The wanton looting and vandalization of both public and private properties during the #ENDSARS protest in Lagos and several other places across the length and breadth of Nigeria call for a deep introspection by all and sundry.
What could have briddled such a level of uncontrolled anger and the consequent arson? Were those properties touched specifically targeted or just an happenstance?How did a seemingly peaceful demand for good governance suddenly turn into tears, sorrow and blood? So many questions begging for answer. Yet, like most issues in Nigeria, the desecration of the Eleko’s palace and the subsequent carting away of the Oba’s staff of office in the hallowed recess of the ancient palace is a sad reminder of a similarly despicable parallel, the invasion and daylight hijacking of the Senate mace on April 18, 2018.
In both incidents, politicians were fingered as the unseen hands backing the dare-devil aggressors in the removal of the symbol of authority. As it was then, it is now; the latter hatched in the egg of impunity of the former (apology to Professor Wole Soyinka). Albeit, impunity left unsanctioned replicates itself and percolates down. Unfortunately, amid the trepidation occasioned by the current imbroglio, Nigeria is a forgetful nation. It is a nation suffering from general amnesia deliberately and systematically imposed by the ruling class, not as much as to obliterate the mind of the historic interventions of the labour of our heroes past-a most abused phrase, but selfishly to blank out its own inglorious deeds. Every developed nation thrives on robust preservation of its history for in it etched her mores and morals; ethos and ethics and the transmission of such from generation to generation. Yet, it is in interrogation of the past that learning occurs and lessons apply.
In 1993, a popular Nigerian musician, then the rave of those years, had asserted and promoted in philosophy, content and lyrics, the all-influencing ability of wealth, situating the rich as next to the Almighty God. It was this mindset of vain glorification of wealth irrespective of the source that such an album and those of his ilk in the late 80s to early 90s imposed on one’s value system. The then role models were the super rich whose names featured prominently in every disco and dancing floor across the country. Prominent in this were the ‘silver spoons’, young men mostly in their 30s whose claim to wealth stemmed from reason of birth. On the other hand were the second group, the ‘carpet baggers’ or so they were called, products of the permissive Babangidas “chop I chop” regime. These two groups competed fiercely for young minds like mine as much as they jostled for space during owambe ‘naira-spraying’ competitions. A sad tale was that of a member of the class, a musical fan whose quest to outdo another in a supremacy race of naira shower on a musician led to his untimely death.
Grippingly, the 90s were also characterized by the militarilisation of Nigeria social political space. Universities ceased from being citadel of learning, rather it became covens of cultism. Academic freedom was subjugated under military dictatorship. Nigeria’s finest intellectuals, unable to withstand the mental assault coupled with poor conditions of service, migrated abroad en masse. Violent demonstrations became handy in the hands of equally corrupt student leadership in confronting agents of dictatorship within and outside the university. The military mowed down students at slightest unrests. In a documented experience by this writer, ‘24 hours in Abacha gulag’ published in the Punch newspaper of April 1, 1998, I relayed the baseness the Nigeria Police Force in its race for ignominy when some time in that year, ‘on the order from above’, some students from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, attending National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) meeting in Ado-Ekiti, were rounded up and hauled into detention under a most dehumanizing condition. It was the intervention of Donald Fajuyi, then a commissioner in the state and alumnus of OAU, whose intervention and plea with the then governor, Inuwa Bawa, paved the way for our eventual release. Those were the dark days of Sanni Abacha.
It is gratifying to say that every generation has its own heroes, role models, agents of change, whether individuals or institutions, those who tower above their contemporaries, just the way 60s threw up the likes of JF Kennedy, Malcom X and Martin Luther King jr. in the US, men who inspired their generation and changed the course of history. So did the independence struggle in Africa threw up the likes of Albert Luthuli, Herbert Macaulay, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikwe, Nelson Mandela, Ahmadu Bello and the sage, Obafemi Awolowo. Sadly, the heroes of my generation were men thrown to us by the corrupt system of 90s; it was a generation when corruption became a state policy, glorified and glamorized. Advanced Fee Fraud also known as 419 took an international dimension. Men known to be well educated and professionals became apostles of fraud deploying their mental arsenal in swindling often greedy foreigners and few innocent ones. It was the generation Professor Wole Soyinka exasperatingly referred to as the ‘wasted generation’.
In this decade, Nigeria, unabashedly, has thrown up a new set of role models. They are a dangerous class of men. They have wealth. They have power. Most frighteningly, they also have legitimacy to act. Their lifestyles negate the reality an average Nigerian contends and lives with daily. They are seen once in every four years to buy our votes. They transcend the entire political landscape whatever the layer or leaning: federal or state, progressive or conservative. Men and women, united in common purpose, to loot and legitimize such; and brazenly too. Men that hijack collective destiny by personalizing state resources and deploying the same to taunt the governed; in warehouses, on social media, in public and private functions and every other available social space not sparing the pew and podium, two hallowed institutions of rejuvenation, one moral, the other intellectual. These people, parading themselves in the corridors of power are the new role models. One collective name for them is the political class. Ask a young Nigeria who he aspires to be, a name of a crooked politician comes out. Not on account of service rather the synonymy between politics and wealth. These are the role models the youths that carted Eleko staff office took after. If it was done in the precinct of a Senate chamber, why not in an Oba’s palace? Like father, like son. Can’t Nigerians see the connection?
Temitope Aladesanmi, Phd