These are strange and confounding times in Nigeria. The country is in dire straits. The cloud has darkened over Mr Lugard’s catatonic contraption. A thick pall of depression and despondency hangs about. Enemy nationals lay a mortal siege on the nation on all fronts: military, political, economic and spiritual. Talk of what is known in nautical language as a perfect storm. For the average citizen already trapped in the abyss of hopelessness, it feels like being in a horror movie.
It is surely a strange horror movie, this one. Brisk and brutal in pace; cruel and creepy in its grisly and bloodcurdling particulars, it could only have been scripted by the wondrously fertile imagination of contemporary Nigerians. Occasionally, the filmic actuality throws a brilliant sop of respite laced with expectations in the direction of the famished populace and they snap it up as an alternative to dying in distress at the consuming cinema or Theatre of termination.
Otherwise amidst the unremitting tragedy, how do we explain the spectacular triumphs of Nigerians and Nigeria-born citizens in international sports and politics? Nigeria is a sensational success abroad but a sorry scandal at home. It is as if Nigeria is saying that it is not over until it is over and that the movie has merely reached an interlude and not the dead end. What then is one to make of a horror movie that comes with this strange and unique sense of humour?
The lead actor and current Taoiseach is himself a character out of the surreal Theatre of Alienation: imperiously detached from tragic realities, gaunt, strange and estranged, with a faraway look of otherworldly fatalism, he is peppered and assailed by a thousand arrows from outraged nationals like a bear at bay. Haunted and hunted, sometimes, the insults get too personal.
But he is strangely impassive and stoical amidst the raging disorder. He himself has said that he could not wait to get out of the scarifying cross. It is like moaning for political euthanasia. But while all this is going on and in a move that would have made the founding father and Patron Saint of Absurdist Theatre, Eugene Ionesco, cringe with envy, the lead actor took off to another country to give a lecture on security.
It is a terrifying pit of hellish suffering and abjection out of which everybody is expected to lift himself by the bootstraps. One sometimes pictures the suffering president in the lonely splendour of Aso Rock with all the lights put out in the dead of the night as result of the prevailing insecurity stumbling about until he collides with a snow white apparition. It may well be the lady in the other room looking for a box of matches.
A ragtag militia made up of assorted ruffians and ragamuffins has apparently put out of business one of the greatest conventional armies thrown up by postcolonial Africa. This is an army whose top commanders had won international plaudits for peacekeeping and heroic derring-do beginning with the old Congo, through the then Tangayika and on to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
In his military heydays, the great man himself had been known to pursue Idris Deby and his renegade bandits all the way from the shores of Lake Chad to the wretched precincts of their Fort Lamy prefecture. Not even an official remonstration from his then civilian Commander in chief could restrain him.
But all that has gone up in smokes. It was another country and another army. Nowadays, the insurgents cock a snook at the most sacred sanctuary of the postcolonial state, disrobing it of authority and legitimacy in the process. Against all secular expectations and conventional logic, they even threaten to abduct the head of state and an outspoken governor from their state fortresses. It doesn’t get more sacrilegious.
If anybody thought that this was a macabre comedy of horrors taken too far, the marauders made good their threats on three fronts. First, they sacked the Kuje Maximum Security Correctional Facility in a textbook military assault that must have taken months to plan and liberated their impounded confederates.
Second, they ambushed a forward presidential convoy in a daredevil daylight operation that must have been painstaking in conception and execution. Finally, they mounted a daring frontal attack on the elite presidential guard killing some of its officers and men in the process.
The Brigade of Guards is the praetorian corps of the state. To subject its officers and men to this kind of cruel demystification by an irregular outfit exposes the nation’s vulnerabilities in a shocking and dramatic manner. It is bound to be consequential with far-reaching multiplier effects.
Not unexpectedly, the coordinated intimidation of state actors has brought a climate of fear and trembling to the capital, threatening to turn Abuja into a ghost city. Schools are closed. Places of worship are deserted. Market people abandon their stalls completely when they are not forced to close early. Office workers stay back at home.
According to observers, even the posh and glitzy hotels that litter the picturesque Abuja landscape now wear a forlorn and furtive look of apprehension. This is as close to an apocalypse unfolding as it will ever get. The entire apparatus of the state wears a helpless and paralysed look, like a rabbit demobilized by terror and fear at the mere sight of a predator snake.
Arguably the greatest casualty in all this is the national assembly which has been forced to close shop due to the fear of being overrun and captured by insurgents. For the first time in the history of the post-military Fourth Republic, the nation’s highest legislative body has succumbed to palpable fear with members scampering to the safety of their ethnic redoubts.
