By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, how do I thank you for the deluge of messages I received from you over the letter I wrote last week to our dear President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, on this page titled My Kobo Advice for Mr President. On Twitter, Facebook, countless blogs, sms, emails and telephone calls, comments poured in torrents and I was particularly touched by your kind prayers for me and my family. There were a few people who confessed to hating me with a passion prior to last week but God, in His infinite mercy, melted their hearts through the innocuous letter I wrote from Cambridge University, England, United Kingdom.
The most dramatic response I received came from the former Managing Director of Daily Times, Chief Tola Adeniyi (aka Abba Saheed) who not only sent me a text message but also wrote me a beautiful email: “ …This letter has been circulated round the world…it was forwarded to me by 11 different contacts.”
Even as I write this, tweeps are unrelenting, as they continue to tweet the letter on Twitter. The ubiquitous Google is awash with links to all manner of blogs I never knew existed. For the first time since I started writing articles some 30 years ago, Nigerians are united in loving a message and its messenger. It is indeed a rare honour and privilege and I’m very grateful to you all.
Many have asked what inspired such a superlative letter and the only reason I can find is that I wrote my column at Cambridge University, an institution that’s generally rated as number one in academics and the fourth oldest surviving higher citadel in the world. The historic university is one of the richest in the world with an endowment of about £4.3billion, over N1 trillion which we are burning entirely on a phantom fuel subsidy in Nigeria. The university has about 114 libraries which collectively hold over 12 million books. Each faculty has its own library stocking between 30,000 to 200,000 volumes. Over 100,000 new books are added every year and in the year 2000, the famous Bill Gates donated $210 million for foreign post-graduate students of the school.
The stupendous investments in intellectual work and research have paid off handsomely. The University of Cambridge has given mankind some of the brightest human beings since it was founded about 1209 AD. They include Francis Bacon, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell, Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, John Fletcher, E. M Forster and others. It has produced about 65 Nobel laureates, more than any other university in the world. Its alumni include 15 Prime Ministers, 23 heads of government, Lords and Royals. Prince Charles was its distinguished student.
This was the historic place I found myself last week and took the chance to craft what has almost become my magnus opus. Obviously, your environment determines how you reason. No one would believe I wrote over a thousand words of that letter under one hour. There must be some benevolent spirits flying all over the place that inspires anyone serious enough, to open his heart to imbibe knowledge and ideas. I thank God for the rare opportunity and pray that my children would be admitted to such universities one day soon.
After spending two nights in what I prefer to call the English forest, I was forced to take a deeper look at the intractable problems of our troublesome country. My mind did some mental somersaults from the beginning of my journey as a perpetual agitator since 1978 in Ile-Ife. We had lived precariously on the hope of a better Nigeria but with every new government acting worse than its predecessor. From my first ever trip to England in 1985, the naira has taken a cataclysmic dive from a rate of N1 to $1 to its present rate of N160 to $1. The cost of a ticket since then has jumped through the roof from N580 to nearly N200,000 or even over.
We have managed to meander from one crisis to another. In 1993, we had a glimmer of hope when Nigerians united to vote for two Muslims, Alhaji Moshood Abiola and Alhaji Babagana Kingibe but our joy was cut short by the military. We went on rampage to demand the revalidation of Nigeria’s most beautiful election result which had been annulled but some of us ended up where we did not expect. The result was a full blown dictatorship that left Nigerians lingering in pains and pangs of regret.
After the suspicious deaths of General Sani Abacha and Chief Abiola, Nigerians thought there was hope again to pick up our dilapidated and depleted nation. They reposed their faith in a retired Army General, Chief Olusegun Matthew Aremu Okikiolakan Obasanjo as opposed to a cerebral banker and economist, Chief Olu Falae, in 1999. That was when I discovered that many Nigerians often fall readily for abracadabra. The People’s Democratic Party which they concocted was as conservative as they come being an offspring of Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria and General Ibrahim Babangida’s National Republican Congress. Yet the same people who voted overwhelmingly for the progressive Social Democratic Party that fielded Abiola were the same voters who, for reasons best known to them, embraced PDP. The lack of ideology or principle is the bane of Nigerian politics.
