In the aftermath of the heavily-rigged process that led to the election of Goodluck Jonathan last weekend, two groups actors in the Nigerian drama have been doing everything other than keep their eyes on the ball of reality: how to rescue something, anything at all from four more years of the nightmare that is the PDP.
One set comprises a mix of Buhari and Ribadu supporters and a considerable fragment of the progressive community who, like Ambassador John Campbell, understand that the electoral process was ambushed at the collation centres where the rigging took place, beyond the vigilance of voters, domestic, and international observers at the polling units. For this group, the past week has been a season of frustration, angst, and lamentation for Sodom – apologies to Tera Kota.
The other group is a more complex mix. First is the national archetype that I see in my mom, who threw all of her seventy-three years into canvassing and footsoldiering for the democratic process in our own little corner of Nigeria and assures me now on the phone, barely able to restrain her pro-Jonathan excitement, that “this presidential election was just like June 12: free, fair, and orderly.” I love listening to my mom on the phone these days as I quietly study the dexterity with which she alternates diametrically opposed sentences in very rapid succession, evidence of her continued sojourn in the dilemma-world of those who operated a subconscious scission between Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP in the presidential election. As one of those pensioners whose sociology I engaged in my lecture, “Baba E Wi Hun Hun”, my mom hates the PDP with extraordinary passion. But that hatred leaves sufficient room for her to love Goodluck Jonathan with extraordinary passion.
Once she zooms in on Jonathan, the PDP recedes magically into immediate oblivion. Hence, our typical conversation nowadays has my mom giving me something like this: “hmm, awon PDP olori buruku wonyi! It is only God that has given us this Jonathan. Wo aduru iya to je wa l’owo awon PDP yen! God will guide and protect Jonathan for us.” And the succession of mutually-exclusive sentences continue, my mom completely oblivious of the contradiction. One sentence in Yagba or Yoruba, the next sentence in English; one epe (curse) for the PDP in sentence A, one prayer for Jonathan in sentence B; one shior for the PDP in sentence C, an invocation to the hosts of heaven to guide and protect Jonathan in sentence D, all in one rapid breath. My mom’s post-election sentence structure would be Disneyland for Farooq Kperogi.
When I eventually get to put in a word, I try to restore Goodluck Jonathan to his insalubrious and irredeemably corrupt and visionless PDP habitat for my mom but I ain’t lucky yet. She doesn’t hear the PDP part of my protestation. My mom sees Jonathan. Just Jonathan. Not PDP. If only that were possible! I am not worried about my mom though. These days, I worry a great deal about what lies ahead for the huge fragment of Nigeria’s impala generation – I define them as thirty-five years and below in my last lecture – who, like my mom and the Jonathanics in her own generation, are now caught up in the ‘one shior one prayer’ dilemma. Since the election, thousands of youths have spent long hours in Cyberia trying to sell this curious scission: I voted Jonathan, not PDP. They don’t like the PDP. Of course not! Hence, in their Facebook status updates, in their tweets, my mom’s formula is scrupulously respected: one shior for the PDP, one prayer for Jonathan. This is often followed by evidence of a nascent short fuse for those of us who remain amused and unpersuaded: we are abused as naysayers and given the instant-mix blackmailing tag – haters of Jonathan.
Borrowing from 9ice, I described this generation as “Da Most Incredible out of Naija” in my Edmonton lecture. I believe that I was accurate in my description. It’s an energetic generation that continues to deliver on the promise and possibility that is Nigeria even with very little resources. Whether they voted Jonathan and are now shior-ing the PDP in one sentence and praying for Goodluck in the next sentence, or they rode in Kayode Ogundamisi’s hold your change o Buhari Express during the election, or they fanned across Nigeria in Team Ribadu units, their footsoldiering, social media activism, and expansive networking are all pointers to the rise of a third force in Nigeria’s chequered struggle for the entrenchment of democracy and for a radical change of course.
