No More Business As Usual: Nigeria’s New-Found ‘Change’ and Lessons from the Past, By Niyi Osundare

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No More Business As Usual: Nigeria’s New-Found ‘Change’ and Lessons from the Past, By Niyi Osundare

Too Big to Fail

No national election in Nigeria’s notoriously chequered history has commanded the kind of widespread and nervous international attention that characterised the March 28, 2015 presidential polls. At the continental level, I daresay that only the South African election of April 1994, the very first democratically arranged election that signaled that country’s liberation from the odious Apartheid stranglehold and ensured her membership of the civilised human community, had enjoyed the kind of feverish apprehension and anxiety that the world lavished on the Giant of Africa in the first three months of this year. The fears were profoundly genuine, for the consequences of failure were too grim to contemplate.

As early as the last four weeks before the polls, Nigeria had become a Mecca for international crisis-prevention/control diplomacy, with the streets of Abuja quaking under the powerful weight of some of the world’s most significant figures. Kofi Anan, former Secretary of the United Nations, joined hands with Emeka Anyaokwu, former Secretary of the Commonwealth, to broker a ‘Peace Deal’ between the two gladiators in Nigeri’s electoral battle: the incumbent President Jonathan and his never-say-die opponent, General Muhammadu Buhari. None of us ordinary folks could say for sure what went on behind the proverbial closed doors, but the picture of smiling gladiators locked in ostentatious embrace exacted front-page prominence in Nigerian newspapers and hit the electronic media with viral alacrity.

Prominent ex-Presidents from Africa were not left behind: the cerebral Thabo Mbeki from South Africa; the avuncular John Kufuor from Ghana. Nor must we forget our own Abdusalam Abubakar, Nigeria’s former head of state whose suave and smooth operation and shuttle diplomacy were conspicuously registered in the traffic between Aso Rock and the rest of the world throughout the election period – and after. Then came John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, who voiced his own concern and concluded his brief with a telling warning: any Nigerian politician seen to have contributed to the frustration/disruption of the electoral process should count themselves thereafter unfit for the American visa. Some observers might have considered Mr. Kerry’s warning threatening, even patronising in its chilling import, but the American statesman knew what he was talking about, and was sure his target audience, the thieving, greedy Nigerian political gang, knew what the denial of such a valuable visa portended for their access to those foreign bank accounts which thrive on their loot from the Nigerian treasury.

Mr. David Cameron, British Prime Minister, registered his own concern; the European Union was not silent, while Mr. Bank Ki Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, cabled across the anxiety of the world community. A few hours to the election, President Obama broadcast his own message by video to the Nigerian people and their rulers. The burden of his broadcast was so urgent, his tone so affective that I was afraid he might slip into ‘My fellow Americans’ in the course of his address. But he never did, though he reminded Nigeria of its preeminent place in the world, its fabulously endowed people, and the reason it cannot afford to fail.

Yes, too big to fail. I hope we still remember that phrase which crashed into American parlance about seven years ago as rationalisation for rescuing the leviathan banks and corporations whose outrageously criminal practices plunged the United States, and by extension the rest of the world, into the kind of economic recession never seen since the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Just as those Oligarchs of Global High Finance capital could not fall without taking the rest of the global economy with it, so Nigeria could not unravel without overwhelming the rest of Africa with its debris. And who wants another Ivory Coast, another Sudan, another Rwanda on a continent noted for its sanguinary saga. Who wants another flashpoint in a world still choking from the heat of the conflagration coming out Iraq, Syria, Yemen, the Israel/Palestinian Middle East? Thus the world rallied to douse the embers of the ‘Nigerian problem’ before it flared into a blaze. So what ensued was a running mix of global altruism and the age-old protocol of enlightened self-interest.

Slowly but steadily, the countries of the world, especially the most powerful and arrogant among them, are beginning to realise more than ever before, that nations bleed into one another; and that a mild sneeze in a remote corner of the planet could eventuate a global influenza. As the Yoruba say, ‘ti aladugbo re ban je kokoro buburu to o o soro, here huru ofun re ko nii je korun d’ojuu re’ (When you see your neighbour swallowing an itchy insect and you pretend not to know, the nuisance of his cough will prevent sleep from coming near your eyes). As Sami Disu said so succinctly in his piece in Saharareporters, ‘Nigeria’s politics is every African’s business’.

