Simon Kolawole: Achebe and the future of Nigeria

Actually, I used to expect so much from our leaders. But I have grown frustrated. After closely observing Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan in the last 13 years, I have come to the painful conclusion that we have a long way to go.

I’m very sorry to disappoint you – this is not the article you wanted to read. You thought I wanted to participate in the street fight over Professor Chinua Achebe’s latest book, There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra. Not yet. In the light of another successful election in Ondo State last week, my interest in Achebe’s book today is his take on what I call “the Future of Nigeria” – the political process of building a strong and virile nation. The book is 95% about the past. I am interested in the past, sure, but the future excites me more. One of the most agonising realities of life is that we cannot change yesterday. The good news is that we can shape tomorrow. I propose that our generation should now concentrate efforts on how our children can live in a better, greater country, in spite of our past failings and frailties.

Writing under the subtitle, “State Resuscitation and Recovery”, Achebe suggests that “the Nigerian solution” will come in stages. “First we have to nurture and strengthen our democratic institutions – and strive for the freest and fairest elections possible. That will place the true candidates of the people in office,” he writes. This process, he proffers, can lead to a thriving free press and strong justice system, with checks and balances and corruption-curbing laws naturally finding a footing.  He adds: “A new patriotic consciousness has to be developed… based on an awareness of the responsibility of leaders to the led… and disseminated by civil society, schools and intellectuals. It is from this kind of environment that a leader, humbled by the trust placed upon him by the people, will emerge, willing to use the power given to him for the good of the people.”

Like Achebe, I somewhat believe a “gradualist approach” is what will transform Nigeria. Change will come in stages and phases. We are not going to wake up one day and discover that all our problems have disappeared. Elections will not become 100% free and fair in an instant. Corruption will not cease overnight. Infrastructure will not germinate within the twinkle of an eye. The important thing is for us to be making steady progress on critical areas. Everything will come together one day – hopefully, in my lifetime. Actually, I used to expect so much from our leaders. But I have grown frustrated. After closely observing Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan in the last 13 years, I have come to the painful conclusion that we have a long way to go. If we have 100 problems, these men have only been able to address 10 – or even less!

Changing Nigeria is a “hard road to travel and a rough, rough way to go”, as Jimmy Cliff sang. But we can start from somewhere. We need the fundamentals of credible elections and the rule of law, as Achebe suggests. In 2007, when the Supreme Court ruled that Peter Obi’s tenure as governor of Anambra State had not expired, Yar’Adua immediately asked that he be re-instated. I wrote an article to commend him for standing by the rule of law. A furious reader attacked me. “How can you be commending Yar’Adua for doing what he should do ordinarily?” he asked. Initially, I felt stupid. Then I remembered Obasanjo’s shenanigans in Oyo, Anambra and Ekiti States where court judgments were flagrantly disobeyed. Under Obasanjo, even Supreme Court judgments were subjected to the Attorney-General’s concurrence. The AG was the de facto Supreme Court!
Since Yar’Adua chose the honourable path, why should we not commend him in a country where we helplessly watched as Obasanjo affronted the rule of law for fun? Without a doubt, I also believe Jonathan’s best performance so far is the conduct of credible elections in several states. Last week’s poll in Ondo was yet another testimony to this. That the incumbent, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, of the Labour Party, won with a reasonable margin also attests to the credibility of the process. Meanwhile, my theory that the opposition parties are their own enemies was also proved in the poll. Mimiko scored 260,199 out of 594,244 votes. Olusola Oke (PDP) had 155,961 while Rotimi Akeredolu (ACN) polled 143,512. Look at those figures again: if the opposition had worked together, they would have unseated Mimiko!

Remarkably, Jonathan has seen his party lose governorship elections in Edo and Anambra without making any attempt to twist things. Last year, we saw the PDP lose Ogun, Oyo, Imo, Zamfara, and Nasarawa. We are nonetheless tempted not to consider this a positive development because we easily forget the way Obasanjo “captured” five South-west states in controversial circumstances in the 2003 polls, in addition to blatant manipulations in Imo, Anambra and many Northern states. Obasanjo largely got away with the electoral brigandage, further damaging the democratisation project. Only the courts saved the day in some of the cases.
I’m not unmindful of the complaints of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) on the 2011 presidential election. They alleged large-scale rigging. My own reason for CPC’s failure is, however, slightly different. I believe the inability of the opposition parties to work together ultimately undid Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential bid. If the CPC and ACN had worked together, they would have given Jonathan the toughest battle in our electoral history. On the 2011 polls, Achebe comments: “The last general election in Nigeria was not perfect, but overall it was an improvement over past travesties that were passed off as elections in Nigeria. Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Attahiru Muhammadu Jega, and his team should be allowed to build upon the gains of that exercise for the good of the nation.”

