Nigeria And Politics Of National Cake - by Uche Igwe

The season of politicking in Nigeria is here again. The same unmistakably familiar signs. You cannot miss them. The season of speechmaking, big titles, long convoys, renting crowds, media friendliness, praise singing, emergency philanthropy and sycophancy. You will notice the good, the bad and the ugly coming out to say how nice they are and the wonderful things that they are capable of doing. 

They are visiting party secretariats, paying millions of naira collecting forms to contest positions, making promises and making friends. They consult their diviners, prophets, marabouts, pastors, imams, etc – all in a bid to peep into a future and secure their chances.

They will come to tell you that they have consulted their constituency members and their communities and they have been put under pressure to come out. Such a lame, dry and drab excuse. As if they listen to anyone else except themselves and their inordinate ambition. Some will even go to the extent of borrowing money, forging certificates and buying degrees – all in the bid to get a position that guarantees them access to public resources. One interesting thing about this period is that in the course of these activities, so many services are rendered and somehow money changes hands from those who have to others who do not. But in whose interest are all these things happening? Let none of these pretenders deceive you anymore – they want to go there once again for themselves and their pockets.

Some actors in the Nigerian political scene are a shameless breed and laughable stock. They do not even have the finesse and decency of changing their tactics even when they have failed over and over again. The same old story lines. And we, the ordinary people, are a very vulnerable and malleable lot; we keep believing them, supporting and even making excuses for their undoing and failures. As if we matter in their permutations. Do you mean that they are doing all of these to come and serve? Do you reckon that public interest is part of their agenda?

I have written about it many times before now, Nigerian politicians have reduced being a Nigerian to the simplistic struggle of trying to get a share of the national cake. And it is like a rat race. Everyone is involved. When you secure access, you declare a bonanza and invite some of your favourite friends to the dining table.

It started with the discovery of crude oil in Iho, Ikeduru in Imo State in 1930 by Shell D’Arcy and later in a commercial quantity in Oloibiri, in Bayelsa State in 1956. It was the then young military adventurist, Yakubu Gowon, who declared that the problem of Nigeria was not money but how to spend it. From then on, everyone from the military to the bureaucracy and of course the politicians and the ordinary citizens became pre-occupied with how to cut a slice of the national cake. Development was abandoned and every endeavour that must go must be seen as a way to allow some set of people to take a share. Ethnicity, religious bigotry and other divisive techniques were invented as strategies to take a bite.

Many people today hold ethnicity responsible for the many absurdities in Nigeria. What was supposed to be our strength in diversity was now exploited for the benefit of the unscrupulous few. It is part of the strategies constructed by the elite to access the national cake. It is manufactured and manipulated to serve a number of selfish purposes including being usually antagonistic to others. Those who could not survive a nationalistic political competition always have a chance to retreat to their ethnic cocoons in search of dubious legitimacy, retreating into their ethnic cocoons as a strategy to get access to the national cake. They did not just “invent” ethnicism of a most roguish kind, they also created stereotypes around them. For instance they say the Igbo like money; the Yoruba cannot be trusted; the Hausa/Fulani people are religious bigots; the Ijaw are “kai kai” drinkers; the Kanuri are “sponsors” of Boko Haram.

When ethnicity could not serve their mischievous purposes satisfactorily, they invented religion as another form of access to the cake. They continued to drum it to the gullible that being adherents of different religions makes us fundamentally different. No one bothered to explain that the religions they cling tenaciously to were all imported. Gradually, it started festering and the results are the hatred and suspicion that have risen to their peak today. Some have surrendered themselves as protectors and guardians of something that they do not even understand. They have risen to slaughter their neighbours like chickens and destroy their age-long interconnectedness and cohesion in their communities in the pretext of pursuing a political agenda clothed in religious garment.

All the violence that has been witnessed in Nigeria without exception has its direct and indirect selfish political agenda of the elite. Now, there are many examples but let us just take one: The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. At a point in our history, MEND was the most fearful and dreaded group in the region. Like Boko Haram, it was masked and some of us even believed it had supernatural powers and was thus invincible. The members kidnapped, robbed and raped – all as part of their own way to collect a slice of the national cake. So, regardless of the atrocities that Boko Haram has committed and amidst the senseless propaganda that those supporting and funding them are trying to make the public to believe, I can reduce the whole unfortunate exercise to four words – pursuit of national cake! No one should interpret it beyond that. When the insurgents had frightened people enough to get a larger chunk of the cake, it will come out, and like MEND leaders, get their own share.

Now back to politics; 2015 is around the corner. The elite have another opportunity to unleash another set of vampires on the unsuspecting Nigerian public. They want to continue the sharing. But Nigerians have a choice, to allow them have their way or remain alert. Since the 1970s, we have been allowing those who are interesting in “chopping” our national cake to be at the helm of affairs. But where are those who have the capability of baking more cakes? When shall we allow them to take charge of our nation? My fear is that one day with continuous “chopping”, there may be no more cake to cut. We must remain vigilant. 2015 will be what we make it!

Photo Credit: Segun Awosanya