Allegory of the talking bird and Nigeria’s zero quality of mercy
A couple of weeks ago in Abuja, a medical doctor, Daniel Eitokpah, had attempted to revive one Arowosaiye, said to be a gospel artist with the Redeemed Christian Church of God, who had just hanged himself. Eitokpah, a guest in the neighbourhood, had been alerted to the scene by shouts of Arowosaiye committing suicide and had sprinted there, in honour of his Hippocratic Oath. The man, who had embraced the cowardly act of escapism from the troubles of this world, rather than face them like a valiant, however died while Eitokpah was performing his medical acts of resuscitation. Trust men of the Nigerian Police; he was arrested and was on the verge of being arraigned for murder when a replay of the CCTV at the scene of the crime exonerated him. Asked if he would ever help anyone again, he was quoted to have said, “I have spoken to many of my colleagues after this and the advice they gave me was, ‘Daniel, this is Nigeria. When you see something happening, just keep walking.’”
In African traditional society, we were bathed at birth with the water of mercy and our tender bodies rubbed with camwood of empathy. In folklores, mores and tales by the moonlight, we were pleasantly indoctrinated on the gains that awaited the merciful and the damnation that will attend the evil-doer. Because of how closely-knit our societies were, in a twinkle of an eye and right before them, the people witnessed the prosperity of the kind and their children’s children and the ruins that the homesteads of the cruel, wicked compatriots became. Not only were the indoctrinations targeted at the human being, we were taught to have mercy on inanimate objects as well.
Late Dauda Epo Akara, Yoruba Awurebemusic exponent and a notable musician who deployed anecdotes in his music as a vehicle for spreading the mores of traditional Africa, sang songs that were redolent with the unimpeachable benefits accruable from showing mercy. In Yi ese re si apa kan (turn your feet from matching it), Dauda told the tale of one farmer in ancient Yoruba society who had a son notorious for hunting birds with his catapult. One day, both father and son decided to head for the farm very early in the morning. As they trekked the long lonely route to the hinterland, the son saw a seemingly garrulous but big bird perching on a tree and making disturbing coos across the forest. He stopped, brought out his sling, affixed a big stone to it and was on the verge of firing a sling shot when his father intervened.
Pleadingly, the old farmer asked the son not to kill this bird as “the gods who created you also created this hapless little bird you are about to kill.” Dejected at an animal for roast his father had just taken off his dinner menu, the sharp sling shooter lowered his catapult, even as both father and son proceeded to the hinterland. Hours after, as the farmer and his son laboriously dug mounds of heaps, this flippant bird reappeared on a tree by the farmstead’s aisle and started talking like a man. Here, you are reminded of the three little birds at Bob Marley’s doorstep (in Exodus album), with their message of redemption, singing sweet songs and their melody soft and good. So the Epo Akara bird thanked the old farmer for appealing to his son not to kill him earlier in the morning. As a recompense for the mercy he had on him, said the bird, right on the tree that he perched on laid bags of money which he was bequeathing to the old farmer. According to that inspiring anecdote, the old farmer and his son went home with sacks of money and the household became wealthy and prosperous. Epo ended this song by pleading,kokoro ti n rin n’ile, monmon da won loro mon; that is, even the ants and all the inanimate objects crawling on the floor should enjoy man’s quality of mercy.
By the early 1970s Nigeria, this preachment of mercy had begun to be tampered with in so many ways. Modernity had emerged as the albatross of the traditional African society. Hard work had begun to receive very serious lashings, with successive military takeovers, the first of which was hatched in 1966. Petro dollars were painting the dais in red and it was no longer fashionable to slavishly spend donkey hours in the farm watching your cocoa seeds dry. Right there in the city, you could pluck the scarce Nigerian Naira by the electricity pole. So an unprecedented traffic from the hinterland to the urban centres began. Young girls couldn’t see the merit of dirtying their tender legs marching mounds of palm-kernels at the local palm oil refinery in the farm. They could hit the jackpot at the discotheque if they had the luck of a sybaritic Army Major, a glowing stick of cigar by his left hand and a morgue-cold bottle of Top Lager beer by the right, felt their mound-like backsides with his adulterous palms. He would deck the lady’s luscious buttocks with crisp Naira notes. If she was lucky enough to spend the night with him at the Officers’ Mess, she would go home with enough to eat for the next few weeks. So the migration from the village to the city became unprecedentedly high. A rat race for the ancillary benefits of modernity equally gradually began to creep in. Dogs started to eat dogs and fowls began to eat one another’s entrails. Modernity brought the unspoken creed of survival-of-the-fittest and elimination-of-the-weakest. And our fountain of mercy, nourished and nurtured by centuries of folklores, mores and tales by the moonlight, began to recede.
