On Tuesday, September 6, Liz Truss met Queen Elizabeth at Balmoral, Scotland. We saw her with the queen in a warm handshake as she became Britain’s historic third female head of government. The world clapped and congratulated her. Two days later, the Queen was dead. That is death. Sometimes it comes swiftly and stealthily; some other times with lightning and thunder. Whichever it is, it is the living who tells the taste, not the dead. Like the Belarusian novel of the Second World War, ‘The Dead Feel No Pain.’ Elizabeth II was a strong woman whose strength lay in floating with the sea of a changing world. She was a woman who had under her skirt, and in her bag, more than a lady’s content. Her ancestor, Elizabeth I, who reigned for 45 years and died on 24 March, 1603 at the age of 69, reportedly said of herself: “I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman but I have the heart and stomach, and the cock of a king.” It is the same with this departed queen. The world felt her soft masculinity for 70 years and, at her death, poured out in emotional millions. Those who experienced her ‘cock’ in Nigeria have been speaking too and it is with the distinct character of the Nigerian flavour.
Because we are not a normal people in Nigeria, our contribution to a global pool of discourse on the departed has been from a polluted tributary. The death of a celebrated 96-year-old citizen of the world drew daggers from one Uju Anya, a US assistant professor with an anger rooted in the 30-month Biafran war. In a tweet, she described the departed queen as “the chief monarch of a thieving, raping genocidal empire.” In another, she accused the queen’s government of contributing to the death of half of her family, ostensibly during the Nigerian civil war. She was bitter that Her Majesty’s government supported Nigeria against her attempted country from 1967 to January 1970. She, therefore, spat phlegm of fire on the casket of the departed queen and wished pains for the dead. English comedian and actor, Ricky Gervais, said “when you are dead, you do not know you are dead. It is only painful for others. The same applies when you are stupid.” The stupid is so called because they lack capability to know of their own lack of capacity. Uju got loads of replies; some came as barrel bombs against her person, her grouse and her house. I also felt that her choices, words and manners, were gross, very inappropriate. But she got huge endorsements from persons who called her their kin. She is a professor of Linguistics and she thinks cursing a dead ‘foe’ would heal her of a very bad history of war, defeat and the attendant losses! Sobbing and weeping have measures; when tears flood the eyes and blind the bereaved, they lose the patting of sympathy. The world noticed Anya’s statement and its inappropriateness and reacted. Founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, read her tweets and tweeted: “This is someone supposedly working to make the world better? I don’t think so. Wow.” I don’t think so too that she has not made poorer all who share the human space with her. Her verbal (and finger) incontinence will continue to rub off badly on her and the soul of her essence; the fabric of her grievance is rent too, whatever it was.
Our ancestors ask us to always remember that whatever faces us is turning its back on someone somewhere. When Uju attacked the late queen and called her an enemy of her people, it did not occur to her that an Igbo man was, at a time, secretary-general of the Commonwealth of Nations headed by that queen. I watched the old man, Emeka Anyaoku, on television and he had very many good, great things to say of the departed queen. Igbo people anywhere are very enterprising people. But my people have a saying about strong, enterprising people who talk too much about their supposed strength and who lack good strategy. They say such are the fathers of the weak. The world is a forever battlefield; you cannot win there by turning everyone into your enemy.
Probably, a consequence of Queen Elizabeth’s death is a reopening of the Nigerian wound. Nigeria fought a civil war which ended in January 1970. The Igbo who lost the war believe it has not ended. They think they deserve explanations and apologies from Nigeria for defeating them. They also believe other parts of Nigeria are still fighting them. But that is not true; if a war is on in Nigeria today, it is another war which the Igbo need to properly define and join others to defeat. If it is not true that the last war ended in 1970, why was it that just nine short years after the war, an Igbo man, Alex Ekwueme, became the vice president of Nigeria? The vice president of any country in a presidential democracy is one death away from the top job. Is it also not true that twelve years after the war, Emeka Ojukwu, the strong man who led the Igbo into that war, came back from exile and joined forces with the conservative north against other parts of the country? The Biafran leader was pardoned on May 18, 1982 by President Shehu Shagari. Exactly one month after, on June 18, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu landed in Nigeria at 11.55 a.m. Riding in an open-roof SUV from the airport, he was triumphant in his entry – an exact opposite of how he left the country in January 1970. A report of that journey said that before he boarded his Boeing 727 aircraft from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where he was on exile for twelve years, Ojukwu shouted “Long live Nigeria.” The man came back home and built his hut in the compound of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN). His people clapped and danced and endorsed his very ‘wise’ decision; he (and they) subsequently donated iron straws and reeds, poles and ropes to build an enduring structure for the enemy.
