Thursday, January 28, 2016

Of Nations, National Heroes and Tribal Bigots

By Dan Amor
Nigeria is a nation of experts without roots. We are always creating tacticians who are blind to strategy and strategists who cannot even take a step. And when the culture has finished its work, the weak institutions handcuff the infirmity. But what is at the centre of the panic which is our national culture since we are not yet free to choose our leaders? 
*Buhari and Obasanjo 
Seeing how ineligible dunces who don't even understand the secret of their private appeal, talk less of what the nation needs jostle for power, I realize all over again that Nigeria is an unhappy contract between the rich and the poor. It is not that Nigeria is altogether hideous, it is even by degrees pleasant, but for an honest observer, there is hardly any salt in the wind.

Yet, in Nigeria, the myth of politics and the reality of life have diverged too far. There is nothing to return them to one another: no common love, no cause, no desire, and most essentially, no agreement here. Nigeria needed a hero before the exit of the White man, a hero central to his time. Nigeria needed a man whose personality might suggest contradictions and mysteries which could reach into the alienated circuits of the underground, because only a hero can capture the secret imagination of a people, and so be good for the vitality of his nation. A hero embodies the fantasy and so allows each private mind the liberty to consider its fantasy and find a way to grow. Each mind can become more conscious of its desires and waste less strength in hiding from itself. Roosevelt was such a hero, and Churchill, Lenin, De Gaulle and Mandela. Even Hitler, to take the most odious example of this argument, was a hero, the hero-as-monster, embodying what had become the monstrous fantasy of a people, but the horror upon which the radical mind and liberal temperament foundered was that he gave outlets to the energies of the Germans, and so presented the twentieth century with an index of how horrible had become the secret heart of its desires.
*Babangida and Buhari 
Again, Roosevelt is, of course, a happier example of a hero; from his paralytic leg to the royal elegance of his geniality he seemed to contain the entire United States within himself. Everyone, from  the meanest starving crippled to any ambitious young man could expand into the optimism of an improving future because the man offered an unspoken promise of a future which would be rich. In Roosevelt, as in Neru, the grandfather of Indian nationalism, the poor, the hardworking and the imaginative well-to-do could see themselves in the President, could believe him to be like themselves. So, a large part of the United States was able to discover its energies because not as much was wasted in feeling that the country was a poisonous nutrient which stifled the day. This is just an attempt to construct a simple model. 

But the thesis is after all not so mysterious. It would merely nudge the notion that a national hero embodies his time and is so very much better than his time, but is larger than life and so is capable of giving directions to the time, able to encourage a nation to discover the deepest colours of its character. At bottom, the concept of the hero is antagonistic to impersonal social progress, to the belief that social ills can be solved by social legislating, for it sees a country as all-but-trapped in its character until it has a hero who reveals the character of the country to itself.The implication is that without such a hero the nation turns sluggish. Babangida, for instance, was not such a hero. He was not sufficiently larger than life. He inspired familiarity without excitement; he was a character while in power but his proportions came from cunning. And because of his high sense of insincerity, Babangida as a national leader was full of salty common sense and small-minded uncertainty. Small wonder he declared himself an "evil genius ".  He is full of tragic-comic mix-ups. Whereas Abacha has been the anti-hero, he was only the spoiler-as-regulator. Nations do not necessarily and inevitably seek for heroes. In periods of dull anxiety such as we are, one is more likely to look for security rather than dramatic confrontation. And Abacha could stand as a hero only for that small number of Nigerians who were more proud of their lack of imagination. 
*Shehu Shagari 

Talk of Shagari? In Nigerian national life, the unspoken hopelessness of the Second Republic took place between the Large City of Corruption and the Small Town of Hypocrisy: corruption was dynamic, orgiastic, unsettling, explosive and accelerating to the psyche. But Hypocrisy was narrow, cautious and planted in the life-logic of the lazy yes-men and political jobbers. Rather than retard the expansion of these two weapons of failure, Shagari could only beautify them with colour and character thereby elevating them into a novelty.

It was Murtala who was close to a national hero but was summarily extirpated by the evil machinations of imperialist forces. Awolowo made the list at the regional level but was halted by feudal pretenders just like Odumegwu-Ojukwu did at the regional level as a clear-headed protester but became a victim of the Cold War. Buhari as a military leader was a twin-faced Janus who was neither here nor there. Nigeria needed him, not Nigerians. What was even worse, he did not amplify the hopes and aspirations of the nation as a hero might with a dramatic dialogue as a result (which was what Obasanjo had pretended to do in 2005). Buhari merely excluded one part of the nation from the other by banning free speech and freedom of association. The result was the alienation of the best minds and bravest impulses from the faltering history which was in the making. For Obasanjo, he might claim that he did not invent corruption in Nigeria, but it merely proliferated during his fearful reign. And the incredible dullness wrecked upon the Nigerian landscape in his eight years of civil dictatorship has been the triumph of corruption as a national enterprise.

A tasteless, ordourless, colourless sanctity in manners, modes and style, has been the result. Obasanjo embodies half the needs of the nation, the needs of the timid, the petrified, the sanctimonious and the sluggish. He knows that he cannot be counted as a national hero in the true sense of the word. The late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua would have made the list but for his feeble constitution which led to his untimely exit. His successor, Goodluck Jonathan, despite his obvious lack of pragmatism wrote his name in gold on the sands of time. Paradoxically, it is unbelievable but true. He did not give a damn and had helped Nigerians to rediscover themselves by providing a platform on which Nigerians of various stations in life could talk freely about their destiny and the type of country they ultimately desired. He took an existential turn, to walk into the nightmare and faced that terrible logic of history which demands that the country and its people are more important than the ambition of one man. He conceded defeat and handed over power to his opponent. Whether Buhari in his second coming would help Nigerians become more and more extra-ordinary and more adventurous in search of good materials for leadership; whether he is interested in historical relocation, it is too early in the day to say. That remains his ineluctable burden. But if the saying that "the morning shows the day" is anything to go by, the signs are not there. What we have seen so far are the signs of internal decay, the dry rot of apathy and indifference. It is there for all to see, in his lopsided appointments and actions. So, the search for a national hero continues.
 *Dan Amor, a journalist and writer, contributed this piece to MUST READ from Abuja (

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