From a lack of horses, we always saddle dogs, or cows, or even the ugly, scaly-backed alligator (agílíntí ab’ara hòìhòì). We do it every four years in the name of democratic elections. We choose bile as leaders then lament soon after that we are orphaned by the government.
The Arabs tell us that to understand a people, we should acquaint ourselves with their proverbs. As we lament the woes of being Nigerian and try to figure out who to vote for next year between crippling identical candidates, some snakes are providing guides across the north. They come in the form of Hausa proverbs. A friend who speaks the language forwarded them to me last week. One is “Koman lalachewan akuya, ya fi kare daraja (no matter how useless the goat is, it has more value than a dog).” Another is “mushin rago yafi alade da an yanka (a dead ram is better than a slaughtered pig).”
The Bible says that with Jesus at the Golgotha were two gentlemen: one to his right; the other to his left. Between the two, I have heard the question being asked: who was the better thief? You may have to find an answer to that question now if you intend to vote next year to elect a president for Nigeria. Up north, the above Hausa proverbs of goat and dog; of ram and pig have come handy. I am a Muslim, so I have no problem knowing that goat meat is a delicacy in Muslim homes while dog meat is haram. Again, I know that a ram not properly slaughtered may be unclean for consumption but then, it is better than a pig properly slaughtered. That is the graffiti on the political skies of the north. Some candidates attract metaphors of pig and dog; some are goat and ram. Proverbs provide hidden contexts and kicks for actions, positive and negative. In politics, they are the horses on which guns are mounted. Everyone should listen to what the proverbs are saying and to what they will say going forward to the elections.
Another cycle is here. While dark imageries of region and religion rule electoral choices in the far north, dirty naira notes thumbprint for the electorate in the south. The Ekiti election has come and gone. For me, the most interesting spectacle there was the man in a viral video who said, with all innocence, that he took N5,000 bribe from a candidate before voting. He insisted he did it for posterity (nítorí ojó iwájú ni) and that the N5,000 was even small. “They were supposed to give us N10,000.” He would use the money to farm, he told his interviewer. He said so with a straight face before a rolling camera. He was not alone but he was the only one ‘stupid’ enough to speak the truth. And payment for votes in that election was not about any particular party. They all did it according to the strength of their muscles. Vote buying poisons our democracy and it is reprehensible. For the voters, what I have for them is not straight condemnation; it is pity. With a very heavy heart, I understand their problem and the harlotry in their decision. Prostitutes sell what they have to have what they lack. Whatever happened in Ekiti on Saturday will happen in Osun State next month (July 16). When people heard that a vote went for as much as ten thousand naira in Ekiti, I could hear expectant palms itching in other states. This house has fallen; it collapsed a while ago. People will collect money and choose their leader; if there are reasons to lament government negligence six months later, let that time come, the reasons will take care of themselves. It is a cycle, vicious and sad.
The Ashanti of the Republic of Ghana say “a good farmer will not cook the seed yam.” The Yoruba of Nigeria counsel their farmer not to eat his yam seeds because next season is just one night away (àmódún kò jìnnà k’éni má hú èbù sun je). But that remonstration is for the farmer who will be alive to see the next harvest. Everyone in Nigeria is sure only of the present. How do we convince very down people without hope not to sell anything within their powers to sell, including their votes? People are hungry and abandoned; they are very unsafe at the same time; none of the poor millions with PVCs is sure of being alive to ‘enjoy’ whatever the new government may bring. Some will be killed by hunger; some others by herdsmen without cows; many more by princely bandits who are beyond the short arms of our law. Those who manage to be alive will become displaced, abandoned citizens. The people are convinced by their circumstances to eat the food of tomorrow in the womb of today. They will sell their votes while they wait for Nigeria to bring whatever affliction it has. If we want democracy to work, we should first take hunger and fear off the menu of the Nigerian voter. Only the living sing the praise of the Lord.
The factors of money, region and religion did their thing in 2015 and 2019 and the result is today’s government of dead ducks and sinking floaters. Governments are like ducks; they exist to protect their flocks from kites and hawks. A duck that is mortally absent and exposes its children to predators is called a lame duck. Can we check what users of the English language mean when they describe a government as lame duck? Could that be what our president has become so soon? Not even the media remembered to ask why President Muhammadu Buhari was not part of the grand finale of his party’s campaign in Ekiti. He was not there; in his stead was Senator Bola Tinubu, the man positioned by APC and its governors to replace Buhari in 345 days’ time. And were we not told that presidential democracy has no space for two presidents at a time? Nigerian politicians are foisting that on us. But that really is not my bother here. My thoughts are on how our conditions are affecting our choices and how our choices are affecting our conditions. My thoughts are also on how helpless Nigerians struggle to live through these very bad times. It is like being boxed in a troubled plane with a pilot that is not there.
