November 6, 2017
Each time I read about Nigeria and the various existential problems she battles, what comes to mind is a short story written by late South African writer, Can Themba. Ever read about Themba? He was born in Marabastad, near Pretoria, South Africa. Most of his works were done in Sophiatown, Johannesburg. An investigative journalist, Themba later worked with the defunct Drummagazine. With Henry Nxumalo, Bloke Modisane, Todd Matshikiza, Casey Motsisi, Lewis Nkosi and Nat Nakasa, these men formed what was popularly called the “Drum Boys.” They were renowned for their dictum, “Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse.” Themba however lived his life like the dictum of the Drum boys as he lived his life like a candle in the wind, in spite of his magnificent talent. He died young due to acute dependency on alcohol.
The Nigerian problems are so varied that many have queried why the country is witnessing such a stunted growth when all indices point to a great country. People are pontificating on where Nigerian is supposed to be on account of her human and material endowments. But, right now, there is virtually nothing that is left that has not been badgered by the crises of existence that Nigeria finds herself. While many countries, especially Third World countries, even those who once witnessed leadership crises, are getting their acts right, Nigeria is stuck in a cul-de-sac that is evident won’t peter out in decades to come. You do not need an Ouija board to tell you that the signs are very ominous for the nation.
Some analysts have attributed this to curses from a God-knows-who. But the truth is that there is no foreseeable resolution of the Nigerian problem. Nigeria’s case is like that of the proverbial rolling stone that gathers no moss. While the leadership problem is worsening by the day, the following too is becoming implicated by the hour in the problem of Nigeria’s existence. The following abets the inept leadership and contributes to the typecast of the leaders as insensate.
And Can Themba comes in handy here, especially his famous award-winning short story entitled The Suit. This famous story tells of Philemon, a middle-class lawyer. He had an adulterous wife called Matilda and both of them lived in Sophiatown. Devoted as Philemon was to Matilda, the latter was always fond of turning his home into a tryst immediately he leaves for his office. On this particular day, Philemon was told of the escapade of his wife again. Rather than his wont of leaving for home late in the evening, Philemon went home in the middle of the day. As the lawyers say, he caught his wife in flagrantewith the lover. In the melee that ensued, the lover scampered out of the window but forgot his suit.
To effectively deal with Matilda, Philemon then concocted a strange and bizarre punishment for her. This was a routine he spelt out where Matilda had to behave to the suit which he hung on the shelf as a honored guest. This involved treating it with utmost respect, feeding it, providing ample entertainment for the suit and taking a walk with it, while discussing with it as an animate object. In conceptualizing the punishment, Philemon reckoned that this treatment would serve as a bitter and constant reminder to Matilda about her adultery. Remorseful, psychologically beaten and humiliated, Matilda eventually died of shame of her adulterous escapades.
The story during the week of 26 Nigerian migrant girls found dead and their bodies refrigerated on a Spanish warship is why the writer is crestfallen again about Nigeria. The girls were said to have died in a shipwreck in Libya, a voyage that is part of a trans-Saharan route to Italy or Europe. There was suspicion that the girls, said to be teenagers, were sexually molested before being killed and tossed into the sea.
Early this year, International Organization for Migration (IOM) was quoted to have said that about 521 Africans, comprising Nigerians, Ivorians, Guineans, Senegalese and Gambians, had drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year, an increase of 50 persons compared to the number of Africans who died crossing the Mediterranean to Europe in 2016. IOM said about 19,567 Africans had arrived in Italy after crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Also during the year, about 250 people were feared drowned in the Mediterranean after two partially submerged rubber dinghies were said to have been found off the coast of Libya. Many of the migrants who subjected themselves to these dangerous escapades of escaping from Nigeria were quoted to have said that it was better to die in the Mediterranean than die of hunger and existential maladies of Nigeria. They risk everything to escape their fatherland, selling all they have.
A social scientist, Mhango Nkwazi Nkuzi racialized the problem. Europe is facing the same problem it subjected Africa to when it invaded and colonized Africa in the 17thcentury. History, he said, is repeating itself and the law of reciprocity is raging, he surmised. They once crept into Africa without any passport, crippled her thriving economy and left her culture, history and economy totally destroyed. Our children are doing same to Europe, he said. But does that take away the fact that our leaders are contributing to this calamity by their greed, selfishness and naivety about how to move Nigeria forward to a point where her children are fleeing the country in droves?
To me, I see Nigeria as Matilda and Philemon where our leaders are inflicting a heavy whiplash on us for a God-knows-what infraction that we committed at a particular point of our existence. Because, to be sincere with you, all our problems do not just add up; they sound illogical when placed side by side reality. Beside us are countries that are either picking up from their wayside experiences and are hopeful of a greater tomorrow or are edging towards greatness already. Nigeria is just stagnant and lacking promise.
Why would leaders after leaders continually make Nigeria un-liveable, stashing billions of national patrimony into personal coffers, while millions of their countrymen find no qualms in risking their lives to go live as the cursed of the earth elsewhere? It is a cancerous problem that makes the Matilda and Philemon story a miniature of the Nigerian story. We seem to be, like Alex La Guma wrote in A Walk in the Night, condemned to walk the night in rot, crises and underdevelopment.
