Pius Adesanmi: Air, you’re under arrest!

President Buhari’s administration, its supporters and well-wishers, do not want Tu Baba to have his say in a democracy. They do not want him to organize a protest against the direction of Nigeria under President Buhari’s supervision.

They have denigrated him.
They have abused him.
They have abused his father and mother.

Those who defend the musician’s right to agonize and organize in a democracy have been surprised by the ferocity of those determined to silence the man.

I think that Mr. Innocent Idibia’s traducers – the Buhari administration and its voices in the public sphere – have a better understanding of history than those who are acting surprised and are blindsided by the ferocity of the opposition to Mr. Idibia’s planned protest.

Let’s be clear: I support and endorse that protest and the spirit which informs it. If I were in the country, I’d join it to protest against the failures and the shortcomings of the current administration and insist on better, responsible, and accountable governance.
If we cede Nigeria to the crude and primitive instincts of those who would have us perish even the mere thought of peaceful and legitimate protest in a democracy just because they deify President Buhari, we are totally finished. A Nigeria in which the right to protest is demonized cannot contain us and such people.

It is instructive that many of those who are attempting to prevent legitimate protests against President Buhari in Nigeria see no contradiction whatsoever in hailing legitimate protests against President Trump in another democracy in faraway America. Perhaps we should not be surprised because irony and the Nigerian have never been good friends.

I said that the Buhari administration and its supporters who are trying to block Mr. Idibia’s right to dissent have a better handle on history than those who are surprised by the state’s reaction.

Come with me.

Centuries before Christ, in ancient Greece precisely, a fellow called Orpheus became the perfect embodiment of poetic genius in music. It was said that his father, the god Apollo, gave him a lyre and taught him to play it. Orpheus became the greatest musician in the universe. The world obeyed the command of his art. Rivers, mountains, animals, and humans all melted when he played the lyre. He fell in love with a beautiful lady called Eurydice.

Misfortune happens to this perfect love story and his wife died and descended to Hades – the underworld. Orpheus had one power, one weapon that no force could withstand – his music. With his lyre, he was able to descend to Hades, cross the dangerous Stygian realm, charm Cerberus the monster with three heads, and gain admission into the presence of Pluto, the god of the Underworld, whose heart he melted with music and retrieved his wife.

Nothing was able to withstand or block the liberating capacity of the music of Orpheus. Orpheus had served notice to humanity that music liberates. Music frees people from tyranny. Such is the awesome power of the musician.

Such is the awesome power of the musician. Fast forward to several centuries after Christ, in 13th-century Germany, the people of the little village of Hamelin were in bondage. The bondage of rat infestation. Doctors could not save them from that bondage. Armies could not save them from that bondage. A single musician and his pipe saved them. He also, of course, had the capacity to punish them for failing to compensate him as promised. Just as the Pied Piper of Hamelin used his music to lure the rats away, he lured the children away. Such is the awesome power of the musician.

Such is the awesome power of the musician. In Jericho, the invading Israelites had to make the transition from professional soldiers to professional musicians. They laid down their arms and blew trumpets. And the Wall of Jericho fell. Such is the awesome power of the musician.

Such is the awesome power of the musician. In folktale after folktale after folktale after folktale, Ijapa the tortoise uses song and music to conquer, to overcome, to liberate, to bring down tyranny in the Yoruba world. Such is the awesome power of the musician.
Such is the awesome power of the musician. If you watch the documentary, Amandla (find it on YouTube), you will gain an understanding of the fact that it was song and music that brought down Apartheid in South Africa. You will hear former Apartheid police officers and security forces declare that they were more afraid of the song and the chanting “of the blecks” (Blacks in South African English) than the stones and the bullets of the anti-apartheid fighters. Such is the awesome power of the musician.

The man who finds favour with the Muses and they invest the art of music in him immediately becomes an existential threat to power because he is in possession of a weapon that has been the nemesis of power throughout history. Whether he is singing or just operating in the secular realm of a protest beyond musical performance, he is still an existential threat to power.

This explains why the Buhari administration and its supporters are so afraid of Mr. Innocent Idibia. This explains why they are so jittery. And this explains why their reaction and hysterics should be familiar to those who have read enough books to understand the history of such reactions to the musician.

The Nigerians trying to stop the artist have ancestors dating all the way back to ancient Greece – agents of power and forces of reaction who have always tried to catch the wind and arrest the air. Sadly, they will go the way of all those who have tried to arrest the air before them. They will go the way of those who have tried to “arrest the music”, to borrow the title of Tejumola Olaniyan’s excellent book.
If you are a blind Buhari supporter, Mr. Innocent Idibia is not your problem. President Buhari is. Face him and tell him to up his game and deliver on his electoral promises. You did not elect him to run Nigeria catastrophically on auto-pilot as he is currently doing. At any rate, if you are a patriot, your loyalty will always be to Nigeria and not to any President.