But this is precisely the point at which dangers emerge: the danger of chest-beating complacency on the one hand and the danger of embezzlement of initiative by opportunistic hirelings of the Nigerian status quo on the other hand. I have spent considerable time since the election quietly following a swathe of the pro-Jonathan youth online. The fumes of victory are yet to clear up and give way to a considered assessment of present realities and the tasks ahead. Online, it is still morning yet in planet euphoria: ‘we made it!’, ‘we have overcome!’, ‘we have prevailed’; and the canticles of triumphalist jubilation go on and on. Lost in the mist of all the jubilation is the fact that the agendas of the emergent youth movement were bigger than any individual. From Enough is Enough to the hundreds of take-Nigeria-back or transform-Nigeria youth groups that emerged in Cyberia as a fallout of the electoral rape of 2007, the voices of Nigerian youth that we heard served notice of the emergence of a social movement that was going to reject the old order and begin the process of charting a new course for the nation. Irrespective of who won or rigged the election, the big issues, the big agendas, were going to remain transcendental and immanent.
For me, the greatest rigging that is going on before our eyes is how the putative gains and the enormous potential of this youth movement to become the bedrock of enduring social change is quietly being whittled down into a personality cult of Goodluck Jonathan. And those lost in the pro-Jonathan Facebook and twitter bacchanals appear not to be conscious of the help they are receiving from President Jonathan’s hirelings. President Jonathan is surrounded by some dangerously brilliant individuals who understand the enormous power of narratives. Nothing is scarier than minds trained in the best tradition of the humanities when such minds become intellectual mercenaries in the hands of power and the establishment. Enter Oronto Douglas. Enter Reno Omokri. The latter is even more dangerous because of where he is located and the audience listening to his embezzled narratives.
These two are dangerous because their minds have been humanized by the humanities. There is no cerebral force that a Moses Ochonu or a Farooq Kperogi can deploy that they cannot deploy. They have read the books that we have read. Imagine such cerebral capital in the hands of power – power that is determined to embezzle a particular narrative and throw it into the cauldron of official myth making.
The mission of these two gentlemen – and many more like them in President Jonathan’s camp – has been to carefully orchestrate a renarrativization of the emergent Nigerian online youth movement not as the greatest post-Independent force for transcendental social change but as posterity’s gift to Goodluck Jonathan. Hence, when the wily Reno Omokri addresses the Atlantic Council and entitles his paper, “How Social Media and the Youth helped achieve Credible Elections in Nigeria”, only the unwary would fail to detect his casuistry. Mr. Omokri’s effort is all about corralling the grand narrative of youth effort into a legitimation of official mythology.
Mr. Omokri also presides over a vast opium of the youth empire on Facebook on behalf of President Jonathan.
Mr. Omokri produces the sort of opium that could sedate and divert our youth’s attention from the prevailing tasks that must be done. Those still doing ‘one shior one prayer’ on Facebook need to snap out of celebration mode and face the fact that they have imposed the PDP on the rest of us for four – and possibly eight – more years. They have spoken and we respect their choice – even if we profoundly disagree with the manner and circumstances of Mr Jonathan’s victory. While we can no longer do anything about the choice of a President for the next four years, we can and must prevent the Reno Omokris of this world from twisting the narrative of the youth movement into an unrecognizable mythology rooted in a subterranean cult of President Jonathan.
If the youth movement snaps out of celebration mode in Cyberia, shuns the opium of presidential spinmeisters, and regains traction, an immediate task would be for it to become a monumental pressure group cum watchdog that would perpetually keep President Jonathan’s feet to the fire. These social media activist groups are myriad and inchoate but it is not impossible for them to agree on the need to put the President’s feet to the fire and work for it. Mr. Jonathan has been a wholesale disappointment in the areas of cabinet composition, work rate, and his perception of the critical segments of our population that he needs to engage as the real stakeholders in national development. I don’t know who rubs off on the other – Mr Jonathan or his cabinet. The President’s boring and uninspiring demeanour appears to infect his cabinet. From the somnambulistic Odein Ajumogobia to the dour Olusegun Aganga, Mr. Jonathan appears to be particularly gifted in the composition of forgettable and pity-inspiring cabinets doing zero work for the Nigerian people. I didn’t know that anybody could make me look back on President Yar’Adua’s inspirational cabinet! The only two visible members of President Jonathan’s cabinet, Mohammed Adoke and Diezani Allison-Madueke, are in public consciousness because they are corrupt. Adoke is even worse than Aondoakaa.
