(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 29 May, 2023)
There is a road in Canada that is officially known as ‘Road to Nowhere’. Road signs there say so. At the terminal point of that road is virtually nothing apart from an access to a shooting range and a gated path that leads also to nowhere. A political journey can mirror a cruise on that road. There is also a popular town in Norway officially called Hell; the road to that town is the Road to Hell. In Oyo State, Nigeria, there is a town called Ilu Aje (town of witches); the road to that town is paved with misery. Each of these places has a history behind the weirdness of the name it bears. Road to Nowhere. There is a rock song of that title too. It’s supposed writer and Talking Heads singer, David Byrne, told Q magazine in 1992 that the song is “about how there’s no order and no plan and no scheme to life and death and it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s all right.” Those words sound so much like the Nigerian experience with democracy. It has not been pleasant for the peasant, yet the chorus is “it’s alright.”
Another leg of the journey starts today. A new president, complete with his own cabal, takes charge of Nigeria. In every home, the unasked question is: The journey which these people are starting with us today, where is it taking us? Igbó rèé, ònà rèé. It could be ‘Nowhere’; it may be ‘Somewhere’, the choice is for the driver to make.
I can hear prayers binding the devil and declaring that today’s journey will lead not to nowhere, not to hell, or to the witchy world of grief and anguish. The prayer will be answered only if the new regime breaks ranks with the Buhari tragedy and the personal flaws and failings of the principal characters on the new stage. How is that possible? In a government that will run well and ends well, there must be certain ingredients in its leadership: “trustworthiness, fairness, unassuming behaviour, capacity to listen, open-mindedness, sensitivity to people, sensitivity to situations, good judgment, broadmindedness, flexibility and adaptability, the capacity to make sound and timely decisions, the capacity to motivate, sense of urgency, and initiative, initiative, and initiative.” This list of essential attributes I took from G.R.K Murty (2009) who paraphrased Marvin Bower in his ‘The Will to Lead’. Now, did you see a single item from that list on Nigeria’s leadership menu in the eight years of Muhammadu Buhari? His review would have been positive if he had had a space for just two of those demands. But, no; the man had his own priorities and they were selfish and sectional. It is only operatives and direct beneficiaries of the outgoing regime that will swear they saw equity or fairness or competence in the leadership experience that is expiring today. We wait to see which of those items Tinubu is bringing to the table.
From the frenzy I see around Bola Tinubu who takes over today, it appears that everyone holding the hem of his garment has a personal reason for doing so. They await the “So help me God” end-line of his oath of office for them to unfurl their ensign of claims without objections. That is an expressway to failure. Real lovers of the new president should tell him that personal and institutional rebirth is the sacrifice. What will matter ultimately is how he uses what he has just got to cleanse Nigeria of its bad head.
There is also something about a government engine that is run on grudges, bitterness, and vengeance. The Buhari regime had more than a full tank of that toxic fuel. There was an unreported meeting between President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Muhammadu Buhari shortly after the General from Daura became president of Nigeria in 2015. At that meeting, the old reportedly told the new to forget and forgive anyone who might have hurt him in the past: “Now that you have become president with the support of everybody, it is time for you to forgive everyone who might have hurt you in the past.”
The host casts a serpentine look at his guest and asks: “including Ibrahim?”
“Yes, especially Ibrahim,” the guest responds, curtly.
The new man bites his lips, nods, and changes the topic.
The ‘Ibrahim’ in that conversation is Ibrahim Babangida, the man who sacked Buhari in August 1985. Someone very close to two of the three actors told me that story days after the encounter. He had no reason to make it up.
You remember how General Buhari spoke repeatedly with bitterness about losing power in 1985 and his subsequent detention. The man simply could not imagine his new power ignoring a vengeance that was just thirty years old. He wanted a pound of flesh but apparently, he realized the folly of his kite going after the fox. He talked to himself or he listened to the big boss. But because hawks feed on preys, there were other victims. You remember how he spent his eight years not tired of mentioning his repeated failures to be president in 2003, 2007, and 2011 and how the courts failed him. He eventually became president and the courts got raided and thoroughly whipped. Can you remember too how the outgoing president described the South-East as a dot in a circle? You remember his reference to Igbos of the South-East as those who gave him just “five percent” of the votes that made him president in 2015? You remember how that unfortunate comment dictated government policies and alienated that part of the country permanently from Buhari and his government – and how he did not care? And, please do not forget that there was no pervasive agitation for secession in the East until official vengeful alienation burst the people’s long pipe of endurance. A new regime comes in today; it will succeed only if it stops talking about continuity, charts its own course, and brings the country together under the roof of fairness and equity.
Vengeful leaders lead into the gully; they hurt their nation and their people. They destroy themselves too and cancel everything that recommends them for leadership. That explains the thought of the elders who say revenge destroys the seeker. In William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (Act 3; Scene 1), we see Salerio asking implacable Shylock what he wants to do with a pound of Antonio’s flesh. What is it “good for?” He is asked and Shylock replies that it will “feed” his “revenge.” He says Antonio “hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million…” So why would he not sink his cleaver knife into his debtor’s thigh and go to bed in a meaty mirth? Let no one tell him not to do it; he will do it because he is human: He says: “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not take revenge?” Shylock promises to “execute” and “go hard” and “better” others in doing wrong. He thinks revenge and vengeance are the way of a world which forgets nothing good, nothing bad. And, because he is fixated on revenge and will not listen to wise counsel, he ends disgracefully.
