Mass amnesia—collective forgetting—is an ally of
anybody, or group, whose agendum is to violate the
public interest. I suspect that Nigerian leaders—or,
at any rate, those who wreck Nigeria while posing as
leaders—encourage docility, passivity and
forgetfulness on the part of the citizens. If
Nigerians discover the secret to keeping a
comprehensive ledger of official misdeeds, then the
days of many of their so-called leaders would be
Sadly, memorylessness remains a bane. It does profound
harm to the citizenry, but is deeply prized by
Nigeria’s band of false messiahs, snatchers of dreams
and stealers of hope who are versed in the hollow
rhetoric of “moving the nation forward.” Since their
main job is to fatten themselves at the expense of the
rest of us, these villains go out of their way to keep
the rest of us in a state of blindness.
Blindness—an apt figurative description for a state
bereft of memory—gives public officials the license to
act with impunity. At the end of his quietly powerful
novel, A Man of the People, Chinua Achebe offers us a
moving metaphor of the kind of monstrosity borne of an
atmosphere of moral complacency. Achebe writes about
“a regime in which you saw a fellow cursed in the
morning for stealing a blind man’s stick and later in
the evening saw him again mounting the altar of the
new shrine in the presence of all the people to
whisper into the ear of the chief celebrant…”
Achebe’s thief—despised one moment and the next moment
seen treading the sacred ground to commune with the
priest—can thrive only by securing communal
indifference or nonchalance. In like manner, Nigeria’s
agbada-sporting knaves who fleece the commonwealth
prize memorylessness. Day and night, as they plot, and
act, to siphon the nation’s resources into private
pockets, these men and women seek to deflect our
attention. They succeed only when the rest of us
That’s why it behooves enlightened citizens to keep
themselves informed, to retain a healthy skeptical
stance in relation to officialdom’s narcotizing
nostrums, and to ensure that the mechanism of social
remembrance is in a permanent state of activation.
In the spirit of keeping memory alive and vital, an
antidote to the spew of falsehoods supported by
official imprimatur, one has decided to exhume a few
recent issues and controversies—lest we forget.
Lest we forget, the Olusegun Obasanjo regime
“revealed” to the world in April that security
operatives had apprehended a truck loaded with
explosives. The truck’s immediate mission, the
government alleged, was to bring down the offices of
the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Nigerians were even shown pictures of a handcuffed
man, the alleged suicide bomber who drove the
bomb-laden truck. Government spokesmen spoke volubly
about those behind this Iraq-style terror plot aimed
at thwarting INEC’s conduct of the elections. The
unnamed sponsors, we learned, were desperate
politicians who’d divined their poor electoral
Government officials gloated. Their frustration of the
horrific plot, they said, testified to the
preparedness of the nation’s law enforcement apparatus
to deal with mischief-makers. Sunday Ehindero, then
Inspector-General of Police, weighed in. He promised
to prosecute the plot’s faceless masterminds. Were the
story true, it would have represented a dark and
disturbing new chapter in Nigeria’s experience.
Some Nigerians—perhaps many—fell for the poppycock. A
credulous friend called me, his voice quaking with awe
and dread. “Okey,” he said, “Nigeria is finished o.
We’re now getting suicide bombers too.” He was
scandalized when I told him I didn’t believe a lick of
it. “Do you think the government—any government—would
make up a story like this?” His innocence was
touching. “Governments regularly make up this kind of
story,” I retorted.
Three months later, there is nothing but conspicuous
silence about this suicide bomber jiggery pokery. For
all his huffing, Ehindero made an ignoble exit from
his perch at police headquarters without muttering
another word on the issue. Ehindero’s successor, Mike
Okiro, has (wisely) being mum on the matter. Not even
Obasanjo, author of the do-or-die strategy that must
have spawned the “terror attack” script, or any of his
battery of apologists, has shown any inclination to
revisit the drama.
