A GRUELLING SEASON OF BLOOD SPLITTING: Interregnum or Mistaken Governance?
“Time like this tries men souls” so says Thomas Paine; an American political activist and author of Common Sense and Right of Man. With unbridled fervor, I love and admire that Thomas Paine’s book title. Perhaps because I know very well that good governance thrives on application of commonsense to effectively protect the rights of man. Except God, the omnipotent and omniscient no earthling man is infallible. But where there is unbroken ineptitude in governance the rights of man are often trampled upon with the jackboot of the powerful; and humanity is thus endangered. There is tragedy in comedy, and comedy in tragedy. Dateline was the twentieth day of the tenth month in the year twenty-twenty. A day’s date that sounds so smooth and rhythmic. A unique date of unpleasant fate.
Hear it: “Twenty-Ten-Twenty-Twenty.” A hitherto lovable date, but which ironically turned eerie; a harbinger of unevenness and oddity. We had expected the date to be a red-letter day when our youths girded up their loins to unanimously seek freedom and liberty. After all, lean liberty is better than fat slavery. Erroneously, the world had thought our youths were reticent. We had thought they were complacent. Perhaps there is a philosophical lesson to learn about this peculiar date. And here is it: When everything seems even, man needs more reasoning and extra caution. Take caution when the road seems smooth without impediments; for a disaster might be lurking ahead around the sharp corner. On this date that Nigerians may never forget to remember, danger and death were looming, but no one smelled any death knell.
Poetic songs seeking freedom from oppression rented the airwaves at the controversial Lagos Lekki Toll Gate of exploitation, where vehicle owners must still part with huge toll fees to pass through; either going to or fro - even after paying all dues to procure their vehicle papers. But sheer ineptitude of few arrogant men in military camouflage of deception and toga of brutality spontaneously transmuted the sonorous chorus of a peaceful protest songs into an odious sombre elegy; thus pushing the already beleaguered people of a nation languishing in hunger and squalor into greater anguish and despair. Death on the streets. Death in the homes. Death at the farms. Death in the churches and the mosques. Death everywhere! Unless there is an interregnum, the basic responsibility of any government is security of lives and properties. In Nigeria of today, having security is a mirage.
Oh! What a day of sorrow! “Twenty-Ten-Twenty-Twenty” - a rhythmically sound date with alliterative and poetic effect; but which brought utter oddity that rattled our collective psyche. The date that yet more innocent Nigerian youths blood was spilled by men constitutionally billed to protect, but who chose to snuff out precious lives in a fraction of second with hot bullets. We groan in pain on the dastardly act of a national security outfit that can never create even a single strand of human hair in a lifetime, but can destroy it within a blink of an eye. Often done with thoughtlessness and bravado of un-informed men in uniform, just a soft pull of the trigger! . . . and God’s marvelous creations fell flat on the street; while our great, talented youths - often placated with “our tomorrow leaders” cliché and grandiloquent speeches by the sit-tight slumbering politicians - are sent into the graveyard untimely.
Oh! Nothing works in a country that revels in oddities. Even with their trusted National flag being waved to show altruism and patriotic zeal toward their beloved country, the non-rampaging and unarmed youths were still shot alongside the flags they bore, now enmeshed with their own blood flying away from their lifeless limbs. And so, other fellow protesters with palpitated heart and amazement scampered for safety; while many of them may nurse the fatality of their injuries for ever. My heart goes to the families of the loved ones who died on the ill-fated October 20, 2020 date. The avoidable death of these innocent souls is so painful and heart crushing. May God uphold the bereaved families.
Yes. Our learned lawyers would chant “Du minimis non curat lex” because law does not take account of trifles. Though, a controvertible maxim whose truism I find inexplicable, especially due to exploration and examination of every minute details of facts which law often seeks to espouse, to arrive at plausible decision on every knotty and brainstorming issue. On the contrary, I am most certain that journalism - the constituency to which I inexorably belong, takes account of trifles. In journalism, every minute detail matters, be it in news, story, bar gossip, information; even in a mere by-line. Indeed, from what is often considered a minute detail, a perspicacious journalist often gets his scoop. The scoop, no matter how negligible, is a fact around which a perceptive journalist builds his story.
And here is my scoop for this subject: I recall that one of my most loved newspaper features during my lecturing career was entitled: “When a Giant Sleeps”. Written for the Nigerian Tribune edition of May 14, 1996, it was one of my works encouraged by an ebullient lad and a seasoned journalist whose love and devotion for excellence always pummeled me to write and write then. His name is Wale-Ojo Lanre, an unrepentant workaholic idealist imbued with passion to support every noble cause aimed at pulling others up from the doldrums. A very down-to-heart lad with ingenious thinking, Wale keeps being in the vanguard of elevating our Nigeria’s hitherto comatose tourism & hospitality industry to enviable heights of honour. A story for another day.
I had averred in that piece that when a giant sleeps, he snores. Like the presumptuous, power-wielding Mr. Goliath was conquered by the diminutive and derided David, thus ending himself and his empty pride in the cesspit of eternal disgrace, a giant often believes far much more in his physical strength than application of common sense. Until subdued and vanquished by the dwarf and the Lilliputian, he reveled in empty pride. I recall the legendary Jimmy Cliff’s lyrics. He sang his reggae message in soulful tone: “Foolish pride . . . will bring you emptiness. Foolish pride will bring you sadness . . .” A presumptuous man is pigheaded. He is impervious to useful advice. He feels omniscient and omnipotent. Just like nothing works in the hands of a man who is too proud and arrogant to accept advice, also nothing ever works in a nation whose leaders are impervious to populist view, which is the legitimate foundation of any government. How Nigerians wished the ubiquitous SARS monsters had been smashed before it festered to unleash the present disasters! The government simply refused to listen to painful cries of the people and the victims. Yes. Long before this calamity, for four times it was “banned” by the government. For four times we also found them back again on our streets unleashing their stock in trade; which, like Fela would say: “Sorrow, Tears and Blood - their regular trademark.” And who does not know that a fire that rages across to the other side of the river bank has powerful backer urging it to spread on. Didn’t the government know that the SARS men with their nefarious activities were back on the streets even after being banned the first, second, third and fourth time?
