A Clueless Precedent By Nnimmo Bassey

I was taken aback at a recent global meeting when an African friend I had not seen in years chose a different sort of question as a kick-starter to our exchange of pleasantries. He asked: How is your foolish and clueless President? I calmly told him that we do not have such a president and that he must have listened to the wrong town criers. While I was not necessarily acting the patriot, I quite understood how he got to the impression that Nigeria has a “foolish and clueless” president. I believe that even if you do not agree with another person we owe ourselves a duty to be respectful even in instances of very sharp disagreements.

While I am not a spokesperson for the president, I believe that commentators and the media in general have gone into an overkill in casting an image of our president and, by extension, nation that we ought not to be caught doing. The trip down this wrong road has gone so far that even children may be found describing our president in similar terms. We have on record top leaders such as a Watchful former president pelting the sitting president with mud and receiving plenty in return. Very sharp criticisms have trailed that Watchfulness and now online commentators have acclaimed the feast of insults as a mark of sophistication of compatriots from the Watcher’s particular geo-political zone.

As the clock ticks and the year 2015 unfolds it appears that we have invested too much energy in self-abnegation while thinking that we were simply heaping insults on one man. I fully agree that the media minders of the president have helped in pouring fuel on the tinder in the name of attacking opponents and even critics of the regime. Simple experience tells us that you do not fight your way out of quicksand. The escape must be carefully planned and usually a lifeline would need to be thrown in by someone else. The more you struggle while trapped in the mire, the more you sink. As a proverb says, you do not get out of a hole by digging deeper into the hole. Except you can dig right through the earth and burst out on the other side.

Whatever may have been the origins of the epithets used to describe our president, the result has been so astounding that even when usually respectable foreign media write about Nigeria they use almost the exact words our local media use in their descriptions. While we concede that Nigeria is not the first country to fall into this trap, but we cannot applaud ourselves for drifting into that cul-de-sac.

The presidential spokesmen may not be the best salespersons, but we need to look beyond an individual and consider the structure that supports the system as well as the forces fighting very hard to discredit and ultimately to deconstruct that system and probably reconstruct it after their own image(s). This is key especially as we step into the New Year.

2015 will be a very significant year for Nigeria. Success in keeping the ship of State afloat in 2015 will probably rank as the major achievement going by ongoing challenges, many of which are self-inflicted. Add to these the strenuous efforts of geo-political entrepreneurs to see heightened levels of instability here – some working on the track set by the scaffolds of this house has fallen. We have read the foreign term papers that speculated that 2015 is the magical year in which the nation would fail. We have seen projections of expected apocalyptic post-election violence that would engulf the nation in addition to the relentless pressures and numbing bloodshed from the rebellion in the North East of the country. While we are certain the nation will overcome all these we should not forget that all these challenges did not pile up over night.

The footprints of the key advisors lead us to the origins of the economic challenges facing the nation. The cracker appears to be tied to the volatile product- crude oil. Imagine the jolt that has followed the fall in the price of crude and the shift of buyer of our crude oil. Soon it will not only be the USA that will turn away from purchasing crude oil. With or without shale oil, this is inevitable. Even though fracking will never become a sustainable enterprise, more countries will step away from oil partly in efforts to tackle global warming and also because the fossil fuel mode of development is bound to became out dated as old style steam engines have become. Combined with falling crude oil prices, these concerns should sound the necessary alarms for the captains of the Nigerian ship of state to steer away from the rocks.

We have for long run a slave-economy where the minimum wage is not a living wage and where growth levels depending almost solely on one product and the manipulation of statistics. We run a cargo-economy where states depend on what they can get from the common pot by a quaint unitary arrangement inserted into a supposed federal political system. The state governors cut a sick picture of baby ravens squawking for excess crude funds or whatever could have been saved for a rainy day. We have run a profligate system and unfortunately hapless citizens have to bear the fallout of this unsustainable system. This is not how to build a resilient nation.

The collapse of the oil prices should be a wake-up call both for urgent diversification of the economy and for the quick detoxification of the environment that has yielded the so-called black gold for over more than half a century. The divestment drive in the sector by the big oil companies will end up having local players holding the stick and stakeholders unable to demand a clean-up of the heavily polluted lands, rivers and creeks simply because their sons and daughters had become the drivers of the belching dragons. The strong signal is that Nigeria must urgently transit to a post-petroleum economy. Plans for a national environmental restoration, re-source democracy and a post-petroleum Nigeria should be cardinal pillars for political actions.

Physical (and even stomach) infrastructure should be such standard matters that politicians should not even brag over them. Unfortunately we are still stuck in those very rudimentary matters. All these and more give us concern about the investment of time and energy on self-vilification while our house is on fire.

As election dates draw closer we are seeing desperate politicians trucking across invisible carpets in search of platforms from which to control the national cake, not to bake one. Not surprisingly election campaigns by the major parties are unable to stay on issues but remain stuck in mudslinging and personal attacks. How could the campaigns be based on issues and distinct programmes of action when their essential distinctive features are merely that of personalities? Our politicians must certainly be more inventive than calling names.

The New Year presents us the opportunity to look away from putting our nation down but rather to build on that indomitable Nigerian character.  The odious choruses have already set in motion a faulty singsong that many are already aping. As I think about that question, how is your foolish and clueless President, I shake my head at how far we can go in setting precedents that cast us in the light that does not represent who we are.

Shine your eyes. Be watchful. Welcome to 2015.

The original article was published by Sahara Reporters


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