Monday, March 20, 2017

Mouse versus Mouse


Obododimma Oha

Imagine a mouse, a real mouse, a real miserable mouse, launching an attack on my computer mouse, chewing off the cord from the central processing unit, biting off the keyboard cord too! What could this mouse be after? Was it angry that the computer mouse aided and abetted the movement of troops of information to the battle-fields of texts uploaded to my blog? Or was it envious of the identity of “mouse” which computer technology has chosen for the hardware? Wondering and angry that, of all the identities in the world, its own had to be “stolen” and given to that component? And what the hell made those captains of computer language think that that “mouse” looked like a mouse?

It is difficult to get into the head of a mouse to find out what it thinks, whether it thinks at all, and how it thinks! The much I can imagine is that a mouse launched an offensive against my computer mouse, chewing off the cord! The whole idea of a mouse against a mouse makes the experience worth thinking about. A friend suggested (whether to tease me or to set me on the course of a wild, traditional human superstition): “Probably, your enemies are after you!” We laughed and laughed. Probably my enemies are mousing after me. Probably my enemies think that my type of warfare is textual and crippling the means of my textual battery is more strategic. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Are you surprised at the military fatigue that my language wears in this blog post? Don’t be. In the first place, I live in a country at war; or, rather, a country starting many wars, fighting many wars. Even a war of the stomach. In that war of the stomach, a mouse stranded in a lecturer’s office has experienced a double tragedy. Is it not when the lecturer gets his full monthly wage that he could buy ordinary biscuit, and, if God answers the prayers of a wandering mouse, the lecturer might “forget” the biscuit in a drawer for the miserable mouse to sniff out and devour, and after go for thanksgiving in a congregation of mice? Too bad for the miserable, wandering mouse that enters the lecturer’s office (through whatever tunnel) at a time when the dollar is gaining against the local wallpaper in the stock market. The economic war has left a miserable drawer for a miserable mouse in a miserable office in a miserable country.

Discourses we encounter have ways of exercising some influence in the mental geography of our minds. It is like an infection. My mind is already prepared in thinking of the problems around in terms of warfare. Everyday in the life of the citizen in this postcolonial country is a war or rather a day spent at the battlefield. Actually, we should be talking about the everyday battles of the postcolonial vassal. Battles in the streets. Battles with other embattled folks on the potholed roads. Battles at the bus stations. Battle at the marketplaces. Even battles while you sleep. Battles in church or mosque as one prays, for Satan may be close by to sponsor the prayer or oppose it. Battles as you breathe in, for you must breathe out to breathe another day. Battles in everyday life. Battles.

And the language of battles in discourses of war might just be there to ignite the primed semiosis of wars processed and recorded by the mind. This morning, after trekking past a battlefront mounted by my fellow angry workers who have not been treated fairly by the government, I bent down at one of the many “bend down” bookstands around and I beheld a copy of a rare book, Antitank Warfare by G. Biryukov and G. Melnikov. A 1972 publication of Progress Publishers, Moscow, the book opened a direction in my rethinking of the attack on my computer by the miserable mouse (I was actually on my way to a computer shop to buy a cordless mouse, as a preventive measure, after which I would consider a biological weapon in my counter-offensive – rat poison!). It was a surprise find at a give-away price! Ideas on a page that I opened reinforced my thinking of my experience with the mouse that ate the cord of my computer mouse as a warfare or part of the wars I have to wage in the fictiveness of my reality in a postcolonial economy: “The enemy’s tank losses must be such as to deprive him of striking power and force him to abandon the offensive” (p.103). I see! So, the mouse was probably on a counter-offensive that would possibly disable my computer in this information war? My friend was probably right in teasing me with the assertion that my enemies were after me! Who is my “enemy” but he that tries to cripple my efforts in producing a blog post, like this one?

