For every road accident that claims a member of this class, the collective group response is to steal more money to buy heavier and sturdier SUVs, more helicopters, and private jets. In essence, because they lack the mental wherewithal for sober reflection, they go for solutions that require zero cerebral exertion.
I was stung by the news of Mr. John Shagaya’s death in a fatal road accident. Shagaya belongs in a generation of colourful military men who defined my generation in the 1980s in ways in which we – and Nigeria – have never really recovered from. The manner of Mr. Shagaya’s death is an occasion for yet another examination of the Nigerian condition.
Mr. Shagaya’s death is connected to James Ocholi’s death is connected to Abdulkareem Adisa’s death. These deaths are a metaphor of the Nigerian condition, refracted though the ruling class, the political, social, and economic elite, the upper class, the one percenters (call them any name!) writ large. They are also a metaphor of the lower classes they oppress writ large.
Of note is the fact that there is a fundamentally indecent value system in Nigeria which divides bodies into mournable and unmournable ones, depending on where fate located them in the socio-economic scheme of things when they were alive.
Members of the lower classes, “the people”, who fight and tear at each other on account of the political one percenters should pause and think of these developments following Mr. Shagaya’s death: I saw the Presidency’s official condolence statement before I even saw news of Mr. Shagaya’s passing. Then followed a profusion of condolence statements from the National Assembly and from the States.
From the Presidency to the National Assembly to the States, these are the same state actors, the same voices, the same dramatis personae who, for weeks, couldn’t bring themselves to mourn or properly acknowledge the dead in Benue. These are the same people, the same voices, who were largely absent when the Italian state mourned and buried twenty-six Nigerian citizens. From Benue to Italy, little people were involved and the Nigerian elite sent a message that they were unmournable bodies.
This Orwellian division of the dead into mournable and unmournable bodies has been the value system of the Nigerian state since 1960. It just stings deeper now that it has reached its apogee with President Buhari. In fact, so irresponsible has the Buhari administration been on this account that whenever it comes to mourning the little people, Femi Adesina, the moronic spokesman of the administration, usually indulges in chestbeating on national TV, swearing that Nigerians love a talkative president but will never get one on his watch. Within minutes of John Shagaya’s death, we have a talkative president and a talkative Presidency mourning a mournable body.
There is more ground for reflection. I spent the better part of 2017 theorising the portrait of the Nigerian political and economic elite as a social body. I explored their group psychology and identity. I took you into the organisation of their own lived spaces in Maitama, Ikoyi, VI, Lekki, and the GRAs in the state capitals. The purpose of such sociological explorations is to show you that this group, for all its wealth and international travel, is too intellectually barren to organise even its own lived spaces. The violence they wrought on their own lived spaces is a measure of their limitations.
Throughout the history of civilisation, man progresses by imposing order, symmetry, and aesthetic discipline over the primordial chaos of his environment. The Nigerian elite is the only group in modern history that has shown herself to be incapable of this fundamental element of civilisation. Hence, escape is her only response to challenges which require industry, innovation, and genius.
For every road accident that claims a member of this class, the collective group response is to steal more money to buy heavier and sturdier SUVs, more helicopters, and private jets. In essence, because they lack the mental wherewithal for sober reflection, they go for solutions that require zero cerebral exertion. That is why they have not fixed a problem that consumed General Adisa in 2005. They keep buying more jeeps and escaping to the skies.
Constructing the sort of roads on which they travel in Dubai, London, America and Germany? Too much mental effort! That is why, as a group, they have not fixed Lagos-Ibadan expressway since 1999. The ruling class of 180 million people has been unable to fix a four-lane expressway since 1999. Yet, they approach Houston, New York, Atlanta and see ten-lane freeways. Yet, they have seen the freeway connecting Johannesburg and Pretoria. Ordinary Lagos-Ibadan has been perpetually under construction. What they have spent on and looted from that project since 1999 arguably rivals the cost of the Johannesburg-Pretoria Gautrain. And the same roads they are too mentally lazy to fix to 21st-century standards keep claiming them.
Mr. John Shagaya had a police orderly. He was a retired Senator in private life. It was illegal for him to have an orderly. Illegal use of orderlies is another key identity factor in the psychological constitution of the Nigerian elite. Only last week, Mike Okiro of the Police Service Commission revealed that Nigeria has 400,000 police officers. Of this, 150,000 are currently serving as orderlies to everybody, ranging from wives, concubines, and girlfriends to dubious Chinese and Indian business men able to pay. Okiro averred further that President Buhari had banned the illegal use of orderlies two years ago but implementation of the ban has been hampered by lack of funds.
What Mike Okiro suffered from is called a truth attack. As a member of an elite used to lying, he was accidentally attacked by and blurted out the truth. For what he was really saying is that in the absence of proper funding for the police, they have devised a way of slush funds by commercialising the police. That is why every t’aja t’eran in Nigeria can pay a few bucks for a police orderly. Even recidivist members of the ruling class are making an EFCC court appearance, they go accompanied by police orderlies!
If the elite are allergic to thought, the people they oppress are downright hostile to it. Nigeria keeps thinking that she can get away with life as an unthought, unreflected society in the 21st century. Leader and led, ruler and ruled, we keep paying a heavy price. There is no shortcut to civilisation. There is no patch-patch way of boarding the 21st-century train. Critical thought is the ticket for that train ride. That is why societies are in a scramble for the global knowledge economy.
You will fix the Lagos-Ibadan expressway only when you apply yourself cerebrally to certain inadmissible things in the essence of statehood. You will have to first understand that a state cannot use division into mournable and unmournable bodies as part of her practice of statehood. National energies will be channeled in the right direction the day the Nigerian state understands that 26 bodies in Italy and 72 bodies in Benue are no less mournable than the body of a member of the ruling elite.
Until we understand this, I am afraid it is Hobbes!
Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, is Director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada.