Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon finally hears the falconer; Obi holds the centre, things can old—or so we think.
I will start with a confession—which is also an excuse for how to begin writing this essay of uncertainty, of not knowing what to think a few hours before the 2023 election—that while I’m only 31 and haven’t arrived at that expected age of entropy in being less politically-charged, I am no longer that fiery youth in 2011, or 2015, debating politics, choosing camps, promoting one ideology or ideal and getting enraged at others’ folly or ignorance or stupidity, in trying to win them over to “a side.” The passion is gone.
It is a time for me to understand how I have come to this mind state, of my inertia and inuredness to the political fate of my country. Every day, a new slogan, a new morale booster, many novel but not-so-novel addition arrives, to the promise of the new messiah Peter Obi. Being on the side of what we may consider the left,which is the apparent trajectory of the messiah Obi and the Obidients, this energy surrounds me by virtue of my friends and age. Naturally, an erstwhile me would have gladly pronounced my Obidientship, worn and paraded this new face of change; but I am on a balcony, chosen to watch, not because I am apolitical or an indifferent aristocrat who doesn’t care about what court the ball falls in, but because Nigeria has happened to me.
It is a miracle how the country has endured. It is a miracle, for some of us who have read and understood certain things, having understood the history of how the country came to be, that Nigeria somehow has come this far. And yet when we stare into the damage that has rocked this country in the last two decades, more significantly the rot that has crippled the education system, it has become hard to think about the country’s trajectory without fear. And if without fear, then with fearful surrender to the vices that govern a state where the production and dissemination of knowledge are comatose. Every thinking person knows how vital man’s survival relies on the ability to acquire and use information, and how such a skill is one of the core factors of development in all ramifications. And how without this, what danger lies ahead. The possibility for an all-round thinking Nigerian relies on good education; the possibility for any semblance of sanity and growth, and in the fabric with which we think about the country, for it to be great, relies on this one thing: a good education.
And if this edifice has been brought to its knees, where does any real progress begin? We have watched good things waste. We have seen that the good fight doesn’t win here. It has been a painful experience to watch the country of our childhood which we so much believed in—headstrongly believed in—never live up to its potential, which as a result affects the quality of our existence. (Say “Hello” to the many ways Nigerian death can come to you.) I believe it is such betrayal and the fatigue of unfulfilled hope for change that brings one to this state of surrender. It is worst even when you imagine how you are part of a time or place in history where time is utterly wasted, and your inevitable role in this occupation. But how you must manage to survive another day as a primitive man making escape once more.
This is well-captured when the poet Ahmed Maiwada’s writes about how we know “that time / Is stray out here, / When the robber pulls out his arms / And takes it by force.” I already made my case in 2019 in my moment of surrender, which has lasted till now, in an essay I originally titled A Diary of Wastage—which espoused my sentiment then—but was re-titled by the editor and now friend Solomon Elusoji, of The Question Marker, to “Why Is Everything In Nigeria Designed To Kill Us,” which was apt as of then, as now, still, with the recent suffering of fuel queues and scarcity of the redesigned notes. What inspired the title of the essay was a column by Adebayo Williams in Newswatch (October 26, 1987), with the same title, where he wrote: “Wastage has become the dominant metaphor, the all-embracing formula for the tragedy of our collective existence.”
Adebayo Williams’ submission is a painful one to arrive at; not the mockery that we like to make of the nation today (which is indeed a mockery of ourselves). It is a cry from a wound that sears the heart; personally, it is a cry of defeat. Not a defeat that I wouldn’t want to rise from, but a defeat that almost spells permanency in the gaze of things; such fearful permanence of things that has made it seem as if to try to wish good for the country, to imagine change or to dream, is a futile exercise; such permanence of defeat that to be optimistic about the fate of the country or to make others feel your optimism is a sign of folly; a learnt culture which our reality has driven us farther, and farther, from unlearning.
Yet, we rise. In their book Why Nations Fail, authors Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson write of “creative destruction,” a change dynamic that destroys the status quo, an old dispensation, or obsolete economics and technology, with its new idiom, paradigm, and structures tenable for the present, and future, which is often engineered by an emergent and younger generation. Though they write of this in economic terms, Nigeria has suffered from the inability of a younger generation ready with the creative destruction to upset the system, become leaders of important positions, and create channels for growth. (The entertainment sector is a testament to this.) If you ask why this hasn’t happened all this while, it is not because an old guard has remained in power and uses tools of oppression to muffle the young, but because we have been trained, through bad education, to remain non-destructive.
However, this is why the current armada of the Obidiency is interesting to observe, as a young generation, hot-headed, angry, righteously arrogant, is galvanised in a unified force of creative destruction to dethrone the principalities and fell the apocalyptic horsemen that have had the country in captivity. It is a great movement to be a part of, without second thought. But as a citizen who has been serially betrayed, it’s not yet lost on some of us that Nigeria can always happen, that such flurry of euphoria that mounts with one’s candidate for the presidency, especially which was initially built on a personality cult and much jamboree, is not a misleading choice.
