History of Confounding Statecraft

Femi Akintunde-Johnson

Without the historical presence and pestilence of the inglorious late dictator, Gen. Sani Abachi, whose image and savagery virtually overshadowed Nigeria of the 1990s, you would have thought the attached article – and its main pinions – was written a few days ago. We once trembled under a manifestly malevolent bully who worked hard to place Nigeria in the comity of banana republics; and whose shameless fondness for larceny continues to vomit state funds hitherto squirreled away in foreign piggy banks by the same goggled tyrant.

Yet, the general sense of anarchy and misplaced priorities not only holds away even in those present times, but have snowballed into national ethos and routine madness. Read and confirm this seemingly wild assertion in the following article first published on 22 December, 1995, and titled ‘Miscellany of Bunglings’: 

 “In Nigeria, one thing is certain: that is the uncertainty of the source from which our self-proclaimed leaders get the impression (pretty close to a conviction) that our country would have been a forceful play maker in world politics and a giant of Africa, if we had carefully and intelligently nurtured our rich human and natural resources!

Baffling. First, we admit that our immense resources have always been bungled by our leaders in all spheres of public service (or dis-service); yet they are representatives of our fabled rich human resources. If we may stretch the ludicrous claim further: what natural resources does Nigeria really have which her dwellers have romanticised to a paradise in mirage? We live within 357,000 square miles, perhaps the fifth largest in Africa, with a population estimated to reach 120 million in four years (1999). Yet, these loud mouths have been shouting about misapplied natural resources since independence when we were less than 60 million people.

 Where is the potential for greatness in a country with universities run by frustrated and ill-trained lecturers; peopled by hungry and fanatical students. Point at the great resources in a country where the Delta (region) which produces virtually our bloodline in petroleum is about the least developed in public facilities, opportunities and general living standard. Search our hospitals, mortuaries, cemeteries, motorways, schools, armed forces, banks, industries, civil service, politics, and countless indices of a sophisticated 20th century nation – which of them could have given our rulers, politicians, polemicists, and all the noisy lot, a flicker of strange confidence that Nigeria is blessed? Which?

From experience, a nation blessed, even if sparingly, with potential for great heights, utilises seasons of crises to throw up sons and daughters wrapped and prepared for greatness. Adolf Hitler, for all his evil genius, was undoubtedly a genius; Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli, Margaret Thatcher lit up the British firmament. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and all those beautiful ‘colours’ formed the USA rainbow.

  For each leader mentioned, add 10,000 other simple great men and women within their reigns. For ill or good, they charted routes leading to immense national satisfaction for their compatriots and to the envy of less-privileged countries.

Maybe there are some examples in Africa, especially in Egypt and Ghana of old; I have yet to read or see tissues of sustained greatness in leaders, and the led, in my country.

 The reverse of greatness – the simplistic, the rustic, the banal, the impolitic, the spiteful…and other frivolous and resentful values embrace our national ethos. Immense human resources!

  When we get frustrated with the sickening misrule and trial-error tactics of our commanders, we go on brain-drain – draining our hospital wards, lecture theatres, strategic institutions, etc, of inventions, knowledge and intellect. Then, the mediocre and illiterate fill up the vacuum. Immense human resources!

  Recent tales in Nigeria do not encourage hypertensive patients to contribute to national debate, since reason, logic and research are scarce. That is why the current catalogue of bunglings and miss-hits is best laughed over.

What great nation will harp so much on categorising itself into ethnic characterisations of only four colours (Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba and Minority) in a reality of over 250 languages? We call it federal character. However, if local disputes expose our fallacy of federal character (or unitary federation), a kamikaze plug is inserted. Or what business is a military officer conducting as an administrator (interim or ad-hoc) of a national university?! If an exercise in federal character goes kaput – as it is certain to happen – a more inventive and less insulting measure should be used. A  soldier bringing peace to an intellectual environment disembowelled by base extra-curricular activities… Immense human resources.

Have you ever wondered at our choice of men in high offices? In Nigeria, it is not out of place to appoint convicted and jailed public office looters into higher offices. We have ex-convicts as ministers, law makers, leaders of ‘foreign’ delegations, spokesmen on international negotiation tables, counsels to national government. And they strut with unabashed pageantry. Even if we flaw the political implication of their crime or the vindictiveness behind their incarceration; since the legal process was fairly unflawed – and they were indeed jailed – a decent country would admit its mistakes in their gaoling, but put them at respectable arms length away from the epicenter of future political dispensations. Immense human resources!

 It is sad, and a strong stab on our ridiculous claim to greatness, when analysts point to the fact that as Nigeria now battles daily to keep her little reputation intact in the comity of nations, her most respectable, substantial internationally accepted quality statesman is a farmer languishing in jail for plotting to overthrow a military which he led 16 years (earlier). The Abacha regime has shot itself in the foot, since all the minnows shouting themselves hoarse trying to panel beat the battered image of Nigeria do not have  the clout – all put together – of Obasanjo who narrowly escaped a life sentence. The political suicide of a free Obasanjo consorting with Mandela, Clinton, John Major, Mugabe and other leaders (on behalf of a despot) will advise that the Otta farmer stays in his cell.

Let us gird our loins for more diplomatic gaffes and rebounds. Since we find it comfortable having as a foreign affairs minister a happy-go-lucky architect millionaire and a chairman of a discredited political party in a republic overthrown by this same government. And he even replaced a trained ambassador who also chaired another discredited party in similar disposition. It is only in Nigeria and, perhaps two or three other backward African countries, that such a Shakespearean scenario comes to reality.

 Really, there is no shame in admitting that our immense human resources are (blighted) in several instances – let’s go through some. We have passed through nine de facto rulers (don’t mention Ernest Shonekan); yet, none of them has seen the four walls of a university as adolescents. It isn’t strange. Most of them were busy training how to kill when their peers were developing their minds.

 Have you gone through the list of the fifty odd “wise men” saddled with the task of international diplomatic trouble-shooting? Well, only Nigeria can assemble such coterie of traditional rulers and military officers to engage in high-stakes diplomacy. With estacodes to scramble for, we may not have to wait too long before we hear of visits to other democracies. Of course, our ratings will take another plunge as diplomatic brinkmanship is replayed on a level similar to local government election mudslinging. Let’s give kudos to whom is due. We do have immense human resources.

 Talking about sanctions, have you read any of our high-calibre intellectuals educating us with the cold facts of oil  sanction, its gains and pains? They have left the task to patriotic NUJ officials, politician-journalists, and all those whose logic is stained by the loss of visa opportunities to the USA or UK.

If we must continue in our dream world, let us re-write our history books and remove the old stains in rulership, citizenship, sciences, politics, arts, etc. If it is impossible, then the bungling giant should be led to its resting place. And in its place, a young and energetic nation consistent with the right ideals, values and limitations will arise. Did you say immense human resources?!”

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