A logical question to ask at this juncture is this: why was the March 28 election regarded with such trepidation by Nigerians themselves and other people from the rest of the world? The answers to this question are as Nigerian as the Niger which lends the country its name. Here is a country inhabited by about 180 million people with over three hundred contending ‘tongues and tribes’, each insisting on its own share of the national cake which none of them is inclined to bake; a country where the surest route to personal wealth and influence is the possession of political power; where that power is characterised by absolutism and impunity; a country in which what you need to hold on to power indefinitely is the possession of more power; a country where power comes without responsibility, control without restraint; a country where the rulers are thieves who live beyond the law; a country where the ruled are too ignorant, too poor, too disunited to kick and too ready to connive in their own abasement; a country, in short, where power is not just the ultimate aphrodisiac, it is also the wine of absolute forgetfulness.

Any wonder, then, that in this country elections are a do-or-die (or, better still, do-and-die) affair, a case of ‘boo ba, pa; boo ba, buu lese’ (if you catch up with him, kill him; if you cannot, poison his footprints). In Nigeria, politics is a winner-takes-all arrangement; the possession of power is the beginning and the end. Incumbency is a lifelong endowment, something which, like the traditional Kabiyesi, you hold until you die in your ripe old age, and then pass on to your children. Only fools and weaklings allow themselves to be beaten at the polls. Incumbency is the surest source and guarantee of further/longer incumbency. When a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) boasted a couple of years ago that his party was set to rule Nigeria for 60 years, he intended no exaggeration and he sensed no misnomer. He was just being a representative inmate of Nigeria’s political asylum and successful student of Nigerian history. By his party’s ‘mission and vision’ (to quote that tirelessly Nigerian cliché), his ambition was Lilliputian, his vison egregiously myopic; for their party, the PDP, was bound to rule for ever (did I hear someone add ‘and a day’?). And the crooked logic of Nigeria’s political history was on their side; for until the miracle of March 28, 2015, no incumbent Nigerian government had ever been unseated/defeated at the polls. In other words, since independence in 1960, Nigeria had never achieved a peaceful transfer of power.

Which was why Nigerians were scared and the world was frightened. On the one hand, you had a thoroughly dysfunctional, roundly disaffected ruling party bent on fulfilling its ever-ever mandate and holding on to power by all means. On the other, you had an opposition party that emerged from a mongrel conglomeration of competing interests just months before, emerging as a cohesive, well-articulated political machine ready to lock horns with the hysterically hyped ‘largest political party in Africa’. You just cannot help remembering Duro Ladipo in the legendaryOba Ko So: ‘Ogun ree o/Ogun repete’ (War has come/War, war plenty). The world saw the potentially disastrous disconnect between the PDP’s desperate bid to hold on to power and the opposition party’s resolve to wrest it from them. Every thinking and feeling human being knew for sure that four more years of the PDP government would reduce Nigeria to a state more horrifying than the one the world had ever witnessed in the failed states that litter the African landscape.

But the largest party in Africa was so sure of victory, relying on its absolute control of all the armed and security agencies and the petrodollar-saturated treasury of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as source of endless bribes. Like its ignoble forebears, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (DEMO) of the sixties and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) of the eighties, the PDP scoffed at Nigerian people’s impertinence, believing as was the wont of its predecessors whose thrasonical bragging was ‘e se tiwa, e o se tiwa, a ti wole’ (whether you vote for us or not, we are already in). You had the typical case of a party whose unprecedented corruption and ineptitude had already damaged the destiny of the country, but which lived under the perilous illusion of its indispensability, even inevitability. How do you evacuate this fat jigger stubbornly lodged in the nation’s flesh without a bloody collateral damage to the body-politic?

Given Nigeria’s political history and electoral pedigree, the world had every reason to think that the ‘end-time’ (in the lucratively prolific vocabulary of Nigerian Penticostalism) had arrived. Afterall, the election year is 2015, that year generally believed to have been predicted by America’s Nostradamus as the year of Nigeria’s unravelling. Thus, so many factors combined to ratchet up the situation or, to ‘heat up the polity’ and hike the national temperature, and all kinds of measures were taken to circumvent a coming Apocalypse. The religious among us went down on their knees; the secularly savvy went to work trying to avert an Armageddon. The international community threw in their weight, thinking without loudly declaring that Nigeria is too big to fail.

