Aiye The English language calls you “earth” or “world” because she lacks the resources to convey what you really mean. In his endless quest for the miracle of overnight millions, the Nigerian prosperity Pentecostal Christian gives you more colourful names, such as “powers”, “principalities”, and “dominions”, and spends the most productive hours of every day abandoning Nigeria’s work to bind you, rebuke you, come against you, and send every manner of contrary stuff back to sender. Yoruba Nollywood translates you in every movie as “terrestrial forces”. Aiye! You are a combination of all these things and much more: earth, world, powers, principalities, dominions, benevolent and malevolent terrestrial forces, and chthonic forces. Ah, aiye, I salute you!
Because you are all these things and much more, the patriarch knows that he must salute you too in the morning, whenever your face meets his face at dawn, hailing you in a manner that is cognizant of your unfathomable depth. “Aiye akamora”, the patriarch hails you at his doorstep, looking skywards as your dew caresses his ancient face. And I can hear the solemn baritone of his voice saluting you further: “eni wa o o ri o” (he that seeks you finds you not), “eni ri o o mo o” (he that finds you knows you not). And the patriarch bows before the resplendence of your enigma, saluting the osoronga mothers of the earth in that solemn moment of Eucharistic obeisance. And I hear the osoronga mothers of the earth – protective divinities that they are – I hear them remind the patriarch that man is not totally powerless in in his daily navigation of your sinews, aiye. Creation endows him with the singular weapon he needs to navigate every challenge you and your trickster forces throw at him: ifunra (vigilance).
Vigilance, that’s really what all your hokey pokey is all about, aiye! Wearing the armor of ifunra (vigilance) does not mean that man will find you if he seeks you or know you if he finds you. It just means that he stands a far better chance of not being swept away by the hurricane (iji aiye) that you are. Ifunra is not cynicism. Ifunra is not pessimism. Ifunra is not a permanent state of negativity. Ifunra is just alertness and the condition of questioning and questing that is so crucial to the preservation of man. Ifunra is affirmation of life through enhanced consciousness. Ifunra is that stage of superior consciousness which saved the life of the tortoise at the entrance of the lion’s cave. Did the tortoise not pause to observe that all the footprints, sorry, pawprints, at the entrance of the cave were going inside, none coming out? Did he not then conclude from the evidence that none of the animals who visited the lion on hearing that the king of the jungle was indisposed came out of that cave? Ifunra is what prevents setting forth at dawn on the day the road is famished. Tortoise held counsel with his feet and returned home alive to tell the story of those who uncritically embraced the latest fad in town without exercising their right to question, to be curious. They voluntarily relinquished ifunra. They did not return. Tortoise embraced ifunra. Tortoise returned.
Aiye! You can happen to a single man. You can happen to a people. Whether you elect to happen to the singular or the collective, there is no substitute for ifunra. However, the drama is considerably more gripping, more arresting, and more pathetic when the collective allows trials, tribulations, and the abomination of desolation to deaden their sense of vigilance. You have been known to pardon and go easy on the foolish individual who throws ifunra to the dogs and walks blindly and uncritically into the snares and vicissitudes of life. You’ve been known to overlook the idiocy of such individuals. You’ve been known to cut them some slack. They get a second chance and learn one valuable lesson: a man who parts ways with ifunra might as well carry a shovel and dig his own grave for he is a walking corpse.
But you are famously unforgiving of collective foolishness. When a people hold a plebiscite and collectively agree to turn their back on vigilance, your judgment is always swift and fierce. For every second of foolishness, you reward them with Pharaonic plagues from which only subsequent generations may recover if they look back on the collective foolishness of their forebears and return penitent to the domain of ifunra. Such is the case of the people who parted company with ifunra in 1999. After a civil war, after decades of dehumanization by a succession of treasonable felons in military uniform, after SAP, after austerity measure, after the truncated hope of June 12, 1993, they were ready for anything wearing a patina of difference. They were ready for anything with a vague resemblance to democracy, no matter who delivered it, no matter how it was delivered.
