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Monday, 12 April 2010

The New Nigerian Year

As the year comes to a close so too does a chapter in Nigeria’s history. We are in a crisis that has been building and growing for years and finally the various chickens are coming home to roost.
From amalgamation, to independence to the first coup, to the civil war, to the subsequent coups, military rule, June 12th, Abacha, Obasanjo and Yar Adua, the entire Nigerian project seems to be in a subdued but headlong tumble towards a crisis.
We are currently without a President, the Vice President is disrespected and on unproven legal grounds.
The Presidents entourage assures the people of the Federal Republic that the President is alive and well but he cannot for some reason be induced to give a television interview to reassure the citizens he purports to serve.
After a typically shadowy amnesty program in the Niger Delta, during which recovered weapons were not recorded or destroyed publicly, the militants languish in squalid conditions without retraining, rehabilitation or even sustenance. Apparently these elements of the rehabilitation plan require Presidential approval. Thus inevitably these boys who have returned to the only thing in their lives that has given them purpose in their lives and begun attacking oil facilities.
The upsurge in brigandage and kidnapping in so many parts of the country particularly in the South East means that the freedom of movement of any individual of any manner of means be it an office worker, a trader or a businessman is curtailed. Not that movement is possible as the typical fuel scarcity has returned with a vengeance, coupled with the poor roads, and lack of alternative transport modes most Nigerians living away from home have to stay put.
This year has seen various industries shut up shop and relocate to other countries, our ports and gridlocked and non functioning, our airports would be better used as training aids for combat pilots with the complete paucity of navigational aids. A recent returnee had the joy of leaving an aircraft and identifying their luggage by torchlight at Murtala Muhammad Airport.
Lets talk about 6000MW of electricity. In 1991 it took Saddam Hussein less than 6 months to reconnect the entire Iraqi nation to electricity; this was after the entire electric system was bombed by the most powerful air forces on earth and his nation was blockaded and under sanctions. At the same time he was spending the majority of his GDP on trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction, rebuilding his armed forces, fighting 2 rebellions in the north and south and also siphoning off a goodly portion of his country’s wealth to his personal accounts.
This is in a desert country with no other resource than oil. Yet a country with an abundance of gas, oil, coal, rivers, and sunshine, cannot even guarantee electricity to its political and commercial capitals.
The worthlessness of our health system can be demonstrated by the fact the President is abroad being treated for an illness that could be dealt with easily in most countries.
Education is non existent, the quality of Nigeria’s previously famed academics and students is so poor as to be tragic. Students can barely put two sentences together living in conditions that prisoners in other third world countries would reject
And then there is the elephant in the room that shows how low we have gone, a suicide bomber. A pampered rich kid who was apparently so exercised by the condition of Afghans he took it upon himself to try and blow up an American plane. Reading his life story, schooling in an international school in Lome, studying UCL London, living in a £4million flat, it is obvious that he believed all Nigerians were of the same ilk as he if not he would have used his privilege to help the thousands of street kids in Katsina, or maybe he would have been touched by the wholesale massacre of hundreds of Northerners in Boko Haram, or maybe even protested the complete destruction of the Niger Delta and its people. I mean if he knew all these things he would have blown himself up on the private plane of one of the oligarchs to which he must have surely had access.
But the things listed above are not the problem.
They are symptoms of the problem which is the complete and utter lack of leadership and accountability in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
A situation in which an Attorney General seeks to prevent a Governor from standing trial for corruption, in which a Foreign Minister spends almost his entire budget on foreign travel yet oversees a complete neutering of Nigeria’s ability to influence international affairs, in which a country with 4 refineries imports refined petroleum products can only exist where the people in charge are corrupt or incompetent or both.
In an ideal world corrupt incompetence is its own punishment however Nigeria is not an ideal world although sometimes the devil does poke his finger at his own as the widowers Obasanjo and Babangida can testify (and maybe the widow Turai?).
The time for hope and prayers has passed. Hope was killed in 1966 and prayers emigrated in 1993. The time now is for cold steely eyed resolution. The path Nigeria is on is not unique. It is the path that Somalia, Congo, Sierra Leone, Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Liberia et al went down, with every stage clearly signposted.
First a cabal seizes control of political power and its organs. Then it begins to manipulate the countries affairs towards it own ends. These ends may start out political but in the end the pecuniary aims predominate. Funds are first diverted through quasi legitimate efforts and then wholesale looting begins, state organs and infrastructure are diverted and stripped to benefit the cabal.
The wider the gap between them and the commoners grows the more ostentatious they become. Opposition is suppressed or bought off; the country is now no longer treated as ones own but as occupied territory to be stripped with wealth diverted abroad.
