Hard Times By Sunny Awhefeada


 

By Sunny Awhefeada

Hard Times, published in 1854, is the title of the tenth novel by Charles Dickens, the English novelist. Like most of Dickens’ novels, Hard Times is a searing indictment of a corrosive and morally atrophied society on the brink of disaster. Set in Victorian England, which was touted as a prosperous epoch, the novel reframes the socio-economic turmoil that undermined the entire fabric of the English society of that time.

 

The reality of what was configured as prosperity was acute deprivation and hunger for the common man as a result of the dislocation occasioned by the Industrial Revolution. The social discomfiture of the era was to birth the disaster that the modern world turned out to be. Fortunately for England, her leaders, beginning with Winston Churchill, pulled her from the precipice, especially from the ruins of the First and Second World Wars with roots located in the vagaries that cascaded from the Victorian Age. England not only survived, it was in a vantage position to first colonize and later offer flags of independence to her erstwhile colonies including Nigeria beginning from 1957 when the Gold Coast now Ghana breathed the air of freedom.

Many of our young people who now flee to England on a daily basis do not know that the England of the Victorian world was a socio-economic disaster similar to what Nigeria is experiencing today. They do not know that Victorian England was bedeviled by unemployment, hunger, disease, crime, poverty, pollution, religious hypocrisy and the many ills now plaguing Nigeria. However, that island nation which once colonized us had leaders who sat up and patriotically envisioned a new order that redeemed her and consolidated her as a commonwealth. 

 

The socio-economic anemia that is ailing Nigeria today finds a parallel in the unsavoury fate of Victorian England. What can also be said of the Nigerian agony is that it has been here a long time ago just that we didn’t care when we needed to. We were just smug and contented with half measures. Not many people will agree that Nigeria had come under the wheel of grinding poverty and its attendant socio-economic hell for more than forty years now. People seem to think that our anguished ordeal began a few years ago. I refer such people to Festus Iyayi’s Violence, Niyi Osundare’s Songs of the Marketplace and Femi Osofisan’s No More the Wasted Breed which are literary renditions of the acute suffering to which Nigerians have been subjected. The trio, Iyayi, Osundare and Osofisan, could be considered as sons of Dickens in their apprehension and portrayal of the Nigerian social condition more than forty years ago! The situation they bemoaned then has gotten worse today. 

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What has been apparent thus far is that what has befallen Nigeria right now is not alien in the march to nationhood. The same fate afflicted England and even France and other countries that are today havens to the human race. The truth is that those other countries took genuine and altruistic steps to free themselves from the vagaries of time and change. The question that should agitate us is when Nigeria will be free from this age long debacle which is actually self-inflicted. What has become the character of our republic is that every previous government appears to be better than its successor. People now look back to the Abacha years in praise of how “good” life was at that time, whereas life was really hell in that era. Nigeria’s most recent memory can be bifurcated into two. One dates back to the milestone of 12 June 1993 and the other to the year 2000 which not only ushered in the present millennium, but saw to the birth of the Woke generation. The dual memory alignment makes some of us to be witnesses to two epochs that compels a comparative analysis. The Woke generation has no such privilege. The only reality they know is that of the last fifteen or so years which have been the worst years of Nigeria. 

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This week makes it twenty-five years that Nigeria returned to democratic rule. Some prefer to call it civil rule. But what is in a name? Twenty- five years is quarter of a century and it is a long time, although, looking back to 1999, it now looks like yesterday. The process that led to the present dispensation was inaugurated in turbulence arising from the unwillingness of soldiers of fortune to return the country to a democratic order. For nearly sixteen years Nigerians took to the trenches and battled the ogre of military rule from Buhari to Babangida and Abacha, and eventually triumphing. The death of Abacha in 1998 and the kickoff of what we thought was a genuine transition to civil rule programme excited Nigerians and gave us hope. Many of us, young people then, had great hopes and dreamt of a new Nigeria. We had attained adulthood and for the first time we would be experiencing democracy as adults. That moment met me as a postgraduate student at the University of Ibadan. The five preceding years saw my friends and I mounting the barricades during many “Babangida and Abacha Must Go” riots at the University of Benin. We carried aloft the banner of a new order from barricades to trenches and the bustling streets of Benin. At Ibadan, the narrative changed as intimations of that new dawn beckoned. Hopeful of a new beginning, some of us were recruited by international observer groups as election monitors to midwife a new birth.

 

We participated with verve and vigour buoyed by the hope that all would be well on the morrow. The elections came and went and although there were complaints and cries of electoral malpractices, we were content that the pestilence of military rule was at last over. Having fought, survived and routed gun wielding soldiers after sixteen years, we thought we could tame the excesses of civilian rule. Sadly, here we are with nothing to show but hopelessness, hunger and anger. Twenty-five years ago, we had envisioned an Eldorado. Twenty-five years ago, the feeling was that of a second independence. That was why Nigerians celebrated on 29th May 1999 when the present dispensation was inaugurated. Six years before that day was the 12th June 1993 presidential election which was supposed to be a watershed in our history. Unfortunately, it was annulled. That annulment amputated Nigeria. Some of those who raised the battle cry against that annulment are today bestriding the corridors of power and betraying the ideals that powered that struggle. They daily deepen the annulment of the hope they once championed. 

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Nigeria has been a victim of serial betrayals. That there is acute hunger today because the nation has been plunged into multi-dimensional poverty is due to betrayal. That Nigeria ranks among the most corrupt nations in the world and described as “fantastically corrupt” is an index of that betrayal. The insecurity that has made Nigeria prostrate reflects that betrayal. That hopelessness is looming and we couldn’t celebrate twenty-five years of unbroken civil rule is because the weight and burden of betrayal has crushed us. We have been tossed into hard times. And who celebrates in hard times? Those who are wrecking our ship of hope recently reinvented a discarded anthem to distract us. Why haven’t they reinvented Nigeria and inaugurate her march to greatness? As it is in other climes, the choice to liberate Nigeria is with the people. It is up to us to continue to lay supine and accept the fate apportioned to us by an uncaring and visionless leadership. It is our inability to insist on how we should be governed in the last twenty-five years that has thrown us into hard times. Let us shake off our lethargy now! Can one say “happy democracy day?” Hard times won’t let us!                   


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