By Sam Omatseye
We are in a state of suspended animation. The phrase, once used to acclaim by Wole Soyinka here, actually originated in the 19th century. Samuel Coleridge, author of the popular poem Rime of the Ancient Mariners, also popularised it in the era of the Romantic poets. But the phrase came out of the loins of the Royal Humane Society to describe the state of a drowning man.
The drowning man is neither dead nor alive. He inhabits that never-realm of paralysis. It is that place between conception and birth, between night and day, between sleep and vigil, between silence and sound.
As President Buhari jetted out to India, he brought to the fore a significant knowledge of our state of paralysis. He said we are broke. We cannot pay salaries. Some ministers will merely sit in council. We cannot speak of infrastructure renewal. We have been both morally and “materially vandalised.” Nice phrase. But not words of inspiration. They are platforms for remorse.
Added to that is that fear of a collapse to recession. The CBN chief once warned we are on the cusp of recession. Then he ate his words, perhaps after realising he embarrassed Aso Rock and himself. But Freudian slip is important because the truth just escaped into the wind.
Amidst all these, a prominent Yoruba politician’s kidnap ignited separatist impulse within a section of the Yoruba elite. The North lashed back in denial, seeing it as isolated criminality. In the North, the army collides in a war of truth with Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima over the successes in the war against terror. Meanwhile, the Washington Post writes a scathing editorial over what it sees as our army operating as barbarous hordes in contempt of human rights.
In the Southeast, the Biafra spirit haunts like a baleful ghost. Arrests and protests reify questions fundamental to democracy. When does free expression become treason? In the Southwest, some jingoists are taking a federal state for granted and installing Ezes and fantasizing about them when they cannot allow them in their own yards back home. If the zest for Biafra reawakened is farcical, are the agitators for imperialist Ezes not even more terrible. The Nation columnist Professor Jide Osuntokun wrote brilliantly on this subject titled: “A Republic of Thousand kings.”
At the bottom of this, the economy reels. Many are going out of jobs. We crave discipline but the child of the priest pants for bread. When does the country make the distinction between good forex policy and good international trade? When is IMF fulmination neo-colonial and when is our resistance self-destructive nationalism? Businesses are supposed to work in a state of purity but all around them are men in suitcases who cart billions out of the country, in spite of the rigidity of the forex policy.
All of these remind me of Professor Sheldon Wolin, the theorists who rescued politics and democracy from the so-called behaviourists who looked at democracy from cold data. The Harvard Professor, who died recently at 93, proved in his opus Politics and Vision, and Democracy Inc., the limits of democracy. He announced that elections can easily be an illusion after an era of change is ushered in. He said democracy can be what he termed “inverted totalitarianism” in which a powerful few or cabal lose touch with the mass and still use the concept of popular sovereignty to hold on to the reins of power.
So, now that change has come, the problems should not be allowed to go out of reach. When Lenin took over power in the Soviet Union, he doused concerns of a flagging zeal by inaugurating what he termed “permanent revolution,” even though some political scientists have said he was a counter-revolutionist with his New Economic Policy.
If the President says we have been materially vandalised, it is no new wisdom. If a lot of our money has been stolen, what is the progress in getting them back? We need the money. We don’t want a President who will lament. We want one who will implement. If we want ministers, they should be given jobs. The cabinet is not a talk shop, but a brewery of ideas that the brewers themselves turn into frothy fulfilment on the people’s dinner table. It is still early days for Buhari, but this is the time to inspire, not give a sense of soporific retirement.
He has done well with the effect of his body language. Power has improved, a sense of probity grips government agencies, etc. But like a suitor whose perfume soon loses fragrance, he will learn that concrete actions will be needed to win the bride.
If we do not have money to do infrastructure and revive entrepreneurship, he can learn from Japan, the United States and Europe. They used what economists call quantitative easing. In simple language, the CBN uses its powers to circulate more money in order to galvanise the economy. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has hinted at a $25 billion stimulus. If that is true, the president should not utter such uninspired words. Unless the $25 billion is a hope and not a plan. The point of a chief executive is to do, not moan.
Given his austere and disciplined profile, we expect him to bring his moral stature to bear on all the social issues pulsing from the Northeast to the Southeast to the West. The presidency has been silent on the cattle rustlers. The president knows it is a hot button, and he should intervene.
The state of suspended animation calls for action. So we do not look like French novelist Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin who falls into self-doubt and turmoil after getting rid of the common enemy with her lover: her husband. We have victory but then we have remorse. That is the worst form of triumphal spirit. Like Roman General Pyrrhus who said, “Another victory like this and we are done.”
What the leadership needs is an audacity of vision. If Coleridge lamented a state of suspended animation, he basked in a better spirit: “suspension of disbelief.” That calls for courage to rise above illusion to overcome the problem of the day. Over to you, PMB.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Sam Omatseye/The Nation