Letter to the next Nigerian President, By Victor Anazonwu

Mr. President & Commander-in-Chief Sir,


Please accept my deepest sympathy and condolences on your swearing in as leader of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.


I know that everyone else would be congratulating you, pumping your hands and slapping your back for clinching the highest office of the land. I understand the sentiments, sir, especially for a people who have just managed to survive eight uninterrupted years of horror, hardship and condescension in the hands of their elected leaders. But I have chosen to sympathize with you on this day because you have accepted to do the most difficult job on the planet at the moment.


When the ululation and partying is over and you retire to bed every night, Mr. President, you will face a community of demons. Against those demons you will have no protection from friends, family, admirers, yes men, party faithfuls and favor-seekers. You will be all alone, sir. For that, perhaps no one should be congratulated.


Sir, it is not that the job of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is overly difficult in itself. No. Not really. Like every other job, it comes with its fair share of challenges; and leading the largest community of Black people on the planet is certainly no child’s play. But in this instance, sir, your job is made many times more difficult because those who did the job before you chose to do a spectacularly poor job.


They had no understanding of what really matters in leadership and nation building – connecting with the spirit of the common folk, setting lofty goals for the common good, living by good examples, and lifting the spirits of the majority to work happily together towards achieving the set goals.


For them, governance was exclusively about revenue collection and resource allocation to favor some primordial groups over others. And so, while leaders from other parts of the world were forging stronger unions and supranational alliances to advance the welfare of their peoples and the frontiers of human civilization, your predecessors here spent their time sowing seeds of discord and harvesting them with glee.


They played ethnic, regional or religious groups against one another so that while the people squabbled, they drank champagne and travelled the globe in the knowledge that their seats were secure at home. For them, the sole purpose of power was to stay in office for as long as possible, enjoy its trappings and install successors that will keep the goodies flowing or prevent a probe into their iniquities.


They reasoned that building a few roads, bridges and other physical infrastructure were sufficient to appease a pliant population. Not that they did a good job of that, anyway. When the people got a little restive, they threw a few bags of rice, a few gallons of vegetable oil and a few Naira notes towards the starving population. They said they were building “stomach infrastructure.”


They deliberately failed to build the infrastructure of the mind through education, virtue, sound values and independent thinking. They had a mortal fear of intellectuals and enlightenment because they were raised to believe that a thinking population was a threat to their tyranny.


When university lecturers recently went on a strike to press home demands for better funding of education, they cringed in horror and unleashed their venom. What they feared most had come upon them. They did everything in and outside the books to frustrate this legitimate quest. In other instances where state subterfuge failed, they called out the security forces to shoot, kill and maim “dissenters.”


They plundered, desecrated and disrespected the other high offices of the land. They sabotaged state institutions intended to protect society from tyranny. They belittled the Judiciary. They emasculated the legislature. They used anti-corruption agencies to hunt their enemies. Meanwhile, their friends bathed in graft. They fouled the land. They riled the spirits. They set the cats among the pigeons. In essence, Mr. President, you are inheriting the principal sum, plus compound interest, on years of poor leadership stretching back to the foundations of Nigeria and made spectacularly worse by your immediate predecessors and their lieutenants.


Although they claimed to have spent years chasing bandits, thieves, looters, terrorists, wasters and destroyers of the commonwealth, most Nigerians quickly realized that they were worse than criminals themselves. For while the bandits in the bush were busy kidnapping innocent people and looting their material possessions, their partners in state houses were looting the soul of the nation and stealing its peace.


They terrorized, killed and jailed citizens whose only crime was that they openly questioned their motives and methods. They ignored or disdained every call for equity, justice and fairness. They held a gun to the head of a country which unsuspectingly elected them into office in 2015. Is that not what bandits do, Your Excellency?; waylaying unsuspecting victims and holding them at gunpoint until they have extracted every valuable possession?


When I checked the dictionary definition of “bandit”, I found an interesting one: “A robber or outlaw belonging to a gang and typically operating in an isolated or lawless area.” It was a perfect match, Mr. President!


Nigeria’s bandits in power isolated her from civilized humanity. Then they robbed her of her treasures, her dreams, her prosperity and her greatness. They were outlaws per excellence, flouting every rule in the book of governance; choosing which laws and court judgments to obey; killing, maiming or detaining at will those who dared to disagree with him, and setting free known and convicted felons who either agreed to join their gang or sing their praises.


Clearly, sir, those who raped Nigeria between 2015 and 2023 belonged to a ruthless gang. Or, more accurately, to various gangs working in concert.


One of the gangs was a faceless and secretive group of relatives, friends and clansmen who decided the policy directions of the country from the comfort of their bedrooms. For them, any direction would do, as long as it was not the direction to progress. They were called “The Cabal.”


Another gang consisted of praise-singers and yes men whose duty it was to find a justification for everything that the leader and his cabal did or failed to do, even the most heinous. They labeled all those who dared to disagree as “wailers.” They, of course, revelled in their role and title as “hailers” (praise singers) of a government best known for incompetence and arrogance. What a combination!


But by far the biggest gang to which the bandits belonged was their political party. While political parties worldwide are platforms for generating ideas and recruiting talents to deliver superior leadership at all levels of governance, in reality, sir, it was the very opposite in our case. This gang specialized in generating ideas for fiddling with elections and subverting the will of the people. It was a recycling plant for dubious geriatrics and spent characters who were experts in converting the commonwealth into private estates.