If you belong in Team Nigeria, the team of transcendental non-partisan patriots who believe that Nigeria is bigger than anyone, including the President, and his supporters must consequently not be allowed to reduce Nigeria to a theocracy run by their god, defend Mr. Innocent Idibia’s right to protest. Support him.

Physically, they may shut down that protest or even prevent him from holding it. Don’t worry. Mr. Idibia is an artist. He has song. He has music. He is beyond them.

Let them continue to arrest the air.

It’s their funeral.


Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, is Director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada

The Righteous Nigerian And The Rationality of Corruption – By Pius Adesanmi

Can Nigeria overcome corruption? Will Nigeria survive corruption?

The optimistic, overconfident Nigerian who offered me a “no shaking yes” to both questions was only able to do so because he successfully outed me as I tried to remain incognito and maintain a low profile at the hotel pool in Lagos. Retreating incognito to a hotel in Lagos to assess our war front strategies in matters Nigeriana is something I often do with Omoyele Sowore.

This time in the summer of 2016, I was alone in a secluded corner of the poolside, trying not to look like me. I didn’t want the burden of public recognition which often ruins my attempts at privacy in Nigeria.

It was evening and my niche on the poolside terrace was poorly-lit, increasing my chances of an interrupted time to unwind alone. On the table, in front of me, a half-finished big bottle of Orijin was trying unsuccessfully to help a bowl of nkwobi down my throat. I thought that the bottle was doing a poor job of accompaniment and blamed myself for believing that only one bottle could successfully accomplish the task of helping the nkwobi to its final resting place in my gut.

I decided that the unsuccessful bottle would need help from at least two more bottles to guarantee the nkwobi’s funeral. I was about to order the reinforcement when I heard shrieks of excitement at the other end of the pool.

“Abi my eyes dey deceive me? No be Prof Pius Adesanmi I dey see yonder so?” My cover was blown. He was yelling in excitement, talking to everybody and nobody in particular, pointing at me. “Ah, it’s Prof o. I can’t believe this! Waiter, waiter, oya, bring my things, I am going to join Prof.”

By now he had reached my table, grabbed my hands in a ferocious handshake. I stood up and gave him a bear hug and we sat down to a familiar story: of how he had been reading me for over a decade; of how he had always prayed that he would meet me; of Sahara Reporters; of Omoyele Sowore; of how much he admires the work we do; of the need for us to ignore naysayers and detractors; of Nigeria.

I listened with rapt attention, interjecting as appropriate to agree with him, keeping everything in a Pidgin laced with contemporary Nigerianisms and ijinle slangs.

“Ah, Prof, I can’t believe you still talk like this after so many years abroad. This is what I’ve been saying. You are not like some of our yeye people who will spend two months abroad and go begin dey yarn fone through the nose.”

Then he appeared to notice what was on the table for the first time.
“Ah, Prof, no benkwobi you dey whack here so? And Orijin? Prof, you sef dey follow us quaff Orijin? Waiter!!! Waiter!!! Oya, bring more nkwobi for Prof and two bottles of Orijin.”

I protested vehemently and insisted I should be the one ordering him peppersoup and drinks. I was taking a dangerous gambit. Given Nigeria’s abysmal economic downturn, especially the economic doldrums supervised by President Buhari, the cultural schema of refusing hospitality and offering to pay for it, expecting the initiator of that social contract to insist on paying, no longer works.

Luckily for my pocket, he stood his ground and insisted on paying for the orders. At this point, I confessed that I was about adding two bottles of Orijin to the tally when he recognized and hailed me.

We returned to Nigeriana. Like every Nigerian I know, he’s had it with Nigeria. Like every Nigerian I know, he is fed up with the Nigerian tragedy. He gives the standard speech: the failures of Nigeria; the trauma that is Nigeria; the self-inflicted wounds; the avoidable tragedies; and, of course, corruption.

Like every Nigerian, he knows about or had heard stories of corruption that are much worse than the worst case scenario you know. Whatever you think you have heard about Nigeria’s corruption is always child’s play compared to what every other Nigerian has seen or heard.

If you go to town with the story of a Governor who just stole 20 billion naira, the first Nigerian you encounter has only just read somewhere that a Minister stole 20 trillion naira. Thus it was that my new friend dismissed every story I had to tell with, shior, Prof, na dat one you dey call corruption? Dat one no be corruption now. Prof, you never hear say…” And he would regale me with the latest dizzying figures of heists by members of Nigeria’s political leadership.

