By Valentine Obienyem*
The newest phenomenon in town, Mr Peter Obi turns 61 today. Contrary to the customary use of the day to see him through biographical prisms, we shall view him through the mass movement that has all the attributes of a revolution in which he is a prominent figure.
As far back as one can pry into the history of Nigeria, one would see all manner of writers and commentators presenting the country in terms of the Hobbesian State of Nature. Our Nigeria of today has all the attributes of that hypothetical state. Do you remember the musicians of “Yagayaga” fame? The truth is that Nigerians have all become exasperated with the country. The frustration is many times magnified if one travels abroad, to countries like Bahrain, Qatar and UAE. In those countries you see oil revenue at work; how their leaders, even those that are not ‘democratic’, utilized their oil wealth to develop their countries.
However, in Nigeria, the opposite is the case. We have become the classic example of a country that is sick unto death. Even less-endowed African countries are all better than Nigeria. During my last one-week trip to Rwanda, I observed that their streets are always neat and did not encounter a single security checkpoint. The power oversupply in that country did not go off for a second. In Nigeria, there is practically no light and the cost of running power generators is now forbidden such that banks and other large organisations have been compelled to reduce their operational hours. The energy situation in the country is getting worse. Having entrusted the governance of the country into the hands of the worst among us, the country now strangely looks like its rulers.
Today, there is a bit of freshness in the air. Nigerians, especially the youth are saying ‘enough is enough. For those pretending not to know what is happening, let them be informed that a peaceful revolution is presently taking place in the country. It will culminate in the elections of February 2023, when the instrument of that revolution – PVCs – will be deployed to sweep aside the crop of old, inept leaders that have held us hostage. Some of them are deluded that they are still “turnistically” very much relevant even while play-acting not to be aware of the current tide hovering over the country.
Part of the effects of the incipient revolution as seen from the recent (July 16, 2022) Osun State governorship election is that Nigerians are moving away from parties to the merits of particular individuals. The fall of APC is enough testimony for this thesis to stand. The sheer number of young people that voted in that election portends a positive future voting pattern. Ideally, young men of sixty-five and below should be much more concerned about a country they, everything being equal, have over 20 years to be in than those who are in the December of their lives.
The call for a peaceful revolution, the weeding out of the old and rejected practices that have held us down is not a new development. Those that carried out the first coup were even referred to as revolutionaries, for trying to upturn a situation that Nigerians considered retrogressive at that time. Till today, many Nigerians believe that the country needs to be sanitized through a process that would involve the weeding out of much nonsense in the realm.
On the 20th of January, 2004, 18th years ago, Thisday Newspaper published an article by this writer entitled “Imperative of a Revolution.” The contents of the article are even more germane today because then, we were in paradise without realising it. The said piece started by defining revolution as “a complete and drastic change of the status quo to, perhaps, something better. It could be violent when the revolution has to be content with resistance that needs the force of arms or other similar exactions to be broken. Genuine revolution is often aimed at cleansing a system that has fallen into a stupor. Many elements constitute it.”
The article demonstrated that those elements of the revolution were at work in Nigeria. For the author, except something were done about the leadership of the country, it would end up experiencing a revolution.
That timeless teacher, history, shows us that however induced, whether The French Revolution, Haitian Revolution, Chinese Revolution, American Revolution, Arab Spring or whatever, revolution is normally awakened in a people that are long subjugated by their rulers and is led by those who believe that change is a desideratum.
Most people that led revolutions in the past were in the beginning not of the revolutionary cast. It was actually by a fatal chain of circumstances that these men were driven from the limits of moderation and precipitated into excesses at the very thought of which they would have shuddered. This is where we are in Nigeria. Who is happy with the country today?
Lest we think Revolution is restricted to governance; the article referred to held that “Jesus and Mohammed were also revolutionaries, because of Jesus ‘pervasive influence on the society. Single-handed, He re-defined the spiritual direction of a large part of humanity. Mohammed is likewise regarded as a revolutionary because he undertook to raise the spiritual and moral level of a people harassed, before him, by barbarism. He succeeded more completely than most revolutionaries. When he began Arabia was desert flotsam of idolatrous tribes; when he died it was a nation”.
The likes of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Sir Ahmadu Bello were all revolutionaries for the independence of the country. Again, let me refer to my 2004 article: “Some of them travelled abroad for further intellectual insemination. They saw the light, came back with enough of its pollen and pollinated the minds of most Nigerians”.
