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MONDAY LINES
2019: A long descent to the past
By Lasisi Olagunju
(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday 8 October, 2018).
When the land blesses the wicked and refuses to smile (even wink) at the godly, one gets tired of doing good. (Bi’le ba n gbo’sika, bi ko gb’olooto, b’ope titi oun rere a su nii se). A friend reminded me of this proverb as we agonised over the pervasiveness of evil across the land. Our country is a litter bin of big and small dictators and aspiring dictators. Even we, the victims, are so used to the perfidy around us that we see no reason to hate evil and its high priests. Twenty-something years ago, when pro-democracy war raged and protesters were falling in Lagos and Ibadan streets, in the East and parts of the north; when the Frank Kokori oil workers’ strike democratised suffering and people gladly embraced pain, could the combatants have imagined a privatised Nigeria would be their lot at the end of that tunnel?
How does it feel to live in a country owned by the privileged? There is no better way to feel it than the on-going election process. Take a look at the just concluded party primaries. The intra-party polls have confirmed politics as igbo odaju (forest of the daredevil). It is a forest where the one with two children is left with one, and the mother with only one child is ruined, left empty handed. We have seen that only contestants who are godfathers (or who have godfathers) came back with their heads uncrushed. The ones who naively thought we are in a democracy are broken, in debts and in ruins. They have felt what it means to be eaten up- gobbled by electors who are godfathers’ insatiable termites of destruction.
You already have your candidates for next year’s elections. The captors have everything. They have money; they have power; they have coercion. They have used all these to domesticate power in their homestead. In Yobe State, a former governor is a senator; his wife is a minister; that wife last week contested APC’s House of Reps ticket with her step-son. She won. People of conscience froze, she smiled; her senator-husband laughed and counted his blessings.
In Kano, a former governor is a senator. His son-in-law is the freshly sculptured Peoples Democratic Party governorship candidate for that state. The ex-governor himself contested weekend’s presidential primary of the PDP. He didn’t win. He should have won to complete the rout. Rochas Okorocha fought everyone to make the husband of his daughter succeed him as governor of Imo state. There is no state without such sad examples in how to build an aristocratic democracy.
The owners of Nigeria are no longer pretending. They are out, abducting the destiny of Nigeria right here in the open field. The beautiful ones may still be unborn; they may be doing press-ups in the belly of time, but the powerful ones are born, they are here already – and their spirit is the soul of the new Nigeria at work. They are out cheating and daring anyone who feels cheated to come out and fight.
President Muhammadu Buhari was the sole aspirant at his party’s presidential primary. No one dared come out to challenge the lion of Daura, Conqueror of Nigeria, north to south. He alone is the messiah. Before him, there was no one; after him, there will be none. His party said he polled almost as many internal votes as he got in the general election of 2015. Maigaskia (the truthful one) did not ask any question about the source of those 14.8million votes his party dashed him. It did not bother him that his party’s membership register was last updated in 2014 – one year before the general election in which he polled 15.426 million votes.
In Lagos, new party registrants did not count for the governor, but they did for President Buhari. Buhari accepted the primary figure and the attached privileges. He smiled and shouted ‘APC!’ and his worshippers chorused: ‘Progress!’ In his native Daura, there was the noise that his nephew, Fatuhu Muhammad, was being imposed as the APC candidate for his Daura/Maiadua/Sanda Federal Constituency. The noisemakers, who are they? Who are their parents? Who listened to them? Buhari’s wife, beautiful Hajia Aisha, is from Adamawa State. Her brother, Mahmoud Ahmed contested the governorship ticket of that state with the incumbent. Records say he lost and his eloquent sister took to Twitter to lampoon the party and its officials for adopting impunity as party policy.
Across the street in the PDP, what speaks there is money. Even the uncouth National Party of Nigeria of the second republic was circumspect in directing its tickets the money way. When wealthy businessman, Moshood Abiola, showed interest in the presidential ticket of that party in 1982, somebody from the north told him the ticket was “not for sale to the highest bidder.” But billionaire politician Atiku Abubakar on Sunday separated himself from the boys who had no big bones. His reported fairytale spending in Port Harcourt exceeded what all others could ever have dreamt of. His PDP votes also swallowed what all the others got – put together. That is the Nigeria of today. Money votes; it does all things. Only the wealthy gets unto the throne.
Nigeria is on a familiar journey to the past. In all states, godfathers recruit disposable minions as contestants. Rich politicians buy party leaders and members to win party primaries; they buy voters to win general elections; they will get sworn in and sit down to do good business. They will meet empty treasuries and therefore insist they must borrow to build roads and fancy buildings. They will award contracts in secret to freshly minted companies known only to themselves and their godfathers; they will take loans to finance the bloated contracts; they will pay for the projects and the credit alert sounds in their own cell phones; they will smile and pass the debt to the poor and their descendants to pay. The poor will respond with shouts of joy, worship them and dance to the beats of slavery. The Godfathers own the electors and the elected; they own them exactly the same way Tapa owns Igunnu.
It happened in Zaire, today’s Democratic Republic of Congo. That country had a President called Mobutu Sese Seko. He came into their lives as a messiah. (They always wear the costume of hope). He grew in power to become powerful. He owned the country and all in it – including the opposition. He also had what someone called “the arrogance and gall required to ransack your homeland and not lose a night’s sleep.” Mobutu possessed his country so decisively that in an interview he was asked if he could personally pay off his country’s multi-billion dollar debt. Mobutu’s humble response was that he could, but his only worry was how he could be sure he would ever get his money back.
Nigeria is at that threshold. One day, we will beg today’s leaders to help pay our nation’s debts from their personal accounts. Why? Politicians are the businessmen doing business with our governments; businessmen are the politicians running our governments. Governors are mere signatories to the accounts of states on behalf of the godfathers who own the business. Democracy walked into this ambush so soon after the military left. Nigeria is a captive of pseudo-democrats, political profiteers. They own everything that has value here. They are richer than their states.
So, between seventy-something-year-old Buhari and seventy-something-year-old Atiku, who is the face of the future? We will be seeking answer to that question from now till Election Day in February 2019. There will be election next year, but can you see any silver lining anywhere? Indeed, the horizon has been blown out by those who think they own the future. Many who worked for (and walked into) this democracy sane and healthy 19 years ago have lost all. The 1999 trophy of victory is just an encasement of defeat. It looks like those who died in that war of democracy died in vain. It looks like the broken ones, the jailed and the exiled suffered in vain.
The military were brutal and corrupt. They forced presidents and governors on the people. But now is worse than then; illicit cash and rapacious godfathers are the electors of today’s president and governors. Unfortunately, only those above 40 years can reasonably make a comparison between evil past and evil present. Nigerians in their 30s today grew up to meet a dirty country. You cannot know what it means to be clean if all you grew up with are uncleanness. Today’s normal is the worship of merchants of dirt. The worshippers’ line gets lengthened daily as democracy takes us back to that past we thought had left us forever.