OPINION: It’s the PEOPLE

Nigeria

Across the land today, and in many political circumstances, we all hold President Muhammadu Buhari responsible for our collective tragedies. A symptom of the sickness in Nigeria today is a certain level of insecurity not before experienced, and eloquently expressed through kidnappings for ransom. While the governors across the land collect almost a billion monthly to secure their states, we all look to the chief security officer of the land, Muhammadu Buhari, for action, reprieve or respite. As our naira steadily declines in the face of an egalitarian world economy, which is dwindling revenue from oil, Nigerians hurl of manner of insults at Muhammadu Buhari. After all, didn’t he make all of those fantastic promises prior to being elected for his first and second terms? Didn’t he give the impression that as a former military head of state that he had the muscle and chutzpah to deal with security issues in Nigeria?

It is well though that we fault him. But in all these, is Mr President the one at the offices in public and private establishments, at local printing shops where the proprietors are unable to deliver on simple assignments? Last week, I gave a very simple assignment to a printer. We agreed on a timeline for him to complete the assignment. On the appointed date, I deliberately didn’t make the long journey to pick up the job. When I showed up two days later to pick it up, he hadn’t as much as started the job talk less of putting finishing touches to it. There were many excuses – no light na, the job is a small job and there were other much more important jobs waiting in the wings to be completed. ‘Please be patient’, was the failure mantra. I wanted to use the job to seal a business deal on an agreed date and time, and because of that printer’s error, I lost the bid.

Days before, there was also a technician who I gave a job to, to fix a broken air conditioner. As we discussed before he took the job, he was full of insults for Muhammadu Buhari, and for the downturn of the simple things of life – water, light, transport fares, and food.  After he finished the job, I discovered the air-conditioner was badly fixed, and called him up to take a second look. As we say, na there we still dey two weeks after‘.

These appear to be isolated happenstances and an indication of my bad luck with these artisans. But not really though. As I write this at the Protea Hotel in Benin City waiting to participate in a workshop organised by the French Embassy on the return of stolen Nigerian artefacts from Europe and the Americas, I recall an earlier incident that took place last year at the Benin Museums. I had written a research work, Looted Nigerian Art: Before their Return, and which has already been published by Amazon. Buoyed by its serialization by the Guardian newspapers of Nigeria, I took it to the Museums, with the hope that the document can at least help chart a course with the return of those priceless art works. The Museum basically tossed the document aside and practically shooed me off.

But here I was today with Matthieu Bragato, Manager, Campus France Nigeria. He took a look at my document, and after he flipped through it said ‘Ah Bob, this is nice’. That was the first tonic. Thereafter, he handed me his card, took a few photos of the pamphlet and assured me he would speak to his boss whether or not to allow me share my document to their participants. His boss did not allow me to but they sat with me, and in a very courteous tone, asked me what I really thought about the Savoy-Sar Report initiated by Emmanuel Macron, French president in 2017. I have subsequently written Matthieu Bragato an email, and he has forwarded my treatise to the appropriate quarters at the French Embassy.

At the printer’s and the technician’s and the museum scenarios, President Buhari was not there to supervise these instances of breach of trust,  dereliction to duty and the shoddy treatments we all mete to ourselves. If there’s a national malaise from where Nigeria need refabricating, we need to redefine what we really mean when we say that Democracy is government of the PEOPLE, by the PEOPLE and for the PEOPLE.

Many years ago as a young boy, I determined I was going to be president of Nigeria and replicate the Jerry Rawlings of Ghana example in Nigeria. Rawlings had gathered together Ghana’s political elite who he believed were responsible for the slow motion in his country and executed them all. Luckily for me though, I expressed this idea to an elderly person. Over 30 years after, I can quote word for word what he told me as response. He said: You will not be able to do anything my boy. After you get to be president, the first set of people to visit you are your people, people from your village. They will tell you: ”Our Son, thank God that God has put you there for us. This is our time to eat, grow fat and be empowered. Please open the storehouse and let’s have our fill before others”

In that very naïve state, I told this elderly person that if my village people ever came to me as president of Nigeria with such a proposal, I would arrest them all. ‘Then prepare to die early. As a matter of fact, you will never be able to visit your home again, and you will be declared an outcast. Your children, and their children will be persecuted for many generations to come’, he said to me.

That scenario was to play out again so many years after at the Federal Capital Territory offices in Abuja wherein I held an informal position as PA to a top shot. President Yar’Adua had been ill. Prior to his illness, he had created a Niger Delta Ministry, a move that endeared him to most of us from the Niger Delta. But while some of us prayed for his recovery, there were PEOPLE who prayed for him to die. ‘We want him to die so that it can be our turn. Come to Aso Rock, and see what his PEOPLE are doing to us‘, one of the persons praying for Yar’Adua to die told me. And as matter of fact, when the man from the Niger Delta became president, he too became clannish, as if PEOPLE from his village had visited him. He made certain appointments not because of merit but for clannish considerations, and was to be known to empower most of his kinsmen with the safety and security of key national assets.

If there is evidence to back up claims that Goodluck Jonathan’s people took over Aso Rock, there is none so far that his successor’s kinsmen have been thronging to Aso Rock seeking favours. In spite of that though, Muhammadu Buhari has taken clannishness beyond this millennium, rubbishing his quote of belonging to all and to none. First, he made his kinsmen his cocoon – almost all were Hausa/Fulani. Then in the appointment of the security machinery of Nigeria, personnel were nearly all Hausa/Fulani. For all other parastatals and MDAs, the famous body language of Muhammadu Buhari is such that he favours his own PEOPLE rather than the Nigerian PEOPLE – fueling speculations that in building a rail to Niger Republic, that his real PEOPLE are Nigerien rather than Nigerians.

As a consequence, democracy becomes government of MY people rather than of THE people. It is what is fueling these agitations of, for succession, especially when the body language of the incumbent indicates that his PEOPLE have paid him a visit in his closet and told him in clear terms that now is their time, and it is God that has put him there for them, not for Nigeria or anyone else.

And therefore, we need to begin to interrogate the concept of PEOPLE in the context and course of taking Nigeria forward. There are pastors, imams and very many interest groups today who promote the slow motion our country is passing through today simply because the person in power is either a Muslim, Christian or our religious brethren or sisthren. There are governors sending congratulatory messages to successful Nigerians in the Diaspora, only just because the names of these successful people in sports especially, have some ethnic background with the governor. It does not matter to them that part of why these successful sportsmen and women left Nigeria is because ethnic and primordial considerations pushed them out in the first place. We believe therefore that in defining democracy as government of the PEOPLE, Nigerian leaders and followers must interpret PEOPLE in the generic term rather than the primordial. Those who would succumb to the ethnic blackmail of their PEOPLE, are the ones leading this country to the brink. At no point have any ethnic Nigerian group laid claims to an exclusive ownership of Nigeria than the way we have it now. If the people from my village visit me when I become president, I will welcome them. I will not open the doors for them to steal. I will do my best to accommodate their demands and balance it against the needs of the PEOPLE, even those who did not vote for me. For now because Muhammadu Buhari is President, his PEOPLE behave like some conquistadors who bestride over a conquered Nigeria.

*** Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku, editor in Chief of WADONOR (cultural voice of the Delta) is deputy executive director of CERLSI.