By Jon West
Joseph Conrad, the white racist writer and colonial voyager wrote his seminal work, Heart of Darkness, about the experiences of a Mr Kurtz, colonial civil servant in the Belgian Congo( first Zaire and now DR Congo) in the 19th century. The horrors and savagery Kurtz was supposed to have witnessed on his journey down the Congo River, and while living with the native Congolese were encapsulated in the infamous phrase “The horror, the horror!!”
In his reviews of Conrad’s seminal novella , the revered Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe was scathing in his condemnation of Conrad’s obvious racism and the stereotypical description of life in 19th century Central Africa. It is quite interesting that in his twilight years , Achebe was less judgmental of people like Conrad , perhaps because of the descent of Africa into a Hobbesian state, where life is short, nasty and brutish, a seemingly scathing and shameful realization of the self-fulfilling prophesy of Joseph Conrad and his racist ilk.
No nation presents the sad state of Africa, in spite of positive growth, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and size of the economy(after rebasing) statistics like Nigeria under the Government of the All Progressive Congress(APC). In the last few months, life in Nigeria has deteriorated so much that a modern Conrad would be quite comfortable with a remake of his seminal work, with Nigeria substituting for the Congo. At no time since the dark days of the 1966/67 pogrom and the resultant civil war has life been so hard for the average Nigerian as is currently being witnessed.
In Africa’s largest crude oil and natural gas exporter, petrol, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas, products taken for granted in even non oil producing countries, have become so scarce that citizens erupt in celebration whenever these products are available at retail stations even at exorbitant prices, far above the recommended retail prices for these items that are essential for life in a modern industrial economy. Compounding this improbable scenario, is that for the past many months, a double jeopardy situation has been imposed on the Nigerian people by the breakdown of the power generation, transmission and distribution system, in a way that has never been experienced in Nigerian history. The Government’s version version of the power debacle is that most gas power plants are shutdown due to lack of gas, the gas pipelines having been sabotaged by Niger delta militants, unhappy with the APC Government.
The debilitating power situation has therefore combined with the petroleum scarcity situation to sentence Nigerian citizens to life in the heart of darkness, an improbable situation in the second decade of the second millennium, the age of the Internet of things, social media and other miracles of technological developments that have enabled other developing countries leapfrog the economic and technological divide with advanced societies.
The seeming absence of both a petroleum products and power policy by the APC Government has further driven Nigerian citizens to the depths of despondency. How can a country that has three refineries with a total installed capacity of 445,000 barrels per day and that also flares enough natural gas to meet the power needs of the European nation of France, be without both petroleum products and electrical power, two critical drivers of a modern industrial society?
Why has the APC Government of Muhammadu Buhari and Bola Ahmed Tinubu, seemingly abdicated its responsibility to provide Nigerian citizens, who they promised a change for the better in 2015, with the tools and possibilities of an even very ordinary 21st century life? Citizens , who one year ago were celebrating the ousting of the PDP Government of President Goodluck Jonthan , are today secretly yearning for a return to the years of the” clueless one”, when they at least had a less stressful life.
It is quite instructive that a recent poll by the Bloomberg Organisation, of the most stressful countries to live in, rated Nigeria first, ahead of such other obviously stressful countries such as war-ravaged Pakistan , Jamaica, drug ravaged Colombia and El Salvador and crime infested South Africa. The seven variables used in this poll are Annual Homicide Rate, GDP per Capita, Income Inequality, Corruption, Unemployment rate, Urban air pollution and Life Expectancy. This poll result will not surprise any Nigerian citizen currently caught in this maelstrom of negative variables. Surely, urban air pollution from the millions of generator users will be an immediate and obvious presentation of the decay in the provision of basic services for the Nigerian citizenry by its Government. Also, waiting in a fuel queue for a whole day, and getting no petrol , will not do anything positive for your life expectancy.
A 21st century Joseph Conrad, on a journey through the towns and villages of modern Nigeria will witness the same horrors of a brutish life, with people pulling faces at petrol stations with kilometers long queues, where motor vehicles and electricity generators compete for places in the process of getting the seemingly impossible petrol, diesel and kerosene that make life a little less foreboding in Africa’s largest economy, whatever that economic statistic means.
Granted the APC Government inherited a damaged goods economy and business environment, however there has been no policy thrust to get the nation out of the hole that a combination of bad government , self-immolating and contrived Islamic insurgency, designed to assure regime change, put in into. As the economy atrophies and society balances on the brink of anarchy, Government is continuously missing in action. Even the loquacious Lai Mohammed,the Minister of Information (and propaganda) has kept very quiet as the nation groans under the greatest hardships to be endured by an already famished population.
The President, like Nero of Old Rome, fiddles while the nation burns. Just this week, he has jetted out to China on the back of a visit to Washington DC to attend a nuclear non-proliferation conference, a joke for a nation that cannot even provide water, petroleum products and electricity for its over 100 million citizens. Having caught the China Syndrome, the latest affliction of the African political elite, where China has replaced the West as the validator of policies and provider of funds and technology for the running of the state, President Buhari is off to China for talks on the flow of Chinese investments to help Nigeria out of the economic woods. However, the Chinese know better after their experiences in the past with Nigeria and will probably proffer the usual platitudes about economic cooperation and political solidarity. On his return, the President is billed to attend David Cameron’s Anti-Corruption conference in London.
Perhaps if President Buhari could just stay home for a few months and dedicate his time and his party’s focus on ameliorating the angst and genuine deprivations of his hapless citizens, caught in a web of political deceit and economic strangulation, he may yet prove Joseph Conrad wrong and show that Africa’s largest economy will provide a counter tale to the Heart of Darkness, even if after a hundred and twenty years.
––Jon West, Otuoke, Bayelsa State.