And he moaned. And he lamented. Things took an interesting turn here. He said he had identified Nigeria’s problem: wickedness and greed. Corruption, he stated, is attributable to the unquenchable greed and wickedness of Nigerians. If only every Nigerian was like him, he continued, corruption would become a thing of the past. Nigeria, he concluded, will overcome corruption when those who are content with the deserved fruits of their labour outnumber the wicked and the greedy.

He returned again and again to the theme of his own righteousness. What Nigeria needs are more people like himself. That is why he admires my writing. That is why my Facebook Wall is a daily ritual for him. That is why he is in awe of Omoyele Sowore and Sahara Reporters. On and on he went.

I was intrigued by the thesis of his righteousness – the basis of his assurance that Nigeria can survive and overcome corruption. I realized that he still hadn’t even properly introduced himself. We had hugged and exchanged banter. He had ordered me nkwobi and two bottles of Orijin. He was by all accounts now part of my socius yet I still had no idea who he was. I love Africa! I deftly nudged the conversation in the direction of his identity.

As it turns out, he was with one of the numerous uniformed corps which litter Nigeria’s land borders. To enter Nigeria through any of her land borders – but most especially Seme – is to encounter a maze of uniforms processing you through an extremely long pipeline of corruption. Immigration passes you on to Customs who passes you on to NDLEA who passes you on to SON who passes you on to the Police who passes you on to the Army who passes you on to FRSC who passes you on to LASTMA. Repeat process several times till you get to Lagos.

It is absolutely possible for immigration to check you for drugs while NDLEA tries to see if your passport is stamped. It is possible for FRSC to check you for smuggling while Customs tries to determine whether you are speeding.

My interlocutor works for one of Nigeria’s uniformed border nightmares. What he sees there daily is the basis of his exceptional righteousness. With considerable pain in his eyes, he told me stories of wickedness and greed; of the terrible things allowed into Nigeria daily after bribery – expired drugs, expired tires, and all sorts of goods long past expiry date.

“Prof, people do this because they want to own ten jeeps and five mansions in Lekki and another five mansions in Maitama. You will allow somebody to smuggle tires that expired five years ago. You will allow somebody to smuggle drugs that expired five years ago. I don’t understand it. Prof, look at me, I have only two houses in this Lagos. We live in a duplex in Magodo. Then we have another house that we rent out. I have two jeeps and my wife drives a Venza. That is it. We are satisfied. Even God does not like ojukokoro.”

He continued: “Left to me, anything that is more than one year past expiry date will never enter, but how can you say that to all our rotten Ogas at the top? They are the greedy ones. They are the wicked ones. So many times, I have risked my neck and job trying to say that we should not allow certain categories of goods that are more than two years past expiry date to be smuggled into the country but nobody listens.”

By this time, my mind had overcome the effect of alcohol and was now quite alert. Before me was sitting the summation of Nigeria’s unsolvable dilemma of corruption. Such are the layers and the encrustations that it is no longer possible for a morality of zero corruption to be the basis of national self-imagining.

Thus, the righteous Nigerian is not the Nigerian who is not corrupt but one who still has a sufficient moral clarity to be alarmed by and be resentful of any corruption superior to his. Given this dynamic, overcoming corruption, in the understanding of way too many of our citizens, means minimizing and bringing it down to one’s level of rationalized individual corruption.

One major reason which accounts for the intractable nature of corruption in Nigeria is that we pay scant attention to its rationality in our national experience. Why is the sort of individual corruption described above rational?

I am talking about the rational, considerate, and compassionate corruption which allows drugs and tires only one or two years past expiration to be smuggled into Nigeria, unlike the wicked corruption which allows products up to five years past expiration to be smuggled. I am talking about the corruption which is content with accepting just enough bribes at the border to be able to afford a standard Western middle class life – one residential house, one rental property, two or three cars – as opposed to the wicked and unacceptable corruption which must have twenty mansions and twenty jeeps scattered between Lagos and Abuja.

What provides the rationality and legitimacy of the first kind of small-scale individual corruption in our national experience? It would be a simplistic mistake to attribute it singularly to Nigeria’s ontological unfairness. It is true that Nigeria is ontologically unfair by which I mean that there is no conceivable way to survive on an honest wage. In this case, corruption is the singular means of survival. Once your nose supplies your share of the oxygen required for life, only corruption can sustain it in your body to keep you alive.

Does this ontological unfairness account for the rationality of corruption? It explains but does not account for it. What accounts for it is the death of symbolism in Nigeria’s national life – starting with its centres of power.

The sort of corruption which is rational can only be made irrational in the life of a nation and people when it confronts symbolism. If Nigeria had any chance to effectively confront the rationality of corruption, it was with the potential symbolism of President Buhari when he was elected.

A few symbolic steps, never-before-seen in Nigeria’s orbit of power were required of him. No Nigerian in power has ever accounted for or retired campaign funds. Retirement of his funds – I am not even sure that many of our citizens understand what it means to retire campaign funds because it has never been part of their civic experience – would have been a first in our history.