Which was why, when the dreaded March 28 came at last, the elections were held, and four days later they produced a clear winner, and in a stunningly unprecedented manner, the incumbent President conceded defeat, the world went to bed that night and slept with both eyes closed. The universe heaved a sigh of relief, Armageddon shifted a foot backward, and Nostradamus black-flagged March 28 in its logbook on Nigeria. A torrent of congratulatory messages began to pour in as if we were back to October 1, 1960, the day of Nigeria’s independence. Surprise and gratitude, exhalations and exhilarations. ‘Ibi a wofin si/Erin o gba be/Erin yan falala/Erin lo’ (The Elephant has avoided/The ditch dug for its entrapment/ The Forest Giant strode royally/And went his way).

Over there in faraway America (well, maybe no longer so far in this era of cyber twit and twang and diasporic dispersals!), I was surprised at the number of messages congratulating me as though March 31, 2015 were my birthday, messages from people of different colours and creeds, cultural temperaments and political persuasions. An obviously elated compatriot shouted throatfully, ‘ah, ope ooo, (Oh, thank God) Nigeria has dodged the bullet!’ Colleagues and students at the University of New Orleans went from the earlier voicing of concern to the expression of full felicitation. Some had either attended or heard about my lecture on Nigeria’s election history delivered on campus just three days before the election (thanks to the World Council of New Orleans, the University of New Orleans, and my colleague in the English Department, John Hazlett, who made it happen); others had gleaned their information from the internet media saturated with news about the Nigerian polls. My friend John Enahoro Ohierhenuan, professor of Economics, cerebral and patriotic as ever, breathed a sigh of relief that sent my patient cell phone into joyous vibration. Syl Cheney Coker, the poet of Sierra Leone and griot of Africa, left this highly quotable message on my phone: “Congratulations to you and all Nigerians, my broda! This is splendid! All being well, Nigeria can now start to lead the continent!”

‘All being well’: the pan-Africanist poet-philosopher qualified his message with cautionary sobriety. There is a ceteris paribus conditionality to that phrase, a telling invitation to deep meditation which must engage our attention as we now move from the election of a President to the erection of solid pillars for the Nigeria House. How do we ensure that all will be well? Surely it cannot never happen if we continue on that old path that is leading the country to sure perdition. It cannot, if it is going to be business as usual…

* * *

Never Again

Through the hurly burly of the polling day, March 28, beyond the pandemonium of party warlords and overwhelmed electoral officials, out of the folds of waiting voters winding down the street like a restless python, two women emerged with an urgent message for a roving video camera. Holding up their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), they said something to this effect: “se e ri kini yi? Oun la ma fi gba ijoba ole to wa mbe yi kuro. Ti ijoba to mbo o ba daa, oun la ma fi gba oun naa kuro” (You see this card? It is what we shall use to sweep out this government of thieves. If the coming government is not better, we shall use it to sweep them away too).

Now, before you let loose a whirlwind of conventional assumptions, hear this: by their general disposition and appearance, these women did not look like the typical sophisticated university graduates mouthing political platitudes from Plato or Thomas Payne. These were thinkers whose aspects were as natural as the earth on which they stood. They were graduates from the university of life, of the hard, merciless Nigerian life. Their declaration demonstrated an unforced wisdom about the inherent and practical power of electoral democracy that had eluded Nigeria for so long. There is a certain sense of empowerment, a certain measure of political self-worth in their electoral behavior beyond the meretricious sloganeering and coded lies of the political hustings. Implicit in these women’s declaration is a moral-existential chronological sequence that can be read along these lines: before-and-after, once-upon-a-time, and never-again. It is on this sequential grid that I intend to peg my points in the remaining part of this talk.

Once upon a time, we had a government that saw no difference between wrong and right, fair and foul, the decent and the decadent, the civil and the evil; a president that saw no connection between stealing and corruption; a leader who felt so blissfully at home with dubious people and fugitives from the Law. In fact, corruption seemed to be the grand open sesame to the chambers of power, the prime qualification for the most important appointments, the tie which bound the powerful and the ruthless. Rather than serving as that high temple of state from which all goodness flows, our presidential villa became the bulwark of the beastly, the den of the desperado, the last, unfailing refuge of fugitives from justice. When a Minister of Aviation who squandered 1.6 million dollars of our money (that works out as 800,000 dollars per car!) on the purchase of two bullet-proof cars for the safety and comfort of her royal self, provoked a hell of protest and was pursued through the streets of the nation’s conscience, she found a ready refuge in Aso Rock and a pliable and sympathetic President who told her: Be not afraid. The favoured Minister romped along in office until a cabinet reshuffle gimmick eased her into the quest for higher trophies. That fortunate ex-Minister is today senator-elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Logical conclusion to a typical Nigerian narrative, did I hear you say? The March 28 election was a way of saying Never Again!