Be that as it may, have our heroes laboured in vain? This is a tough question, especially when some of their progenies do not even believe in labour as a critical factor in nation-building. Thus, in the article of 2004, this writer observed then as now that “a sedulous analysis of the country today proves that the germinated pollen has not flowered as expected. Growth is impeded because there are chaos, disasters, and obstacles that need to be roughly cleansed. Revolution, like cleansing, is the removal of rubbish, the surgery of the superfluous, and the conquest of inertia. It comes only when there are many things ready to die. Nigeria in truth had died many times before. We had fought the civil war and experienced many coups in the past. These deaths achieved nothing because attempts at a rebirth ended in stillbirth. The country is again begging to be killed on all fronts so that it shall be born again”. The article treated those fronts as the elements of a revolution. We shall look at them again and determine the necessity of the ‘death’ of Nigeria.
The first element of a revolution the article recognized is what is called the political element. Explaining that, the writer stated that “the death of our previous democracies was both violent and natural death. The fatal agents were the organic disorder of the system in the form of bribery and corruption, nepotism, thuggery and rigging of elections. The guns of rampaging coupists merely added the final blow”.
Are things honestly not worse today? The other day I saw the picture of one of the grand thieves in Nigeria with his children holidaying in The Caribbean. Meanwhile, the State he governed for eight years is bleeding profusely. People have taken governance as an avenue to steal from the commonwealth and nothing happens because such characters are aided by those that should uphold the law to circumvent it. Rather than cooling down in detention, atoning for their sins, some of their associates and wives are prancing all over the place seeking political posts, which they hope to conscript with part of the money they stole from the people. Is this not offensive enough? Does this not sound like the tocsin of a revolution?
The article that is our standard bearer also talked about the legal element of revolution. After given particular instances to show what arbitrariness could do to society, the article affirmed that “whenever the judiciary does not function the way it is supposed to, that is the sign of a problem in the realm. When Solon, the lawgiver, was asked what made an orderly society, he replied ‘when the people obey the laws.’ In our country, the contrary seems to be the case. The law is treated like the spider’s web, which catches the small flies and leaves the big ones”. Do we not see this in operation daily in the country? While we were still rejoicing that the law has caught up with a bigger thief than stripped his State naked, through some judicial abracadabra, the big thief in question is now enjoying his loot, travelling from one island to another. Is this how we hope to build a country? You may wish to find out what countries like Japan if such magnificent thieves do not commit hara-kiri, do to them to prevent other thieves from coming up. If our legal system is not deterrent enough, we shall not get it right in this country. You will agree with me that the judicial rascality, whereupon bizarre situations are given judicial imprimatur is contributing to heating the revolutionary predilection of the people to the bursting point.
Our reference article talked about the physical and psychological elements of a revolution. It explained this as having to do “with some events that take place in the country which gradually shaped the thinking of the citizens towards the paths of revolution”. Coincidentally, when that article was written in 2004, universities were on strike as reflected in these lines which also apply to the situation at hand: “Take the issue of education, the love for letters, devotion to art, the cross-fertilization of communicating minds and other benefits of education shaken when ASUU, as now, goes on strike. At such times, millions of students are forced to stay at home while the convulsion lasts. Rather than encourage patriotism, such strikes make students suspect that something is fundamentally wrong with the country. Thus awakened, some students are conditioned to march with anybody who will be courageous enough to raise the banner of revolution”. How many months have our students stayed at home while those we call our leaders, a succession of mediocrities alternately puffed up by a corrupt electoral system, are pretending as if everything is okay?
What of the economic elements of revolution? The article we made our companion did not talk about that, but the truth is that today, Nigeria’s problem is economics. There is hunger in the land. As the man who provoked this piece always says, anybody who does not know where the next meal will come from will be inclined to steal. Today, it is surprising how Nigerians survive on the so-called minimum wage. The bread we used to buy for N400 a loaf a few months ago is now N900. A big polythene bag can now contain what our N1 million will buy in the market. The Naira is gone as chasing power. When you realise that this is happening under a man that promised us an exchange rate of N1:1$, one asks oneself: “Why this country has not been imploded?”
