When I was growing up in Ibadan, the atmosphere was rife with tales of supernaturally powerful people who used the blood of children to prolong their lives. Like most people, as we grew up, the world that promoted those stories and gave them credibility gradually receded. We began to dismiss those urban legends with the same disdain Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart treated women’s stories. Some days ago, while parsing the drama of perpetual presidential aspirant, Atiku Abubakar, weeping like a baby because some alleged youths bought him the presidential nomination form, it occurred to me that I might have read those tales too literally. I missed the point the tale-tellers were driving at by sharing those stories. It is in fact possible to use the blood of children to resuscitate one’s life. Truly, such economy of use and abuse of young blood has been the defining narrative of Nigerian politicians and the youth demographic. As such, our system of government is best described as a necrocracy.
Necrocracy, as far as a definition goes, is the government of the dead by the dead and for the dead.
Nigeria is a necrocracy. We have been – and are still being – ruled by the dead, the living-dead, and the dying old men. As it was in the days of Sani Abacha, the expiring dictator who, despite his body yielding to mortality, ensconced himself in Aso Rock and planned to rule Nigeria forever, so it was in the days of Umaru Yar’Adua. Yar’Adua struggled to rule Nigeria from his deathbed until death finally spared him the indignity the drama of his health condition had brought upon him.
Today, we are still ruled by lethargic old men who celebrate when they manage to take a mere 800m walk. Now and then, President Muhammadu Buhari quickly heads off to London to reanimate himself through quality healthcare, a privilege that a vast majority of Nigerians cannot even imagine. When recently, Labour Minister Chris Ngige claimed that Buhari was healthier than 80 per cent of Nigerians, he spoke the truth in spite of himself. It has taken as much of the resources of that many Nigerians to keep Buhari (along with the rest of the political class) alive!
In the interregnum of rule by the dead, the dying and the invalid, we have had a continuing series of lifeless leaders whose ineptness anesthetise the polity. Our political offices too are dominated by dead wood, old and dying men who have not only dreamt the last of their dreams but have haunted the corridors of power forever. Even when these people die, Nigeria still does not get a respite. They continue to rule us from their graves through the dynasties they have created, and which continue to reproduce their power. No thanks to these bands of leaders, we are not growing as a nation; we might as well be sprouting mushrooms.
The thing with necrocracy is that it requires the blood of children and youths to thrive. There is a constant need for ritual sacrifice of blood to extend the life of an inert government. That is why in every political era, youths have been a permanent prop on the Nigerian political stage. When dying Abacha needed to propagate himself in office, he summoned Daniel Kanu to organise two million youths to beg him to stay in office. The group, Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha, held rallies to “ask” a dying dictator to continue in office forever. The Nigerian youth demographic and even older men who misidentify as youths have frequently been treated as the property of politicians who need to bid for power. They use youths as a stanchion, an aesthetic, and the bolt and nut that runs the machine of their campaigns. Since the social media is now the digital village square, this political class has jumped on various fora to not only reach the youths but also demonstrate their own youthfulness at heart.
Considering that Nigeria has one of the largest youth populations in the world, the potential of this demographic is virtually limitless, and that is why everyone has to pander to the youths. However, their zealous cater for youth concerns is a ploy to merely sap youth energy – physical and psychic – and use it to syringe themselves with life. The trouble is that demands of youths’ blood are limitless; generations of “youths” will have to be continually “zombified” to run the necropolis. In Nigeria today, one spurious youth organisation or the other is forever begging politicians to do one thing or other. Their monikers are incomplete without the tag of “youth” appended. Note also that the term “youth” has been thrown around so frequently it has become a unifying umbrella for everyone who needs a job or relevance. Some are spent middle-aged men trying to fit into an oversaturated niche demographic to pimp themselves.
One of the attributes of necrocracy is that it exhibits its youth constituency and places them at the forefront of the necrocrat’s ambition. This form of strategic placement of young people is what a theorist described as “reproductive futurism,” except the version of it that Nigeria offers is both cynical and sarcastic, a joke commenting on itself. Now that Atiku needs to be President once again, he gathered a group of youths to buy him a nomination form. Atiku, of course, was borrowing from the playbook of President Muhammadu Buhari who ostentatiously performs poverty for the benefit of his almajirifollowers who treat material success as amoral.
In 2015, Buhari made a grandiose show of being too poor to buy his nomination form. Rather than people ask Buhari how a man who could not put his mind and hands to work to make money for his old age would put a country on the path of prosperity, they joined him to valourise poverty. They staged a pretentious show of a child donating her savings of N5,785 to Buhari’s campaign. In retrospect, that flashy act is a metaphor for how Nigeria has always worked. For about 50 years of his life now, Buhari (along with his companions) has had his mouth around Nigeria’s teats. Rather than they nourish the country for the benefit of the nation’s children, they are still eating away the resources of poor little children. Recently, some reported 7,000 youths gathered to buy the nomination form for another billionaire, Orji Uzor Kalu. Look at Senate president Bukola Saraki whose ambition is so naked, it turns everyone on; he too claims that youths begged him to run for president.
On one side sit Buharists who claim that their benefactor’s government has been good for Nigerian youths. They make this bewildering claim against the background of growing poverty and a future that is being mortgaged to administrative visionlessness. On the other side are emergency youth advocates such as the has-been, Sule Lamido, who reminded us that Buhari’s re-election will be bad for youths. To avoid the gloomy fate he predicts, we should elect him President. Notice the way he frames his campaign as detached from any ambition but is instead a messianic mission to rescue youths from the dystopian world he has helped create?
How does a nation break out of this necrocratic cycle? The answer should lie with the youths who, like Fela’s zombies, are being led “jorojarajoro” by their leaders. For some of these youths, it is practical to cash in on the advantages of being a youth population at the moment, but they should know that what comes after cash-and-carry politics is cruel enslavement. None of these politicians’ children will be on the plantation working their lives away when the creditor comes calling. Their children will be abroad, living warm lush lives while “youths” and their children groan under the yoke of poverty. Those who are buying nomination forms for Atiku and Kalu today were either children or teenagers when their parents were being mobilised to “earnestly” ask for Abacha. Today, they are still being used to carry goatskin bags for Buhari while they witlessly yell “Sai Baba!.”
Ask, why let them enslave generations of your parents, yours, and your children?