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Reparations: What Nigeria Owes the Tortoise [4] – by Pius Adesanmi

24 Nov

(Part 1, 3 and 3) (PART FOUR)

So we formed a federal nationhood in 1966 –  or, to state it more correctly, it was rammed down our throats. As is the case with all beginnings, we had to name the new beast and give it an identity in the province of the symbolic. We had to equip it with foundational myths and metaphors. We had to come up with narratives that could confer on our new project nationhood the capacity to mobilize us as citizens. We had to come up with an identity mythos that would define us for the rest of the world. Remember, nations define their political being-ness at the symbolic level by reaching deep down into the collective soul of the people for the ideals they believe best represent their values. That is the psychic function that the American dream performs for the American people. Closer to us here, in South Africa, that nation rode on the crest of the Mandela mystique and symbolism to give herself the post-Apartheid identity of the rainbow nation.

What did we do when we had to make the mental leap from building the symbolic identity of our regions – as I have tried to show with the Western region – around the ethos of the commonweal to naming and conceptualizing the Federal entity which emerged from our self-inflicted régimes of violence between 1960 and 1966? The choice was to emulate other nations in the act of psychic self-fashioning or self-naming or veer onto other paths that would eventually evolve into something others, down the road, would describe contemptuously as uniquely Nigerian. We could privilege a galvanizing ideal, an aspirational identity. That is the case with the country which decided to construct her identity based on the ideal of dreams and unflinching belief in human potential. Another country says impossible is not French and takes on the world on the basis of that ideal. Yet another country says she is rainbow, the very embodiment of human efflorescence and diversity.

Federal Nigeria responded to all these ideals, all these possibilities, with the base instinct of the belly. We travelled far and wide, looking for metaphors of debauchery to name our federal state. We visited Hedone, the spirit of pleasure and enjoyment among the Greeks, we visited Bacchus, the roman god of wine, and we worshipped at the feet of Opapala the Yoruba god of the belly. Our search for a befitting self-defining metaphor of consumption was far more frenzied than the search of Tutuola’s palmwine drinkard for his wine tapper. Out of these peregrinations came one of the most outrageous acts of self-naming the world had ever seen. We reduced our federal being-ness to a name that an average Nigerian knows better than his own father’s name: national cake!

No matter the culture you come from, we know as Africans that there are consequences to naming. The consequences operate at many levels, ranging from the physical to the psychic, from the affective to the emotional. As the proverb goes, he who hosts an oyinbo man must not be allergic to pet dogs. When you call yourself food, you must be prepared for a psychology framed by and dependent on the registers of consumption. Such registers as gorging, cramming,  consuming, devouring, gobbling, gulping, guzzling, stuffing, swallowing, and wolfing food become the symbolic markers of your relationship to a state metaphorically equated with food. Notice the recurrence of these registers in our media whenever affairs pertaining to the Nigerian state are being discussed.

When registers of excessive consumption shape a people’s national psychology, it induces the sort of laziness which prevents the effort needed to envision the production and sustenance of that which is consumed excessively. Thus, successive generations of Nigerian leadership have approached their national cake only from the perspective of how to gorge on it, how to share it wantonly like tomorrow will never come. Nobody comes to that Federal theatre of debauched gorging sparing one second to think about how to bake that cake, where to get the flower and the icing and ensure continuous supply of the material and labour necessary to bake the said cake. No, you approach the Federal table with the mental laziness of one only required to gorge and share that cake according to agreed-upon principles of rotational gorging by the political élite. Hence, the only ideal around which they gather in Abuja is the ideal of the allocation formula. When the metaphor of food digs too deep into the soul of the polity, it begins to condition the social identity of your youth. You begin to foist on your youth a certain predisposition towards a culture of “awoof no dey run belle.”

Perhaps the worst consequence of the national cake approach to our statehood is the atrocious élite psychology it has nurtured over the years. From an élite and a followership who more or less subscribed to the ethos of the collective good and the commonweal during the era of regional governments, we transitioned into a élite of Ijapa-imitators once our travesty of Federalism came into the picture, concentrated itself essentially at the centre, named itself national cake, and made a brood of salivating élite all over the country come rushing to the centre for a piece of that cake.

