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Olusegun Adeniyi: The ‘Prophet’ And The Grave Diggers

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The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi email;olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

Two events played out on Monday, one in Kogi and the other in Abuja which, put together, tell a compelling story about our country and its future. In Kogi, shortly before the late gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Prince Abubakar Audu was buried, a ‘prophet’ appeared to embark on what turned out to be a futile effort. On the same day in Abuja, thousands of people flying the flags of Biafra were on rampage at the end of which some of them posted out statements, claiming “victory” for their cause.

While on the face value we may say the two events are unrelated, the subtext behind each is the politics of (ethno-religious) identity that defines our country and may be responsible for most of the challenges we grapple with today.In Kogi, the ‘prophet’ and the youth who broke the door for her to access where the remains of Audu was kept were desperate to resurrect the APC candidate because his death, at a time he was smelling victory at the polls, had thrown into the equations all sorts of imponderables that could alter the political calculus in the state. In Abuja, four and a half decades after the end of civil war, throngs of Nigerian youth mobilized around “Biafra” in a proxy fight against some of the dysfunctions in our nation.

Let us begin with Kogi. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has always insisted, and quite correctly too, that it doesn’t have any power to cancel results that had been declared after elections. That explains why the commission is always telling aggrieved parties to approach the tribunal for redress whenever they felt dissatisfied. To that extent, one can understand the decision by INEC to conclude the gubernatorial election with the supplementary polls slated for next week Saturday, December 5. The date, according to the commission, was chosen to allow the APC fill the vacancy created by Audu’s death. But the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is kicking against the decision and understandably too. The pertinent question here is: Can a new candidate actually inherit votes that were cast for another candidate who is now late?

Incidentally, the Kogi election has thrown up other hitherto unconsidered variables. For instance, the APC is claiming that INEC ought to have declared its candidate the outright winner of the election last Sunday. According to the returning officer, Professor Emmanuel Kucha, the total number of registered voters in the 91 polling units where the elections could not hold is 49,953 whereas the late Audu was leading with 41,353. The APC is, however, claiming that only about 25,000 are eligible to vote in those polling units because that is the number that collected their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).

While there is no proof to justify that claim, even if it were true, I believe that INEC was correct in its decision to order a supplementary poll since it would have been wrong to base such a critical judgement call on conjectures or mathematical permutations. What the Electoral Act recognises is the actual number of registered voters and not the number of prospective voters that collected PVCs.

What is particularly interesting is that at the APC primaries won by the late Audu, the candidates who came second, third and fourth are all Ebira people. So were the party to pick the runner-up, it would be left with an Ebira/Okun ticket, pushing the Igalas out of the power equation in a state they consider their own. And given that most of the cancelled votes are in Igala land, this is why I think APC is thinking of fresh primaries, otherwise, we may witness another “political miracle” in Kogi State with the incumbent Wada who has declared a seven-day mourning period for Audu snatching victory from the jaw of what appeared a sure defeat.

It is therefore within that context that one should understand the desperation that brought in the ‘prophet’ who, according to a cartoonist, wanted to render Audu’s death “inconclusive”. It is also within that context that we can situate “the Biafra struggle”.

Whatever misgivings anybody may habour about the Biafran crusaders and the motivation for their disruptive activities, the point here is that if the protests were the isolated reminiscences of a few individuals or small groups, it could easily have been waved off as the entitlement of citizens to remember an aspect of our national history. But what we are witnessing is an increasingly popular campaign in some parts of the country where thousands of young people now seek salvation in a past experience that many of them only heard about from tales told by their parents.

The Kogi debacle is only slightly different. The subtext has been about the fate of the APC gubernatorial running mate, Hon. James Faleke, a second term (and sitting) member of the House of Representatives, representing Ikeja Federal Constituency of Lagos State. He is an Okun-Yoruba man in a state where it had become almost impossible for a non-Igala man to be governor. Beyond the affection some people may have for Audu, a controversial politician who was loved and loathed in equal measure, there is the fear by some people in the state–and excitement by another group–that a non-Igala man could, as a result of Audu’s death, become Governor of Kogi State.

Therefore, the inference one can draw from the foregoing is that the ‘prophet’ who was trying to revive Audu may have been doing so not out of love for the person of the deceased APC candidate but rather for what she believed the man represented. The same goes for Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, the incarcerated director of “Radio Biafra” and his silent supporters who may not even like the young man but have come to accept him as the symbol of a “struggle” for their people.

