Open Letter to Abubakar Umar

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DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN, Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

“One of the swiftest ways of destroying a kingdom is to give preference of one particular tribe over another or show favour to one group of people rather than another. And to draw near those who should be kept away and keep away those who should be drawn near,” Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio.

As a professional communicator, one of the enduring lessons I gathered from this pandemic season is the proclivity of humanity to lapse into a logic absconding mode. Does it pass the smell test of kindergarten logic to believe that Bill Gates contrived the coronavirus plague in order to foster a global market for a ready made vaccine antidote?

To believe this requires the assumption that he has the unfettered capacity to subject and subordinate the entire victims of coronavirus, that is the entire world, put together, to his will and whom. What is, otherwise, so clear cut and glaringly discernible, are wilfully reprocessed and made out to be the exact opposite of what was intended.You see people deliberately recoil from the evidence of their eyes and withdraw fanatically into a fantasy spinning mode. You see highly intelligent people begin to persuade themselves that two plus two has become anything but four.

Conspiracy theories shouldn’t be an excuse for this order of crass infantilism. Bill Gates has spent upwards of two billion dollars towards the cause of the eradication of polio in Nigeria, more than the ten annual budgets of the Nigerian government put together and how do Nigerians pay him back? By branding him the foretold anti-Christ set to subject Africa to continental genocide.This mindless affectation has escalated and correlates to the emergence of Donald Trump, the patron saint of perverted and pathological political leadership. Some may not want to qualify Nigeria’s leadership in exactly the same measure but we are no less perplexed at the demonstrable capacity for political irrationality in full apprehension of its predictable consequences; the tendency to embrace wrongdoing and turn our backs on potential solutions (to chronic fundamental challenges) hiding in plain sight.

Maybe it is in our DNA as seems awfully indicated in the pathogenesis of Nigeria’s political debility. Right from the beginning, the seriousness of the amalgamation enterprise of 1914 was belied by the levity with which the British arrived at the conclusion of creating Nigeria. How do you commit millions of people to a perilous future for no more reason than administrative expediency? And then reinforce the cruelty by deliberately implanting seeds of disharmony and discord amongst them?

There must be something fatally seductive about Nigeria, like being infatuated and fatally attracted to a notorious street prostitute. Given the pride of place reserved for them in Nigeria, one can understand why, despite their strindent disavowal and unhappiness at cohabiting with Southern Nigeria, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello, opted for Nigeria. But how do we account for the salivating exuberance of Nnamdi Azikiwe for a unitary Nigeria prompting the rebuke and rejection of Ahmadu Bello? ‘Let us forget our differences’, exuded the great Zik of Africa, only to be snubbed and requested to wake up and smell the coffee by the arrogant Fulani aristocrat, with the retort, ‘let us learn to understand our differences’.

In full knowledge of the circumstances of how he came to be a tenant at Calabar prisons, Obafemi Awolowo, returned from prison to put his prodigious capacity for public service delivery at the service of a more bloody minded Nigeria, presided over by those who dispatched him to jail. Over and over again, in the death wish metaphor of choosing to stay in a violent and abusive marriage, you find rational decision makers making the choice to bet against the evidence staring them in the face-with consequences that are readily predictable.

If, God forbid, Nigeria were to accelerate the present momentum and careen into hobbesian disintegration, would any reasonable person claim he was sufficiently warned? Would any party to the 1914 amalgamation find amiss that, unrestrained by colonialism, Nigeria wasted no time imploding into civil war six years after independence? At his departure from Nigeria, a high ranking British colonial official noted “Shortly before leaving Lagos, I had walked in the garden of Nigeria’s Director of Broadcasting, Richmond Postgate, who was a friend. There was thick bush alongside the garden and as we peered into it, Richmond said prophetically, “I have a sense of evil things going to happen, some kind of cataclysm…” Did Anthony Kirk Green not concluded that “the tragedy of 1967 is that many of its seeds were not, as is often claimed, sown in October or even July 1966, but in the 1950s or, as some see it, in 1914 or maybe in 1900 itself.”. Just as it is presently the case, the premonitions have always been there.

The first symbolic notice and indication of how the presidency of Major General Muhammadu Buhari may pan out, specifically, in the aspect of his scorched earth nepotism, was the falsity behind the infamous quote at his inauguration in May 2015. It turned out that the quote ‘I belong to nobody and belong to everybody’ was a fraudulent plagiarism of an American
presidential address. His stewardship has been an embodiment of that fraud.

