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Looking forward to yesterday

 

Looking forward to yesterday %Post Title

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good God, we are madly in love with yesterday, aren’t we? We are always looking forward to yesterday. You know, the good old days. The days when we had three regions and “true” federalism. The days when the regions “competed” with one another, when the Western Region would set up a TV station and the Northern and Eastern Regions would follow suit. The days when one region would build a stadium and the rest would construct theirs. The days when the North stood tall with the groundnut pyramids, when the West was a huge forest of cocoa and when the East swam in palm oil. The days when we ran the parliamentary system and every region self-governed and had a premier.

The good old days when our national anthem was ‘Nigeria, We Hail Thee’. With the speed of light, a law has just been passed by the National Assembly returning us to the old national anthem with immediate effect. We were not even given a transition period to learn or re-learn it — unlike in 1978 when the military government gave us one-month notice. While the serious corners of the world are already living in tomorrow by focussing on artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, cancer vaccines, biotechnology and smart cities, Nigerians are being held hostage to yesterday with meaningless symbolisms. In the absence of good governance, diverting attention is such an easy thing to do.

Many disgusted Nigerians have been asking if the new old anthem would resolve the hunger in the land or put an end to insecurity. I asked a similar question before, but I am no longer interested in pursuing that line of inquiry. I have since realised that even if we do not backslide to the old anthem, there will still be inflation and insecurity. Meanwhile, the old national anthem is “service to Nigeria”, in the words of President Bola Tinubu. It will return Nigeria “to glorious days”, Philip Agbese, a member of the house of reps, said. Senate President Godswill Akpabio, arguably Nigeria’s most prolific sycophant, said it is Tinubu’s “most profound act”. So profound I was moved to tears.

By the way, Nigeria is not the first to tamper with its anthem. Anthems are sometimes changed when something significant happens — independence, “revolution” and such like. South Africa, Burkina Faso, Libya and Zimbabwe, among others, have made fundamental changes to their anthems when entering new eras. There are also minor consequential changes: Britons started singing ‘God Save the King’ when King Charles III succeeded Queen Elizabeth II in 2022 and ‘God Save the Queen’ had to be amended. Nigeria, however, has just done the unusual by reverting to an old anthem. We have not composed a new one to signify a new era; we only did some archaeological work to dig up the past.

What next? It has been repeatedly suggested that we should change the name “Nigeria”, which was apparently coined from “Niger Area”. Proponents say the name was given to us by foreigners. A critic once said a change was necessary because it was a British journalist and Lord Lugard’s “girlfriend”, Flora Shaw, that christened us. Therefore, the time has come for us to cut off from our colonial past by giving ourselves a new name — although I must regret to add that we have just dumped an anthem composed by full-blooded Nigerians for the one written by a British expatriate in 1960, but never mind. Pre-Independence, we used to sing ‘God Save the Queen’ as British colonial subjects.

The proposed change of name for Nigeria is, I hope, going to launch us into a new age and grow our GDP by a minimum of 10 percent per annum. Chief Mike Ozekhome, a senior lawyer, was ecstatic when we reverted to the old anthem, recalling how he moved the motion at the national conference in 2014. I remember him also saying the country’s name should be changed. He proposed that it should be spelt backwards: “Nigeria” would become “Airegin”. Federal Republic of Airegin, that is. That aligns perfectly with our backward thinking. I would struggle to pronounce “Airegin”, but I also struggled to say “shokolobangoshe” when I was a little boy and I would say I am doing just fine today.

Many countries have changed their names. The Democratic Republic of Congo used to be Zaire. It was a case of “potato, potahto” as Zaire is another name for the Congo river. It was called Republic of the Congo at Independence in 1960, changed to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1965, rechristened Republic of Zaire in 1971, and (when the strongman Mobutu Sese Seko was overthrown by Laurent Désiré-Kabila in 1997) reverted to DR Congo. In the main, the country has remained poorly governed, riddled by abject poverty and armed conflict — with over six million killed since the last name change. Yet, it is one of the most resource-rich African countries. So much for symbolisms.

What else? I am enthusiastically expecting a bill to change our national currencies to pounds and shillings. I don’t know if it would be the next most profound thing to be done by Tinubu, but, by some logic, when Nigerians were spending pounds, the economy was bubbling, there was no Boko Haram, there were no yahoo boys and there were no potholes on Nigerian roads. The refineries were working efficiently and we never had to import fuel. Bad things started happening when we changed our national currencies to naira and kobo. The solution, according to the logic of the Yesterday Movement, would be to go back to the past. Who knows, we may soon change to left-hand drive.

There is this song by the Carpenters, the former American sibling duo, that I love so much. It is titled ‘Yesterday Once More’. They made the song five decades ago but I still listen to it as if it was released this morning. Old school is something I love when it comes to music, so I can understand the fixation with Nigeria’s past by the nostalgic sections of the political elite. Members of the old order have passed on the received wisdom to their descendants that a return to yesterday is the gateway to our future. I am, thus, not surprised or bemused by the sustained campaign to return Nigeria to the things we used to do in the 1950s and 1960s. Going back to ‘Nigeria We Hail Thee’ is true to type.

