APOLOGIES to Dr. Ben Okri for stealing the title of his 1991 explosive book, the Famished Road his Booker prize winning literary work. Dr. Okri’s lush style and distinctive narration of spirit world and realism is imitable.
A major sub-theme of the Famished Road is the struggle in politics between the “party of the rich and the party of the poor” in post-colonial Nigeria with its corruption, poverty and squalor. In mirroring Nigeria’s reality, the part(ies) of the rich prospers at the expense of the party of the poor. This article is not about expounding on the Famished Road. Rather this article is derived from a one page excerpt; sadly, of what must have been a much longer article written by Dr. Chinweizu. Which I think has a curious connection to Okri’s sub-theme of elitism, corruption and poverty.
I stumbled upon Dr. Chinweizu’s article purely by chance. I regret I am unable to find the full copy of the work and having no contact with Dr. Chinweizu, I just could not wave it aside, finding the thoughts he has penned down here so engaging I felt compelled to reproduce his points copiously. Chinweizu author and public intellectual was theorising on Nigeria elite in a deep and insightful way, and because of its aptness deserves a generous treatment (incomplete as it is). He says: “Development and prosperity are by-products of the project to build national power prestige, either out of fear of bigger powers or out of competition with rival powers. The quest for national power and prestige is the ultimate source of political will to do whatever economic development call for.
It is the project of national power, not abstract moral precepts, not consumerist appetite, that best imposes on a people the discipline, accountability, probity, and appropriate systems of sanctions and rewards that form the core values of a viable society.” Dr. Chinweizu further states, “ If Nigeria were frightened or humiliated, or otherwise stimulated, into a quest for national power and prestige, then Nigeria would find the political will to implement those excellent policies which the experts have devised, not only for health, but also for education, economic development, etc. If you doubt this statement, just reflect on what has happened to Nigerian football since we began to consciously seek prestige on the football field.” This submission is useful, the bit on football as vehicle to project national pride, however Nigeria has long declined in football, such that today Nigerians scarcely rate Nigeria as a footballing powerhouse it once aspired to be. Reason: Like many other things in Nigeria, football as a source of national pride and global recognition has been badly mismanaged. Today, because of the terrible decline of Nigeria, it is unimaginable to expect the country to win the world cup in the nearest future. Yet there was a time, it was thought highly probably, by no less a personality than Pele. As Chinweizu further outlines, he says: “But what can possibly be done to refit Nigeria with the paramount values and aspirations it so desperately needs?
In my view, subject to correction from experts in the administration of therapy to social and cultural organisms, the principal obstacle here is the mental state of the Nigerian elite itself. And what exactly is the mental state of the Nigerian elite today, after four decades of accelerating degeneration and disorientation?” “Here are some clues: elite that promotes systemic social disorder is anarchist elite; an elite that robs its own nation and hoards the loot abroad in the vaults of its historic enemies is a stupid elite.” My comments on this one is that Nigerian elite typically without sense of history and pride would rather be on its knees with a begging bowl and serve global masters than aspire to be one itself. Again back to Chinweizu, “ an elite which invites or welcomes foreign sanctions against its own country is a treasonous elite; an elite whose policies promote brain drain, brawn drain and resource drain from its country is an elite that is bleeding its arteries dry. It is suicidal elite. An elite whose members take responsibility only for their own homes and, and show no collective responsibility for the compound or street or village in which they live, is an idiotic elite, regardless of the brilliance and sanity of its individual members.” Chinweizu went further in his analysis but I stop here. The key take away in Chinweizu’s articulation in which he paid no distinction to tribe or religious affiliation, but the ruling class is that most times the ordinary Nigerian does not seem to grasp the elite game. More often than not the debate in contemporary Nigeria is riven by partisanship, religious and ethnic divisions, superficial differentiation that suits the elite game. If people pay enough attention they would realize who the real enemies of the people are.
Every Nigerian wants a good life and the protection of her country. But the contrary happens with such regulatory that it seems we are doomed. Otherwise, how come Nigerians change regime, nothing happens. You replace the party in power with another one, nothing happens. Rather the strange thing that shouldn’t happen happens. Nigerians become nostalgic of a previous government, whose record in office cannot seriously standup to scrutiny. In this context, Nigerians are perpetually romanticising an ugly past in their conversation. The elite know this and are comfortable to continue with their self-serving and manipulative games. They switch parties at the drop of the hat. No ideologies. No differentiation in opinion and method of operation. It is always déjà vu in Nigeria. The good life for the mass of the people never, ever happens. Never! Yet the elite in their part(ies) of the rich continues to prosper. Their children get the best opportunities. They have the best houses in Nigeria and abroad, foreign bank accounts, travel for summer holidays to metropolitan capitals abroad. The business arm of the elite front for the political, religious, traditional and bureaucratic elite, gets all sorts of exemption, loopholes and patronage, to support their businesses, which is why anyone in business in Nigeria enjoying stupendous wealth are in many respects mainly cronies of the power elite. The lot of the party of the poor is dashed dream and expectations. No matter the condition of things they are the ones truly on the famished road. This is Nigeria. A witch’s brew! Mr. Paul Odili, a public affairs commmentator, wrote from Asaba, Delta State.
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