NIGERIA is a marriage, a forced polygamy. It has been unwell with it right from the beginning. The story of Nigeria is told everyday in customary and Shari’ah courts where embarrassing divorce cases won’t stop shaming our existence. Almost every case sounds like a satire of Nigeria. Last week in Ibadan, there was a certain Kafayat Lawal who wanted the dissolution of her 14-year-old marriage. Her husband, she said, was interested only in acquiring more wives and breeding ill-bred children: “His harem is full of wives and children whom he has failed to take care of. I play the role of father and mother to my children under his nose and he is not perturbed. I feed and clothe them and also send them to school out of the little I make from my trade. Anytime I tabled the children’s needs before him, he would ask me to attend to them myself. Though he’s alive, I regard him as dead. I live like a widow because my husband is dead to his responsibilities. All he knows to do is to make babies. He has four wives and is still planning to have more. He often boasts that the least number of children his wife can have is four…” The husband, Wasiu had his own story to tell. Yes, he has four wives – each having four children for him – and he takes care of them (with N500 per wife) everyday: “I’m also fed up with her. I agree to her plea of divorce. My lord, my wife is an adulterer. I know two of her lovers living in our neighbourhood. They sleep with her on a regular basis and give her money. I became cold towards her when her illicit acts became known to me. She misbehaves in the home and addresses me anyhow because other men are giving her money.” Every divorce case speaks to Nigeria’s troubled existence. Nigeria has one of the highest fertility rates in the world. It also has the unenviable reputation of acting rudderless in critical moments, putting its future in jeopardy. The World Population Prospects 2017 has predicted that Nigeria will overtake the United States to become the third-most populous country in the world by 2050, surpassing the 300 million people mark by that year. “Nigeria frustrates,” so held the Financial Times in a recent piece. It won’t stop being a country of vast potentials held down by “perverse incentives” and engagement with unproductive activities – “making money through political connections, speculations, round tripping and arbitrage.” It has no concrete plan for anyone, including itself. Nigeria is exactly like that husband of four wives and 16 children with no other ambition beyond marrying more wives, sleeping with more women and having more kids with no thought on how to cater for them.
The road to the future collapsed long ago like the Mokwa Bridge in Niger State. Our political engineers are not on the road. They are very busy in the palace fixing their thrones and building fortresses around their inheritance. Because nothing is as lucrative as power in Nigeria, the elite won’t stop at anything to protect their monopoly. As I write this, there are fears that between the far north and the south west there is no smile, no laughter again. And I am talking about the potentates who hold the yam and the knife in these regions. The vivacious high-fives and the bear hugs that climaxed in the adoption and election of Muhammadu Buhari two years ago have vanished. It is not yet war, but between them there are peals of thunderclaps and blinding lightning. Acting President Yemi Osinbajo was in London last Tuesday to meet with General Buhari. What happened there? How many minutes did he spend with the President and what really did they discuss? Is it true that as he stepped into the Abuja House where the President lives, he was shocked to see two ministers there waiting to receive him? What happened thereafter between them? Nothing? Are we sure things are just as normal as we are told by those who should tell us?
Can we say there is a nexus between the rumblings around power and the tragicomedy between the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Folorunsho Adewole and the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Professor Usman Yusuf? A whirlwind is howling around those two professors. Yusuf is supposed to be on suspension on the orders of Adewole but he is daring the minister to enforce that his order! The directive, Yusuf shouted, cannot find comfort under the law or under whatever mandate the minister thought he had from the President. Only the President could discipline, suspend, or remove him from office, Yusuf boasted in an audacious, well written memo to Adewole. Yusuf signed that memo, and should be saluted for the courage if he solely developed that steely resolve to counter-query his supervising minister. And what was the minister’s reaction to Yusuf’s daring audacity? Adewole caused a press statement to be issued by his ministry “dissociating itself” from Yusuf. But did courageous Yusuf ever claim or crave any “association” with the ministry in his repudiation of ministerial disciplinary powers over him? Should a timid press release be the response of a minister to a direct challenge to his powers? Or could it be that he truly lacked the legal powers to suspend Yusuf? Where you come from has always been of great value in any consideration of power relations in Nigeria. These are not good times. Nigeria needs prayers. We all do. This NHIS stuff sounds very much like what we read about a certain Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe some 50 years ago. In those testy, bloody days of 1966, a Sergeant reportedly told Ogundipe, the most senior army officer after Aguiyi Ironsi, that he would take orders only from his Captain, a northerner. And what was Ogundipe’s reaction to that insult? He sulked and withdrew into the anonymity of diplomatic existence.
Open disagreements at the highest level of power tend to scare mere mortals. Internal strifes in government rob poor citizens the attention they need from persons they hired (for a fee) to manage their affairs. But when the smooth running of the affairs of state suffers at the backyard of ethnic rivalries and petty class squabbles, then there is reason to fear. From the South to the North and vice versa, so much hate is being pushed daily into the public space –enough to alarm all patriots. Youth organizations mushroom daily to advance invidious agenda of ethnic war lords. There was a certain Gambo Ibrahim Gujungu who addressed the media in Kaduna last week as the National President of Arewa Youth Forum (AYF). His own group is different from that other one that gave an October 1 deadline to Igbos to quit the north. Gujungu’s own focus is the South West Yoruba. His words were warnings, the kind you hear from superiors to minions: Politicians in the Southwest face a grim future unless they stop playing games to rob the north of its rightful slot to the Presidency. There was another group with a more direct promise of a reaction from the north if anything happens to the current power equation. In a statement, it described itself as “a group of young Nigerians who are keenly following developments in the polity.” This group’s own target are “the (south west) hawks” …and “the palace jesters who specialise in inciting members of the public against some elements in government both at the presidency and the National Assembly.” Its words were hard, pointed and sharp. They were loaded with threats, some subtle, many open and very unambiguous. The acid in it was designed as a special message to certain special interests. But it was ignored by the “noisy” South West. Even the mainstream media did not treat it. It found comfort only in the deep bowels of the Internet.
Now, I ask: with all these negative words flying about, what does the future hold for the country? Will threats and counter-threats give us a Nigeria that will guarantee good life for our kids? Will muscle flexing and influence peddling make better our very bad situation? What do you think will happen to a marriage ruled by threats? Kim Buehlman, John Gottman and Lynn Katz did a research on why marriages collapse. They coded the bevaviour of 52 couples over a period of three years to determine what qualities predicted divorce or marital stability. They found that “how a couple views their past predicts their future” and that “couples who eventually divorced were low in fondness for their partners, high in negativity, low in “we-ness,” high in chaos, low in glorifying the struggle, and high in disappointment of the marriage.” All these tendencies are present in Nigeria’s house of discord. But can we make it work for its members? Will it work and work well if mutual respect, equity and fairness are its mainframe? Or should we just wait for the day of judgement?