Tuesday, September 29, 2015 1:10 pm
By Adagbo Onoja.
Every morning now, every reader of several Nigerian newspapers encounter a tormenting but humanising discourse of the Chibok girls tragedy in the display of the number of days the ordeal has lasted. It is such an edifying unity of purpose in the print media in the face of a frightening threat to collective well being. Yet, it should remind us of something more threatening.
Nearly 40 years ago, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi drew Nigeria’s attention to it and what he said has to be quoted in extensor: “There is no government that can pursue a dynamic foreign policy if it is faced with problems of internal subversion and to prevent internal subversion, a society must not condone (1) the reckless acquisition of wealth by individuals whether in government or outside government and the reckless display of that wealth, no matter how acquired. We have got to a stage in this country where human beings have become so politicised and they draw the right conclusions from what they see even if they feel impotent about doing anything about it immediately. To me, the most dangerous or the most potent slogan in this country today is just made up of two words: “God dey”. When you get a Nigerian who just shrugs his shoulders and says, “God dey”, don’t think you have got away with riding over him. At that moment he is just giving up all hopes of convincing you to be reasonable. It then means that from that point on, he is asking for divine intervention. The intervention may not be divine when it comes but all it means is that he is just ready to resort to anything in order to correct the situation. I believe that we are not only posing a problem for ourselves foreign policy wise, but we are posing a problem for even our own existence as a nation if we don’t move towards trying to create a just society”.
Akinyemi suffered ideological bombardment on account of the speech from where this quotation was taken. Akinyemi had denounced Socialism which irritated many of his attackers. The most acerbic of them was certainly Bamako Jaji, (a pen name) who wrote “The Mutations of a Right-Wing Ideologue” which ran in two installments in The Guardian then. Of course, there was Lewis Obi’s frenemic “Akinyemi’s Nigerian Imperialism” in The National Concord. They were all well aimed. Other than that and looking back now, Akinyemi got most of his points right. If no caucuses in the presidency, NASS, the armed forces and the parties in the past 16 years were making regular references to that speech in the past 16 years, then the idea that Nigeria has been on auto-pilot is corroborated. This is because Akinyemi had anticipated the sedimentation of alienation into social instability either in individualistic mayhem such as armed robbery or the group vengeance we are witnessing all over today but whose sources of vengeance-seeking behaviour nobody can trace easily.
They all show that no such caucuses paid attention to Akinyemi’s early warning in any systematic manner. Rather, Nigeria pressed on the accelerator in the reverse order as far as human rights is concerned, sending mobile police squads and sometimes the military to draw down whole settlements. To worsen matters, we never follow up with any programme of social healing or restitution. The Obasanjo regime set up a variant of the Truth and Reconciliation approach. It was great in its own way but at the end of the day, it was also as exactly as Archbishop Onaiyekan memorably captured it: “a forum for a few aggrieved people to tell their story and cry for people to see…We were, therefore, treated to the bizarre spectacle of high-level lawyers leading big time liars to package their misleading stories for us to hear”.
In other words, restitution, reconciliation or transitional justice are still not a part of our consciousness in the management of the social order in the Nigeria. Instead of that, we are happier bandying about mindless analogies. Someone who utilises the institutional weaknesses in the Nigerian social order to acquire power and/or make money would say that the end justifies the means. S/he thinks that because Machiavelli said so, it becomes a licence upon which to anchor his or her own sadism. But, the end cannot justify every means without creating the “God dey” situation Akinyemi’s threat analysis fingered out. Any society that has no institutions or mechanisms to check such unconscionable combination of discretion and indiscretion by any one individual is already lost. The society would suffer if the trend is not checked. And in this society, it is always the weakest, those who cannot help themselves who pay the highest price for the consequences of the banalities we are all guilty of parading. That is what is great in the graphic display of the number of days the Chibok conundrum has lasted by several Nigerian newspapers.
Realism has suffered so much intellectual set back in recent years and Akinyemi might have shifted analytical position. But, as at 1979 when he drew Nigeria’s attention to this, it wasn’t because of any self-doubts in that analytical framework. So, nobody can say that he was pretending or posing as a reverend preaching morality to others. I believe he was doing that within the context of the mandate of knowledge, the responsibility to alert society to dangers to the social order from certain contradictions that are taken for granted.
He could afford to say those things without being reprimanded probably because of his personal connection with the Nigerian establishment or because the society was more liberal in those days. It is doubtful that the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) today would have survived that sort of analysis anytime after 1990. It must be pointed out that, by his own account, Akinyemi used to be queried even then. And he only never got punished because there were the T. Y Danjumas and M.D Yusufs in government in the late 1970s when Akinyemi was DG and who would call him to say ‘well done’ for such and such opinion that you expressed on NTA. And the minister querying him for embarrassing the government on account of that same view would have to back off.
The point is that even when you are an Akinyemi, it can be costly to be independent minded both then and now. This is virtually the case almost everywhere in the world, with only minor differences in the degree of tolerance. Some minister is bound to query you. God helps you if there are no informed superiors who understand the spirit of what you are saying. Those who are inclined to independent mindedness must, therefore, learn to start by acquiring the capabilities that would enable them not only to cope with the dangers of being independent minded but also be in a position to ignore what the type of ministers querying Akinyemi could do. More so that nowadays, being queried can be the most mild of such ‘punishments’. The situation has degenerated. There is room only for views considered favourable in the quarters where it is so considered. We are so scared of our shadows that we have practically shut down debate in Nigeria. Throwing ethnic abuses seems to be the only great game in town.