Full disclosure: I encouraged any and everyone within earshot of my voice to vote for Peter Obi in the last Nigerian election. I however, did not vote for Peter Obi. To be clear, I put my thumb print unequivocally next to the ‘mama, papa, pikin’ logo on my presidential ballot slip, but in doing so I had no doubt in my mind who I was voting for. My vote was for my daughters, my sons, my nieces, nephews, and their progeny all over this land who deserve to inherit a country primed to fulfill its undisputed promise. I voted for their sake because Mr. Obi represented the best chance to break from this cycle of unfulfilled potential in which we are spinning. I thought that then and I am even more convinced of it now.
That conviction has, as we know, so far come to naught. But look at how swiftly the salvation story of the Tinubu administration is unravelling. The brilliant political strategist blundered on day one with an ill-advised, showboating pronouncement that instantly upended the economy. The ensuing ‘palliative’ operation is, so far, akin to a Keystone Cops fiasco in the way they act without thinking and then backtrack and try to take a different tack. The presidents fabled knack for identifying talent has been on full display with his initial appointments. A national security advisor, who at the peak of his powers at the EFCC named Bola Tinubu as being among our most unedifying governors. From that office Ribadu also wrote his infamous open letter to the New York Times in strident, but ultimately unsuccessful, defense of Paul Wolfowitz the president of the World Bank, whose nepotistic behavior eventually led to him stepping down. Then a parade of ministerial nominees, prominent among them being Nyesom Wike and Nasir elRufai who gave independent, public, unsolicited assurances just a couple of months ago, that they would not take ministerial appointments in this government. Conventional wisdom or foolishness says not to take their statements literally. This is politics and giving your word is merely a tactic to hoodwink the electorate in the moment. True enough, this behavior is epitomized in the politics perfected by Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Liz Truss and Marjorie Taylor Greene. But they and their cohorts represent a political order that is in free-fall. For us, if we seriously hope to rebuild our society, surely in public life, your word must mean something, surely character must matter.
Of course, among the list of appointees there are some committed individuals of good character but whoever they are, they will be faced with the dilemma of an honest woman hanging out with Ali Baba and his paddy men. Dr Olatunbosun Tijani was nominated by the president to be a minister; he has now been cleared by the senate and assigned the perfect portfolio for his skill set. I stumbled upon a video of his senate confirmation appearance. One of the senators raised an objection to his nomination due to some irreverent statements mentioning the senate that Dr Tijani had tweeted during the #endsars blight on our recent history. Our senate president masterfully maneuvered a compromise that was acceptable to the senate and the nominee. It required the nominee to apologize to the distinguished body for the ‘youthful exuberance’ of his tweets. The apology was tendered and accepted, the nominee was cleared, and the hearings carried on.
I imagine a different country, a country that we can work towards if enough of us wish to. A country in which the words, character and distinguished, convey some meaning and are not just bandied about with cavalier abandon by political jobbers as scaffolding for their fragile egos. A country in which Dr Tijani could and would have been able to stand up for his righteous tweets. A country where leader Akpabio would have the character to know that he is obliged to offer an apology to ‘Bosun Tijani on behalf of the senate for their silence as SARS were terrorizing young people for having laptop computers; apologize and acknowledge that the nominee is offering his considerable knowledge and experience to the service of a country those managers had criminalized young people with the very same skills as his.
Foreign policy, which is challenging at the best of times, calls for a philosophical framework to underpin policymaking which then directs action. Goodness knows that Nigeria has a surfeit knowledge and a deep pool of experience to call upon in this regard. I recall with some pride the days when Nigeria’s foreign policy was based on principle rather than expediency. When we were a front-line state taking on imperialist forces, we took robust diplomatic positions that included the nationalization of British Petroleum in Nigeria in opposition to Britain’s relationship with the apartheid governments of Rhodesia and South Africa. A risky move based on a principle of African solidarity, so different from today’s incoherent bluster over Niger. I am particularly worried when I hear analysts speak about how we should think twice about military action because parts of northern Nigeria consider Nigeriens as brothers. Are we so deep in an ethnic quagmire that we see everything through that murky lens? Can we really not make common cause around the idea that precipitate military action is not wise anywhere or that the Nigeriens are just as much brothers to me as they are to my countrymen from our northern states? The situation in Niger is admittedly complex. The concept of a coup d’etat is really anathema to me. Over the years I have thought that even if you grant the best of intentions to the Nigerian majors who overthrew our first republic, in their own words because they had to stop the corruption of the ‘ten percenters’; there is a direct line between that coup, the resultant decimation of the civil service and the advent of ‘hundred percenters’ in whose pernicious hands some government contracts were ‘chopped’ and no work was done at all. That said, this ECOWAS anti-coup stance appears to be less interested in good governance and more rooted in a desire to protect leaders of dubious legitimacy and an immoral pro-western status quo. I do not argue in favor of any competing sphere of oppression, east or west, but against the continued exploitation of the African majority by predatory governing elites. Niger is an extreme example of the lopsided relationship in which African countries have been unconscionably exploited by European nations with the connivance of their rulers. None of the revelations about the French parasitic relationship with Niger and other African countries is new; however the ubiquitous cell phone has now made many of the citizenry aware of it. So even if the soldiers struck for selfish reasons, the resolution of this problem is far more intricate than invading and restoring the old order. I have no expectation that the Tinubu administration is able to approach this problem with the depth of understanding necessary to seize the moral high ground that this moment presents. The self-serving and transactional instinct of our ruling cabal is likely to blind it from the best counsel at its disposal.
POINT TO PONDER
Inspired by my dear aburo, in whose words I have always found the clarity and wisdom of an egbon, I have spent recent months pondering the concept of infinity. Infinity, the ever expanding trajectory of our existence that scientific knowledge cannot fully grasp. The forever and ever amen, that faith traditions set as the outer limit of the limitless ‘power and glory’ of our creator. That is the context within which I suggest that we can situate our thoughts about what we do today. If we do exist in an infinite continuum in which empires rise and disappear to nothing, then perhaps the real significance of our lives is the extent to which we each contribute to advancing the human condition during our time here. Remember Mobutu Sese Seko? He captured the 3rd largest country in Africa by coup d’etat and made it his own. It had a population of 23million inhabitants at the time, he changed its name and so long as he assured unfettered access to the vast mineral wealth of the country, remained an honored guest in Washington and Paris. Meanwhile the citizens slipped further into crippling poverty. Today after all his bluster, he is just a faint memory, the country is still a prime source of minerals for the modern world. It has regained its name but little else.