By Bola Bolawole
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We are hours away from the year Twenty-Twenty-Two, the year before the apocalyptic year Twenty Twenty-Three; an Election year which many fear will make or mar Nigeria as a country. Incidentally, both are Triple T years. Just as the biblical John the Baptist was very important as the forerunner of Jesus Christ, so also does Twenty Twenty-Two promise to be a very important precursor of Twenty Twenty-Three. Call the two the years of the Triple T. T also is the Twentieth (20th) number in numerology; that’s another T. Numerologists say the letter ‘T’ reflects a person’s sense of purpose as well as his short-tempered nature. Another interesting aspect of numerology is that it assigns much importance to the first and last letters of the name. The first letter is said to explain how a person tackles challenges in life. What, then, do the Triple T years portend for Nigeria? How will the country likely tackle its life challenges in the two Triple T years, the first of which is about to unfold on us? What will be the leadership’s sense of purpose, if any: More of the same or a radical departure from the past – for better or for worse?
Looking into the future, can we borrow a leaf from a man who did – and with uncanny precision – this time not Nostradamus but George Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair). Born 25 June, 1903 and died 21 January, 1950, Orwell is better known for his “Animal Farm” political novel but this time the focus is not “Animal Farm” – although contemporary events in Nigeria approximate those in Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. Our concern here is Orwell’s futuristic, even apocalyptic and no less political “1984”. Published in 1949, 1984 is a dystopian novella which follows the life of Winston Smith (interpreted as the frustrated but conscionable ordinary Nigerian citizen bent on changing the Nigerian narrative); Smith was a low-ranking member of ‘the Party’, who was frustrated by the omnipresent eyes of the party and its ominous ruler, Big Brother (Muhammadu Buhari), who controlled every aspect of people’s life (an all-powerful Presidency or Federal Government).
According to Cathy Lowne, “Nineteen Eighty-four was a warning against totalitarianism (One-party state creeping upon Nigeria). The book’s title and many of its concepts, such as Big Brother (an omnipotent Presidency) and the Thought Police (DSS) are instantly recognized and understood, often as bywords for modern social and political abuses. The book is set in 1984 in Oceania (which) is governed by the all-controlling Party, which has brainwashed the population into unthinking obedience to its leader, Big Brother. The Party (Lie Mohammed, Wailing Wailers and presidential spin doctors, the Josef Goebbels of this age) has created a propagandistic language known as Newspeak (CHANGE), which is designed to limit free thought and promote the Party’s doctrines (hate speech, Twitter ban, #ENDSARS pogrom). Its words include doublethink (belief in contradictory ideas simultaneously), which is reflected in the Party’s slogans: “War is peace,” “Freedom is slavery,” and “Ignorance is strength.” The Party maintains control through the Thought Police and continual surveillance (EFCC, ICPC).
“The book’s hero, Winston Smith, is a minor party functionary (the various errand boys and lackeys of the ruling class) living in a London that is still shattered by a nuclear war that took place not long after World War II. He belongs to the Outer Party, and his job is to rewrite history (deny and or redefine restructuring) in the Ministry of Truth, bringing it in line with current political thinking. However, Winston’s longing for truth and decency leads him to secretly rebel against the government (even as “The North is bleeding” Northern youths are now rebelling!). He embarks on a forbidden affair with Julia, a like-minded woman, and they rent a room in a neighbourhood populated by Proles (short for proletariats). Winston also becomes increasingly interested in the Brotherhood, a group of dissenters. Unknown to Winston and Julia, however, they are being watched closely (ubiquitous posters throughout the city warn residents that “Big Brother is watching you.”).
