Sweet Tales Of Hope By Sada Malumfashi
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all
~ Emily Dickinson
Growing up as a as young school pupil in the tail end of the military era, just before the demise of the Late General Sani Abacha, I never envisaged what democracy meant, or would be. To grow up and be a soldier was the dream amongst my peers then, for it was the very pinnacle of living in our own naïve minds. Then the Late General passed away, and all one could hear when the elders converged in any gathering were whispers, of the new type of government that would be ushered in – mulkin farar hulla – the return of civilian rule. Whenever a clique formed outside the mosque after prayers I could see the spark in their eyes as they chattered – hope oozed out of every nook and cranny, as everyone talked in excited conversations, with excited breathing. It was as if they were all awaiting a surreal heavenly opening into a world anew.
The return of the civilians came with aplomb, just before the turn of the century. Growing up in the dusty slums of Tudun Wada, Kaduna, I viewed the return of civilian rule from the front porch of our house with the cautious voice of my mother from inside warning me not to stray too near to the ensuing political rallies. The return of the civilians was characterised almost always by entourage of men, on open top vehicles in richly traditional attires waving their hands all the way, with hundreds of young men in their retinue, dust rising from the potholed streets. Slogans were tossed around; Sai Ka yi was one of the most common. I could remember grabbing two posters flying around of a farin hulla civilian politician – I placed the two posters in the front door of the house, one on each entrance. I could not fathom my father’s fury though when he tore the posters into shreds warning me to never try such insolent act in his house. I never understood his apprehension to the coming of the civilians; everybody celebrated it.
Election Day 1999 was welcomed by the people with much eagerness and anticipation. A lot of people trooped out to vote, mostly women with children tied to their back joining the long queues, others who became tired sat and breastfed their young infants on stones that served as stools at the polling booth. After all the hullabaloo President Olusegun Obasanjo was announced as the man to lead the country – the campaigns stopped, posters stripped off electric poles by the raining seasons and life returned to the way it was before. The hope I saw in the eyes of the people though was slowly drifting away.
The new century entered into fray and the fire of enthusiasm verifiable in the eyes of the populace just couple of years afore was now all extinguished. You could see the grimace of wrinkles setting in. The talk in every congregation now was of lack of fuel, increasing price of food and commodities, and the rise in bus fares. Those eyes that once hoped were now frantically afraid, they were searching for something new – searching for hope. After deadly sectarian riots in which I saw a neighbour’s house – where I always ran to buy soft drinks burnt to ashes, the whole family, including my playground mate smuggled themselves out of the area in the middle of the night, hearts were darkened with nothing else to fall to, something to bring back the ability to hope again was lacking.
As another round of elections approached, in the now settling continuous civilian rule, posters of a smiling gap-toothed man were emerging, and you could see that fire of hope rekindling in the eyes of the populace once again. The excited chatter in congregations after mosque returned again – the fire was burning anew, they had found something to cling to yet again. I had no idea where the man – General Muhammadu Buhari came from, but he, in a short while, gripped the attention and love of every being in my community. Gaskiya Dokin Karfe was the most evident slogan in his emerging posters – Tried, Tested and Trusted. I was a 10 year old lad by then but I sure did catch that fever of hope too. I can still remember an episode that happened after watching the Super Eagles get eliminated from the 2002 FIFA World Cup at the group stage by Sweden with my cousins. We came out all gloomy and sad at the prospect of a continued redundancy, as we believed that if Nigeria had been able to win the World Cup then things will also miraculously change. We were all subdued, but I cheered them up. I told them not to worry, because once Buhari emerges as the President even the biscuits we bought for Five Naira will be returned to only One Naira. We were all elated at the prospect and hope filled our hearts.
The campaign machinery at that time seemed subtler than it was in 1999. The entourage that visited in 1999 was now non-existent, instead it was a new batch of lower class men, people we identified with – Mallam Iliya the trader, Alhaji Sani the woodseller – they were all people whom I could pinpoint their houses around the neighbourhood, people that mingled with our parents in the mosque. This time round we were not only hoping, we also flew on the crest of the waves of hope.
That was the first election I had earnestly followed, on the newsprint media most especially, on the New Nigerian Newspapers and Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo that were brought home daily by father. Obasanjo was re-elected though and Buhari lost. It was a painful blow that I felt right in my heart. For the first time in my life I felt the retching pain of losing, the agony of a dashed hope fluttering away, beyond my grasp with my fists tied to the earth. I shed tears for I had grasped and believed in this merry hope, but it was torn away from me.
The years ahead passed like a blur as I made the transition from Kaduna to Sokoto State, losing my young fiery political passion in the process, still hurting from a dashed hope. I did not have that keen interest in the polity again, and maybe I was not alone, the populace too it seemed had been hammered a technical knockout, as the exuberance and eagerness; the fiery fire in their eyelids of previous years were lost. Most people were now in gloom, in a limbo, waiting for where the stream pushed them to. I was not yet eligible for voting in 2007, but I still watched the ensuing politics from afar. The three way fight between Governor Ummaru Yar’adua, Vice President Atiku Abubakar and the General, Muhammadu Buhari – with Yar’adua sweeping away the polls left me disappointed, but not thwarted though. I was still optimistic that Yar’adua might probably be the long walk towards hope we might need.
As the Yar’adua years trickled away slowly, I was back in Kaduna again – Zaria – this time as an Undergraduate Student and slowly regaining my political enthusiasm. The slow tortoise rhythm of the sickly Yar’adua administration was frustrating. Things were not deteriorating but then they were not moving at all, the body language of the people too was not at ease, they clearly needed a strong hand, a President to direct them, to lead them to lost glorious hope. It was not meant to be though, Yar’adua departed the scene. I was not particularly acclaimed to the man, but the way we lost him, in hide and seek, hurt, he was a President we never really knew.
That then set the pace for the 2011 Presidential Elections which I was ready to play my part, in reclaiming the hope I had once lost. With my Voters Card in hand I weighed my options amidst my new found political belief. General Muhammadu Buhari playing his last card, an inherited incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, and Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau provided viable options. Young and exuberant, I honestly believed that we needed a young character to charter a new course for our dear nation. Muhammadu Buhari I felt needed to decline to the sidelines. I did love the man with all my heart, but I weighed and decided to pitch my tent with the seemingly progressive Nuhu Ribadu – I laid down my tattered hopes on him to reclaim the lost glory.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Goodluck Jonathan and his ruling party coasted to victory yet again. Worst, Nuhu Ribadu too, never mustered a strong opposition. Meanwhile, the boiling populace in the North erupted. Deadly clashes and violence by angry youths manifested that was directed towards the established elite. Houses were burnt, properties destroyed and prominent politicians of the ruling party had to duck for cover. The populace had lost every drop of hope too; unlike I that changed my stance, they had identified with Muhammadu Buhari all the way – with every iota of hope they had, but yet again, they felt it had been snatched away from them. Angry, volatile, uneducated, neglected, unemployed they pounced on their very own elites. The political, ethnic and religious lines were evidently exposed, with retaliation and counter retaliations marring every disputed bout of hope one could have summoned.
I fumed, whilst a curfew ensued, about unnecessary killings, betrayals, lack of trust and most of all – breach of hope, over and over again. Normalcy was regained, and the fires returned to the eyes of the populace, this time not of hope and enthusiasm – but anger, and derangement. The cracks of 2011 refused to heal, and the scars were all blaringly evident. I was apolitical for a while, finding no hopeful solace. A latent insurgency was allowed to escalate, leading to terrible loss of lives while I sat at home for more than half a year as schools were shut down completely, amidst crippling strikes. The country was at the verge of being grounded due to dripping corruption that severed and rocked the nation and the worst part was the government never admitted to its evident failures – never bothered to care, notice or try to stop the rot. The conscience of the whole nation was battered, and when evidence leaked out of enormous corruption in the petroleum sector as the Government prepared for another fuel hike, hell was let loose. The country was crippled down at the beginning of the year 2012. The populace had found a new vigour; they found their strength to fight the elite few at the top who degraded the nation at the expense of the lot at the bottom. There was a new fire in their eyes, it was a fiery one, a willing fire of sacrifice and that set the ball rolling.
The rot at the centre of the ruling government spurred a course of the moment opposition. The government had its senses in the cloud while the mega opposition party came into life after prolonged haggling – the populace once again, battered and beaten, found another solace to attach to. There was every indication that the Mega party might not last in its shell, however the now naïve populace showed they were willing to align to it – it was their only gateway to hope – something they had lost taste of, for a while.
As Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the nominee of the now stronger mega party and the days to the election trickled in, the popularity of Muhammadu Buhari hiked beyond our hearts here in his base, it touched and trickled down to his former political enemies, to those who were once indifferent – Buharism was sweeping the whole nation while the ruling party was losing its stride.
The rampant uncensored Social Media was a tool of the youth as we vented our anger and deposited our glaring hope. We carried the General past the hurdles – a six week postponement, a trifling media mudslinging, and all other giant hurdles – to finally a victory for the people’s General as the results trickled in and it was a surety that Muhammadu Buahri would carry the day.
The elections are done and dusted but normalcy has not returned yet, as state structures are still dilapidating in the wee hours, and the economy has falling to tatters. As you are currently reading this, President Muhammadu Buhari would have assumed helm of office as the democratically elected President of Nigeria – it gives me goose pimples, as my mind drifts back to that eventual day in 2003, when Muhammadu Buhari lost that epic first journey – nostalgia – when my first springing flower of hope was quashed; when I shed tears that soaked onto the newspaper carrying the heart crushing headline. Today that gush of adrenaline is back, that hope is springing anew, this land shall be placed in its rightful track, to live its potential, to be great for itself and its teeming offspring. President Muhammadu Buhari is that hope we had all nurtured now manifested in its glorious form. We shall still continue to hope, it is the notion of hope that will sustain us through. To march together with the then people’s General, and now the people’s President, with glorious hope. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.