It would have meant a thorough auditing of his campaign fundraising and expenses with the attendant transparency of Nigerians knowing who funded the campaign. It would have meant a return of whatever was left to the party treasury to fund future campaigns. It would have implied other things that we need not go into here. Beyond campaign funds, beyond the Presidential fleet that he has immorally and amorally refused to reduce, we do not need to go into President Buhari’s extensive library of failed symbolism and failure to launch. His hostility to symbolism has had tragic consequences by not only undoing his anti-corruption war but also enhancing the rationality of corruption.

One such consequence is the way in which the work of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC) is failing to eventuate in any drastic systemic changes. You cannot do better than Professors Itse Sagay and Bolaji Owasanoye. They are among Nigeria’s very best. And they and their colleagues are deploying unmatchable genius and innovation to provide a thoroughgoing national canvass for fighting corruption.

I was privileged to attend one of their brainstorming sessions in Abuja in the summer of 2016. It was a rich session, with so many brilliant ideas flying across the room.

However, I did warn the committee that the most brilliant idea, the most solid willpower on their part, still depends entirely on the willingness of the President to facilitate their work with symbolism. Without symbolic acts from the President, it will be impossible to reverse the rationality of corruption. For instance, a Director from the Federal Ministry of Information, who represented Lai Mohammed at the meeting, opined that to successfully combat corruption, the media must help the nation’s anti-corruption war with investigative journalism!

I couldn’t believe my ears. I reminded the Director that in our recent memory, Sahara Reporters, Premium Times and the defunct NEXT Newspapers – not to mention The Cable – all built their reputation almost exclusively on investigative journalism in the arena of corruption. Tolu Ogunlesi was in the room and I mentioned him as one of those rendered jobless when NEXT folded up due to a combination of factors ranging from poor management to hostility to its relentless investigative exposes into corruption under Goodluck Jonathan. President Jonathan even went on air to declare that newspaper an enemy.

What President Buhari lacks, I opined, it not help from investigative news media. Rather, it is the will to shift the paradigm with symbolic acts. President Jonathan greeted every investigative scoop into corruption around him with his trademark, “I don’t give a damn.” President Buhari’s handling of the plethora of investigative scoops on the festering corruption of his lieutenants even makes the response of his predecessor sound like a responsible answer.

At least his predecessor said he didn’t give a damn. Sahara Reporters has been screaming about the fetid and mammoth corruption of Abba Kyari, Dambazzau, Buratai and a host of other Buhari lieutenants and the President’s answer has been something like silence is the best answer for a fool. Who is going to buy into PACAC’s splendid work when, at every turn, the President who empanelled them pulls the rug from under their feet and shreds it with his poverty of symbolism?

This lack of symbolism, this lack of change, has other consequences. When the incumbent fails to supply the symbolism needed to unravel the rational bases of the corruption of the moment, the corruption of the past begins to acquire its own logic of rationality in the hands of witting and unwitting revisionists.

You would have noticed by now that Dasuki has lost its capacity to shock – despite the daily revelations which have continued to drip. You would have noticed that despite the admissions of the key players in the Jonathan corruption industry – Diezani, Fayose, FFK, and the military officers facing trial – a space of rationality has been carved out to defend and make meaning of that plunder. I even recently read a “brilliant” expose saying that anybody who believes the Diezani heist figures must be sick.

Past corruption builds its rationality on the symbolic poverty of the incumbent. Those who betray the present do the most damage because they enable a rationality in which the past begins to appear to be not as bad as people had thought. And in the hands of brilliant revisionists and masters of discursive sleights of hand, the past can become really attractive.

This revisionist imperative is what is going on when you read essays stating, “Jonathan never did; or Jonathan never said; or Jonathan never promised…” Don’t worry. If you dig into the archives, you will discover that Jonathan did or said or promised precisely what the author is denying. Buhari’s failures and betrayals of the people’s trust are the enablers of the revisionist impulse through which past corruption acquires rationality.

This is not limited to the Buhari-Jonathan dynamic. Just as President Buhari’s tragic failure has opened a window of rationality for the behemoth corruption supervised by Jonathan, Jonathan’s own failures also provided the window through which former President Obasanjo’s empire of corruption acquired rationality.

Because Jonathan failed on the symbolism front during his own time, President Obasanjo who spent $16 billion on darkness, supervised Halliburton and Siemens, spent billions trying to buy NASS for his third term gamble, and exited Aso Rock as one of Africa’s richest men, is today strutting around the country chastising Jonathan and Buhari and giving lectures on corruption.

From the foregoing, it should be obvious that fighting corruption is but one small step of a huge journey. Addressing the modes of its acquisition of rationality is a more significant step. This acquisition of rationality is a function of the supply of symbolism – or lack thereof – by the incumbent.