When are we returning to regionalism, another super solution to Nigeria’s problem? This is a hot item on the bucket list of the Yesterday Movement. The argument is that our golden era was when Nigeria was in regions. It doesn’t matter that 36 states, as against three regions, are now competing. It doesn’t matter that we now have more stadiums and more TV stations. It doesn’t matter that many states are now big on rice, cassava, maize, sorghum, sesame seed and gum arabic. No. We must revert to three regions and return to groundnut pyramids, cocoa and palm produce. The only way forward is for three or six regions to compete. Competition among 36 states is unacceptable.

In fact, the most popular argument is that we should collapse the 36 states into six regions, along the line of the current six geo-political zones. That way, there will be only six governors, six regional governments and six houses of assembly — thereby saving the treasury the enormous bureaucratic costs of running 36 “unviable” states. If the six-zone proposal scales through, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Cross River will become conjoined under one governor. If we adopt the almighty 1963 constitution, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Edo, Delta, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers will be reunited under one governor. This promises to be super interesting. Bring it on!

You cannot accuse the Yesterday Movement of lacking a sense of history, although you may say they tend to circumcise the facts. The expansion from three regions to 36 states was not done without reason: there were strong agitations by ethnic and political minorities who felt marginalised. The Midwest Region was created in 1963 to satisfy the yearnings of the people of today’s Edo and Delta states who felt overwhelmed by the Yoruba majority in the Western Region. Every state in Nigeria today is a product of yearnings by those who felt marginalised even within their own ethnic groups. Many are still campaigning for new states. But, hey, let us return to yesterday and hail Nigeria.

There is also an ongoing campaign to ditch presidentialism and return to the parliamentary system “as practised in the first republic”. By the way, I love parliamentarism. I wrote a whole article to make my case (‘A Vote for Parliamentary System’, December 16, 2018). I like the reduced cost of electioneering since parliamentary polls are local to constituencies. I like the potentially reduced cost of running government since most ministers will be picked from the parliament. I love the culture of debate, particularly the Prime Minister’s Question Time. A dumb leader cannot be PM: opposition is constantly asking hard-hitting questions on the floor of parliament. There can be no hiding place.

However, my support for parliamentarism has nothing to do with the fact that we practised it in the first republic. No way. It will not turn water into wine. The secret of the successes of Nigerian regional leaders — such as Dr Michael Okpara, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Obafemi Awolowo — in the 1950s or 1960s was not regionalism or parliamentarism. It was not ‘Nigeria We Hail Thee’. The secret was that they were competent and patriotic leaders. They had vision and values. They were not insanely greedy. They were committed to good governance. Though imperfect, they put their people first. That is the yesterday I look forward to, the yesterday I long for. Yesterday once more.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
LAST TRUMPET

Former US President Donald Trump has been found guilty on all 34 counts of falsifying business records — the first time an American president, former or serving, has been convicted of a crime. But no constitution is perfect, so Trump has a loophole and will still run for office later in the year. No law bans a convict from becoming president in the US. The founding fathers of American democracy never thought a day would come when an individual like Trump would defy shame and stretch the constitution to the limit. I keep thinking Trump was meant to be a Nigerian politician but he found himself in the wrong country. If he wins, American democracy will become a butt of jokes. Awkward.

SPOX VS SPOX

Presidency treated Nigerians to an extraordinary spectacle on Tuesday over President Tinubu’s “state of the nation” address to the National Assembly. While Mr Bayo Onanuga, special adviser to the president on information and strategy, announced that Tinubu would address the legislators on May 29 to mark his first anniversary, Chief Ajuri Ngelale, special adviser to the president on media and publicity, issued a counter statement, describing the information as “false and unauthorized”. My interest is not in the facts of the matter but how such heavy words could be issued on a presidential spokesman by a fellow spokesman. Something is wrong somewhere. State of the nation. Indeed.

CYBER CRY

It would appear that every week in Nigeria, a journalist is arrested under the Cybercrimes Act. Let me be clear: I do not support the use of journalism to terrorise people. I do not condone reckless journalism. However, the newfound love for the Cybercrimes Act — which treats what should be civil libel as a criminal case to be prosecuted by the police — is a clear and present danger to journalism. They started using the law against obscure online outlets but it will gradually get to the traditional newspapers, who also have online presence. This is the time for free speech campaigners to move for the amendment of the Cybercrimes Act to decriminalise libel. Nobody is truly safe. Pressing.

NO COMMENT

The new old national anthem says “in brotherhood we stand” — written in an era when gender justice was a joke, when everybody was a “man”, and when a woman’s place was in the bedroom, not boardroom. The world has moved on, but Nigeria has returned to “brotherhood”. Anyway, we have never elected a female president, VP or governor. Elected and appointed public office holders are overwhelmingly standing in “brotherhood”. The third stanza of the anthem says “a nation where no MAN is oppressed”. Sorry, women, your oppression is officially back to the good old days. On a brighter note, the new old anthem ends with “our sovereign motherland”. Sweet mother. Wonderful.

•Written by Simon Kolawole
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