Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Fountain Of Knowledge - Nigerian Election Fraud, Charms, and Amulets

It was recently announced that Nigeria's film industry (Nollywood) has become the second biggest in the world after India's Bollywood. The reasons shouldn't surprise anyone who has had even the briefest encounter with that unlucky land of my birth. Nigeria is a place where art does not simply imitate life; it's a place where the distinction between the artistic and reality is just indistinguishable.

Nothing about Nigeria makes any sense whatsoever. It's a place where the simplest of life's basics has been turned into major productions. It is a place where citizens believe that laws, rules, and regulations are mere suggestions. Nigerian governments throughout the ages have set up myriad agencies to enforce its laws, all to no avail. In Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, for example, there are four or five agencies set up to ensure the free flow of traffic, but citizens still spend inordinate hours at the famous Lagos gridlocks.

There were lots of sniggers when a few years ago a poll declared Nigerians as the world's happiest people. How on earth could that be, other people wondered. But Nigerians knew better. The late Nigeria's Afro-beat music giant Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, dubbed the Nigerian system "Suffering and Smiling."

It's probably a psychological phenomenon afflicting only the nationals of that unfortunate country. Nigerians are inured to all forms of indignities and sufferings. They don't go out to protest the lack of water in their residences. They dance for joy when the electricity company doles out its pitiable dose of electricity. Armed robbers sometimes lay siege to whole neighborhoods without Nigerians ever thinking of forming neighborhood committees to protect themselves. There is a constant lack of petrol in this OPEC-member nation ranked sixth or seventh among the world's oil producers. Nigerians tend to make light of the most harrowing situation. Nigerians will simply laugh and shrug off circumstances that would send other folks to go nuclear. And Nigerians are people who have absolutely no concept of irony; they're simply beyond it.

A sad parade of military adventurers ruled the country for a long stretch of time. They so thoroughly bastardized the body polity that today the country easily qualifies as a "failed state." Such is the depth of corruption in the Nigerian system that gaining access to public offices has become a do or die affair. So massive is corruption that people today see public office as the safest and fastest avenue to instant wealth.

Yet most Nigerians refuse to see anything wrong with their dysfunctional nation. They continue to wallow in old glories of yesteryears when Nigeria was a continent power with global pretensions. Take this for example: some years back, some smart fellows thought having a state motto was the "inthing." And before long all the thirty-six states of the federal republic of Nigeria were spouting one. Sokoto, the semi-arid state in northwestern Nigeria and home of the powerful Islamic Caliphate, which happens to have produced some of Nigeria's inept leaders, arrogantly boasts in its motto: "Born to Rule."

Lagos, the former political capital and the nation's commercial capital, chose "Center of Excellence." Now, now. Take even a blind, deaf and dumb person to Lagos and let him spend a whole year there. Excellence will never come into the vocabulary he'll use to describe the gigantic unplanned ghetto that remains Nigeria's premier city. There is simply nothing excellent about Lagos unless we are talking about rowdy, uncontrolled mayhem. Lagos is such bedlam that it remains a source of constant bafflement to yours truly how any human being can survive a day there and still retain a semblance of sanity. Although some houses in Lagos are opulent beyond belief, the lackadaisical manner in which they are thrown together totally destroys whatever architectural delights they might possess. Some houses in Lagos have not seen a new coat of paint since the day of independence in 1960. One will still find in Lagos ghettoes of such primitive nature that they would have found a place in a Charles Dickens novel.

Ekiti, one of the thirty-six states, chose "Fountain of Knowledge," as its motto. Okay, given the fact that almost every family from this state, where education is much beloved, has a PhD degree holder, the state rightfully can lay claim to being knowledgeable. But then recent happenings in the electoral department have cast that claim in serious doubt.

For those who have not followed the shenanigans that pass for elections in Nigeria, a little information should come in handy. Since the 1970s, when Nigeria stopped being an agricultural nation, it has relied almost exclusively on easy petro wealth. The oil comes from the southern delta part of the country. Nigeria is a federation of thirty-six states with a very strong federal government that controls the nation's revenue. Controlling the nation's purse gives the central government the power to play Father Christmas. For instance, the federal government determines the formula it uses to allocate resources to the other two tiers of government -- the states and the local governments. Since, as mentioned supra, the bulk of Nigeria's income comes from easy petrol dollars, there's little or no incentive for anyone to be productive. The state governors travel monthly to Abuja (the capital), collect their state's allocation, and proceed to lodge large chunks of it in overseas bank accounts.

It should now begin to make sense why politics remains the most lucrative profession in Nigeria and why control of the federal government is so vital that it has led to a civil war.


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