Instead of Tinubu looking for a list of enemies to hurt, his friends should advise him to draw up a list of things to do to heal Nigeria. He should look at the North especially. Anyone that will fix Nigeria has northern Nigeria to fix first. The North is Nigeria’s problem incubator. Particularly because of the North, the population of Nigeria is projected to hit 400 million in the year 2050. At about half of that figure today, 133 million of the population are multi-dimensionally poor. It can only get worse. If the North is not saved from itself and from its ways, the country is doomed and whatever government or president comes in today is doomed as well. UNICEF’s current statistics says that “one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria.” The North gives Nigeria that dubious reputation. The brand of religion that is practised there is nowhere else in the world – not even in Afghanistan. In May 2017, the Sultan of Sokoto told a gathering of northern Muslims in Kaduna to end Almajiri and embrace education. “Almajiri does not represent Islam but hunger and poverty. Almajiri system of begging does not represent Islam and must therefore be distinguished from Islam. Islam encourages scholarship and entrepreneurship and frowns on laziness and idleness as exemplified by itinerant Almajiri. Therefore, attempts must be made to stop the practice of the Almajiri system of begging among Muslim faithful.” That was from the Sultan six years ago. What has changed? Nothing, except that the uneducated children of the past have grown to master assault rifles to demand their share of Nigeria. Is it not said that an untrained child will not fear God and will not live righteously? The untrimmed Iroko has grown wild; it now demands sacrifices from the state.
Three years ago, the Sultan cried out again that the North was the worst place to live in Nigeria. The North is not safe, he said. “In fact, it is the worst place to be in this country. Bandits go round in the villages, households and markets with their AK-47 and nobody is challenging them,” Sultan Abubakar told a meeting of Nigeria’s Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) in Abuja in November 2020. You cannot have a vast region of misery and lawlessness as the North and have peace of mind. My people say the child that is not built will sell the house that is built. We saw how the joy of the multibillion naira Abuja-Kaduna rail service was destroyed by the North’s children of the forest. That is what you get where priorities are not right and the vehicle of state faces where the world backs. If the North remains a region of subjects without citizens, there cannot be peace in Nigeria. If it remains a vast desert of the uneducated poor, banditry will not end. It, in fact, will spread and it is spreading anguish already from the North to the South.
Coming down south, the West will always fix itself. But the Tinubu presidency is putting the ‘pesky’ Yoruba elite on trial. Like debauched widow-inheritors, they are upbeat that it is their turn to fill/feel the space and build castles on Mars. The world waits to see if they will stop saying that Nigeria, as it is, needs restructuring because it is fundamentally defective. We won’t keep quiet. Leaving Nigeria in the hands of its abductors is leaving the proverbial madman to roast his mother’s corpse; he will endanger all of us with the entrails. Tinubu’s friends should keep reminding him that the foundation is the most critical part of a building. If Tinubu and his victorious people say from today that they are satisfied with ugly, decrepit Nigeria because they are the latest inheritors of the estate, we should be around and we will be available to remind them that those who negotiated Nigeria had wisdom and saw clearly that the chemistry of the Nigerian soil was not balanced; they insisted on what they knew was safe for all. The negotiators of Nigeria knew that a wrong foundational decision would give them a building with a fissured base; a house that would endanger everyone; that would soon sink and collapse under a weight it was not designed to carry. The founding fathers considered everything and rejected a multi-storey unitary Nigeria with an emperor reigning in the penthouse. They opted for a federation of manageable low-rise structures in the Nigerian estate. Angels of confusion soon systematically converted what we inherited to a choking, poorly constructed skyscraper without elevators and with a foundation cracking under a weight it cannot carry to success and safety. The structure today chokes and puts all of us in harm’s way. History will pat Tinubu on the back if he surprises himself and rebuilds the house using the original plan of the architects.
There is an undeclared civil war going on in the East. People get killed daily, the murderers are not known, the state shrugs its shoulders, it picks its teeth and belches. But the crisis is an ill-wind that should not become a firestorm. Smothering the fire should be a deliberate agenda of the new regime. Equity and fairness in a restructured Nigeria appears the only remedy here. If the Igbo say they want Senate presidency and if you won’t support their aspiration, Tinubu, please don’t oppose them. If Nigeria fixes the East with the tools of equity, the country will have the mouth to tell the Igbo man to embrace peace. And, really, the alternative to peace is misery in unimaginable proportions.
Nigeria has a generation of angry youths who want a Nigeria that is safe and prosperous. They worked for candidates they believed would work for their future; they did very hard work to birth their dream nation. They came out disappointed and angry and are watching what is unfolding. They need to be convinced that with what we have as a country, elections can be nuts with kernels.
Tinubu is leaving Bourdillon, Lagos, and will be the Lion of Aso Rock for four years – or for eight years – at the end of which a Daniel will come to judgment. He will be judged not by the number of roads or bridges he built; he will be judged by how well he tamed his own personal foibles; how well he detoxified northern Nigeria, settled the quarrel between the Igbo man and Nigeria and got the entire country rebuilt for the wellness of all. If the country, however, remains its odious, unwashed self after Bola Tinubu’s regime, he would have tragically proved right the millions opposed to his person, his politics, and his methods, particularly the feudal rungs he took to the throne.
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