A tale of two ‘cities’

This title should remind us of Charles Dickens’s “A tale of two cities”, especially for those of us who are “old school.” To refresh our memory, “A tale of two cities” is an 1859 historical novel set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution of 1789.

Here, Dickens asserted his belief in the possibility of resurrection and transformation on personal as well as societal level. The death of Sydney Carton secures a new, peaceful life for Lucie, Manette, Charles Darnay, and even Carton himself. Applied to our own situation, who – or what – will die for Nigeria’s resurrection and transformation, as it were? Is there still a possibility of Nigeria being saved from itself and against itself? Can we still secure a new, peaceful life for Nigeria and Nigerians or are we too far down the hill?

Dickens’ novel, set against the conditions of France’s “ancien regime” that led to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, told the story of the French Doctor Manette and his 18-year-long imprisonment in the Bastille in Paris; and his eventual release to live in London with his daughter Lucie, whom he had never met. Extrapolated along our own situation, Nigeria has been in much longer “imprisonment” than Manette (since the first military coups of 1966) and our place of imprisonment has progressively grown worse than France’s the Bastille.

After 18 years, Manette was joined to her long-lost daughter and had the opportunity to live happily thereafter, as they say, but when will Nigerians regain their long-lost freedom and liberty and realise their nostalgic yearnings for the el-Dorado of the past? When will Paradise Lost become Paradise Regained? Faced with a bleak future and buffeted on all sides by atrocities of unimaginable proportions, an increasing number of Nigerians have come to the realisation that the period before the coup and counter-coup of 1966 represents the Golden Age of Nigeria – and they crave a return. When will they have within their grasp this object of their adoration?

But the main characters in Nigeria’s tragic-comedy are not set in London or Paris; they are set in the two “cities” of Nigeria’s forests and Government Houses scattered across the country – and the rain started beating us a long time ago! Only we did not know it or we took it for granted in our characteristic, flippant manner of a nation noted for failing to plan. And he who fails to plan, we have been told, plans to fail.

We fly in the face of concrete facts and figures. We saw the clouds but trusted it would not rain. We saw the leopard with our “koro-koro” eyes, as they say, but assured ourselves it was something else we saw. We saw fire but chose to push our hands into it – maybe it is not fire after all! Now, we got burnt and cried inconsolably like the baby in the Ajaka story Mama told me.

Ajaka was a warrior king in my native Owo. To this day, it is said that Ajaka harvested his own child’s head to make a powerful “juju” portion; asked why, when he could have used a thousand heads of slaves, he retorted that others may fail but his own child’s head will not deceive or betray him! One day as he reclined by the fire-place, a child he was carrying on his lap climbed down and crawled towards the fire; aides rushed to carry the baby away into safety but Ajaka forbade them. Wickedness? Maybe not! Ajaka told them: Let the baby discover by himself that the “person” he is going to meet is not a coward! Otherwise, you will keep rescuing him and he will keep insisting on going there. A case of the chick that the owner was trying to protect from the hawk but which complained that its freedom was being curtailed!

The child got to the fire and hesitated. He looked back at Dad and said “Eh”. Ajaka responded “Eh. You will soon see!” After a bit more of hesitation, the child reached out and grabbed a coal of fire! Oh, how he yelled and beat a quick retreat! Ajaka said, didn’t I tell you that the person he was going to dare is not a coward? This must have been a very painful story for that child but no less didactic for you and me. To see is to believe! Experience is the best teacher! The taste of the pudding is in the eating!

Without being allowed to experience – and enjoy! – Muhammadu Buhari, what would you and I be saying today? Jimmy Cliff was right: You were warned but you won’t take it (because) you said it couldn’t happen to you! Now, we are like fish out of water, cry baby and wailing wailers! And so is the Scripture fulfilled: In Rama (Nigeria) was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel (Nigerians) weeping for her (their) children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. (Matthew 2:18).

But the rain started beating us a long time ago, only that, with Buhari, it just does not rain, it pours! Do you still remember Admiral Augustus Akhabue Aikhomu and his nebulous dichotomy between “misappropriation” and “misapplication” of funds? Aikhomu, Chief of Naval Staff, had been elevated into the office of Chief of General Staff vacated by Ebitu Ukiwe. Ukiwe would not accept, stomach or stand the effrontery and indiscipline exhibited by the then Chief of Army Staff, Sani Abacha, who bluntly refused to defer to Ukiwe as the Number Two to self-styled military president, Ibrahim Babangida.