Nigeria is a country of victims. Wherever you turn, you see them, and that include all of us. Britain under Queen Elizabeth II took many decisions that, till date, victimised millions in Nigeria. One of those decisions is what the late Alaafin Lamidi Adeyemi described as this unfair, carnivorous union of lions and deers. But we can continue to fight and engage the system in a way that our right would not become wrong. Again, what we call victim is villain in the books of the other side. I wish those still angry about the civil war would accept that people died on both sides. There was a Colonel Victor Banjo, a Yoruba officer who was executed by his friend, Ojukwu. His offence was that he stalled a Biafran takeover of the West. His family and friends would not forget, but they’ve moved on. We cannot build a life of peace with the closed mind of recriminations. So, let Elizabeth take her bow in peace without further shelling. Besides, kingship comes with baggage – good and bad – each one drawing from the history of what they inherited. Elizabeth II became queen at 25 and died at 96; her ancestor, Elizabeth I, became queen at 25 and died at 69. Numerologists will have their things to say about these patterns of entry and closure and their values. Conjugal and marital scandals and controversies are never far from palaces. Elizabeth I, at the beginning of her reign, told the English parliament in 1559 that she would live, rule and die a virgin: “this shall be for me sufficient that a marble stone shall declare that a Queen, having reigned such a time, lived and died a virgin.” And she did. But why? History says she dreaded marriage or was appalled by what her father made of the institution of marriage. This is how a historian, Scott Newport, put it: “Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, married a total of six times, and as the famous mnemonic rhyme goes, they were divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Of those beheaded of treason and adultery was her own mother, Anne Boleyn, on 19th May, 1536, when Elizabeth was not quite three years old. However, although Elizabeth was too young to understand the ‘speed and ruthfulness of Queen Anne’s downfall’ she was fully aware of her stepmother, Catherine Howard’s execution on 13th February, 1542, when she was eight years old. Once Catherine was arrested, her father ‘refused even to let her plead in her own defence.’ Of her four other stepmothers, two were divorced and cast aside; one died at childbirth and the other barely survived due to an implication of suspected heresy, months before her own father’s death. Therefore, Elizabeth’s views of matrimony with regard to her own father’s marriages can only have been connected to alienation or death, whether by childbirth or beheading.”
Beyond what the ‘Biafran’ woman said about the late queen, other Nigerians have also had quality time to discuss the departed sovereign and how she handled issues of matrimony in the palace. She had a wonderful married life; there were no (known) scandals involving her or her husband, Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. But with her household, the world has had a mouthful. Her son, the new king, married Diana Spencer after dating her sister, Sarah. He later divorced Diana in a very bitter way to marry his old flame, Camilla Parker Bowles, another man’s wife. When Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a Paris car crash on 31 August, 1997, the world dropped bouquets of anger at the Queen’s high grounds. Discussions on Diana and Elizabeth II, her son, her grandsons and their own issues will continue till history says enough. And history will never say so.
Now, everything, good or bad, when they get to Nigeria, they acquire federal character. And, you know, human experience is an elephant in a city of the blind. Each citizen reacts according to the part they feel. There are those who benefited from what aches Uju Anya and her Biafra ‘family’ and they are not quiet too. One Bashir El-Rufai, said to be the son of a northern governor, also went to Twitter to post a message of appreciation to the departed queen and her British empire. He thanked the departed for handing over Nigeria and everything in it to his north: “The British colonial establishment placed the north at the peak of power in my dear country. For that, I will always be indebted to the British Royal Crown and (for) the method of indirect rule for my people and our dear monarchs. Rest In Peace, Queen Elizabeth.” Like the Uju woman, Bashir also got replies, some from the north, supportive; many from the south, damning. There are those who replied him with photos of hopeless street children and of war and want – all taken in the north. They ask the governor’s son to what good the inheritance has benefited the inheritor of this slice of the British cake. You know how the wise looks at an ostrich who buries its head in the ground and thinks it has escaped from predators? The truth is that the ostrich, as it stands, is an easy prey. When flightless birds celebrate the origin of their problems, they mock their own intelligence, endanger themselves and imperil their species. What the British built for our north is a palace without peace; a throne of thorns. I hope Bashir and all who celebrate what he said know that the market is almost over.
