This week, there will be a stampede in Nigeria. Stampede for the new Nigerian currencies. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) policy of currency change has been variously lauded for its power to purge the system of slush funds warehoused for election purposes. However, its symptom as a vengeful political weapon manifests as preparations towards the 31 January expiration of old notes reach their crescendo. This reveals the rump of this very shoddy policy.
The new Naira notes are nowhere in circulation. They are however scattered at weekend party venues and in the warehouses of politicians. The currency change system is so inept that politicians are weaponizing its effeminacy. Through commercial banks, they use the change as an opportunity to mop up the new notes of Godwin Emefiele, Nigeria’s ex-assumed fugitive Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, known in underground circle as Meffy. In Emefiele’s Nigeria, there is weird politics among functionaries of a government that is immersed in and is a victim of its own incompetence. It is the ordinary woman selling fish in the market and the poor who will suffer this weird politics being played between the taciturn megida – Nigeria’s President Muhamadu Buhari – and Meffy, his sidekick, as well as the strange birds which have made for themselves a comfortable nest in the inept system.
Did you see the photograph that adorned the front pages of some Nigerian newspapers last Friday? It was that of Emefiele. He was locked in a hand-pumping pose with his principal, Muhammadu Buhari. In the photograph, the duo were shawled in what appeared to be a slapstick, titivating session. It was one you would find among folks who had just won a million dollar tombola. Or the unconscionable camaraderie during signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). Or where a recipient had just been invested with membership of the biology of Alfred Nobel, through being inducted into the highly prestigious Nobel Hall of Fame.
The said picture clearly disguised the infamy that undergirds it. Or the grits of what it innocuously advertised. Those days when cigarette smokers puffed at their stick, in disdain of those who mocked them, Yoruba equalized the puffed smoke as akin to the smoker ensuring that a sparkle of fire flared over the smoker’s enemies’ head – o gbe’na g’ori ota. That handshake shared similar unspoken victory paraphernalia with those smokers’ grandstanding. It reminds one of singing sensation, Kiss Daniel’s highly sought after buga won song track. Enveloped together in this camaraderie at Aso Rock, something akin to clinking wine glass cups to mark a full denouement of a grisly drama, the two also had the Chief of Staff to the president, Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, Borno governor, Babagana Zulum and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama.
That picture purely disguised the crises that signpost the life of Nigeria. Or the bedlam that is the country’s economy and finance. If you are a student of semiotics and are conversant with the politics of meaning in Nigeria’s journey to the 2023 election, the import and purport of Meffy and his boss’ kindergarten pose for a photo-op would dawn on you in its rawest manifestation. If you needed a perfect fit to the ancient image conjured by the saying that Nero fiddled while Rome burns, look no further from this infamous photograph.
Why does a man who had just returned from “an annual leave” and is meeting his principal, ostensibly to brief him on what had transpired during his holiday abroad, need to pose for a public photograph with him? Why was the mood celebratory, with a convergence of the inner machine of Aso Rock giving the photo-op a life that is as large as a dinosaur’s? The reality oscillates in the firmament of the darkest minds of Nigeria’s I-don’t-care governance apparatus. It is an apparatus that preferences brackish politics at the expense of the people’s welfare.
A few kilometers from the Aso Villa where that celebration was taking place, Nigerians were gnashing their teeth in petrol queues. Nigeria is currently embroiled in one of the most grinding petroleum scarcity rituals of its existence, with government advertising an apparent lack of manhood over the matter. Till date, the Buhari government will not tell anyone why we have been having to spend more than half of our day in petrol queues, months after. At petrol stations at the moment is a live dramatization of the chaos that Buhari will bequeath to the next administration.
If the DSS does it job as it should, Buhari and Meffy would, last Thursday, most probably not be lost in that miasma they wrongly saw as the celebration of their victory over their political enemies. They would most probably be busy finding solutions to the economic drift in Nigeria. Petrol stations are today where the greatest treason against a sitting government is committed, without any scintilla of care in the world. The stations advertise Wole Soyinka’s season of anomie and a government without direction.
At those petrol stations, people freely and openly singe this government’s flesh; a government they see as the worst in the history of Nigeria. Again, at petrol stations is where you will find the strongest manifestation of class in Nigeria. Nigerians who do not experience the dual tyranny of Buhari and Meffy and who know none of their joint pains go buy their fuel as high as N300 a liter while the ordinary Nigerians queue at major petroleum distribution marketers’ stalls in serpentine, multiple kilometer lines. They are in search of a commodity that is domiciled in the bowels of Nigerian soil. Gone are the days when petrol stations wait for government to announce price hike before advertising this on their meters. Today, in underscore of the effeminacy of the government in Abuja, various meter prices are advertised without any fear. It is where you will find out that there is no government, no governance but photo-ops.
When I see such governmental castration of fervor and ability as demonstrated by the bedlams at petrol stations, what my mind hovers over is that favourite South African short story of mine entitled The Dube Train. It was authored by Drum magazine journalist, Can Themba, one of the collectives of Apartheid journalists that included Nat Nakassa, who blended journalism with creative writing. This they used as social commentaries against the ills of the white government and the crass disconnect of government from the pains and pangs of the people.
In the said Themba story set in a busy train coach heading for Dube Town on a Monday morning, a woman is physically assaulted by a tout called tsotsi and the passengers say nothing. A woman then spanks the men “Lord, you call yourself men! You poltroons! You let a small ruffian insult you. Fancy, he grabs at a girl in front of you….you might be your daughter…if there were real men here, they’d pull him off and give him such a leathering he’d never sit down for a week.” The tout pulls a knife, stabs a man who nonetheless hauls him out of the train, to his death. The passengers winced, without a whimper. The ending that Themba gives the story is what fascinates me here and in which I find a corollary with the Nigerian situation under Buhari and Meffy: “it was just another incident in the morning Dube Train” as “the crowd is greedily relishing the thrilling episode.”
Like the passengers in that Dube Township train this Monday morning, Nigerians no longer bother about the absence of governance in their lives. Indeed, they are relishing the grisly episode and waiting for the affliction to expire in May. With cost of living hitting the firmament and food prices a whiff off the cloud, the prayer is that Nigerians do not hit that macabre and astonishing narrative of what happened in the biblical chapter called the Kings. It is a ghoulish narrative of two Israelite mothers who, hungry and unable to endure the pangs, agreed to mutually devour their children for supper. It was a very challenging, governmentally rudderless time in the city of Samaria which was under siege and embroiled in an unprecedented food scarcity. This resulted in these mothers’ cannibalism. Already in Nigeria, the economy is pushing the people to Samaria. We witness the extreme of crimes that even criminologists find no corollary to in crime literature. Pastors are faking their own kidnaps so that they can extract illicit profit from their congregation; sons are killing their parents for rituals. It is like Samaria, here we come.
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