6th October, 2019
Professor Niyi Osundare is an award winning prolific poet, professor of English, dramatist and literary critic.
Now 72, the professor of English at New Orleans University, had diagnosed many times the problems with Nigeria. In a recent effort, he likens Nigeria to a perpetually delinquent child, who remains a fool at 59 and who also appears incurable. He also said Nigeria’s democracy is a parody of true democracy and is surviving on life support.
Read why he arrived at this conclusion:
Let me borrow a line from a popular song I used to hear in the 1960’s: “A fool at forty is a fool for ever”. Yes, a fool at forty. What, then, do we say about a fool at 59? Seriously speaking, Nigeria is a 59-year old that, in virtually all aspects, is like a delinquent child. And year in year out, this delinquency looks like an incurable malaise, for there is nothing that the country seems to be getting right. And, to make matters worse, that delinquency keeps getting more and more intractable. I mean, take a look at Nigeria’s development graph in the past half-century and you discover, to your utter pain and dismay, that the dial has kept heading downward. in virtually all departments: education, healthcare, transportation, housing, security of life and property, the value system, even the degree of confidence in the corporate existence of the country. In my well over seventy years on earth, I have never seen Nigeria so bedevilled by the degree of hunger, impoverishment, and seemingly uncontrollable unemployment that hold us hostage in the present time. The country seems to have put the development trajectory on reverse: from my educated observation, I can say Nigeria has fewer factories/industries, and a less productive agricultural sector now than she did in the first 25 years after independence. Our state of insecurity has never been so grave – not even in the years after the unfortunate civil war. Put simply, the joy of life and and living has never been in such short supply in this misbegotten country of ours.
Take a look at Nigeria’s development graph in the past half-century and you discover, to your utter pain and dismay, that the dial has kept heading downward. in virtually all departments: education, healthcare, transportation, housing, security of life and property, the value system, even the degree of confidence in the corporate existence of the country
Now, before we jump into any simplistic conclusion, let’s borrow some insight from the retort of that hunchback who, when asked about the cause of the crookedness of his upper-back burden, instantly told his interlocutor to look somewhere below his (hunchback’s) knees. Nigeria didn’t suddenly meet her fiasco in 2019; the rain began to beat us (bless Chinua Achebe for that folksy idiom) a long, long time ago: the patched up contraption of a Nigeria we were given at Independence plus the numerous leaks in its ship of state; the gang of thoughtless, visionless, selfish, corrupt leaders who grabbed the reins of power and instantly ran that ship aground; the locust years of military dictators who trashed our civil constitution and imposed their rule of blood and iron; the few spells of civil interregnum that blighted Nigeria with a band of civilian rulers who were anything but civil ……Add to these the calamity of an oil-saturated economy which yielded petro-dollars in uncontrollable quantum, lubricated a gigantic corruption machine, and turned Nigeria into an improvident Gomorrah of sinful lucre. From this venal slush emerged two groups made up of clever, unconscionable billionaires who have STOLEN the lion’s share of the wealth, and the vast, desperate masses pauperized and dehumanized by these moneyed crooks. It is these crooks that have largely used their stolen wealth for securing political power, and using that power to multiply their fortunes. Nigeria is a land of a few Have-Alls and a multitude of Have-Nots. In a land so lacking in equity, how can democracy thrive?
20 years of democracy:
Nigerian democracy, or, democracy in Nigeria, is still gasping, but it is on life support. The big question is: how does one resolve the terrible contradiction of/in a Democracy of Unequal People and Unequal Parts/components? How can democracy work in a country of two hundred billionaires and two hundred million paupers? It is a universally acknowledged fact that the solid sine qua non of democracy is a free, functional, trustworthy, and trusted electoral system. Has Nigeria ever had that? How many of our current (or past) elected officials won their seats through clean, uncompromised polls? Can you discern any trace of democracy in the callous and scandalously high remunerations Nigeria’s ruling class have carved out for themselves, and the abominable misery that have inflicted on the rest of us? Next time our pampered, multimillionaire Senator romps royally to his constituency to speechify about democracy, shouldn’t the swindled constituents ask him/her where s/he has kept their constituency allocations, then democratically chase him/her out of town and forbid him/her to come back until s/he can bring the funds s/he has democratically collected on their behalf?
No, Nigeria is no democracy at the moment. To say that she is one would be tantamount to calling that noble system of government a bad name. As things stand at the moment, our Democracy is on life support. An awful lot of medical work will be needed to give it the breath of life
Tell the democracy fable to the hordes of Nigerian humanity who pound the pavements of our cities and villages, ready and eager to work without finding any, with nowhere to lay their heads, no school for their children, no hospitals to mend their health, and no coffins for their corpses when they succumb to premature demise. Their response is likely to be different from that of politicians rigged into political fortune or My Lords the ‘Temple of Justice’ waiting for the next bribe.
No, Nigeria is no democracy at the moment. To say that she is one would be tantamount to calling that noble system of government a bad name. As things stand at the moment, our Democracy is on life support. An awful lot of medical work will be needed to give it the breath of life.
*Excerpted from an interview Osundare gave The Guardian to mark 59th Independence Anniversary of Nigeria