Akeredolu And Katsina’s AK-47 Trainees by Lasisi Olagunju
In Lawuyi Ogunniran’s Yoruba play, Ààrẹ-àgò Aríkúyẹrí, we see how a happy polygamous family is ruined by the indiscretion of the family head. Ògúnrìndé Ajé, the Ààrẹ-àgò Balógun of Ibadan, a man with three wives, throws a party to worship his ‘ori’; he lines up his wives in a singing and dancing bout; the second wife outshines the others; the husband celebrates her, publicly proclaims her as his favourite and shoves aside the other wives. The party is over, three children of the third wife die in quick succession – poisoned; hell is let loose. The first wife secretly tells the mother of the dead children that her Babalawo has revealed the favoured wife as the ‘witch’ who ate her children. The bereaved tells her husband the discovery, and, the man, in anger, shoots dead the ‘accused’ wife; the town steps in. Ààrẹ-àgò Balógun is accused of murder and brought before Baṣọ̀run Ògúnmọ́lá and the council of chiefs. The truth is revealed: the first wife is the culprit; she tells the chiefs that the wives loved one another before their husband picked his favourite in public. She confesses to killing the kids to punish the family head “who knows the slender wife that fits her husband on the day of the feast, and (knows) the fat wife fit only as a labourer on the farm.”
Nigeria is ineluctably rolling towards its destiny; it is approaching its final destination. That was the summary of my thought after watching the Katsina vigilante training video, the trainees’ open display of dexterity in handling AK-47 rifles, and Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s charge at the double standards of the Federal Government. The governor alleged that South-West states applied for and got a no for its Amotekun from the Federal Government while Katsina State got a yes for its security outfit to bear military-grade weapons. The firm became firmer after I read the police’s explanation that what the Katsina vigilante boys got were not AK-47 assault rifles but mere training in the use of AK-47 guns. We live in a ghostly society ruled by funny, deadly ideas.
You saw the devastating effects of bias and favouritism in the Ààrẹ-àgò Balógun story above: Three children die of poison; one wife is shot dead by the husband; a jealous wife is sentenced to death; the family head is sentenced to death – but escapes to the miserable life of a fugitive. Even, members of the jury – the chiefs who sit on the case – become victims; they are busted as bribe takers and lost their privileges, and the bribe deliverers are sold to slavery. The lone survivor is the last wife who escaped with the morbid scar of the loss of three children. This story is Nigeria and its future in their very raw form. Clinical psychologists have a description of a household of bias and iniquity. They say a family of parental favouritism is one of shame, fear, and fight. Wherever you have the blight of bias, you see cohesion in flight; you feel disengagement and conflict in full swing. A home where the favoured child sees the parents as enviable and helpful, and the disfavoured child perceives them as wicked, selfish, and authoritarian is no one’s dream home. It cannot ever achieve its full potential. It is a house of commotion and destruction.
Human existence, Sigmund Freud theorized, is all about two basic urges – he called them drives: One is Eros (the desire to live); the other is Thanatos (the wish to die). Both cohere and contend throughout the journey of life. If Freud saw war as “the prevailing of death over love,” then Nigeria is the ground of that battle. Every step that is taken here, solitary and collective, is a shortcut to death and decay. Nothing is an accident; the virus ravaging our giant came with its bad birth and breath and feeds on the deformity. Imagine what the Nigerian government has made of a decision as basic as what weapons to deploy in fighting a collective enemy. The regime has costumed it in sectional arrogance, governmental infidelity, and unfaithfulness. The result is the outcry from Akeredolu and the shameful silence from Abuja.
Except the state armourer is the forest bandit, he should have no problem arming law enforcement agents and agencies against banditry. If terrorists in the forests of Katsina and Borno use AK-47, and terrorists in the forests of Ondo and Oyo use AK-47, shouldn’t the respective responses be similar in ways and means? We insist that our country’s full name is the Federal Republic of Nigeria, yet, we hate what real federations do. The United States is a federation with more than 17,000 state and local police forces. They are many and, yet, they get the job done in an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect. Why is it difficult for us to do what others do so that we get what others get? We cannot insist that Nigeria’s unity and oneness are inviolable and non-negotiable while having one standard for the north and a different standard for the south.
