By Dan Amor
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s recent bombing of President Muhammadu Buhari does not make him a better candidate for national heroism. After all, the outcome of his letter to former President Goodluck Jonathan is the person whom he has just attacked. If care is not taken, the next president in 2019 might even be worse than Buhari. This is not a dead wish for my beloved country. Never. Far from it! But Nigeria is a nation of experts without roots. We are always creating tacticians who are blind to strategy and strategists who cannot even take a step. And when the culture has finished its work the institutions handcuff the infirmity. But what is at the centre of the panic which is our national culture since we are not yet free to choose our leaders? Seeing how ineligible dunces who don’t even understand the secret of their private appeal, talk-less of what the nation needs jostle for power, I realize all over again that Nigeria is an unhappy contract between the Rich and the Poor. It is not that Nigeria is altogether hideous, it is even by degrees pleasant, but for an honest observer, there is never any salt in the wind.
Yet in Nigeria, the myth of politics and the reality of life have diverged too far. There is nothing to return them to one another, no common love, no cause, no desire, and most essentially, no agreement here. Nigeria needed a hero before the exit of the Whiteman, a hero central to his time. Nigeria needed a man whose personality might suggest contradictions and mysteries which could reach into the alienated circuits of the underground, because only a hero can capture the secret imagination of a people, and so be good for the vitality of his nation. A hero embodies the fantasy of his people’s imagination and so allows each private mind the liberty to consider its fantasy and find a way to grow. Each mind can become more conscious of its desires and waste less strength in hiding from itself. Roosevelt was such a hero, and Churchill, Lenin, De Gaulle and Mandela. Even Hitler, to take the most odious example of this argument, was a hero- the hero-as-monster, embodying what had become the monstrous fantasy of a people, but the horror upon which the radical mind and liberal temperament foundered was that he gave outlet to the energies of the Germans and so presented the twentieth century with an index of how horrible had become the secret heart of its desires.
Roosevelt is, of course, a happier example of the hero; from his paralytic leg to the royal elegance of his geniality he seemed to contain the United States within himself. Everyone, from the meanest starving cripple to any ambitious young man could expand into the optimism of an improving future because the man offered an unspoken promise of a future which would be rich. In Roosevelt, as in Neru, the grandfather of Indian nationalism, the poor, the hardworking and the imaginative well-to-do could see themselves in the president, could believe him to be like themselves. So, a large part of the United States was able to discover its energy because not as mush was wasted in feeling that the country was a poisonous nutrient which stifled the day. This is just an attempt to construct a simple model. But the thesis is after all not so mysterious. It would merely nudge the notion that a national hero embodies his time and is not so very much better than this time, but is larger than life, and so is capable of giving direction to the time, able to encourage a nation to discover the deepest colours of its character. At bottom, the concept of the hero is antagonistic to impersonal social progress, to the belief that social ills can be solved by social legislating, for it sees a country as all-but-trapped in its character until it has a hero who reveals the character of the country to itself.
The implication is that without such a hero the nation turns sluggish. Babangida, for example, was not such a hero. He was not sufficiently larger than life. He inspired familiarity without excitement; he was a character while in power but his proportions came from cunning. And because of his high sense of insincerity, Babangida as a national leader was full of salty common-sense and small-minded uncertainty. Small wonder, he allegedly declared himself “an evil genius.” He is full of tragic-comic mix-ups. Whereas Abacha had been the antihero, he was only the spoiler-as-regulator. Nations do not necessarily and inevitably seek for heroes. In periods of dull anxiety such as we are, one is more likely to look for security than dramatic confrontation. And Abacha could stand as a hero only for that small number of Nigerians who were most proud of their lack of imagination. Talk of Shagari? In Nigerian national life, the unspoken hopelessness of the Second Republic took place between the large city of Corruption and the small town of Hypocrisy: corruption was dynamic, orgiastic, unsettling, explosive and accelerating to the psyche. But hypocrisy was narrow, cautious and planted in the life-logic of the lazy yes-men and political jobbers. Rather than retard the expansion of these two weapons of failure, Shagari could only beautify them with colour, and character thus elevating them into a novelty.
It was Murtala who was close to a national hero but was summarily extirpated by the evil machinations of imperial forces. Obafemi Awolowo made the list at the regional level but he was stopped by feudal pretenders. Buhari was a twin-faced Janus who was neither here nor there. Nigeria needed him, not Nigerians. What was even worse, he did not divide the nation as a hero might with a dramatic dialogue as the result (which was what Obasanjo had pretended to do in 2005). Buhari merely excluded one part of the nation from the other by banning free speech. The result was the alienation of the best minds and bravest impulses from the faltering history which was in the making. For Obasanjo, he might claim that he did not invent corruption in Nigeria, but it merely proliferated during his dull and fearful reign. And the incredible dullness wreaked upon the Nigerian landscape in his eight years of civil dictatorship has been the triumph of corruption as a national enterprise, leaving him as one of the richest former leaders, and his country one of the poorest in the world. A tasteless, colourless, odourless sanctity in manners, modes and styles, has been the result. Obasanjo embodies half the needs of the nation, the need of the timid, the petrified, the sanctimonious, and the sluggish. He knows that he cannot be counted as a hero in the true sense of the word.
Nigeria’s desperate need between now and 2019 is to make an existential turn, to walk into the nightmare, and face that terrible logic of history which demands that the country and its people must become more and more extra-ordinary and more adventurous in search of good materials for leadership. The search for a national hero must be sincere and total and it must begin now. The late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua would have made a good leader but for his failing health. Former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had not given a damn and had helped Nigerians to rediscover themselves by providing a platform on which Nigerians could talk freely about the future of their country and the type of leaders they wanted. But the document from that platform was rejected by Buhari. Which is why we are back to square one. Can Nigeria ever find a the elusive leader? The crisis continues!