Presidency: The Fire This Time
GUEST COLUMNIST BY Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
The presidency of Nigeria is so highly coveted that even expired players want to grab it “by fire, by force”, as the Pentecostals would say. The presidential wannabes are all over the place with their foot soldiers, intent on commandeering all attention. The ethnic card has been furiously highlighted in the “my turn” game, and one cannot but admit that in a tribal country there must be tribalism.
When the calamitous matter of single faith domination match is thrown into the fire of ethnic monomania in a land that prides itself on diversity and plurality there is bound to be inferno in overdrive. The goings-on in Nigeria today along the ethno-religious divide call to mind the unbearable racial turmoil in the United States that made James Baldwin to write the immortal essay The Fire Next Time.
Baldwin writes these telling words in that essay: “Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.”
Death stalks the Nigerian terrain, and it is crucial to take to mind what Baldwin also writes in The Fire Next Time thusly: “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”
Nigerians have never had it so bad economically, educationally, politically etc., and all pointers are in one direction: The Fire This Time. The youths of Nigeria especially are full of voice all over the country, telling anybody who cares to listen that they have nothing to lose, and they are going for broke. Like James Baldwin, these irate youths are asking: “Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?”
Most Nigerians are dying of hunger, and the politicians are apparently only interested in hiring hirelings to manufacture Fake News to further their nefarious ways. Suicide has become the national creed while the suicide note is the national anthem of hopelessness.
Beyond lonely suicide, what beckons is mass action. It is incumbent on Nigerians across board to do something fast before a boiling cauldron overwhelms all of us. The clear and present danger is that one oppressed Nigerian can copy the Tunisian who set himself on fire and thus led to the mass action that changed the history of the world.
The Tunisian, Mohammed Bouazizi, was unable to find work and had to make ends meet by selling fruits at a roadside stand. On December 17, 2010 a municipal inspector confiscated his wares, and one hour later, the anguished Tunisian doused himself with petrol and set himself on fire.
His death on January 4, 2011 brought together various groups dissatisfied with the existing system in Tunisia: the unemployed, political and human rights activists, trade unionists, students, professors, lawyers, and many others. Thus began the Tunisian uprising that led to the sacking of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, 2011, ending his 23 years in power.
Barely 10 days after the sacking of President Ben Ali in Tunisia, protests began in Egypt on January 25, 2011 and ran for 18 days. Beginning around midnight on 28 January, the Egyptian government attempted to eliminate the nation’s Internet access in order to inhibit the protesters’ ability to organize through social media. It was all in vain for on February 11, 2011, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was forced to flee from power, after being in office for about 30 years.
Then the fire spread to Libya, the land of Muammar Gaddafi, where the protests lasted till October 20, 2011 when the erstwhile strongman met with gruesome death. The uprisings that swept through the Arab world were given the name: The Arab Spring.
Nigeria had a spectre of the Arab Spring when the then President Goodluck Jonathan removed the fuel subsidy on January 1, 2012. This was done without the consent of the legislature, and there was not even enough dialogue with labour unions and civil society organizations. The very unpopular New Year “gift” sparked off spontaneous anti-government demonstrations in many Nigerian cities the very next day, that is, on January 2.
Nigerian towns such as Lagos, Kaduna, Kano, Ibadan, Awka, Ilorin, Kebbi, Gusau etc. were literally on fire as many protesters marched on the streets with placards, and made bonfires. The demonstrations brought together the unemployed, the under-employed, the employed, the poor, ill-assorted classes of people, the educated, the uneducated, the artisans, sundry workers, musicians, diverse artistes, students, all kinds of activists and, yes, tribesmen.
The name that was given to the crusade was “Occupy Nigeria”, and it had a melting pot at the Gani Fawehinmi Square in Ojota, Lagos. For a week, from sunup to sundown, the many classes of Nigerians converged at the square, and the number of protesters increased steadily. The “Occupy Nigeria” protests put panic inside the pants of the government such that Jonathan then announced that the government had reached an agreement with the labour unions to put petrol price at 97 Naira from the high of 141 Naira.
Let’s not talk of the fuel price of today or the dollar-to-naira exchange rate lest we be charged with going too far forward in sabotaging the next level acrobatics of the change regime.
Getting back on track, starting from 2017 and climaxing in 2020, there was the pan-Nigerian social movement against police brutality codenamed EndSARS which nearly brought the government of President Muhammadu Buhari on its knees.
The protests occurred in all the major Nigerian cities but an expired Nigerian journalist serving as a kept man for one of the presidential wannabes only recently brazenly wrote that it was the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) that undertook EndSARS to destroy Lagos! And in the warped mind of the diseased charlatan, IPOB stands for all the Igbo people of Nigeria!
It’s the height of shamelessness for the pathetic fellow suffering from senile infantilism to hide behind ethnic jingoism in the crude bid to goad the Yoruba and the Igbo people to undergo a fight-to-finish like the Hutus and Tutsis did in Rwanda. This waka-pass character shall remain nameless because he is worse than worthless. No oriki for him!
Now, let’s get serious, for as Tunisia’s Mohammed Bouazizi had shown, one small misstep can lead to national cataclysmic tragedy.
The heart of the matter is that a country cannot forever exist in suspended animation. Something has to give sooner or later; why not now? Nigeria is thus poised on historical contradictions that must be resolved one way or the other. The current leadership in Nigeria must understand that it is running against time. It is a clear case of emergency because if the issues are not addressed fast Nigeria’s many millions may end up imitating George Orwell’s animals in Animal Farm by overthrowing their oppressors. This definitely will not be a pretty sight. Already James Baldwin’s preface to The Fire Next Time rings true: “No more water, the fire next time!”
What faces Nigeria today is the eternal question posed by Chernychevsky in old Russia: “What is to be done?” Lenin took up the “What is to be done?” charge, and the Soviet Revolution happened. Then Mikhail Gorbachev who died the other day came up with his Glasnost and Perestroika that paradoxically opened up the Soviet Union for dissolution. The point really is that a leader must take charge one way or the other. It is a truism that leadership is lacking here. A true leader chosen from the forthcoming election can save Nigeria by displaying sincere personal example in dealing with the clear and present dangers in the country: true federalism, a workable constitution, devolution of powers, fiscal diversity, economic redirection etc.
Nigeria cannot afford to miss the essence of the real issues and fall for the accident of ethnic skullduggery in the coming elections. The need for free, fair and credible elections cannot be over-emphasized. The time is past when the world paid no heed to incumbent governments re-birthing themselves perpetually in Africa in so-called democratic elections. Jonathan clearly read the handwriting on the wall and thus ceded power, remarkably avoiding needless bloodshed. The eyes of the world are on Nigeria, and it is incumbent on Buhari to follow the Jonathan example by serving up elections that will win the trust of doubters. Nigeria is obviously too big to be thrown into utter confusion. The country is already too fragmented as to witness a peaceful parting of ways like the old Czechoslovakia. The fractious breakup of Yugoslavia after the death of Josip Broz Tito cannot be the prayer of any country. Even the parting of ways of the ethnic nationalities of the Soviet Union is as yet not a done deal as the tragic events between invading Russia and Ukraine manifest. Nigeria can ill-afford to set fire on her head.
The fire this time in Nigeria must perforce be squelched.