Even when I have not ‘done well’ enough to feature in any of the ‘Macaroni Papers’ that constantly reveal the offshore assets of powerful people, I still believe that some of us owe Nigeria a lot for the education we got and the various doors of opportunity it has opened for self-actualization and advancement. But, as I have also found out in recent weeks, speaking for Nigeria is almost now an anathema for many of our compatriots, including those who are what they are today by reason of that same country. I have had too many arguments with so many people lately on Nigeria that I already feel too drained, so I crave the indulgence of readers for not writing this column today.
Meanwhile, I am aware of why many of our young people are giving up on Nigeria. Nothing perhaps speaks to a time like this better than the message embedded in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by the 18th century German writer and politician, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. As distinct from the 2010 American fantasy adventure film, the poem in question tells a compelling story which started the moment an old sorcerer departed his workshop, leaving his apprentice with chores to perform.
Tired of fetching water, the apprentice, who had apparently observed his master at work, enchanted a broomstick to help him with the task, deploying a magic he was not yet fully trained in. The magic worked, but as water begun to flood the house, the apprentice sorcerer realised he had no knowledge of the command word that could make it stop. And the more he tried, out of desperation, to brutalise the enchanted broomstick by cutting it with an axe, the more the problem became compounded as each of the pieces took up a pail and continued fetching water, at twice the earlier speed. Eventually, after much damage had been done, the old sorcerer returned to break the spell. The poem finished with the old sorcerer’s statement that powerful spirits should only be invoked by the master himself.
In the world of scholarship, the story embodies a powerful moral about the danger of setting in process forces over which one may have no control. And it has been used by several writers and philosophers, including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who, in ‘The Communist Manifesto’, alluded to the poem while comparing the contradictions within the capitalist society to “the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”
In the absence of the ‘Old Sorcerer’, numerous apprentices are left to their own devices and in the process, there is confusion everywhere in Nigeria. And as I rest my column today, I can relax and flip through the papers. There is this interesting story of the confirmation by the Senate of Yahaya Muhammad as a board member of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). In the process, one ‘Distinguished’ reportedly raised a critical observation that the nominee started his elementary school a year before he was born!
I understand that in Nigeria, miracles happen every day and everywhere, but Senator Hassan Hadejia is apparently one of those who do not believe in miracles. “Let me bring to the notice of the House certain discrepancies in the report that are contradictory especially with regards to one of the nominees, Alhaji Yahaya Muhammad. The nominee according to record started his primary school before he was born. There is also an overlap in the sequence of his educational experience because here, he was born on 29th September 1969, and he started his Central Primary school in 1968…” said Senator Hassan Hadejia who raised the objection.
The presiding Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, who probably read the Ajantala story in D.O. Fagunwa’s ‘Igbo Irunmale’, couldn’t understand the fuzz about someone starting primary school right from his mother’s womb. It is lost on Omo-Agege and his colleagues (some of whom also parade dodgy credentials) that when you appoint such a man into the board of an institution that is supposed to restore integrity in the public space, you are invariably telling the world that you are just clowning about fighting corruption. But this of course is an issue we may have to deal with when this column resumes, hopefully next week.
Now, I can see the excitement of some people in government as Brent crude, Nigeria’s oil benchmark, hit $83.4 a barrel. It is misplaced. Aside the fact that we are pumping just about 1.65 million barrels per day, a higher crude price will affect the pump price of fuel with implications for subsidy and other distortions in the economy. Besides, the oil curse is still very much around for Nigeria. In October 2014, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published a report on how falling oil prices would affect members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), many of which “need oil prices to average way above the Brent crude oil price of $90 a barrel to balance their books.” Using data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Arab Petroleum Investments Corp and Deutsche Bank, the WSJ wrote that the “struggling OPEC members are suffering partly for failing to diversify their economies when oil prices were high”, as well as not investing “enough in their oil industries to sustain them through leaner times.”