When the governorship race was about to start in Ekiti and Osun states, and the ruling party’s field was swarmed by all manner of gubernatorial hopefuls, the largest political party in Africa reached out for the most tainted of the lot and told the bewildered world: these are the two sons in whom we are well pleased. Today, one of those sons is living out that vote of confidence by ruling one of the nation’s most enlightened states like a medieval jungle. There is no crime of his that is wrong in the President’s eye, no violation by him is considered outrageous. As governor-elect, he led a crowd of ‘party faithfuls’ (called thugs by some ignorant opposition media), beat up judges, tore up their robes, destroyed their dockets, trashed the proverbial Temple of Justice, and got all the workers fleeing in different directions.

The President of the Federal Republic saw nothing wrong, heard nothing wrong, felt nothing wrong, sensed nothing wrong about this unspeakable abomination. Neither did his Attorney-General, the nation’s chief law officer under whose purview the desecrated Temple of Justice fell. Neither did the great PDP, the largest party in Africa. As if that were not enough, that state has not had a legal, functioning Legislature since seven assemblymen out of 26 constituted themselves into a phantom majority while the real legal majority was hounded into exile. Nigeria under the PDP has become a nightmare, a fairyland in which the quantitative measure of numbers depends on who does the counting. For instance, in the magical arithmetic of the Nigerian Governors Forum, 16 is considered greater than 19 (Governor Jang, and Governor Akpabio, are you still counting?), and in the hideous jungle of the 26-member Ekiti legislature, a phantom majority of 7 members has minoritised the remaining 19 by impeaching logic and commonsense. Nigeria’s power calculus is bedeviled by a perilously bizarre arithmetic. Is it not astounding that Nigeria’s politicians keep thinking that something good can ever come out of this perverse, illogical machination that our rulers can live in these odious sins and expect benefaction to come apace? A nation run by lawless lawmakers is a dying country. Those women have been witnessing Nigeria’s steady drift towards the edge of the cliff; and that is why they said it loud and very clear: Never Again.

Still on the Land of the Learned, the Land of Honour. Wind back the reel to that explosive tape about the June 21, 2014 election and the scandal which has now qualified it as Ekitigate. Thanks to Saharareporters, (that bold, irrepressible online medium that has given Citizen Journalism a new, empowering mission), the whole world heard and knew how that election was wangled and won. We heard a Minister of State of Defence blackmail an army General into working to ensure a PDP victory (“You know I am Minister of Defence and you cannot get your promotion without it passing through my desk…If by this time tomorrow I am a happy man, the sky will be your limit”). We heard the PDP’s gubernatorial candidate shouting down a military General for not being cooperative enough about the rigging plan. We heard the General insulted, assaulted, threatened, and literally forced down on his knees. We heard him, a Nigerian Army General, collapse under indecent pressure, babble like a baboon, and vaporise into shameless acquiescence. We heard the plans being hatched to ‘fix’ the officers of the other party and the special ‘stickers’ that would help the PDP circumvent the restriction of movement on polling day. We heard the gubernatorial contestant talk about INEC ‘software’ and special computers. We heard the Defence Minister talk about the ‘token’ for the General as the military man was about to depart. We heard the gubernatorial contestant boast about his privileged, compromising contacts with the country’s Chief of Army Staff. We were left in no doubt that all the participants in this felonious conclave derived their mandate from the Presidency.

If these revelations were shocking, far more stunning was/is the reaction and non-reaction of all the vital organs of the Nigerian state involved in this criminal scandal. The participants began by denying they were ever present at the meeting; but upon the presentation of further, incontrovertible evidence, they took to seeking refuge in childish prevarications and legalistic bluff. In an interview with Wall Street Journal, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria dismissed Ekitigate as mere ‘fabrication’ utterly unworthy of investigation, then went ahead to nominate his minister of defence who presided over the crime, for a ministerial position to an equally depraved Senate which steam rolled it to an uproarious approval. Lawless lawmakers! The other organs of government followed suit. And I ask: how could the Nigerian Army have turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the disgrace and most unprofessional acts and behavior of Aliyu Momoh, its own Brigadier General? A General of the Nigerian Army once reputed as one of the most professional on the African continent?! How could the Nigeria Police have failed to investigate the disarming of their personnel by soldiers as recommended by the Ekitigate gang? What about INEC, the organisation whose national assignment brought about that secret meeting on the eve of the June 21 election: has it tried to investigate what ‘software’ and ‘computer’ were mentioned at that meeting, and the possible collusion of its staff in the rigging plan? The outgoing government connived with evil, made evil-doing attractive, profitable, even inevitable, and actively promoted its spread. In his body language, official policy, and sundry pronouncements, President Jonathan sent clear signals that Corruption had a well-cushioned chair at his cabinet table. Campaign time, and the President was widely reported to have hit the ‘battleground states’ with trunkloads of dollars. (I heard some Obas and Ezes fainted upon seeing the American dollar in such astonishing quantum). The decay at the top trickled down the body-politic. Like the proverbial fish, Nigeria’s rot began from the head. The country was heading for the purgatory of moral dissolution. And that was why on March 28, those women affirmed with dogged resolve: No more business as usual, Never Again!

