By Lasisi Olagunju
I learnt yesterday that the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, will be visiting Nigeria today. The question I asked the bearer of the great tidings was: When is he going back to his rest in London? He will be arriving in Nigeria two days after our urban psychedelic ‘children’ of anger shut down vital parts of Lagos and other cities in celebration of Nigeria’s Independence Day. They are called Obidients, supporters of Mr. Peter Obi, the urban rave of the moment. They had drums and drummers; they sang and danced; they sweated. Their procession carried the air of a rite of passage. Funerals are rites of passage. That was the ritual the city dancers staged for the regime of pain and alienation. The day the ‘Obidients’ did their street show was exactly two hundred and forty days to the end of the eight-year reign of Tinubu’s leader and role model, President Muhammadu Buhari. And while the angry urban youths were getting set last Saturday to dance round in pain, the president was on the television submitting his report card to Nigerians. He marked his own script and remarked that he “was called to serve”; that he “saw an opportunity to create a better Nigeria” and that he had done exactly that “with the support of Nigerians.” Get it very clear: Buhari in his October 1, 2022 address to the nation said that in seven years plus, he had created “a better Nigeria” for all of us. That affirmation of excellence in service delivery caught my ears and it was my main takeaway from the president’s 47-paragraph broadcast. The beneficiaries of His Excellency’s excellent piloting of our plane should include the droves parachuting out of the country.
Between May 29, 2015, when he was sworn in and May 29, 2023, when he will leave us with heavy hearts, there are 2,922 days. This means that as of the time he submitted his self-prepared assessment report last Saturday, this president had spent 2,682 out of his total days in our presidency. He has 238 days left, from today. The Buhari government has always been a nightmare impudently dressed like a daydream. Everything has a history. Even words do. Check your dictionary for the 700-year journey of ‘nightmare’ to the present. What can you find? The Oxford English Dictionary says the word ‘nightmare’ was first used around 1300 and it referred to “a female spirit or monster” which settled on and produced “a feeling of suffocation in a sleeping person or animal.” Nigerians are actually a sleepy lot, and suffocation best describes what Nigeria offers them as oxygen. Suffocation is the death that killed fishes washed ashore. There are many such corpses on the wet sands of Nigeria.
The president who marked his own script on Saturday beat his chest in self-praise. Chinua Achebe’s lizard did that too after it jumped down unhurt from the great Iroko tree. The president may enjoy his reign but it is not funny for Nigerians. He was truly “called to serve” by, especially, Tinubu, and supported by 15 million out of Nigeria’s 200 million citizens. I excuse the genuinely innocent voter who cast their lot with Buhari without any agenda of the self. Where I come from, you teach a child how to climb, you don’t teach him how to come down; we help people to get jobs and then exit their space and watch them perform. Our ancestors tell us that Alágemo’s duty ends with the siring of his kids; it is left for the birthed to learn how to dance and to dance well. Nigeria’s sick baby was handed over to the paediatrician in the Villa seven years, four months ago. Right in the hands of the carer, the child has died. A dollar was exchanged for N197 on May 15, 2015; on Friday, the last day of last month, 740 Nigerian naira bought a US dollar. The house has fallen. Like in Shakespeare’s Richard III, the dream across here is of “bloody deeds and death: fainting, despair; despairing…” Today, nightmare means just two words: bad dream. And every night, every Nigerian goes to bed bristling with the fears of a night that may have no dawn. You must be contending with these fears too – unless you sleep in the Villa in Abuja or in a royal infirmary in London.
On Saturday, the captain of this ship read a smooth speech of promise made, promise kept. He sincerely thought he had berthed at a shore made of gold. His speechwriters have used their genius to sink pleasant babanriga on the neck of the unpleasant. They sing stings for the people to chant after them. Has Buhari actually created a better Nigeria? He believed he has; Nigerians outside his government will say no, he hasn’t. And they will use their lives of misery and want to convict him. He danced zigzag while singing his own praise. He admitted, blithely, that Nigeria was confronting “current economic challenges such as debt burden, growing inflation, living standards and increasing unemployment accentuated by our growing youthful population” but explained everything away as “globally induced.” He spoke about security and insecurity. He thought he passed here too. But victims of his failure will not agree. They will say killings and attacks have become a canvass of firestorms over Nigeria, rupturing life and living. People get killed or abducted or maimed every second. Indeed, in the very week, the president was beating his chest, bandits rained terror and tears.
