Maier’s book appeared to me at that time to be more popular for its doomsday title than for any rigorous analysis of the Nigerian political condition. Accepted, he interviewed several movers and shakers of the society. I felt however that like most reportages and travel writings, Maier in several instances elevated the institutional manifestations of a phenomenon to its defining characteristics, thereby missing the point. I also accused him of peppering his reportage to enthral his publishers and the British reading public.
In October 2008, some eight years after Karl Meier’s book was published, a survey of more than 65 countries published by the UK’s New Scientist magazine suggested that the happiest people in the world lived in Nigeria. Nigeria had not imploded rather it inhabited the happiest people in the world, according to the survey. We flaunted the results of the survey directly wherever we could and by innuendo where social etiquette would frown at boastful behaviours. We were unconcerned about the ‘scientificness’ of the survey and very few of us took issues with the New Scientist that published it.
Nigerians appear to have a contradictory relationship with the Nigeria project. They seem to love and loathe the country, which appears to have made hanging on a cliff its comfort zone. This is probably why they are simultaneously among the most patriotic people (especially for those living outside the country) and among the harshest critics of the Nigeria project. They have a way of uniting against outsiders who try to interfere. For instance when the late Muammar Gaddafi tapped into what he saw as a declining faith of many Nigerians in the Nigeria project to suggest that the country should be balkanized along its religious fault line, most Nigerians, even those that represented centrifugal tendencies, jumped on him as they also did with the supposed prediction by America that the country would disintegrate in 2015. This suggests that despite our differences we seem to have become so used to one another that, like in most dysfunctional marriages, we bicker and threaten divorce all the time and at the same time paralyzed by fear of the unknown if our wishes for divorce were to come true.
Yet, we must also ask ourselves for how long we will continue to celebrate that we have survived yet another year on a cliff. Onlookers are getting tired of holding their breath, afraid that we might trip over the cliff.
I have always believed that the problem with the Nigeria project is politics, not economics or underdevelopment or poverty. We are on the cliff because though every part of the country feels marginalized we have a zero-sum attitude to solving the country’s problems. Once an effort is made to solve the problem of one area, others go into their institutional memories to retrieve cases of injustices and marginalization which must be concurrently addressed. In the end the country moves in circles, with problems mutating, rather than being effectively solved. All this calls for a forum where Nigerians can talk, air out their grievances, even if for catharsis. If the word ‘restructuring’ engenders distrust, we will need to construct new vocabularies that will enable us engage one another. Certainly if we continue to do what we have always done, then we will continue to get what we have always got, which is to hang on a cliff. Those who think that the country’s history in the 1960s is better, are just being nostalgic.
Dasuki and the ECOWAS Court Ruling
The recent ruling by the ECOWAS Court asking the federal government to release immediately the former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki, who has been in detention for nearly one year, has been making the headlines. The federal government said it was yet to comply with the ECOWAS Court order because it was still studying the judgment.
Some have argued that the judgment given by the Court in favour of Dasuki does not have the force of law in Nigeria since the National Assembly is yet to domesticate the Revised Treaty and Protocols relating to the Court. This may be true. In fact, states whether in municipal or international law pick and choose which court judgments to obey and which to ignore. This is why some have questioned whether enforcement or observance of court judgments is a sufficient defining characteristic of law. So if the Nigerian government chooses to ignore the judgment from the ECOWAS Court, it will only have joined a long list of countries that routinely disobey national and international court orders.
But there is a reason why I do not think it is right for the Buhari government to disobey the court judgement: many people still distrust his claim to being born again democrat. To disobey the judgment will therefore hand powerful ammunition to his critics. Besides I do not really see what purpose the continued detention of Dasuki, El Zakyzaky and Nnamdi Kanu serves except to blight the government’s human rights record, which is actually not bad when compared with the records of fellow former military Head of State Olusegun Obasanjo. In this era of the globalization of the rule of law, it will be unwise to literally invite the international community to engage the government on its democratic credentials.
Be Careful with Kenyan Airways
I travelled to Kenya on July 14 2014 to attend a conference in Nairobi on the intellectual legacies of the late Kenyan political scientist Ali Mazrui. From the conference I was to travel to London for a one- week holiday. The organisers of the conference understandably booked me on Kenyan Airways for the Abuja to Nairobi limb of the trip. I had no problem with that. After boarding we were delayed for over an hour. Many of us were tensed with the prolonged delay in departing and wondered whether they had detected some technical problems with the aircraft. No one said anything to us which heightened the sense of anxiety.
It was only when we got to Nairobi that we learnt that the aircraft had exceeded its luggage limit and was therefore refused departure. It eventually had to randomly take off some luggage from the aircraft – without informing the owners of the luggage – before it was allowed to depart for Nairobi. I found out at Nairobi that my luggage was unfortunately among those randomly taken off the aircraft. Apart from the suit I wore and my laptop, every other thing I was travelling with was in the luggage that I checked in.
I lodged a complaint and after formalities and filling of some papers, I was given $100. In Kenya, the $100 could barely buy you a decent shirt and slippers.
The following day I made concerted efforts to ensure that my luggage would be returned to me as soon as possible but to no avail. On July 17, precisely the day I was to leave for United Kingdom, I got a message from Kenyan Airways telling me that they could not even locate my luggage in Abuja. I was simply pissed off.
I never heard again from Kenyan Airways until July 25, the day I was to leave UK for Nigeria. They had called to tell me that my luggage had arrived in Nairobi. I was taken aback because I had told them of my itinerary. I asked them to return the luggage to my residence in Abuja, which they promised to do.
I never heard anything again from Kenyan Airways until about August 14, (one month after I boarded their aircraft) when I received a call from them asking me to come to the airport with my ID card to claim my luggage. I felt that was cheeky of them and insisted that they should deliver the luggage to my home. Though they eventually complied, they behaved as if they had done no wrong and saw no reason for profound apologies and compensation.