That has been the way of Nigerians. Many societies around the world have ended up like this. But here we continue to live dangerously. In this season, we have wobbled into some of such prophesies, and Nigerians seem to take them in strides.
That is why we ignore the cries of the skinny vicar of our financial soul over a depleting treasury and balding governor’s lamentations over the atrophy of the rule of law in his state. Rather we listen to a plump graduate of Breton Woods Institution when she says only $10.8 billion is missing and shows little righteous agony over the discrepancy. Again, when the opposition says the president should invoke the best of presidential soft power to rein in the drift in Rivers State before budget and ministerial nominees, some people say it is against the people.
They forget that the federal government can always spend outside the budget, and that the ministerial nominees and service chiefs’ matters do little to affect the affairs of state and security. The issues are political. No one asked the president why he has not extended his powers on Mbu Joseph Mbu, the commissioner of police in Rivers State. Even when a serving senator was flown abroad after the potentially fatal rubber bullet shot, not a word issued out of the president’s lips.
Shall we ask ourselves what they did with last year’s budget? For half of last year, state governments received fractions of their entitlements. The queens of government, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Diezani Alison-Madueke, have not explained in mathematics, graphics and plain English language why we cannot pay our bills even though oil prices beat the budget benchmark by over $30 dollars per barrel. Even at that, we have almost depleted the so-called excess crude account when the price did not fall to even 80 dollars any time last year. When CBN chief Sanusi yelled, we did not go beyond quibbles over whether his math was right or wrong. We forgot the implications for the ordinary poor.
In Rivers State, we see Governor Rotimi Amaechi fighting with President Goodluck Jonathan. We see it as a partisan matter, so it is not important what the law says and what decency prescribes.
We forget that every crisis in our history came with warnings over trouble to come. Here we have troubles on two fronts: politics and economy. Both spell dire consequences. A well-known priest Mathew Kukah joined the cynical crowd in a recent interview by saying that the threat to Nigeria is in the pages of the newspapers and no one will be there when the politicians solve their problems. This is another cynical way of capsizing before our elite where he has friends on both sides of the divide. Politicians always resolve their differences after so much has been lost in lives and resources. If they resolve their differences, do they resolve the nation’s?
Our history teaches us sombre lessons. The crisis of the First Republic started in the Western region, but many saw it as simply an Awolowo and Akintola fracas. Until elections came and it strangulated the region and all of Nigeria. The larger consequence was a civil war, and the tales of deaths, starvation and misery belonged not to the Yoruba of the west but the Igbo of the east.
As poet John Donne warned, “ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” My father Moses often said that if you throw a stone into the market, you cannot guarantee the safety of your mother. When crisis comes, it has a life of its own. Those who trigger it suffer as well as those who know little about it. If you start a bush fire, you also have to run for your life.
That is why it is important to listen when people warn about a national drift. The danger is that we see things in rigid partisan brackets and fail to realise that not all partisan cries are without merit. We chuck them aside as paranoia. Henry Kissinger purred: “even the paranoid have enemies.” When Asari Dokubo threatened over 2015 elections, no one paid him a visit. But when Nasir el RuFai uttered his own, he was detained.
If APC or PDP makes a case, it is inevitably partisan. But it does not mean it lacks substance, especially if the substance pries into our very existence. In the closing chapters of the Second Republic, Awo warned over the drift of the Shagari regime into tyranny, and raised the spectre of the preventive detention act that made Kwame Nkrumah notorious. He was dismissed as a partisan. A few months later, he was proved right and the republic slurred into a last song.
We have seen this sort in other lands. Sir Winston Churchill was the disregarded prophet when as a back bencher in House of Commons he warned his country. In his grand and elegant growl, he described Hitler as the mad man of Europe. He said all of the continent should stop the tyrant before he engulfed civilisation in his Nazi holocaust. He urged Britain to start re-arming to match Germany that was building the most formidable military machine the world had ever known.
His foes described him as an alarmist, with the peroration of partisan. When Hitler was ready, he rolled over France with his Blitzkrieg, and it took the Americans to save the world with help from nature in Russia and miscalculation by the fuehrer. England paid for ignoring Churchill when the German air force, the Luftwaffe, strafed London and other cities into a daze of apocalyptic fear.
Even France may have been spared the humiliation of German invasion through the Ardenne Forest if the Vichy quislings had heeded Charles de Gaulle’s warning over fortifying that section and warding off the Nazis from Paris.
Crisis comes from what many often regard as little crisis. The Boko Haram crisis might not have escalated if Yar’Adua had not regarded the death of its leader as trivial. Ironically, it is in search of justice for their leader that that region fell into the malignity of deaths, bigotry, lawlessness and state of emergency whose end is not in sight. The Owu War that ignited into what historians call the Yoruba Wars started over a fracas over cheap peppers. How many know that the First World, that conflict of butchery, began by the killing of an Arch Duke of Sarajevo. Those little things only mark tipping points of escalating tensions. It is just like a divorce that is triggered by spill of a glass of milk.
The tragedy is that Nigerians are either facile or docile and accept injustices. So the political elite get away with any impunity. Russia wanted to impose its will on Ukraine, but the people resisted and have forced the prime minister to step down. In Turkey, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has lost popularity because of his highhanded ways. The Maghreb has shown in its Arab Springs, in spite of drawbacks, that it will stand for justice.
If we take the rule of law and decency seriously, we shall have little tensions. Europe and America are no less contentious people than we. But they have decided to abide by rules rather and men. The worst, as poet Lord Byron once wrote, that we can expect when bad things happen is the three words: I told you so.