• Friday, September 29, 2023
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Arrogance of power, French revolution and other ‘small’ revolutions

Arrogance of power, French revolution and other ‘small’ revolutions

The weekend of 24th to 26th March was a very busy one for the Son of Man. It started at Olabisi Onabanjo Teaching Hospital, where I paid a courtesy call on the Chief Medical Director, Dr Olubunmi Fatungasi. You will recall that I was on ‘voluntary house arrest’ at the hospital for about 2 weeks in November 2021.

There, I met a vibrant, humble and friendly lady, the first female and the youngest to occupy the post and who appears determined to make a great difference on the cultural, physical and policy landscape of the hospital. I also interfaced with some of the management staff, especially those involve in patient-care.

From there, I went for the First Convocation Lecture of Christopher University (originally conceived as University of Management Sciences), founded by Chief Chris Ezeh, a social cum conventional entrepreneur. I had to be at UNICHRIS that day.

The founder is a townsman; the Chairman of the Council, Professor Ndolo is a friend and former colleague at ESUT Business School, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Chief Eric Nwobi, is also ‘my man’ and the Guest Speaker, Chief Anthony Idigbe, SAN, PhD, was my student turned friend, whom I saw last about 5 years ago. The topic, ‘Social Reengineering, Justice and Ethical Reorientation as the Panacea to Nigeria’s Quest for National Integration’ was germane at a time like this and resonated with my spirit.

I was glad to have been there, which also gave me the opportunity of reconnecting with Okey Osuji, my classmate at UI( 1977-1980) and Bar. Chinwe Ezenwa-Mbah who was one of the organisers of Achina Community Retreat, where I was the guest speaker about 5 years ago.

I also met some new friends, including Dr Noel Saliu, an amiable gentleman, who represented the Executive Secretary of NUC as the Chairman of the occasion. The ambience of the young University is such that you need to ‘come and see’ in order to understand and appreciate.

On Saturday, I attended the 10th Annual General Meeting of the Catholic Men Organisation of the Lagos Archdiocese, hosted by my Parish, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, Okota. I had to be a ‘good citizen’ of my Parish, a loyal member of the CMO and I needed to catch up with my good friend, Barr Otiono, the President, whom I had lost physical contact with due to his busyness as demanded by CMO leadership.

And throughout the occasion, he was always telling us to go to court, whenever we protested against anything! It was well attended and lived up to its billing. On Sunday, I had 4 meetings to attend, all of which had to do with my community service responsibility as demanded by my calling; they all revolved around the Igbo-Ukwu community and its affairs.

I attended 6.30am Mass, had my breakfast and decided to rest so as to reconfigure my BVAS to free it for the four meetings (You have to reconfigure before you transit from one event to another) of the day. And for me to reconfigure my BVAS, I had to shut down temporarily or enter the aeroplane mode.

It was in the process that I reminisced about the insalubrious( BIG Grammar) lots of ‘we the people’ in the recent past, especially the 2023 elections and the Naira recolouration policy, in which we witnessed ‘one-step-forward, two-steps-backward and three steps inside the bush’.

It was then that the spirit led me to my days at Federal Government College Enugu and I remembered my history class and then…the French Revolution, especially the arrogance of power that made it difficult for Louis XVI, an emperor in name and in deed, to see what was coming.

By the time the insurgents stormed the Bastille, the equivalent of our own Aso Rock, on 14th July 1789 France was the epicentre of commerce , culture and tourism and indeed the powerhouse of Europe. It ran a very expensive feudal system with courtiers estimated at 8000 and the emperor, Louis XVI, was imperious, powerful and arrogant.

He lived like his predecessor, Lous XIV who on 13th April 1655 told the parliament that, L’Etat c’est moi( I am the state). The queen, Marie Antoinette, who was already used to palace life (she was imported from Austria where she was a Princess), lived very ‘queen-fully’; with interest in fashion and other such things that appealed to most women in her position.

