Before embarking on a disinterested scrutiny of Femi Fani-Kayode’s published essay on the Nigerian condition at the 52nd independence anniversary which he foregrounded with a denunciation of his former British classmate Lord Aspley’s characterisation of Nigeria as a faecal space with the repulsive smell of horror, it is important to remark the phenomenon of cheeky about-turns routinely exhibited by political office holders no sooner than they are out of office.
While in government, these guys exuberantly defend and never see anything wrong in the government in which they served. It’s just as though the scandalous appurtenances of office often impair their sense of reasoning and perpetually thwart the luxury of unbiased critical assessment of the administration that employs them. But once they are out, the scales begin to fall from their eyes. They suddenly don the toga of activism – something they had spent almost a lifetime denigrating – and launch into an overstated revivalist campaign of a new order for which they had previously vilified genuine activists who are already laying down their lives for good cause.
How then, shall we describe this creeping attitude? Despicable? Yes. And if nothing else, it is an assault on a people’s intelligence; speaks not just to the stark debasement of morality in the society, but also an impetuous exhibition of sheer opportunism fuelled by a telling deficit of honour among a growing band of young educated elites who ironically are beginning to position themselves as potential leaders of this country.
It is not known yet if Femi has by now left the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) the ruling party since 1999. But it is well known that he was in PDP when he diligently served in President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, first as one of the spokespersons and later as cabinet minister. In both portfolios he was very visible and vocal, taking on as many eminent citizens of this country that attempted a most benign critique of the Obasanjo administration. Some of the victims of his cutting tongue were Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Yakubu Gowon, all highly regarded patriots with measured contributions to the growth of humanity in Nigeria and beyond.
Nothing personal though, one is by no means a supporter of the kind of leadership the PDP has offered this country till date. However, the problems listed in Femi’s jeremiad certainly antecede President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. And any honest observer of the scenes on the political landscape since this pretend democracy began some thirteen years ago should be quick to hold the Obasanjo administration responsible for watering and nurturing the surviving seed of decay at a period a unique opportunity presented itself for the deployment of his vast public service experience at the highest level towards satisfying a burning necessity for national rebirth.
For the reason stated earlier, which is undeniably self-serving, Femi and a handful of bright young minds like him who served in Obasanjo’s government could, sadly, not find the nerve to speak the truth while in service. Deliberately, they skirted around facts, advanced nauseating propaganda, encouraged wilful filibustering, fostered extraordinary impunity, insulted the intelligence of the Nigerian people and coordinated vicious verbal attacks against anyone, especially the civil society, who dared criticise glaring negative actions of the administration.
Granted all of this is within their right, there are many Nigerians who would today ask why Femi would not find the courage to articulate his objection in whatever form when Obasanjo brazenly parcelled out a resource-rich portion of his country to a neighbouring country. Not a few would also ask where he was when his boss was busy cobbling together strategies for actualising a third term in office. He neither raised a voice that anyone knew of against it nor did he do anything to demonstrate his aversion for that atrocious agenda. If he claims he advised against it but his boss did not listen, did he make a personal sacrifice by resigning to show his commitment to decency and integrity in public service? Of course no. So where now is the moral platform on which he can stand to argue for a better future for this country?
It is also both amusing and strange that he is now proposing either a people’s revolution or a sovereign national conference as the only avenues through which the unity of Nigeria can be guaranteed. Meanwhile, the Obasanjo administration frowned seriously upon the mention of these options (no matter how nicely presented) let alone consider them. Because he so much relished the comfort of being in government at the time, Femi could not see the urgent need for backing any of the two innocuous propositions. Indeed, he and a few other colleagues were at the forefront of arrogantly squashing these proposals he now doggedly pushes for in his essay. For the record, it’s worth pointing out that at the height of the hostility, they stopped short of advocating a charge of treason for anyone who called for a sovereign national conference, not to talk of a people’s revolution. How times change!
But what should really be more worrying is that he is comfortably settled in a time warp, unquestionably trapped in the club of Nigerians who keep blaming the British colonialists for the tragedy which this country has become. Yet events seem to have overtaken what appears to be an endless lamentation. Time to stop blaming the colonialists, please. For God’s sake, these invaders left in 1960. Since then, successive local leaders had had not one, not two golden chances to end residual iniquities and remould the country with the vision of a just, egalitarian and united society that would be a beacon for the Black Race.
But what did the leaders do? Lacking foresight, imagination and unable to imbibe the necessary qualities ascribed to enduring statesmanship, they fluffed every begging chance on the altar of ignorance and self-absorption. Therefore, Femi should rather anchor the blame for Nigeria’s failure to develop to its full potential not on the British, but on this cycle of visionless leaders in military and civilian attires of which he himself had been a key part and an implacable apologist in very, very recent past. So whenever Nigerians bemoan failed leadership in their country, they would do well to recall that Femi, a top delegate of the disastrous ruling party, PDP, is one of them.
His treatise also enunciated the banal theory of “poor husband” and “rich wife” to illustrate the reality of an indigent northern region, aided by the British, that continuously lords it over a more prosperous southern region. He contended that anyone who had a functional brain and a brave heart to confront the truth was always rubbished and wiped out, citing Obafemi Awolowo and MKO Abiola as examples.
He may be right. But since he mentioned Awo, it would serve historians and political scientists better if Femi could please shed some light on the role his aristocratic father, Remi Fani-Kayode, the great “Fani Power,” an illustrious politician of pre and post-independence Nigeria, played in the politics of that era. To what extent, for instance, did Fani Power share in Awo’s vision and how far did he go to help realise it? Case closed. With due respect to Femi, this piece ends with the same prayer that ended his. May God deliver us.
- Godwin Onyeacholem is a journalist based in Lagos