In the last few days since Muhammadu Buhari’s victory in the March 28th presidential election, an unsettling sense of euphoria has taken over Nigeria’s political space. It was clear that a victory did not wipe away all the fundamental flaws in the structures of Nigeria. Yet, most of us had taken our eyes off the shaky hinges of our nation. Such a false sense of security could be devastating. When the hinges break off, especially at high speed, we could find ourselves in a deep ditch. This was keeping me up at night. And, then, the Oba of Lagos spoke.
Before the Oba spoke, all those who supported President Goodluck Jonathan during the election crawled out of their holes. One after the other, they all said the same thing- that the outcome was the will of God. Nobody remembered the voters. Nobody remembered the sick, the young, the tired who braved the rain and the sun to line up and cast their votes. Nobody remembered the risk they took to protect their votes. God, suddenly, got all the glory.
The pervasive air of fait accompli was frightening. It was as if Boko Haram members had removed their uniforms and disappeared into the populace and we felt everything was all right. It could not have been all right. It could only mean that they had taken time off to refuel and regroup. Playing in the imaginative minds were scenarios after another where we confuse hibernation for elimination. We appeared to have forgotten that those who win most wars prepare for them in times of peace. I was troubled that we were falling into a season of complacency. And, then, the Oba of Lagos spoke.
Before the Oba spoke, it was the Niger Delta militants, both the retired and active members that were speaking. They were suddenly concerned about those forgotten irritations of the past, like resource control, environmental degradation and who owns the oil blocks. For eight years that their brother was one of the kings of Abuja, they forgot that those issues were important. They accepted pipelines protection contracts thrown at them, not knowing the contracts were just bones while the juicy meat stayed in the hands of the bone throwers.
Looking at our political landscape, it is dominated by men and women who put on elaborate attires and costumes. Because they do so, we allow ourselves to think they are full of integrity and grace. We saw many of them perform during the election campaign. Nobody called them out because we somehow convinced ourselves that they couldn’t have been hollow, wanting, ignorant or even senile, and still be in those decorated rags. We held on to everything they say. Even when they repulse our inner core, we tell ourselves that, at least, we should ignore what they say just out of respect for the office they hold. And so we let them pollute the air. I was concerned that we were setting ourselves up for the making of a generation that does not have the foundation to differentiate right from wrong. And then, the Oba of Lagos spoke.
Before the Oba spoke, it had happened again and again. And with the explosion of social media, it will happen more and more. A news story breaks. It sounds too ridiculous to be true. We jump in to proclaim it as untrue. Then, more details emerge. It turns out to be true. Worse than we thought. We go back to rationalize it. We jump into the lagoon searching for a sensible explanation- anything but what we are suppose to do. “Just swallow your phlegm and call it what it is, despicable and sad. And wait for others to get to where you are. Don't sound uncomfortable by demanding that everyone should move on. Each one would move on when the stench passes their own corner of the world.” This has always been an issue. And then, the Oba of Lagos spoke.
For some reason, the rest of the world is serious about building a more perfect union. They are tweaking their laws, amending their constitutions, expanding their middle ground. Instead of sanctifying the rituals of citizenship rights, we are scrutinizing the signatures on the certificate of occupancy. Instead of advancing the promises of an equitable society, we are deploying the primordial lower angels of our worst fears. That was how we performed our usual whitewash of a task- the N11 billion naira National Conference. Like all other committee reports, we filed it in that shelf that never opens. We make it a footnote when election campaign comes around. And afterwards, we carry on as if nothing happened. I was afraid we were on course to repeat the same pattern. And then, the Oba of Lagos spoke.
Before the Oba spoke, there were murmurings in the East. The old Biafrans and the children of the new Biafra were still insisting on the actualization of a sovereign nation. They insisted that they are not wanted in Nigeria and that they would be better off if left alone. The elders kept telling them that they are welcome everywhere in Nigeria and that they should feel at home and make themselves comfortable. The young men amongst them pointed at slaps they took here and there. The elders suggested that slaps were just part of life- everyone gets slapped around sometimes. An equilibrium was almost achieved. To prove their point, they even joined the call that Jega must go, sounding more Nigerian than Gowon.
We are too blindsided to know that 2000 years from now, though the king will live forever, the people who will inherit that piece of real estate will be busy worshipping another god. A god different from the one they worshipped 2000 years ago which is different from the one we worship today. The test of bravery is not when we take on the ‘other’ when they are wrong. The real test of bravery is when we take on one of our own when they are in the wrong. There is no integrity in finding an alibi for someone who deserves condemnation. Integrity lies in having the courage to resist the first instinct and listen to the second and the third and the fourth. It is something that has been missing in our society where law and order is still sparse and people are not judged as individuals but as members of a herd. Our elders say that when the rain falls, it beats both the cow and the cattle herder. I had almost forgotten that. And then, the Oba of Lagos spoke.
Before the Oba spoke, I allowed my mind to trail down to the sixties. Since I didn't see that decade and nobody taught me about the history, I often read up on it. How people, important people like the Oba, were talking- just like that. How they were saying that some parts of Nigeria are no go areas for some Nigerians. I read how people stood up in the House of Assembly and vowed to do something about it in due course. Everyone thought they were jesting. And when a perfect excuse fell on their laps, their miscreants did it. They descended on those who had been labeled the ‘other’ Nigerians. And tens of thousands perished because of it.
Why Lagos? Why not Ilorin? Why not Enugu? I listened for the simple answer but I did not get it- that he whom much is given, much is expected of in terms of leadership as a model. Of course, Pat Utomi must be right. The Oba was jesting. He couldn’t have thrown people into the lagoon, not as a police officer and definitely not as an Oba. But there are fragile and gullible poor souls willing to do the biding of the Oba’s jest. People who are quietly saying to themselves, “Don’t worry, Kabiyesi, we will take it from here.”
Thank you, Kabiyesi.