait until oil prices stabilise before the benefit of these prices can be spared to them. When government will subjectively decide that such time has arrived is left for the imagination given that prices have been crashing for almost 2 months now. Not even the normal Christmas spirit and traditional New year’s benevolence can bend the unrelenting spirit of our ‘dream’ Economic Team as this Government continues to pile economic woes on its citizenry.
The President promised to reduce his world tours to most essential trips but it actually increased in intensity as if with a vengeance. We became a laughing stock as our Presidential entourage invaded different countries on shopping sprees. In the past year alone, our President and his Pastors have been to Israel more than once. One would have expected that more attention would be devoted to nation-building than all the flights of fancy. But we continued to live like a rich nation when indeed our economy had taken a nose-dive. We were continuously lied to about the state of things. Even now that it has become certain that we are broke, we are still pretending that there is no problem.
The spate of terror attacks under this government has become rather atrocious and endless. All hope of containing it also seems to have evaporated. The standing joke is that Boko Haram has now carved out a different map of Nigeria with huge chunks of Northern Nigeria now excised from the control of our government. The citizens don’t believe much is being done to contain the menace especially when over 200 girls remain missing and the bombings and killings continue unabated.
Unemployment has reached an all-time high with Nigeria recording the largest army of angry youths on the African continent. The government and its cronies continue to publish fictitious figures informing Nigerians that the level of unemployment is falling when more school leavers and graduates are being churned out from our broken higher and tertiary institutions and left to fend for themselves. It is little wonder that our thieves, fraudsters and armed robbers have suddenly achieved sophistication second to none.
It is also believed that President Jonathan has not encouraged the anti-corruption agencies to do a good job by the manner he protects his Ministers and other associates. These agencies point to the fact that there have been more prosecutions of high profile politicians under these administration but whatever may be the outcome of that debate is that the Presidential pardons have severely undermined any successes in that respect.
In the middle of these social and economic issues, the unexpected also happened on the political front. I had warned in several articles that the President was being deceived and misled into making too many political miscalculations and mistakes. One of such monumental mistakes was the attempt by the President to force his candidate on the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. It was a complete misadventure as Governor Rotimi Amaechi defeated Governor Jonah David Jang who was favoured by the President’s camp by 19 to 16 votes. One would have expected the President to accept the verdict but he went ahead to recognise a smaller illegitimate faction of 16 Governors instead of embracing Amaechi warts and all. That was the day I believe the PDP dug its own grave by piling up corpses of political liabilities.
The non-recognition of Amaechi as the Chairman of the authentic Nigeria Governor’s Forum led eventually to the fractionalisation of their party into PDP1 and PDP2. Had the President acted like the father of all, those five Governors who eventually defected to what later metamorphosed into APC would probably have remained. When tomorrow comes, PDP will regret the day APC came into existence. Despite the initial braggadocio that APC would fall apart as a result of clashing egos, the party seems to have held tighter than even PDP.
In 2011, it would have been unthinkable that a General Muhammadu Buhari would bounce back so powerfully. Let no one deceive Mr President that there is no cause for alarm, there is plenty ahead. The mood of the nation does not favour PDP or the President. Mood is always a key factor in politics. The mood was right for Barack Obama when he became the first Black American President. I foresee the same favourable mood playing out in 2015 for Buhari and Osinbajo.
For the first time since PDP came into power, the opposition is now so formidable that it would be able to fight for substantial votes in every zone. The choice of Osinbajo, as his Vice Presidential candidate, by Buhari is a political masterstroke which even most of us did not see coming. It has all the hallmarks of divine intervention and the advent of the answering of the prayers of the multitude of Nigerians. The amiable Professor Osinbajo provides devoutness, erudition, compassion, simplicity and above all integrity to the ticket. Both candidates share fairness, simplicity and an anti-corruption stance in common.
All manner of smart guys are warming up to eat out of the billions of naira made available for the Presidential campaign by friends of the President and some of our supposedly broke State Governments but PDP should pray for a miracle this time. Too many costly mistakes have been made. I don’t know how easy it would be to correct those fatal errors in less than two months. Writers are like prophets but no one listens when we say the things we know. We warned regularly about those around the President but we were called names by those who turned the Federal Government into their personal property. Those who never lifted a finger when others fought on the streets of Abuja for Jonathan to be President suddenly became Janitors at Aso Rock blocking those who may wish to tell the truth.
I hope the President knows that the die is now cast and anything can happen in the next election. My advice is that he should work hard on leaving a legacy no matter what happens. Mr President should organise a world class election even if he won’t be the beneficiary at the end of the day. And if he wins, at least no one would accuse him of rigging. There is nothing more to gain from politics. God has been too kind to him. He should ignore all those throwing tantrums and threatening to set Nigeria ablaze if their man is not elected for the second term. They are mostly pretenders. As we’ve seen in the past, they are always the first to jump ship.
Let no one blame the gods for our personal failings in life. We must bear our cross with courage.
Written by Dele Momodu