One of the bigger worries with committing to write a weekly column for a newspaper are three related presumptions. The first, and arguably less immediate one is that one will always have something to write about — this, I have always characterised as the objective presumption. Less remote, is the presumption that this commentary will necessarily be some of the best on the matter available. Thanks to the over-large conceit of most public intellectuals, this is presumption was faggot for most opinion pieces that not too long ago appeared opposite the editorial pages of most newspapers. Finally, and no less important there is the presumption that every week, there will be a readership worthy of the effort.
The burden posed by the intercourse of these presumptions is especially onerous in normal times. For then the challenge is to find material that is sufficiently rich enough to meet these presumptions. In a sense then, a world where much is in flux, where the boundaries between people, concepts, and events have broadened so much that they now threaten to become immanent, this Heraclitean reality is the thinking man’s paradise.
What to make of Donald Trump’s insurgency, and the waves on which it is borne? How much of this American passion is connected to the British decision in June to blow a raspberry at a union that they were in for more than 4 decades, and which most neutrals still argue was to their net gain? And are the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida) naught but the flip-side of a bad European coin that has Syriza and Podemos as its mirror reflection?
Talking heads in the West have their plates full trying to make sense of these phenomena. To anticipate trajectories; argue mitigants for trends likely to be harmful going forward (The Donald?); and strengthening the case for processes currently misunderstood, but with potential for enriching our shared space (globalisation?).
Back home, however, these presumptions exist within a broader difficulty. True, not much is “normal” about this space. Not a day passes without a succession of short messages arriving on my phone describing pathetic conditions that only a transfer of funds may ameliorate: unpaid house rents, school fees, and hospital bills. Easy to dismiss much of this opportuning as the consequence of our penchant for free-riding. But then an inability to respond to any of them points to other possibilities. Despite fairly stable electricity from the mains (our hydroelectric dams are bursting at the seams) petrol now accounts for a disproportionately high part of most Nigerians monthly spend.
Take home-pay takes few Nigerians anywhere near home these days. And I imagine that for folks down the economic ladder, things might be a lot worse.
Not surprisingly, the fastest growing domestic industries are windshield car washers, and mendicants. Do these vocations show up on the National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) count of domestic economic activities? Unlikely. Our economy is as much formal as it is informal, anyway. But one place where the failure of these new informal sector occupations will no doubt soon show up would be in police statistics. For as the market for these services collapse (the result of fewer, and less financially able car owners, for instance, not of self-driving cars), service providers will turn to new, even less formal trades.
Enough material to keep talking heads busy, then? Not for those who have resided long enough in the echo chambers. For, in truth, there is much that is circular about the progress of the Nigerian state. I recently went through a couple of articles I wrote for the “Nigerian Herald” in the mid-1980s, and the resemblance to all that I have had to say since the Buhari administration came to office is as uncanny as it is unnerving.
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti identified this pathology as “perambulation”. Main symptoms? “Na de same place e dey, e no go anywhere”. Ultimately, at the heart of a proclivity for moving around in circles this vicious must lie a deficiency of the critical faculty. Kinder interlocutors have argued that it is not so much that the critical faculty fails us, but that we may lack a collective ability to implement decisions mutually assented to.
Invariably, I then ask: What are these decisions collectively assented to in our present state? All I see in place of a national consensus on how to move out of the recession we are in and about to move deeper into, is blind partisanship. A new tribalism that would not allow partisans of the Buhari administration see how much his effete leadership is costing us; and which makes it impossible for agreement on the incalculable harm done the economy by the incredibly leaden-headed rule of Dr. Jonathan.
Discussing the exclusion that Mr. Donald Trump has introduced into U.S.’ politics, “The Economist” blamed much of The Donald’s politics on “post-factual politics”. An entry in Wikipedia describes this phenomenon as “a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored”.
In this sense, our politics is ahead of the world’s. We have been “post-truth” for as far as I can remember; and this is why our conversations will continuously loop in on themselves.