Ebenezer Obey, singing in Ketekete (Donkey),interrogated the elasticity of this newfound concept of mercy in Nigeria. He put in perspective the dilemma of the Nigerian U-turn from the variant of mercy that prevailed before the Nigerian civil war. Father and son rode on a lone donkey on a journey and each time they took decisions on whether to both ride the donkey, father alone to ride the donkey; son alone to ride the donkey; or even no one riding the donkey at all, in deference to the need to have mercy, either on the donkey, his son or even himself, he confronted the existential dilemma of his decision. Obey concluded by submitting that anyone who attempted to base his life on pleasing/having mercy on the world was in for a shock.
Since then, the quality of mercy of the average Nigerian has tilted to the precipice. No one takes pity on the other person any longer. Our sense of communality that the West envied crumbled gradually in our very before. Things fell apart and we hankered after the individualism of the West. Modernity and its attendant woes forcibly yanked us from our erstwhile sense of community. The Nigerian police’s lazy policing where there is scant attempt to investigate criminal allegations, its fixation on seeing every crime scene as potential opportunity to collect bribe from “suspects,” have worsened this downward swing in the ability to have mercy on a fellow Nigerian in distress. Your neighbor is in critical pain in the night and you shut your mind off it; you see a man gasping for breath by the sidewalks and you quickly walk past; a man is waving your near-empty car for a hitch-hike by the roadside and you drive past without a whimper, etc, etc. “What if… what if… he dies and the police claim I killed him?” we ask ourselves. We have got to that critical intersection that South Africa got to in the wee days of Apartheid where the people, having seen so much death, pain, sorrow and blood, became so toughened that they lost every tendency and capacity for empathy and sympathy. This is why today, torching a man is as simple as ABC in beloved South Africa. The people’s hearts are scorched by the fire of hate of Apartheid. Today too, blood of mercy no longer runs in the veins of the average Nigerian.
For how long shall we continue this way? How can we escape from this dilemma of existence? No Nigerian is his brother’s keeper any longer. The economic strains have further squeezed the last pints of blood of humanity from our bloodstream, leaving in us mere languidly walking mummies on the streets with zero human feeling.
Now that APC wants to show Oshio the gate…
Whenever, if ever, All Progressives Congress (APC) decides to do a critical stocktaking of its electoral and political fare, especially in the 2019 general elections, it will find out, to its chagrin, that its choice of Adams Oshiomhole as chairman of the party in June, 2018 was its most fatal decision ever. Suave and slippery like an eel, Oshiomhole has the capacity to mouth-crush his adversary without the other party knowing. Possessing scant academic certificates, he is however endowed with an oratory skill that a demagogue will envy. In his eel capacity, Oshio can meander into the stoniest of hearts in a jiffy, penetrating all the erected barricades therein without giving notice to the janitor of the heart. This, as well as his gift of the garb, apparently got him this far. When Oshiomhole the unionist stood on the dais, his fist clenched like in an Amandla salute and his stony demeanor like that of Sango, the Yoruba god of thunder, Oshiomhole approximates the resolve of a labour leader who was ready to confront governmental rascality headlong. Rumour had it that Oshio, by so doing, wore the apparel of a hard kernel to crack for governments in the day but at nocturnes, removed this veil and wore his real apparel of the infamous biblical Gehazi.
