Saturday, May 29, 2010

God, Give Us Men With Big Minds


‘People who stand by your grave today to lay wreaths are the same people who will come tomorrow, dressed like masquerades, to dump cow dung on it’

Bola, have you heard the news?
What news is that, canon?
They said ara’le e (your compatriot) said the Gestapo chief said you were killed by fraud barons.
Ko je je bee (It cannot be true).
Siddon there and be saying ko je je bee. Even the Gestapo chief himself has confessed that a masquerade confessed that one man confessed that he overheard some human beings confessing that they planned to kill you.
Ko je je bee.
There you go again. At least, listen to me first.
No, I’m not ready to listen. What else have they not come up with? They have accused virtually everybody except themselves. One day, they will say I killed myself to cause confusion in the polity. I just pity the youths who are being nurtured for leadership… Here comes my wife. She is greeting you…
O happy day, canon.
Ah, aya Ige (Ige’s wife), sorry o. It’s not yet a happy day.
Why, canon? You seem not happy. What’s going on?
News from yonder shows that things have not improved at all. Instead of things getting better for mother witch, it’s more of female children she is producing. And birds start colliding with birds in the sky!
I don’t like that proverb. It sounds too chauvinistic for me. I think you ought to have deposited that complex at heaven’s gate.
I’m awfully sorry. I thought it’s how we did on earth that we also do in heaven.
Canon, what’s the latest? Have they killed another person?
You know, that’s no news again. Killings and assassinations are commonplace. The news is that they said the general said the Gestapo chief said that Bola was killed by a fraud baron.
Eewo! Are they seeing and hearing double? No right-thinking fellow would ever say anything like that. Haba! This is becoming too much.
Nothing is too much because that place is a place where anything goes.
You are right. By the way, what did they say killed me in my own case?
I think they are still looking for a clue.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they send a police PRO here to come and parade me before God and man as a woman who ran away from Niagara in order to come and stay with her husband in heaven.
Maybe they would say it is I, your husband, that killed you in your sleep.
Are they that daft? Sebi you died before me.
Atinuke, it’s you talking like this? Those people can manufacture anything, anyhow, anytime, to do you in. They are the real fraud barons. They thrive on falsehoods and half-truths. They depend on established liars, paid liars, lie contractors and professional affi-Davids to maintain the status quo. People who stand by your grave today to lay wreaths are the same people who will come tomorrow, dressed like masquerades, to dump cow dung on it. It is the same mouth they use to call ADEGUN that they will use to pronounce ADEOGUN! Their mouths roll and unroll like yo-yo. They are the ones who would invite the thief to come and burgle the treasury, yet they are the first to bring in the security agents!
Bola, what’s really happening? We have not heard any news about the Awoists, the old guardians. How about the Young Pioneers, the youth vanguards who championed the cause of liberation from the feudalists?
I will let Atinuke answer that question because she is more detached and dispassionate about the issue you have just raised.
From my own point of view, I think the Awo camp has been in disarray since the leader, himself, Baba Layinka, died in 1987. In fact, it is virtually empty now, so I was told by one of the latest arrivals. What you called the youth vanguards of Ajibola are no longer in reckoning. The Alliance of the Progressives, AP, which was actually his camp, has become moribund. The exfoliation of the party started with the planting of fifth columnists within the rank and file. Sooner than expected, the bubble burst. Some went the way of Armoured Personnel Congress, APC. Some went the way of Arrangee Congress Party, ACP, some the way of Disorderly Party of Dissidents, DPD, while some remain with what remains of the exfoliated party. That’s the position as at the last briefing by one of the latest victims of political assassinations that arrived a few weeks ago.
Their strategy is obvious. When you want to deal decisively with the iroko tree, you don’t go for the branches. You aim at the taproot, the source of life. The taproot of what remained of Awoism had been removed. The jackals were let loose on the battlefield and they have carted away the spoils of war. And many a loyalist, nay Awoist, has joined the gravy train! Everything na jagajaga...
Ehnn … Ehnnnn …?!
Everything na scatter-scatter
Ehnnn …?! Too bad. Let’s pray.
“Everlasting God, please stop the tragedy of small minds in big positions. Give us men with big minds / Give us men who constantly think creatively / Who think first of service to their fellowmen/And less of what they will reap / Immortal Father – urgently / Give us a new breed of men and leaders / Who will transform (Niagara) / To paradise on earth / Amen! Amen!! Amen!!!” *
Canon, this is strange. You are the one saying amen, amen, amen. How about us?
Does it matter any longer to you?
Yes, it does. We still have children and grandchildren and sympathisers there. They need all the prayers from here. Moreover, we are not only to recount what has been but to share in moulding what should be.
O ri yen so. You got that one right. May the spirit of the Lord be unto you and your loved ones.
Amen! Amen!! Amen!!!
*The canon’s prayer is a direct quotation from Prayer for Nigeria, a poem written by late S.M. Afolabi, former minister of internal affairs, in 1975, seen by the writer on the wall of the University of Ibadan’s PRO’s office in 1982.

