The last few days have been particularly brutal in Nigeria’s mediascape: Malfeasance in the Senate, Dino Melaye’s certificate scandal, theft of Paris Club refund in Zamfara state and elsewhere around the country, fraud in YouWin program, a protest against Amnesty International, and (as I write this), investigative reports on Sahara Reporters about Senator Andy Ubah’s certificate forgery. These are just a few examples of contemporary news about Nigerian leaders. My friend, Dr. Cyril Obi, a Program Director at the Social Science Research Council (New York), drew my attention earlier in the week to a viral video on social media. The video was titled “Mass burial for all our leaders”. I thought to myself “Cyril has come again with these videos”. I get inundated with lots of social media clips and I have learned to ignore most of them. I am not a fan of videos poking fun at serious situations that require concise social action.
But there was something about the young man in a black t-shirt that was too compelling to ignore. So, I watched the video. The young man stated that “our leaders are our problem…if they can just do mass burial for all our leaders and let we the youth start ruling, you will see that everything will go the way it should go”. The young man expressed his willingness to be arrested or killed for his opinion. The contrast between the background of the interview and his command of English was striking. Here was a young man who was clearly educated and knew his generation was being robbed by the system.
There is no denying that Nigeria has been afflicted with easily some of the worst cohorts of leaders on this planet. We have to admit that neither prayers nor curses have worked on the looters of our national treasury. General Sani Abacha was a highly vilified fellow; people routinely cursed him (at least in Ogun state) for annulling the June 12, 1993, elections. But Abacha was so cursed that his son nearly became governor of Kano state. Ken Saro-Wiwa was assassinated by the Abacha junta in 1995. His son, Ken Jr., died in 2016 at the unripe age of 47. The people responsible for Nigeria’s woes seem to have a preternatural enduring power, while those championing the cause of the masses — Gani Fawehinmi, among others — rarely live long.
I have repeatedly heard that God loves Nigeria more than any other country on earth. It is one of the lies that we like to tell ourselves. At best, God is indifferent to an unserious people. Every society peddles illusions regarding their collective identity and relationship to an otherworldly power. The countries that are prosperous (besides those whose original wealth came from subjugating others through colonial conquest, for instance) tend to have had outstanding leaders who set their countries on the path to development. Such countries also tend to have citizens whose desire is to live rather than merely survive. This is where we are currently lacking.
The young man’s video and growing alienation on display on social media perhaps indicate that the public is waking up from a transgenerational slumber. There seems to be an increasing sense of consciousness, and militant rhetoric regarding the conditions in Nigeria. However, some of the masses also gathered in Oghara, Delta state, in February 2017 to welcome James Ibori. Those individuals also live in the same society as the young man in the video. One man who was interviewed at the event argued that Ibori had been sent by God to the “University of Life” (I am not sure that is a registered entity in the UK). He refused to use the word “prison” and fabricated an astonishing narrative about the significance of Ibori’s experience in England. He seemed to see no link between Ibori’s stupendous wealth and the poverty and poor infrastructure in Delta state.
Despite these contradictions, the gargantuan daylight robbery in high echelons of power in the face of debilitating socio-economic conditions calls for great care on the part of the beneficiaries of the system. It is in their class interest to learn to read the mood of the times: There is anger in the land. What has been happening is no longer sustainable.
The masses must also recognize that their interests are not necessarily best served by people who speak the same language or practice the same religion. This is a social class issue. The looters of the system have permanently and comfortably set up their children in cities like Washington DC, London, Dubai, Riyadh, Toronto, and Geneva, among others. I have personally met or taught some of them over the years in Canada. Their parents typically buy them houses in cash. That’s almost unheard of in this part of the world, as most people borrow from banks to buy homes and spend up to 25 years or more paying off their loans.
Parents of these young people deploy the name of a god they do not serve to keep the masses in check. They make people accept their conditions as the will of God. There is nothing predestined about the suffering in Nigeria. I find it strange that people accept such conditions in a country with huge numbers of prosperity preachers. Things do not have to be this way. The way out is simple — the power of a determined and united people. Those familiar with the Bible will recall the story of the builders of the Tower of Babel.
Citizens can do a lot these days. We need more whistleblowers to expose corruption, civil disobedience, and acts of dignified disrespect directed at looters of the treasury. Leave any event where they are being celebrated. Refuse to honor them. They need your permission or acquiescence to rule over you.
I understand people are now chanting “Bring back our corruption” as a stinging critique of the inadequacies of the current government. But the issue is not merely at the federal level. What is happening in your local government or state? This is a defining moment in Nigeria’s history. The direction of the country will be shaped by how Nigerians respond to the staggering financial scandals that are unfolding almost on a daily basis. People rarely embezzle money for their ethnic group or members of their community. They do so as lone individuals or actors in selfish criminal syndicates. Will there be a mass burial for our leaders? I hope that we peacefully change the direction of our country and never get to that point.