Pius Adesamni looks at the recent Raila Odinga visit with Obasanjo and argues that African ruling classes are so prodigious in the production of political farce that all one needs to do is read African newspapers for absurd realities that no African writer has as yet to match.
Give it to politicians, the military, and other professional hijackers of the state in Africa! They are able to squeeze the juice of comedy out of the stone of unspeakable tragedies they routinely visit on their people and the continent. The most unfortunate victim of the inexhaustible creativity of the African political class, their cynical mastery of the resources of the proscenium, is African fiction. The political class in Africa constitutes the most potent threat to the health of African literature. Simply put, our politicians are driving our writers out of business.
Why do I need to spend my hard-earned money on Wizard of the Crow and Petals of Blood when Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki have manufactured realities in Kenya that Ngugi wa Thiongo’o’s brilliant imagination simply cannot match? All I need is regular internet access to Kenyan newspapers to avail myself of a direct taste of Kenya according to her politicians.
Why do I need Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People and T.M. Aluko’s One Man, One Matchet in my seminar room when the blood and flesh versions of Chief Nanga and Benjamin Benjamin in Abuja have turned Achebe and Aluko into dwarves in the business of fiction? The Nigerian ruling class is so prodigious in the production of political farce that all I need do is read Nigerian newspapers for quotidian realities that no Nigerian writer has the imagination to match.
That African politicians are constantly and permanently ahead of hapless African writers was brought home by two recent events. Ogaga Ifowodo, one of Nigeria’s best poets, wrote an essay in which he imagined a meeting between Mwai Kibaki and Umaru Yar’Adua. What did Yar’Adua tell Kibaki, Ifowodo asked? To create his hypothetical situation, Ifowodo deployed the full arsenal of his trade: sarcasm, hyperbole, allusions, and the like. At the end of the essay, Ifowodo was sure he had delivered his message effectively and unambiguously: the Nigerian presidency is so diseased, so morally compromised, that the possibility of the Nigerian government having a say in the Kenyan debacle can only exist in the realms of fiction and the most outrageous imagination. Given the rotten political pedigree of the people in charge in Abuja, Nigeria’s involvement was so improbable that Ifowodo treated it as fiction, something better left as material for the exclusive use of the African writer.
As is sadly often the case in Africa, Odinga, the politician, was miles ahead of Ifowodo, the writer. Odinga did not wait for Ifowodo’s ink to dry before hopping on a flight to Nigeria last week. His mission? Wait for it: to consult with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria’s immediate past president) and persuade him to convince Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, current president and Obasanjo’s puppet, that it was time Nigeria got involved in fashioning an African solution to Kenya’s political impasse! It has taken Ogaga Ifowodo more than twenty years of sustained production of brilliant poetry to establish his reputation as one of Africa’s leading users of the imagination. Raila Odinga and his Nigerian hosts have eclipsed this record in a couple of hours.
When I read about Odinga’s trip to Nigeria, I had a tough choice between laughing and crying. I settled for the former. To grasp the tragedy in all its unpleasant ramifications, one has to unpack Odinga’s company in Nigeria: Obasanjo and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) machinery. Of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the least said the better. Writing about Obasanjo here would turn this piece into an exposé on unbridled corruption and the defoliation of Nigeria’s destiny in two tragic installments: 1976 – 1979, and 1999 – 2007. Whenever tails are mentioned in a discussion, the toad hurriedly suggests changing the topic and moving on to other issues! So, let’s leave Obasanjo and move on to Yar’Adua and the PDP.
History’s final verdict on African political parties would be hard pressed not to record the PDP as the most vicious, most corrupt, and most visionless political organization ever to bestride the Nigerian – and African political landscape. It would be sheer travesty of justice if the National Party of Henrik Verwoerd and Pieter Botha fared worse than Nigeria’s PDP in the reckoning of history. Ever since its unfortunate formation, the PDP has been home to the worst elements of Nigerian humanity. Although it loves to delude itself as Africa’s largest political party, the truth is that the PDP is Africa’s largest assembly of funny characters with zero moral capital. Excellence in political thuggery, treasury looting, and election rigging are key attributes of membership and upward mobility in party ranks. It is significant that in a supposedly democratic dispensation, the PDP has surpassed Sani Abacha’s record of unresolved political assassinations. The rate of intra-party assassinations became so breathtaking at a point that the inimitable Wole Soyinka baptized the PDP as a “nest of killers”. Soyinka forgot to add that the PDP is also a lair of Africa’s most gifted thieves. To go through the list of party leaders – Party Chieftains in Nigerian parlance – is to be in stark contemplation of the tragedy of modern Nigeria: Olusegun Obasanjo (self-appointed Father of modern Nigeria), Olabode George, Ahmadu Ali, Lamidi Adedibu (stark illiterate, recently designated Father of the PDP!), Andy Uba, Chris Uba, and thousands of other birds of similar feather, looting the state dry in rigged political positions.