“When Winston is approached by O’Brien—an official of the Inner Party who appears to be a secret member of the Brotherhood—the trap is set. O’Brien is actually a spy for the Party (defectors into the ruling party, political and traditional elites, and their likes), on the lookout for “thought-criminals,” and Winston and Julia (Kanu, Igboho) are eventually caught and sent to the Ministry of Love for a violent re-education. The ensuing imprisonment, torture, and re-education of Winston are intended not merely to break him physically or make him submit but to root out his independence and destroy his dignity and humanity…
“Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-four as a warning after years of brooding on the twin menaces of Nazism and Stalinism. Its depiction of a state where daring to think differently (as the #ENDSARS youths did) is rewarded with torture (even death!), where people are monitored every second of the day, and where party propaganda (on restructuring, insecurity, the economy) trumps free speech and thought is a sobering reminder of the evils of unaccountable governments (non-open declaration of assets, opaque foreign medical trips, re-looting recovered loot, etc). Winston is the symbol of the values of civilized life, and his defeat (incarceration of Kanu, Igboho) is a poignant reminder of the vulnerability of such values in the midst of all-powerful states”.
Reading Animal Farm is incomplete without reading 1984 and vice-versa. “In Animal Farm, a group of barnyard animals (Nigerian nationalists at Independence) overthrow and chase off their exploitative human masters (British colonial masters) and set up an egalitarian society of their own (Nigeria’s First Republic). Eventually the animals’ intelligent and power-loving leaders, the pigs (the feudalistic and conservative North), subvert the revolution and form a dictatorship whose bondage is even more oppressive and heartless than that of their former human masters (today’s rampaging Fulani oppressors). ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’ ”. (Northern voters are more equal than Igbo voters in the reckoning of nepotistic Buhari!).
To quote Tai Solarin, it appears Nigeria’s road will be rough in the Triple T years. With dwindling revenue and crippling, yet mounting, debt servicing-cum-repayment burden, more misery will be piled on Nigerians in respect of higher cost of living; declining exchange rate of the Naira; escalating power, water, DSTV and other tariffs; late or irregular payment of salaries and pensions; high transportation costs, leading to higher cost of foodstuffs, house rents, school fees, etc. Low purchasing power of citizens will force more industries and companies to close shop, relocate elsewhere and or lay off workers. The CBN’s feeble interventions notwithstanding, the Naira exchange rate will crumble and cost of imported goods, air travels (local and foreign), raw materials and services will get more prohibitive. Strikes will be commonplace: Workers, teachers, pensioners, name it. If fuel subsidy is removed in the Triple T years, bedlam! Crime rates will hit the roof and youth restiveness will become more difficult to cope with.
Contrary to the government’s propaganda, insecurity is not waning but is growing over leaps and bounds. In line with 1984’s Newspeak, when they say they are winning the war against bandits, know that they are actually losing it! And when they say they have degraded Boko Haram, know that the insurgents have just upgraded their status! Have you heard that bandits now possess the capacity to own and fire rockets into capital cities in the North? Jihadists are said to be trooping in from outside the country, intent on throwing a cordon around the Federal Capital Territory. May the Triple T years close without Buhari and his court jesters fleeing Abuja like the erstwhile President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan in August! Oh ooo! It is now the Northern youths are realizing that the North is bleeding! Did they not support Buhari and SARS this time last year, against the #ENDSARS protests of their Southern counterparts? Na today day break, as they say? The North holds all the levers of power (military, political, judicial, legislative, economic, name it); yet, they sink deeper in the miry clay. The North corners, controls and dispenses our common patrimony at will; yet, they remain the poverty capital of the world. Righteousness – only righteousness – exalts a people! Nepotism is a reproach!
In the Triple T years, expect a rise in ritual killings (for money-making and politically-motivated occult purposes), political thuggery, assassinations and sundry crimes. Bullion vans in private homes will further exacerbate spiraling inflation and there will be the near absence of governance as politicians feather their own nests and engage in “business as usual”. A bad situation will be made worse. A divided country will get more divided. Things will further fall apart. A Centre struggling to hold will most likely buckle under. The signs are ominous and the prognosis does not look good as we enter the Triple T years. These, certainly, will be years that try the soul of men. With the benefit of hindsight, what confidence do we have in Buhari’s sense of purpose or in the capacity of his wobbling and fumbling team to steer the ship of state away from shipwreck?
Bolawole is a respected columnist and former deputy editor in Chief of The Punch