The gift of the garb that Oshiomhole is remarkable with is however his most striking albatross. In approximately one year of his being APC chairman, he has used that same gift to tear the party asunder in a way that it may never recover from. The blows of Oshiomhole’s perfunctory mouth recklessness have rendered the party fabrics with gaping holes. In virtually all the states where APC needlessly lost senatorial, gubernatorial elections in the last elections, Oshiomhole’s unenviable imprints loom large. It was either he threw his most luminous ego at the issues bedeviling the party or he constructed an artificial pipe that linked his insatiable appetite with the problem in the state. Even as labour leader, Oshiomhole built a wondrous mansion in his Iyamho home which, in a country that lays store by scrutiny, should naturally lead to questions.
The problem isn’t strictly Oshiomhole’s but that of a political party like APC which doesn’t conduct its affairs according to the dictates of science. Scientific politicking demands that no step is taken in a political party administration without first examining it critically. While concluding that John Odigie-Oyegun, erstwhile APC chairman, would be shown the gate, APC subjected itself to an artificial tidal wave in the party that was borne of someone’s irritable disgust with Odigie-Oyegun, more than his incapacity. Odigie-Oyegun was deboned, sliced, garnished, roasted and packaged for the trash can uncritically and his replacement was also uncritically determined, in a manner that will later haunt the party. It is murmured that Oshiomhole cleverly and serpentinely wired the marionette that danced as Odigie-Oyegun was shoved out of office.
Bola Tinubu, the man who would be Nigerian President in 2023 – pardon the pun – simply hated the guts of Odigie-Oyegun, a man with whom he was in the trenches in NADECO jungle where the bone-crushing lions of the Sani Abacha government roared menacingly, seeking whom to devour. This writer, as a reporter, covered Tinubu, Odigie-Oyegun and others’ arrival in Nigeria one Sunday afternoonin Frank Kokori’s Lagos home in 1998. At that meeting was also Dan Suleiman, Bolaji Akinyemi, Tokunbo Afikuyomi and a few others. Everybody shared the bottles of groundnuts that Kokori could offer the new arrivals. Why did that bond, forged at the smithy of dedication to a cause, not strong enough to continue to wedge Odigie-Oyegun to Tinubu, but was jettisoned by a latter-day romance with Oshiomhole, the sleek unionist?
If APC were critical, scientific and purposeful in the choice of a replacement for Odigie-Oyegun in 2018, it would have discovered that Oshiomhole was not an able replacement. Oshiomhole lacks the political temperament, capacity for self-restraint and the taciturnity needed by a leader of a party that is in government. From Imo to Oyo, Ondo to Ogun, to Zamfara, Kwara to Bauchi, Adamawa to Benue and Sokoto to Gombe, even though in many of these states, APC candidates won elections, the political enmity, division and divisiveness that Oshiomhole’s flippant tongue left in the party in those states make the victories pyrrhic. Opposition parties only need to harvest the flakes of anger left on the trail of elections in those states, put their houses in order and the badly placed stacks of cards that Oshiomhole’s National Working Committee (NWC) erected will fall yakata.
There is said to be a push for Oshiomhole’s removal among a caucus of APC. The push is founded on the gross losses recorded by the party under the tip of the nose of Oshiomhole within the last one year of his administration. Aside his incapacity to string two jolly ropes together, Oshiomhole is consumed of an incandescent temperament that can upset an apple-cart and untwine two jointly tied ropes. Already, his huge ego, bottomless appetite and dictatorial inclinations have set him on a collision course with his anointed son and current governor of his Edo State home, Obaseki. He has set spineless emissaries out who vowed to give the governor the Lagos’ Akinwunmi Ambode Treatment at the next polls. If you add this to his tempestuous administration of Edo for eight years, his unfeeling quip at the woman on the streets of Benin City to “go and die!” and his well-known capacity to dissemble, APC had no business with Adams in the first place.
Whether or not APC wakes up from its slumber and shows Oshiomhole the gate is its own kettle of fish, as the ancient cliché says. What APC is not permitted to do however is to continue to set the country on periodic political fire each time its faulty decisions lead to the natural encore of mutual recriminations, animosities and anger within the party.