NIGERIA: The Endless Lamentations of an Entangled Nation in “Cob-web” Laws
By ‘Tunji Ajayi
Truth hates discoloration and prefers being told point blank without slanting or editorializing as often decried in journalism parlance. Nigerian society is filled with oddities. In the “Parable of Ocean & Spittle” (National Life, October 10, 2009), having seen great wisdom in the then US President Barack Obama’s golden advice to an unmentioned very rich African nation whose economy is perpetually being run on a single commodity, while her citizens continue to suffer the pangs of poverty and squalor, this writer became ashamed on behalf of our leaders to whom the innuendoes were being referred, and thus squirmed in psychological pain for a long time. Thus, the Parable of Ocean & Spittle was written and sent home from far away Monrovia, Liberia; a small nation that had just come out of internecine war then, but was striving to come out of her woes with unbridled temerity and sincerity of purpose.
In explaining my concept and contextual use of “cobweb law syndrome” as in the above title, and how it can become the fulcrum of retrogression for a nation, I found apropos the witty words of Francis Bacon. The erudite English philosopher once said that “some laws are like cobwebs, where the small flies entered and were caught. But big flies entered and broke through.” Buttressing the effect of such situation, an English poet, Oliver Goldsmith explained the grave effect of reducing societal laws to cobweb law status. According to him: “. . . such laws will grind only the poor, while the rich will rule the law.” Yes. A society administered by “good-laws-made-weak” often due to self aggrandizement and primordial interests of the privileged few may never thrive. Yes. It is a corollary and not a curse.
Obama, who spoke in a message laden with innuendo, had come on a visit to Ghana. He snubbed Nigeria, the Giant of Africa in a dwarfish garb. Ostensibly, the ever-assertive president needed to stand on the soil of an exemplary country to send his blunt message. He didn’t even have a stop-over in Nigeria but went to Ghana – Nigeria’s backyard. Whether a Giant is dressed in a dwarfish garb; or a Dwarf is adorned in a giant’s robe, neither of both scenarios is pleasant to behold. Such a robe is never fitting. And both scenes would obviously create consternation rather than ovation. Obama ostensibly saw one of the abnormalities in Nigeria, which impede her growth and consequently affect African continent where she vaingloriously prides herself as a Giant. Hear him: ". . . But old habits must also be broken. Dependence on commodities - or on a single export - concentrates wealth in the hands of the few and leaves people too vulnerable to downturns." Obviously, “the few” the then President Obama referred to are the powerful and the elites who often circumvent good laws and regulations made for the good governance of the country. They are the owners of the oil wells and are adept at appropriating national infrastructure.
Yes. Old habits die hard like Obama enthused. It is only a wise person that benefits from witty and laconic words. Thus the Yoruba proverb says “Òpò òrò ò k’ágbòn” (Plenty talk never fills up the basket); while the Latin aphorism goes: “Verbum Satis Sapienti” because a word should be enough for the wise. The wise ponders, brainstorms and meditates deeply on every piece of advice. Even from seemingly foolish talk, a wise man often makes sense. But it is not often so for the drunk and the imbecile, who merely gape while he listens to witty and weighty words of wisdom, without ever wavering thereafter from his worrisome and ignoble actions.
In his "Intruder in the Dust" (1948), the American writer and author William Faulkner saw the emptiness in sustaining an ignoble status quo when he pointedly wrote that “No man can cause more grief than someone clinging blindly to the vices of his ancestors.” Our successive governments have not only clung to an ignoble status quo, they have often skidded off the right track, placing the country in self-invented cul-de-sac. Our founding fathers gave thought to providing for the needs of the nation and knew it was important to secure the future of our children. They built with the crude oil money and agricultural produce many noticeable infrastructures whose vestiges are still found around till today. Many citizens benefitted from free primary education policy of the old western region. The Hen is renowned for feeding her children even before herself. Though animal, her chicks’ welfare often takes priority attention. But many of our modern-day avaricious leaders, eking out unmerited fortunes from oil - the single product are competing amongst themselves to harness and eat both the present and future of our children and grand-children.