*First published in TELL June 18, 2007

Monday, May 24, 2010

If Reggae Must Die


‘Dube also realigned his lyrics to conform with the new realities by emphasising the need for the South African youths to go to school and empower themselves instead of taking to the streets as gangsters… That’s the tragedy of his death. The falcon could not hear the falconer’

Daddy, sorry o!
Sorry about what?
About your friend's death.
Who? Who?? Who???
I mean Lucky Dugbe.
Dugbe? Are you drunk? Dugbe ko, Gbagi ni...
No, daddy. He is Dugbe, true true, before God and man.
Shrrrruuuuup! He is Lucky Dube, pronounced DOO BAY.
Thanks, dad. But the man is dead, all the same.
What a tragedy! But why did you call him my friend?
Because you always play his cassettes and, if I may ask, daddy, what do you like about his music?
You mean what do I like about reggae music?
Yes, daddy. It's always reggae, reggae, reggae or nothing. Do you know what we call you in the house?
What's that?
DADDY O YOYO REGGAE REGGAE. If it's not Bob Marley, it's Lucky Dube. When it's not Lucky Dube, it's Peter Tosh. If it's not Peter Tosh, it's Eric Donaldson and when it's not Eric Donaldson, it's Jimmy Clinton...
You mean Jimmy Cliff?
Yes, daddy. But why are you so much interested in reggae? Why not hip-hop, rhythm and blues and rap?
Those genres do not give me the kind of positive vibrations that reggae does.
What kind of vibrations?
You may not understand because you are still young in the ways of the world. Reggae as you may want to know originated from Jamaica. It is a form of musical expression against inequality and social injustice. In other words, it is protest music.The word reggae itself is coined from a local Jamaican word — rege rege — which means ‘quarrel’ or ‘row’. It was modernised by Bob Marley and the Wailing Wailers and used as a musical weapon to fight racism and capitalism.
So dad, how did Lucky Dube come in?
Thank you, sonny. You see what, Bob Marley and his Wailing Wailers succeeded in pricking the conscience of the entire human race with their ideological, redemption songs which sank into the bottoms of the hearts of racists, segregationists and bloody capitalists all over the world. To answer your question, Lucky Dube also got the vibes and understood the ideological platform from which the likes of Marley, Tosh, Donaldson, Livingstone and Cliff were preaching the gospel of freedom. He soon changed gear from his original traditional Zulu Mbaqanga style to reggae which he saw as a radical weapon to use in expressing his anger against the obnoxious apartheid system that was destroying the basis of human existence in his native South Africa...
Daddy, sorry to interrupt you. Our teacher says we should not use the word ‘obnoxious’ again in describing apartheid.
Why? Is he crazy?
He said it has been over-used.
Don't mind him. He must be a white racist.
Ah, daddy! He is a black man like you.
Then he must be a black idiotic renegade.
Hmmmmm... Daddy?! What's that?
Jesuuus Christ! You dare not dive into my mouth again... As I was saying, Dube plunged musically into the anti-apartheid struggle, just like Miriam Makeba did with her own brand of music that also sent messages down Downing Street and straight to the corridors of the White House, homesteads of the backers of the then apartheid warlords.
Is it only through music that apartheid was eventually conquered?
No, my son. As our people say, there are different ways of killing a rat. So do we have different ways of confronting evil. Remember the black Americans with their soul-piercing Negro spirituals in their Aamen corners? Or have you forgotten our discussion the other day on how the Kunta Kintes rebelled against the slave masters in God's own country?
Yes, I remember.
You remember I told you that their literary men also used their pens to fight. Perhaps, you can remember the contributions of literary giants like Ralph Ellison (The Invisible Man), James Baldwin (Go Tell It On The Mountain) and Richard Wright (Native Son), just to mention a few. They did not stop there. Apart from singing and writing, they also chose to fight (physically) for their rights. While some chose the non-violence approach, others opted for the Bigger Thomas solution.
Which one is that? I have forgotten, dad.
Oh! Bigger Thomas is the protagonist in Wright's Native Son who believes it's better to stand up and fight for one's right and if possible die in the process than to sit back and get punch-drunk from Jim Crow (segregation). He calls it political existentialism...
Meaning what, dad?
Meaning that in the face of political tyranny it is more manly to stand up and take positive action to seek redress than to surrender, willy-nilly, to the whims and caprices of the oppressor.
Daaaddy! O yoyo…
Just as the Black Panthers organised urban terrorism in American cities, so did the African National Congress, ANC, guerillas also dispense terror to counter the terror of apartheid. Now, with the beheading of apartheid, protest songs have been refocused to highlight social injustice in the land. Dube also realigned his lyrics to conform with the new realities by emphasising the need for the South African youths to go to school and empower themselves instead of taking to the streets as gangsters. "Education is the key", he sang to them in one of his songs.
It appears they did not listen to him.
That's the tragedy of Dube's death. The falcon could not just hear the falconer...
And mere anarchy was loosed upon the world...
But there is no killing reggae. Rastas Never Die. If reggae must die, then there must first be peace and justice and equality of all races because we are all created equal before God.

