A Week in the Life of Nigeria

By Eddie Iroh


Like most fathers, mine was my everything – mentor, teacher, professor, confessor; my Solomon. In material terms, he was a poor man. But in the values that matter most in life, he was not rich: he was stupendously rich. He was an ordinary yet extraordinary man who placed enormous premium on hard work, honesty, frankness, openness and uprightness. He would say something like: the person who has money can enjoy all the good things of life; but the man who has good, honest people around him is the greater person. Sometimes he would mystify his listeners by saying: I was with my father yesterday, even though his father, my grandfather, was long dead before even I was born. Later I came to understand what he really meant, namely that the values he imbibed from his own father were still the guiding principles in his life right up to the moment in question. I respected my father as most children do. He once described himself as our “visible God,” the representative of God in our life. What might seem as heresy was in fact his reaffirmation of one of God’s commandments – “Honour your father and mother …” [the only commandment that carries a promise of reward…] “that your life may be long.” Those who have read my works, especially Without A Silverspoon and Banana Leaves cannot but notice strains of my father’s influence in my writings, and indeed my life.

But one of the most enduring and endearing anecdotes from my father was the parable of the chick and the kite. The big hungry kite swooped down and plucked the hapless little chick and carried it off to be devoured. In the death clutch of the kite, the chick continued to screech and wail. The big bird looked down at the fledgling between his claws and asked the chick: “Why are you making noise? You know I am going to eat you and no one is going to stop me.” The little chick managed to utter its famous last words: “I am not crying so that you may release me; rather I want the world to hear my cry.” Whenever I pause to ask myself why we have continued to write, to cry, to wail even as it looks like we are engaged in the dialogue of the deaf, I remember and find solace in the words of the doomed chick. Even when we appear to be repeating ourselves, I find that some things bear repeating; probably because it is indeed the dialogue of the deaf.

And because our written word is also a chronicle for history, we believe that generations yet unborn may one day look back and say, well, some people did manage to put in a word or two.

I have just spent one week observing various aspects of our life as a nation, from rural to urban Nigeria. It was what the British would call ‘That Was the Week that Was’, a nation’s tragedies and maladies encapsulated in one eventful week. It provided ample proof that if, as former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said, a week is a long time in politics, then one week is a life time in our nation. First it was the week when the Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswan, proved to us that a brand new multi-million dollar State House qualifies as a “development project.” We are left with the inexorable conclusion that the late Aper Aku and others who pioneered Benue State were not wise enough or lacked the good taste to build an edifice of gubernatorial proportion. As the cost of the Governor’s Mansion may remain a state secret, unless we file for FOI, we shall never know how many new primary and or secondary schools the governor could have built with the money. Nor can we find the logic to explain this curious priority to the thousands of parents whose children are hawking akara and groundnuts on the streets of Makurdi, in a country where 12 million children of school age are not in school. In fact, the cost of the wrap-around adverts and full colour pages in newspapers and the attendant fanfare would pay the scholarship of a few dozen poor secondary school students in Benue State. Apart from the politics of it, there is really nothing to crow about most of these projects which any well-funded local government can deliver. And when governments waste this sort of money they should consider the old Heineken beer advert. It featured a chilled bottle of Heineken on a blank page with the simple words: When you brew a good beer, you don’t make a fuss.

And not being a politician, I think I would prefer to see our president engage less in these ceremonial photo opportunities of cutting tapes and cakes for largely non-developmental projects. Nigerians would rather cheer him as he is seen visiting the sites of the much-touted ongoing power projects, breathing down the neck of contractors by his mere presence, and speeding up the process that will transform us out of our dark age.

I cannot ignore that it was the week that Boko Haram wreaked more havoc on another church in Jos, the second such attack in one month.

The impunity with which these agents of terror strike, in spite of claims that they were being checkmated, asks questions of all of us. First, the parents of these terrorists. As my Igbo people would say: “When we sight a thief in the night, surely he is not a ghost; he is someone’s son;” meaning that parents do have and should take responsibility. I believe there are very few parents in this universe who do not know what their children are up to, especially those who engage in such dastardly acts. I have no idea how it would feel to have your son come home with the blood of innocent men, women and children dripping from the fingers he dips into his mother’s food dish. I know that in civilised nations, it is normal for parents to “shop” their children who have been known to engage in criminal activities. Indeed no government fights terror alone or entirely with military force. That is why NATO are spending as much on shooting the Talibans in Afghanistan as they spend on engaging the local populace in the prevention of terror. And if parents are failing us, what does one say about our mammoth intelligence machinery – Army, Navy and Air Force Intelligence; Police, SSS, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), and National Security Adviser (NSA).

As the chatter and crescendo of AK-47s rent the air and spatter innocent blood in Borno, Kano, and Kaduna, it begs the question: who are the backers of Boko Haram? Who pays for and procures these sophisticated terror weapons? Since Russia has not given Nigeria licence to produce them locally, how come they can so easily be put into so many wrong hands? If the security and intelligence agencies don’t know and haven’t found out, then who should? Is it the local night watchman? As Ndigbo will say, if you don’t know the art of chewing roasted palm nut, then leave it alone; don’t pick it.

That was the week that the government failed to live up to the principle of openness. In the British parliament on Tuesday of that week, UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond stood up in the House of Commons and reported to the British people the circumstances that led to the tragic loss of British and Italian lives in the rescue attempt in Sokoto, 6,000 kilometres away. But back in Abuja less than 600 kilometres from the scene of the incident, no one felt compelled to account to the Nigerian people in the same manner that the president, quite rightly, apologised to the British and Italian governments. Chroniclers of our diary of government by impunity will count this as just another thumbing of the nose at the public by our government. But there again how many Nigerians demanded such public accounting?

Surely that Nigeria can engage in such a truly brave attempt without it leaking out in a country where rumour rules and information drips like it was stored in a basket, is worthy of commendation, even though the effort was unsuccessful. But a government that is in dire need of something to cheer it for did not even know when a golden opportunity fell into its lap.

It was in this week that 400 megawatts was reportedly added to the national grid, a cause for celebration in a power-starved nation where every tiny megawatt counts. But that was also the week that our collective diesel bill in our apartment block rose from N7000 to N13000, which affirmed my firm belief that like the magic of Professor Peller, the more you get, the less you see! But nothing characterise the idea of dialogue of the deaf like this matter of power supply. We have been on the case of PHCN from the days when it was NEPA, and the fact that the new acronym has not caught on, and that NEPA remains a generic word for regular power failure, proves that in this particular area, we are performing Professor Peller’s magic.

And to cap a week that had not yet ended in my diary, we learnt that Kainji Dam had been shut down, reducing power supply by more than the 400 megawatts added in the week. A good case of one step forward, two steps behind.


Categories: Magazine


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