President Buhari is again in London on a medical safari at public expense. His staff also jaunt to London for toothache at public expense. Given this reality, how am I supposed to deny a righteous Nigerian the rationality of his own individual corruption at a poolside in Lagos? I have no moral basis to do this because there is no symbolism from the top.

But I have a pragmatic basis to appeal to the righteous Nigerian to resist the temptation of using the symbolic failures of the buccaneers in the 1% as the rationalizing alibi for his own individual corruption. President Buhari and members of the political class have no stake in Nigeria. Your Pastors and Imams have no stake in Nigeria. Their children are not in Nigeria. The bulk of their property is scattered from Dubai to New York via London.

When unbridled corruption sinks Nigeria, there will be no democracy of consequences. The tragedy will be borne exclusively by the 90%, not the 1%. The Yoruba say that when the sky falls, it is everybody’s burden. That does not apply to Nigeria’s liabilities. Those who stole billions and trillions will disappear overseas with their children.

You, stealing crumbs to survive and using the mega-corruption of the one percenters to rationalize your own individual corruption, have no place to go. The consequences of Nigeria’s unraveling will be borne by you and your children. It, therefore, behoves you to identify with any of the nascent values movements in the country.

The build-up towards 2019 is not singularly about politics. Beyond politics, there are energies being mobilized towards a renaissance of values by those who look at the bigger picture beyond 2019 and understand that the practice of democracy every four years will always be consumed by the rationality of corruption until we fight and win other wars on the fronts – notably the values front.

Pius Adesanmi: The road from fast food to Twitter

When I was leaving Paris for Canada to begin my PhD in 1998, my French friends almost considered it a slap on the face of their culture and civilization that I was crossing over to North America. They considered it a lowering of culture in a way. Their only consolation? Well, at least he is going to Canada, not the USA.

Confused? Be patient. Come with me.

Gallic arrogance is such that the French see themselves – especially their language and culture – as the apex of Western civilization. It is from this national imaginary that they look down with supreme contempt on the language and culture of our own colonizers across the channel. Personally, I consider it ibinu ori and bad belle because English has a global reach they can only dream of and they cannot handle it.

Bad belle or no bad belle, they see themselves as the Oga at the top of Western civilization. If they look down on their neighbours in Britain, they almost consider the Americans across the Atlantic a cultural heresy. Or people of no culture. That is Gallic arrogance.

One measure of the fears of my French friends for my level of culture was constantly expressed in what would happen to my gastronomic culture in North America. We know that the French are the owners of haute cuisine and allied elaborate food culture. Add what I acquired in the aesthetics of food and cuisine in France to my foundation of elaborate Yagba and Yoruba food culture and owambe gourmandizing and you will understand the problem of my French friends – I was too gastronomically sophisticated for North America.

For the French, dinner can be a five-hour cultural ritual of numerous courses and excellent conversation. The journey from “aperitif” to “dessert” is a long and elaborate cultural ritual. For the American, dinner can be and usually is a five-minute drive through at McDonald’s. If he has money, he may later send a bottle of Budweiser to join the double Big Mac in his belly.

This is the cultural “sacrilege” that the French can’t handle. But, you see, the American culture of fast food is coming from somewhere much deeper. It is a much deeper metaphor, honed throughout the more than 200 years of their existence by their poets, artists, and philosophers. It is a science of the self as a swift, straight to the point, efficient persona, shorn of fioritura. The American will conquers swiftly, no stories, no detours. The American dream has no room for distraction. Straight to the point.

This is a marked difference from the cultural elaborateness of our friends in France and the notions of the self which devolve therefrom.

The metaphor of the fast food is the story is of the American approach to the self, to nation, to the world. It is his culture, his aesthetics and it is what shapes his science, his innovation, his industry. That is what all these things respond to.

If fast food is expressive of a national self-fashioning, somebody somewhere saw an opening in terms of how information can also be packaged and consumed swiftly as fast food, shorn of fioritura, expressive of the American way and personhood as defined by generations of that country’s writers, philosophers, and artists.

Twitter is a continuation of America’s fast food aesthetics of the self. How we eat – fast food – defines our approach to the production and consumption of information.

The French deceive themselves that the Americans are culturally inferior but there are millions of them eating the cultural fast food that is Twitter and being defined and shaped by it.

The ignorant Nigerian wants to know who culture and grammar “has epped”. But he is expressing it on Twitter. If we offer him a torchlight, he just might be able to peer into that tunnel and see how America’s poets elaborated the national cultural aesthetics which their science and innovation fed on to give him Twitter. He does not understand the relationship between a people’s food culture and Twitter.