Now, I know I must go for a chemical weapon in fighting back, no matter what the UN Security Council says about such weapons. Imagine the likeness, as our village folks would say, to register a sense of being utterly amazed, no, being flabbergasted! Imagine a miserable, stranded mouse in a stranded economy trying to disable my computer tanks! Imagine the likeness!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

March 15: Some Reflections


Obododimma Oha

Events of life do not occur by chance. There is a network of relationships running through all happenings. Our challenge as humans is to discover those relationships, to comprehend the deep meanings in the syntax of events. Ignoring the syntax is to fail to put into use the competence that underlies attentive living; indeed, it is a semiotic competence through which we understand not just individual signs but also the main grammar of signs and signification in the Divine Plan of creation.

You might call it a coincidence. Another, a case of serendipity. For me, more than both.

Perhaps, what led me into this experience I am trying to find its meaning was my incurable desire to buy and read books, to search for relevant ideas, voices, to which I could connect my own. Inside our heads as book people, don’t you have a number of ideas, a number of other thinkers, holding conversations? Are we, as book people, not made up of quotations? We are connected to other thinkers through their ideas. Call it a testimonial strategy when we refer to other people and their ideas in what we write and say. We are, indeed, connecting ourselves to other selves in an intersubjectivity, establishing a network of thoughts. Even the ideas we do not endorse but cite or criticise are linked to our thoughts. They call this connectivity of a text to text, of a voice to another, “intertextuality.”

Now, you see, I did not set out to write about Obi Nwakanma’s poetry today. I did not even know I would meet Obi Nwakanma today, speaking eloquently in 73 pages. When I set out in this morning, there was no Obi Nwakanma on my mind. But he was there at the bookstand waiting for me. I was just writing something that had to do with the first cry a baby gives out when it is pushed out of the mother’s womb. I wanted to cite a poet in this regard, to let a poet say it along with me. A handy name was J.P. Clark-Bekederemo; remember his poem, “The Cry of Birth”? But I could not lay hands on J.P’s collection. Books move around a lot on my disorganised bookshelves! So, I planned to search for J.P. at a convenient time. But it looked like by thinking about J.P’s poem, I had roused the village of poets, a village of cooperative voices that took interest in the significant event of birth.

At the bookstand, outside the hall where I went to listen to a scholar tell me why we should take it easy with the postcolonial state that does not want to see another – Biafra or Oduduwa – born out of it, was Obi Nwakanma waiting to be bought and read. I had just listened to a talk that cleverly dodged telling me about a system that would rather have other states that are waiting to be born, strangled at birth, or to prevent them from being born, even when the mother is in travail and must inevitably give birth to! And there was Birthcry, Obi Nwakanma’s collection of poems, seemingly metaphorically challenging repressed birth of new nations with its eloquent title.
When I saw the book, I knew immediately I would buy it, at whatever cost, for I needed a poet’s inspiring counter-discourse badly. Please, note that the poem might not have been written about Biafra, but it resonated with the eternal idea about coming into being (of persons) and could be gainfully harnessed to my discourse about the unstoppable births of larger entities in a networked Divine Plan.
I opened the book. Or the pages of the book flew open. Better, the book opened me! I like open books!

There, yes, the lead poem, surely, was titled “Birthcry.”

Two very striking stanzas:

Did you, from the portals of the unborn,
Hear the many footsteps
Those who have gone before you
The birthcries, inviolate moments,
On the lips of mornings?
The birthcries are the same.
The first is all –
Is always the beginning
Of the pristine journey to life.
Without a kink.

The birthcry and the foetal blood; the birthcry, with someone bleeding. A mother always bleeds. A motherland, too. She is made to bleed. Motherlands that oppose the continuation of the colonial project in Africa are always made to bleed, especially if they are heavy with children and want to give birth. Someone, probably acting on behalf of the colonial invader, would always want to prevent the birth, or to kill the baby at birth. Why are colonial mercenaries afraid of the legitimate child that is waiting to be born?

We will still have to return to “Birthcry” and and penetrate its semiotics from many angles. But Obi Nwakanma completely swept me off my feet with another poem in the collection, “March 15”! Today is March 15 and right before me is Obi Nwakanma telling me about that very date in a poem! Now, this is more than a coincidence! From “Birthcry” (read in relation to struggles for post-colonial self-determination) to the temporal deixis of my encounter with the text, the exact location in time of my encounter with Obi Nwakanma’s inspiring voice!
Here are some verses that engage my attention greatly:

Flight of the white bird, O she
Who shapes the form of the bough,
Remember, there is nemesis for the hand
That yokes the bow to the arrow.

