If you are a reader, you certainly appreciate a library: that ability to find things of value to read, or to return to something you have read or previously failed to read.
In that case, Nigeria may not be the place for you. Libraries, where they exist, are either empty or seriously limited. Sometimes, a newspaper “archive” does not exist beyond its edition for that day, and its editor may have no idea what his predecessor published one year ago today, let alone 10 years ago.
If you doubt any of this, come with me to the National Library of Nigeria (NLN). One of the first things one does in a library is to browse. So, browse, please. Query. Explore.
I do not know whether Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information & Culture, has ever bothered to visit his library, let alone borrow a book or read to a child there. There are big, promising departments and titles, but they are mostly empty.
If the physical library is the same, there is nothing to read, either. What we have is an institution so pathetic it ought to be closed down. Books? I counted 13, including two praise-singing texts of Abdullahi Ganduje, the reviled governor of Kano State. While those 13 show up in the virtual library, none of them is available for reading or research.
Even if they were, just imagine just how atrocious that is: 13 books for a library system that is 60 years old, none of which one can read!
In the NLN’s National Repository, it promises but does not contain even one Law or Act of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
It offers “Speeches/Essays of past and present Presidents, Political office holders of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other well meaning (sic) Nigerians,” but there isn’t one speech of anyone, let alone an archive. Browse, please!
It also offers a newspaper index, but consider that it contains only two limited newspapers: The Nation and The Guardian, and a handful of their stories. NLN’s claim to state branches is similarly false: there is no open link to them, let alone to collections they may hold.
For a country that is six decades old, there is nothing available physically or virtually to satisfy an information-seeker. The National Virtual Library Search, for instance, claims that you can “Find information and abstracts of more than 100,000 collection resources, including over 50,000 online materials.”
Really? I searched: “Things Fall Apart.” The response: “No resources found.” I tried: “Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Again, “No resources found.” So much for 50,000 online materials.
The point is that contrary to the concept of a modern library, the NLN is sadly just another bureaucratic outpost by which government appointees and civil servants squander funds and pretend to be busy.
Suppose a student were trying to explore President Muhammadu Buhari’s speeches since he assumed office in 2015, for instance. Of the hundreds of speeches Buhari has made in his two terms and eight years, including those made on his behalf, that student would find only 10 to be available. Browse, please!
This misunderstanding of, and disrespect for, the concept of knowledge is probably why many Nigerians may have last week missed or misread the world’s response to the declaration by INEC, Nigeria’s electoral body, of APC’s Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the winner of the 2023 presidential contest.
That announcement has been met with thinly-disguised disgust and disdain by election observers, the foreign media and governments, some of them barely able to contain their scorn as they cite the challenge before “winner” Tinubu in terms of Nigeria’s security and economic issues.
In his inimitable “Monday Lines” in Tribune Online last Monday, Lasisi Olagunju masterfully explored the world’s reaction to INEC’s announcement. “I have spent the past five days reading informed commentaries and listening to credible voices,” he wrote. “I have not seen, read or heard a single positive review of the election in any credible media in any country of the world…”
And casting a sweeping international view, he described the reaction of The Times of London. “It used this very bad phrase: “a wealthy kleptocratic ‘godfather’ of politics” to describe the person who will replace our very clean Buhari on May 29, 2023. As bad as those characterizations are, they are not as damaging as the Financial Times’ revelation that it personally “witnessed armed men remove a presidential ballot box in Surulere, Lagos” during the presidential election.
The irony to which Mr. Olagunju alludes might otherwise be funny: that given the imperious and boisterous air of impeccability Buhari has sought to envelope himself with since 1983, his most obvious legacy as he heads towards the exits of political relevance is a successor the world holds in the lowest esteem because of his record and his character. When and where was a president-elect of a country the size of Nigeria ever dismissed as a kleptocrat or a drug dealer, the same man succeeding a corruption combatant?
Playing movie producer, Buhari deployed smoke and mirrors for his final show. Claiming he intended to end vote-buying, he threw in a botched and heavily mismanaged currency change which only left citizens in pain, stranded and starving.
And then he advertised a massive military presence. But it was false advertising: when ballots were being snatched or destroyed openly, security officials curiously did not intervene.
Of INEC’s voter-card holding 87,209,007 citizens, 8,794,726—or about 4% of the Nigerian population—chose Tinubu, warts and all, to lead the country. The image of the election that has emerged clearly does not favour him. Not only has that image of a pathetic election stunned the world, Tinubu’s warts were dug up with it, and they follow Buhari as well.
Leaders need and crave credibility. It is the quality which makes his people to want to follow him and the world to work with him. It is not the weapon that he takes before the world; it is the weapon the world knows he has before he arrives.
Yes, Tinubu believes that it is his turn to be the president of Nigeria, but he lacks credibility, and that factor, should the INEC declaration conceivably hold, will drag Nigeria into shame before the world.
Tinubu lacks credibility because he scores poorly on every integrity scale. Those who evaluate him do not do so based on who he and his publicists claim he is, but on his character.
While such records may be bought off or scrubbed away at home, it is not so in the libraries and transcripts and archives of the world where knowledge is respected. Character, not manifestoes or dubious official achievements.
In other words, that Nigeria is not Lagos State is the problem Tinubu will always have. Because one inch abroad, where they keep records, and records of records, you can earn the right to be heard and respected, but also to be laughed at.
This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials.
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