By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed
It’s a rare person who wants to hear what he doesn’t want to hear — Dick Cavett
YOU are reading my last column in this great paper. It is difficult to believe that I resumed only a few months ago after years of absence, owing to the generosity and firm proddings of a Nigerian I have very high regards for, Uncle Sam Amuka.
I have been part of this great Vanguard family for a long time, thanks to Uncle Sam’s strong belief in the value of a good paper being its ability to reflect all opinions. In the last few months, I enjoyed absolute freedom to offer personal opinions, most reflecting strong political leanings or narrower perspectives.
The value, for me, was that my voice was heard. This was where the critics were very important. If a columnist’s skin can withstand bruising responses, he will glean a wide spectrum of opinions that provide the hard stuff which make our politics as a nation today. There is not much from the edifying corridors of power and intellect which provided the nation’s political backbone and its hue from the late 1940s to the 1990s.
The lower rungs took over the moulding of opinion, as, indeed, it took over most of what is important in our lives. Our middle classes collapsed into the gutters. The Nigerian ceased to exist. His place was taken by identities and a perverted personality who is designed basically to offend the idea of a plural country. All of us had two identities: one we gave to ourselves, and the other given to us by others.
In the few years when I first wrote a regular weekly column in this paper, I could have sworn that this country had paid its dues for recklessness and gambling with expensive assets like good governance co-existence and security. We looked like we could elect leaders without shedding rivers of blood. We thought Boko Haram was going to be another uprising we would crush and wait for the next one.
We thought irritants like IPOB will fritter away as Nigerians look ahead, not backwards. We thought we could put endemic and pervasive corruption behind us. We thought we could create a political culture that placed premium on competent, honest people who will be elected on merit through a credible electoral process. We would still have serious problems, as any nation with our size, population, complexities, an economy and governance institutions crippled by corruption and poor management and an elite bleeding relevance and credible would have.
The stewardship of President Muhammadu Buhari put paid to all those grand dreams. In the history of Nigeria, no leader was elected with so much promise, and none had failed to deliver on so many fronts. As we speak, Boko Haram has become emboldened by the failure of the Nigerian state to defeat it. It holds large swathes of territory and populations and takes on our military as an equal.
Fairly new and old crimes like banditry, kidnappings and cultism have been fed by easy access to small arms and light weapons to blossom into virtual industries which threaten citizens, communities and even the survival of the nation. Corruption is more comfortable now than it has ever been.
The sign that the country will survive dwarfed leadership at all levels, politics that thrives only by exploiting more problems; spreading perceptions created deliberately by irredentists and an industry that shapes opinions among the young that the country has nothing to offer them, combine to exploit an alarming absence of elite cohesion and control of the political process and the economy.
In private, managers of this country who would rather sweep our current conditions under mountains of carpets accuse some of us who speak like this of undermining national security and exaggerating how bad things really are. But they are hard put to explain the abductions of school children; Boko Haram’s audacious exchanges of towns and populations with our fighting forces; attacks on targeted Northern communities in the South with virtually no consequences; the on-going strike by Northern farmers and transporters which is raising the cost of food in the South; frightening rhetorics on the consequences of decisions by politicians on rotation of the presidency; community action to cleanse ethnic groups from localities; the rise of local thugs who enjoy strong state patronage and protection and above all alarming rise on social media in language and style which indicate how far Nigerians think they are from each other.
There are a few glimmers of hope, but they are fighting for space with pervasive doom and gloom and a leadership that will not switch on the light. There are efforts all over the country by elite who can read the outlines of a bigger disaster, but they are disconnected and isolated.
Outside these, most Nigerians with an obligation and a responsibility to keep this administration on what remains of its toes appear to think resistance to poor governance and citizen action to challenge breaches to our rights to security and protection are the responsibilities of #EndSARS protestors and groups that demand for extra-constitutional action. Between an indifferent and incompetent leadership and an elite that thinks someone else should step up, this is where the country is bleeding badly.
So, unfortunately, I stop writing a weekly column I enjoyed to devote more time to those efforts that try to pull the country from the edge. I will miss writing this column, and the few commendations and heaps of criticisms and even insults for my temerity as an ‘Aboki Malam’ to use a ‘Southern’ platform.
In a way, these insults which profile and pigeonhole us are the highest hurdles we have to surmount if this nation will survive and know peace again. If Nigeria collapses because not too many of us bother to hold it up and reinforce its foundations, it will collapse on all our heads.
Boko Haram, IPOB, Amotekun, Ndigbo, Northern Elders Forum, Afenifere, PDP, APC, will have nothing to fight against. We will turn on each other in a spectacle the world may never have seen. Those who doubt this should peep into our foundations and see how weak they are. We may not realise it, but the centre of our existence as a country has been carved out by hate, indifference, opportunism and violence. All of us are on the edge. If we fail to rebuild the heart of the nation, we will fall off.
I thank you for reading my personal views. Goodbye.