Great Lam: A critic remembers
The column, Festus Adedayo’s Flickers in the Tribune was very critical of the government of Alhaji Lamidi Adesina who was Oyo State governor from 1999 to 2003. And Great Lam, as he was fondly called, resented my impudence. Being an ex-columnist himself who fired artillery missiles at chain cigarette-smoking Alhaji Shehu Shagari and military dictators alike, Lam couldn’t stand “that small urchin” weekly throwing barbs at him. And to worsen it, the urchin had chosen the Tribune, a newspaper which belonged to his leader, Obafemi Awolowo, to impugn him.
And the barbs transcended his government. Psychologically diagnosing what ailed his government then, public discourse believed that his wife, Mama Saratu, was too overbearing. Rumours of his children’s exuberance also filled the landscape. Lam was credited with ownership of every springing beautiful house in Ibadan. AndFlickers also joined the binge. It was to the rumour peddlers’ eternal disappointment that, after leaving office, Great Lam returned to the old house he lived at Felele, Ibadan, penurious. The first time his son, the highly well-brought-up Dapo and this writer would be meeting in 2011, the embrace was akin to what would happen day Kim Jong-il and Donald Trump finally abandon saber-rattling and are embracing like they did while signing the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT).
On a visit to this newspaper headquarters at Imalefalafia as governor, everybody advisedFlickers to do obeisance to the hare and flee. Lam would be so miffed that he would order his arrest, everybody concluded. But lo and behold, the Comrade Governor came, shaking the irreverent little fly with excitement. But the barbs did not cease. A few months after, an interview crew left for Agodi to meet Great Lam. Kehinde Olaosebikan, his Press Secretary, on sighting the irreverent on the crew, shouted as if Armageddon had come. But Great Lam merely smiled, granted the interview and asked for a group photo. But the barbs still continued.
So in 2011, Great Lam had taken census of all the urchin’s infractions. The little fly had been nominated by the new governor as one of his aides and was to clear the names with Great Lam, the party leader. “Over my dead body will that saucy boy be in your cabinet,” he had reportedly thundered. But the ‘stubbornness’ of the governor carried the day.
A few months after, as Lam left the Agodi Praying ground, he came to the Government House. He limped as his leg was bad. As he sat, Flickers was literally dragged by his apron to his front. And on all fours, the irreverent little fly did his obeisance. “I don’t know what I did to him, he was always attacking me,” he said. “And can you believe, he worked with one of my best friends in government, Chimaroke Nnamani.” When the Boss said he was always amused to hear people complain that the writer’s pen was always dipped in vitriol, “being a perfect gentleman,” Great Lam’s riposte was prophetic: “God help you if his pen is opposed to you!”
And so, a few weeks before his demise, Olusegun Obasanjo had hit Great Lam in the newspapers, calling him ‘senile.’ Angered by this flak, the little urchin, with pseudonym, had hit the former President back, coming to Great Lam’s rescue in a resounding way. When told the identity of the writer, the old teacher, the Greater Lam, had promptly requested to speak with his nemesis at Agodi Government House. So one afternoon, his aide of several years, Fatai Ibikunle, had hurriedly walked into the writer’s office, handing over his phone, with Lam on the other side. His rambunctious laughter was infectious. “Flickers! Flickers!” he had shouted. He thanked the writer profusely for rescuing him from Obasanjo’s tyrannical babbling. Less than three weeks after, great teacher, great administrator, was gone. He was five years old in the sepulchre yesterday.
Ortom: Our politicians’ autumn of lies
It looks as if Nigerians are in the season where politicians conscript God into their agenda, putting words in his mouth with baffling implications. Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, is leading the pack at the moment. Making a speech when politicians from 13 local councils of the state paid him a courtesy call, Ortom had told them that God had directed him to contest for the gubernatorial seat of the state for a second term. Since we all cannot access God to verify the authenticity or otherwise of this assertion, Ortom and his clowns of this hue often get away with their bombasts and absolutely senseless statements. Where did God tell him this? How come God has never directed anyone in his category never to lick the gubernatorial honeycomb twice? Rather than telling the people that his unquenchable thirst for power had spoken to him to taste the pie once again, Ortom had to push everything to the feet of God. It is the same nonsense from clergymen and their allies who use God to bamboozle us all.
Nasir el-Rufai’s Kaduna has been showing us the dirt that accumulated inside our seemingly elegant cushion chair for decades. Edo under Adams Oshiomhole had earlier shown us a sample of the rot within. After a competency test conducted for teachers, Nigerians were afforded the opportunity of seeing the decomposing nugget in the education sector in Nigeria. Tested in Mathematics, English Language, Social Studies and Current Affairs, questions that were ordinarily set for their pupils, the teachers not only performed woefully, their woeful performance has no comparison. Yet, these same teachers, led by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Ayuba Wabba, had on Wednesday stormed the city of Kaduna in protest, damaging property in tow. Asked the reason for the woeful results, one of the teachers said that people should know that examination was not a true test of knowledge! Since when did this realization come to the teachers?
El-Rufai is a manifestation of the acute arrogance of men entrusted with power in a Third World. This is apparent in his administration of Kaduna State. However, on this score, he has majority of Nigerians behind him. The only other argument is that the rot is the result of the laxity and nepotism of past governments who fill the teaching slots with their names of their unqualified kindred and hangers-on. Wabba and his teachers can go and fill a space in Uranus for all we care. These teachers should go back to selling pepper – where they belong.