Najeem Salaam: Who is standing against Nigeria’s oppressors?

I am bothered just as you are about the state of our nation. Fuel scarcity has shut down our nation, threatened freedom of movement, and the crisis of forex has taken away our purchasing power, while the conflict of perception between the rich and the poor appears wider.

Obviously, any creative writer would be tempted to adopt China Achebe’s popular cliche~ that, “falcon can no longer hear falconer, things fall apart, because the centre cannot hold”

However, must we just look at the issues at hand from surface and pass the judgment on the drivers of our nation’s economy? Is it necessary to trace our steps via historiography with a view to knowing where we got it wrong as a nation?

Do we really need magic that will resolve our concerns overnight or must we endure the pain of the new order? Shall we proceed with the old order of ad hoc processes in fixing things, or we begin to fix enduring institutions? These are the questions men of power must share with us as a people.

In my days at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, as an undergraduate of Political Science, I was made to borrow courses from other disciplines. I was wondering then why the management elected to trouble us with “distractions” instead of allowing us to face and battle our departmental task alone, but the import of that management style later dawned on me that it was designed to have a well rounded complete person after school.

One department that offers me some courses of interest is Philosophy department, where I have faint idea about the thinking process in the state of affairs, the conflict of opinions and varieties of fallacies. Why my discipline as empirical science describes and prescribes how our society could be organized and governed, philosophy offers theories for the configuration of the superstructure of each society. So, do not be surprised if I delve into some theories to justify the present state of nation as I intend to do in this piece.

Different opinions about issues have unveiled five categories of the people in the system: 1. Oppressors, 11. Oppressed, 111. Ignoramuses, iv. Floaters, v. Religionists. How do I reach the categorization? I must confess that it was not obtained from any theory, but through my deductions of the people who are ventilating their views on one thing or the other.

As touching the oppressor, I mean Nigeria as a country was pulled down from a promising status by very few individuals who had placed their personal interest above national interest. These were the individuals who benefitted from the system on qualitative education, healthcare of best quality, organized society and organized institutions, but when it got to their turn to give back to the society, they demolished the ladders they used and reduced the system to nothing.

In that class, the military leaders who strayed into politics got a seat, because their incursion into politics brought new breed of greedy politicians who were once described as “militicians” whose stock in trade was stealing spree. Yes, we all read about Tafawa Balewa, the first Nigerian Prime Minister and how he lived ascetic life; we learnt about how Chief Obafemi Awolowo built the Western region and made it envy of the West, and the struggle of others for a better nation.

I am made to understand that the zeal of those people who labored for our independence from the imperialist rule was what defined our thinking then. Our fathers were paying taxes, companies were responsible, institutions were not corrupt, people were not greedy, the elite loved their countries and the poor were busy in the farm, providing subsistence and commercial produce; people were secured and cultures were thriving.

But, the military, whose intervention was premised on correcting the then entrenched corruption ended up institutionalizing corruption.
It is a pity that those who put Nigeria in this sorry state are the ones who expunged history as a subject from our schools’ curriculum so that their horrible acts would not be documented for the future, but because we have always been having complacent oppressed class, nothing much is heard of that.

So, let it be known that the same people who misgoverned the country are still holding the economic rein long after they had cleverly stepped aside from power, because to them, economic power is stronger than political power, and here we are today.

For those who are following South African history, the majority black chased the minority white who ruled with iron hand out of power, but today, the vast economic rein of the South Africa is still with the white. This allegory of apartheid speaks to the fact that the class of oppressors know how to calibrate the nation if they elect to, just the way we are experiencing it in Nigeria. So, our people should be cautious about literature they read, and which side of the media they pay attention to, because the class of oppressors is elitist, and they control our superstructure which shape our thinking, our perception and belief system.

Having lamented the horrified act of oppressors, I think we should examine what happen to the oppressed. Right from the creationist account, the nations of the world irrespective of culture or tradition, have been segmented into the class of haves and haves-not. So, the have-not have always been regarded as the oppressed class, a situation that made African leaders of the past laid emphasis on humanism and socialism as the political tradition of Africa.

Though, only Zambia under Kenneth Kaunda declared humanism as political direction in the 60s, the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Sekuo Tuore, Obafemi Awolowo, Julius Nyerere, Nnamdi Azikwe and others canvassed socialism of African value, and the reason for their collective demand was to mobilize an active masses, but what do we have today?

I recalled that in my early days as a child, my foster mother who happens to be my aunt would ring it to my hearing on daily basis that, I should trust my hands only, which connotes hardwork, and that I need not to hero-worship anyone if my hands chose not to deceive me. In fact, as a boy from a humble background, I was made to hate stealing like hell fire, because according to her: “eni ba jale lo ba omo je” meaning he who steals contaminates his human person.