It was NigeriaDecides in March 2015; eight years later Nigeria Decides in a few hours. Once again, we have come to the crossroad. The country must change; there’s no negotiation; and the cards are all placed on Peter Obi’s table. For many, it’s a certainty the man must and will win; it’s a certainty he’s some kind of messiah, the long-awaited man for the job. Perhaps the Lee Kwan Yu that Goodluck Ebele Jonathan did not become after his popular campaign of Fresh Air. And he has tried. He has been industrious and shown commitment; his campaigning has been unprecedented in recent Nigerian history. He has shown a different face and inspired insurmountable hope. He has said all the right things and impressed us with his retentive memory and quoting of statistics. He espouses vision. And he has also called many politicians we don’t like his elder brothers, too. But will he be revolutionary? How certain are we, that given his touted track record, when he gets to the presidency, Nigeria, this unfathomable evil genius, will not happen to him? Someone I chatted with said she is scared, that “her heart is beating. It is as if the world will end if the Labour Party doesn’t win.”
What is scarier, which she hasn’t taken into consideration yet, as our minds are all focused on a Peter Obi win—after our lesson from 2015 which we promised ourselves that we had until 2023 to change our fate—is the fact that after this election, if the stars don’t align for her, we’d tell ourselves once more that we have until 2027, or 2031. These years sound dystopian to my ears: something hitherto only seen or read about in sci-fi movies or books. But the possibility of this becoming a reality is very close to real.
Yeats wrote that “the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” You know where I am going with this. It is a crucial time. Many—very many indeed—are saying Nigeria must change. I agree. That we cannot all japa. That we must fix the country. There is no doubt how crucial the next few hours are. But this dear country is not in the hands of good men. It is not in the hands of men we trust or who agree to the change we yearn for. The widening gyre is turning and we cannot underestimate the energy of the conservative right to outwit the left some of us identify with. We cannot overlook what machinations the worst among us, full of passionate intensity, devise. At the same time, we cannot allow them to remain in power.
Given the situation we are in, for those of us with hope looking towards light, I am with the Obidients, whose movement holds the promise of paving the way for a better country. However, it has been the habit of certain selfish intellectuals to insist that the country will never change (as our history has reinforced this thought). I never believe them, no matter how crushed I have been experiencing Nigeria. Our species thrive because of its insurmountable spirit which believes things get better. It has been as if we have been castrated from exercising this right to exist, of our insurmountable spirit, to become anything. It has been nightmarish to be knowledgeable of the number of good, well-intentioned Nigerians who have been silenced, killed, betrayed, and scorned, for dreaming of a better country.
Our constant attribute as humans is to dream even in adversity. And I dream. I do not believe a country with so much talent and intelligent citizens will only keep crumbling till it reaches final annihilation. Those who insist on our doom have lost the power of the imagination of prosperity. The country may be one helluva shit show but as Solomon Elusoji once tweeted: “The most important thing . . . is to believe in the beauty of tomorrow. This is why we make sacrifices today, to work hard, to push our own limits, to see opportunities where others see defeat, to dream when others sleep.”
It is time for an age to express itself. It is my desire, then, that Peter Obi wins. I desire that if he wins, his presidency will be a truly democratic one where freedom of expression is guaranteed and the rule of law comes first. Because these are the basic blocks for building inclusive political participation and an inclusive economy. That it won’t be business as usual. And when he doesn’t win, what happens?
We will be back to the Nigeria we have always known. A Nigeria I have concluded in my mind as a curious aberration. A system built to never work but which somehow continues to exist. How else can we account for the renaissance of the entertainment industry and the machines of death existing in the same space? I have imagined oftentimes that one may come to the rude awakening that the country has lost its shot at being great. That one must give up trying to understand it, and rather learn to live in it, as we are all getting used to. That we never had a revolution and that we are not in the age of revolution and thus will never see one.
In a vision I see of it—it may likely continue the way it is, to be a phenomenon, a leviathan of rot and a cherub of promise co-mingling; a kind of hopeful dystopia where everything aberrational thrives, where the magical, heroic, and splendorous happens once in a while, like Tobi Amusan, and where the horrendous, maleficent, and disastrous happens, too. A carnivorous republic waiting on many, many Ice Ages and Paleozoic and Cambrian years, before it arrives at its normal conditions of being a sane state. There is so much kamikaze. So much wantonness and incredulity. It is very complex to begin to unravel how someone like Buhari is running the affairs of the country. Apparently, he has no idea what he is doing. But if he does, he has taken Shakespeare’s words “all the world’s a stage” to a new mastery, bending the back of the country how he pleases.
When it became clear Donald Trump was likely to win the US Presidency in 2016, one of my favourite writers, Adam Gopnik, wrote in an essay, “Why Trump Is Different—and Must Be Repelled,” that to him, and many New Yorkers, Trump was that baby you put down at last; “it seems safely asleep, grateful and unbelievably exhausted you return to bed—only to hear the small tell-tale cough or sob that guarantees another crying jag is on the way.” At home, we know this as the fear of a Bola Ahmed Tinubu win. This is the edginess that would characterise the next hours today, for many Nigerians hoping Obi wins. For others, it’d be for the continuation of the status quo. Nigerians have sacrificed time to travel to their hometowns and villages to vote. The Obidient energy is high, and you’d think many will be out later thumb-printing Labour Party. There are voters, and I have heard them, geared to vote otherwise, with fearfully-imagined reasons why they would. One, two, or three persons are a microcosm; but a microcosm is just a part of a macrocosm. I hear Yeats’ words, “Surely some revelation is at hand.” Or rather, “the darkness drops again.” For many like my friend, hearts are beating. Surely the Final Coming is at hand.♦
Carl Terver has a BA English from Benue State University, Makurdi, and writes about film, literature, and music. He is the founding editor of Afapinen.