Opinion: Behold The 61-Year-Old – In Touch, By Sam Omatseye

He is a pot belly as vision, a slob at dinner, a bedwetter at night, a sluggard in sunshine. In spite of his unwieldy gait, he mistakes his shuffle for a flight. He frightens the young, despairs the middle-aged and is a ghastly comic to the old. Snores while lying down, burps on his couch, farts on his feet.
The young see him as geriatric, the worker bestows on him the status of a premature retiree, the retired shut their door when they sniff his scent.
The irony is that the 61-year-old is not a lost cause to the doctor. He puffs to defy his age. He packs a punch between his wrist and shoulder. He is virile enough to contend with a nubile. He does not eat but wolfs and belches afterward with a noise loud enough to startle a poultry. Whether you like it or not, he has a winsome face, dresses as superior to a fop, is proud in a soundless limousine and clucks over his mansion’s window to an ornate neighbourhood.
That cannot be Nigeria? You bet it is. It is a nation that cannot reconcile itself, a nation with a gift and curse simultaneously, where limousines ride over potholes, the cleric’s wit upends the holy writ. Its doctors are some of the best in the world, but they don’t treat Nigerians except the wealthy ones and outside its shores. It has great students who win laurels in big western universities in Canada, United States and Britain. Its best professors pour out local wisdoms to foreign audiences while locals grope for droplets.
They have great athletes that its citizens applaud only on television when they score on turfs they don’t have here at home.
They have great store of crude oil but they are too crude to refine.
So, as Nigeria marks its birthday, this essayist can only muse on this absurd profile. If you take any topic of our national life, you will behold how a nation is blessed because it is cursed.
As the nation verged on its anniversary, the issue on the top burner was whether the president should come from the north or south. We have never pondered as a nation whether the locale of the president has corralled favour for the regions they come from except their skewed and peculiar appointees and their skewed and peculiar contractors. It never favoured the Yoruba people when the Owu chief was president, neither was Nigeria generally better off for it. When Yar’Adua was president, his tenure was too short for the north to preen. But Jonathan became president, and the beneficiaries were the political and economic royalties from the south-south and southeast. Few major landmarks will celebrate that tenure. Now that Buhari is there, the tribe of talakawa who still swear and drown in his name are just happy he is there. The al-majiri problem still wallows in beggarly bowls and temptations to violence, while the education standard has gone down a few more rungs. But we talk of a fierce and shadowy cabal building a monster sanctuary around their queen bee. So, the battle for zoning has been hijacked by democratic imbeciles.
It is a noble idea corrupted by idols of tribe and belief. Zoning has been for the elite, by the elites in the name of the people. It ought to be for a sense of cooperative peace and trust, until we are able to knit out tents together under a common sky.
When the southern governors came up with the idea that the next president should be a southerner, it was as a matter of course. A routine endorsement. Uncontroversial. Prudent.
But true to the Nigerian spirit, the Northern counterpart fouled it with a no, or what the Soviets called nyet. The ostensible explanation was that it ran counter to the constitution. But let us go down memory lane.
The idea that the presidency should go to the south, especially the southwest, was viewed in 1999 as a sop, or as penance, an atonement for the wrongs of June 12. The democratic moment did not want to stir the indignant pot of soldiers. Even the north bore the torch as messengers of a moral might in their land.
Later, it naturally went north, and Obj became an anointing priest of transition. Tragically, Yar’adua could not conquer his body, so the body politic ticked Jonathan as a doctrine of necessity. It was after Jonathan wanted to run for another term that many said trouble had brewed in the house of consensus. They said, let Yar’adua’s cousins complete what he started. This essayist on this page urged Jonathan to play gentleman and not run, so the north would complete it. But the people voted him, and this column congratulated him in the democratic spirit while expressing my reservation about his competence.
After his first term, he fell to Buhari, and Jonathan played the statesman and left without a whiff of protest. Many hailed him as a statesman. Now that Buhari has done his first term and is wheeling to the lame duck’s hour, why is it a debate as to whether it should go north or south. Those who allowed Buhari to win in the south did not invoke the constitution. They knew the constitution called for anyone to run. It is a paean to equality. That is the main issue with the northern governors’ pharisaic cry. The mouthpiece of the Northern Elders Forum, the leaky and bigoted Hakeem Baba-Ahmed warned the south that if the north gave us a president, then those who didn’t want it should go elsewhere. It means we have irresponsible people speaking for a region. A few other voices, including the upstart El-Rufai, had said it was the south’s turn.
But he raised the decibel of division when he said the north executives gave that warning against southern president because of the offending word “MUST.” The wanted MUST to go. Did they want them to beg for their rights?
I thought it was infantile for a governor or even a group to say they could risk a lofty idea because the other group hurt them with an anaemic word like Must. It is like a little boy saying to his father that he slapped his classmate because he touched him on the shoulder without a permission. Some say it is a warfare against VAT by other means.
The southern governors should go and negotiate over it? Did they have to make a statement in order to ask the southern governors to commune at a table? They have the Governors Forum. Many of them have joined hands, glad-handed, are a phone call apart, party and laugh at and with each other in Abuja. Did they have to make a brinkman’s pettifogging over a matter they could have resolved in an informal manner? Was it not in this country that a northern governor – Ganduje of Kano- married off his daughter to the son of a southwest governor – the late Ajimobi of blessed memory?
What they did by that statement was to ratchet up the tension between the regions. It was puerile and uncalled for, especially when some elements of the NGF had said they wanted a northern party chairman in APC after Adams’ exit.
Now, a new matter has erupted in the PDP. The Ngwuanyi-led zoning committee has assigned party chair up north. Some have said it means the presidential ticket will go down south. But there are hints that some persons like Atiku want it so bad in the north that they want to capsize convention for private ambition. We face the prospect of chair and president candidate coming from up north.
This is not even the time for such misadventures. In an age when IPOB has paralysed the east and Yoruba Nation is rising in profile, such a move by either party will reinforce suspicions of a master-servant dynamic. Nigeria is too fragile for such hubris and hegemonic fantasies.
Constitutions thrive at the mercies of conventions. They are the invisible hands that hold the law together. It is like gravity keeping the planets in place. We are at a time that we need a cooperative nation, not the notion the lord of lords. Laws cannot even hold America together if its values fail. Laws almost undid it and it hung on one man and one moment when Vice President Mike Pence rose in Congress to endorse Joe Biden as president. If he did otherwise, maybe the greatest country in the world would be in ruins today. And John Adams would have squirmed in his grave over his assertion that “this is a nation of laws and not of men.” It was the tiumph of Edmund Burke’s good men over evil. He ought to read Jesus who noted that the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath.
That is how fragile laws are.
The French revolutionaries spoke of equalite and liberte. But none of these would make sense without fraternite. If we don’t see ourselves as siblings, the law alone cannot do it for us. Laws enforce, conventions embrace. Laws kill, conventions heal. The letters of the law cannot give life. Conventions are unwritten rules that undergird the law. You cannot get such justice in the court of law, but in the hearts of the people. That was what Apostle Paul meant when he said, Love works no ill against his neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Not judges, not lawyers. Charity is not in documents. It is in circumcising the foreskins of the people’s hearts. That’s fraternite. That’s brotherhood. “Charity never fails.” We should not, in the words of the Psalmist in the Bible, slander our own mother’s sons.
When the U.S. founding fathers finished their convention, reporters asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government they agreed on. “A republic,” he bellowed, “if you can keep it.” But let it be that after the hullaballoo over zoning, we can echo Benjamin Rush after the American convention. He belched out, “It’s done. We have become a nation.” Have we? Or can’t we?

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