My understanding of Abubakar Umar’s mild rebuke of Buhari is the futility of making sense of the political mismanagement of Nigeria by President Buhari. Professor Wole Soyinka recently attributed the trademark leadership incapacity of the President to some kind of absent minded dereliction but no one can be in a state of suspended animation all the time or picking one’s teeth from dawn to dusk. Which leaves room, in those rare moments of lucidity, to apply himself to the cause of minimal redress and rectitude. In remembrance of Soyinka’s admonition to the Buhari military dictatorship in 1984, that counselling Buhari is synonymous with talking to the deaf, Umar’s objective does not go beyond wanting to be on record against the day the cookie finally crumbles.

Unpalatable as it may sound, the problem is not so much about being biased in favour of the North. It is the character of the bias that is the biggest problem. There is the bias that can be exercised to create and foster mini Aliko Dangotes from Kano, Katsina and the other Northern redoubt. There is also the bias that can degenerate into the virtual Northern take over of the NNPC (now renamed Northern Nigeria Petroleum Corporation). There is another in which certified mistresses are empowered with the distributorship of billions of raw cash for ostensible distribution to the less fortunate Nigerians under a supposed policy dispensation of cashless economy. The spectre of the lady minister before the National Assembly committee the other day was nothing short of the ridiculous. Here the lady revealed that civil servants in her ministry have not been paid their salaries for the past three months yet these are the medium through which unaccountable billions in raw cash are being distributed. I have long iterated the realpolitik position that so called Northern hegemony is not so much the issue as its primitive abuse. What government was more Fulani hegemonic than Buhari’s military dictatorship of 1984/85. And regardless of this drawback, were the merits of relative integrity and reformist zeal he displayed not selling points for his candidacy in 2015?

The real problem Nigerians are confronted with is the near total lack of requisite patriotic political management which this government tends to personify. Confronted with nation-threatening challenges, what a country requires to overcome those challenges are, first and foremost, the social and political mobilisation of the citizenry.The failure of this government is, precisely, the self-inflicted incapacity to request this commitment from Nigerians. It was what President John Kennedy paraphrased as ‘ask what you can do for your country and not what your country can do for you’.

So here again are the options.The most viable and realistic is restructuring- which translates into the interpretation that those things we cannot achieve jointly, we can do so with sub national sacrificial exertions (which is what federalism is all about). If, only, Nigeria will dare, there is no section of this country that will not feel challenged to succeed and thrive. And it is to that extent that the singularly killer poison of corruption will abate. Under a massive regional pressure for the maximisation of scarce resources, who is that local government chairman, for instance, who reduces his job to a once in a month show up to convert the occasion of the monthly allocation into a looting spree?

Rather than become excuses for one another’s failure, wouldn’t we all accept the challenge of seizing the initiative to make a positive difference of what, validly, has become our decentralised and localised responsibility? And then the returns from all these decentralised capabilities would be pooled and add up to a strong and viable Nigeria. What we are presently harvesting as individual components of Nigeria are weaknesses which add up to the anaemic Nigeria of today. The sum of weaknesses can only produce a gigantic collective weakness in the same manner that value added strength will be harnessed to produce a strong and vibrant nation.

The other potential but not so realistic option is for Buhari to suddenly become a charismatic Nigerian patriarch sending for someone like me to go and get an urgent development task sorted out in Funtua and plan to celebrate the Christmas break with Chief Emeka Anyaoku at Obosi. And reinforce it with the resuscitation of the Attah of Okene cosmopolitan formula who entrusted his children to the care and mentoring of his brother monarchs all over Nigeria, while reciprocally hosting and raising their children in return. Hence the late Judith Attah grew up in Ondo at the Osemawe palace. Other children like Mahmud Attah, Adamu Attah, Ado Ibrahim and Abdulaziz Attah were similarly embedded. Was it any wonder that Abdulaziz was at a time the secretary to the Eastern regional government? You can of course contrast this to the ethnic chauvinism of grandees like the late Mallam Adamu Ciroma (may his soul rest in peace) who hounded Olowolaiyemo from Maiduguri with one of his vintage acerbic one liners that ‘the Yoruba secretary to the Borno government should pack his bags and hurry home’.