One way historians impress upon you the crucial role that history plays in society is to ask you to imagine a world where no one remembers what happened yesterday. Then they tell you that not to know what happened before you were born is to remain perpetually a child. Gerald W. Schlabach, associate professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota, and former teacher of History at Bluffton (Ohio) College, USA, in a 1996 note to his students ‘A sense of history: some components’, puts it this way: “Without a memory, would you recognize your family? Recognize your house? Know how to say your prayers or know why you have stopped praying? Learn from your mistakes? Know which friends to embrace? Stay in love when you fall in love? Be the person you are? Now, how is all of this true for entire families, neighborhoods, societies, nations, civilizations? The answer is the reason we study history.”
I have always thought that Nigerians are forgetful. Sufficiently alarmed by what I saw as a Nigerians’ propensity towards collective amnesia, I wrote a piece entitled ‘A people without a sense of history’. Published in BusinessDay of August 29, 2013, the article argued thus: “Our politicians know that we have a very short memory, that is why they rape and plunder us today and come back tomorrow to pat us on the back and beg for our votes only to get back into power tomorrow and start the raping and plundering afresh.
They know we won’t remember that we were raped yesterday, even if the aftertaste lingers on our lips, even if their stinking semen is still spattered on our laps.”
But as the 2015 elections approach, and as I look through the papers and listen to what everyday Nigerians are saying, a new realisation dawns on me: Nigerians are not all forgetful. Some of us actually remember, just that we carefully choose what to remember – in other words, we remember selectively.
Here is an example of what I’m talking about. If you are an ardent follower of political ads in Nigerian newspapers, you would have noticed the vilifying ‘Lest we forget’ series, signed by a certain New Nigeria Group, where Nigerians are inundated either with quotes attributed to Buhari or judgments passed on the man by others. One vivid instance is a quote from a speech Buhari allegedly delivered at a seminar organised by the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria, August 2001, which reads: “I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria … God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country.”
Then a friend of mine posted as follows on his Facebook wall the other day: “APC has been consistent in saying that PDP has ruled Nigeria for 16 disastrous years in which corruption, impunity, insurgency, armed robbery and several ills of society held sway.
But at a very close look at the APC, I can see: (1) Rotimi Amaechi – 8 years speaker, 7 years governor under PDP; (2) Atiku Abubakar – 8 years vice president under PDP; (3) George Akume – 8 years governor under PDP; (4) Bukola Saraki – 8 years governor, 2 years senator under PDP; (5) Timipre Sylva – 4 years governor under PDP; (6) Audu Ogbe – 2 years as national chairman of the PDP; (7) Aminu Masari – 4 years as speaker of the House of Representatives under PDP; (8) Chris Ngige – 3 years governor under PDP; (9) Rabiu Kwankwaso – 7 years governor, 3 years defence minister under PDP; (10) El Rufai – 4 years FCT minister, 2 years BPE chairman under PDP; (11) and to cap it all, Obasanjo is the navigator of the APC, a man who spent 8 out of the disastrous 16 years as the maximum ruler of Nigeria.
It is now clearer that APC is a waste basket of the PDP, where the people who created and perpetuated the 16 disastrous years are now dumped. So where is the change coming from? Are they now saints because they joined APC?”
But as the people on that side are remembering, so are those on this side – if you know what I mean. Someone recently drew my attention to President Jonathan’s address, prior to the 2011 presidential election, to Nigerians living in Ethiopia, where he was attending an African Union summit. Jonathan reportedly told Nigerians in Ethiopia that he would stand for only one term. While answering to questions as to why Nigerians in the Diaspora would not be allowed to vote in the 2011 elections, he was quoted as saying, “Presently, the law does not allow voting outside Nigeria, but I will work towards it by 2015, even though I will not be running for election.”
The president also said, “If I’m voted into power within the next four years, the issue of power will become a thing of the past. Four years is enough for anyone in power to make significant improvement and if I can’t improve on power within this period, it then means I cannot do anything even if I am there for the next four years.”
And then, shortly after he won the election, barely three days to his swearing-in, Jonathan bared his inconsistency in that notorious “four-years-is-not-enough” speech that prompted a reaction – aptly titled ‘The speech Jonathan shouldn’t have made’ – from the then fiery Reuben Abati, who would eventually become Jonathan’s mouthpiece.
And here’s a quote from Shehu Sani, the then president of the Civil Rights Congress (CRC): “President Jonathan lacks the honour and integrity to be trusted for his word. His offer for a four-year-single-term is a political gimmick and enticement. It is a political deception and skulduggery aimed at neutralising the opposition within his party.”
Citing what he termed the president’s “summersault over zoning and rotational agreement” of the PDP as some of the reasons why Nigerians wouldn’t trust Jonathan, Sani further said: “President Goodluck Jonathan on rotation of power or zoning exposed his perfidy and vitiates any modicum of honour in his word. Whoever chooses to believe Jonathan is to be a perpetual fool. A people led by a leader whose word is not his bond are in bondage.”
Honestly, I like the remembering that is going. It’s healthy for the polity, in my view. But the one I like most is that by ordinary Nigerians who are neither for nor against. Not being direct beneficiaries of any candidate, or supposedly so, they are the ones listening dispassionately to the campaign promises of candidates of all the political parties at all levels, especially the two dominant ones, and saying something like: “Kai! But these were the same promises they made to us in 2011 and even in 2007.”
As Nigeria’s democracy continues to mature gradually, this remembering must go on. Someday it may move from selective to total remembering. And someday, too, Nigerians may remember sufficiently enough to really get angry, and angry enough to take action. And then the change we seek may take place – engineered by the people.