If Jonathan leaves the legacy of credible elections behind, that would be a great foundation for the political future of Nigeria. We can do nothing about the past, but we can still shape tomorrow.


And Four Other Things…

Who Shot the Sheriff?
Former Borno Governor Ali Modu Sheriff has often been fingered as the brain behind Boko Haram, and he has always denied. He has now come out smoking, claiming Senator Ahmed Khalifa Zanna and the Borno PDP are the brains behind the sect. A Boko Haram commander was reportedly arrested at Zanna’s house last week. With Senator Aliyu Ndume (Borno PDP) also on trial, I think we are getting to understand the Borno angle of the insurgency better now. But is it the same Boko Haram that is killing people in Kano, Kaduna, Abuja (UN House and THISDAY), Plateau and Niger? I don’t think so.

The Okada Ban
Nigerians are very enterprising. Over the years, with the failure of government to create employment opportunities, Nigerians created jobs for themselves. Nollywood, “pure water” and commercial bikes (Okada) employ millions today. Lagos State government’s decision to clamp down on Okada, based on safety concerns, is generating some heat. People die in plane crashes and road accidents and we have not banned flying and driving yet. Nevertheless, I think something has been lost in translation. Lagos did NOT ban Okada; it only restricted them to certain routes. That is fair enough, I think.

The Death Penalty
The death warrants recently signed by Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State have come under heavy criticism from Amnesty International. The two men were condemned for murder. While Oshiomhole pardoned other condemned men, he gave the go-ahead for the execution of the two men “for security reasons” based on a request from the prison authorities. I know most Western countries have abolished the death penalty. But those who oppose the penalty in Nigeria should fight for it to be removed from our statutes. Case-by-case advocacy will not solve any problem.

Ram Haram
Last Monday, I asked my driver if he had bought his Sallah ram. He said no. Ram is more expensive this year, he informed me. “An average ram is N50,000, depending on the size,” he explained. “Why is this so?” I asked. I knew the reason, but I pretended. He replied: “The sellers are blaming Boko Haram activities for the sharp rise in prices.” I had been explaining to him for a while that the whole of Nigeria, not just the North, would suffer the consequences of the Boko Haram insurgency. He eventually got a ram for N40,000 on Wednesday. You could feel the smile on his face. Anyway, Barka da Sallah to all my Muslim friends!



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

Comments (5)

  1. How come people write or talk about change in Nigeria without mention of direction?


  2. Ha…the people who will not learn from the past are bound to make the same mistakes. FELA is dead, but all the things he sang about in the past are still happening today…

  3. I really pity OBJ in this country. He's been so maligned. I know his weaknesses; and forgive him outright because his good are so fundamental to the development of a nation under the prevailing circumstances.

    Does writer know that OBJ is the main reason why we can be sure we have a democracy now no matter how flawed? Do you know they tried to kill him "by accident" at Ojo barracks?

    Do you know that democracy in and of itself is not intrinsically better than autocratic rule when you talk of development of a nation, and that the problem with Nigeria has always been the people exercising the autocratic rule? Most of the democracies you know were dictatorships for much of their history.

    Nigerians are just interested in bread and butter and if the dictator can guarantee them that, as it was in the '70s and '80s they'll be happy. It is because of declining standard of living that ordinary people became interested in democracy and they always stress "democracy dividends" aka material things.

    Most analysts see things in too simplistic terms. Maybe they had simple lives; but I didn't and hence I can see complexities.


  4. How are we so sure we won't be going to another war in this country,people garthering information and most of which are very very annoying,remember what happened in Libya and Egypt didn't just happened suddenly but gradually,one day when people think they are being pushed to the wall then it will start without control.I pray and hope our leader won't want that to happen

  5. Someone is at last taking a look at this book and talking at the future. So much of the street fight as you said have been about the past with no one talking about moving forward. I also agree with you that the transformation of our country will come in stages, I just think that the educational sector (formal and informal) should be way ahead of electoral sector in this regard. After all, if we lack an understanding of the devils (not persons) of our society, how can we begin to deal with them?

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