Sometimes I feel a sense of guilt watching free of any charge, the comedy series playing out as leadership in Nigeria, but perhaps I shouldn’t. After all, I, amongst other Nigerians who just sit on their hands or choke on their muffled or discordant voices, also provide comic entertainment to the leadership for which I too receive no payment. It is the kind of situation which perhaps to underline its ludicrousness, a familiar bard would mirthfully describe to as ‘‘one-one-goalless-draw’’!
In this huge theatre of skilled performers, the absurd is ordinary – in politics, in religion, in business, in thought, in culture, in life! But perhaps of all the performers the ones who come mostly dressed for the show in hilarious colours and designs are our politicians. They come to work mainly as masquerades, wearing 10 yards of a three-piece cloth, several measures of which make huge pockets which are empty of everything except the desire to steal from the country some more. They want to be taken seriously as coming to work with outfits that they have to fold up several times before the hands with which they intend to work are even revealed. And they succeed – even when they wear tight-clinging hats which appear to choke their minds out of any great ideas. They pride themselves as cultural ambassadors but take oath of office on the white man’s religion and in his language; they pretend to run their government using the white man’s models, but wouldn’t wear his clothes to work, even when they might help them work or at least suggest to the rest of us that they actually work, by how much smarter they look in them!
And when they eventually show up for work, it is in colourful ceremonies. Buffeted by security, they majorly leave most of their brains several metres behind; and at work, idle in offices several floors below or in reports layered by dust, such that upon immediate encounter on any matter about which they profess to have undertaken some work, their responses produce bewilderment to those who feel government should know better.
But be not deceived. Politicians are no fools. They are in fact, the wisest of us and cavalierly keep us lost on our own folly, or even when we realise, laughing helplessly at it. That’s how they make sure they get elected again and again. They convince us that we are polarized and must not trust each other from North to South. They offer the ingeniousness that we are the Christians referred to in the Koran as ‘‘infidels’’ or the Muslims or other faithfuls called ‘‘unbelievers’’ or ‘‘uncircumcised gentiles’’ in the Bible. They court and sustain our loyalty by making us fear that the knife in the pocket of the Hausa-Fulani man actually hungers to be planted in our bowels, using a handful of incidences to convince us.
Their narrative is so compelling that it doesn’t matter really, that for every act that validates their rhetoric, there are thousands, even millions which stand in stout rejection – in the surrender of our lives to the security of gates which they man; in our excited consumption of their wares and by them of ours; in our togetherness and equality in poverty and want; in the unity of being on the receiving end of bad governance; and in the accommodation of our businesses, our politics and even our houses of faith in their climes. And once they, from North, from South or any of their sub-divisions of our fancy, have got us to believe facts which lie outside of our experiences, they succeed in getting it to count for very little for example that a Federal Government presents a budget which simply sneaks out of the legislative chambers after it is had been presented with pomp and circumstance and even for less, that it makes subsequent journeys in and out of the chambers padded and hatted as the unquenchable palate of our politicians dictate.
And when the most critical of us pay attention, it is majorly so that we would have something to laugh at with our friends over beer or whatever else ensures that the thought does not develop into physical actions of rejection. None also really pays attention or offers vigilante efforts to see that the figures of the budget, suspect as they are, obtain obedience. Elsewhere in the Delta, we enjoy the comedy of a state allegedly signing its till over to its Governor in the blank pages of its budget. And if we aren’t laughing in the Delta, it is because we are jeering in our corners at governance in our own states, North or South.
That is how proposals are presented for loans that mortgage our future, tens of years ahead, but without particulars of the proposals. That is how we are ruled from sick beds which carry the authority of state, while he whose circumstance obliges him exercise of the right is in fact only wangled to us as supervisor, amidst sterile partisan arguments on contending sides, of rightness. It is how our foremost presidential jet is made to work as waiter without pay, at a tenancy in foreign lands only so that our country keeps its prestige while at the same time losing it as well as the nation’s sovereignty, in the helplessness of tired eyes and a body whose honour is seen in its wrinkled nakedness and was totally vulnerable to the devises of Caucasians whose loyalty was to foreign lands.
That’s how we have lived in a country in which a minister could sell our main, even sole resource and demand that payments for it be made to personal bank accounts or in fact, make gifts of our common patrimony as her loins, or perhaps more charitably, her heart may fancy. That’s how we became proud to own thieves and demand that they be left alone. That’s how we have come to demand justice for our thieves not on the pedestal of the impoverishment that they have wrought on us who call ourselves family, but only in the sense of comparing them with the thieves of other lands. It is after all, our oil and no one must touch our thieves!
That’s how the government spends 10 times more money prospecting for oil in the arid north rather than hit it quick in other parts of the country to which the minds of our leaders of Northern extraction suffer distance, a distance that make them look like foreign lands. That’s how a President separates himself from his promises at election and yet demands with some success, that we do not question his claims to integrity.
That is how an ex-president can demand to be excused from answering any questions, to some applause, in a case in which the accused is alleged to have received 400m on his instruction. If he must clear his own name, it must be at cost of N1 billion to his accuser. He doesn’t feel any scruples that his name may be left tainted. It is yet safely clean in the innocence provided by the judgements of the prejudice of the people who have allowed themselves to be separated into categories of ‘‘them and us.’’ But do not get it twisted. The same parochial prejudice which allows the ex-President attain innocence by not defending himself against an allegation of theft, also allows his minister the same innocence by seeking to defend herself in a similar claim. Whatever the action, the judgement is same. United by prejudice; of tribe, of unthinking partisan bonding; of complicity in crime!
That is how we have come to rail against quota system as being primitive and unfair, and yet insist that it is sustained before it is changed. We demand equal ethnic or state representation in federal parastatals and agencies on the strength of provisions of the Constitution that demand equal representation, but close our eyes to the very next paragraph of the of same law which demands same representation for other ethnic groups resident in our own states.
That is how the mind that grew on the ennobling logic of Aristotle or Plato or similar builders of our thought yet accepts, and even with relish, celebrates the obvious ludicrousness of ‘FFKaic’ claims that the man who sits in Abuja administering state is a body-double from Sudan, or that 11 pictures exist of vegetables hobbled to machines of life support or that Asiwaju BAT’s first son died as a result of the spiritual activities unleashed by reason of his father’s supposed intention to run for President or that spirits trailing his tag-team partner had set fire on his vehicle in the frustration of missing a hit on him!
That is how lofty ideas have been dragged to the mud of parochialism. It is how federalism or restructure have actually become ethnic rather than national imperatives. This is how in our agitation for devolution of more powers to states, we manage to make nonsense of our constitution which in fact, currently allows states to absolutely keep the proceeds of agriculture from their states but ironically long for the return to the 1963 constitution under which states were allowed only part of the same agricultural revenues of which whole they currently keep. It is how we do not see that the 1999 constitution in fact already potentially makes it possible for each state to operate the revenue allocation formula which we rowdily agitate for, that allows it keep 50% of its revenue from oil and mineral resources.
We laugh to each other’s performances but truly we should be laughing at ourselves!