They had one problem: ifunra. Ifunra stood between them and carelessness. Ifunra stood between them and the blind alley. Ifunra stood between them and iji aiye, the hurricane of life. So they turned on ifunra and collectively assassinated it. Thus, when Ibrahim Babangida (the singular author of more than half of the tragedies plaguing their postcolonial journey as a nation, the creator of the culture of settlement and corruption that has turned them to a global laughing stock, the annuler of the best election that has ever happened in their lives); when this evil man singlehandedly became the deliverer of their democracy in 1999 by picking up and rehabilitating a fellow General just released from prison, ifunra was missing in action. The people had killed it. Hence, there was no serious national questioning of a democracy delivered by a radiculopathy-infested career coup plotter who singlehandedly picked the anointed presidential candidate for the 1999 charade, travelling from Ota to Kaduna via Abuja before informing the people through the media that “we” have found the next president of Nigeria. That “we” referred exclusively to the cast of contemptible born-to-rule northern feudalists and the pockets of useable but brain-dead southern quislings they allow at the table.
The people were not consulted and have not mattered ever since. The only importance that this “we” of contemptible northern feudalists (they keep calling themselves elders but I don’t know when and where we agreed that such ignominious characters are elders) and their even more contemptible southern allies in the political elite have attached to the people is to use their collective bodies as mannequins for party ankara in political rallies after everything has been decided behind their backs. When ifunra is collectively sacrificed by the people, you end up with government of the people by the kleptomaniacs for the rich, the peculiar brand of democracy we have had in Nigeria since 1999.
You’d think that a people thus blighted, thus worsted by ‘aiye’ as a consequence of their blindness to the virtue of collective vigilance would understand the need not to reward any new entrant and pretender to the title of “progressive alternative” with the gift of blind, unexamined, and unscrutinized acceptance. You’d think that a people who have been declared unworthy of consultation in the elite paradigm that has prevailed since 1999 would cautiously ask any new messiah who comes bearing the good tidings of salvation in the name of democracy: I’ve been made worthless since 1999 by the elite paradigm, what do you intend to do about it? You’d think that the moment the first rumours of the coming of APC hit town, a people beaten once, twice, thrice, and the repeated time, would be waiting, wearing the armour of ifunra. Welcome, Mr. APC, what’s your understanding of the elite paradigm and what do you intend to do about it?
Elite paradigm. In fenced off villas in Maitama, Asokoro, Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Lekki; in private estates (bought with stolen money) in London, Washington, Dubai, and the French Riviera, you gather in little groups and circles of affluence to form alliances, cut deals, allot positions, reach gentleman’s agreements, and decide on the destiny of 170 million people. Don’t worry, you don’t need a vision and a mission. You don’t need a programme. You see, these mumu people are not going to insist that you need to meet them in the spaces of civic agency to sell yourself and your programmes to them.
Only the troublesome electorate in the civilized world requires such inconvenient exertions of political office holders and public leaders. Just imagine, even when Obama is no longer going to run for an election, his aides and the Democratic Party are endlessly monitoring public opinion about policies, gauging the public’s mood, conducting poll after poll. Even the media insists that the people are important. They are constantly harping on the approval rating of the President and political office holders. Public opinion, polls, approval rating: these are some of the mechanisms of a genuine democratic culture which ensure that the political elite ignore the people at their own peril.
Hence, even after elections, the President, Governors, City Mayors are often on the road to sell their policies to the people: town hall meetings, focus group meetings, meetings with civil society groups, campus tours, etc. And you see Obama crisscrossing the country, holding public podium stomp speeches trying to sell his healthcare policy to the people. And you see Francois Hollande crisscrossing France, selling his policies even after election. Ah, what a pain to be a member of the political elite in a genuine democracy. In Nigeria, your life is easy. You don’t need any of that. You have the elite paradigm. It has worked since 1999 in that mumudom. The Nigerian people are the best gift any political elite intent on running a state for the exclusive benefit of the elite could have. They are the perfect clients and will never insist on a democratic ethos in which they matter and are the final arbiters of anything. They have lost ifunra and are comfortable being rolled around by iji aiye, the hurricane of life.
Hence the insulting impunity with which APC has been reinventing the wheel of the elite paradigm. All the permutations, calibrations, jostling, alignments, and realignments that went into the formation of this “opposition progressive party” were an unimaginative photocopy of the worst forms of the PDP’s elite strategies and procedures. I watched in horror as strange bedfellows gathered in banquet halls of five star hotels or in the living rooms of “chieftains” and “leaders” for consultations after which Tom Ikimi would issue arrogant statements telling the people to await further directives. None of these so-called game changers, enemies of the PDP who would wipe away our sorrows, deemed it necessary to start working on a framework that would involve the people from the very start. None of them deemed it necessary to hit the pavements of Nigeria to talk to the people. So thorough was their grasp of the atrocious psychology of the Nigerian that they knew they could take the reward of blind, uncritical, and unquestioning followership to the bank.
