One of my favourite channels on the DSTV is the Animal World channel called National Geographic. I am fascinated by the process of how wild animals capture their preys; how a boa constrictor strings itself round a crocodile, for example, muffles life out of it and begins the slow process of swallowing the hapless prey. Fast-forward to another scene: the lion is shown looking very worried, apparently starving. He had ostensibly foraged the forest for a meal for the whole day and couldn’t get any. And, all of a sudden, a group of impalas, with their beautiful furs and long horns, stroll into view. Gradually, the lion strategizes: he does not aim for all of them. As he throttles out in a jump, he aims for one of the impalas, and he mows it down while the others scamper into safety. He pierces his big incisors into its jugular and cuts the throat asunder. Satisfied, he surveys the environment with a magisterial self-satisfaction. And now, he begins to skewer the flesh with a menacing methodology.
A very interesting and instructive scenario played out between the American government and the Taliban some years ago. At the centre of that drama was Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a US soldier in the Iraq/Afghanistan war. Bergdahl had been held captive by the Taliban for about five years and he was indeed the last of the American soldiers held captive during the war. One bright morning during his reign, President Barack Obama, the symbol of American sovereignty, had telephoned Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl, parents of Bowe and told them pointedly that their son would be released that day as America had entered into a swap deal with Afghan authorities, in exchange for five Afghan detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Ordinarily, as the street lingo says, there is no big deal in securing the release of prisoners and there is also no cause to lose sleep over a trans-national negotiation. But what strikes at the core of anyone’s excitement is the investment of national emotions, patriotism and the national dedication that went into the release of the young soldier. After the government of Qatar helped broker the release, Obama had said at the White House Rose Garden, “While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten.” National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, also said America never leaves her people behind.
I have asked myself repeatedly whether Nigeria would go that whole hog for anyone, any of its citizens, no matter how precarious their situation is. I have latched on to the benefit of the hindsight repeatedly to scavenge for precedents of Nigeria’s intervention in the lives of a Nigerian in distress. What I found was either too sparse or too insignificant to be called a national character or national behavioural pattern to a national in distress.
The Nigerian national character is that the nation bothers seldom about the fate of its nationals. The impression many Nigerians have of Nigeria is one huge behemoth that exists for all and for nobody in particular. Once you are not up there or you do not have leverage to the people at the top, you are done for in the Nigerian national configuration. Several of our nationals are languishing in jails all over the world today for offences that border on collective disparagement on our African skin. Kris Imodibie (my senior in the department of Philosophy, University of Lagos, whose death got me into journalism – that’s a story for another day!) and Tayo Awotunsin were murdered by Charles Taylor in the 1990s mainly because of the latter’s disdain for the Nigerian nation and the titular Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida. The duo were killed not because they were Tayo and Kris but because they hailed from a country that the brute Charles just couldn’t stomach.
This is one major reason Nigeria is seen as one humongous heap which everyone must hit and tease out enough chunk of meat to last them for a lifetime. Nobody is ready to go through privation for Nigeria, nor is anyone willing to die for Nigeria. You must have heard the refrain ‘Nigeria is not worth dying for.’ The converse is the case in developed countries of the world. Those countries are devotees of that Christ’s quote that He is the good shepherd who, when He loses one of His sheep, would leave the rest and wander about to save the life of the missing heifer. Nigeria does not care, nor is she bothered about her lost sheep. Her rulers are too engrossed in voyeuristic self-glorifications to bother about the lives of small fries who make up the nation. With this, we brew children and nationals who are not only diffident of Nigeria but are ready to circumvent or even extort Nigeria for their individual or kin elevation.
When such a nation gets unqualified patriotism from its national, the chemistry would no doubt appear complex and incomprehensible to Nigerians who are sired by a nation whose relationship with us is one of a slave and its captor; a hostile jungle where the lion eats the impala for supper. In retaliation, each individual – the miserable and neglected impala – now seeks independence and life for themselves outside of Nigeria by seeking to have the Nigerian lion for supper. It is such a survival-of-the-fittest and a games reserve situation where everybody cultivates methods of their survival in a very big hostile jungle.
Several of our soldiers have been killed in wars without compensation. Thousands of other soldiers have been killed in Boko Haram wars and other insurgencies with their families miserable and downcast. The fat-tummy Generals with corrupt epaulettes on their shoulders get richer by the day from blood-dripping contracts of supply of ammunition and other military equipment.
In the 1960s, Nigeria’s national character was protective of and sympathetic to its nationals. Many got scholarships and were trained by the Nigerian state. These beneficiaries of the largesse of the Nigerian state emerge therefrom to be great patriots, seeking to recompense the state of her good. Today, Nigeria is absent from the lives of all. So she should endure the callous disdain with which we hold her and how our impala seek to roast the lion for supper.
Will someone tell Rotimi to stop weeping on my rooftop?
(First published in the Tribune, 2014)
Having recently lost his daughter, Iyetade in the city of Ibadan during the week, (my condolences, please) the crime of having one of his early literary works plagiarized may be an insult upon injury if I didn’t ask for Professor Wole Soyinka’s go-ahead. The above headline is a parody of the opening paragraph of Soyinka’s Interpreters, an unapparent reference to a downpour that was hitting the roof of one of the characters in the book, Sagoe. Sagoe had actually retorted, “Can someone ask God to stop weeping on my rooftop?”
Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, has won tremendous goodwill in the last one year or thereabout. But for the fact that Nigeria is an un-statistical country, it would have been easy to measure, in clear terms, Amaechi’s climb from the provincial governor that he was before the spat he had with Goodluck Jonathan and wife, to a governor whose words count on the Nigerian landscape. Before his travails in the hands of the federal government, Amaechi was just one of the governors in the country plotting the graph of his survival.
Nothing about him rang bell. Or, didn’t it? Well, here was a 1987 holder of a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Studies and Literature from the University of Port Harcourt and who rose through dint of hard work and the spidery weave of human course by nature, to become Speaker of the Rivers House of Assembly and governor of the state. Being a graduate of English, Amaechi probably had his fascination for literature and the high octave level of drama that goes with it. He understands the power of drama to get across views and perspectives. This no doubt explains why drama and communication of grouse play major roles in the character of the Rivers governor.
And Amaechi began to employ the instrument of theatre and drama again. Almost on a daily basis, Rotimi was on the front pages of newspapers, karating, elbowing and spewing venom like a bad-tempered rattlesnake. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was his target, as well as his femme fatale – destructive female. There is hardly a day you open your newspaper that you do not see one jab or the other from the Rivers governor to the First Family. Or on television, in company with his fellow cruisers on the APC boat, with Amaechi dancing Otuaka Chineke… Agidima o… and twirling like an urchin promised a wrap of marijuana if he plays the fool.
In this enterprise, Amaechi is becoming too voluble and less calculative, making Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan to begin to garner people’s sympathy and Rotimi becoming an insolent little brat in their estimation. Right now, Amaechi’s volubility is frittering away his sympathizers, especially when he gets to hammer the PDP which he had been in cahoots with for about fourteen years now. Since when did the PDP become distasteful? When it rose against the drama buff, Amaechi? But the party had always been an angel, a la the Ikwerre boy! Since when did the oil wells in Port-Harcourt get ceded to Bayelsa and Abia which necessitated Amaechi’s grouse against the Amanayabo? Was it recently? How come we never heard of this grouse until Amaechi became the subject of attack of the presidency?
Rotimi Amaechi’s voluble recounts in the media are becoming as sickening to us as the rain was to that Soyinka cast who asked God to stop weeping on his rooftop.
Today, August 24, 2018, the voluble Amaechi, now Minister of Transport, is however very silent, in spite of the rumbles in the APC and the cloning of his rebellion in the PDP by his fellow 2013 travellers. What could have gone wrong?
Gramsci’s handshake Oyo refused
I was a guest of postgraduate students of the University of Ibadan’s Department of Communication and Language Arts last Thursday. Desirous of marrying the various theories they had received about media and communication, I had been asked to give a talk to the students on handling government’s media portfolio, given my experience in Enugu and Oyo States and perhaps, my doctoral in political communication.
If any one of the students wanted to subsequently follow the thorny path of being a political person’s publicist, my talk must have dampened their morale. The job of publicists to politically exposed persons is a thankless job and one where you have to bite bullets repeatedly. They asked me such questions as the effect of sycophancy of governmental aides in policies and escalation of crises, among others. What took the largest chunk of our time was however dwellings on the recent tiff between gospel crooner, Yinka Ayefele and the Oyo State government. If I were the handler of the government’s media, what would I have done differently in the process that led to the eventual demolition of the musician’s broadcasting outfit, they asked and what would I have done in the mitigation of the image of government which had suffered colossal salvoes from all over the world?
I referred them to my piece last week. No government can ever win any war with the media. In all governments I served, that was my preachment, no matter how cowardly I was perceived. In dealing with the media, I was a student of Antonio Francesco Gramsci, Italian Marxist philosopher and communist politician jailed in 1926 by fascist Mussolini and who in prison wrote the famous Prison Notebook wherein he espoused the theory of hegemony.
You could seize the heart of a people without firing a single shot of gun, so says Gramsci. I gave instances that are in the public domain about my strides in government in time past which confirmed my firm belief that bellicosity isn’t the path to tread by government. My conclusion: what is lawful may not be expedient and what is expedient may not be lawful and that laws are made for man and not man for law.
Not only did the state government put the cart before the horse, sealing up Music House would have been more logical while it waits for compliance with rules. Government’s name has suffered immense bashes all over the world via the bad press generated by the demolition and this slur on its name may never be redeemed, in spite of its spirited attempt to mend it by having a rapprochement with Ayefele. A potent power is one that is held in abeyance and not the one that is wielded like an encore. One who canvasses a handshake with Gramsci isn’t necessarily a pacifist. Ending my over 3-hour talk with the students and lecturers who found my yaks fascinating, I told them that eventually, the same government that had been mouthing law and order as reason for the demolition would soon tread the path of expediency due to this global bash of its name. The next day, it did by simulating a Fela Anikulapo-Kuti/Justice Okoro-Idogwu he don beg me scenario.
Jailed for having in his possession the sum of ‘£1600 and tried by Okoro-Idogwu, Fela sought public sympathy by saying the judge was contrite for sentencing him.