“The night before the meeting, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, whom I had visited two years before, gave us a banquet in the hotel.  Raja and I were seated opposite a hefty Nigerian, Chief Festus, their finance minister.  The conversation is still fresh in my mind.  He was going to retire soon, he said.  He had done enough for his country and now had to look after his business, a shoe factory.  As finance minister, he had imposed a tax on imported shoes so that Nigeria could make shoes.  Raja and I were incredulous.  Chief Festus had a good appetite that showed in his rotund figure, elegantly camouflaged in colorful Nigerian robes with gold ornamentation and a splendid cap.  I went to bed that night convinced that they were a different people playing to a different set of rules.”   

Lee Kuan Yew in From Third World to First World.

When I sat down to write this essay, I had intended to focus on failing academic standards called to our attention once again by the appalling WAEC results, and add my voice to those of other stakeholders demanding educational reform.  But then I thought, why bother?  Who cares?  The Minister of Education, Ibrahim Shekarau, certainly doesn’t care.  He hasn’t even bothered to make a cursory statement, if only to acknowledge the poor state of affairs and to make a perfunctory pledge to look into the situation.  And while we may bemoan the state of our national affairs, how many Nigerians honestly care enough about the rot and decay in our country to demand for transparency, accountability and change?

We know the cause of the atrocious WAEC results.  It is the same canker worm that has eaten into the fabric of our entire national infrastructure.  Do we really need more analyses and vituperations? Is that going to change things?  The vast majority of Nigerians appear to be trapped by a sense of helplessness, disillusioned by the heartlessness of the political class yet unable to do anything about it.

The event which Lee Kuan Yew reports above took place on 10 January 1966, the evening before a conference of Commonwealth prime ministers at the Federal Palace Hotel in Lagos.

I can imagine Lee Kuan Yew’s disbelief.  What kind of a mindset do these Nigerians have?  What exactly had the finance minister achieved that made him pat himself on the back for his contribution to Nigeria?  How could he imagine that imposing a tax on imported shoes so that, on retirement, he could grow his own shoe factory, was a national contribution worthy of commendation?  And how could he not understand that he should actually be hiding his head in shame rather than proudly sharing this testimony of his impunity?

Yet, sadly, 48 years later, what has changed?  Our politicians still have ‘a good appetite’ which they satisfy using the machinery of government to legitimize their pillage of our country’s resources.  They run government like a private enterprise and in some cases even justify their blatant impunity. Recently, we saw how our military was used as a functionary of the ruling party in the gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states, and heard the spokesperson of our country’s security service make partisan comments associating the opposition party with a terrorist organization.

Furthermore, there are some very wicked and foolish people surrounding the president who are lying to him and attempting to deceive him into believing that he deserves to be equated with such extraordinary leaders as Martin Luther King Jr., Lee Kuan Yew, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama, so that like Chief Festus, he can also pat himself on the back for his contributions to this nation.  He does so at his own peril.

Less than a week after the Commonwealth conference while Yew was in Accra, “there was a bloody coup in Lagos.  Prime Minister Abubakar had been assassinated and so had Chief Festus.”

What happened, I wonder, to Chief Festus’ shoe factory?  Did it continue to be run by his family members in much the same way that Sani Abacha’s family has held on with dogged tenacity to the loot he stole from Nigeria?  I don’t know the answer to that, but what I do know is that the spirit of Chief Festus is alive and well.  What our history has taught us is that whether in military garb or civilian mufti the spirit of Chief Festus runs in our leaders.

Where then lies our hope as a nation? Definitely not in PDP or APC, two sides of the same coin.  It lies in our future.  A day is coming in Nigeria’s future when the youth will rise up in frustration and anger and will join hands to kill the spirit of Chief Festus.

A UNICEF report (Generation 2030/Africa @ page 10) published this month, reports that

  • “At the country level, the greatest number of births in Africa takes place in Nigeria; by 2015 one fifth of the continent’s births will take place in that country alone, accounting for 5 per cent of all global births. From 2015 to 2030, 136 million births will take place in Nigeria — 19 per cent of all African babies and 6 per cent of the global total. By 2050, Nigeria alone will account for almost one tenth of all births in the world.
  • In absolute terms, Nigeria is projected to add from 2031 to 2050 an additional 224 million babies (21 per cent of the births in Africa and 8 per cent of all births in the world).”

Our country, in the foreseeable future, is going to have an army of young people who are not befuddled by the obfuscations of their parents’ or grand parents’ generation.

The senses of our political class, possessed by the spirit of Chief Festus, have been so dulled that they do not see the enormity of the calamity they are courting by failing to attend to the welfare of our youth – present and future.  They do not see that refusing to address corruption, refusing to reform education, refusing to create employment, refusing to address poverty is tantamount to creating a world filled with tension that will one day erupt into a revolution the likes of which we have not seen in this nation before.  It will be a revolution that is not linked to any political party or any political ideology.  It will simply be a revolution to kill the spirit of Chief Festus, and all those in whom that spirit resides.

Ms. Ishaya Audu, a lawyer, school administrator, and member of the Premium Times editorial board maintains a Friday column on politics, policy, culture, and the Nigerian life.  She writes from Abuja.