It is often said that it is not right to mix the dead with the living.
However, in a story of a land that is persistently, against all rhyme and rhythm, named ‘hope’, dead and living of necessity become players in the field, and jostle for space, one with another.
Professor Pius Adesanmi, born in February 1972 in Kogi State, died recently at the age of forty-seven years in the tragic accident involving an Ethiopian Airways Boeing 737. He was on his way to an African Union conference in Nairobi. Among his accomplishments, he wrote three books and was a long-running columnist with Premium Times and Sahara Reporters. One of his books (The Wayfarer and other poems) won the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) annual prize for Poetry in 2001.Another book (You’re not a country, Africa) won the first Penguin Prize for African Writing (non-fiction).
He was a notable social critic who, in writing as in word of mouth, lampooned public figures – politicians, clerics, as well as ordinary citizens, for their contributions to the many failures of their society. He used straight, easy-to-read prose, full of witticism and slang.
He was a highly accomplished man with a great deal of street-credibility.His famous story about a faulty shower head in his hotel room in Abuja spoke of his efforts to get ordinary Nigerians running the facility to see that ‘minor’ problem as an existential threat and evidence of a flaw in themselves that had to be exorcised, instead of an inconsequential detail to be glossed over. It reflected his conviction that Nigerians would need to desire ‘excellence’ in all areas of their lives and be prepared to work for it, instead of settling for that easy apology for mediocrity – ‘the Nigerian condition’.
The outpouring of grief that has attended the passage of the man has shown that his talent, as well as his ‘can-do’ spirit, resonated with his countrymen. Despite their travails – including the fear of another four years of herdsmen’s killings and economic hardship, Nigerians had hope for a better Nigeria. They wanted to believe.
Hope and belief are the only plausible explanations for why intelligent, otherwise busy, rational individuals such as Banky W, Sina Fagbenro-Byron, Dr Moghalu, Oby Ezekwesili, Omoyele Sowore – a list rendered in no particular order, and a list that is not exhaustive by any means, set out several months ago on what many saw, cynically, as a quixotic mission to change the political landscape of Nigeria. They were querying Nigeria’s most fundamental assumptions about her own politics. To the cynics, they were like Sir Galahad on his scrawny, flea-infested horse, flaunting his rusty sword, tilting at the windmill.
The assumptions in question included a certainty that nobody could achieve anything in Nigerian politics without Money – a lot of it, and without a nebulous entity known as ‘structure’. The only places where these items were to be found were the mainstream parties – meaning the ‘APC’ and the ‘PDP’, with perhaps a grudging nod to the existence of one or two minnows.
Early on, there was a momentary spurt of hope among some elements in the public that the conviction these men and women expressed in their verbal and body language was not totally delusional. There was even talk of a coming together of ‘outsiders’ to form a ‘Third Force’ which could then become a mass movement.
That possibility quickly petered out.
The results of the elections that have been announced at different levels seem to have confirmed the ‘wisdom’ that nothing ‘new’ could be done in Nigeria. The most cynical commentators, who ridiculed the ‘upstarts’ from the start, have been saying ‘We told you so’.
Now that the dust is settling and life is getting back to normal – at least in most of the country, it is necessary for people who believe in the ultimate good of Nigeria – a group which until lately included in its ranks a talented young Nigerian named Pius Adesanmi – to ask such questions as – what has been gained by the advent of ‘outsiders’? Should they disappear from the scene back to their classrooms and their editorial suites and executive offices and leave Politics to ‘serious politicians’? What should they do – going forward? Should they be sucked into the winning party and given ministerial and board appointments as ‘compensation’? Or should they corral the sympathy they have generated in the public and create a grassroots movement for social change?
Nigeria remains a troubled, dysfunctional country, irrespective of who has won or lost elections. Rampaging poverty, extremely low quality of life for the majority, religious and tribal fissures, a top-heavy, unitary state in everything but name, where ‘politics’ is reduced ultimately to an unhealthy scramble for Aso Rock and for the most expensive and perhaps most ineffectual National Assembly in the world – there are issues that will not go away in a hurry.
Banky W – the good looking, cerebral actor whose persona is permanently invested with the ‘all Nigerian fine boy’ popularity of his role in ‘The Wedding Party’ stirred up normally dormant youthful enthusiasm in his Eti Osa, Lagos constituency. SFB – GCI Old Boy and erstwhile Foreign Aid top brass, was the ultimate conviction communicator. Moghalu – at a session with VOR – a body committed to the restructuring of the polity, showed a perfect grasp of the Nigerian reality and presented an unimpeachable blueprint that had passed muster even with the great Kongi. Sowore brought the resilience and unexplored energy of students’ a luta power to the big stage. And ‘Madame Oby’ – what can you say? Few countries in the world have brilliant, resilient women of the caliber of Madame Oby, and those that do take pains to cherish them and deploy them to the most vital tasks of nation and institution-building. Obadiah Mailafia – this column’s neighbour, clearly has a deep knowledge of the world and how to govern human beings.
It would be a shame and a sad loss to Nigeria if these gladiators ‘disappeared’ anywhere. The salvation of Nigeria is a process, and not an event.Ultimately, it is not only about gaining Aso Rock but gaining the hearts and minds of the people and changing their knowledge, beliefs and attitudes, starting from the grassroots. For the citizens are complicit in their travails, and must accept responsibility for the change they seek, whether it is in fighting corruption, conducting clean elections, reaching for a workable federalism, plumbing for politicians of less greed and better behaviour, or redefining politics not as a ‘profession’ but as a public service that any citizen with appropriate education and motivation can give without being a heavy burden on the public purse.
The predictable failure in electoral fortunes in a first incursion can be flipped into positivity, and opportunity. The fact that reasonable, intelligent people are able to believe, despite the evidence of their eyes, that something new and good can happen in Nigeria is evidence that Nigeria is truly a land named ‘hope’. The real challenge is how to translate that Hope into Reality.