A nation is a true reflection of its police. Show me your police, and I tell you the future of your nation. Which nation ever moves forward where truth is subverted and perverted; and where only the highest bidder gets justice, regardless of the enormity of crime? Which nation ever moves forward where the complainant or the aggrieved is dramatically turned an accused, while the criminal swaps to being the “plaintiff” after the latter had parted with huge cash? How can a society that claims to abhor jungle justice in one breath, still protect and harbor criminals in another breath? Police know criminals. Yes. But who truly are their best friends? Is it the people they claim to protect or the highest bidder criminals? Criminalities thrive where there is hope of escaping punishments. Yes. But since the scourge of kidnapping in Nigeria, how many kidnappers have been arrested and publicly tried to serve as deterrent to others? How many bandits engaging in genocidal projects on daily basis in Nigeria have been arrested and brought to book. How many armed robbers have been tried and prosecuted? Where are the records for the public to see?
The October 20, 2020 which snowballed into senseless killing of the #EndSars youth protesters must have provoked utter derision and contempt by many sister countries in Africa and the sub-region, who had always looked up to Nigeria for leadership examples to copy. When there is no virile leadership, nothing works. On a topic on contemporary issue by a radio station, a presenter had asked why I laid so much blame on leadership, and seemed to be absolving the followership. I simply replied that I strongly believe that it is the effective leadership that presupposes effective followership. It is never in a reverse order. Nay. Once a country has good leadership, every other good thing rightly fall in line. It is a corollary.
I had earlier related an event in a newspaper feature of an event which a professor teacher of mine once told me. According to him, he was en route London one day with many Nigerians on board a passenger flight. According to him, at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, many of his fellow passengers were simply disorderly, sweating and panting for no known reason, pulling and pushing one another, rather than queuing up to observe laid down protocols to obtain tickets and boarding passes. They broke simple rules to weigh their loads and check them in accordingly; and file in orderly manner into the air craft to board the plane. Despite that individual’s seats are always being spelt out on the boarding pass, which meant that seats had been reserved for every passenger, surprisingly they were still pulling and shunting to access the cabin.
In contrast, according to the professor, the same passenger spontaneously became gentle men and women when they all got to the Heathrow Airport! Not even a single fellow passenger engaged in the opprobrious act of either pulling or shunting excitedly, either to file out of the aircraft or submit to the routine check at the airport. The jigsaw puzzle is this: Why did the same group of people who were rowdy in their own country few hours before behaved well and gentlemanly in different country? But how does the remote conduct of an individual hinge on leadership? Permit me to explain in a short while.
On October 17, 2020 at the heels of this #EndSars protest which has shaken the nook and crannies of the country and also reverberating to virtually all corners of the world; a friend of mine who heads one of the most viable online media in UK had forwarded a post to me. Therein, a retired army colonel had written to his son, who in turn was relating his father’s text message to his protesting friends. Hear him: “Just spoke with my dad concerning the deployment of the Nigeria army to stop the youth from protesting. He said all the youths protesting should go and get the Nigerian flag, that no Nigerian army will be able to shoot any with the Nigerian flag. He is a retired colonel.” According to an online respondent, it is a code of ethics in the military not to shoot or harm any protester clutching and waving his country’s national flag. I know my country is different from the rest of the world. Does anything ever work?
On seeing this, my mind went straight to my professor’s story above. We are in a country where hardly anything ever works well. My written response went thus: “The advice sounds so good. I am not a pessimist. But things like this work only where every man in uniform has more common sense than brute power. Please do a reversal. Imagine the campaign is #EndNigerianArmy, and the defunct SARS were drafted to maintain order . . .” I went on: “ . . . even if protesters were fully dressed in national flag colours . . . it will still end in disaster? If they know any code, why do most men in uniform behave like uninformed people . . . ?
Painfully, on October 20, 2020 barely 48 hours after my prediction, some thousands of unarmed Nigerian youths continued their #EndSars protest; and the sad occurrence has again formed part of our ignoble and despicable historical records. Indeed, the past leadership had not meted enough punishment to similar crime against free speech to serve as deterrent. And so, criminalities will continue to thrive in our society, unless there is no hope of escaping punishments. Indeed, the society where man finds himself often impacts on his thinking and general behavior. Indeed, there are other pressing issues of national importance requiring prompt attention. For the insincere advisers and bootlickers who keep on with their sycophantic antics, all aimed at enjoying the national booty at the seat of power let them hear the words of wisdom from Thomas Jefferson: “No society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to a living generation, And every law naturally expires at the end of 19 years.” Truth is sacrosanct. It doesn’t change its garb. Only falsehood does.
And to those of us who have the responsibility to speak out either by virtue of being Nigerians where our children live and will continue to live, or by virtue of our professional callings, we have these words of wisdom from Bob Nesta Marley, the music maestro. Hear him: “Live for yourself, and you will live in vain. Live for others, and you will live again. The people who are trying to make this world worse are not taking the day off. Why should I.” Verbum Satis Sapienti.
*Tunji Ajayi, a creative writer, biographer, and audio-visual documentary producer writes from LC-Studio Communications, Nigeria (+2348033203115)