Abuja: Tweets from Nairobi

My colleague was out of town and I was unusually lonely in the office. I needed the company of friends who could get me lightened up. I didn’t need any of my intellectual friends this evening, nobody who would remind me of Nigeria’s realities in some overused big words. I thought of the cinema, but who goes there without his girlfriend in President Jonathan’s Nigeria. It’s unwise to impress oneself, and funny to be another girl’s deputy boyfriend on social outings. This dilemma shouldn’t have set in if I had not lost my phone the previous day. I would’ve just pinged any frequenter of a hangout we call “Shisha Lounge” in a quiet district in the city. Shisha Lounge is like the parliament of Big Men’s children, but to me it’s simply an avenue to interact with friends, friends with whom I’m different, friends to whom books and literature and public intellections and social crusades are seen as outdated engagements. Oh, a few love books. I met them through a schoolmate who is also not a fan of books; so we only discuss European Premier Leagues, music, movies, schools and anything that influences the pop culture over shisha pots. I don’t smoke Shisha, though. You don’t have to believe me. Doesn’t mean I’m better, anyway.

Lest I forget this; whenever they seek cheap jokes, they would turn to me, pick up a line like “That reminds me, Mr Activist…” – and then an obviously sarcastic question on what I think about a particular politician or a policy that doesn’t sit well with the masses. Jokes like that are the elixirs that get me going, and I was ready for a lot of their puns as I finally made up my mind to visit there unannounced. There was a burst of laughter when they noticed my entry. They laughed because I had just turned myself in, for a jovial member I had not met in a long time, one who had called to warn that I have been banned from coming to the Lounge when I captured an aspect of Big Men’s children in a piece titled “Big Man’s Burden”. Thankfully my case died with the laughter and, as if something was missed in the cyber-world with that interruption, we all returned our phones and tablets.

Later, we discussed politics, and politicians. And possible sources of General T. Y. Danjuma’s wealth, whose philanthropy they didn’t seem to understand. Before midnight, which was around the time we always bid farewell, I had read some tweets that ridicule the happenings around me. The thing I read that stirred up my social consciousness while I was in the lounge were actually tweets by Nigerian novelist, Richard Ali who was in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, for an event. His posts, which are his views on what set the Kenyan city apart from Nigeria’s Lagos and Abuja, validate my fear for our wide social disparity, and the insensitivity of our governments to this social disaster. “So, middleclass,” Richard wrote, “should mean something. A middleclass person in #Nairobi can afford to enter A-list club like Tribeca. Not so in #Lagos. (22/June).” I have written against attempts by elitist Governors like Babatunde Fashola to turn our cities into paradise of the rich and the western, especially with their careless demolition exercises in a leap of misplaced priority, because they fail to notice that our middle-class is a joke. On this, Richard wrote, “So, #Nairobi is a human city. People move around in free spaces, meeting & loving & partying–so the people live. None of the guardedness, empty ostentation or walls.” Go round Nigeria, and you will understand the survivalists who parade themselves as middle-class; what we have around are glorified poor men who wear the class labels just to have a chip on their shoulders. Our poor middle-class must heed in seeking Richard’s Nairobi: “I will miss #Nairobi, because it is a city with a soul. It is one where #middleclass means something–exciting, vibrant, African.” Or else we may have to ask for proper lexicons to qualify our people.

Richard’s tweets are reminders of Abuja’s, and to a large extent Nigeria’s, flawed social strata. And they urged me to ponder the financial status of these few of the city’s Big Boys; a friend seated next to me carried out a transaction online worth thousands of dollars. The goods ordered are basketball kits and gadgets and whatnots. A few weeks earlier, another friend gave his credit card to his colleague who had an urgent need to pay a bill online. USD7000 was debited. I thought he’d bat lids, and query him for such vicious spending. But he only returned the card to a leather pouch. Unperturbed. And these boys parade themselves as middle-class elements. I’m confused because of their refusal to see themselves as anything more than the middle-class even though their net-worth is a factor for the Nigerian public and media to worshipfully dub them ‘millionaires’. And the same middle-class is supposed to comprise the many disgruntled citizens who evade taxes and utility bills. The same middle-class in the same Nigeria has members who cannot conveniently afford domestic air travels. I think our sociologists need to intervene and highlight our social strata, even if this means having separate groups for those with favourable social welfare, and those whose membership is simply justified by their level of education. Perhaps the flawed statistics of our middle-class citizens may be the reason President Goodluck Jonathan removed, even if partial, the fuel subsidy last year. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda
Blueprint Newspapers (28/06/2013)
@gimbakakanda (On Twitter).

