I took a break from letting the Nigerian tragedy run my life when my family doctor told me to take things easy after my last comprehensive check-up. Watch the cholesterol, he had said. Now, I couldn’t blame Nigeria for that. My poundo, peppersoup, and French wine diet and low gym regiment were to blame. But when the doctor said to also take it easy on other fronts, I knew that the only other source of permanent stress, restlessness, and peripatetic headaches is the colossal failure that is Nigeria and the number of hours that this man-made tragedy eats up daily in my life. Stop worrying and thinking daily about Nigeria’s rulers, all irresponsible political rapists who have turned Africa’s best hope to the most embarrassing open sore of the black race; stop worrying about the complicit, ever-enduring followership which allows this to happen, and all other things shall be added unto you on the medical front. So I told myself.
The Oba of Benin availed me of a soft exit from public discourse. I could laugh, not cry, as I quit the scene of commentary. As I slammed the door shut on column writing for Sahara Reporters, Premium Times, and Daily Times; as I withdrew from daily reflections on the Nigerian tragedy on my Facebook Wall, my very last glimpse of Nigeria – the image that stood out – was thankfully not of the latest additions to Boko Haram’s body count. The last image was not of charred bodies and decimated bones on our permanently famished and voracious roads. The last image, at my point of exit, was of President Jonathan’s lonely and pathetic mien on the guest seat at the reception room of the Oba of Benin. Beside him, the empty seat of the host who snubbed him. There must be something with this president and aloneness on critical stages, I thought. A precursor to the vaudeville in the Oba’s palace in Benin is the image of the president, splendidly lost and alone on a stage, debating himself after dodging Muhammadu Buhari, Nuhu Ribadu, and Ibrahim Shekarau.
The gods are wise. The gods are not to blame. The gods are not like Nigerians because they have memory and they make very good use of it. That is why they advised the Oba of Benin to snub President Jonathan. The gods remembered that a little over a century ago, one of the Oba of Benin’s illustrious predecessors, Ovoramwen Nogbaisi, had very unpleasant dealings with the ancestor of the Nigerian state – the colonial apparatus. For Oba Nogbaisi, contact with the colonial apparatus was a disaster. We need not get into details here but colonial power eventually organized the so-called punitive expedition and sacked Oba Nogbaisi. He died in exile in Calabar. Significantly in 1914 – when the nightmare called Nigeria was born.
The gods have a funny way of making connections between things. They know that the Nigerian state is a mere successor to the colonial state. The know that the criminals running the Nigerian state are just black Nigerian criminals who replaced the white English criminals who ran the show until October 1, 1960. The gods understood that President Jonathan is merely the current rung of a continuum stretching all the way to the sacking of Benin under Nogbaisi. Not another visit by a state that only brings calamities and locusts! So, they reminded the current Oba of Benin what happened the last time the state came calling! Pastor Tunde Bakare had also not helped matters by issuing a statement on the destiny of President Jonathan.
Pastor Bakare was more gracious to President Jonathan than Sophocles had been to Oedipus or Ola Rotimi had been to King Odewale. While Sophocles and Rotimi destined their respective heroes to kill their fathers and sleep with their mothers, Pastor Bakare destined the shoeless one from Otuoke to bankrupt and balkanize Nigeria. The Oba of Benin, warned by the gods and sensitized by Pastor Bakare, was determined not to allow the “alejo tulasi” (uninvited guest) invade his palace with that horrible destiny so the monarch held a rapid dialogue with his legs, sending the spirit of bankruptcy and balkanization back to sender in Otuoke.
I had a good laugh as I mentally processed the intermesh between history, literature, and the presidential snub in Benin and resolved to end my self-imposed exile from public commentary only when Nigeria gives me just one good news – just one teeny-weeny good news to cheer. Just one thing to gladden the heart! When in search of good news from Nigeria, you have to be prepared to be content with the minutest crumb. In the extremely unlikely situation that you end up getting a half-good news from or about Nigeria, you dare not play Oliver Twist. You dare not ask for more. You dare not push it.
Daily, I would peep into the flow of news from Nigeria, hoping for the crumb, the half-good news that would make me end my exile. I was rewarded daily with the Sisyphean predictability of tragedies, heartbreak, sorrow, tears, and blood in Goodluck Jonathan’s Nigeria. While I was away, the President grew dumber, his cabinet grew sillier, the followership grew either more helpless or more complicit in allowing Nigeria’s irresponsible rulers make such a terrible mess of our lives. While I was away, our roads grew hungrier, eating loads of corpses daily. While I was away, Boko Haram began to take itself seriously as a potential competitor with the body count in Hitler’s concentration camps or Stalin’s gulags. They killed scores of citizens and killed those who had gone to mourn and bury them, including a Senator. They are still killing.
Still I waited for the elusive good news. I thought I’d gotten it with the announcement of the first female Chief Justice but I should have known that this is Nigeria. I was still digesting that news, weighing whether to categorize it as the one good news that would make me come out of my self-imposed exile, when news came from Port Harcourt that we have paid another heavy prize for the visionlessness and sheer uselessness of Nigeria’s rulers in ALL branches of government. Ninety-five innocent compatriots were roasted in one of those utterly avoidable accidents. I was dealing with that trauma when news also came that Patience Jonathan had been appointed a Permanent Secretary in absentia by Seriake Dickson, the sycophantic buffoon imposed by President Jonathan as Governor of Bayelsa state. I have written elsewhere that Orangutans are better envisioners of Orangutan society than Nigeria’s rulers are of Nigerian society. A friend criticized me at the time. I hope that the combination of President Jonathan, Patience Jonathan, Seriake Dickson, and what they are doing with/to Bayelsa state will convince my friend that Orangutans would never do such to Orangutan society.
As I considered the situation yesterday, it became clear to me that waiting for just one good news from or about Nigeria before ending my vacation from public discourse has begun to transform me into a relative of that fellow in the Yoruba proverb who elects residence at the bank of a river in the vain hope that he would witness the siesta of a crab. Atisun akan! The sweet sleep of a crab! Waiting for it has transformed that proverbial fellow into a permanent resident of the river bank. Waiting for good news from Nigeria is waiting for atisun akan, the snoring of a crab. I have decided to part ways with the fellow in that proverb. I quit the riverbank! I’m back.