*First published in TELL November 5, 2007

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Farewell, Umoru


“Some people came to play to the gallery. They said your death was a rude shock to them. … These were the same people who said you had died many times before your death”

Umoru! Umoru! Can you hear me? It's me, the "para psycho". Remember I promised to tell you everything that took place during your funeral. Are you there? Can you remember me? I'm Dr Oyewole, the para-psychologist who appeared to you in your dream while you were in Koma. I can tell you categorically that everything went well as far as your burial was concerned. You must be a devout Muslim, indeed, because your people gave you a first-class Islamic burial. Immediately your spirit departed your body I saw you as you flew on the wing of immortality. You passed through Saudi, then to Yemen, to Syria, to Lebanon and back to Asokoro where you stood near the pearly gate. Nobody saw you except me. You can trust! In the meantime a signal was dispatched from the seat of power to the imams and other Islamic clerics in your home state to prepare your final resting place.

Umoru, thank you gan an (very much) for asking me to carry out this assignment on your behalf or else I wouldn't have been able to see how really simple a Muslim burial could be. Peep down and see your grave! The length is made slightly longer than the length of your body and the width is between one and a half and two feet. Young macho men assisted in digging the grave. First, they dug to a depth of about two feet. Then they dug a hole within a hole. This inner hole, I learnt, is called "ya" and it is about a foot wide, the same length as your body’s. The depth of the "ya" is about a foot and a half or, as I was told, deep enough to contain any corpse when it was laid on its side, face turned eastwards in the direction of the sacred Kaaba in Mecca.