Nigeria: A Nation of Goodlucks

Image

President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan may be a good private citizen. I think I have seen his types. But “good” and “luck” are not enough to lead a country, especially one that reeks of ethno-religious and regional monstrosities. GEJ appears like one of those unfamiliar countrymen you can corner at a bar to enjoy an innocent chat around life, politics and, perhaps, zoology. I see him as that person chosen as deputy by his former bosses or political kingmakers in considerations of his subservience – which is actually written, and ever deceptively worn, on his face. Goodluck is a child of “providence”, one of those whose history could excite the largely religious Nigerians. But, he’s practically unprepared for what “providence” has taken to him. He is like me and you, ordinary citizens who have no definable ideology on the way to lead anything beyond the size of our families. A Goodluck is accurately a man who happens to be in the right place at the right time. A Goodluck is an opportunist, a political opportunist. Goodlucks have found themselves on our corridors of power ever since we embarked on this misadventure through Independence. Goodlucks were not forced on us by God, they are miscalculated variables from sentimental permutations of political opportunisms. 

And so expecting a miracle from an opportunist who found himself in power through sentiments and the customary corruptions is an absolute misuse of our senses. The trouble with opportunists is not only because they are unprepared, but because they lack what I’d call the constitutional ruthlessness to stand by their ideologies, and the honesty to implement a popular policy which may not favour the parasitic elite around them. GEJ couldn’t be principally honest because he was almost planted there. When you elect a man who has no professed policies, be ready for the confusion and cluelessness being experienced in Nigeria today. An unprepared leader only needs a week of pillow talks with his wife and executive meetings with sycophantic aides to acquire the special abilities to befriend corrupt public officers, disregard the plights of the masses and perpetuate a reign of failed promises. It is not the years spent in politics that grounded a politician’s ideas, it is the genuineness of his intentions. The world had seen how Nelson Mandela, a man with no past in political administrations, came to power and calmed a raging South Africa. Only a patriot with professed policies can save a nation, but where are ours?     

The Nigerian patriots are hypocrites lost in the wind of public intellections and social crusades. Our hypocrisy breeds the Goodlucks misusing our resources today. GEJ, like his predecessor the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, is a tragedy that happens in a country where politics is seen merely as a game of the crooks, and the loud-mouthed advocates of change scamper on being challenged to show us their leadership qualities. There are two categories of followers among the Nigerian Goodlucks: the Informed and the Gullible. Membership of both categories comprised the good and the bad clamouring for change, without necessarily following the code of pragmatic effects. The Informed Followers category comprised the intellectuals who propound political theories and analyse the system, and the change advocates who are largely the social crusaders, members of civil societies, and the apolitical bourgeoisie who engage government policies to demand for a fair and transparent administration. The Gullible Followers, on the other hand, are the politically naïve masses who rely on the elite and are ever influenced by these moneyed citizens to take a side. They are gullible, and dangerous!

While the informed followers are responsible for the institutional collapse of Nigeria and the emergences of Goodlucks, we’re in this political mess also because of the gullibility of the larger masses who are easily played by politicians, who have no sense of their rights at all, who think that their representatives are actually being philanthropic. Their sins are almost as unforgivable as those of the informed followers who wear garbs of self-righteousness in their academia, air-conditioned offices and under their “lead-us-well” placards, reviewing governments after governments and protesting policies. These citizens deliberately keep themselves away from participation in politics and political appointments because it’s a den of the crooks. To the intellectuals, the country is simply an ideological laboratory to test their political theories and build a library of polemics, and the activists form synergies with donor organisations in their dramatised campaigns for good leadership. Despite the fact that previously apolitical Goodlucks, like the Reuben Abatis who have shown us their indignity, betrayed their propositions for a functional Nigeria, a team of patriots with professed policies can indeed recue Nigeria.

And time is not on our side. This is a time for increased political scheming, a moment for the Goodlucks to come together and contribute to this challenge of nationhood. Our campaigns now should not be just to oust the leaders of this ideologically evil party that have turned every sector of Nigeria into a mess, but also to have a progressive opposition whose blueprints for Nigeria fit into our demands, and which also has principled individuals ready to work for change. Thankfully, the proposed merger of opposition political parties to form the frustrated All Progressive Party may turn Nigeria into an unofficial two-party State. The process so far is a pathway to depression; it’s clearly a chaos of the progressive pilferers and the conservative criminals. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

Blueprint Newspapers (21/06/2013)

@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)

Zaria: An Encounter with Depression

Last weekend was not only the date of the setting out of a political firework that stressed the pulse of the nation, it’s my moment of emotional solidarity with the state of Nigeria, with the ongoing cluelessness adopted as policy in checking its monsters—ethnic bigotries, regional advocacies, religious intolerances and, the deadliest, variegated opinions of the stereotype artists whose inverted brains always fail at recognising exceptions in their rush to condemn a people, a religion or a region.