Shall we include security as one of the elements of revolution? Yes, it is. The small revolution at Onitsha in the early late seventies termed “Boys Oyeee!” was sparked off by insecurity that stood to what is happening now as the Nigerian-Biafran war stood to the present Ukraine war. Travelling used to be fun, but people hardly travel these days because our roads are now perilous and dotted with bandits. Some of our air routes have been re-routed to avoid threats by terrorists, who may, delirious with terrestrial successes, want to try the air.
In Nigeria today, all the elements of a revolution are at work. To put it frankly, one can state with surety that we do not have a country as it is even difficult to define what Nigeria is today. In Nigeria, nothing works and the irony of it is that those at the helm either do not know or pretend not to know. Have you not watched them reeling out their achievements, how the country has become a better place under them?
Have you had a police case lately? Pray not to have one. If one loses one’s ‘phone, for example, one would pay to have it reported to the police. Do not try reporting the case or any case if you are not ready to foot the bill for every aspect of investigations, including fueling of police vehicles – this is how bad it has become due to poor funding for the police. What would we say, in truth, is the achievement of the present leaders of the country? We may not know that Nigeria has become a nation of barbarians. Indeed, civilization begins where chaos and insecurity end.
A few years ago, we detested some people travelling abroad. About 8 years ago many of our people overseas wished they were back, but today, opportunities to travel out for good are exciting and considered one of the highest achievements.
Watching the country and things getting worse, one should be full of praises for Nigerians for waiting longingly to use their PVCs to weed out nonsense which has become a by-word for the country. It is refreshing that the entire country is looking at Mr Peter Obi as the symbol of that peaceful revolution, knowing fully that he is alien to violence.
At 61 today, we ask: who is Mr Peter Obi and why his choice to lead the peaceful revolution? How should we, who fret at the pin-pricks of private tribulation, understand a man who bears in his mind and person the storm and stress of the change Nigerians desire?
One of his teachers, Professor Uzodimma Nwala remembers him for his tremendous capacity for work, which, according to the old academic, he undertook with perseverance and patience and an uncluttered mind which would reach the heart of any issue. Many people, including the youth, see in him the very spirit to house their resolve to enthrone a new order for what he did in Anambra State, where, as the Governor, he had the opportunity to prove his mettle. He was mettlesome enough as he transformed that State beyond recognition.
He impressed all, except those untruthful to themselves, with his keen and quick perceptions of the development needs and opportunities. In addition to meeting up with the needs of the State, he left over 75 billion Naira for his successor, Chief Willie Obiano. These are part of the reasons the youth and all men and women of goodwill have confidence in Peter Obi’s character. He is manifestly free of every kind of corruption and is superior to all considerations of money.
Is anybody so worthless or indolent as not to wish to understand by what system of organization, Obi, in eight years turned Anambra State into an exemplary State – a thing unique in Nigeria today? When the Governor of Taraba State revealed how Obiano told him that it was with the money Obi saved that he built an airport, everybody was excited but not surprised.
Even after he left as the Governor, he proudly, like the Sophist, moved from city to city sharing his experience in government and expounding his views in a style of oratory so delicately poised between figures and experiences that he has no problem attracting the attention of all. When he was invited to The Platform, one of the places where his oratory shone, the youth enjoyed the sight of Obi tossing statistics and figures, like an acrobat, into the air, and impaling them on the prongs of his questioning. The Platform’s appearance still vibrates with excitement and is hot with the hatred of enemies brought face-to-face in war. Thenceforth, he became the centre of attraction whenever and wherever he spoke.
It is not his fault that the youth see him as a man with the requisite strength to shake off the grips of corruption from the psyche of Nigerians. I suspect strongly that those in government may want to truncate the peaceful will of the people. Now is the time to tell them that nothing is as strong as the united will of the people. All it needs is one reckless man in power trying to be funny, in which case the peaceful revolution may, God forbid, turn into something unimaginable.
I, therefore, encourage the aides to those in power, people like Barr. Festus Keyamo, SAN; my big brother, Femi Adeshina; Abubakar Malami, SAN; Babatunde Fashola, SAN; our own Sen. Chris Ngige and all Nigerians of goodwill around Mr President to advise him patriotically. Compel on him the perusal of solid history, to observe how revolutions that took place in the past started, to study in detail the rise, progress, decay and whence, how and by what accidents and errors those revolutions have occurred. He must manage it by doing the right thing and allowing the will of the people to triumph at last.