We may have lost interest in counting the dead, even in burying them, but the United States-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) keeps track of these killings and attacks. I quote its update for one of the weeks of last month: “September 17: Kidnappers abducted five in Emuoha, Rivers. September 17: Nigerian troops killed one civilian in Orsu, Imo. September 17: Nigerian troops killed one civilian in Ihiala, Anambra. September 17: The Nigerian Air Force killed twenty-two bandits in Shinkafi, Zamfara. September 17: Police killed two kidnappers in Odukpani, Cross River. September 17: Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) killed two Boko Haram commanders in Bama, Borno. September 18: Bandits killed four and abducted fifteen in Lapai, Niger State. September 18: Herders killed three in Guma, Benue. September 20: Kidnappers abducted two in Obio/Adkpor, Rivers. September 20: Kidnappers abducted two in Emuoha, Rivers. September 21: Suspected herders killed fourteen in Logo, Benue. September 21: Police officers killed one civilian in Jos North, Plateau. September 22: Three were abducted during communal violence in Makurdi, Benue. September 22: Police officers killed one kidnapper in Uhunmwonde, Edo. September 22: Kidnappers abducted three police officers in Ewekoro, Ogun. September 22: Bandits kidnapped two in Kajuru, Kaduna. September 22: The Nigerian Air Force killed forty bandits in Zurmi, Zamfara. September 22: Gunmen killed one police officer in Akoko-Edo, Edo. September 23: Bandits killed eighteen at a mosque in Bukkuyum, Zamfara.” You heard what Pastor Enoch Adeboye said yesterday, Sunday? Kidnappers now go into palaces to abduct kings. It is well. The president has done well.
The bleeding is severe; it won’t stop unless the cause is tackled. The ‘Obidients’ think the symbol of their anger could do it if he becomes our president. I smiled seeing their huge crowds in cities on October 1; they copied our security forces with shows-of-force. But street rallies of a hundred million urban dudes won’t win elections. Even if they all vote, they may win the vote but they will lose the count. If I were one of them, and in their strategy room, I would pin on the wall Joseph Stalin’s words of electoral warning: “The people who cast the votes don’t decide an election; the people who count the votes do.” If you know these Obidients, please tell them to dismount their excitable saddles and listen to those words. They should establish structures in all of Nigeria’s 176,974 polling units, 8,809 electoral wards, and 774 local government areas. The time and energy they spend on an ostentatious display of figures can be more productively used to prepare for the day of battle. It is 144 days to the presidential election. Their main opponents, Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar, are in every unit, every ward, and every local government area, oiling their machines.
The English man says a word to the wise is enough. We don’t give a whole word as counsel where I come from. We give half. I should, therefore, let the Obidients be – at least for now. I should even leave Buhari with his toothpick and his rocking chair. His masquerade has 238 more days to do what he does with the costume and the cane in his hand. We cannot stop him from dancing towards the fragrance of retirement and from his repair to the sanctuary of opulence. But some people hatched the 2015 snake and reinforced the serpent in 2019. They now routinely run abroad to catch fresh air. They return to hit our streets with the claim of their turn to wear the costume and wield the cane. They sold sand as brown sugar, now they demand we should pay them, not with stones, but with the glorious crown of our future. But our elders are saying that whoever birthed the monster is the mother and she must girdle the baby (eni t’ó bá bí omo òràn ni yóò pòn-ón). So, Tinubu and his ‘change’ agents may ‘japa’ to London – and even to Iceland (where the sun never sets), they will always be asked, whenever they come back here, to share in Buhari’s legacies.
The presidential election will hold in four months, three weeks’ time. We are already dancing towards our next mistake. The vultures are circling the carrion of the incumbent’s leftover. Sadly, the people who are supposed to lead the charge are excusing the rot. Everyone is angling for the next elections and the personal advantages the polls are likely to confer. “The only way to reveal the true nature of power is through the cries and the stories of the oppressed people who are the victims of that power,” said Yong-Bok Kim in his ‘Messianic Politics.’ But those cries and stories reveal nothing here. We reinforce failure with a revalidation of bad terms. The inheritors of Nigeria’s widow have managed so well to keep their crowd. There is the viral WhatsApp message which speaks to this: “They can’t pay ASUU because they (lecturers) did not work for six months, yet they have been paying refinery workers for over ten years now even when they haven’t refined a drop of oil. On top of that, they still promote the workers to the next level even with the refineries being shut.” I saw a version of it on Omoyele Sowore’s Facebook wall; I saw it on a few others. The author is thus not clearly known but he or she did not drop the message and just walk away. The person remembered to wonder: “And you still see people queue behind this mind-blowing fraud.” And I quietly add: They are doing more than queuing; they are eating their tormentors’ poo. This has no class; professors who got their pay last in January are mounting campaigns for them too – malaria corpses are voting for mosquitoes; they are deploying excuses – ethnic, religious.