Monday Lines: Adesina and Nigeria’s fatal abduction by Lasisi Olagunju

“What is the State?” Louis Blanc, politician and historian in 19th century France, asks himself.

He answers:

“The State, under democratic rule, is the power of all the people, served by their elect; it is the reign of liberty.

“The State, under monarchical rule, is the power of one man, the tyranny of a single individual.

“The State, under oligarchical rule, is the power of a small number of men, the tyranny of a few.

“The State, under aristocratic rule, is the power of a class, the tyranny of many.

“The State, under anarchical rule, is the power of the first comer who happens to be the most intelligent and the strongest; it is the tyranny of chaos.”

The lines above I took from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s ‘The State: Its Nature, Object, and Destiny’ (1849). Nigeria is a fine combination of four of the five Louis Blanc’s definitions of the state. In case you pretend not knowing what the four are, this should be a guide: Last week, Finance Minister, Olawale Edun, frontally accused the defunct Muhammadu Buhari regime of criminal printing of about N23 trillion naira. Northern senators on Saturday alleged a criminal infusion of N3 trillion into the 2024 budget of Nigeria by powerful ghosts in Abuja. On Friday, in one northern state, a judge sentenced two kidnappers to death by hanging but quickly undermined himself with an advice to the felons to seek pardon from the executive “since no life was lost in the process of kidnapping.” On Thursday, bandits abducted 287 students in Kaduna. On Saturday, bandits invaded a Zamfara school and stole 15 students. Before the school abductions, senior brothers of the bandits, Boko Haram, had kidnapped over 400 displaced persons in Borno. In Benue and Plateau, a murderous campaign against helpless people is on without ceasing. From the desert to the coast, agonizing cries of existential woes rend the land. What we have is chaos pro-max.

Yet, we remain here. To whom or to where shall we turn? “We must make Nigeria a viable place for people to stay, and not a place to run away from.” I heard that counsel from African Development Bank Group’s president, Akinwumi Adesina, last week Wednesday in his lecture after receiving the Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership in Lagos. I heard him and asked myself who would make Nigeria “a viable place for people to stay.” Those who print money and steal what they print? Those who serenade banditry with negotiation? Where are the leaders? Adesina in that same lecture looked deep into the past and declared that “Nigeria missed its best opportunity to be great under a ‘President’ Awolowo.” I heard that truth and whispered to myself that Nigeria is an expert at missing ways. Yoruba musician, Ayinla Omowura, sings about the one destined to eat hideous vulture, forbidden bird of carrion. Omowura sings that “the head that will eat vulture will not listen. If we give him chicken to eat, he will reject it.”

That is the nature of destiny – determinist philosophers say it is inevitable; people of religion agree but add that it is also inscrutable. Should it be Nigeria’s destiny to be a jungle forever? It looks like there is nothing we can do about it. Arab folklore character, Nasrudin, walks with utmost innocence along an alleyway. He is deep in thought and careful about not putting his feet where he may have them injured. But a man falls from a nearby roof and lands on Nasrudin’s neck. The fallen man is unhurt; innocent Nasrudin has a broken neck. He is asked what lessons he learnt from that experience. Nasrudin tells his disciples to note the place of fate in his fate. He asks them to note that the other man “fell — but my neck is broken!” At independence, Nigeria had all the chances to be great, but it soon had the ill-luck of falling into the mouths of big cats of the jungle. They’ve finished with the flesh, they are cracking the bones.

Adesina’s lecture focused on what he called five critical areas that would save Nigeria and transform the people’s lives. He said the government should make rural economy work and provide food security. He said our rural areas “have become zones of economic misery.” He is right and correct. He said the city falters today because the village has been abandoned to faltering. The result is “the spread of anarchy, banditry, and terrorism” – what he called the “troika of social disruption” entrenching themselves to our collective sorrow. Adesina said our leaders should give health security for all, provide education for all, give affordable housing for all. He told us quoting data by UN-Habitat, that “in Nigeria, 49 percent of the population live in slums …That is a staggering 102 million people!” He exclaimed and told our leaders that what Nigerians needed “is decent housing and not upgrading of slums…There is nothing like a 5-star slum. A slum is a slum… “

Then, Adesina reached the fifth of his points: Our leaders should be accountable: “If people pay taxes, governments must deliver services,” he said and quickly added that “taxation in the absence of a social contract between governments and citizens is simply fiscal extortion.” He stressed that Nigeria must enthrone fiscal decentralisation for a true federalism.: “To get out of the economic quagmire, there is a compelling need for the restructuring of Nigeria…Instead of a Federal Government of Nigeria, we could think of the United States of Nigeria.”

Those are great ideas. But in this country, the bush is the way – because the blind is the guide. Leadership will always make a difference. In a 2002 academic piece, psychologists Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzio and Annie Mckee speak on the imperative of societies enthroning leaders with positive emotions. They say the society achieves equilibrium when it is governed by leaders with a sense of accountability; leaders who know how to transform “the art of leadership to the science of results.” One writer said “the executive mind is impotent without power, power is dangerous without vision, and neither is lasting or significant in any human broad sense without the force of integrity.”

No enduring structure can stand on a faulty foundation. American singer and songwriter, David Allan Coe, asked us not to look at the beauty of a building. He said “it is the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time.” British architect, Stephen Gardiner, was more philosophical about the place of foundation in people’s affairs. He wrote that “good buildings come from good people, and all problems are solved by good design.” We cannot solve Nigeria’s problem by ignoring the fissures in its foundation.

