Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. J.K Galbraith.
You may have noticed that I have not written for the last three Fridays. I have been away performing the Hajj, by the Grace of Allah and the generous facilitation of the Program of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for the Hajj, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Alsaud. This was not a break. It was a taxing ritual, its demands being surpassed only by the profound gratitude that one was by Allah to perform the Hajj. Hajj is an intensely solitary set of rituals during which one submitted to Allah the same way Muslims did for over 1,400 years, humbled by His Majesty and emboldened by His promise to forgive sins and grant prayers. It was also an awe-inspiring group activity, as millions of Muslims together performed every stage of the pilgrimage as if they are one person. Pilgrims from Nigeria performed rites and rituals with Muslims from Turkmenistan, Ghana, Kosovo, Comoros, Togo, Pakistan, South Sudan and Fiji. We shared meals with Muslims from Uzbekistan, Uganda, Tajikistan, South Africa, Nepal, Kenya, Fiji and Maldives. We travelled with Muslims from Myanmar, Botswana, Sri Lanka, Albania, Indonesia, Mali, Turkey and Somalia. In many fora and on the streets, Muslims from the USA, Philippines, Germany, Ethiopia, France, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Niger discussed the global state of Islam the faith, and Muslims the community in a world which increasingly sees both with some level of discomfort.
It was difficult to find time for anything else other than acts of worship, but you could not keep politics out of a Nigerian. Credible sources for information and developments were rare, and the distinguished group from Nigeria which I was privileged to be part of included university administrators and professors, clerics, journalists and public servants who were not inclined towards idle gossip. Much resting time was taken up by that human bundle of humor and sprawling intellect, Dr Bala Muhammad, the Daily Trust Saturday Back Page permanent resident who, on many occasions, reminded our hosts that we may not do better in organization of major events as Nigerians, but no one beats us at complaining when we smelt the slightest trace of tardiness or conducts unbecoming. His entire persona reminded other guests that our abilities to get the world to notice us as Nigerians are still sharp, in spite of what it hears about Boko Haram, corruption, economic recession and Religious politics. We found a world eager to hear about Nigeria, and if there were some who thought we were on a deserving decline, they kept it pretty much away from us. The truth, however, is that the Muslim world is very worried about Boko Haram and a restive Shi'a following in a country with one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. There was a little less noise because the Iranian government said its citizens will not perform the Hajj this year.
We left on a high, with information that Mohammed Haruna, the journalism icon, was nominated as a National Commissioner of INEC among other credible Nigerians. He is eminently qualified to boost the integrity and credibility requirements of the Commission, and the nominations as a whole moved somewhat towards plugging the gaping holes in vacancies that were threatening the ability of the Commission to function in a manner that will sustain the gains of the 2015 elections. Then we began to hear near-comical stories of claims that government had pinched the intellectual property of one or two young Nigerians in the form of the name of the value-changing campaign, #ChangeBeginsWithMe. It sounded the same way it would if a parent snatches food from the mouth of its child and gobbles it down. A bigger outrage overtook this rather messy opening to a campaign to recapture service, sacrifice and excellence, when it was revealed that President Buhari's speech at the launching of this campaign had plagiarized an Obama speech. You got the distinct impression that this campaign was jinxed, but we were in Holy locale, so superstition had little traction.
In between, cynics, sworn skeptics, the opposition and an assortment of elements fast finding comfort in throwing muck at the administration questioned the basic assumptions of a campaign strategy which asks citizens that voted for change to change if they wanted change. Wasn't 2015 the triumph of the spirit for change, and doesn't this put the burden to affect this change on elected leaders? Just when it appeared that the problem was traceable to a muffled message, complaints over muddled, confused, conflicting and confounding macroeconomic policies from notable and knowledgeable persons with mixed records of goodwill towards the administration tilted the scales in favour of the perception that the administration was choosing a campaign with a disputed title over serious reviews of its capacities and strategies. Even the rump of the PDP and a few professional and permanently aggrieved persons asked why the administration appeared content to blame a past for all the nation's woes when its prime task was to pull the nation through its current challenges.
A major Retreat on the economy did not end with bold, imaginative and informed conclusions and decisions that would begin to address the elements necessary to limit the damage of an economy in a recession. A major conflict involving Hausa peasants and armed vigilante on the one hand, and Fulani of mixed credentials in and around a Zamfara forest was reminding the nation that banditry and violence have no ethnic identity. The Zamfara state Governor flew back into the country at the height of the conflict, and promptly joined the President's entourage for the UN General Assembly(UNGA). The President himself left for the UNGA, knowing that he will meet with leaders from nations with deep interests in Nigeria. They will ask polite but searching questions about the economy, the Chibok girls, Boko Haram and the massive humanitarian disaster which it has spawned. Some of the leaders the President will meet will raise issues regarding the management of IDPs, rumored corruption and weak coordination of efforts and utilization of assets. The President is likely to meet some resistance to pleas for more help unless there is evidence of serious improvement in levels of competence and transparency in the management of this disaster. PDP is still involved in the search for a painful suicide. Dame Jonathan is crying to the heavens that EFCC is trying to snatch her $30m stash for medical treatment. Leaders of the national legislature are sending out feelers to test the waters and find out where the sharks are. Governors are sinking deeper into depression as bills mount and citizens ask why they voted them into power. Rumours of massive movements out of the two major parties towards a third alternative are rife. In the US, the battle appears set to be close between a discredited and a destructive candidate. Syria bleeds more as world powers attempt to gain footholds among ruins and misery of civilian populations.
Three weeks away at a distance could magnify the state of things when you are back. Still, the luxury of distance and the benefits of a relatively fresh assessment give you a fairly good idea of the state of the nation. On the whole, there is good reason to believe that Nigerian pilgrims' intense prayers during this Hajj were a good investment of time and effort. We prayed at points where our pilgrims like Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf and Professor Al-Miskin and many others died last year, even though there was nothing to remind you of that tragedy this year. We prayed for relief from the hardship being experienced by all Nigerians. We prayed for greater courage and wisdom for our leaders as they grapple with a crisis designed by our greed and currently executed by our failure to rally the nation to extract opportunities from adversity. Those of us with sympathy for the administration prayed to God, so that it will never be said,(to paraphrase Churchill): never in the history of our nation has so much expectation of many been so wasted by so few.