Déjà Vu…

21 May 2013

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The Wig & Skirt, By Funke Aboyade,

Given the state of emergency which was announced last week by President Goodluck Jonathan, I’m sure many readers will be surprised that our cover this week doesn’t appear to ‘shout’ that development. Not so, as you will discover when you read the profile we have done on Uche Nwokedi, SAN.

Uche, you see, is a man of many parts. When he mentioned to me some years back that he directs musicals and dramas, and is a choirmaster of sorts, my admiration and respect for him grew. I simply could not imagine how this Senior Advocate (who is also the Editor-in-Chief of a leading authority, Nigerian Oil and Gas Cases) with a very successful and busy law practice found the time to pursue what is evidently his passion. He had then proceeded to invite me over the years to watch some of these musicals, but somehow the timing was always off.

However, when Kakadu The Musical “Lagos in a time of infinite possibilities…!” came up two weeks ago, I determined I would make time out to go and watch it. I did…and realised that the loss was all mine for not having seen any of Uche’s earlier musicals! Kakadu is, fortuitously, however the first musical he has written, as well as directed. It is also an apt theatre performance for a time like this.

Set in the mid-1960s, in the period leading up to the Nigerian Civil War, one might as well have been watching today’s events unfold. After watching Kakadu two weeks ago, my feelings of foreboding for our country escalated as I saw history about to repeat itself if we did not retrace some of our steps. Seeing, in sharp relief, events as they unfolded gave me an ominous feeling of déjà vu. It seemed we had been there before…but had learnt nothing and forgotten everything.

Not for the first time, I wondered if we weren’t in very, very deep trouble, given what was happening in the polity. Simply put, I was scared.

It’s a musical I wish every politician, public office holder and decision maker could watch. Perhaps then they would pull in the reins on our out-of-control gallop into the abyss.

Kakadu, is described as capturing ‘the attempt of a recently independent peoples to live within the concept created by the independence from colonialism and called Nigeria…It represents the vision that was called Nigeria’.

We are then reminded that pre-war, ethnic origins were not an issue ‘but then the civil war breaks out and everyone scurries to their own ethnic corner for self-preservation’.

After the war, ‘the psyche of the people is such that comfort and succour is now found only in ethnic enclaves…all is not well, and ethnic divisions are now more clearly defined’.

Uche Nwokedi, SAN poses this poignant question ‘The question which I hope would resonate after the show is “How do we build a nation?”

More than ever, I’d say, that question is relevant now. Today we are faced with the spectre of armed insurgency in the North East. With troops deployed there last week, one can’t help but think how the conflict in Syria (admittedly in a totally different context) metamorphosed from protests from a rag tag unstructured group of protesters (riding it is true, on the wave of the Arab Spring) to a Free Syrian army now fully engaged in a full scale civil war which is inflicting unthinkable damage, pain and loss on the peoples of Syria.

A look around some conflict spots of the world is not encouraging either - Afghanistan, Pakistan et al.

Our situation is unfortunately worse. The enemy is not easily identifiable and their aims are obscure. What is certain however is that they are inflicting maximum pain and carnage. The state of emergency declared was therefore inevitable. How we allowed the situation to escalate to that stage is another story entirely. But, one thing is certain, there’s no knowing how this will ultimately end.

Our leaders must now begin to aggressively address issues of social justice and development (rather than resort to diversionary tactics) if we are to prevent a looming carnage. A state of emergency is all well and good but it amounts to mere plaster on a deep and festering wound. It is not a lasting solution, merely a stop gap measure. Good governance has never failed yet, we should try it…

Peddling innuendoes and tales that the insurgency is a plot to undermine the present administration - whilst a convenient and disingenuous crutch, as well as a superficially credible narrative – does not hold up to scrutiny. The insurgency pre-dates the Jonathan administration. Like the Maitatsine riots under President Shehu Shagari, this one essentially started under a Muslim northern president under whose watch a lethal crackdown was carried out on them - ultimately, with long lasting negative consequences which we are now confronted with.