I know for a fact then that people with questionable characters were not celebrated even if they had all the riches, but today, we have assimilated a new culture of celebrating thieves, robbers, oppressors and looters. It begins with election-no one wants to vote for a poor but principled politician, except the rich recommended by the lead oppressor in our area. So, the last time I checked, no politician was made to enter into covenant of good governance at all levels; what we want is quick cash. In that wise oppressors are socially constructed by the oppressed, which makes the two to tango.

Where were the masses of Awolowo that were using their hard earned money to finance his party? Where were the ‘talakawas’ of Aminu Kano who wanted a poor but principled man to govern them? Where were the indomitable Nigerians who chased the military away from power? Could they be found today hailing politicians with criminal charges at various courts?

Could be found today supporting a political office holder with false asset declaration? Could be found today giving a certified looter of public resources chieftaincy titles? Could they be found today watching looters of our collective patrimony storming our courts with hundreds of lawyers with silky wigs? The answers to these questions would definitely provoke our thoughts on the raging issues in the state of nation.

However, among the oppressed class, the ignoramuses are worse, because they are willing tools in the hands of those who manipulated their miserable lives. I read the story of Adegoke Adelabu, the maverick politician of Ibadan. He was so popularly among his people and loved by them, because he was so witty and gifted with oratorical power.

It was learnt that while he reigned as a Federal Commissioner, equivalent of Minister now in the first Republic, he was asked by the opposition to account for how he procured a mercurial car said to be above his means, and instead of responding with fact, he reportedly took the car to Dugbe market in Ibadan, and asked his supporters to enter and feel the comfort, because according to the report, the money used to buy the car was theirs.

There and then, the drummers and supporters who were poor and victims of the system burst into lyrics:

“ma kowo wa na
ma kowo wa na,
igunnu loni tapa
tapa loni igunnu,
ma kowo wa na”

It translates, spend our money as you like, the igunnu masquerade belongs to Tapa tribe, and Tapa belongs to Igunnu masquerade.

So, what we are witnessing today in the political arena does not start today, but for us to find a new lead, we have to start a new thinking, and I suggest we begin with the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, because we have a President who is not ready to release our collective resources to the privileged few perceived to be oppressors.

Of course, things are difficult at the moment, times are hard, cost of living is higher now and we are enduring skyrocketing inflation in our economy. Workers are struggling, artisans are gasping for breathe, the unemployed are suffocating, marketers are lamenting, our nation is on the precipice, but all great nations had passed through this road when great leaders emerged.

I plead for more patience and understanding, but obviously the class of ignoramuses who think with their mouth would never hearken, because they feel more comfortable with adhoc arrangement of the past; they would rather go back to Egypt instead of crossing the red sea.

The class of floaters are interesting. They belong to the oppressed class, but have no opinions, they are contended listening to anything, but I do not blame a person being controlled by his stomach, just that the level of reasoning would not go beyond eikasia stage described by Plato, an ancient Greek Philosopher as dream state, where a man would not be able to differentiate between shadow and reality.

The reality of today is that this country had been badly raped and plundered by the greedy leaders who were once flaunting private jets as achievement, but the floaters among us are listening more to the narrative of “rule of law” which seeks bail for billionaire looters, but long jail term for petty thieves.

As for me, I want to see a more proactive bar and bench, not judiciary that defer to the rich, only to use its sword against the poor. And if President Buhari is making looters answerable for the past misdeeds, then I do not get a better narratives from the looters and their friendly media. Oh, we are the Justice Abiodun Kessingtons? Where are the Akinola Agudas, Kayode Eshos, Nikki Tobis?

The fifth one is the Religionists. I deliberately chose the name, so that we would not misconstrue the men of faith or typical religious faithful for religionists. Men of faith believe in God and the day mankind would stand before Him to account for what we do on earth. They live ascetic life, where luxury and waste are abhorred; they canvass for humanity for the sake of after life; they take us through metaphysical journey, but religionists are pretenders. They only took to religion, because they were stranded and stucked.

The religionists found partnership in the class of oppressors, they preach what they want to hear for them and justify the illicit acquisition of wealth of their paymasters. Unfortunately, the drunken sailors we had as leaders in the past succeeded in elevating the opportunist religionists to level of state actors, and that seals the fate of the poor masses in the hands of their oppressors. Where are the Bolanle Gbonigis? Where are the Imam Yayi Akoredes of Akure?

The long and short of my story is that we have to put up a new thinking as a nation, so that the masses can be active in the scheme of things, while the country under the leadership of President Buhari is undergoing a painful repair. Remember, it takes two to tango.


Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Najeem Salaam is the Speaker of the Osun state House of Assembly, Osogbo.

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