A State of the Nation Undressing | Dailytrust

A State of the Nation Undressing

It has become customary for African leaders to repudiate in the strongest terms the people whose votes and support they desperately sought to gain access to power. At first, these leaders often project themselves as one of the people. In Nigeria for instance, they make a public exhibition of having no shoes as children, of having sachet beverage for breakfast, even as retired generals and head of state, or being too honest and too broke to afford the prohibitive party nomination forms.

But once they access power, they no longer talk to but talk down to the people whose sacrifices got them there. They chastise them for everything that is wrong with the country, the things they promised to fix.

Kenyan poet Sitawa Namwalie captured this brilliantly in her poem, ‘State of the Nation Undressing,’ from where this column borrowed its title, wherein an imaginary African leader delivers these verses to his people:

“As your Leader,

I have often wanted to speak the truth

as it is in my heart

I have decided to do just that and to… with it!

My State of the Nation Undressing will reveal

my legion complaints concerning the inadequacies

of the people, I am forced to govern

Really, do you all think, if I could choose?

It would be you?

Such as you are?

 

Let me begin with the question of colour

Lately it’s been much on my mind,

Now some of you are simply too…Black

Too dusky, shadowy, too dim

Not quite the right hue

You’re likely to darken our state

Make developed nations believe

Here-in lies Africa’s black heart

We can’t have that!”

The people’s faults are: “Your colour/Your tradition/Your poverty”

 

Nowhere was this properly demonstrated more glaringly than in Tanzania this week where Ms Samia Suluhu Hassan, the country’s first female president, who only came to power in March after her boss, Mr John Magafuli died, and was lauded as a trailblazer for women, decided to turn on the women of her country, or more specifically, its female footballers.

While hosting the country’s male U23 football team, Ms Samia released an unprovoked tirade against the country’s female footballers for being, well, too hideous.

“If we bring them here and line them up, for those with flat chests, you might think they are men, not women,” she said.

“And if you look at their faces you might wonder… because if you want to marry, you want someone who is attractive, a lady who has the qualities that you want,” she said, adding that for most of them, those “qualities have disappeared” and concluded that for most of these women, a “life of marriage… is a just a dream.”

Samia would not be the first leader to undress her people. After all, Nigeria’s president twice travelled to London to take pot shots at young Nigerians, first describing them as criminals and then later, at a Commonwealth Business Forum, as lazy. Their tireless efforts pounding the streets selling scratch cards to raise funds for his campaign, donating their little savings and their desperate struggle to survive in a country where nothing is handed to them on a plate, unlike the generation he belonged to, long forgotten.

Incidentally, one of these youths who happens to be that president’s son, got married last week— a grand affair that drew a reported 100 private jets to Kano—a wedding, a political jamboree, money laundering and political-ass-licking fiesta all rolled into one and has generated quite a lot of chatter, one I was intent on sidestepping save to wish the young couple well. The extravagance showcased at that wedding especially in this difficult period in the life of the country makes this near impossible.

While there is no wrong in people who have money spending it howsoever they wish, it was inherently unwise for a leader who demanded austerity and forcefully imposed it on his people to allow such a carnival-like shindig to play out. Especially since those who sold those scratch cards and donated their last kobo to his campaign can hardly afford food and other basics, or even sleep peacefully in their houses could only watch as iPhone 12s and iPads are being handed out as souvenirs at his son’s wedding.

If the country had prospered under his watch, I suppose that would have been fine but that is not the case. Nigeria is being ravished by the manic dogs of the Sahel who only a few weeks ago shot down an Air Force fighter jet and this week had the audacity to invade the country’s vaunted Defence Academy, shot and killed two soldiers and kidnapped a major.

This raid on the NDA confirms that in the last few years especially, this country has turned into a joke— a joke so spectacularly shocking and painful that one cannot even begin to comprehend it.

But this raid has been long in coming. Those who are familiar with that axis would know that that place, despite housing the NDA, has been far from safe. A friend of mine escaped being kidnapped in that area three years ago. Students of the Forestry Research Institute, Afaka were kidnapped just a stone’s throw from the NDA. When soldiers were alerted about the ongoing kidnapping, they decided the best approach would be a 20-minute blast of their spectacular and very potent car horn before venturing to breach the school’s gate, long after the kidnappers had left with their herd of students. Many people have been taken from that area and everyone has known that kidnappers enjoy free rein in that area.

It is sad to see the military, once feared and respected, reduced to this squirming, spiritless entity. One that could not avenge the shooting of its fighter jet or the massacre of civilian farmers by terrorists, not to talk of a raid on its premier institution. A military plagued by avarice and fear.

Fear. That dominant currency of transaction under the watch of this president, this fear that has driven thousands of Nigerian families and young people to lose hope in the country and look for home and hearth elsewhere. A fear that is coupled with an economic downtown, rising inflation and shrinking income for the majority.

Only on Tuesday, 500 Nigerian doctors sat for an exam conducted by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health. All 500 of them want to leave the country to work in the Kingdom because well, they don’t see a future here in this Nigeria.

The numbers of people who have been terrified into leaving this country are so many that one would have said we have never seen anything like this before. But that wouldn’t be true because we have seen something like this before. A staggering exodus of the middle class that inspired Veno Marioghae’s 1980s hit, ‘Nigeria Go Survive’, whose standout line was and remains, “Andrew, no checkout o.”  That song became the soundtrack of the brain drain Nigeria suffered in the 80s.

The irony is that when that first wave of brain drain happened, when Nigeria bled that time, it was under this same person.

Today we have reached a painful, bitter point where the state can no longer guarantee or even pretend to guarantee the safety of its citizens, it can no longer be bothered about Nigerians’ desperate plea for help. If anything, it would seem the government is infuriated Nigerians are not getting the hint that they are on their own. Wasn’t that why the Minister of Defence, Bashir Magashi, a retired major general, conceitedly wondered why Nigerians are not confronting these armed kidnappers and slapping some sense into them with their flip-flops and kitchen utensils. Wasn’t that why Governor Bello Masari asked Nigerians to arm themselves and save themselves. A call many prominent people echoed. Because they know the truth, that this Nigeria has become a barroom free-for-all brawl like in the old Westerns and it is every man for himself and God for all.

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