It is the time of the year we are immersed in the ritual of the momentous change in the calendar. One year becomes old and like a ripe fruit, falls off the bough and is replaced by a new year that begins its own count down from January 1.
It is an important and heady ritual. By this ritual, we measure human progress. Old things pass away to be replaced by new things. New things are the best evidence of human progress. The new year can be seen as the equivalent of egusi soup – inviting and delicious. There is thus something deliciously quaint and quirky in this annual ritual to which we tether our individual hopes for some dramatic improvements in our fortunes, as in touching the rainbow.
So, why am I trembling at the thought of the inevitable arrival of tomorrow? I should be jumping for joy that even for old codgers like me, tomorrow still holds hope for the country and its people and makes promises it alone can, and will, keep. I will tell you why I tremble.
To begin with, the change in the calendar is a mere ritual. The door is not actually shut in the face of the old year. Its problems are still the problems of the new year; its failures will still be visited on the new year. Some lingering problems will most likely be exacerbated in the new year. So, what is so new about the new year? However closely you may look, you will still see that everything remains the same as it was in the old year. The sun will still rise in the east and set in the west. Nature is allergic to changing its orders because they are cast in stone.
So, let me tell you why I tremble as we open the door to the new year, 2020 AD. I still see us marching vigorously on the same spot and mistake the rhetoric of progress for progress. I see us being unable to break out of the circles in which we keep moving all these years. I see promises wilting on the boughs and taking down with them, our hopes and aspirations as a nation. I see the politicians doing what they did last year and the year before and the year before that. Bad political habits change not at all because politics is an individual thing meant to satisfy individual ambitions but over laid with pretences to public service.
I see old problems still following us. Most of them were problems of my youth. I have grown old but the problems remain young and as troublesome as only the young can be. Take electricity, for instance. Inadequate or epileptic power supply is a nasty old problem. It has consistently made almost every Nigerian leader a promise breaker. Those of them who began their tenure with the robust promises of waving the magic wand and ending the importation of generators from Korea, China, Japan and India soon enough confronted the nastiness of this problem which is deeper than merely buying and selling between and among individuals. Trust my prediction: the generator merchants will still have bank managers eating out of their dirty hands in the new year while the rest of us watch from afar and in envy as the good times roll for some and the bad times circulate among the majority of the people.
I was a young man when this country launched its war against those who feel inclined to freely help themselves to our common wealth. It was dubbed the anti-corruption war. Many an ambitious general invited himself to lead that war and free our dear country from the clutches of graft. We now know that corruption is a solid problem and the war against it is waged thoroughly and dishonestly in ambivalence. Every year Transparency International, the global watchdog on corruption, tells us that despite the war waged with bells and whistles, our country is marginally better than Bangladesh. In other words, the bombs and the bullets have made no difference to the cardinal principles of kleptocracy. We steal; therefore, we are; we are corrupt, therefore we lead the black race.
I watch in my old age as the anti-graft war metamorphosed into an empty ritual in the exercise of political power with the hollow chest beating of self-satisfied incorruptibility. I know that in 2022 as in the years before, the news media will devote at least two-thirds of their time and space to serving us stories of corruption in high, middle and low places. We still have to live in a country that desires in words to be clean but continues in its old ways of using the anti-graft war to paint little thieves black and paint big thieves white to score a point.
If we remember 2021 for nothing else, we will remember it as the worst year in the progressive lack of capacity by the Nigerian state to fulfil its constitutional obligation of making its citizens safe and secure. I tremble because I know that the security situation is not likely to dramatically improve in 2022. I tremble because the criminals who have perfected the art of using school children as bargaining chips for their private wealth and doing so with impunity as our political leaders indulge in the grandiloquent but empty rhetoric of concerned leadership will continue to reign with the Nigerian state absent from the lives of its citizens.
The children who have been in captivity for six months in Zamfara and Kaduna states will still know no freedom in 2022 because their parents will not be able to pay for their freedom. It does not take rocket science to see that many more children will join the 12 million who have been driven out of because of insecurity. We will still live every single day with our hearts in our mouths. Life will continue to be nasty and brutish for the majority of our citizens but salubrious and comfortable for the privileged men and women. It is the way the cookies crumble.
I tremble because the penury of our peasant farmers will only deepen. Because of insecurity, they cannot go to their farms. Because of insecurity, many more of us will go hungry as the president continues to permit himself the plausible fiction of taking millions of people out poverty in the face of deepening poverty.
Our country is not about to hand over the trophy as the poverty capital of the world to another country any time soon because no country as of now is more deserving of it than ours. We will continue to live with the anomaly of being the biggest economy in Africa and yet poorer than the many poor countries on the continent. The late President Ghaddafi of Libya once told the late President Shagari that some African countries were big for nothing. Major Nzeogwu said that the “ten per centers” made the country look big for nothing. I scratch my old hairless head.
Next to corruption, national unity remains the most talked about problem. No one needs to be persuaded that if we are not united, if we are given to mutual suspicions and if we our tribes and our faiths are turned, as they have been, into fault lines to be exploited for personal and group gains, national unity shall elude us; and at opportune intervals, the drummers of disunity will beat the drums of disunity. Someone should pinch our politicians and see if they feel, if they hear and if they see.
Does 2022 promise us anything? Life is an empty charade without people hoping for something new and a life less nasty and less brutish. Still, I tremble.
Agbese can be reached via
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