Baba and the Four Hundred Thieves

OA Fakinlede

We are not talking about Ali here. And once the Ali is gone from the name, the thieves multiply ten fold! If you are only a stranger in these parts, you may be forgiven for not immediately realizing that there is only one Baba. And, tell me, where else would he live if not Ota? Baba’s thieves are not highwaymen; unlike Ali Baba’s their treasure store is the national patrimony.  These ones are, civilized, no vagabonds in the forest, but all live in sumptuous opulence in a certain well-decorated city, Central Nigeria. Bullet proof cars, robotic massaging machines, etc. These are regular paraphernalia! Here  men and women upon whom have been thrust the duty to make laws for 160 million people prefer to play the “Wetin’ You Carry?” game instead. For them, probes, probes and more probes, like aphrodisiacs allure irresistibly and must be carried out as if no other duty exists under the sun. Democracy has been successfully turned into a feast of scandals. When it is not the Power Sector, it is the Capital Market. Now starring: the Subsidy Probe. Then we probe the probe on the subsidy. If  juicier scandal emerges, we will  iterate again and probe the probe on the probe … ad infinitum. The only other important businesses that come close to this one are the “Oversight Functions” and Budget defense. For these, if no big probe emerges, there can be a need to travel to Ghana or some other safe haven to think about more probes! Wait a minute, even this one can bring up yet another scandal that will lead to more probes!

Nigeria! Hapless Nigerians!! Chained and packed like sardines for slavery (padlocks in the mouth) in the Americas; Looted silly to stupefaction by the British; Lured to Nationalism by Dreamers; Raped into unconsciousness by its very own paid armed Soldiers; Constantly molested now by well-rewarded swindlers in the name of the best remunerated “Honorables” in world history. In a week when worshipping souls were sent into their untimely graves by the Boko Haram scourge, When tanker trucks roasted human beings like bush meat on perhaps the most slumish expressway in the world, When 150 air travellers paid a fiery unscheduled visit to people hoping to use “better-pass-my-neighbor” to watch a football match with disastrous results on all sides, Our “Honorables” were busy probing until they probed themselves, as expected, into yet another scandal. The rest of the story is still unfolding. No need to mourn the dead, clear the roads and make the air safer. Just turn on your TV and enjoy the Soap! Or, tell me, what else are you enjoying?

Somewhere in all of this, there is the Baba that is also known as “Dey Kampe” firing in the now familiar pontifical pose. Swearing, cursing and prophesying all at once. And here, as usual, there are the “Baba knows all” praise singers who have not stopped despite the fact that Baba has few carrots left to throw at them these days! Talk about faithful old soldiers. And then you have those calling on Baba, the Kettle, to stop calling the Pot black. Baba! O Baba!! Friend or Foe? Saint or Devil? Hero or Villain. Baba, depending on whom you ask, is all of the above and more. He has been around for long enough, has wielded the bayonet, the gun and the staff for so long and has made many friends and enemies. Whichever name you call, Baba will answer!

To those who think Baba was good for nothing, the truth is that he tried his best to move Nigeria. Recall that he was a only rank soldier, catapulted to unexpected heights and lacked the depth commensurable to the power wielded. Void of the temperament to attract self-respecting giants that would have ameliorated well-documented deficiencies, he contented himself with a train Baba-mouthing upstarts that could only dazzle him with spreadsheet graphics he did not fully comprehend. With all his faults, Baba tried to give this nation a working Health Insurance System, A contributory Pension system and fought the “Honorables” hard and long to remove their hands from the till and monetized civil servant emoluments so that Nigeria can plan for the modern world. He even tried to undo his foolish “Indigenization” fiasco that robbed the nation of foreign investment. If efforts were all of it, Baba should be a huge success. Unfortunately, huge success, Baba is NOT! He is forced to watch from the sidelines the Nigeria he tried to redeem (as the messiah that Abiola was not) mired deeper and deeper into the very same self-inflicted immolations he tried so hard to avoid!

Naturally, Baba is angry. His ire is directed at the “Armed Robbers”! To Baba, these “Honorable Armed Robbers” are the cause of Nigeria’s woes and a curse to the nation. What will Baba do? “I dey laugh”, “I dey look” are fast replacing “I dey Kampe”. What a pity. It is not usually a good view looking at a man who once wielded power complaining of helplessness! He ends up much worse off that the rest of us who have always been in the latter state!