Our founding fathers fought for and got Nigeria as a federation of disparate units. They voted for federalism because they knew it would stop the madness of one part from becoming a national epidemic. It is about balancing of power – and even of terror. America’s founding fathers opted for federalism because they sought “to balance order with liberty…avoid tyranny, allow more participation in politics and use the states as ‘laboratories’ for new ideas and programmes.” The fourth president of the United States and father of the country’s constitution and its Bill of Rights, James Madison, argued (in The Federalist, No. 51) that power must be set against power, and ambition must be made to counteract ambition if his emerging nation of many parts would progress in peace and plenty. Earlier in The Federalist, No. 10, he had explained how the adoption of federalism would engender peace and development: “The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular states, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the confederacy, but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source.” Drawing from Madison’s argument, an analyst says “federalism prevents a person that takes control of a state from easily taking control of the federal government as well.” What do those sentences tell you about Nigeria and its owners and why the nation’s ailments are incurable? The US experience apparently influenced what legal icon and elder statesman, Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, argued for in April 2022. He called for a total constitutional overhaul of Nigeria instead of limping towards the next elections. We asked him to shut up.
Five months ago, Chief Afe Babalola looked at Nigeria he was living in and cried out that he could not recognize what he was seeing. Then he issued a statement and said he “decided to talk because this country is now different from the one I used to know.” He said he saw a gradually collapsing country, a half-dead nation with a currency that was N199 to $1 in 2015 but which had gone down to N570 to a dollar as of the time he issued the statement. “The external debt, which was $10.7 billion in 2015 is now over $38 billion. The government is borrowing more, and spending more, but earning fewer revenues. The worse thing is that the debt servicing level is also rising. In 2020, Nigeria was ranked as the poorest country in the world with over 50 percent of Nigerians living in extreme poverty while over 70 million Nigerians are in urgent need of life-saving assistance.” Chief Babalola said he was “of the firm conviction that moneybags now control the lever of powers.” He said if we allowed the present constitution beyond 2023, what we would be getting is recycled leadership, who would continue the old ways. “We need a constitution that will throw up young, brilliant, dedicated people to save this country. We can’t get all these under the present constitution. We need a new set of leaders in our nation; leaders who will not see themselves as Mr. Know-All and who will not see themselves as above anyone,” he said.
That was five months ago. How many bags of naira must you carry before you can purchase a dollar in Nigeria today? A thousand dollars may soon trump a million naira. If you are an optimist, you have something to chew on here. It is said that a witch who would stop being a witch would not build an all-female nest. Nigeria is that witch. It breaks the backbone of whatever is good and strong; it does not build or rebuild; it listens not to the voice of knowledge and understanding. How did we take Afe Babalola’s counsel that we rearrange our lives productively instead of going for the poisonous feast of the 2023 elections? We dismissed him and his words. The old man has since been minding his business, eating his pounded yam, mounting his horse during the day and ‘the other one at night. But for Nigeria, denial cures nothing; the country remains “a contagion of disgrace.”
Bloomberg, last week, in a damning report said bankers were bailing out of Nigeria’s stagnating economy. It mentioned ‘japa’ the new fad for brain drain. The drain is with the traumatized – made up of everyone: young, old, read, and unread. It is the result you get from a cracked system that won’t submit itself for reconstruction. Nigeria cannot work unless it has the right leaders. It cannot have the right leaders unless the structure is right. The tormentors of Nigeria run to the United States. But they won’t accept that that country works because it preserves the choices its founding fathers made at the beginning of their journey. Nigeria robs the world of hope and puts the optimist to shame. “The fountains are dusty in the Graveyard of Dreams; The hinges are rusty and swing with tiny screams” (H. Beam Piper in ‘Graveyard of Dreams’). We tempt fate and tamper with destinies; the result is the shrill death of hope. Fuji music’s grand old megastar, Kollington Ayinla, sang in the 1980s that Nigeria is the world and it would never die (Nigeria, ayé ni kò lè kú…). My starry-eyed generation (and the ones before us) sang and danced with Baba Alatika along the rich creeks of that optimism. But, life has taught us lessons on how not to be optimistic. If musicians are true poets, today, I would borrow from Odia Ofeimun and chant ‘The Poet Lied.’ I am not sure the lyricist in Kollington believes any longer in the spirit of his song of an eternal Nigeria. Nothing that is born to sink will swim – even when it is offered lifelines.