It is virtually, sometimes, impossible to distinguish between the parties. When it comes to matters of personal interests, our politicians would waste no time in sleeping and facing the same direction. None is ever bold to challenge the status quo or risk his comfort zone. If the leaders are bad and irresponsible, majority of their rabid supporters are worse, ignorant and confused. For crumbs, they are ready to trade words and fisticuffs with whosoever has the audacity to criticise their tin gods. The loudest fanatics are often the biggest sufferers in our society. They have been so pummelled and pauperised that they’ve given up on their lives and would volunteer to help give up on yours.
Nigeria has never been short of good candidates but many of us won’t recognise them when we see them due to the primordial sentiments that rule our lives. A ruling government that had the likes of Donald Duke, Oby Ezekwesili, Nasir el-Rufai, Nuhu Ribadu, Dora Akunyili, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and others could not field them as candidates when the presidential palace was going to be vacant. On the part of the opposition, we could not rally round Nigeria’s greatest radical Gani Fawehinmi, but we all went to shed buckets of crocodile tears when he died. The great Femi Falana could not become a Governor in Ekiti state where Peter Fayose was the king. Nigeria is indeed a paradox, a place the poor pretends to hate the rich but actually hates the poor more.
The usual excuse is that a good politician must join the big political party if he must win the election. It does not matter to them how retrogressive the party is. It must parade bigwigs who are capable of intimidating the lumpen proletariat who seem not to feel any pain after too many years of being in the sun and under the rain. The next theory is that a good candidate must be experienced in politics. They usually forget to examine the outcome of the experience of failure on the part of their geriatric leaders.
There are also those who advocate revolution as the veritable solution to our difficulties as a nation. They will tell you that all our leaders must be killed but no one remembers to propose the yardsticks. On closer examination it is predicated on the theory that every poor man sees the rich man as the source of his woes and misery. That’s why President Jerry Rawlings once told us in an interview that a revolution is a mob action. There are those who wish for the breakup of Nigeria. They are the ones I find most laughable and objectionable. Why should we dismember our nation because of a few lazy bums who can’t compete freely in a one Nigeria? Life is a permanent struggle and there’s nothing wrong with our endless regional battles.
I have friends from the old Yugoslavia who bemoan the collapse of their once powerful country till this day. Russia has become less influential after the demise of the Soviet Union. The irritants who hate Nigeria should be told that the problem of Nigeria is the fact that the nation has been hijacked by a few people for profit. The rest of us are able to live in peace and harmony but not those few leaders whose only claim to relevance is where they come from. Until we de-emphasise those things that divide us, we can’t make progress.
Those calling for war have not seen its terrible effect. I have seen a bit of that in Sierra Leone and Liberia. I was too young during the Nigerian civil war but felt its reverberations even hundreds of miles away. At the end of the day, the warriors were forced to dialogue after wasting over three million lives. Is that what we want again? I doubt if most Nigerians would answer in the affirmative.
All we need is to find a way to get our leaders to do something because whatever they think they are doing now amounts to nothing. My letter was to encourage President Jonathan not to join the failed leaders. It was my innocent appeal to his conscience. He needs to resist the allure of power and return to a life of humility. Many have warned me I was engaged on a mission impossible. That the President was in power to mark time, enjoy his quota and return home like others before him. Regretably the President behaves as if there is force in their views. The whole of Lagos was shut down last night because the President was going to worship at the RCCG Camp. That was most unfortunate. There were people travelling for weddings who could not move almost all day.
It is my hope that God can still rescue this nation, provide us with a People’s Leader and put the doomsday prophets to shame. Nigeria is blessed, not cursed. We are a pious nation but our religious leaders must remember that they pray in vain for our country if the leaders they pray for continue to possess hearts of stone!