Are the “Honorables” Nigeria’s main problems? Of course, there is no equivocating the fact they a major drain on the nation’s money, health and wellbeing. As long as they are constantly lusting for more of the nation’s patrimony with insatiable greed, there will be no money for roads; None to make electricity; We will be buying 30 year-old planes and 80-year-old locomotives! Even if you buy a new car, you will drive it on bad roads and salute robbers and the real “wetin you carry”. They emerge from their parties by excessive amounts changing hands; They “capture” power via money; They can never have enough in order to remain in their line of business. There is no time to settle down and use the minds to properly legislate to grow the economy to create wealth through hardwork for Nigeria. Their mindset, comportment and carriage are on the other side of the street to work. They have inflicted on Nigeria this mighty disconnect between work and gain. “Ise kekere, owo nlanla, ka mi a gbadun kelele”! That is the fundamental norm and principle of their existence! It is a well-known fact that unearned income benumbs and stupefies the soul. Our “Honorables” are benumbed and stupefied. Their insatiable appetite for more of it; For conspicuous consumption and for misplaced priorities are all terrible yokes the nation must bear! The end is not near!

In spite of all this, sorry Baba, the “Honorables” are NOT Nigeria’s main problem. They are as bad as they are because of the fundamental weakness in the system we are running. We can abuse our representatives all we like; They are our brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. They did not come from Chile, Yemen or Mongolia! (I wish they did so we can have a deportation order! Problem solved!) They are Nigerians. And that is the problem. They are people who if you were to replace wholesale under this same system by other Nigerians, will still behave the same way. We MUST come to terms with this fact if we want to get to the root of our problem.

Baba, I am sorry to say, you have actually been a bigger part of the problem. You also had two great opportunities to help Nigeria to solve the problems but you listened to the wrong drummer! We looked to you in vain: Each time you blew it.

The suffocating unitary arrangement of pretended federalism, that refuses every attempt at redemption, no matter how feeble or non-threatening, is our major problem, our cancer. This cancer that is eating up Nigeria shows its face in five major ways: The Sharing Mentality, Unviable States, Militarized Constitution, Effete Policing and the Culture of Impunity. It is these that build up the infrastructure upon which corruption thrives. Our infantile attempts to fight corruption without demolishing its infrastructure have failed as many times as we have tried. If it is true that a mad man uses the same method and expects different results, what can we be called even after all the considerations of charity? With the corruption infrastructure in place, the Nigerian population performs at less than ten percent of its capacity! The Jews and Arabs have been fighting for centuries for a stretch of sandy desert that is hardly larger than Oyo State. To get and to keep small pieces of this land, they have tanks, bombers, battle ships and nuclear weapons. Nigerians sit down and look at some of the most fertile pieces of real estate on earth and go hungry! Able-bodied men are selling Chinese trivia on the roads when coal lies buried under them and they sleep in darkness with no electricity! They all love football but cannot grow a national brand so they are all doing Manchester United or Chelsea. They send children to Togo, Benin and Ghana because school discipline here has collapsed. They build churches on the expressway to pray God to give them Jeeps to drive on gulley laden roads. And God answers by sending them accidented scraps from those who pray not which they lay hands upon in church with teary eyes of gratitude. And yet, despite the joke upon us, no one is laughing! We forget the simple no brainer that those who want cars need to build assembly plants! Think, Nigeria, Think! They live contemptuously of one another as if mutual abuse can solve any problem!

The list of foolishnesses we indulge in can fill several books. The root is one: A suffocating unitary arrangement. With this in place this, nothing can grow. What grew MUST die. Retain the infrastructure, Corruption remains with us.

Baba had the opportunity to dismantle this infrastructure. He did not. Several deep thinkers in the land tried to help, Baba prevented them! It is too late to cry. Uncle Tai, Pa Enahoro, Pa Ajasin, Pa Adesanya, and many others have gone to the great beyond with these tears in their eyes! Others are at the brink. Even Baba himself will not likely see an improvement in our lot because this suffocation is hegemony and creates trillions of unearned income and subsidy for a powerful few. They have a new name. I refuse to call it; Detestable, detestable, detestable!

Sorry, Baba. I know how you feel about the “Armed Robbers”. They are not going away soon. You had your chance.