The June 8 event was a public lecture organised by students of Ahmadu Bello University in their efforts to listen in to the views of field marshals of Nigerian politics, their laments and proposals for new Nigeria. And the young men indeed showed wisdom in having the representatives of two generations of Nigerian political hierarchy in attendance. Tension was the perfect word to describe the presence of the controversial Professor Ango Abdullahi, a diehard advocate of the Old breed politicians, one who is wrongly portrayed by our one-dimensional media as the official spokesman of the entire northern region, amidst the emergent politicians of the day. Professor Ango was on the high table with the most eloquent living encyclopedia of old Nigeria, Dr. Yusuf Maitama Sule, Justice Mamman Nasir, the Vice Chancellor of the university, Professor Abdullahi Mustapha, among others. Of the New breed were Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and representatives of Senator George Akume and Hon. Emmanuel Jime. The high table was not reserved for just politicians, it was shared by accomplished technocrats from various sectors. And yours sincerely was seated just behind the legendary Maitama Sule—on the high table of course!  

I wasn’t shocked when Professor Ango, while taking us down the thorny lane of our politics, charged that the youth too shared in the failures of the country. But I do not agree. Much as I always try to validate the part of our national anthem that extols “the labour of our heroes past,” I reject any attempt to have us cornered as one of those responsible for the devolving turn of our nationhood. Nigeria was already a mess long before my generation learnt to tell A apart from H. And the ideologically charged young men before us ready to serve the nation were not given the chance, let alone the hopelessly angrier us. This was why I endorsed Mallam Nuhu Ribadu’s antidotes for a “sinking” Nigeria in his speech “Political Engagement: A New Approach”. 

It is however understandable that the presidency was possessed by fears about the echoes of Ribadu’s revolutionary speech. In the over 3000 words employed to convey his message, Ribadu didn’t mention Goodluck Jonathan nor was he specific about a particular government. His message was a commonsense assessment of a system upturned, a sanity misplaced, and a nation in trouble—which exactly captures Nigeria. But, being that a butcher always panics on the sight of a knife in another man’s hand, the Presidency through its spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, counterpointed Ribadu’s in another misuse of adjectives that can only come from a man who has been on constant diets of cassava bread. Abati went loose, misinterpreting the plain meaning of ‘tyranny’ in the worst exhibition of intellectual indolence I have encountered in a long time, all to say that Ribadu lacked the ethical moralilty to condemn this administration. Comedy. For a President that appeared on international news channels to lie about the realities of 170 million people, ethical morality is the last phrase expected from the minions of that disgrace of a government. 

I was depressed at the Zaria event largely because Maitama Sule, who was the youngest member of Sardauna’s government, having taken us through the history of our political engineering, and the challenges encountered, concluded, in a melancholic tone, that—“We are no longer what we were!” I was depressed by Maitama’s analogy of what the past leaders were able to achieve with meagre resources and the inability of these financially unwise governments to match the developments of countries with which we began this journey into political independence. Maitama cited India as an example, how despite its size and challenges it rules the Information Technology business today. And India has no oil!

My depression was not only because I was told what I knew, but the quavers of disappointments I discerned in the voice of a man who was a part of the pioneers that dug the foundations of modern Nigeria. I was depressed because Maitama Sule is now blind, and yet with the mental image of a nation ruined by denials of its failures. And soon as i returned to Abuja, I put on my computer to watch the videos of a 20-something-year-old Maitama Sule in the early 1960’s screaming that “Northern Nigeria is not a backward region!” I was lost in the blues of a familiar misery. I compared that young and ambitious Maitama Sule to the defeated old and blind philosopher I saw in Zaria. And that was when, with tears in my heart, I muttered: May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

Blueprint Newspapers (14/06/2013)

@gimbakakanda (on Twitter)

2015: the Year of Greater Disaster in Niger State

Image

My pessimism has reached a height where I no longer see certain political leaders in Nigeria. And this is very bad, especially as a publicly disgraced citizen pursued by a passion for change, and eagerness for replacement of any politician who has shown us his skills in magical misuse of budgets since this challenge of civilian leadership was reregistered with the tick of 1999. I have been disgraced by the politicians who have scammed me with grand promises only to do nothing upon earning my votes, and I think almost all the politicians who have appeared in my home state only succeeded in proving to us that they are actually philanthropists who use their personal resources to run the affairs of government.