At the root of all these anomies is the monster called Impunity. Impunity is the vilest enemy of the Rule of Law, since by implication, it is actually tantamount to the rule of lawlessness. It is the blind bluster behind the I-don’t-give-a-damn braggadocio, the tragic demonstration of l’etat ce moir (I am the State), the practical indication of tani yo mu mi (who will dare arrest me?); it is the sinful spouse of Immunity. It was an uncontested truth that in Nigeria you could commit any crime and get away with it as long as you were in the President’s party, or so long you knew someone who knew his wife. And when Impunity mates Immunity, they produce an inscrutable offspring calledImuniti (Unarrestability). No empire has ever risen and fallen without the active agency of Impunity. No powerful individual has ever fallen into the ditch without its affliction. Those women would like us to bury Impunity in the grave of Once-upon-a-time. They are itching to hear something from Nigeria and the in-coming government:Never Again!

That peaceful night on April 14 in the year 2014, in Chibok High, a bunch of happy girls were preparing for their final exam, their hearts throbbing with faith and fear, the lamp of hope burning in their eyes, their dreams firm but quite unripe. And the insurgents crashed in with guns and bombs. They saw the book as abomination and pronounced a fatwa on knowledge. They corralled the astonished girls into a corner of the field, ransacked their dormitory, looted the offices, burnt down the school, then loaded the girls into buses and trucks for a long, long journey into Sambisa Forest and what is now looking like painful eternity. While all this was happening, was there a government in Nigeria? Where were the security forces, the soldiers, the police, the Department of State Security and suchlike functionaries routinely recruited by the ruling party for the rigging of elections and the subversion of lawful causes? In these days of ubiquitous cell phones and other miraculous gadgets of instant communication, how come the President didn’t know; the state governor didn’t know; the State Police Commissioner didn’t know; the Inspector-General of Police didn’t know; the National Security Adviser to the President didn’t know; the Director of State Security Services didn’t know; the Civil Defence didn’t know; the Federal Road Safety Corps didn’t know. . . .? And, for over 80 miles from Chibok to Sambisa, those buses and trucks bumped along the road, passed through the villages, and no one sensed that a great crime was being committed. And it took the President 19 days – yes, two weeks plus 5 days – to finally acknowledge that a hideous tragedy had happened in the land he swore to defend and to citizens he had sworn to protect. And it took a #BRING BACK THE GIRLS hashtag and an angry request from every corner of the globe to ginger the President to some semblance of action, just as it took him a looming presidential election to embark on a rescue mission that was almost one year late. The whole wide world laughed at and wept for Nigeria, wondering just like me: is there any government in that country? The Giant of Africa became a gigantic embarrassment, but its rulers carried on as if it was business as usual. And so those women affirmed with their eyes on the coming government: Never again!

Never again. Never again. Never again, the criminally fantastic remuneration of Nigeria’s public officials: the huge, undisclosed salaries and constituency allowances of our legislators from overfed senators to over-pampered local government officials; from secret security votes to crippling severance packages. Nigeria spends about 60 percent of its earnings on the maintenance of a club of prodigal, parasitic, unproductive public officials whose aversion to moderation and temperance has turned the country into a moral wilderness. Dear Incoming Government, we demand FULL disclosure of the remunerations and allowances of all public officials, the reinstatement of fiscal regulations and fiscal discipline in all public offices, a new mentality that public service is not a ‘chop-chop’ bonanza. President Buhari, promise us that those days are gone when the national budget carried a vote of one billion naira for State House meals and snacks; and almost 900 million naira for the running of Presidential Villa generators. Outrageous expenditures of this kind are not only destroying the Nigerian economy; they are also depleting the stock of our moral capital. In a way they constitute the fiscal arm of Impunity, that monster we tried so desperately to unmask earlier in this lecture. And this is why those women said Never Again!