Though, Obama spoke far back to the Giant of Africa since 2009 – a whopping 12 years ago. Nonetheless, the situation has not gotten any better. Oil still remains the mainstay of the economy to the neglect of other huge resources. And once there is any slide in the price of crude oil in the international market, Nigeria is thrown into total discomfiture. The burdens of such gloom are thus transferred to the citizens who had enthroned the government, mainly to protect and ameliorate their problems. Hence, the government is renowned for latching on the hackneyed platitudes: “We have no other nation than this country; we should all rise up to salvage it”. “Government includes every citizen. Let us all rise up to salvage this occasion together”. “Nigeria belongs to all of us. Let us lift up our fatherland” etc. Consequently, the masses must pay more for petrol; far more for diesel and far, far more for kerosene! The already famished masses must pay higher Value Added Tax, even for products to which the government has not added any visible “value”. No road, no electricity, no water or visible infrastructure adding values to manufactured products at each stage of production, as VAT truly implies. Indeed, Nigeria is not an industrialized but a consumer nation, with most products imported. The masses must pay higher electricity bills for epileptic provision. The peasants can no longer afford the cost of kerosene to cook. And they can ill afford to do so with costly cooking gas. They pay for their children school fees. They provide water for domestic use by themselves either by relying on dug wells, or sachet-pure water to drink. The aged enjoy no social insurance benefits. No government cares for them even at old age. Many often die in hunger and squalor due to non-payment of pension and gratuities. Many do slump on long queues while filling forms for identification to collect the paltry N3,000 monthly pension.
In some states where the civil servants in their own wisdom formed cooperative societies for monthly savings as a possible bail-out for exigencies to pay children’s school fees, or feed their dependant unemployed graduate children, their state governments who had standing-order to make from-the-source voucher deductions stealthily “borrowed” their savings at nocturnal hours and could not make refunds when contributors needed their cooperative savings. Of recent, most state governments have repeatedly confessed they could no longer secure citizens’ lives and properties and asked citizens to secure themselves. Thus, the burden of security of lives and properties are also shifted to the citizens. While people are being abducted and women being raped in the daylight by bandits and kidnappers, University students are hurriedly being ferried back to their homes in some states for fear of being maimed. Not even our police and army barracks are safe any longer. Citizens are tempted to ask: What then is the responsibility of the government? What should be her roles?
In his “Reflections On The Revolution In France” (1790), Edmund Burke defined what a government should be. The Irish-born English political writer averred that it is “a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants” adding that “Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom.” Thus, good governance thrives on wisdom. Where it is lacking, the sanctity of laws, regulations and orderliness are tampered with; and consequently negligence and incapacity to perform basic constitutional responsibilities by the government becomes concomitant circumstance.
How does a Nation without definite aim and blueprint to run it ever develop? Governance should be a continuum; otherwise inconsistency in policies would always stultify growth and development. Many years back, Nigeria decided to build toll gates with huge financial resources for her federal roads and was collecting tolls at the points for “maintenance”. However, the roads remain pot hole ridden and death traps. The same Nigeria woke up another day to spend billions of naira to demolish the same toll gates. After few years of grandstanding on her professed “benevolence in removing burdens of toll-paying on citizens”, the same Nigerian government is now poised to embark on another multi-billion naira toll-gate building project on her federal roads. Fela the music maestro saw Nigeria’s albatross long ago and sang in his epic album; Perambulator. Fela sang: “He must come come down. Come down for nothing... He must start to go. Start to go for nothing…” Fela concluded in a tone of great disappointment: “If you look the man well, na the same place he dey. He no go anywhere.” And so Nigeria has been dancing on the perambulator and on the same spot ever since. The same is true of our inconsistent and chameleonic educational policies from “6 -4” to 6-3-3-4, then 6-5-2-3, then to 4-2-4, then 8-4-4 etc. Nigerian policies are as varied as governments in power.
But now Nigeria is not only complacent on being on the same spot which Fela saw decades ago. Rather than revving her vehicle forward in the modern world of development in all spheres, she retreats on a daily basis. Nigeria makes her own laws tenuous by pampering kidnappers and herders-turned-bandits. While engaging in public relations and image laundering for these decimators of Nigerian space and innocent citizens, the system is being timid even to call bandits and killers who are waging vicious war against the nation their deserved name. Thus, the terrorists on daily killing sprees enjoy and hide under the less acerbic name - “bandits”. And while men of good will and state governors suggested the global best practices and possible way out of the open grazing which had spurred open disgraceful confrontation with farmers and land owners, ironically, the government saddled with the responsibility of provision of security of lives and properties embarked on the search for an embarrassingly archaic solution. From its advocacy for RUGA settlement, Buhari administration later pushed for “Cattle Colonies”, after much resistance by the state governments. Then the administration coined another name in the same garb and pushed for “Grazing Reserves”, then again advocated for “National Livestock Transformation Plan”, then to “Farm Estates”, then to 1963’s “Historic Cattle Routes”. But when really will humans have reasonable attention? When will the professed African Giant move forward from debate on cow technology policy to space, industrial and technological science and other fulcrums of national development? For how long will a country argue on cow policy? Why making tenuous proposed laws by state governments who have constitutional roles to administer their states, even before the bills are passed?
