The year 1983 was truly a significant year in the history of mankind. It was an epoch making year - January 1 to be precise was the month in that year in which the Internet was first introduced. Even though it was impossible for people to use the internet until September of that year when Ronald Reagan announced that the Global Positioning System, GPS, would be made available for public use, two other very significant events saw the light of day in 1983 as well. They were the introduction of mobile telephony by Motorola and the use of Microsoft Word, MS, as an application on data processing devices. These two devices went on to dramatically re-direct the course of world commerce, business and fertilized the zygote of economic activity – evidence of that is clear in the ease and dynamism with which we now carry out business and personal communication and interaction. In spite of the fact that it was several months after these developments that Margaret Thatcher won a landslide in the UK General Elections, or that seatbelts were made mandatory for drivers and their front seat passengers in the UK for the first time, and even though the first person to receive artificial heart in 1983 in the US died after 112 days, it didn’t stop Motown from celebrating its 25th anniversary with Michael Jackson performing Billie Jean and doing the moonwalk. In 1983, Harold Washington was already elected the first African American mayor of Chicago. Nobody can tell whether it was this election, or the signing of a bill by Ronald Reagan creating a federal holiday every January to honour Martin Luther King, that galvanized the Rev. Jesse Jackson to announce his candidacy for the 1984 presidential nomination.
But while the entire world was taking quantum leaps in a race to meet the 21st Century, Africa and Nigeria in particular was struggling with man-made and natural problems. It was only after the 4 million deaths from the famine that struck that country in 1983 did Ethiopia begin to ask for international aid and help. As at that time, world population was 4.73 billion with China alone making up a quarter of that population. In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, the politicians were making a mess of things – while unemployment was rising as high as skyscrapers, politicians went on spending sprees in Europe and in America. Therefore when the military struck, there were hopes that the austerity measures, the corruption and indiscipline that characterized public office would become a thing of the past. But that was not to be. The chaps who shot their way to power – Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Tunde Idiagbon and co became dictators – their activities which are etched in the minds of most of the people who were of age then are better left hidden in the blur that they have become. As a matter of fact, for those born after that palace coup that kicked Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon into the dust bin of history, atrocities perpetrated by this duo look like stories that could only have taken place in a Nazi Germany and could never have taken place in a Nigeria – after all, the FOI had just been passed and people have access to all kinds of gizmos that promote the development of our fashion, our music, our food and our government, elements embedded within the right of the citizen to free speech, the right to criticize and insult government in the name of opposition, the liberty to move without molestation and a new democratic ethos that would have been unheard of if the change of the military government did not happen in 1984.
But from that time on, a lot of changes have taken place – almost too many of them. The world’s population increased from 4.72 billion to over 7 billion as at 2015. The big fat phones which were very cumbersome to carry about in 1983, and which were very expensive to buy have been replaced with sleek and affordable devices, and which have reduced the world to a micro-chip. So have political and economic conditions and situations - Margaret Thatcher and her ilk who held sway in 1983 are long gone and the major political and economic players are either gone the way of Maggie or are in befuddled retirement at the speed, skill and sophistication with which the world runs today. In most parts of the world, people have moved from the simple processes of photosynthesis to biosynthesis – they grow foods and culture and nurture them in labs instead of relying on the power of the sun. African-Americans in the US also moved from being hewers of wood and drawers of water to one of them elected the leader and commander-in-chief of the free world. As a matter of fact, one of them won the coveted title of Miss America for the first time in 1983. All over the world, information, life, is on the superhighway, and economies and political networks and structures are driven by ideas and innovations that in 1983 would have been unthinkable, unimaginable and downright preposterous.
And yet again, while the rest of the world is poised on a tarmac of humanity ready to take off in search of life on Mars, Pluto and Jupiter, most of Africa is still under the grip of sit-tight and of semi-senile individuals whose only relevance in the scheme of things is their struggle to be relevant. In most of Africa, spent men and women still struggle to impose their will on a continent that has remained underdeveloped and undeveloped under their influence. A very good example of one old man still angling to become president of Nigeria is Muhammadu Buhari, presidential aspirant of the All Progressive Congress, APC. At age 41 or thereabouts, he toppled a democratically elected government and brutally suppressed any form of dissent, opposition and criticism of his high-handedness. At 73, he seeks to run a Nigeria and hope to get results without a resort to the cruelty, high-handedness and brutality that characterized his initial outing. Only two or three members of his Supreme Military Council, SMC, took the decisions that affected more than 100million Nigerians in 1983, and under military fiats – how do Nigerians expect this spent man to cope with a robust legislative arm of government and a judiciary that vigorously seeks to assert its financial autonomy from the executive arm of government?
Our perception of people, events and places is usually subjective. How sharply or vaguely we see the things in front of us have a relationship with the blur that comes from not seeing the things that we do not see when we see the things that are in front of us. How do I mean? The general is outdated and is a spent force. Nigerians need youth, energy and innovativeness in this modern age, not senility. The conditions under which he achieved the reputation of his much vaunted integrity, incorruptibleness and discipline have been swept away by the inexorable forces and time, and seasons and of a political culture that is alien to his constituency. He is not equipped with the temperament, nor the training of dealing with civilians, least of all comporting himself within the framework of a democratic dispensation. His every idea of governance and civil rule are hugely inversely proportional to whatever doctrine of governance the general believes in. Just thinking of getting this man, whose political peers existed and ran governments of the 80s to run a government of the 21st Century not only will set us back to the 80s but establish this well-articulated aphorism that a people are a product of what kind of leadership they truly deserve. Mohamed or Muhammadu Buhari seeking office as president of Nigeria in 2015 is no different from a Margaret Thatcher coming back to campaign again to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. What a shame, Nigeria.
Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku is secretary & trustee of Civil Empowerment and rule of law Support Initiative, CERLSI, Abuja. firstname.lastname@example.org