They were right. Without ifunra, the people embraced them and even turned on those who dared to ask questions about the elite paradigm, calling them traitors and cynics who see nothing good in anybody. So grave is the wrong psychological wiring of the Nigerian – and the APC leaders knew they could count on this – that they do not know that opposition to the depredations of the PDP is no ground for an unexamined legitimation of the methods of the APC. In a democratic dispensation, all players – the incumbent and the opposition – must be subject to the same modes of scrutiny by the people. Scrutiny of all sides and vigilance: that is the singular civic obligation of the people in a democracy. Where the people betray this critical imperative, they embolden their traducers. Hence, the first notice the APC served the Nigerian people was a foundational act of betrayal: they left the inauguration room of the party and headed straight for Minna to embrace Ibrahim Babangida. They did not go to the Nigerian people. They did a little to the right, a little to the left, and zigzagged their way into the living room of the greatest symbol of Nigeria’s postcolonial decay. That was a symbolic message. Luckily for the APC leaders, none of their dancing followers in the streets and on social media understood the tragic significance of the sacrilege.
When I first heard rumours of the intention of the leaders of the APC to deify Ibrahim Babangida, I picked up the phone and called one of them to ascertain things and to caution against such a horrendous and tragic betrayal of the Nigerian people. “Haba, Prof, Babangida ke?”, he exclaimed, “even if you heard such rumours about us, you should be the first to tell the people that it cannot possibly be true. How can we do that? Go to Babangida? God forbid bad thing!” One week later the chieftain who assured me thus on the phone was one of the leaders of that first delegation to Minna.
You’d think that after the APC served Nigerians this initial notice of its intention to perpetuate the elite paradigm and even perfect it beyond the wildest imagination and ambition of the PDP, the people would immediately begin a broad-based clamour to send an unmistakable message to the elite hustlers in the new party: it’s either we see a clear and decisive shift from the paradigms of the PDP or we reject you. But a people who have turned their backs on ifunra have by that token lost the capacity for sophisticated discernment. Thus, APC was rewarded with even more fanatical followership after this foundational insult. Emboldened, they ignored the people even more, perfected the elite paradigm even more, and have been treating the nation to a sordid and disgraceful spectacle of elite recruitment ever since.
While still not hitting the pavements of Nigeria to meet with the people and sell any kind of programme and vision, they have been busy struggling to recruit and lap up the political excreta of the PDP. Sometimes they don’t even wait for the excreta to fully come out of the PDP’s anus before they put their lips to it and try to suck it out: damaged and corrupt Governors and Senators ostracized by the PDP have suddenly become top recruitment priority for APC leaders, not the Nigerian people. And these are the same clowns who went to town not too long ago saying that nothing good could ever come out of the PDP. We must therefore ask them: just what is good about these characters that you are so busy recruiting instead of changing the game from the elite paradigm in order to convince Nigerians that you are indeed worthy of being that sought-after and much-desired alternative to the vermin in the PDP?
This week, they returned to Ibrahim Babangida’s living room in Minna. Those who killed ifunra and rewarded them with blind, undiscerning, and uncritical followership, especially on social media, deserve this second insult. For the second time, a clear unmistakable message has been delivered to them that Ibrahim Babangida is more important to the calculations of the APC than the Nigerian people. And we ain’t even seen anything yet. I think there is a Faustian dimension to the character of the leaders of APC. You all remember Faust? That’s the chap in the famous German legend who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for favors. Well, that’s what you saw in Babangida’s Minna mansion this week. APC went to sell her soul to the devil in exchange for favors.
Methinks you’ll see these APC Fausts in other funny living rooms in the days to come. I expect to see them praying at the grave of General Sani Abacha in Kano; I expect to see them in Al Mustapha’s living room in Kano; I expect to see them in the living room of Bode George in Lagos; I expect to see them in the living room of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha in Yenagoa; I expect to see them in the living room of Farouk Lawan in Abuja. If they have room for Babangida and corrupt PDP renegade Governors, surely they have room for all these other important political assets and potentially useful allies? Above all, I expect to see them in the living room of Stella Oduah. They need to recruit her urgently. They need Stella Oduah in APC for when, eventually, the mumu followers who are currently rewarding them with blind, unquestioning, and uncritical loyalty wake up to the fact that politicians wearing progressive masks have once again taken them for a ride just to consolidate the elite paradigm, these APC chieftains will need bulletproof BMW jeeps to shield them from the anger of their blind followers.
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