The government would neither punish the bandits who have killed and maimed innocent citizens, nor prosecute the insurgent Boko Haram members on the claim that they had “repented”. At least, till now, no evidence points to that being done. But it has been well established that many of these killers who have decimated the country and mutilated innocent citizens are being rehabilitated back into the society.
It is true that Nigeria has her constitutional provisions to apply to moderate citizens’ conducts and regulate every circumstance and situation. But where primordial interests reign supreme over national interests; and self aggrandizement over altruism and patriotism, good laws are surreptitiously made tenuous to become so weak and ineffective, so that the “anointed” and the powerful elite who connive with criminals to do evils become untouchable. But such a carefree nation often forgets the wisdom in Marcus Cicero’s observation. The Roman statesman knew well and advised that “the greatest incentive to crime is the hope of escaping punishment.” The government now edifies criminality by going a little bit further. Those who have wreaked havoc of unimaginable proportion on the nation and her people; hijacked governance in many states, turned thousands of women into widows and millions of young children into orphans; turned the able-bodied men into physically disabled persons; and made a poor nation slide further into the abyss of poverty are to be rewarded rather than punished to deter further horrendous acts. What we now hear is the re-admission back into the society of 5,000 insurgents who have “repented”, while their victims remain in perpetual pain, endless lamentation and excruciating grief. The nation requires trillions of innocent taxpayers’ money to rebuild those states and the infrastructure decimated by the criminals.
But while they are being readmitted, we are yet to be told how easy it is to forsake ingrained extreme religious beliefs and political ideologies. But those may not be the real woes! A Yoruba adage says “Arúgbó kú. A tún f’Olókùrún j’oyè. Ariwo kù léhìn ariwo” – this is a truism. Because when “an aged King dies, and the infirm is fraudulently made a successor, lamentations follow lamentations unabated.” And just like the concertina fold, woes and cries continue unabated. This is beyond our often “God forbid” cliché. Even God wants us to work and pray simultaneously. He is a God of orderliness who warned: “Do not be misled. God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap . . . “
The oddities are legion. The constitution has provision to resolve the problem of incapacity of the states’ chief executives or Mr. President. Incapacity may not only be limited to physical ill-health of the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces. It also includes the inability to perform in office for any reason. Party chairmen have been sacked on allegations of malfeasance in the past, which included incapacity to perform the function of their offices. But in a society operating cobweb laws, where a small fly would enter the web and get caught; a big one would merely be entangled momentarily but got released from the web thereafter. Like we are all witnessing now, everything is done with impunity in a country with good-laws-made-tenuous by the ruling and the elite class. If the estoppel doctrine protects Nigerians to hold this government to their words, there is no moral or legal basis for attempts to crush criticisms by nocturnal censorship of media organizations, which serve as their eyes and ears, through threatening letters by any of the government’s organs or spokespersons. The famished and browbeaten citizens should be allowed to request for a better society which they deserve. At least, the babies being spanked deserve to cry. But then, we have now seen clearly the truism of a Yoruba saying: “Òrun ń yaá bò kìí se l’órí enìkan soso” – an eventual fatal drop of the heavens will not only be on one person’s heads, but on us all. Both the wealthy and powerful men, the downtrodden and impoverished citizens can no longer sleep peacefully in their homes any longer due to the high spate insecurity.
It is hoped that the Nigerian leaders who have clung un-detachably to their wealth as saviour like mistletoe does to a tree in the past, could now learn a bitter lesson, albeit belatedly from the witty words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th U.S President. Hear him: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich” Verbum Satis Sapienti
*Tunji Ajayi, a creative writer, author, biographer and audiovisual documentary producer writes from LC-Studio Communications, Nigeria (+2348033203115, +2348162124412)