Festival without Festivities
By Femi Abbas
Were it possible for the dead to wake up from their graves at will, Prophet Yusuf (Joseph), the great son of Prophet Ya‘qub (Jacob), would have resurrected in Nigeria at the request of hungry Nigerians. And, his mission would have been the interpretation of a dream like that of a Pharaoh of some millennia ago, which saved Egypt of yore from the scourge of a looming hunger.
But, alas, the absence of a Yusuf from the surface of the earth, today, has rendered the situation in this country hopeless. Despite unlimited human and material resources available in this so called ‘Giant of Africa’ Nigeria continues to wallow helplessly under a jaundiced economy like a centipede crawling into a brook of uncertainty.
By this time tomorrow, Muslims, all over the world, will be celebrating ‘Idul Adha. But unlike their brothers and sisters in most other parts of the world, overwhelming majority of Nigerian Muslims will celebrate that festival without any festivity. At the instance of injustice based on avarice and aggrandizement of a few privileged Nigerians, the ingredients of festivity have been banished in this country. Thus, many worshippers will celebrate this year’s ‘Idul Adha with hunger and despair.
This iron period in which consistent promise of eliminating the scourge of hunger, starvation and abject poverty seems to have become a pleasant dream turned into a painful nightmare which is an indicator of indefinite despair.
Generally, today, there is nostalgia in the land, not only for the days of oil boom when life was relatively comfortable for all and sundry but also for the era of abundant farm products when the thought of feeding was not much of a concern for most citizens. Nigerian Muslims and non-Muslims alike are today yearning for the return of those days when wives could confidently ask their husbands for festival gifts and children could demand for new dresses, shoes and wrist watches from their parents. Those were the days when festival seasons were really festive and the graph of marriage carried some indices of value. Those were the days of friendliness among neighbours, sincere wishes among colleagues, mutual confidence among spouses as well as general peace and tranquility in the society.
Now, those days are gone. And, they seem to have gone forever. Today, we have found ourselves in a situation against which we had long been warned in a couplet rendered by an Arab poet quoting two disciples of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) i. e. UbayyiBnKa’b and Abdullah BnMas’ud thus:
”This is the period in which truth is rejected in its totality while falsehood, corruption and betrayal of trust are held aloft; should this period linger with its woes and tribulations, the world, may soon assume a situation where people will neither rejoice over the birth of new babies nor grieve over the demise of dear relatives”.
Nigeria is fast becoming a dramatic entity mysteriously coded in parables. It may take an unprecedented revolution to dislodge some Nigerian economic vampires who subjected the citizenry to that situation. Ordinarily, in normal circumstances, a forward-looking country would have encouraged her citizenry to ask some probing questions thus: Who are we? Where are we coming from? And, where are we going from here? Those are some of the questions which all rational human beings should ask themselves from time to time. If only to re-package their self induced destiny
But such questions have been rendered irrelevant in Nigeria because the circumstances of life in this country have changed the priorities of ordinary citizens. The only question now in vogue, which virtually everybody in government seems to be asking tacitly, is this: ‘what personal benefit will I get in this office?
That very question is the real drama that permanently engages the attention of Nigerian civil servants days and nights. It is the question that robes Nigerian Police in a garment of open shamelessness with a banished conscience. It is the question that crowns money as a demigod which forbids human feeling. It is the question that fosters greed and fetters Nigeria to the stake of endemic corruption. It is the question that presents mirage to Nigerians as the only valuable substance worthy of pursuit.
What can we say of a man who fixes his eyes on the sun but does not see it? Instead, he sees a chorus of flaming seraphim announcing a paroxysm of despair. That is the parable of the country called Nigeria. Like the Israelis of Moses’ time, Nigerians have become gypsies wandering aimlessly and wallowing in abject poverty in the midst of abundance. What else do we expect from Allah beyond the invaluable bounties with which He has blessed us?
Nigeria is not lacking in forest and arable savannah. She is rich in rivers and mountains all of which are great resources for people who are seeking reasonable comfort and are not self-deceptive. What this country lacks is a class of responsible and patriotic leaders who can sincerely highlight its priorities according to the yearnings of the ordinary people. That food is becoming a threat to Nigerians today is an irony emanating from naivety and massive corruption entrenched on her soil, especially since 1999 when the current democracy first beamed a ray of hope to the people but which did not take much time before turning into despair.
Cost of governance
In Nigeria today, the cost of running the government alone is enough to render the country bankrupt. The retinue of federal ministers and a galaxy of Presidential and gubernatorial Advisers as well as the unlimited allowances of the legislators are major causes of poverty in the country. Even America with her huge economic resources, large population and financial wherewithal has only about ten functional ministers at the federal level. Why must we have separate ministers for agriculture and water resources? Where is the federal government’s farm to justify this? Why must we retain an obnoxious immunity clause in our constitution which facilitates monumental corruption for the serving Governors who, until recently, are merely hypocritically chased around but never caught for trial on the allegation of embezzlement after they might have left office? And, now, the new political cliché is ‘State Pardon’ for unrepentant official thieves.