That these low-quality characters and their scions have hijacked the Nigerian state is a precise indication of the abysmally low depths to which Nigeria has fallen. Among the many sins of this dishonorable cabal and their dishonorable party, the 2007 election pretty much takes the cake. Nigerians are in agreement with the international community that the PDP’s 2007 electoral heist ranks among the worst in human history. It is unnecessary to rehash the details here. Suffice it to assert that Umaru Yar’Adua, Nigeria’s current president, is the morally compromised custodian of a purloined mandate who has been unable to rise above the debased values of his cabal and do the right thing. Rather, he has ignored the festering leprosy his diseased party has foisted on Nigeria while hypocritically making a show of his determination to cure negligible ringworm infections.
This is a snapshot of the kind of company Raila Odinga went to keep in Nigeria. The story of Nigeria’s sorry pass in the gangrened grip of the PDP cartel is globally ubiquitous: not even a blind and deaf kindergarten pupil in Siberia can claim ignorance of the Nigerian situation. What part of this narrative did Raila Odinga not understand? The ways of the African politician are truly perplexing! How did Raila Odinga arrive at the conclusion that Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and his PDP government, morally compromised perpetrators of the worst electoral heist in human history, are in any position to advise him on the way forward in Kenya? How did he determine that Nigeria’s forty thieves deserve a place at the table of serious African conversations on credible elections, good governance, and democracy? Who are Odinga’s handlers in Kenya? How could all of them have missed the fact that the people he was going to consult in Nigeria practice a version of democracy that consists in assassinating your opponent or rigging your way to political office? Do we need to translate “nest of killers” to Swahili before Mwalimu Odinga can understand that simple expression? By going to consult the worst Nigeria has to offer, Odinga has spat on the graves of the Kenyans who have lost their lives so far and added to our frustration and helplessness as ordinary Nigerians.
Nigerians are in a particularly sensitive phase of their national life. We are a beautiful country of beautiful people who have had the extraordinary misfortune of being held hostage by the worst among us. Although we once contributed exemplary characters to Africa’s leadership pool during the nationalist and immediate post-nationalist eras, we have never known democracy in any real sense. The closest we came to it was on June 12, 1993 when ‘we, the people’ voted in the only free and fair election we have ever known. Our hopes and aspirations were quashed by the same vicious enemy-cabal that aborted our dreams of post-independence nationhood and have held us hostage ever since. Sometimes, this cabal comes in army fatigues; sometimes it wears flowing civilian robes but it is the same rotten organism that perpetually recycles itself. When people who should know better invite the worst we have to offer to the table, the wound cuts deep in the Nigerian psyche. It reminds us painfully of Frostian roads not taken. And in this case, we are much more certain than Frost of what could have been had the right people taken the roads not taken.
It bears repeating: the Nigerian state, currently held hostage by a dishonorable cabal and a bloodthirsty, kleptocratic political party, does not qualify to be consulted or invited to the table when good governance and credible elections in Africa are in the agenda. If Raila Odinga was so desperate for Nigerian advice, all he needed do was ask and we would have supplied him names of Nigerians who qualify to be at the table. Nigeria has more that a hundred million names that could have given Odinga advice from an eminently moral high ground since members of the dishonorable enemy-cabal are, thankfully, in the minority and in no way represent what we have to offer as a people. If Odinga had consulted serious people before embarking on his worthless trip to Nigeria, one would have given him such meritorious names as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Gani Fawehinmi, Patrick Utomi, Edwin Madunagu, Odia Ofeimun, Okey Ndibe, Omoyele Sowore, just to mention a few. These are among our very best, the kinds of people who still make it possible for Nigerians to defy the rape of their humanity by the jokers in the PDP and identify proudly with their nation.
If, however, Mwalimu Odinga insists on getting his advice on how to move Kenya forward from discredited African sources, we can also help him. Let him return to Nigeria and consult with all the corrupt PDP governors currently facing embezzlement charges. On his way back home, he may want to stop over in Libreville and Yaounde for consultations on credible democracy with Omar Bongo and Paul Biya. A stopover with Eugene Terreblanche in South Africa will spice up things nicely. He may then return to Nairobi and tell Kofi Annan that he has received superior advice from more credible sons of Africa!
* Pius Adesanmi is Associate Professor of English and Director, Project on New African Literatures at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. Apart from his academic work, Dr. Adesanmi publishes opinion articles regularly in various internet fora. He runs a regular blog for The Zeleza Post where this article first appeared. He has contributed to Counterpunch, Slepton and Chimurenga online.
** Please send comments to or comment online at www.pambazuka.org This article first appeared at The Zeleza Post.