In the larger context, we can extrapolate the role of the ‘prophet’ and that of the grave diggers to situate some things about our country today. In a society that glorifies superstition, on grounds of an unproven claim, and with no known antecedent, the ‘prophet’ was allowed to go and violate the dead; and on account of that, rumours were spread that Audu had indeed resurrected. Meanwhile, the conventional wisdom in the adage that the grave diggers are more useful to the dead than the ‘wailing wailers’ proved to be true, at the end of the day.

Yet the tragedy of our society is that we put too much faith in the ‘prophets’, the charlatans who prey on the ignorance of the people to attract undue following (to their personal advantage) while ignoring the ‘grave diggers’ who do the real job. The problem is compounded by the fact that the same society rewards the former with little or no incentive for the latter. That is perhaps the best way to describe the hysteria that Kanu’s “Biafra agenda” has become. All that the young man did was to print some flags, some “currency” that is not a legal tender anywhere, some “ Biafran international passport” that he would dare not use at any airport etc. And he got thousands of youth to believe he has founded a new country and by that wrote himself into instant stardom.

The message here is simple: No nation develops with a preponderance of ‘prophets’ who merely rouse passion, promising what they cannot deliver and in the process contributing to the frustration of the people. On the other side are the ‘grave diggers’, who understand that they have a job to do and would refuse to be distracted by the antics of some over-pampered ‘prophets’. They are the people who build enduring societies.

 

Soludo, Sanusi and the Economy

There is this story of a couple driving on the road when another car drove past and nearly pushed their vehicle into the bush. Shaking his head, the man muttered: “Women! They are lousy drivers”. This was in apparent reference to the person on the wheel in the car that drove past. Not done, the man began to reel out examples of how women cause road accidents to the consternation of his wife who felt angry about the generalisation.

As it would happen, in the course of the conversation, they caught up with the car that started the debate only to discover that the driver was actually a man. “You see now that it is a man,” said the wife who was expecting an apology. But our man had a ready reply: “Well, his mother must have taught him how to drive.”

That story illustrates how some people would never allow facts to stand in the way of whatever they want to believe. With such people, you can never win any argument so it is a waste of time trying to rationalize with them. That was what I tried to explain to my friend, Nnanna Anyim Ude some weeks back after he sent me SMS on the “hornet’s nest” stirred by my column of that week, referring to the comments by readers below the piece.

Ordinarily, I don’t read comments below whatever I write not only because the personal mails I receive are usually many and serve as enough feedback but also because I have no temperament for those who would rather abuse—and that is the only thing most of those people know how to do. The reactions are usually not about the issues under discourse but rather about their perception, mostly prejudicial, of the writer in a nation where many judge others by their own standards.

That is perhaps the only way to rationalise some of the knee-jerk reactions to the interventions on the state of the economy by two former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governors who have, in recent weeks, spoken almost in quick succession.

First, it was the Emir of Kano, HRH Muhammadu Sanusi II, who warned the authorities not to be in denial about certain economic fundamentals that do not add up. He spoke about the restrictions on foreign exchange trading and its implications, the seemingly unrealistic value of the Naira within the context of prevailing circumstances and the sustenance of the wasteful, inefficient and fraud-ridden regime of subsidy in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry. The reaction of many of our “experts” and politicians to Sanusi was typical: “Let him go and sit down!”
Speaking two weeks later but along similar lines, Professor Chukwuma Soludo marshalled his points so brilliantly that even non-economists could see the wisdom of his intervention. Soludo argued that the politics of naira value, the rigid foreign exchange (forex) regime, the controversial bailout funds for state governments among other policies of the Federal Government could be counterproductive to our national economic well-being. He also canvassed the removal of fuel subsidy and a more realistic implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA). The reaction: “Soludo is a frustrated man!”

I am not an economist and for that reason not in a position to add anything to what these two former CBN governors have said. But anybody with a modicum of commonsense can see very clearly that the economy is in trouble with oil price on a free fall (now at $38 per barrel). That ordinarily means President Muhammadu Buhari would need to rethink some of his nostalgic ideas like “reviving Nigeria Airways” while it remains to be seen where the money to pay some 25 million Nigerians N5,000 each per month (apparently to buy recharge card!) will come from.

However, the bigger challenge is in the management of the downstream sector of our petroleum industry. Given the biting fuel crisis of recent weeks, against the background of the N435 billion supplementary budget proposal to pay for a single consumption item, I am working on an intervention that will lay bare some of the issues around subsidy payments in recent years. It will be published as a series on this page very soon.
The essence is to show that the choices we make (or refuse to make) today will have serious consequences that could last for many years to come. That is why I believe the authorities should pay attention to what both Sanusi and Soludo are saying. It is difficult to argue that both of them do not know what they are talking about or describe them as enemies of this administration.

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