Things were getting tougher for the people but the emperor, surrounded by thousands of fawning courtiers, including jesters, and influence-seeking officials, was far away from the real situation of things. The causes of the French Revolution included the personalities, inadequacies and tendencies of the king and queen, whom the people held responsible for their woes, inherited problems, including economic distress, which was worsened by the 7-year American war and an opaque, inequitable taxation system in which the wealthy pay little or no tax and use their power to prevent any reforms; a three-tier class system, clergy, nobility and everyone else, in which people could only move up by climbing on top of others, with the aggrieved hoi-polloi( the Third Estate) at the receiving end; the activities of social philosophers like Voltaire and Rosseau. who were preaching strange and revolutionary ideas like liberty, equality, tolerance, constitutional government and the separation of church and state. The battle cry of the revolutionists, liberté, égalité, fraternité (Liberty, egalitarianism and fraternity) could only have come from the ‘satanic verses’‘ those ‘troublesome’ philosophers.

These were actually remote causes; they had been there before Louis XVI but our people say that it is only the unlucky fellow who needs toothpick after drinking a cup of water. The cost of living was increasing steeply but two consecutive years of poor harvest led to an unusual increase in the prices of bread, the popular staple for the masses.

They have had enough and they struck: stormed and overran the Bastille, (constituting the armoury, fortress and political prison), which represented Royal authority in Paris. Nobody expected that! If they were close the people, if they had their ears on the ground, they would have seen it coming and even if they could not do anything, they would not have been as shocked and confused as they were.

They also took the people for granted; even though there was growing misery, resentment, and tension, it was inconceivable that the poor could unite, organise and muster the courage to take on the Bastille. And today, their great-great-grand children are again on the streets because the government intends to raise retirement age from 62 to 64. They don’t want to work longer but in Nigeria, we keep on manipulating our ages so as to stay longer!

I left the realms of the spirit and came back to reality. I recalled the American Revolution (1765-1791), which could have influenced the French uprising. The uprising was also based on governance issues: ‘no taxation without representation’.

Today in Lagos state in particular, people who pay taxes cannot even vote, not to think of being represented! I remembered the Tunisian(Jasmine) Revolution of 2010, which involved 28 days of civil disobedience in protest against corruption, social inequality, unemployment and political repression. It came to a head when Mohammed Bouazizi sacrificed himself(set himself on fire) for the public good.

Of course, it was the end of the regime of Abidine Ben Ali and snowballed into the Asian Spring. I recalled the 2022 Sri Lankan struggle caused by economic mismanagement by Basil Rajapaska, (Mr 10%) foreign debt at 101% o GDP, reckless printing of currency, and consequential hardship( inflation, unemployment, blackout, shortage of fuel and gas- just like Nigeria!).

Read also: Naira, fuel scarcity: Wind of revolution looms

As usual, the government applied the KITA strategy involving highhanded suppression of the unrest. Eventually, in July 2022, the people won as they marched into the presidential abode, feasted on his dining table, and swam in his swimming pool. Of course that was the end of the government.

In all these cases, mismanagement of the economy, which usually multiplied the peoples’ misery, is central to the aluta. When you see what is happening in this country in the recent past, it is obvious that we have passed the threshold! Inflation, unemployment, foreign debt and reckless printing of currency, widening inequality and poverty are all at record levels.

And we now have a situation in which people cannot withdraw their cash from the banks because Emefiele, who was busy planning his presidential aspiration, could not execute ordinary currency recolouration exercise. For the first time in the world, people are buying their own money! (see Ik Muo: Bread of adversity and water of affliction, BusinessDay, 16/2/23).

As I was writing this, Lucky Dube’s ‘born-to-suffer’ was playing on the background. Really, it appears that we were born to suffer! And now we have added the political dimension: We suffered to register for the PVC; we suffered to collect the PVCs, we suffered to vote-and many were murdered in the process- and now the gap between what was recorded at the pooling boots and what was announced is crying to heaven for intervention.

And those in power, plus the compromised elites, who are not affected by the mass misery, are acting as if ‘nothing mega’; making offensive, divisive and uncharitable statements, as they try to protect their current and future positions and loots. And as usual, they assume that ‘it cannot happen here’ because the people are so divided, poverty, ethnicity and ‘igbophobia’ have been weaponised, ‘the people de fear soja’ etc.

However, we now, Mahmood must go and half-clad demonstrations all over the place. I thought that the end SARS would have thought us some lesson; that one day, our docility quotient may become negative and ‘monkey go-go market, e no go return’!