Young people who voted massively for him and who are the real owners of his mandate as far as I am concerned will now have to make it clear to the President that they are tired of an Executive Council of the Federation that meets once a week only to approve inflated contracts. Sonala Olumhense calls our laughable EXCOF a “contract bazaar”. Such is their indolence that when they are not approving contracts, they gather to approve new Nigerian citizenships recommended by the Nigerian Immigration Service! I almost shed tears the day I read a report in the newspapers that the EXCOF had approved newly naturalized citizens! What next? Our President and his ministers will assemble to approve newly elected state chairmen of NURTW?
The youth movement should also be extremely vigilant and pay attention to how the President defines “stakeholders” going forward. There is a very real danger that President Jonathan will never rise above the primitive, rent-collecting interests of the retrogressive and expired forces in his party that we need to put out of the picture for Nigeria to make any headway. My assessment of things is that we will likely have a Presidency that continues to recognize and engage the likes of Olusegun Obasanjo, Olushola Saraki, Bukola Saraki, Iyabo Obasanjo, Dimeji Bankole, Bode George, Tony Anenih, Andy Uba, Chris Uba, Gbenga Daniel, Ahmadu Ali, Ibrahim Babangida, Atiku Abubakar, Adamu Ciroma, Orji Uzor Kalu, and so many others in that nefarious ilk as “stakeholders” to be recycled into one form of relevance and patronage or the other. I told a dear friend privately on Facebook that as a respected chieftain of the PDP, James Ibori may even get to nominate ministers into President Jonathan’s new cabinet from his prison cell in Britain.
Left to his own devices, President Jonathan will certainly dump the youth – Reno Omokri can always take care of them via honey-coated Facebook status updates until they are needed again in 2015 – and pitch his tent with the PDP’s traditional “stakeholders”, “chieftains”, and “elder statesmen”. His party has no vision, no philosophy, and no actionable programmes that could reward the citizenship of our vibrant youth anyway. And he has always behaved like someone who believes that he needs or owes the expired chieftains in his party. Only the sustenance of the energy and voices of our youth could provide enough countervailing force to keep him on track.
And these expired chieftains should respect themselves going forward and keep to their country homes. E don do. Chief Anenih has been useful lately.
He now uses his bullet-proof jeep to save lives in Uromi. If he continues to provide that vital security service to ordinary people in Uromi rather than chieftaining, misterfixing, and godfathering our lives into more PDP misery in Abuja, we shall pretend to temporarily forget to ask Mrs. Farida Waziri to look into how he was able to afford a bullet-proof jeep in the first place. We shall also temporarily not remember to ask him what happened to that eye-popping allocation that was supposed to fix our roads, especially the Lagos-Benin expressway, when he was works minister.
In essence, the momentum of the online youth movement needs to be sustained now in the immediate direction of rescuing the next four years from the real danger of a tragic hijack by the the PDP and the usual suspects. The youth who have done so much for our country and lost so many nation-builders along the way in the dawn of life – when I opined in my Edmonton lecture that to die in your twenties is to die in your old age in a country where the age of the youth must be denominated in impala years and not human years, I couldn’t in my wildest imagination have envisaged that we would lose so many youth corpers – should be mindful of the fact that if we get eight more locust years from the PDP, most of them would be inching close to forty. If, however, they realize that it is not yet Uhuru and consolidate the efforts they have deployed so admirably thus far online, they remain the most potent agents that could force results out of President Jonathan in the next four years. They need to ask of the President: choose ye this day whom ye will serve - your party chieftains or the youth of Nigeria.
If he chooses the youth – he gets a prayer
If he sticks with his chieftains and godfathers – shior!