The out-going government gave us transformation without change, motion without movement, preachment without propriety, sermon without self-reflection. It happened that way because its functionaries tried to transform the country without first transforming themselves. (Many of them were un-tranformable, positively speaking). Their effort bottomed out as falsehood and arrant hypocrisy. The ‘change’ promised by the new government must not be another buzzword mouthed to titillate the lips and caress the ears of the desperately expectant. Our educational system is crying for change, beyond the present proliferation of universities and the democratisation of illiteracy. Wanted: a functional and qualitative healthcare regime (Indian hospitals are groaning from the swarm of Nigerian patients); roads which take us to our destinations, not to untimely graves; decent, affordable housing; a meaningful employment programme that would stem the present brain drain and stop our youth from ‘doing work’ in the brothels of Italy or perishing in the turbulent waters of the Mediterranean. We must break the NEPA/PHCN (power outage) jinx, put the hum back in our factories and put an end to our age-old pathology as a brainlessly dependent society that consumes without producing but puffs under the ridiculous illusion of being ‘Africa’s largest economy’ when, in actual fact, it is Africa’s largest dumping ground for the products of other countries. Nigeria is eager for the end of darkness. Ignorance kills a nation almost as fast as Mediocrity, its Mephistophelian collaborator.

For a change, let us try a knowledge-driven government. General Buhari, make yourself and your government friendly to positive ideas and the women and men who generate them; surround yourself with people who are not scared of thinking, of asking questions. And then, the proverbial elephant in the room so invisible because of its gigantic presence: the National Question. Frederic Lugard’s leviathan contraption is still creaking dangerously in all its ethnic joints. The 2014 National Confab, for all its opportunistic timing may well be the Jonathan government’s lasting legacy. Both the initiative and reason for its convocation must never be ignored; its implementable portions must be given all the urgent action it deserves. Something drastic has to be done about the perilous crack in the Nigerian House if the country is ever going to advance from its standing as a mere geographical expression to the enviable status of national integration. Observe every word of that old but ageless admonition: be the change you seek.

Nigeria has enough resources to make life reasonably comfortable for all of us if only our rulers would steal less, and think more of us and the future of our country. No country can ever be happy if it is a land of ten millionaires and a hundred million paupers. And that is what Nigeria is and has been. And that is what it must NOT continue to be.

For these desired changes to take place, WE THE PEOPLE of Nigeria must carry our fate in our own hands. For too long we have heaped all the blame of our political backwardness on our leaders (rulers would be a better word!). Time we began to take some responsibility for our tragic connivance in our own woes. Ignorant about our rights, apathetic about the necessary political action, buyable, sellable, pushable, and therefore disposable like used tickets, we the people have conceded the power of absolute power to our rulers who, in turn, have abolished the people and elected themselves; for this is precisely what happens when we help rig them into power after succumbing to their base inducements in the form of monetary and other material bribes, and a cynical exploitation of ethnic and religious affiliations. The change we seek will never come until we start holding those who rule us accountable; until we start holding their feet to the fire, in a manner of speaking. This may sound too plain and too simple, but we can only be ruled the way we want/choose to be ruled. When a ruler commands you to jump for no good reason and all you ask is ‘how high?’, next time s/he will ask you to sink below the surface of the earth. Unquestioning obedience is a symptom of delinquent followership; Nigeria has a life-threatening bout of that disease.

Like those two women we encountered in the middle of this lecture, let us say Never Again! Let us also hold our voter’s cards aloft, wave them in the air and tell the coming government and all the governments after it: with these cards we swept off the perverse government that held us down for so many years; if you do not want us to do the same thing to you, kill Corruption before Corruption kills this country; start building with us the just and egalitarian society in which leaders lead by following conscientiously and followers lead by insisting on their rights and doing their duties. Let us remember the miserable dungeon into which the PDP and its government have dumped this country, and join those women by saying Never Again!

Yes, Nigeria may be considered too big to fail; let us make sure she is not too dysfunctional to succeed.

I thank you for your valuable attention

Niyi Osundare, a renowned poet and essayist, is a Distinguished Professor of the University of New Orleans, where he teaches in the English Department and was recipient of the Nigeria National Merit Award in 2014.

This talk was given as the Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti Distinguished Alumni Lecture held on May 17, 2015 at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria.

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