Every time he is on Twitter or Facebook, he is using specific products of specific cultures and aesthetics of the self. He is so used to the ignorant disconnect that people make between “arts and science” in Nigeria that he does not understand that the societies he admires in the West see both as synergy and continuity.

So long as the Nigerian does not understand this, s/he will continue to spit on his own sages of culture while ignorantly worshipping other people’s sages of culture with every update, every Tweet.

Ntor As Economic Diversification – By Pius Adesanmi

In my entire adult life, every government in Nigeria has mouthed the platitude of economic diversification. Whether military or civilian, every administration has gone to the Aso Rock Villa screaming her determination to wean Nigeria of oil dependency from the rooftops. Such administrations wax nostalgic about the groundnut pyramids of Kano, the rubber and palm oil days of the Edo/Delta axis, the cocoa plantations and other cash crops of the southwest. You hear of the abundance of solid minerals that we need to tap into all over the country. And patati. And patata.

To the best of my knowledge, no government has ever delivered on this promise of diversification. The one and the repeated tragic pattern of Nigeria’s political elite has been to get to the Villa and get drunk on oil. On occasion, they send the Minister of Finance or the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Solid Minerals to go and tell economic diversification lies to the international community. Then everybody returns to Abuja to continue to gorge on oil while watching the Avengers on CNN or Al Jazeera as they destroy their own land and people while stupidly believing that they are really destabilizing the oil-derived personal bank accounts of those who really matter in Abuja. You may destabilize Nigeria’s income with your terrorism. Nothing do the personal billions of your real targets. Na mumu dey worry una.

However, and still to the best of my knowledge, President Buhari is the only one to have gone to the Villa with a peculiar understanding of the concept of economic diversification as the ability of the Federal government to diversify the supply of oil by finding crude oil in the North, hence the obsessive missionary zeal with which he has been uprooting every dogon yaro tree across the vast expanse of the North, looking for oil. Finding crude oil in the North to supplement or replace crude oil from the Niger Delta seems to be his definition of economic diversification.

Truth be told, President Buhari is not the first member of the northern establishment to be fanatical about finding oil in the North. He is just the only one who seems to understand it as economic diversification. He also appears to be the most fanatical about saying to those constantly taunting him in the Niger Delta: “ntor! I now have my own oil!”

While it is true that every geopolitical region in Nigeria, every faith, every ethnic nationality, has contributed to the membership of the philistine and satanic comprador elite united by and around oil and corruption, only the northern component of this evil national class has repeatedly borne the insult of being stereotyped as parasites and leeches feathering their own nest with other people’s resources.

In essence, although there are Yoruba and Igbo elite thieves (and thieves from other ethnic nationalities) who have spent the past forty years gorging on oil and destroying Nigeria and the Niger Delta in the process, only the Hausa-Fulani oil thieves have been branded in our national imaginary as parasites and leeches. This has a lot to do with their long stranglehold on Federal power and their allergy to fiscal federalism. Any policy, any vision, any strategy that would wean the North of dependency on oil has been taboo for generations of northern leadership. There have also been northern loudmouths in our postcolonial history who, wittingly or unwittingly, have made a name for themselves brandishing their manifest destiny to be lord and masters of the oil.

The constant allegations of parasitism is what has haunted the psychology of the northern elite throughout much of Nigeria’s postcolonial history. However, their reaction to this history of jeers and taunts has always been a maniacal and wrong-headed desire to find their own oil at all costs, at any cost, or to bring the oil closer home. This explains why an early generation of Northern leadership somehow thought it was a good idea to build a refinery in the North and snake pipes across hundreds of miles from the Niger Delta to Kaduna. If you thought that a refinery in Kaduna was silly, well, successive generations of northern leadership have come up with even more foolish ideas, all boiling down to finding their own oil.

The inability of the northern elite to come up with creative, 21st-century post-oil solutions, drawing upon the strategic advantages of the region, can be explained by the fact that none of this is about the north or their people. When any regional elite controls what we stupidly call the national cake in Nigeria, they never feed the said cake to their people. The people never even get crumbs. If it is not about the people, creative energies and imagination cannot be unleashed and harnessed. Hence, the northern elite doesn’t have to think beyond how to contain the impoverished people in mosques (build mosques with public funds) and how to dispose of their bodies when they die of hunger (buy coffins with public funds).

Give the people mosques and coffins and you are free not to think beyond oil and personal profit. You are free to sacrifice the future by failing to understand that the days of oil are numbered. From the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia, what are our Arab friends doing? They have been in a scramble for the 21st century. They have been in a scramble for the world after oil. Beyond oil, their major earnings now come from strategic investments in the global knowledge economy. They understand that the wealth of nations is now built on innovation and creative enterprise.