That was seven years ago, and the situation has since worsened. Estimating how much a barrel of oil would have to sell before the budget of each OPEC country would balance, only six (Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Angola) were projected to fare well with the price below $100. According to data from the same IMF and Deutsche Bank, Nigeria would require oil to sell for $123 per barrel for a balanced budget. With revelation that we spent more than a billion dollar on debt-servicing in the first quarter of this year and a projection of more than seven trillion Naira as deficit in the proposed 2022 budget to be presented today by President Muhammadu Buhari, we know we are already in serious trouble. But who cares?
In all the cold calculations about 2023, the economy does not feature in the discussions. Neither is anybody concerned about the growing insecurity in which insurgents are gradually carving empires for themselves. On Tuesday, Daily Trust reported how suspected Boko Haram terrorists have infiltrated many communities in Niger State, directing residents to marry off their daughters at the age of 12 or face consequences. The report came two days after Governor Sani Bello confirmed that he had “every reason to believe that we are not dealing with bandits. From the latest operation, the way they coordinated and planned the attack has also confirmed to us that they must have had some kind of training.”
Niger State is very strategic for many reasons, including being the most expansive in territory (bigger than the entire Southeast in land mass and about 23 times the size of Lagos). More importantly, the state neighbours the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Indeed, following the April deadly attacks on villages in Shiroro and Munya local governments in the state, the governor had claimed that “The attackers included not only bandits but also Boko Haram members and their next target would be Abuja, a mere two hours away by road.”
Stakeholders in the North are today reading from the book of lamentations. The region, former Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof Usman Yusuf, said in June last year “is under siege and terrorized by rampaging bandits and insurgents”, for which he said President Buhari must be held accountable. “They roll into our towns and villages in convoys of motorcycles riding three on each, brandishing AK47 rifles with impunity. They spend hours killing, burning, raping, carting away livestock and abducting women as sex slaves”, said Yusuf. “In many of these villages, they put taxes on the people and keep coming back again and again to attack because there is no law enforcement presence to protect them. The Police or Military always show up after the carnage to count the bodies.”
We got here because just about seven years ago, many of the people who now bemoan the violence in the North thought they could mix politics with security without consequences. In an encounter I had with former Kano State Governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, in June 2014, he explained the situation for me this way: “If you talk to many people on the streets (in the North), they will tell you it is the federal government that is behind the insurgency to destroy the North. As ridiculous as it may sound, those who say that believe it. The second theory by those who choose to be more charitable is that while the presidency may not be instigating the violence, it has the capacity to deal with it but refuses to do so because it simply doesn’t care whether or not the North is destroyed,” Kwakwanso said. “Now, if you go to the Villa, the theory there is that it is we Northerners that created Boko Haram and are instigating all the violence against our own people, killing thousands, destroying the means of livelihood of millions and causing all this mayhem just because we don’t like President Goodluck Jonathan. Many people also believe such nonsense, and it may actually inform the lack of adequate response to the madness that is now destroying our country.”
I hope stakeholders from the Southeast will learn from that tragedy and not continue to make the same mistake. Today, the most dominant theory is that the killings and violence in Anambra, Enugu and Imo States are being orchestrated by security people at the instance of the federal government, in the same manner some Northerners argued it was President Jonathan and his government that were behind the Boko Haram killings. Only few people concede that the violence might have been instigated by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) to enforce its sit-at-home order and that their ranks could also have been infiltrated by sundry other criminals with scores to settle.
The lesson from many failed states is that when violent groups become strong, the task of resolving differences are usually complicated while redress of grievances in any amicable manner becomes practically impossible. As we therefore move towards the November gubernatorial poll in Anambra State and the 2023 general election, critical stakeholders in the Southeast must recognize that these free-range actors who dispense jungle justice could also become weapons in the hands of desperate politicians. So, no matter which side of the divide we belong in the conversation about Nigeria, we must understand that nothing is ever resolved by the barrels of a gun.
The challenge of the moment is that, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, the entrepreneurs of violence who now populate the country have no magic wand to stop the fire they are unwittingly igniting. Worse still, the ‘Old Sorcerer’ who can help restore order is nowhere to be found.
This column will return next week, by the grace of God.
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