The resurgent demand for equal rights for black minorities in the United States has brought latent inequalities in that country into fresh focus. The nationwide #BlackLivesMatter campaign triggered by the horrifying and hardly justifiable death of black Americans by the barrels of white police officers has become a movement that is shaping ongoing conversations around a desired reset of race relations in the world’s most powerful nation.
But it is not only America that needs to reform its socio-politico superstructure. The country with the world’s largest concentration of black people is grappling with a compelling need to reexamine a dubious default setting imposed by colonial masters. There is however, a stark difference in the two cases: while the USA is conscious of and admits the need for a reformist interrogation of its nationhood notwithstanding its consolidated democratic practice dating over 200 years, Nigeria with far less experience in democracy is playing the ostrich on quicksand.
This has left the African nation reeling in frequently occurring spasms of convulsions induced by its internal contradictions. And these are legion: political inequality; economic inequities; social ostracism; nepotism, ethnic and religious supremacy; favouritism and cronyism; corruption and embezzlement of public funds; and a host of other characteristic features of the Orwellian Animal Farm. To be clear, these problems have been manifest for long and blames cannot be laid at the feet of a government that is just over a year in office. Nor should they be whimsically regarded as the loathsome legacies of the preceding political regime. It is a cross hanging on the neck of an abrasive elite which unite in enforcing an abusive relationship with a conquered citizenry.
But the more the benefitting rentier political class now in charge of the levers of power runs away from the issues the more they fester and tug at the foundation of nationhood. It is all the more painfully unfortunate that the current crop which rode on the back of ‘change’ with loads of promises to torpedo the old order and establish Eldorado have become strident apostles of revisionism. They have renounced almost the entire epistle of political proselytization which powered their hypnotic electioneering campaigns. The antidotal acronym of hope is fast becoming an anecdotal antonym for hope deferred. Only that this vacuous metamorphosis retains same identity: from APC (All Progressives Congress) to APC (All Promises Cancelled). A classic case of the more things change the more they remain the same.
However, the real APC which I believe means well for the country, needs to seize the momentum now building around the need to address the fundamentals of Nigeria’s nationhood. Like racial worries have currently thrown America into sobering introspection, Abuja must welcome the wind of sail being provided by rising public discontent. Nigerians are demanding an objective and acceptable window to ventilate long suppressed political desires. It is foolhardy pigheadedness for anyone to dismiss calls for renegotiating Nigeria’s togetherness as empty talk, especially when a pan-national consensus is building around the topic. It is not helpful to insist that the report of the 2014 national conference should remain in so-called archives. It is no longer ingenious to play semantics and employ escapist rejoinders when major ethnic groupings collectively heckle anti-restructuring postures posited by powers that be in Aso Rock. Now is the time to look straight and hard in the mirror and give up all the convenient pretenses that all is well.
How can all be well when hunger stalks the land like a plague? How can all be well when marauding herdsmen wreak havoc on innocent farmers and farmlands? How can all be well when fundamentalists gruesomely murder citizens who profess a different faith? How can all be well when life has become so cheap on the streets as if the Nigerian life doesn’t matter? How can all be well when inflation and unemployment is galloping like the Trojan horse of yore? How can all be well when companies lay off workers and government owes months of workers’ wages? How can all be well when state security forces visit pogrom on unarmed protesters preaching self-determination? How can all be well when cries of political marginalization increasingly gain decibels? How can all be well when petro-dollars reaped from the polluted lands of Oporoza is used to equip soldiers deployed to level same community and desecrate its deity in the guise of demobilizing militants? How can all be well when avengers blow up pipelines and cripple oil export in the face of a receding economy? How can all be well when criminal gangs sack civil authorities and seize territories with security agents helplessly turning a blind eye? How can all be well when the Igbo trader does not feel safe remaining in Kano after decades of building a business empire while the Hausa cattle rearer feels mortally threatened in Onitsha after many years of co-habitation with his Igbo hosts? How can all be well when millions of Nigerians are violently uprooted from their homes and dumped in dingy dungeons called IDP camps? How can all be well when those saved from wars and arson are sentenced to starvation and diseases? How can all be well when tax from consumption of alcohol in a Southern state is contributed to fund development in a Sharia-compliant Northern region which abhors the smell of liquor? How can all be well when otherwise simple conversations on Facebook verge on the bellicose extremes of ‘we’ versus ‘them’? How can all be well when the line between ‘wailers’ and ‘hailers’ is thinning by the day with ‘tactical maneuvers’ occurring from the latter end to the former? And how can all be well when the supposed medicine to cure all headaches loses its potency because of intriguing intra-party squabbles at the top? The list goes on and on. And the signs have never been more ominous; much the same way the need to deal with them any less urgent. Like a festering sore soaked in salt, the myriads of malaise plaguing Nigeria have become both symptomatic and deeply rooted. And as the country is besotted simultaneously on many fronts, the search for solutions has become rudderless. This is the situation late Afro-beat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would refer to as confusion break bone.
This invariably, has made Nigeria a laughing stock in the international community. The other day, outgoing United States’ Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle made the point pungently when he said Nigerians are dying of starvation in their country in reference to the brewing humanitarian crisis the North-east has degenerated into. “Nigerians are dying of starvation in Nigeria. How can that be?” he asked rhetorically. The joke is certainly not lost as Mr. Entwistle’s grim portrayal of the sorry state of affairs was corroborated by the United Nations (UN) when it compared the Northeast ravaged by Boko Haram terrorism to the dark days of the Darfur crises. According to Toby Lanzer, the UN’s Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, the Northeast has become “an acute emergency.” A situation where $220 million (200 million euros) is needed “for the purposes of keeping people alive” in the weeks to come cannot be described in any other adjective.
But while the United Nations and the rest of the civilized world may be shell-shocked at what is happening in the once conquered territory the authorities in Nigeria appear less embarrassed. It is not enough for the President to issue a statement ordering supplies to be distributed to abandoned compatriots. He must do something to avert another North-east situation being unwittingly created by the rampaging herdsmen across the land. Immediate measures must be taken to address the budding tensions and angst in the land. At this stage of emerging national emergencies, it is immaterial whether it is a vanquished political order that organized the 2014 conference or not; its report can no longer be left to gather dust, especially if those in power have been unable to muster the political will to set off a fresh process of national healing. For Nigerian lives to matter, something must give now. It goes beyond good governance which sadly, appears to have taken a flight to God knows where.
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