Right from the beginning, it was planned to be a completely reflective exercise on “the deepening crisis of the Nigerian State” rather than a regular birthday celebration. It could not have been otherwise, considering how the dynamics have worked out to produce the state of the nation of today full of sad and saddening developments all over. For someone whose entire life has been about the struggle for transparency, accountability and good governance, a group of friends using the occasion to reflect on the puzzling state of affairs was considered to be in order, particularly the manner the public health crisis had obviously aggravated the crisis.
It would have been the richest of such an exercise in recent time, given the question The Guardian raised in its June 12 Editorial Opinion. The Editorial interrogated the privileging of human character in the politics of power popular with the public sphere in Nigeria. Instead, it favour popular agency as the only mechanism by which the good man we idealise will not take quality governance for granted. Quoting the paper is inescapable, particularly the portion that goes as follows: We must express deep concern about the apathy of the populace. The upper classes are concerned only about getting on with their daily programmes and will not voluntarily alter their routine to carve the time to report a burst water main, a pothole expanding into a crater, or interrupted electricity supply. In all this, while the people vegetate in acquiescence, the political leadership gets away with doing nothing and without “the people” demanding their rights to essential services. To make democracy safe here, the people must rise up to condemn impunity and misgovernance and above all demand for their rights knowing well that freedom can never be given on a gold platter.
The Guardian was simply saying that if a great guy happens, that would be great but people change. As no person has an unchanging core, the only known guarantor against perversity in power must be the culture of popular oversight on power. Implied in the Editorial is the question of what has happened that the civil society cannot fight along popular democratic aspirations, something they have done against more entrenched interests before?
Alas, the earliest opportunity to put that question on the table has been lost. Even the modest direction turned out impossible. For, as the days drew near, the level of bloodletting and the number of souls involved made even such a reflection difficult to conduct. The whole country is in disarray and there are still no clear signs that something drastic and healing for a truamatised nation is coming soon from the Nigerian State.
Meanwhile, more friends had cued into the idea of birthday reflection for Auwal Musa Ibrahim who has almost lost his real surname to the nickname he gained in the university as a theologian. More people know him as Rafsanjani than his real name. Initially, the name advertised him as Muslim fanatic but you would not spend more than three minutes with him before you discover that he has nothing to do with fanaticism. Rather, space and time accounted for that name. Outside of Bayero University, Kano, he could equally have been called Cicero or Socrates or even Aristotle because his job was basically exegetic.
There can be no blaming those who didn’t mind having a birthday for Rafsanjani even at a time of Nigeria’s worst political cholera. That can easily be interpreted as a signifying endorsement of his public spiritedness. It may not be correct to say he alone did something of that nature but he, indeed, is the only one that can be named as having declined a Nigeria Ports Authority, (NPA) job in 1995 on the ground that such a job would give him nothing more than money and arrogance. And this was at a time when he was barely subsisting as a pioneer, headquarter staff of the NGO – Community Action for Popular Participation, (CAPP). Turning down the NPA job offered by an Executive Director was not on the basis of any money hating ideology. It was just a statement in self-understanding as a ‘natural’ activist, from which a deviation could bring everything else but not satisfaction.
From CAPP, he rolled over across many other NGOS and/or think tanks before landing in establishing the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC). It was a responsibility he had been steeled for by experience, particularly a vast network of friends and acquaintances that is simply bewildering, within, across and outside Nigeria. It is difficult to name any nook and cranny of Nigeria that this Mallam has not been to.
This is the background to what would have been the birthday of all birthdays in terms of a needed exercise in reflexivity, particularly the question raised by The Guardian which had no idea that a birthday trying to think through the crisis was in the offing. The coincidence between the planned birthday and that part of The Guardian’s Editorial Opinion speaks to the observable decline if not disappearance of meaningful and cordinated activism of yesteryears. In place of that, singularity and dimensionality have taken over the debate on what is to be done.
Perhaps, there is no magic anywhere other than a return to the timeless wisdom to that effect: organising rather than agonising!