Friday, February 13, 2015

Nigeria: Seasonal Brinkmanship Again

Banji Ojewale

An old star departs, leaves us here on the
Shore, Gazing heavenward for a new star
Approaching. The new star appears, foreshadows
Its going, Before a going and coming that goes
On forever … 
 –  Christopher Okigbo, in Path of Thunder.

*President Jonathan (right) and General Buhari

Nigeria appears to be falling again under the excruciating spell of a star presaged by this remarkable poet of limitless possibilities.   At the time Christopher Okigbo wrote the poem shortly before his death in 1967 the young republic had writhed in a series of setbacks dating from the Western Region upheavals.

Okigbo  had a keen mind that correctly interpreted these rocking crises as the shadows of some bigger, more devastating whirlwind into which we were being drawn.  As he studied the events of his time, he decoded an abiku-like character in them.    The details and nuances which chroniclers ignored or gave little attention to, he noted and scrutinized to find out why they exerted such powerful but hardly visible influence.
At the end of the day, the poet had come to the conclusion that Nigeria was almost perennially under the mystical charm of a wicked star.  Once it appeared, everything was bound to go wrong.   It went back and forth, bringing with it all the hosts of hell and death, inflicting us with one crisis, that looked to have been solved at a point, only for the star to reappear at some point in the future and torment us once more before giving us a pyrrhic respite in anticipation of another evil ahead …


Okigbo was not an unrepentant fatalist. Nor was he a prophet of doom.  He merely set about looking at what went on around him and leveled the incidents down in poetry.   What he revealed in the process was that our leaders and the people they led were learning little from the under flowing features of these happenings.   And because they gained nothing from the past and the present ( there was invariably little joy in the experience ) the tragedies always returned without a check, even when there were premonitions.

Therefore the Western Nigeria crisis of 1962, the subsequent electoral malpractices in the same area, their disastrous consequences, Obafemi Awolowo’s imprisonment as well as the 1966 military coup, the internecine ethnic pogrom, the Biafran secession and finally the Civil War, didn’t come without distinct warnings.   This implies that if the major actors had paid sufficient attention and been less self-centred, Nigeria would have avoided the roller-coaster movement of the blaze that started in the West.


In the second Republic under the Presidency of  Shehu Shagari , we were at it again, pandering to the agonizing control of the ogbanje star. In July 1981 Obafemi Awolowo, the defeated presidential candidate in the 1979 election, wrote to Shagari warning of the plight of the economy and what awaited the nation if sheer complacency remained our weapon.  

He wrote:  “There is a frightful danger ahead.  Visible for those who care and are patriotic enough to look beyond their narrow self-interest.   Our ship of state is fast approaching a big rock, and unless you, as the chief helmsman, quickly rise to the occasion and courageously steer the ship away from its present course, it shall hit the rock. And the inescapable  consequence will be an unspeakable disaster such as is rare in the annals of man.”

What was Shagari’s response? He dispatched the national Chairman of his party and his economic adviser to London to tell the international community that Awo was wrong.  His administration then embarked on a spending binge, advertising in several pages of the Financial Times of London that all was well with the Nigerian economy.


But a well-known economist writing a couple of years later said that by “February 1982, when the long-overdue austerity broke upon Nigeria, Awolowo became the all-time economic hero of Nigeria.”

Between then and now succeeding military regimes haven’t been able to wise up to the benefit of vigilance when cautionary notes sound.  Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo (in his military years), Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha etc. etc. have all been victims of this myopic thinking.

Now we have several challenges in the country ranging from insecurity posed by the Boko Haram insurgency, pipeline destruction, armed robbery, kidnapping, ritual killing and poor governance among numerous other problems. All we see from our leaders is a blame game. While the incumbent leaders believe they are doing their best to address these ills, the opposition thinks otherwise. Of course, their face-off does not in any way solve the challenges.

Rather it raises irreconcilable differences championed by die-hard supporters on both camps.

We appear not to have learned anything from the past. For instance while the Jonathan administration suspects a gang –up by the opposition to undermine its government, the opposition too is not helping its own cause. Where it should be found to be patriotic by supporting non-partisan solutions to the insurgency of the Boko Haram sect, it rather goes ahead to question every move of the rulers.

I think that this is no moment for us to give the impression that we must oppose or criticize the government for criticism’s sake. We must rather see our current challenges beyond that of the sitting government. It is a collective undertaking. This is no time for politics at all. It is time to support every effort to return Nigeria to the path of sanity. That is the only way we can escape from the deadly spell of Christopher Okigbo’s recurring star. Let us banish it from the life of Nigeria forever!

Above is a slightly edited version of an article being reproduced by popular demand in view of the current events in the country.

*Ojewale, a journalist at Onibuku, Ota, Ogun State, is a contributor to SCRUPLES. He could be reached with:

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