By Kwesi Pratt Jnr.
Africa, International Solidarity, News, Nigeria
Time to Reclaim Nigeria : An introduction
By Kwesi Pratt Jnr *
I picked the call without hesitation and found out that my good friend and comrade, Chido Onumah, was at the other end. We had not spoken for a very long time and figured he had arrived in Accra and as usual wanted to get in touch for old times’ sake. “Are you in Accra?” I asked. “No I am in Abuja”, he answered. “Are you coming to Accra any time soon?”, I inquired further. His response was: “No, I am putting together my essays into a book. The book’s public presentation is scheduled for December 15, and I want you to write the introduction”.
It turned out that the book he wanted me to write an introduction for, “Time to Reclaim Nigeria,” a collection of his essays from 2001 to 2011, was more than 300 pages. I had just returned from an appointment with my doctor who had recommended a long rest after diagnosing acute malaria.
The problem was that Chido wanted the introduction in 24 hours. If the request had come from anywhere else I would simply have said “NO SIR, I can’t make it”. But how can anybody who has been close to Chido, a passionate Pan Africanist burning with anger at the works of the looting brigade on the continent, say no to him? He has always been extremely resentful of the plunderers of the wealth of Africa and their total irresponsibility in dissipating that wealth on useless ego trips which portray their unbridled stupidity.
“Time To Reclaim Nigeria” is an excellent collection of essays which reveal the Nigerian reality, but which also point to the fact that another reality of a society founded on the principles of social justice, meaningful democracy, and equality before the law is possible to construct.
I have been struck by an obvious contrast anytime I have visited Nigeria: The opulence of the ruling elite and the excruciating poverty of the vast majority who are the producers of wealth in this West African country. The numerous private jets which dot the Murtala Mohammad Airport in Lagos, all belonging to those who have had stints in government or have been closely related to decision makers in the corridors of power effectively tell the story of what Nigerian politics is all about.
The story is told better by the slums which surround the airport where the private jets are parked, the pot holes on the streets just outside the airport, the mountains of rubbish in Lagos and the raw poverty of citizens everywhere you go. Over the last thirty years, more and more Nigerians have become poor, and according to Patrick Wilmot, sociologist and one-time lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria, who Chido references in his opening essay, more than 70% of Nigerians have been absorbed into the category of the very poor in the world.
This is most certainly unacceptable in a country which produces more than two million barrels of oil a day and lies in the tropics with a huge potential for agriculture. Nigeria’s population of more than 150 million is also a major incentive for production. The truth, however, is that the social, political, and economic elite in Nigeria have never been up to any good. They are just satisfied with vulgar opulence. Driving the most expensive cars in the world, owning private jets, spraying ill-gotten cash on the mediaeval expositions of wealth and authority.
Nigeria, like most developing nations, has been and is a victim of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, in which millions of our most able bodied citizens were captured as beasts of burden to work without pay for hundreds of years, to build the foundations of modern capitalist states. Nigeria also suffered classical colonialism, under which pirates captured territory around the world and plundered their resources, for the benefit of the elite in the metropolis.
Today, Nigeria is in the grips of a vicious elite which continues to facilitate the plunder of her resources for the benefit of the same colonial metropolitan elite. The Nigerian elite is more than satisfied with the crumbs which drop from the table of the capitalist class in Europe and North America, and they are happy as long as a gulf of poverty separates them from the downtrodden.
Time to Reclaim Nigeria should set all of us thinking about the inadequacies of the present socio-political order, and prepare our minds for a major paradigm shift.
*Kwesi Pratt Jnr. is managing editor, The Insight newspaper, Accra, Ghana.