Politics in Niger state is a depressing experience; it’s designed into a system where our people are smartly convinced to see politics as philanthropy. Our version of elitism is complex, and dangerous. Dangerous is anything that destroys you. Dangerous is anything in which billions are used, and nothing is seen. Only, perhaps, too many invoices of goods and services rendered in rhetoric, or supposedly done by friends and family of the governors. Our people, more thanfellow countrymen in other states, embrace and celebrate notorious personalities as though their political failings are criteria for sainthood. For a state that has been in existence for over three decades, one which has enjoyed seasons of political literacy, the irony of our fall down the stairs of progress is enough reason to lose a sleep.

If there is one state in Nigeria still in search of leadership in this democratic space, it’s evidently Niger state. This is one big-for-nothing landmass whose fortune has been upside down since 1999. Niger state is indebted to military regimes; the soldiers deserved monuments in theirhonour. The soldiers have left behind legacies that call to question performances of their successors in plainclothes. I grew up in a Minna of well-paved roads with flowered central reservations, and functional streetlights, and flowing pipe-borne water and economic boom and regular environmental sanitations – thanks to the soldiers. So it’s funny to find us celebrating what had existed in the state twenty years ago, it’s indeed funny that we celebrate governments that could not only roof the castle built by the soldiers, but cluelessly destroyed the efforts of the past leaders brick by brick, shame by shame!

Niger state entered into this democracy with an unpopular candidate known then simply as A. A.Kure, a supposedly perceptive engineer whose eventual cluelessness was misguided by a pseudo-fundamentalist followership of Islam that the Muslim governors of northern Nigeria of his days put up to suppress the masses. In Minna, the effect still lingers. The “attempted” adoption ofshariah, without an alternative for countering the economic and security consequences, weakens the bond of our interfaith harmony and, in the tension, some businesses, especially those that comprised merchandising “forbidden things”, folded up.  As a Muslim myself, I ought to have been happy that my faith was being properly revived. Only that the hypocrisies were obvious; first, a government that called itself an enforcer of Allah’s wills, and even destroyed our fish-shaped sculptural masterpiece in the city’s terminus on grounds that such arts depict paganism,recorded cases of corruptions and poor performance that the successive administration is perhaps yet to match. The Muslim governors of northern Nigeria who served in the first term of this democracy are responsible for this re-launch of religious extremism in the north. Their ridiculous impositions of Islamic laws which they too didn’t obey – yes, hellfire awaits whoever misappropriates public funds – were psychological solidarities with the extremists among us, extremists who could not show us their madness because the soldiers were around to make aMaitatsine out of them . The intelligence quota of those leaders surprised me, but then every dangerous person would hang his brain for any illogical policy to cheat, and be rich!

Today, as always, my sympathy is with the people of Niger state, who are now customers of frauds, who have been tricked to see the elite as the only choice for this brand of expensive politics in our state. I’m sympathetic because two years to another governorship election, there is no actual progressive mind in the race; and this evil called zoning is about to impose another disaster on us. Politics in Niger state is, more than versions found elsewhere, too elitist; it’s levered by zonal Cabal whose interest is merely to restore their ethnic or family heritage. My encounter with a certain contender who sought my service is heartbreaking. He has no vision for the state; he just wants to be there because “the pressure from my people is becoming unbearable!” – that is his vision for us, a condescension to rule. And, sadly, I can’t work for a man who has no genuine mission in politics. The few progressive elements in Niger state are being stopped on the “crimes” of their religion or ethnicity. It’s either a candidate is Christian or he is anything other than Nupe, Gbagyi or Hausa. I must make a case that, away from politics, religion is hardly an issue among the minority groups of the so-called Middle Belt where siblings follow different faiths without love lost in the family. The Nupe, who are largely Muslims,elected their Christian brother Professor Jerry Gana as legislator and the old Nigerlites elected a man who was not Nupe, Gbagyi or Hausa, Dr. Musa Inuwa, as governor, years before these agenda-driven religious fanatics, ethnic bigots and regional ambassadors repainted our fading disharmonies. Those were the years that Nigerians rejected the Muslim-Christian ticket of BashirTofa and Sylvester Ugoh and elected the Muslim-Muslim ticket of Moshood Abiola andBabagana Kingibe. Those were the years, those were the good years destroyed by an individual’s misapplication of logic!

What does this tell us? The modern Niger state, like Nigeria itself, has politically devolved, and in its new form, characterised by zonal, religious and ethnic advocacies, there is no more chance of electing a popular candidate. I bet that if Christianity’s Jerry Gana and Kambari’s Musa Inuwawere to join the same race today, they’ll be shocked by the sentiments against them. Just asAbiola-Babagana ticket would be roundly rejected if such is to happen in this democracy. May God save from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

Blueprint Newspapers (07/06/2015)

@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)