In a rather melodramatic manner, a fear stricken member was heard urging colleagues to flee the federal capital post haste and not to leave anything to chance. And then abandon their famous oversight duties? Abi nkankan nse man yi ni? Is there something wrong with the young man? Who will then act as the overseer of the unsightly? Having discovered the true weight of weightlessness, they are not about to leave anything to chance or to murderous chancers for that matter.
But you cannot plant cassava and expect to harvest yam tubers. The return of the native is neither assured nor paved with a heroic passage. The IPOB which has become the non-state law-giver in the eastern corridor has let it be known that they are not welcome anywhere in the east unless they return with their idol, the combustible and tempestuous Nnamdi Kanu.
It is an order much taller than the diminutive hell raiser himself. If the horror movie does not lurch into real tragedy at this point, it doesn’t get more horrifically comic than this, with state functions taken over by anti-state actors. The state looks on bitter bemusement and complete befuddlement. Even the mightiest army can only fight on restricted fronts and not an open-ended theatre.
Should the legislators be tempted to wander farther into the South South corridor, let them be informed that Mujaheed Asari Dokubo is already rumbling with intent. Anybody who has seen the viral video of the old Riverine war-lord, dressed like a pre-colonial plutocrat of the creeks and surrounded by men armed to the teeth with military grade weapon, will surmise that he has resumed hostilities in full force.
It is a perilous moment for the post-colonial state in Nigeria. Before now, the word out there was that, feeling the heat, Asari has fled and relocated abroad to a neighbouring country where he started a university. But for him to return at this point to resume hostilities shows that he is sensing that the balance of forces might have slipped away from federal agency.
On a lighter note, yours sincerely spent several nights together with Asari on the campaign trail in the old Ondo Province about a decade ago. Amiable, easy-going and reticent to a point of shyness, Asari does not give much away about his past in the creeks. It is only when you took another glance at his formidable rippling biceps that you knew that they were meant for other exertions beyond his daily consumption of huge wraps of eba and other nocturnal victuals of the amatorial variety.
The Nigerian postcolonial state is buffeted and assailed on all fronts to the point of a possibility of multiple organ failure. General Buhari has repeated ad nauseam his heartfelt desire to go back to his cows in Daura.
Whatever the current universal disappointment with his performance in office, the fiery denunciations and angry call out by affronted nationals, it is in the enlightened self-interest of the fractious political elite to help him achieve his desire. The alternative is a catastrophic state collapse which will imperil the nation, the West African corridor and the Black race in general.
Nigeria has arrived at a perilous conjuncture and we must avoid cutting our nose to spite our face. This was how it began in the Congo, in Somalia and in Biafra. Even if we agree to part ways eventually, it cannot be done under the current atmosphere of anomic state duress. It can only lead to the epoch of bandit warlords. This is what is already playing out in Zamfara State. It is the return of Mlungu, as the dying Chaka warned his regicidal half-brothers.
It is said that when you find yourself in a hole, you must stop digging. The government has been digging furiously. It is an open ditch which will consume everybody. Here are three urgent things the general from Daura must do to avoid a cataclysmic upending of the nation and his dream of going back to his cattle in peace.
First, we urge him once again to take a harder second look at his cabinet and do the needful. As it is, the Federal Executive Council is a dead-end and a den of deadbeats. Many of his appointees no longer inspire hope or confidence. They are tired and stressed and have nothing more to contribute beyond marking time and waiting for the appointed hour to go home.
Second, the president must urgently consider the desirability of appointing one of his most competent and trusted aides to serve as coordinator and driving spirit of the Transition Programme as well as his own political disengagement .This will serve not only to energise the dynamics of power transmission but it will also dispel the dark rumours and insinuations of a hidden agenda to scuttle the entire transition at some point. As we have noted on this page before, a lack of a sense of an ending is the veritable Achilles’ heel of Africa’s postcolonial rulers.
Finally, General Buhari must look into the possibility of convening a conference of former and current military commanders as well as top echelons of the intelligence community to brainstorm about the terrorist scourge that is threatening to overwhelm the nation and the way forward. In the age of asymmetrical warfare, the military needs to boost its capacity for thinking out of the box beyond the received opinion in regular military academies and institutions.
From George Patton, through Ludendorff and Charles de Gaulle, all great military rebel thinkers and paradigmatic philosophers of change often suffer grievously for their temerity and contumely. But with time, the old heresies often become the new orthodoxies. Nigeria may be lucky to find one or two of such geniuses lurking in the ranks of its military.