On 28 December, 2008, Joe Klein, a columnist with the Time Magazine, published a review of the fading tenure of President George W. Bush whose Republican Party had just lost the presidency to Barack Obama of the opposition Democratic Party. The piece is a full definition of what a duck is supposed to be and what it is when it is lame. I quote Klein verbatim here: “At the end of a presidency of stupefying ineptitude, he (Bush) has become the lamest of all possible ducks… This is a presidency that has wobbled between two poles — overweening arrogance and paralytic incompetence. The latter has held sway these past few months as the economy has crumbled. It is too early to rate the performance of Bush’s economic team, but we have more than enough evidence to say, definitively, that at a moment when there was a vast national need for reassurance, the president himself was a cipher. Yes, he’s a lame duck.”
Klein described his president’s “disappearing act” in the very middle of an economic crisis as “a fitting coda to a failed presidency.” His focus and his judgement sound very Nigerian. But I cannot use those words for my president and his government. I do not have the courage to do so. But day and night, I look with anger and sorrow at what we have. I see Nigerians dying for hope. I imagine a mother duck too hobbled and absent that its ducklings become targets for predators. A certain Ken Greenwald would describe this duck as not just lame but worse – a dead duck – “a thing done up, played out, not worth a straw…”
Nigeria is like pepper; you pound it, you grind it, its smarting character remains its defining feature. It devalues people and their prized possessions. It is easy for the elite to condemn voters who sell their votes. English writer and Queen of Romance, Barbara Cartland, said “when we judge other people, it is always by our own standards and that often prevents us from understanding them or giving them the compassion they deserve…that we may denounce a thief, but how can we understand his action if we have never felt the compulsion to steal? And if we have never seen anyone we love hungry, ill and deprived.”
How many Nigerians will survive or are surviving these very hard times without cutting corners? Businesses are fainting and dying as diesel goes for N850 per litre – and this at a time when electricity competes with the absence of government in people’s lives. Elected politicians promised to light up lives; they also pledged to power the country as had never been done before. Now, where are they? NEPA may have changed its name a million times, the name-change adds no value to it. Cost of cooking gas is setting fire to homes. Kerosene has long moved away from its friendship with the poor. Every item of survival is beyond the reach of everyone without access to the public till. Yet, there is no route for an escape. Injured hope is wheeled into the temple of the coming polls. The people are doing a count-down for the Buhari regime – 345 days to go. They think the coming election will remark the script of existence for the poor. But they see that 2023 road being narrowed when they hear politicians promise to continue the legacy of this president. You know what that means for the unsafe, the hungry and the jobless? Even if the coming change will bring some progress, the election that will birth it is February next year; this plane has till May 29, 2023 to land. You and I have eleven months, ten days more of grueling turbulence without any reassuring action in the cockpit.
We have had seven years of a hideous game of blames and of “overweening arrogance and paralytic incompetence.” We will have one more year of both, and even more years of the same, if the successor is as wobbled as what we have. And it looks like it. The child of a duck is a floater; snakes always give birth to snakes. I heard Tinubu, the man who wants to lead Nigeria’s two hundred million for the next eight years after Buhari, say something suggestive of business as usual. In his acceptance speech after his nomination, and in a letter to the president this past weekend, he spoke about erecting his structure on Buhari’s foundation and that the country is in trouble today because the PDP, in its 16 years, “depleted our resources and left us with hunger.” Playing the blame game. They all do it. If the PDP wins in February, there is no guarantee that it also won’t mint blame as dividend of people’s investment in its election. It is the system we run – the fault always lies in others. You know what the toad did when it missed its way to the stream? It hopped into the valley of mirage to fetch illusions for its thirsty community. Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad said “when people are lame, they love to blame.”
Those are very true words. We will continue to be ruled by excuses and the country ruined by blames. It is the logical harvest from a field of diseased seeds. This democracy is dying – and will die – unless we move fast to give the people back their lives. We cannot win the 21st century race of progress with a team of cross-party cripples. Sadly, that is what our democracy offers and we can all feel it.