Monday, May 28, 2018

Paradoxica Nigeriana

By Dan Amor
Nigeria is a beautiful edifice built with bricks of contradictions. Somewhere between the idea and the reality hovers a huge geographical abstraction that beguiles the imagination. Situated at the Eastern end of the Gulf of Guinea, between the 4th and the 14th Parallels, Nigeria occupies a total area of 923,768 square kilometres, slightly more than the combined areas of France and Germany. From Lagos in the South-west to Maiduguri in the North-east is the distance between London and Warsaw.
*President Buhari 
Its population estimated at about 190 million, exceeds the combined population of all other countries in the West African sub-region of the Sahara. Endowed with enormous wealth, a dynamic population and an enviable talent for political compromise, Nigeria stood out in the 1960s as the potential leader of Africa, a continent in dire need of guidance. For, it was widely thought that Nigeria was immune from the wasteful diseases of tribalism, disunity and instability that remorselessly attacked so many other new African states. But when bursts of machine gunfire shattered the pre-dawn calm of Lagos its erstwhile Federal Capital in January 1966, it was now clear that Nigeria was no exception to Africa's common post-independence experience.

During the following four years (1966-1970), the giant (and 'hope') of Africa measured her full length in the dust. Two bloody military coups, a series of appalling massacres and a protracted and savage civil war, which claimed more than a million lives threatened to plunge the entire country into a limitless chaos. It also deprived black Africa, already weakened and disillusioned, of a crucial element of strength and leadership in the growing confrontation with white Africa along the Zambezi. This shows that Nigeria has always been at war with itself. Yet, Nigeria is in some ways a concept as well as a country. For the colonialists who concocted this vast space of about 250 ethnic nations with more than 400 languages in the interior coast of West Africa into one country, Nigeria was a state of mind of Flora Shaw, Frederick Lugard's girlfriend, as well as a nation-state. There are a good many things about this Nigeria which most analysts do not understand. One hundred and four years after its creation and almost 68 years after flag independence, Nigeria still appears a sunny enigma wrapped in the shadow of a consuming paradox.
A nation steeped in history, a nation behind history; a culture rich in arts and music, a culture poor in mass education and formal learning. A humane, ebullient and kind people, an inferior, indolent and debauched people. A society essentially catholic and spiritual, a social life unblushingly sensual and epicurean; a system of cool Machiavellian realism, a system of grandiose dreams, tainted visions and disastrous extremisms; a country of geniuses and greatness, a country of tragedy and catastrophe. These cliche-ridden contradictions serve to remind us that we have yet to unravel the ponderous mystery of Nigeria, which is ultimately her enduring essence. Historical interpretations on Nigeria inevitably gravitate toward great men theories. Even the most studiously counterpoised approaches to the country's past must acknowledge the steady sequence of powerful individuals who have successfully dominated the political scene. The powerful imagery surrounding these figures has turned persistently to federal symbolism. A ferocious menagerie roams the political landscape.
Yet this imagery denotes more than a people's enduring appetite for a dynamic leadership as well as a dogged desire for a decisive break with a past that refuses to be easily shaken. Looking to history for clues to the workings of power in contemporary Nigeria, one must thus be very attentive to the full range of elements that recurrently make possible and attractive such individualistically centred contradictions of power, including the degree to which such patterns represent a repeatedly frustrated quest for new alternatives. But human feelings and energies released by great upsurge in history astonish and reverberate at their moment of impact but quickly vanish or become distorted under the fog of time. Yet, in Nigeria, the political or cultural basis of class formation is an unmistaken reality. It is virtually impossible to comprehend the idea of a dominant class aside from the determining impact of ethno-religious forces. More precisely, political power is exerted to create and expand social organizations. The leading members of such organizations have common interest in social control and they constitute the wellspring of class formation.
The danger threatening Nigeria as a modern state is that there is a combination of adverse forces with hegemonic tendencies which could perpetuate economic dependence and underdevelopment thus making political independence meaningless. It is an open testimony, however, that despite the obvious shortcomings of our beloved country, it has never been a complete failure after all. In fields as diverse as science and technology, medicine, law, business, literature and sports, where we won the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature and the 1996 Olympic Gold Medals for soccer and tract events, Nigerians have made matchless contributions. A Nigerian also recently won a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism. The fact that the winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature, who brought such uncommon honour to Africa by writing its name in gold in the intellectual map of the world, was at a time driven into exile, and that the man who led our national football team to an unprecedented victory at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, was frustrated out of our country soon after the victory, is yet, a ringing paradox.
Fortunately, that is not the import of this piece. It is, rather, to examine the angle of perception in order to ascertain the intellectual image of Nigeria on the brink of contradictions. Nigeria is the only country on the face of the earth that recycles its old generation of politicians who have been playing the game since independence when they were young as though the nation has no young ones. It is the only country among the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, indeed, the sixth largest exporter of crude in the world, which is still importing finished products for local consumption. Yet, only those who appreciate how, in the agonizing irony of history, a nation blessed with vast human and material resources, through a curious somersault of the will, now parades the highest number of those living below the poverty line in the world, will appreciate the disturbing enormity of the Nigerian condition.
For only an idiotic and clumsy giant with feet of clay could produce such embarrassing ironies, such lamentable national contradictions. It is only in such a nation that politicians deliberately gang up against democracy whereas its military forces install democratic governments elsewhere. Despite Nigeria's intimidating population of well over 190 million and her vast natural resources, it is on record that Cameroon, her tiny neighbour of just 11 million took over her juicy and oil rich Bakassi Peninsula without firing a shot and without the involvement of her much polarized and balkanized National Assembly. But Nigeria has an irresistible attraction that is impossible to deny.
For those who witnessed the Nigerian Civil War, the first civil war in history in which African armies led by African officers fought each other with modern weapons, it is Nigeria's amazing power of survival that fascinates them. That, you would say, is another shining paradox. The human virtue of Nigerians is actually their high degree of patience and endurance while their cynical attitude toward human frailties causes them to acquiesce to bureaucracy and corruption. In Nigeria, the most corrupt are the most ardent fighters of corruption. It's only in Nigeria that President Muhammadu 'Integrity' Buhari, the Saint whose cardinal mission in government is to fight corruption would give a clean bill of health to a former head of state known worldwide as the most notorious looter of the nation's till. On June 9, 2008, Buhari said: "General Sani Abacha never stole". But on May 14, 2018, Buhari said: "I will use $320m Abacha loot to help the poor." Such is the disturbing magnitude of the Nigerian contradiction.
It is only in Nigeria that the head of a government which prides itself as fighting corruption would openly say that a former military dictator who looted over $7 billion was not corrupt even while the looted fund is still being repatriated from Swiss banks and from other banks across the world. If these startling contradictions cannot jolt you from illusions into stark realities in this era of change, then paradox is a Nigerian. Yet, in spite of their abiding love for peace, Nigerians are favourable to a condition of anarchy. And despite their traumatic experience in the hands of those who promised them security instead of opportunities, despite the antics of those who have stolen the national patrimony into private pockets, Nigerians still allow them to play a dice with the collective destiny of the nation. The retired Generals are the ones dictating the tune in a "democracy". In Nigeria, the unschooled misrule the schooled, and we all clap in acclamation. It is not democracy of debauchery. It is 'Paradoxica Nigeriana'.
*Dan Amor writes a column (CHECKPOINT) on the back page of Lakis News every Monday.

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