Besides, what informs the idea of the so-called constituency allowances running into billions of naira for our legislators without anything to show for it at a time when innocent women and children are crying for food? No one would have thought in 1999 that artificial hunger could be added to the abysmal level of poverty in Nigeria despite the unprecedented rise in price of oil in the international market. The ubiquity of beggars and lunatics in our cities and towns is a confirmation of this assertion.
Style of Governance
Governance in Nigeria has become an artful trick adopted by a cabal to bamboozle the populace into blind submission to the whims and caprices of heartless politicians.
Now, despite the undeniable fact that Nigeria has become a country without roads, without electricity, without functional rail transportation system, without jobs for majority of the able-bodied citizens and even without food on our tables, we were still being cajoled into believing that Nigeria, the only country without coins, would become one of the 20 biggest economies in the world in year 2020. Wasn’t that a deliberate and audacious deception? And, now, that 2020 has come and gone, where is Nigeria on the map of economic progress?
No country in history has ever been known to have achieved economic vibrancy by magic. Nigeria cannot be an exception.
The government needs to be told, in no ambiguous language that no miracle can yield any economic success based on the ramshackle foundation laid down by one man (from the prison) who, as President, could hardly reason beyond the siege mentality of a prisoner. A fire brigade approach to food crisis in a country like Nigeria is a shameful reaction to an avoidable melancholy.
Yusuf (Joseph), the son of Ya’qub (Jacob), did not know that he could have any solution to a fundamental problem of a country other than his own. Neither did his brothers who sold him into slavery know that he could be a solution to a major problem in another land. But the accident of history never ceases to play itself out with repetition. Without Yusuf, only Allah knows what the history of Egypt would have been today. And without a Pharaoh’s dream of drought, the story of Yusuf would have been totally different from what we now know it to be.
If Egypt had any major plight when Yusuf was in prison in that country, it was Pharaoh’s dream. It turned out that Yusuf’s imprisonment in Egypt was a blessing, not only for Egypt but also for Yusuf and his family. What could have been a repeat of that episode, when we took the first shot of Nigeria’s fourth republic in 1999 when a new formidable foundation was supposed to be laid, only turned out to be a regrettable bizarre. The rest is left to history.
Yours sincerely was a student in Egypt in the 1970s when the hostility between that country and Israel was fierce. Egypt was then an ally of the (now defunct) Soviet Union while Israel was polically a satellite of the United States by proxy. Not only did Egypt suffer isolation from NATO member countries of Europe and America but the Soviet Union which was supposed to be her main ally was also not forthcoming with any meaningful assistance beyond the supply of scanty weapons. Thus, the Egyptian government had to take its destiny in its own hand by buckling up firmly in order to fend for her people at that critical time.
Realizing the importance of food supply, especially in a war situation, what Egypt did was to mobilize all her agricultural resources around River Nile and forgot about any food importation. The result was tremendous and thus, the fear of food insecurity was averted.
In the mid 1990s, Uganda, a sub-Sahara African country, found herself in the position of ancient Egypt. A colossal drought broke out in that country killing thousands of people and virtually wiping out the entire cattle in the country. No Pharaoh had any dreamed premonition and no Yusuf was in a prison to translate any dream into a solution.
What the Ugandans did to find a solution, at that time, was to reset the country’s agricultural focus. Rather than concentrating on tilling the land and rearing the cattle, which drought had eroded, a new focus was brought to bear. Uganda took to ‘bee farming’ as a relieving alternative. The seriousness which the government of that country paid to the new focus was such that Uganda today is a country to reckon with in the production and supply of honey and other bee products to the European communities. A substantial amount of honey consumed in Europe is currently supplied by Uganda as well as Kenya and Tanzania. And, those products have become the second biggest foreign exchange earner for Uganda after coffee.
Today, Nigeria is not afflicted by drought or famine. Neither is she engaged in any political war. Yet, the Nigerian government has learnt no lesson from any of the above named countries simply because there is oil in large deposit. Now, the general fear in the land is that of hunger even in times of festivals.
The narrative of how Nigeria arrived at such a deadly scourge is irrelevant for now. What is relevant is how to get out of it. Like Egypt of yore, Nigeria will need a Yusuf to unravel the mystery surrounding the dream that brought this scourge about.
It is ironic that people who live by the river bank can’t get water to drink when those living in the desert can find a reliable oasis to combat any drought. Given all the resources with which we are endowed, Nigerians should have no business with poverty let alone food crisis.
Capitalism, which was once an economic ideology propelling mercantilism, has moved a step ahead, especially in Nigeria where official theft has become a profession. Capitalism is now a religion through which its adherents worship money. To such adherents, accountability is a mere riddle which only the poor may wish to unravel.
It is only in the interest of those in government, especially those in the executive and legislative arms, who are most active in sharing public funds, to let the national wealth spread across board legitimately if only to avoid the current Nigerian elite situation where every house has become a prison in which the occupants are voluntarily jailed. To ignore the rule of law and shun justice in a land blessed with milk and honey is to cultivate insuperable trouble, permanently, with insecurity in all its ramifications. Today’s silence must be seen as a terrible omen for tomorrow’s mourning. To be forewarned is to be fore armed. God save Nigeria!