We are back at the times of Emperor Nero, who fiddled while Rome burnt. Nigeria is decaying, putrefying, indeed, dying, and our leaders are unconcerned.
While the fate of millions of Nigerians hangs in the balance, they are engaged in personal battles. Battles of ego, of power, of personal aggrandizement. As far as they are concerned, we the people either do not exist, or if we do, we can as well go to blazes.
How long have undergraduates in public universities been home? Since June 30, because the lecturers are on strike over government’s infidelity to an agreement signed in 2009. All through July, August, and now September going to an end, young people in the most productive parts of their academic life have been idling away. Some of them have fallen into mischief that will have lifelong consequences for them.
Others have had their lives cut short through one escapade or the other. Yet, those in government do not care. It does not touch them, because their children probably don’t attend public universities. What are your children doing in such places? Shame on you that you can’t send them to private universities, or even abroad!
In the pre-French Revolution time, the people had complained about the prices of bread. But what did Marie Antoinette, the princess, allegedly say? “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” Let them eat cakes! Such was the arrogance, the impunity that reigned and ruled then. Which was more expensive between bread and cakes? And people in government are telling us today to go put our youths in private universities if we care a hoot about their future. As far as they are concerned, the power game, 2015 elections, who controls Rivers, Adamawa, and other states, are more important than university education. When the lecturers and students are tired, they will return to the classrooms.
There is great similitude between what happened during the Great Fire of Rome and what is happening in Nigeria today. The Great Fire started in Rome between July 18 and 19, 64 A.D. It burned for six days non-stop, during which only four of the 14 districts escaped. Three districts were completely destroyed, while the other seven suffered serious damage. It was carnage and misery of monumental proportions.
Emperor Nero ruled Rome then, and what did he do while the fire raged? Since his own area was unaffected, he took his lyre, wore costume, mounted his private stage, and began to play and sing the ‘Sack of Ilium.’ While Rome burnt, Nero fiddled.
Eventually, with the fury of the fire spent, and a large chunk of the city in ruins, Nero decided to build a new palace situated on about 300 acres of land earlier gutted by fire. How did he fund it? He levied the same people who had suffered so much agony, and built what was called Domius Aurea, a magnificent palace. Yes, “uptown babies don’t cry, they don’t know what hunger is like,” according to the musician Max Romeo.
Our public universities have been shut for almost three months. There is wanton bloodletting in different parts of the country. Ombatse cult in Nasarawa, Boko Haram in the North-east, kidnappings in the South-east, murder and mayhem across the landscape. The constitution makes it clear that security of lives and property is the primary duty of government. But do those in government care? Boko Haram may decimate a whole region, Ombatse may drink wine with the skulls of human beings, 2015 is more important. They don’t have bread to eat? Let them eat cakes then.
Nigeria, as my colleague, Funke Egbemode, once wrote in Sunday Sun, has been married on credit. Our leaders married the maiden, after sweet-talking the parents-in-law that they would pay the bride price later. Now, the once vibrant maiden parades flabby breasts, sucked dry by both the husband and the many children, her once sturdy legs and hips have become spindly, like the legs of the Anopheles mosquito, yet the bride price is not paid. And when the parents-in-law complain, the husband asks them to come for their daughter if they want. Goodbye basket, I’ve carried all my apples.
The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway used to be a pride. Now, it is a metaphor for the state of the country. Raggedy, collapsing, completely failed. Yet, rehabilitation work was flagged off with fanfare weeks back. No action since then. A country long on rhetorics, but short on positive action. Weren’t we told early last year that by the middle of this year, we would throw away our generators, as electricity would not blink for even a second? It is two months after the deadline, and darkness still reigns supreme. In the beginning, God said: “Let there be light.” Today, Nigeria says no. The harvest has passed, the summer is over, and my people are not saved.
Our hospitals are no better than abattoirs. Over 40 million Nigerians are unemployed, most of them youths. This is an army of Armageddon, waiting to precipitate doomsday, if you ask me. Life expectancy hovers around 46 or 47. Here, life is truly nasty, brutish and short. Yet, all that concerns our leaders is power struggle. Who rules Nigeria in 2015, not caring whether Nigeria is still alive, and in one piece by that year or not. They keep deluding themselves that the country cannot break. Yes, we will not break if we do the right things. But if we keep doing the wrong things, capable of putting us asunder, then it would be mere presumption to say our unity is inviolable. They say when you do the wrong things consistently, and you keep expecting a positive result, that it is the archetypal example of insanity. Our leaders keep doing the wrong things, living dangerously, and they say our unity is non-negotiable. I hear.
See what is happening in the Governors’ Forum, in Rivers State, and in the Peoples Democratic Party. If our leaders were truly busy, fully engaged with engendering better lives for the people, will the Presidency be interested in who leads the association of governors? Will it be fully engrossed in the abracadabra of wanting to ensure that a man with 16 votes be declared victor over the one with 19?
See what happened in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, last week. A sitting governor, in a democracy, had the road to the Government House barricaded against him by policemen. He had with him former speakers from different parts of the country, who were visiting. And he got such ridicule right in the presence of his guests, because some people do not like his guts. Who says we must always like the guts of the next man at all times? It doesn’t have to be, as long as his exercise of his guts does not infringe on our own fundamental human rights. But not here. If you do not kowtow to the master, you get run out of town. The show of shame in Port Harcourt happened, the Commissioner of Police still holds his position, and mum is the word from the Inspector-General of Police. Is this not the same M. D. Abubakar that we used to know, and who we held so highly? In a democracy, what happened in Rivers last week can only be described as nauseous, noxious, repugnant. It is detestable, disgusting, repulsive and revolting.
Now look at the PDP, polarized right down the middle. After weeks of recess, the two chambers of the National Assembly resumed on Tuesday. You would think the ASUU strike would be priority. Or the dwindling megawatts of electricity available to the country. Or poor state of roads. Or parlous state of healthcare. Or the pestilential state of insecurity. But no, Old PDP and New PDP was the issue. And the lawmakers ended in fisticuffs. Why are we in such sorry pass? When will our deliverance come?
The simple truth is that our leaders treat us with flippancy, with levity and disdain. We do not matter. In 2003, when Olusegun Obasanjo sought second term in office, ASUU had been on strike for almost six months at time of the election. It was not enough reason for Nigerians to revolt with their votes. Rather ridiculously, they purportedly voted for their oppressor, causing Obasanjo to boast that he had broken ASUU’s back. Now, 10 years later, the same union of university teachers is on strike again. But is it not supposed to be paraplegic, and on wheelchair, if we go by Obasanjo’s boast? Nigerian leaders are often major part of the country’s problem, really.
President Goodluck Jonathan wants to run for another term in 2015, even though he has not said so in so many words. I think it is his right to run. His opponents in the PDP, however, do not want him to run, because they know he will subvert the system to get the party’s ticket, and equally compromise the system in the general elections. Those in power always do. That is the meaning of power of incumbency here. The people do not matter, their votes do not count, as figures are simply awarded. Is this how Nigeria will continue? Shay na like this we go de dey? Our destiny lies in our hands. The country is sliding to Armageddon, yet they are fiddling. We can either applaud and dance to their music, or give them the left leg of fellowship. The choice is ours.