Yes, it is not unlikely that some politicians are sponsoring/stoking/egging on the group or at least initially sponsored and armed local political militia groups for election purposes and getting a firmer grip on political power, oblivious to the out-of-control monster that those groups would inevitably metamorphose into. Yes, it is also not unlikely that other interest and even criminal groups are taking advantage of the situation to advance their various agenda(s) including, opportunistic killings.

But at the core of the insurgency lie issues which afflict us as a nation: the massive failure of governance that has foreclosed economic opportunity to unacceptably large segments of the population. Also, the shenanigans of corrupt public officers without consequence (aka impunity) in the midst of poverty and deprivation has in effect, made the insurgents’ misguided message (such as it is) appealing - a perverse form of empowerment to an otherwise disenfranchised and hopeless lot. More, that unique combination of incompetence, superficial thinking and arrogance (which we, unfortunately, seem to have in abundance) that makes public office holders or politicians think they can make problems go away by ignoring, bribing, monetising, amnesty-sising or shooting at it as opposed to painstakingly understanding the issues, thoughtfully crafting a solution and doggedly implementing a solution like other serious nations do.

No matter the grievance, real or imagined, however, there is simply no excuse for mass murdering innocent fellow citizens. Hence decisive action is called for and hence the state of emergency and the deployment of more troops to the troubled states last week. Sadly though - and herein lies the rub - the state robs itself of legitimacy and the moral high ground when it indiscriminately assaults its own citizens and worse, when poor governance is the default rule. From a security point of view, it is as impractical as it is wrong for government agents to carry out retaliatory attacks on citizens they are meant to protect and not expect this to worsen long term security.

The reports of the activities of the Joint Task Force which preceded troops’ deployment last week have been simply horrifying. Those reports have been consistent and cannot now be ignored. Whole male populations of certain demographic age groups in some villages in the north have reportedly been decimated by the indiscriminate killings and arrests that have gone on in the name of fighting terror. Gradually, we are unwittingly alienating huge segments of our population who now believe they have nothing more to lose other than their already hopeless lives. We are sitting on a tinderbox whose explosion will be catastrophic for this nation. Its conflagration will not be limited to the north.

The question therefore is: will this current state of emergency significantly differ from what currently obtains on ground?

A comprehensive and aggressively pursued programme of action is required. Good governance across board is always a good start. Had we implemented all our National Development Plans since Independence we could have been another Singapore by now. Singapore after all in 1965 when it was thrown out of the union by Malaysia, was nothing more than a poor city state with slum dwellers, a poor relation in fact of Malaysia. Today, Singapore, with no natural resources whatsoever, is a poster child of a complete transformation of Third to First World, with Malaysia a resource-rich country now struggling to catch up, its GDP per capita just one sixth of its much smaller neighbour - a lesson for those threatening fire and brimstone in the Niger Delta over ‘our oil’. When a country is as developed as Singapore, talk of insurgency, kidnap-for-ransom, armed robbery and other social vices simply does not come into the picture. Nor does talk of ethnic alienation, resource control, massive youth unemployment (which provides cannon fodder for recruitment into militias and other terror groups) religious conflict and the like – the sort of which ultimately lead to declarations of emergency rule.

We have walked down this road before. The result was a three year bloody civil war. The consequences and deep psychological wounds of that war linger, in spite of the no victor no vanquished slogan bandied by the Federal Government when it ended. If anyone doubts that, let them read Chinua Achebe’s There was a Country…

I salute Uche Nwokedi, SAN for conceiving and writing this musical work and initiative in ‘complete theatre that educates, enlightens and entertains all at the same time’.

Kakadu ran again last weekend at the MUSON Centre Lagos, ending a two week run in Lagos. Hopefully, before the year runs out, Uche will again bring out his brilliant cast to perform this scintillating musical again. This time, I hope that all who have our county’s interest at heart will make time out to watch it - and to remind ourselves that never again…

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