My oldest daughter Fola asked me if I have ever gone through the kind of psychological pain and experience that I as a Nigerian have gone through in the last few weeks following the tragedy of the shooting of innocent demonstrators at the Lekki toll gate. My answer was I had never gone through this kind of experience in which we went through this kind of existential challenge to the country. But after a few days, I now remember that I went through this kind of agony in 1968 as a post-graduate student in London when the civil war was raging in my country. The newspapers and the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) were involved in massive covering of the tragedy in Nigeria for the British public. We saw every day, pictures of starving pot-bellied kwashiorkor children crying and dying in the public glare of television cameras. As a sensitive black young man in his mid-twenties living a lonely studious life in a white racist society, the worst thing that could happen to one is for one to see his kind suffering needlessly. Then one day, the 3rd Marine Division of the Nigerian Army commanded by the mercurial Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle, the most successful commander on the Nigerian side of the civil war, made a sea-borne landing in Bonny and then invaded and captured Port Harcourt. The British commentator on the BBC said the “…Federal Nigerian troops have captured the oil rich city of Port Harcourt and all British oil wells are safe in federal hands”! It then occurred to me that my countrymen were fighting each other to preserve British oil wells! I immediately went into depression as a sensitive person.
In those days we could not call home by telephone as you can do today. Once you left home, you were completely on your own except through the very slow letter writing. Racism in those days hit me like a thunderbolt because before I left home, I felt important and not inferior to anybody but by living in a white man’s country, I was daily humiliated and without my knowing it and almost imperceptibly, I became a radical and militant Blackman as some kind of resistance against racism. It was with difficulty and the help of an Egyptian neurologist that I was able to complete my studies. I felt this same kind of pain as if my country was again needlessly hurting itself.
I was in Lagos and I had wanted to go home to Ibadan but I am now marooned in Lagos because the whole country seems to be embroiled in some kind of leaderless Jacobinism descending into some kind of proletarian fury in which the underclass is bent on taking revenge against the whole society that had confined them to the margins of society for a long time. Even when the youths had gone home, the underclass or what Marxists call the lumpen– proletariat had taken over and are apparently determined to ruin the country through looting of shops and destruction of private property. All other kinds of dark forces including politicians going after their perceived enemies appeared to be driving the poor people into rebellion. Even the lame broadcast and appeal of the president have fallen on deaf ears. The rampaging poor people appear to be occupying the public places abandoned by the police and other security forces, who for fear for their lives, have simply melted away and abandoned their posts. The curfews declared by state governors are obeyed in their breaches. It is as if there is no government at all in Lagos and most of the southwestern states including Edo State. The inter-city roads which brigands had made unsafe in the past are even made more unsafe now by the lumpen proletariat and the rural equally poor peasants who have barricaded the highways and are now collecting tolls from the traveling public. The situation is bad and the earlier we go back to our senses and a semblance of normalcy the better.
This breakdown of law and order appears to be confined particularly to the southwestern states and the southern part of the country in general. The northern states which were previously suffering from the Boko Haram insurgency and other social and criminal dissonances undermining peace and harmony in the polity was not affected by the present uprising and if affected, it is certainly not in the same degree. This raises a fundamental problem of analysis. If there was despair and disappointment with the federal government’s performance, how National was this perception? If it was not national what was responsible for this? Could this be because of the government’s exploitation of religious, ethnic and regional differences in the country? Or could it be due to educational disparity underscoring the fissiparous tendencies in the country? Whatever it is, the disunity in the country is very apparent. No common front, it appears, can ever be forged to demand for reforms that would make a better Nigeria possible. This is sad and for as long as this exists, whoever controls the levers of power will always be in vantage position to indulge in misrule and bad governance knowing that he or she would be protected by the cultural fault-lines existing in the country.
Now that the dust of the rebellion is settling down, what is the way forward? First of all, let me say I disagree with people trying to identify a dichotomy between the innocent and educated children of the middle class and unemployed graduates and the hoi polloi or the underclass or lumpen proletariat. As far as I am concerned, both groups had legitimate reasons to be angry with society that spawned them. Unemployment affects and afflicts both groups. If our economy was buoyant, even poorly educated people would find work suitable for their level of education or lack of it. They would be able to use their brawn while their more fortunate cousins would be able to use their brains. Secondly, if jobs were given out on merit based on careers open to talents, no one would feel angry. But when young people see open and rampant discrimination in the country on the basis of region, religion and ethnicity, then there builds up a sense of frustration, depression and anger against society and the political order. In other words, the ball is in the court of those in authority to change course and embrace justice, equity, fairness and inclusion. Thirdly, we need to develop some kind of plan to embrace and train the so-called hoodlums. They were not born hoodlums. It is the circumstance of their birth and the unequal opportunity in our society that created the underclass. We must also find a way to create jobs for the young and unemployed graduates from our colleges and universities or make agricultural loans and land available to those who want to go into commercial agriculture. Fourthly, we need a new security architecture which will involve an expanded police force organized on state basis while small federal police will coordinate inter-state policing. All other security forces would have to be subjected to the mean test of ethnic, regional and religious fair representation.
Fifthly, the humongous salaries of elected representatives would have to be drastically reduced to reflect our economic level of development. A situation where our representatives are earning four or five times what their counterparts earn in the United States is simply insane and uncalled for. We need the excess for national and state development. We also must reduce the number of representatives and have a unicameral legislature at the national level. The current unwieldy and unnecessary number of states and local governments must be drastically reduced to what is economically feasible.
Finally, it is obvious to anyone who wishes Nigeria well to realize that the current military diktat of a constitution imposed on us by the military is not working and must be renegotiated. This is necessary to preserve the union. If this is not done, we will be postponing our eventual collapse. No one wants this but history is not on the side of those who want to keep by force an arbitrary and unworkable structure that will not work if frontally challenged. All these suggestions except the question of the structure of government can be effected through an executive order or what students of history call a revolution from above instead of waiting for a revolution from below.
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