Why Nigerians are Low-key Waiting for all their Leaders to Die of COVID-19

Image credits: freepik.com/disobeyart

he COVID-19 pandemic brought about a situation most people in Nigeria didn’t think would ever happen — one where the country’s rich and poor are locked in together awaiting the same fate. This unprecedented global pandemic, at an even darker level of humor, hinted at the possibility that for once, the political elite, most of whom are octogenarian power brokers, could be more at risk than the ordinary man on the street.

I recall with a mixed sense of pity and jest, the 2020 travel itinerary of President Muhammadu Buhari for which N2.5bn had been budgeted. After the global lock down, the Nigeria President who is famous for his UK medical missions, was not only forced to sit at home but would also have been forced to consult local alternatives were his health situation to demand any intervention.

Gone till November

From the President, to the national dependents in the shady corridors of the Nigeria power house, the Nigerian political elite have always been the runaway type. They run away to Europe for healthcare; run away to America for the education of their children; run away to the Maldives to ease off the stress of being Nigerian. Their runaway antics are even more ironic, knowing that the stress they face while they are here is a highly watered down version of the stresses faced by ordinary Nigerians. When these special Nigerians need in-country healthcare, they don’t have to go to Public Healthcare Centres or wait in line at government-run hospitals. Yet, with the many shock absorbers afforded them by their status, they still run away from time to time, because no matter how cocooned you are, Nigeria will still get to you.

“I can tell you for sure, I never knew that our entire healthcare infrastructure was in the state in which it is until I was appointed to do this work.”

~ Mr. Mustapha (Secretary to the Government of the Federation & Chairman of the Presidential task force on COVID-19)

Image credit: Twitter (screenshot)

After visiting a number of state-run hospitals to assess the national level of preparedness for dealing with the pandemic, the SGF Mr. Mustapha had purportedly said he wasn’t aware that the Nigeria health sector was in such a bad state and it is not the first time in Nigeria we will hear someone from the political elite show grave ignorance about issues affecting the average Nigerian that are all too glaring. Ignoring fecklessness and downright malicious intentions temporarily, the option of escape from Nigeria’s many problems is what often blinds the Nigeria political elite to the reality of the average citizen and keeps them comfortable in their bubble, despite the staggering rot that the country has become, as it continues to degenerate. Even the well-intentioned ones among them are not immune to the disease that causes this blissful blindness — one that COVID-19 is forcibly healing everybody from albeit temporarily, knowing Nigerians for who we are. Despite the massive social media backlash that followed Mr. Mustapha’s pronouncements, I believe his comments came from a honest place. You cannot know the reality on the streets once you ensconce yourself in the power bubble of the Nigeria runaway political elite.

But all this was before COVID-19 locked us all in the same room and kept the keys

Voodoo Dolls

When Abba Kyari, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff died of COVID-19 complications in First Cardiology Hospital in Lagos (one of the best private hospitals in Nigeria) two things happened. One, was the harsh reality that hit the elite that it could have been them, and that even the best private healthcare available in Nigeria might not save them from this one. The second thing that happened was the celebration (if I could call it that) that occurred among certain groups in the social media space. It was synonymous in intent but not in scale to the national celebrations that followed the news of the death of Gen. Sani Abacha in 1998 when there was no social media. Even though Abba Kyari was a man many Nigerians knew little about, many were still ‘grateful’ that he died anyway. His children’s pleas on social media to respect their late father in death, was a sad reminder of the soullessness of the social media mob whose untweeted thoughts are the real subtext of their virtual rejoicing.

And it is this.

That the average Nigerian detests the average Nigerian political elite and tags them all as the reason why their average lives are so miserable and why we all appear not to be making any progress. This same undercurrent played out with the news of the uncertain health condition of the former governor of Oyo State, Mr. Abiola Ajimobi. It was widely rumored that he had died from COVID-19 complications but his aide quickly came public to quell the rumours. Again, the social media space lit up with chants of aku-tu’n-ku gbogbo won lona orun, to the point that tweeps were arguing with the man’s daughter in-law about the state of his health even when she had clearly stated that ‘their father’ was still alive. Yet again, it wasn’t so much what people knew about this ailing man’s legacy, it was what he represented — the average Nigerian political elite.

Source: Twitter

Unfortunately, with the way the Nigerian social class system is organized and run, the average Nigerian political elite is beyond the reach of the average Nigerian. They don’t live in the same places, their children don’t enjoy the same services, and even the constituency meeting points that ought to bring these socially disparate groups together are nothing more than overstaffed offices to compensate political nobodies. So, when a disease that is already labeled as an elite-killer starts picking out the most powerful men in the country and killing them, the average Nigerian interprets this as a miracle — the complicit hands of Fate helping them reach beyond the high fences they couldn’t reach and meting out the justice they believe these akotileta leaders deserve. But you and I know that this is not the entire truth. We know that there are leader-servants in Nigeria, even with the detritus that currently occupy the chambers of power. We know that some of these people, even if in the negligible minority, stand for some sort of justice. But all this doesn’t matter because rationality is an unfair expectation of the crowd who are motivated more by their sentiments than any other thing. And their current sentiment in Nigeria is that of hopelessness, and perhaps, a God-ordained passage to the more pleasant shores of Canada. So, the posthumous treatment of Abba Kyari’s death was not so much about the man (as his family might hurtfully believe) it was that he represented a hated group upon which we wish death all the time because we see no other way of toppling their 6-decade long hegemony.

I know that if COVID-19 were to become a person and put out a poll on Twitter for Nigerians to nominate people they’d like dead in this pandemic, the Nigerian political elite will be grossly over-represented because the average Nigerian feels that they all need to die before there can be progress — their death as some sort of atonement to the god of confusion that has bewitched us all. The average Nigerian is also not ignorant of the fact that the ones that will come after the old stock are more likely to be worse, so they will keep wishing death upon them too until Death’s selection is complete and fresh shoots start to grow from this cursed ground. As laughable as it might sound, Death, eventually, is the Messiah the average Nigerian is waiting for to redeem us from the curse of stagnation upon which we have all been placed, because in all our many civilian debates: around newspaper stands, on television, on social media, in diaspora and everywhere else we gather, we have not found any other solution to how the visionary leadership that is needed to turn our collective fates around will come out from this rubbish we currently call governance.

Osundolire Ifelanwa

Architect. Writer. Aspiring Immortal