A military administrator had been accused of embezzlement of funds. The evidence adduced appeared so glaring, so incontrovertible, and so incontestable. Babangida asked Aikhomu to investigate. The CGS returned a verdict that the funds in question were “misapplied”, not “misappropriated”! End of story!

We heard from Jonathan that stealing is not corruption! Of course, not all corruption is stealing. Moral depravity is corruption but may not involve financial malfeasance. For instance, Buhari’s nepotistic savagery is corruption. And for presiding over the most corrupt, most incompetent, and most clueless government in Nigeria’s history, Buhari is culpable. The buck, we all know, stops on his desk.

Nigeria is a queer country producing queer leaders and people: Birds of a feather? The followership lay prostrate; inertia wouldn’t let them fight or demand for their rights. The youths who stirred and tried to break away from the indolent tradition and slavish mentality were callously, mindlessly, brutally, and bestially mowed down @ENDSARSNOW.

Like a fish, Nigeria rots from the head! To cover up their atrocities; to further deceive the people, and to further tighten the noose, they came up with “CHANGE starts with you (the people) hype”! It does not! Little wonder, then, that it did not fly but suffered stillbirth! CHANGE starts with the leaders after which “We, the People” can follow!

Leadership here is either brazen or chameleonic. The one hardly pretends. The other makes diligent efforts at cover up. You may have heard of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” – a folk tale added to the “One Thousand and One Nights” in the 18th century by its French translator, Antoine Galland.

Ali Baba, a poor woodcutter, secretly watched as 40 thieves hid away their booty in a cave, the door to which can only be opened by the verbal command of “Open, Sesame”. Ali Baba later used this magic phrase to steal riches from the cave and lived a prosperous life thereafter! Is Ali Baba a thief? This is a classical case of what the Yoruba described as “Ole gbe; ole gba!. One thief steals, another thief in turn steals from the original thief!

Many of Nigeria’s thieves have not only learnt from Ali Baba, they have also improved upon and perfected his style. Some still use caves and other archaic methods to hide away their heist – some use graves in cemeteries these days! Others use coded, Swiss bank and off-shore accounts all over the world. The tragedy of Nigeria is that its thieves are innumerable – and not just 40. And I can bet they are more avaricious than Ali Baba and the 40 thieves.

Nigeria’s thieves steal not just the country but also its future. By the time they are done, there will be nothing left of Nigeria for Nigerians! Their mind-boggling corruption apart, the various Frankenstein monsters created by them have turned into non-state actors that the State itself can no longer forcibly contain but must now appease. And from what we learnt from Adolf Hitler’s example, appeasement postpones the evil day and makes the eventual cost more prohibitive.

It is ironic and unfortunate at the same time that our tragedies have been self-inflicted. When we would have curbed Boko Haram, Buhari and his ilk played politics with a sensitive security issue and would not let us! Remember, Buhari and many Northern leaders said to Jonathan that an attack on Boko Haram was an attack on the North! Now that the chickens have come home to roost, who is suffering the consequences the most? Yes, the country is losing resources and our young, vibrant men are dying in droves in the war against the insurgents but the theatre of war is the North itself. If I may ask, is an attack on Boko Haram still an attack on the North?

Buhari and other Northern leaders’ approach to the murderous Fulani herdsmen’s rampage all over the country conclusively proves that the leopard does not change its skin. But as with Boko Haram, they will regret their unholy alliance with the Fulani herdsmen in the fullness of time.

Enter the bandits! Sheikh Abubakar Gumi says bandits are not criminals but freedom fighters! In a sense, he is right; only he has not been able to explain himself with clarity. In Nigeria today, we have two sets of bandits – those who occupy the seats of power and those who occupy the forests. The forest bandits took up arms because of the excesses of the bandits in power. Seeing that it was the monopoly of the instruments of violence (SARS, Kill-and-Go; military, etc) that gave the bandits in power the control they wield over everyone else, the forest bandits not only decided to take up arms but also acquired sophisticated arms that now give them the cutting edge in their competition with the bandits in power.

 The forest bandits are business-like and focused and, as such, they ride the competition. The more money they make from ransoms, etc, the more investment they make into more sophisticated weaponry and recruitment drive. The bandits in power are so corrupt, lazy, and laidback that they cannot even equip and motivate their own fighting force. They vote humongous sums of money for the war effort; but they chop the money!

Now that the emboldened and battle-ready forest bandits are daring the bandits in power, the latter is considering that the most reasonable line of action may be to negotiate and make concessions. This is a desideratum necessitated by the present balance of forces – and the prognosis for the future is not in any way encouraging.

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