As the organs of state fail the cabal resorts to overwhelming violence and then massive bribery to suppress dissent. As the circle of discontent grows, these tactics become untenable and the reality becomes apparent, the praise singers become slightly less shrill, the ‘orders from above’ are no longer hopped to by the public servant.
And then the country disintegrates. The cabal usually tries to hold, generally by claiming enemies under the bed, be it a particular tribe, ethnic group or religious group. The cabal uses the security forces but due to deliberate mismanagement these forces are underpaid and untrained and thus cannot perform and need to take off the people forcibly in order to sustain themselves. Those of the cabal that remain switch sides as is necessary or flee abroad.
The ordinary people die and suffer in conflicts that are not so much battles but wholesale massacres of people who can’t run away fast enough
This cabal is not from a certain tribe or religion, it transcends such petty things, it is a group of people who believe that the Federal Republic exists solely to service them and their families, thus you see one family producing Senators, Governors, Vice Presidents, Presidents etc from independence to date. Not a single one of them can point to a tangible public work that stands for the good of the people
However this cabal could not function without the coterie of sycophants and hangers on that surround them and this along with their greed and ignorance is their biggest weakness. These individuals are opportunists who dance to whatever tune is played. These people exist solely for their own benefit. I eagerly await the outcome of the Ibori trial and how much the accused will start to give up as these individuals face a trial they can’t buy their way out of
An interesting tale emanates from the Kosovo war of 1999. After several weeks of NATO bombing the Serbian forces there was no weakening of the resolve of the Serb forces or people to resist and NATO reluctantly considered a ground invasion. This did not perturb the Serb leader Milosevic as he thought his forces could resist long enough and cause enough casualties for the Russians to intervene. However all the state funds and proceeds from drug, people and arms trafficking that he and his group were making were laundered through Cyprus.
Unbeknownst to them the EU members of NATO had slapped a travel ban on all members of the inner circle. As their moneyman (the head of the country’s Post and Telecommunications monopoly) travelled out to launder the next instalment he was stopped turned away from Cyprus and then London. Their funds were frozen. They were trapped in their country, with no avenue of escape and most importantly they had no money, and no access to their money, thus the war and the chaos were no longer necessary.
Serb forces pulled out in a few days.
This was the beginning of the end of Milosevic. The next year he rigged the presidential elections after a concerted crackdown against the opposition and the media. The resultant protests were carried out in concert with his security forces who agreed with the opposition not to resist or stop them when they took control of the Parliament and government controlled TV station in Belgrade.
A year later Milosevic was on trial in the Hague for war crimes.
Saddam Hussein disappeared after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 and continued on the run for 8months till capture. His hiding place was betrayed by his bodyguard a close relative. Likewise his sons sought sanctuary in a cousin’s home, who cheerfully grabbed his family, stopping long enough at an American base to give them the news and collect his reward.
The moral of this story is that a cabal or group that exists solely to extract and benefit from ill gotten gains is most vulnerable to that which it desires most and by those who facilitate it. Once the ship was sinking these individuals assessed that rather than sink with it they would actively work to get on the good side of the people they had previously harangued, harassed and murdered.
Thus this gloom is not all pervading. There are many great positives that emanate from our most honoured and beautiful nation. The fact that we exist at all is one, exist and despite all that is thrown at us continue and endeavour to succeed by all means necessary. The greatest thing about Nigeria is and will always be our people. Ever ready to strive, endure and succeed and let the bad apples not sour us to the rest. For every Nigerian you see in the diaspora acting badly be it through rudeness and criminality there are 2 or 3 others working hard, honestly and quietly. For every illiterate, corrupt politician there is an underpaid, overworked activist holding him to account under constant harassment and threat of death, torture and imprisonment. These are our ambassadors and ‘rebrand’ consultants. The Festus Keyamo’s and those of his ilk bringing grandees of the cabal to trial and winning is a first and most important step. Our culture and cultural abilities shines a happy light on the Federal Republic from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s beautiful uncompromising prose and the host of new Nigerian authors getting international recognition, along with Nigerian actors like Chiewetel Ejiofor starring in blockbusters to such events as a musical about the life of Fela Anikpulapo Kuti being performed to rave reviews on Broadway with producers like Jay-Z and Will Smith.
All of these shine a light on the Federal Republic like never before, thus making this our 50th year our most crucial.
If we truly chose to fight and win and reclaim our country then we must chose our battle field and our weapons and our greatest weapons are those mentioned above. Our people and our culture, our voices and our words. The lives we lead and the examples we set. Our courage, our intellect our perseverance and our belief. Most importantly our belief in a strong, developed, undivided Nigeria, ruled according to the wishes of the people for the benefit of people
So the period 1960 to 2010 cannot be considered our true beginning and it is definitely not our end. It is the beginning of the beginning.
Our beginning.

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