But if those who manufactured this elaborate hoax have
opted to abandon it, Nigerians cannot afford to
forget. It was calculated to scare the hell out of
Nigerians, and to portray the country to foreigners as
a terrain in which the bloody modus operandi of the
suicide bomber was going to come into play. Show me
who came up with this stunt and I will show you the
most unpatriotic Nigerian alive.
Lest we forget, Obasanjo—in the dying days of his
misrule—used the occasion of his last media chat to
make a sensational claim. He told the nation that the
police had discovered the identity of the man who
ordered the assassination of former Attorney General
Bola Ige. According to Obasanjo, the culprit was a
drug baron. Many found the timing of this presidential
revelation suspect. Funsho Adegbola, Bola Ige’s oldest
daughter, rose to a quick dismissal of this bit of
presidential fiction. Mrs. Adegbola said—in language
whose highly revealing import was not lost on
Nigerians—that the new fangled speculation meant that
the ghost of her late father haunted Obasanjo.
At first, Ehindero seemed incapable of mustering the
gumption to legitimize the president’s weird theory.
He spoke to reporters in an accent that suggested that
he was demurring. But a malleable man with no spine
soon falls for any bait. “Properly briefed,” Ehindero
came out the next day to parrot the president’s line
along with a pledge to parade the drug baron in
question. But the farcical drama of exposure, poorly
rehearsed, collapsed at Ehindero’s hands. The alleged
mastermind openly scoffed at Ehindero’s puppet show,
complete with a masked witness. Seized by
uncontrollable guffaws, the alleged sponsors of the
assassins told a discombobulated Ehindero: “This is
like going to a theatre.” He might have added,
“Puerile theatre.” To his credit, Okiro has kept his
distance from the Obasanjo-Ehindero script. Nigerians
must demand: If the former president’s fantasy about
Ige’s killer is going nowhere, then who, really,
killed the former attorney general?
Lest we forget, armed thugs swept through Anambra in
November of 2004 and, in burning every major public
facility, left us a frightening portrait of man-made
disaster. The arsonists swarmed the state in a convoy
of numerous trucks and they operated for three days.
Contrary to what might be expected of hoodlums engaged
in the most reckless of crimes, these ones wore no
masks. They were without a tinge of fear.
Understandably, for the state police command was
apparently under strict orders not to hinder the
arsonists in any fashion—but, in fact, to facilitate
their dastardly work. The police did an impeccable job
of it, hailing the slash and burning horde from the
sidelines—all of this captured on television.
So outrageous was the wholesale assault, and so open
the complicity of the police, that Audu Ogbe, then
chairman of the ruling party, was compelled to scold
Obasanjo in a public letter. In a hectoring response,
Obasanjo claimed that the police had arrested some of
the arsonists, and would soon bring them to justice.
Three years later, if anybody has been charged to
court on account of that affront then it is a secret
known only to Obasanjo. But Nigerians must ask: Who
paid those thugs to burn and destroy public property?
Who instructed the police to give the relay of
arsonists unhindered roaming rights?
There are many more events that we must continually
seek to bear in mind—lest we forget. There is the
genocide of Zaki Biam and Odi. The lending of the
police to political great grand godfather Lamidi
Adedibu in his drive to sack Rasheed Ladoja from the
governor’s office in Ibadan. There is the smuggling
out of $170,000 on a presidential jet bound for New
York City. There is the scandal involving Chioma
Anasoh, a woman linked to former Aviation Minister
Femi Fani Kayode. On June 27, she was caught on her
way to London—allegedly with more than a couple
hundred thousand dollars she had failed to declare.
There is the scandal of Obasanjo’s presidential
library and the billions of naira funneled into it by
businessmen and governors alike.
Those who reap from such violations of our patrimony
would want us to forget, for that’s how they win. We,
whose aspirations and dreams they abort, must insist
on remembering—and on seeking restitution. That is the
recipe for salvaging our collective promise.