We tell the knock-kneed that what he carries on his head threatens a fall, he asks us to stop looking at the top. “Look at the base!” He points at his impairment, the awkward gait of his lower limbs. Think about how every road taken has led to nowhere. Think about our propensity to leave the vaults of our destiny open and complain about theft later. The Monday, October 10, 1960 edition of TIME magazine contained a report with the title: ‘Nigeria: The Free Giant.’ It was supposed to be a celebration of Nigeria’s independence which happened ten days earlier. But the author of the piece nursed a fear about the future of the brand new country. He wrote that “backward African nations inevitably must suffer the chaos of a Congo when the blacks take over.” Congo got its independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960. It fell apart on July 5, 1960 – less than a week after independence. The TIME magazine described that Congo as “a panorama of disaster.” How do we describe our Nigeria since independence?

A dark prophecy of inevitable chaos was published for Nigeria ten days after independence. To “inevitably suffer the chaos of the Congo” was a strong statement. The dictionary meaning of ‘chaos’ is “complete disorder”. If you like you can replace the word with “mayhem” or “bedlam” or “a mess.” There are a million other words that share meanings of madness with the chaotic. ‘Inevitable’ means “certain to happen.” Its other synonyms are ‘unavoidable’; ‘inescapable’; ‘fated’. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet we hear the protagonist, Hamlet, King of Denmark, seeing “providence in the fall of a sparrow.” In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare says the love birds are “star-cross’d” – stuck with their tragic end, their fate. It was the destiny of the Congo to explode within a week of its freedom from foreign rule. It has been Nigeria’s destiny to hop from disaster to catastrophe. But why?

If destiny will manifest itself in a disaster, it presages itself. It is not rain that falls without warning the blind and tapping the deaf. Thirty-eight years ago, Chief Awolowo himself spoke on the evils which dominated the hearts of Nigerians “at all levels and in all sectors of our political, business and governmental activities.” In his famous letter to the political bureau set up by the military in 1986, Chief Awolowo spoke about “the abominable filth that abounds in our society.” He said as long as Nigerians remained “what they are, nothing clean, principled, ethical, and idealistic can work with them.” He warned that unless we allowed our hearts to be impelled “to make drastic changes for the better,” Nigeria stood the chance of succumbing to what he described as “permanent social instability and chaos.”

The chaos is here. We feel it in the price of food and drugs and in the cost of life itself. It is overwhelming. Today’s government reacts by grumbling about the malfeasance of its predecessor. Yet, the past was a disaster that came dancing without a mask. After Muhammadu Buhari was declared reelected in 2019, the late Dr. Obadiah Mailafia said in his March 4, 2019 Nigerian Tribune column titled ‘A guide for the Perplexed’ that Nigeria faced “what amounts to a peace of the graveyard.” He said he saw “fear and alarm in the eyes of certified patriots.” He noted that “only Almajirai in tattered rags from the president’s home region are celebrating with daggers and bayonets spoiling for a fight that nobody is really interested in.” He called on “genuine statesmen to (come and) salvage our democracy from the jaws of catastrophe.” History should have guided the public intellectual. Mailafia should have read Chief Awolowo. Nigeria is not structured to have “genuine statesmen” as its managers. Vulture does not eat clean meat; its meal is carrion.

Adesina declared that “Chief Awolowo was bigger than Nigeria. He said Awo “was the pacesetter and forerunner for development in Africa.” He spoke about Awolowo’s “intellectual capacity, vision, pragmatic social welfarism (which) helped him accomplish what was seemingly unimaginable at the time.” Adesina listed Awolowo’s firsts: “He built the first skyscraper in Africa — the Cocoa House. He built the first television station in Africa, WNTV. He built the Liberty Stadium, the first of its kind in Africa. He implemented a blueprint for development that focused on building human capacity through massive programs to educate the people, develop skills, lift people out of poverty, provide massive rural infrastructure, and develop institutions that turned farmers into wealthy entrepreneurs…Chief Awolowo implemented the sustainable development goals decades before the phrase was coined. He was an inspiration for Africa, far beyond the shores of Nigeria. His philosophy…helped shape programs and policies in other countries.”

Where I sat was some seats away from where Adesina stood and spoke from. Where he stood was a few seats away from where the government of Nigeria sat, expressionless. I heard Adesina; I turned and asked a colleague who sat beside me if he thought Nigeria could benefit from the wisdom of the bow-tied. I told my friend that Adesina’s first four points rested on the fifth. Nothing positive will happen unless Nigeria’s crooked structure is worked on by surgeons. But, where are the physicians? Even if the surgeon is found and present, Nigeria is as difficult and dangerous as danger could be. The country is that mental patient who hates his doctor because he hates being cured of his ailment. Nigeria kills its prophets.

Adesina’s five pills are capable of healing Nigeria. But Nigeria won’t listen to him. It did not listen to Awolowo. It doesn’t listen to the wise. It is a conundrum – an abductee of its crooked structure. In the 1999 Yoruba political film, Saworoide, we hear the old man Adebayo Faleti (Bàbá Òpálábá) chanting the praise name of his Jogbo Kingdom: “Jogbo bí orógbó, Jogbo bí orò (Jogbo, bitter as bitter kola; dangerous as oro cult). With two eyes, you can cope at the riverside; with two eyes, you will survive Kaduna; but you need twelve eyes to survive in Jogbo. With two mouths, you get by in Ibadan; with two mouths you get by in Lagos; but you need 18 mouths to survive in Jogbo…” Nigeria is that Jogbo – a sick, deformed, bitter country in need of a surgeon.

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