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No Nigerian worthy of honour

I join in praising Falz for his now internationally-acclaimed video, “This is Nigeria.”

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“This is Nigeria,” he raps in the political commentary, which depicts and voices-over many images of Nigerian life, “This is how I’m living now…everybody be criminal…”

He captures well a nation tortured by social and political hypocrisy, violence and poverty.  But I also found “everybody be criminal” to be uncannily, poignantly perceptive, for this is Nigeria today.

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Muhammadu Buhari’s Nigeria.  

No, President Buhari did not invent this Nigeria.  But it is the one he vowed to change, the Nigeria from which he came to save us.  Instead, sadly, in his care the disease has mutated, and Buhari unmasked as a Bolekaja (Mammy Wagon) Babalawo.

But let me begin from that preceding era: the Nigeria of Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan.  When Buhari sought the presidency, an engagement which spanned those three presidencies, he did so in an environment where the criminals enjoyed control.  He said so himself.  They were the political godfathers.  Godmothers.  Patrons.  Friends of the First Lady.  Party chieftains and princesses.  Tin-gods in tin-foil.  They owned the land and the sky and everything between.

They determined who ran for or won elective office.  They chose who ran the police, the army and the security agencies.  They defined what was right or wrong.  They determined who was right or wrong.  The law was what they said it was.

Among and within them at the end of each year, the government handpicked people it deemed worthy of celebration.  It published their names in a gazette called the National Honours list, tossing in a few respectable names in the hunt for legitimacy.  Aghast citizens smirked in horror, but the government partied on, unconcerned.  

In 2012, for instance, Jonathan shocked the world when he granted state pardon to the now deceased Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, his predecessor as Bayelsa governor, who had been convicted of stealing millions of dollars.  In 2014, Jonathan again shocked the world by honouring Nigeria’s late Head of State Sani Abacha, the man who destroyed the Abacha name internationally, citing “his contributions to the nation.” 

It was a nation where power did not serve but was served, and the inner circle of power and influence grew blinder and greedier.

Then came Buhari, vowing to change all of that, to change the image of government, he said.  

Really?  Today, the president lives like a king, almost like Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, but with little of his vision.  

The presidential wing of the airport is always in remarkable shape, and Buhari himself enjoys his choice of two glittering, shimmering aircraft in a presidential fleet he had vowed to sell, but he has no recorded concern for the atrocious conditions in the commercial wing.  We fly a large ‘Ease of Doing Business’ flag, but what does the president care if the airport has no working air-conditioning, escalators or conveyor belts, or if a regime of bribes continues to reign? 

Into his fourth year in charge last week, it is to Buhari’s credit, however, that Buhari has offered no National Honour to anyone.

In this, the appearance of change has been conveyed, but it is a one-sided coin, for he has honoured no Nigerian, period.  Where he was preceded by a national annual insult of National Honours, Buhari does not recognize anyone at all, appearing to adjudge everyone but he to be guilty.  

I offer two indicators in this regard: Obasanjo said he served as Minister for Petroleum for his eight years because he couldn’t find anyone to trust: a definition Buhari has adopted.  Next: Buhari guarantees his longevity by routinely removing his precious self to England to be tended and nurtured by the best doctors in the world.  

“…Everybody be criminal”?

Punishment-and threats of it-makes sense in every society, particularly where they are based on the law.  In Buhari’s Nigeria, the reality is that apart from the propaganda, the shop he inherited is the shop he is running.  While there has been no Obasanjo or Jonathan-style weekend of dubious honour and celebration in Abuja, Nigerians outside the corridors of power and influence have concluded that Buhari lacks the capacity or desire to expose everyone equally to the full flames of the law.  

In Buhari’s Nigeria, “combating corruption” is the favourite slogan, but corruption sees combat only in colours of farce.

The question, for many, relates to the fallacy that no Nigerian beyond the president is good enough to run Petroleum, and no Nigerian hospital or doctor good enough to treat him when he ails.  

On the other side of the fallacy is the suggestion that like Nigerian youths being lazy, all Nigerians except the president are corrupt and therefore undeserving of recognition.  

But while Buhari last month tried to put a shine on the name of his friend, Abacha, a Lagos airport cleaner, Charity Bassey, was returning to the authorities $6000 someone had left in a toilet.  I know it is not the practice of Nigerian leaders to read newspapers, but Ms. Bassey was only the latest in a line of honest cleaners in the country since 2015 to have returned vast sums untouched.  

Also last month in Nigeria, the BBC honoured a policeman Julius Adedeji for honesty, citing him as Nigeria’s ‘most dedicated police officer’.   Nigerians who know the Nigeria Police were pleased to hear Mr. Adedeji has never taken a bribe since joining the force.

Also, earlier this year in Lagos, the Deeper Life Christian Ministry donated to the Lagos State Government several public projects, including a link bridge, traffic lights on several streets as well as a-600 capacity multilevel car park.  LASG lavishly praised Deeper Life Superintendent Pastor W.F. Kumuyi and members of the church.

“…Everybody be criminal”?

Of course not.  The problem is that fewer people are likely to hear about Ms. Bassey than they do about a thieving Minister; of Mr. Adedeji than they do of an Abdulrasheed Maina; of Deeper Life’s gesture than they do about a dishonest Secretary to the Government or of murderous cattle herdsmen.  

Nigeria was bad before Buhari II.  But there is now a certain ruthlessness and absence of principle capable of inducing a dangerous cynicism from Nigerians.  

To quote the lawyer-philosopher Falz, “This is how I’m living now…this is what I am eating now…”

 

•  sonala.olumhense@gmail.com

•  @SonalaOlumhense

 

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