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Pepper-souping and big-stouting, as Nigeria drowns

Sincere condolences to the loved ones left behind by my big friend, General Owoye Azazi; former Kaduna Governor Patrick Yakowa, the pilot, Commander Murtala Mohammed Daba, First Officer Yemi Sowole, and others who departed this sinful and ephemeral world in the ill-fated event of upper Saturday, 15 December 2012.  Enough happens daily to remind us all of the flimsiness of life, of the vanity of the whole thing, but perhaps very few Nigerians learn.  Most have resorted to bribing ‘God’ by donating to their various religious houses and leaders.  Yet there are too many opportunities, daily, begging to be taken, by which we can make profound meaning and cause positive change in society.

Azazi I knew well enough, since he was Deputy Commandant at the War College. I was then a banker, and I knew him to be a kind, simple but terribly intelligent man. I recall telling him I wouldn’t have minded ending up in the Army, for I loved the discipline and Spartan-ness that comes with that. He laughed and told me I was way too old to start.  He would later on become the Director of Military Intelligence, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Defence Staff and of course the National Security Adviser.  I had no doubt in my mind that he was eminently qualified for the positions he took, even though I lost contact with him since he became CAS.  I had made an attempt to see him on returning to Nigeria from London in 2006, but it ended in a fiasco.  After waiting in my car in front of his house for over one hour, I drove home and tried not to be angry.  He had given me an appointment, but of course exigencies of office probably precluded him from seeing me.

Another snag in my relationship with Azazi was the murder in Warri of his ‘cousin’ and my good friend, Rex Ezonfade, who left banking around the same time as I, and ran a hotel in Warri.  Sometime in 2009, I think, Rex was gunned down in his car at the gate of his house while he was speaking to someone on phone and waiting for the gate to be opened.  I felt sad, and irrationally, I thought that shouldn’t happen to the cousin of a serving chief and intelligence guru. I know I was wrong.

Dr Patrick Yakowa I understand to be a gentleman, from all accounts.  The permutation of his death makes fear crawl up one’s spine, he being the first ‘Christian’ civilian governor of Kaduna State.  I hope Kaduna is able to leapfrog over this incidence.  Anyhow, I had predicted that this country will go through periods of immense stress since after the days of Umaru Yar’adua. I believe that some destructive tendencies came to the surface in most of us since the illness saga of Umaru, which has only metamorphosed into many of the consequences we see today.  Before that saga, tribal and religious venom was hardly expressed openly, but today even the so-called intellectuals revel in them and feed same to those who look up to them.  Of course, Nigeria blossomed into a full-fledged terrorist state, while its leaders party away and try to push all the blame to one section of the country. Unfortunately, my friend Azazi was slam banged in the middle of the intelligence quagmire.  One of the thoughts going through my mind is that he knew too much about Nigeria and the incidences of the recent past, and like Femi Fani-Kayode, ex-aviation minister, has been trying to tell us, perhaps there is more than meets the eye in all these weekend plane crashes.  There are too many secrets in this country, and that is a major problem!

I am also extremely concerned at the rate with which our leaders attend all these ceremonies. That is where the words ‘pepper-souping’ and ‘big-stouting’ come from, courtesy Patrick Obahiagbon, the Igodomigodo himself.  In the last few weeks, all we have been seeing in the news are parties upon parties. I watched the resplendent 2nd year anniversary of the Pilot Newspapers on TV less than two weeks ago, with much backslapping by government ‘dignitaries’. Then the Vice President had a wedding for his two daughters, and closed down the whole of Kaduna city.  They handed out laptops (worth say N150,000 each) and flat screen TVs to their guests, according to newspaper reports.  That same week, we were busy fretting with government for wanting to build another banquet hall in Aso Rock, plus a new Vice Presidential residence for N16 billion. The president’s brother died, and his funeral was turned into another carnival! Akwa Ibom governor, who also allegedly built his own banquet hall with N10billion and his residence with N16billion, decided to ‘celebrate God’ (or rather himself) by having a lavish church service and reception. All these in the space of one week.

In my book, CRUSHED, I mentioned extensively what this rather unserious mode of partying is doing to us as a people. I am very certain that until we change that paradigm, until we redirect our spending, until we stop ‘self-aggrandisation’, until we stop bribing ‘God’, there is no hope for this country. I asked myself, why would ‘a whole State Governor’ leave Kaduna and start heading to Bayelsa to attend the funeral of the father of a president’s aide?  Whatever happened to visiting the ‘aide’, no matter how powerful, in his house in Abuja? Why all this waste of good quality time, and public funds?

There is a pervasive ‘owambe mentality’, especially in this government. Yar’adua was a Spartan and quiet man, but we booed him away. Now we are saddled with a government which just sought and got an approval of N161 billion of extra oil subsidy, just ‘for the festive period’; a government which has set up a ‘working committee’ for the ‘celebration of Nigeria’s centenary in 2014’ and the building of a ‘new city’ in Abuja for that celebration! Will Jonathan ever stop partying?

This particular government is frittering away whatever little goodwill it had, plus whatever it could have saved on behalf of Nigeria. This is evident in the choices it makes in its spending. At a time when the largest economy in the world – the USA – is worried about what they call Fiscal Cliff, whereby Barack Obama intends to cut government expenditure and increase taxes at the same time, former ‘activists’ like Reuben Abati and his brother Doyin Okupe want to convince Nigerians that all is well with us borrowing from every corner of the world, while we finance all these miliki ventures! It is a mindset thing. The point is who will change the mindset? Our duty on this other side of the road is to keep pointing out the issues to them.

Governance in Nigeria today is all about backslapping, clandestine meetings, cult memberships, a ‘we-against-them’ mentality, persecution mentality mixed with a huge sense of entitlement. Most people in government see themselves as ‘ordained by God’ to be in the positions they occupy – of course to first of all feather their own financial nests – and so anyone who criticizes them is from the devil.  Crazy, fake pastors (God’s ‘bribe collectors’) have invaded Abuja and are creaming off from the fear of these government workers who know clearly that they are doing wrong… The marabouts visit the Muslim ones at night to deliver visions… Will we ever be sober as a people? How did we get to this sorry pass? For except this mindset changes, there is even more trouble ahead. Yes, Nigeria is drowning, under the torrent of alcoholic drinks, and the deafening din of owambe musicians!

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