If you look at our post-regional history, you will easily determine that we have produced at least three generations of leaders whose ethos and philosophy of governance devolve from wantonly plagiarizing the playbook of the Tortoise. Each generation of rulers has been worse than the one immediately preceding it; each generation has been inching closer and closer to a near-perfect imitation of the Tortoise in terms of their approach the proverbial national cake. It is very easy to map and contrast the evolution of social mores under the different national metaphors that have governed Nigeria. When the regional governments defined themselves as the commonweal and the collective good, one leader came up with a budget philosophy rooted in the idea of the welfare of the people. Now that we are governed by the consumption ethos and greed of the Tortoise, one leader budgets about a billion naira for feeding himself and his wife every year. Now, what do you think a leader who allocates a billion naira to gorging on the national cake is doing under the coconut tree? He is singing:

Ori mo so
Oturugbe
Ori mo so
Oturugbe

Gbogbo re ba ja lu mi inu mi a dun ori mo so
Oturugbe

Wherever a crooked head goes, a crooked body wobbles along. So, the budget philosophy of the states is no different. Mallam Nasir El Rufai has gotten into a lot of trouble for performing an invaluable but thankless national service of placing a critical gaze on the Tortoise budget philosophy of the Federal and state governments in this country. If you read El Rufai’s budget exposés, all you will see are Federal and state budgeteers struggling to out-Tortoise the Tortoise. The rush to corner all the coconut for oneself like the Tortoise, to be Mr. Everybody and eat all the food and drink all the palmwine like the Tortoise, is what accounts for the mind-boggling figures in which corruption is now denominated in Nigeria. Our state and Federal officials steal only in billions and trillions because whenever that allocation comes from Abuja, all they can see is the coconut tree and all they can hear is the Tortoise asking for all the coconut to be added unto his own inheritance. And the Tortoise-scale looting stretches and stretches until the EFCC begins to forget files, needing to be reminded of old cases as PM News did recently in a report entitled, “Forgotten Cases of Looting”.

FINAL PART!

And the patriarch sings: “Ojo to ro s’ewuro, lo ro s’ireke”! The rain falls, sings the patriarch. It falls on sugar cane and bitter leaf. The same rain falls on sugar cane and bitter leaf. Sugar cane takes its own rain and travels the path of sweetness while bitter leaf takes its own share of the same rain and travels the path of bitterness.

Ojo to ro s’ewuro, lo ro s’ireke.

The rain of oil falls on Dubai and falls on Nigeria. The rulers of Dubai use their own share of the rain of oil to send their people on the path of sweetness while their Nigerian counterparts take same rain and condemn their own people to the path of bitterness, lack, and hunger. The difference is that the rulers of Dubai are what the rulers of Nigeria’s regional governments, especially the Western region, used to be: believers in the collective good and the commonweal while the current crop of leaders in Nigeria are the most successful plagiarizers of the playbook of the Tortoise the world has ever known. We are therefore not surprised that they are doing what we knew and
predicted they would do to the Ribadu report: set it up for failure from the very start and contrive a crisis along the way to discredit it.

I am saying in essence that Nigeria’s corruption is not even original. I am saying that we have been looting and stealing the intellectual property of the Tortoise. Nigeria’s presidents, past and present, Federal Executive Council members, members of the National Assembly, state governors, and local government chairmen have been robbing the Tortoise blind of his strategies of greed and selfishness since 1999. Nigeria’s unauthorized use of the Tortoise’s playbook is plagiarism. Do not be like me; do not touch my intellectual property; do not copy my ways, the Tortoise warned but we did not listen. We stole his playbook of always trying to take more than his fair share of what is collectively owned and applied it to our so-called national cake. Because we stole his intellectual property, Nigeria owes the Tortoise reparations!

Ojo to ro s’ewuro, lo ro s’ireke.

And the beat goes on. And once a week, the Federal Executive Council meets. And a Minister briefs the press about the outcome of deliberations, once a week. And week in, week out, the briefing never changes for Council Chambers in Aso Rock is for the meeting of Tortoise-wannabes. So, they come out every week reeling out trillions of naira worth of approved contracts, representing that week’s sharing out of the national cake to friends and cronies. Those contracts will never be monitored, the funds will disappear, and new friends and cronies are already queuing up for next week’s sharing. They share and share and share because the only song they know is that which makes all the coconut fall within their restricted circle of the 1% while the 99% go hungry.

And so we need to change this song if we are to stand any meaningful chance of witnessing change in this country. The “we”  here does not include those currently singing the Tortoise’s  song in the corridors of gorging. They have no reason to change that melodious tune and I have given up on them when it comes to my vision for a new Nigeria. If Nigeria as is works for you, we do not see you in the Nigeria of tomorrow. Therefore, we, who bear the brunt of their greed and selfishness; we who understand the consequences of the collapse of the commonweal and the collective good, must find a way to change the song. Our new song must be one which encompasses what the owner these lyrics was thinking when he sang:

I no go gree
Make my brother hungry
Make I no talk
I no go gree
Make my brother homeless
Make I no talk.

If 150 million people sing this song and believe in the philosophy which informs it, that their own welfare is inclusive of the welfare of the brother, they will gradually find their way back to the commonweal and to our much-desired national renaissance.

I no go gree
Make my brother hungry

Make I no talk
I no go gree
Make my brother homeless
Make I no talk.

I thank you for your time.

 

@Femiolas

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Posted by on November 24, 2012 in Opinion

 

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