Let us all grow bananas, make more pads, distil more Waragi by Jenerali Uliwengu
We are now getting used to Kenyans chalking up achievements in areas where all of us should have been eager to prove our worth in. And it looks like there is neither atomic science nor black magic in what they beat us in. All they have needed is a little thinking space in which to exercise their minds, and, surely, that should be available.
This time round, I learn that a couple of Kenyan students, Paul Ntikoisa and Ivy Etemesi in the Rift Valley, have been putting their heads together around a problem that has been dogging young female learners in all our countries; some female students sometimes drop out of the school system because of the biological imperative of having to go through the menstrual cycles in an unfriendly environment.
Though we all know that this is a natural imposition of womanhood that no girl — unless seriously disabled — can avoid, we seem to think of it as a girl’s problem that she and her mother – not father — should deal with.
It has been with us for a long time, and we have knowledge of the impediment it places on the path to women’s emancipation which should come through attaining modern education, and yet we do little to alleviate the inconvenience experienced by school girls. It has often been stated that many girls cannot stand the discomfort and humiliation they have to go through when the inevitable happens, every month because they are shunned and mocked by their uncomprehending male colleagues who treat them as if they were unclean, though it is obviously through no fault of theirs.
It is estimated by Unesco that to more than 2.6 million girls are faced with this problem in Kenya alone, and it is easy to imagine how many more will be affected across the continent.
Now, some Kenyan youth have come up with a brilliant idea that will radically change the way we look at the banana plant. Taking a cue from the traditional use of the banana stem by Ugandan women, these young Kenyan students went one better, by obtaining banana trunk fibre and processing it into wearable fibre that can be deployed as a sanitary pad.
Immediately, I heard of this big news I rushed to google it, and spent some time buried in the literature. Till I understood the processes. I am not a techy buff myself but I could kind of understand what they had done with the banana stem: take out the soft inner flesh of the stem, and wash it thoroughly to remove impurities…
Well, I must stop there lest I give misleading information to DIY enthusiasts, but my point is made.
What these young people have done is a practical demonstration of the can-do spirit with which many youngsters are imbued, and they are to be found not only in Kenya but in all our countries.
It is only that the Kenyans tend to get there before the others and get all the bragging rights. If I sound envious, it is because I am.
But better late than never, and all our youngsters in the other countries can take up the challenge.
First, we have the advantage of knowing what the Kenyan lads have done with the banana plant. That is not the only way to go, because someone could try to utilise some other tissue. I wonder how baobab bark would fare in this context, since ‘orubugu’ is hallowed textile in the Lake Victoria area and could do the trick if it is properly pounded and softened. What about papaya stem?
On a general note, we need to encourage our youth to be more adventurous, to experiment with what has never been used but is plentiful.
A long time ago I got some wisdom from a visiting young French man who told me, unforgettably: to make progress, you either identify something useful and acquire plenty of it, or you identify something that you have plenty of and find a use for it because you already have it. It is the case of banana plants all around us.
This might create a banana revolution in which people will uproot other plants to replace them with bananas, and find that the bananas have numerous advantages:
They can be eaten as fruit when they ripen; they can be cooked before they ripen to provide matooke and katoogo; the banana juice is sweeter than Coca Cola; fermented, it gives the alcoholic beverages, rubisi and mbege, from which a moonshine is extracted for serious Waragi and Konyagi gins consumers.
In addition, banana plants in large numbers help to decorate the land, cool the earth, and freshen the air.
I see no reason why people all over East Africa do not plant as many bananas as they can in all the areas with a moderate rainfall pattern. DR Congo, which enjoys such plentiful rains, should take the lead in creating this luxuriant and extremely valuable agricultural belt.
We could all soon celebrate the banana plant as a liberator on so many fronts, and since some people have been trying very hard to make banana republics of our countries, we might as well complete the picture meaningfully.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: email@example.com
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