Your body was washed, shrouded and placed in a hammock-like bed, covered with the "kubba", a piece of cloth, on top of which was placed the national flag. You were then carried to the stadium by service chiefs where prayers were said by the Chief Imam who stood in the middle of your body as he prayed. I learnt if you were a female he would have moved close to your shoulders before praying. And no sooner had the prayers finished than your remains were carried shoulder high to the grave where they were interred in the hole-within-a-hole and pieces of broken pots used to cover it. Part of the soil dug out of the grave was mixed with water and the mud used to cover the broken pieces of pot while the remaining dry soil was used to cover the entire grave to a height of about one foot. The simplicity and symbolism of your burial sank into my brain and drew an anchor there.

But some people came to play to the gallery. They said your death was a rude shock to them. They can say that to the fishermen of Argungu. These were the same people who had earlier said you had died many times before your death. They are cowards who cannot call a spade a spade.

Umoru, I stand before you and your God today to say the truth and nothing but the truth. I'm not here to say your death was a surprise when many had already seen it coming.

For instance, the anticipation of your death led to the birth of the "doctrine of necessity" and the emergence of a "khalifa-in-waiting". But you can trust politicians. Even the most naive of them have two mouths and a "spare tongue" to run wild. I'll not join them to say you would have been the swiftest president the country had ever had (if death had not waylaid you in your track) when everybody knew and called you "Baba Goslow". Now that you have become "Baba Fullstop" they are not bold to say so. They are shell-shocked! Shell shock my foot! But it's not your making. As a Fulani, whether Fulani Birni Gida (Town Fulani) or Fulani Daji (Cow Fulani), you were supposed to be among the swiftest creatures in the savanah chasing after glory for the Fatherland but destiny can be wicked, unjust and unfair. One thing I know, you were not really cut out to suffer as you did. You were born into a family that lacked nothing. Your father was a politician, your elder brother was a politician, you were a politician, your nephew is a politician, your wife is a politician, your sons-in-law are politicians, every living and non-living thing in your household is a politician. In Niagara, politicians don't suffer because politics is a paying job. But how blessed can one be! Umoru, you were, indeed, blessed. You belonged to an aristocratic Fulani family where the bulk of political power in the country resides. O Nobility!

You had a liberal education, graduating with a B.Sc Chemistry (Education) and a master's in Analytical Chemistry though your chemistry failed you in politics. You forgot that in politics "X" is the unknown factor. Anything can happen. And it did happen. You were as fit as a fiddle when you were drafted to compete in the presidential primaries of your party in December 2006. By what looked like a made-in-Egbaland magical realism you polled 3,024 votes to beat Rolls Royce Okorochas who could manage only a total of 372 votes despite his fleet of goodwill. Do you remember what some people called your victory? Govrnment magic! Everybody was surprised that you, "Jude the Obscure", could emerge from nowhere to beat every aspirant hands down. Yes, in politics anything can happen, that's my understanding, Umoru. And that’s how you came to power!

Unfortunately, though your engine was willing, your chassis was too weak to carry the load of your presidency. But should anybody blame you? Sebi ( was it not that ) you were sitting down "jeje" in your "rugan Fulani" (farm house) when this Baba Iyaboh of a “militician” came to drag you into the battle field saying, "Umoru, o ya, fire!" "I say it's your turn, aim, fire!" Yes, you had the gun but you could neither hold it nor pull the trigger. It was a pity. In your conscious and unconscious absence the whole country was turned into a bazaar, a sort of all comers market and you, a hostage for cheap bargaining and crass opportunism. Now the die is cast. The market has ended. The doors of Aso Shopping Mall have closed. Turaih, your "uwargida" (senior wife), has gone home with her children. Nobody seemed to have seen Hauwah, your former "karamar kishiya" (junior wife), for a reason I do not understand. Is it true she was your wife for only five years? Is it true you left only one house as your physical legacy? Now, hold it. I can see Aminu Kano beckoning to you. ... Look to your right.... Yes. Go and meet him. Hold him. Hug him. Shake him. As it is done on earth, so it is in heaven. Farewell, Umoru. Don't eat tuwo. Don't eat sokura. Eat only what they eat in aljanah.