They made the great city state of Eko their flagship and launchpad. In Eko, they converted every revenue yielding sector into a private money machine – transportation, waste management, markets, motorparks, billboards, toll gates, even revenue collection itself. In this way, they accumulated stupendous wealth with which one man determined who ran for what public position without recourse to constitutional democratic principles or the will of the people.


With their filthy lucre, they infiltrated the electoral register, using violence or threat of violence during elections, to turn the enlightened residents of Eko into spectators and bystanders in their own public affairs.


They contrived a dichotomy between “indigenes” and “settlers” in the great city state of Eko. The latter were supposed to be seen, not heard. They could not run for office. Their votes were suppressed or otherwise manipulated to be of no electoral effect. They were only useful as sources of tax revenue and were constantly reminded that they were “outsiders.” Meanwhile, when it suited them, those who created and ran this evil system in Eko would call for the “restructuring” of the larger Nigerian state to be equally fair to all citizens, irrespective of tribe and faith. Such hypocrisy!


Mr. President sir, another gang to which you must pay close attention is the group of Economic terrorists. Accustomed to a life of zero productivity and perpetual rent seeking, this group has been round-tripping on the Naira from time immemorial. In recent years, they have taken it to a new level. They obtain from the CBN at “government rates” and sell to the Black Market at slightly below “going rates.” So, for doing absolutely nothing in real terms, they make a killing with each transaction, putting the Naira under endless pressure. Meanwhile, the same government that facilitates this crime (through CBN) goes on air to bemoan the slide of the national currency!


As if this was not enough sir, your predecessor appointed himself the Minister for Petroleum Resources, yet under his watch the greatest calamity has befallen the Nigerian oil and gas industry to date. More than half of Nigeria’s daily crude production is stolen and hawked in international waters like bottled water. “Private”, Illegal pipelines are constructed to siphon products from the main national pipelines. Everyone knows where the pipelines are and those behind the heist. The security agencies are in on the crime. And NOTHING was done to stop it. In 2021/22, Nigeria was the only major oil producing country in the world with declining revenues in a global market with rising oil prices!!!


Your predecessor’s response was to “privatize” NNPC by adding plc to the acronym and handing this most prized national asset over to the same management team who mismanaged it as a public enterprise. Mr. President sir, I have not seen such illogic, barefaced state capture and official mischief as this in all my life. It has all the ingredients of economic treason.


Mr. President sir, yet another gang to which you must pay attention is the one infamously known as “Fulani Herdsmen.” This name was once used to describe innocent, wayfaring shepherds until some of them discovered that a life of crime pays much more than the rewards of a nomadic existence.


They found that with a few assault rifles handed down from their masters during elections, they could terrorize villages and even force entire communities to flee, abandoning homes and farmlands. This left them as the new landed gentry, with claims over vast, pristine and arable lands.


They realized that they could go scot-free for their crimes simply by virtue of their claim to ancestral links with those in authority. This gang never had it so good. When their original name, “herdsmen,” was no longer conducive, they were rebranded as “bandits” with the help of the Nigerian state. That way, they could no longer be ethnically profiled. Meanwhile, they continued to enjoy protection and privileges which even law abiding Nigerians could only dream of. Mr. President sir, these urchins will resist you when you move to restore law and order. Because they will see you as a threat to their newly accustomed lifestyle of brigandage. Be prepared.


This is the country you have just been sworn in to lead, to fix and to heal, Mr. President. This is why I send you my sincerest sympathy sir. In a sense, sir, you have been handed a dead baby to nurse back to life and told he is only ill.


Mr. President sir, those who say Nigeria is ill are either being economical with the truth, living in denial, or ignorant of the clinical parameters by which dead nations are known. When an individual dies, doctors and other competent medical professionals confirm by carrying out a basic test. They check for a pulse, a heartbeat or signs of breathing. They check for responsiveness of the basic senses to stimuli like light, touch and sound. If none of these is positive, the individual is pronounced non-responsive or dead.


Sir, a nation does not die when all its individual citizens collapse and perish. No. A nation dies when its leadership becomes unresponsive to the basic stimuli that signal a living state. A nation has no heartbeat when it no longer commands the love, admiration and respect of its citizens. A nation has no breath when it no longer feels the joys and sorrows of its own citizens. A nation is dead when it looks on helplessly as its citizens are killed, maimed and held captive by brigands, charlatans and criminals. Such a nation is Nigeria today.


Mr. President sir, if Nigeria was gravely ill under Goodluck Jonathan and PDP, it died in the hands of Muhammadu Buhari and the APC. The latter were so busy preserving their own individual and group interests that they neglected to save the life of the country they swore to preserve. That is the country you have just signed up to defend and protect; a lifeless body that was once full of energy and promise. The people are waiting.


They are waiting for you to perform a miracle. You have undertaken to raise the dead. That is a supernatural feat that only Almighty God can perform. So, is the Almighty in on this with you? Has He sent you to deliver His people? Or did you send yourself, driven by ego and selfish ambition to this position? Only time will tell. But I warn you: the curses of over 200 million Nigerians on anyone who takes their pain and their country for granted would last for generations.


For now, I wish you well with all my heart, Mr. President. For I have no other country to call my own. And I have no plans of going to any other country to live whilst my own is in disarray. The shame of living abroad as a refugee would kill me sir. I have chosen to live and die here. So, Mr. President, for your own sake and the sake of millions of others like me, you must succeed or die trying. I do not envy you, Mr. President.


Victor Anazonwu, a journalist and author, writes from Lagos.


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