Google Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan and see where they are going after oil. Research how they are diverting their intellect and creative energies to life after oil. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman asserts that Vision 2030 was designed to ensure that “we can live without oil by 2020”. This has been criticized rightfully as unrealistic but it is a pointer to the strategic thinking of Saudi Arabia. Saudi is not alone. The United Arab Emirates, China, and the United States are in the race. This is the race to transform innovation, entrepreneurship, alternative/sustainable energy sources, 21st-century high-stakes investment, advanced technology, etc, into the building blocks of life after oil. If in doubt, google “Dubai looks beyond oil”. What you will find will make you shake your head for Nigeria.

It is against the backdrop of this 21st-century shift towards a scramble for our collective post-oil future that the tragedy of President Buhari’s obsession with oil should be gauged. Agriculture has been the greatest beneficiary of the global knowledge economy. I am not talking about the disadvantage of genetically modified foods. I am talking about the extent to which technology and apps and IT and other products of the global knowledge economy have transformed agriculture.

We are now in an age where, with visionary leadership, the north could for once rise up to her potential to feed Nigeria, feed Africa, and become one of the world’s frontiers of mega-industrial agriculture. We are now in an age where the north could leverage these new frontiers to build a wealth fund for the next three generations. Instead, a leadership suffering from vision glaucoma is casting her net wildly like a lunatic in the desert, looking frantically for a finite resource that is on its way out.

Everything is about a childish desire to say ntor to the Niger Delta. This is such a shame. The militants jumping up and down over oil in the Niger Delta are ignorant that they are chest beating over a finite resource. Oil is on its way out. When oil is gone, agriculture will stay. Meanwhile, we, Nigerians, have collectively destroyed the farm lands of the Niger Delta with our wickedness as oil buccaneers.

This means that the agricultural north has the strategic advantage. They can own the future if only they have leaders capable of thinking. Tomatoes will never be out of fashion. Onions will never be out of fashion. Wheat will never be out of fashion. The entire Western obesity industry is built on burgers. Have you ever seen a McDonald’s burger bun without sesame seeds on it? Sesame seeds are produced at the subsistence level all over the north by people who do not know that it is gold.

Where is the leadership to transform northern Nigeria into the global hub of sesame seed supply for the burger industry? Where is the leadership to send McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King to northern Nigeria looking for mega-deals for the supply of sesame seeds?

That leadership is looking for oil in Daura.

That leadership wants to say, “ntor, I now have oil!”

If you are not from the North and you see this treatise as an occasion for chest beating and gloating over your superiority “to the northerners”, as is always the case in matters Nigeriana, I am sorry for you. Whether you are Yoruba or Igbo, etc, your leadership is just as insipid and brain dead as those being critiqued here. Take the case of Fashola. I hear he is now holding Sango responsible for not having added a single wattage of electricity to Nigeria’s capacity. These are interesting times when a living Minister who hasn’t added a single wattage to anything holds a deity that is sleeping jejely responsible for his own 21st-century cluelessness.

Epe Ko, Won O Le La – By Pius Adesanmi

Genuine democracies are incompatible with building personal wealth. That is why the White House does not know what to do with about Donald Trump’s billions. It’s a unique situation.

The Americans have been treating Donald Trump’s billions like a curse, a headache. Where will he put his wealth? How will he avoid this and that conflict? How will he do this? How will he do that? It’s almost like his wealth is a liability for their democracy, their presidency.


They have evolved a democracy in which government is not an advisable destination if you seek wealth. That is why the White House has such a high turnover of staff. Once they enter, they discover that they are bound to their salaries by all kinds of rules and ethical imperatives. They cannot make money. They cannot build personal wealth.


They hold a rapid dialogue with their feet and go back to the corporate world to make big money – time spent in the White House then increases their earning power.


Ari Fleischer, Dave Axelrod, etc, etc. The list is long. They get to the White House and discover that the place is not compatible with serious money, they pick race.


About ten thousand kilometres away, in Abuja, it is the opposite. You go to the Villa to build great wealth. You invite pastors, marabouts, and babalawos to help secure your wealth while you build it from scratch in full public glare in the Villa. You send witches to weaken the balls of your competitors so that their wives and concubines will become dildo-dependent. If their wives are grumbling about having to use dildos, how will they enjoy the peace of mind to disturb your wealth?


And if you enter the Villa a pauper and do not exit a billionaire, we advise your family and your kinsmen to go and wash your head. Some will say that you did not carry the head of wealth into the world and that is why you could have gone to the Villa and exited the way you entered. Some will say that the possibility of anybody in your lineage and family ever “making it” again is a function of “boya”. (Boya ni molebi ati irandiran won le la mo).


Then they will conclude: Epe ko, won o le la mo. No be curse, dem family no fit make am.


