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Blame passing: The new year gift to a nation - Wole Soyinka

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In the accustomed tradition, I wish the nation less misery in the coming year. A genuine 
Happy New Year Greeting is probably too extravagant a wish.

The accompanying news clipping from June,1977 came into my hands quite fortuitously. It is 
forty years old. It captures the unenviable enigma that is the Nigerian nation. It is however a 
masterful end-of-year image to take into the coming year, not only for the individual now at 
the helm of government, General Buhari, but for a people surely credited with the most 
astounding degree of patience and forbearance on the African continent – except of course 
among themselves, when they turn into predatory fiends.

When many of us are blissfully 
departed, an updated rendition of this same clipping – with a change of cast here and there – 
will undoubtedly be reproduced in the media, with the same alibis, the same in-built panacea 
of blame passing.

Let this be called to our collective memory. Even before the current edition of the fuel
crisis, other challenges, requiring immediate fix, had begun to monopolize national attention, 
relegating to the sidelines the outcry for a fundamental and holistic approach to the 
wearisome cycle of citizen trauma. This has been expressed most recently, and near 
universally in the word  “Restructuring”, defined straightforwardly as a drastic overhaul of 
Nigerian articles of co-existence in a more rational, equitable and decentralized manner.

 an overhaul, the re-positioning of the relationship between the parts and the whole offers, it 
has been strongly argued, prospects of a closer governance awareness of, and responsiveness 
to citizen entitlement. An overhaul that will near totally eliminate the frequent spasms of 
systemic malfunctioning that are in-built into the present protocols of national association.

I recently ran the gauntlet of petroleum queues through three conveniently situated 
cities – Lagos, Abeokuta and Ibadan – deliberately, this Friday. Even with ‘unorthodox’ aids 
of passage, this was no task for the faint-hearted. Just getting past fueling stations was 
traumatizing, an obstacle race through seething, frustrated masses of humanity, only to find 
ourselves on vast stretches of emptied roads pleading for occupation. As for obtaining the 
petroleum in the first place – the less said the better.

I suspect that this government has 
permitted itself to be fooled by the peace of those empty streets, but also by the orderly, 
patient, long-suffering queues that are admittedly prevalent in the city centres. It is time the 
reporting monitors of government move to city peripheries and sometimes even some other 
inner urban sectors, such as Ikeja and Maryland from time to time to see, and listen ! 
Pronouncements – such as the 1977 above - again re-echoing by rote in 2017– are a delusion 
at best, a formula that derides public intelligence. Buying time. Passing blame.

Yes of course, 
the current affliction must be remedied, and fast, but is there a dimension to it that must be 
brought to the fore, simultaneously and forcefully? This had better be the framework for 
solving even a shortage that virtually paralyzed the nation.

Just to think laterally for a moment - what became of the initiatives by some states  
nearly two decades ago – Lagos most prominently - to decentralize power, and thus empower
states to generate and distribute their own energy requirements? Frustrated and eventually 
sabotaged in the most cynical manner from the Federal centre! The similarity today is 
frightening – for nearly four days on that earlier occasion, the nation was blacked out near 
entirely. We know that one survival tactic of governments is to keep their citizens in the dark 
over decisions that affect their lives but, this was literal! And yet each such crisis, plus lesser 
ones, merely reiterate again and again that this national contraption, as it now stands, is 
simply  – dysfunctional!.

What this demands is that, in the process of alleviating the 
immediate pressing misery, we do not permit ourselves to be manipulated yet again into 
forgetting the MAIN issue whose ramifications exact penalties such as petroleum seizures 
and national power outage. These are only two handy, being recent symptoms - there are 
several others, but this is not intended to be a catalogue of woes. Sufficient to draw attention 
to the Yoruba saying that goes: Won ni, Amukun, eru e wo. Oun ni, at’isale ni. Translation: 
Some voices alerted the K-Legged porter to the dangerous tilt of the load on his head. His 
response was - Thank you, but the problem actually resides in the legs.

The providential image above sums up a defining moment for both individual and 
collective self-assessment, places in question the ability of a nation to profit from past 
experience. Vast resources , yes, but proved unmanageable under its present structural 
arrangements. As the tussle for the next round of power gets hotter in the coming year, the 
electorate will again be manipulated into losing sight of the BASE ISSUE. Its noisome claque
in the meantime, the automated mumus of social media, practiced in sterile deflection and 
trivialization of critical issues, unwittingly join hands with government to indulge in blame 
passing and name calling – both sides with different targets.

From the anguished cry of 
Charley Boy’s Our Mummu Done Do! to expositions from academics such as Professor 
Makinde’s recent intervention, the public is subjected daily to a relentless barrage of 
awareness, underlined in urgency. Nobody listens. One wonders if many people read. And 
certainly, very few retain or relate – until of course the next crisis. The Labour movement 
declares that it awaits a guarantee of the ‘people’s backing’ before it embarks on any critical 
intervention. Understandably.

There is more than enough of the opium of blame passing on 
tap to lull mummus into that deep coma from which – give it a little more time – there can 
only be a rude awakening.

Sooner than later, but not as soon as pledged, the fuel crisis will pass. And then of 
course we shall await the next round of shortages, then a recommencement of blame passing. 
What will be the commodity this time – food perhaps? Maybe even potable water? In a nation
of plenty, nothing is beyond eventual shortage – except of course, the commonplace 
endowment of pre-emptive planning and methodical execution. Forty years after, the same 
language of re-assurance? “There is something rotten in the state of Naija!” 

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