Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Whispering Drums With Maigani

by Musa Ibrahim

Vicious circle

“... Goodbye daddy. Hope you make a very big deal while you are in Nigeria..."
Those words were echoed more than ten years ago by none other than a 12-year-old son of an American businessman, Messrs Tornado, Managing Director of a large construction company. It was in the seventies, one of the blessed decades of our Lord, and suddenly, Nigeria was the centre stage of an economic drama. With the discovery (or is it heavenly revelation?) of an endless valuable mineral water called oil along her shores, Nigeria became the biblical Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. From then on, there appeared to be no shortage of cash and most importantly, no shortage of people willing to spend this cash on behalf of the government and the country. From America to the UK, Brazil and Japan, France and Italy, Germany and Russia, they came, all of them, some of them genuine, but most of them fake business executives and representatives, all with the same intent and desire: "To make a very big deal while in Nigeria." They scrambled to see this minister or that commissioner, that governor or that permanent secretary. "We will trans- form your country and make it second to none in Africa south of the Sahara," they all boasted. Master architectural designs, plans, proposals and blue prints were presented, per- centages discussed and promises made. At last, the African, the blackman to be precise, has arrived! "Are these not whites seeking for favours from the blackman? Let us show them how important we are," they sang.

And so a cumbersome bureaucracy full of red-tapes was enacted. "Good morning I am the Managing Director of my company and I have an appointment to see the Minister . . . " "I am the Minister's Secretary… the Minister is busy right now" (in some cases you are told he is out). And so the long, sweating wait begins. Nothing happens and nothing moves in the office. It is closing time, 3.30pm and the Managing Director is still there. The Secretary is about to leave and innocently suggests: "You can either come tomorrow morning or you can see the minister in his house this evening... Here is his house address..."

A public servant has become a tin god with a thick, impenetrable fortress surrounding him. Outside of this fortress are hungry, expectant eyes. Eyes of the natives who have been denied their own share of the national cake and eyes of others who are dissatisfied with the way things are and are willing for a change.

But as soon as this change comes (and Nigeria has an enviable record in changes), nothing really changes. The bureaucracy remains, the scramble for ministerial positions soars, the percentages increase and the nation totters on with benigned trepidations.

For the past one year, I have fasted, prayed and raved at God to do me just one favour: save Nigeria from it's vicious circle! Yesterday, I got a revelation and saw the writing on the wall. It read: "Blessed are those who persevere and are patient, for they shall be satisfied." And I answered, "AMEN".

In the beginning...

In the beginning was the word, and the word was God, and the God was with the word... wrong.

In the beginning was the Queen of England who beget Tafawa Balewa and Balewa beget Aguiyi Ironsi who beget Yakubu Gowon who beget Murtala Muhammed who beget Olusegun Obasanjo who beget Shehu Shagari who beget Muhammadu Buhari who beget… That, in a nutshell, is what constitutes Nigerian history to date. And all within a period of 24 years! No wonder, anywhere you go, the word is that you can't beat a Nigerian.

The problem started with Yakubu Gowon who, after the Queen, Balewa and Ironsi, became Nigeria's youngest I Head of State. At 32, he was already a Lt-Col. in one of Africa's most populous army. Handsome, intelligent and ambitious he seemed to have had his dreams come true when he became Head of State.

Then came uncertainties - first, the civil war, then too much money for the country, which brought in too much temptations for those in power, and too much negligence for the ruled on the part of the rulers. When he was overthrown by a fellow lower military officer in a coup, the problem was not Gowon but his lieutenants who had misused the public position - the Governors, Permanent Secretaries, Commissioners, and all. These were the villains and the "no-nonsense" successor of Gowon was bent on retribution. They were retired "with immediate effect with no benefits." Of course there was kirikiri maximum prison. Of course they had committed economic crimes against Nigeria and its people. Of course some of them were millionaires. But all these did not matter. It was an inside war - soldier versus soldier . Nobody was jailed. No military tribunals were formed and everybody forgot and forgave.

Obasanjo came and there was more plundering, more negligence and more millionaires. But he was clever and did not want to follow the footsteps of his predecessors so he supervised a hurried election and handed over power so that the Nigerian people will not know that the thief has taken too much from the owner.

With a virtually empty national treasury, Shagari came in and wasted all his energies answering his critics and pampering the over-packed national assembly where the untouchable honourables bargained and lobbied for allowances and positions on this committee or that. When Shagari was overthrown it was not for his own doing, but because of the work of his lieutenants - the Veepee, the ministers and the governors became the scape-goats. But with Buhari, all retirements with immediate effect had one place to go to the Kirikiri prison. Still, there are no changes. The oil is there, the corruption is there, the ministers are there, and the percentages are there, and life goes on. True, you can't beat a Nigerian what a marvel!

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