Obasanjo entered the Villa in 1999 with about N5000 in his account and exited eight years later as one of Africa’s most formidable billionaires. Had he exited without stealing everything in sight and building great wealth – part of which included looting our electricity funds to ensure that we have remained in darkness till today; had he exited without becoming a billionaire, his hometown, his ethnic nationality, would have become the subject of national snide remarks and stereotypes.


These Owu people sef. See as their son comot for Villa naked.

Na so we see am o. I hear say dem wicked well well for Ogun state o. How can their son have been president for eight years and left without money?


From Ibadan to Ilesha via Ogbomoso, you will hear that only Ogun State is like that o. They are different. Won ti buru ju. They “did their son” so that he could not make money.


This national psychology is partly responsible for why government house is a do-or-die destination for building personal wealth and fortune in Nigeria. This is why access to government house involves witches, guns, machetes, and dildos.


You need to work on your attitude. You need to stop expecting government house to be a factory for manufacturing overnight billionaires. This is the attitude which predisposes you to justifying and rationalising corruption.


And this is why you, ordinary Nigerian, are a valid alibi for the thief in government: if he comes out of government a pauper, you will blame him, you will say that he is cursed. He knows this. You shape and condition his psychology. He is already a thief. He already has corrupt genes. But you activate it because there is no way he can come out of government house to face your contempt and stereotyping.


Since Nigeria was created, you will say to him, people have been going to government to make money, why is your own different? Are you cursed? Who did you offend in your village? Then you will hiss, spit, and say shior to him for not having stolen from you. So he steals to prevent your contempt.


Genuine democracies are incompatible with building personal wealth. That is why the White House does not know what to do with about Donald Trump’s billions. It’s a unique situation.


Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, is Director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada.

Pius Adesanmi: Why Nigeria does not deserve good things

About 15 years ago or so, a very senior colleague was getting closer and closer to the retirement thingy. Rumours began to fly ahead of his retirement plans. It was said that he was looking to donate his priceless personal library to a University that would be willing to house it in a special collection. We are talking a collection that included hand-written poems, stories, and scraps by the founding generation of African writers in English.


In 2001, I bumped into the said elderly colleague in Professor Chris Dunton’s house in Lesotho. I had gone to Lesotho because Chris Dunton and I were collaborating on some publications. Chris told me that the big colleague was in town. We had lunch with him.


It was an opportunity for me to ask if he was indeed looking to donate his collection. When I got confirmation that he was thinking along those lines, I quickly contacted Professors Rem Raj and Harry Garuba.


We agreed we should begin subterranean moves to persuade the man to think of Nigeria. UI, UNILAG, OAU, UNN or ABU would be ideal locations. You didn’t want Ghana, South Africa, or Kenya to beat us to it.


We were still on the lobbying thing in 2002 or thereabouts when Victor Ehikhamenor phoned me to announce that Odia Ofeimun was visiting the US and was in his own lungu in Maryland. Back in the day, I drove from Pennsylvania to spend most weekends with Victor in Maryland.


I arrived in Maryland for the reunion with Odia. Victor had scattered ground as usual with poundo and orisirisi in the egusi. Odia couldn’t make it. He couldn’t disengage himself in good time from Delta and Edo hosts in other parts of town.


We settled for phone banter. Odia launched his attack as soon as Victor gave me the phone. Pius, the craze wey dey worry you don tay. I hear that you and Remi and Harry are dreaming that Professor Lagbaja’s collection should come to Nigeria. Una head no correct. You want to bring those priceless things to Nigeria’s infrastructural culture? And you are going to take care of them how? Do you realize how many materials in that collection need to be maintained at a special temperature? My friend, you better let those who value these things preserve them for us.


People who will build temperature-controlled structures for the collections should preserve them. Instead of bringing them here to be abandoned and destroyed, people like you should apply for funding to go and consult them wherever they are properly preserved.


I had to admit it was the first time I thought about that angle. Today, as libraries are left to rot, stagnate, and burn in Nigeria, as governments build mosques and buy coffins in lieu of books, as Christian millennials are all over the land destroying art and spiritualities in shrines, I look back and realize that Odia was right. I shudder at the thought of what could have happened… Just what were Raji, Garuba, and I thinking? In the collection that we were dreaming about were masks and other items of art and traditional spiritualities.


Assuming that government or a University did the unthinkable by even building a temperature-controlled bungalow to house the collection, what guarantee did we have that today’s crusading Christian and Muslim youths would not burn down such a “pagan” collection?


Truly, our heads were not correct to have thought of Nigeria. My son, Mitterand Okorie, when next you hear that young onward soldiers of ignorance are about to burn down another house of their history and heritage in Nigeria, see if there is anything you can save. I have space here at the Institute. Their lecturers will then look for money and apply for visa to come and study whatever we rescue from their Christian and Muslim ire.