Since the rise in the spread of the novel coronavirus in Nigeria, especially among the high and mighty in the obscene corridors of power, my mind has been repeatedly wandering back to one of the country’s cerebral writers’ seminal thoughts. I speak here of Chinua Achebe’s pivotal essay, “The Trouble With Nigeria.” One of the reasons for that repeated journey into the heart of that relevant Achebe’s thought on what ails Nigeria, I now know, has to do with the numerous social media posts authored by some Nigerian netizens that I have gorged on lately.
The summary of those dark pieces choking the artery of communication platforms is that several Nigerians want the pitiless COVID-19 to kill and ravage many of their clueless and heartless rulers beyond repair! These Nigerians seek the cessation of breath for their rulers because of the manifold dysfunctions in the polity and because of the little or no investment made into the healthcare system, a reality the reign of the raging virus has further foregrounded.
To be sure, when you look at the sheer mercilessness and incredible insensitivity of the average Nigerian public office holders, you will be tempted to wish them such afflictions comparable only to those of biblical ones. But only minds given to the escapism and accustomed to easy answers would revel in wishing Nigerian rulers and their families pains of biblical proportion. Sadly, most Nigerians meet the qualifications and have succumbed irreversibly, perhaps, to that temptation. I am of the view that the death wish and other allied negative wishes for the oppressive tyrants and atrocious “constituted authorities” in Nigeria by those negatively impacted are a glaring demonstration of the befuddling spinelessness and disabling ignorance that characterize the behaviour of most Nigerian sufferers. Most Nigerians always expect that in one clean sweep all their woes would be gone and the goodies of good governance they have long been deprived of would just become a reality. They expect that without lifting a finger, the Bastille of disempowering governance and the fortress of illiberal power will collapse. They strongly believe that by their mere wishes, some external forces will come to their aid and bring about a new glorious era of good living condition. These Nigerians are strangers to the Shakespearean wisdom – beggars have nothing to ride because their wishes are not horses! It is the reason they find comfort in incessant supplications to some gods and stain the social medial space with such dreary wishes for their tormentors that Lucifer himself would shudder to ponder.
This lazy approach to seeking change, this outsourcing of civic responsibilities, and this bloated sense of false expectations are what Achebe in that critical essay explicates as “cargo cult mentality,” a term he acknowledges came from anthropologists. Although he submits that this disease afflicts “the ruling elite,” I would argue the inadequately ruled in Nigeria are more under its disturbing influence. Here is how Achebe piquantly describes this unhelpful tendency: “One of the commonest manifestations of underdevelopment is a tendency [of most Nigerians] to live in a world of make-believe and unrealistic expectations. This is the cargo cult mentality […] – a believe by backward people that someday, without any exertion whatsoever on their own part, a fairy ship will dock in their harbour laden with every goody they have always dreamed of possessing” (29).
That cargo cult mentality is the inspiration behind the death wish that most Nigerians have for their oppressive and sociopathic rulers. But like they have always been before now, these Nigerians are wrong to expect that COVID-19 will do for them what they have for many decades shied away from doing by themselves. Even if the virus leaves many deaths in its subterraneous sweep across the villas of power in the country, there will still be more narrow minds to lay hold of the levers of power and deliver more noxious leadership to the continuous unhappiness of those who are expert at death wish. All those wishing President Muhammadu Buhari, his Chief of Staff, Aba Kiyari, governors, plus their family members, and other hangers-on to meet their end in the disease of these unsettling times need to ask themselves what has become of Nigeria after the death of the dark-goggled horror called Sani Abacha. Although some think Abacha expired under the toxic influence of an apple in the company of some venomous strumpets, some Nigerian prayer warriors are convinced it was their prayers that dispatched the despot to the Aso Rock of no return. Abacha has been out of Nigeria and Nigerian affairs for about two decades, still there is no significant break in the cycle of bad leaders and poor governance Nigerians strangely endure. The salvation and change Nigerians need will never come from wishing that COVID-19 shrink the fold of the visionless badass in leadership positions cheapening lives in the country. It is the apt example of what It means to balk up the wrong tree.
Like a few Nigerians, I have an abiding detestation for all myopic and illiberal rulers like President Buhari and other animals in human skin (apologies to Fela Anikulapo) in the states across Nigeria and beyond. Their objectionable leadership philosophies (if we can deign to see them as such) irritate and give me goosepimples. I am too often disturbed by the harvest of deaths their reign eventuate.
However, not once have some of us deceived ourselves that wishing these persons dead would give Nigeria a breath of fresh air or a passage out of the woods of necropolitics (being Achille Mbembe’s concept describing the use of sociopolitical power to determine who lives and how and who dies). I am convinced that the liberation of the Nigerian state from the clutches of blind minds will only come from suffering Nigerians. They will need to look to themselves in their bid to dislodge these insensate and wicked beings from power. The death wish that the cargo cult mentality necessitates will not help Nigerians, neither would mere prayers tip the scale in their favour. Nigeria as has been constituted requires a comprehensive reform. It structures are unviable and its grundnorm is too weak to support a people in need of the paradise human thinking can make possible.
Accordingly, Nigerians must toss off their animosity against the lessons of history. The changes that different peoples of our world have recorded and continue to achieve against destructive leadership have not come from merely wishing the enemies of the people dead or hoping on some gods to suddenly birth a transformation. Nigerians must heed the words of the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglas. With the force of unmitigated terrible experience of slavery and its heartless dehumanization, Douglas enjoins all suffering people to take charge of the struggle for their own freedom and wellbeing. “Those who will be free,” he exhorts, “must themselves strike the first blow.” They must act. They must insist pay attention to the leadership recruitment process; they must favour debate; they must insist on accountability and transparency, they must unceasingly clamour for investment in human-capacity building ventures like education. They must organize and protest when the occasions call for it. They must conscientize and educate the less informed. They must remain vigilant and call out unseemly leadership. These are the blows they must strike.
The cargo cult mentality will keep them more in pains and servitude to satanic leaders.
Ademola Adesola is a researcher at the Department of English, Theatre, Film and Media, University of Manitoba, Canada.