I saw the falcons
On the rise of five suns,
They flew inclined
Towards the East.

Yes, “… the hand/That yokes the bow to the arrow” waits for nemesis. I can relate with that, too. No one escapes natural justice, societies too. Worse, if societies still repeat their past mistakes and arrogantly refuse to accept that they have erred. Postcolonial societies that think they have to continue the coloniser’s project, have already submitted themselves to the hand of nemesis. Their intellectuals know the truth, but they would not say it. They are probably afraid of something or somebody. They would rather maintain silence, as an avoidance strategy. But such avoidance strategy doesn’t always work. They have already made themselves victims by denying themselves a vocal resistance as an assertion of their fundamental human rights.

Watch how some intellectuals that analysed and criticised tyranny in other lands choose to dance around the issue when their own countries are involved. They have been caged by fear or the bonds they share with rulers who do the very things they criticise about other countries. It could even be shared prejudice.

I am happy that I have met Obi Nwakanma at the bookstand today. I am delighted that his thoughts strengthen mine. Glad that I have found great thoughts and great words to lean on. Roll on, March 15.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Oduche, Ezeulu's Son in Chinua Achebe's in Arrow of God, Writes to His Father


Obododimma Oha

Dear Nnaanyi, Ogbuefi Eze Eziokwu,
I am writing to you this letter as a way of providing you with a report of my experience with the white man’s ways, particularly because you asked me to be your eyes and your ears in what the white man has brought to our land. I wish you had lived a bit longer for me to give you this report directly in your obi, two of us alone. That would have pleased me greatly. I know you would have put in a word here and there in response and would have couched your advice in a powerful proverb or two. I hear that one can actually talk to a dead relative through a letter by writing it and burning it on the dead person’s grave. I don’t know whether it is true, whether it works, but I want to try it. I am going to burn this letter on your grave secretly, around midnight. I am not sure our priest would approve of that – and I have neither asked for his views on it nor his permission. I want to try it secretly first, without letting anyone know.

Father, I know that you would first like to know whether I have mastered the white man’s magic of putting down thoughts in the form of marks on paper. Yes, I have. Of course, the evidence of that fact is that I am the one writing this letter privately! I wish you could rise from your grave and see me. Or can you see me? Can you also read what I am writing since you are now a spirit? I really would be delighted if you could read my letter by yourself, not employing the services of another spirit who is literate. You never can be sure, that other spirit could, afterwards, let out our secret. He could pass the information to another spirit who cannot keep secrets and before you know it, one of our church members would get the information in his dream and I would be disgraced! Just as I am your eyes and ears here, it would be nice if you become my eyes and my ears too in the land of the spirits, revealing things to me once in a while, please.

Ogbuefi, it is not how the chewing of the bitter kola sounds to the ears that it tastes on the tongue. It is good to embrace the white man’s values – learn something like writing a letter and reading it or other written things, as well as join the white man in his worship – but these are not the whole story. Do you know that with all that learning and all that praying, the people still practise wickedness, still discriminate and hold on to selfishness? There is still a lot of quarreling here and there in church and in school; there is still the nwannadi in everything. You would think that those who have attended school would be more refined and peaceful. It is not so! Indeed, father, human beings will always be human beings; their conversion to new life can never be complete! I am ashamed to tell you about the nwannadi they are doing to me in assigning positions in our church council. I indicated that I would like to serve as secretary, because I can write very well now, having completed my Standard Six. Even the priest commented that he was amazed at the speed at which I could learn and was very happy with me. That Thomas the son of Ilo opened the mouth with which he eats yam and cocoyam and said that I was too ambitious, that I should wait for my own time! I even heard from a reliable source that he said that people won’t take the church seriously if I become secretary!

I passed my Standard Six examination and should have been selected to go to teacher’s college, but Enoch the catechist suggested that Oliver the son of Edogo should go instead, that he was the first to indicate interest. You see, they just want to show me that they have influence. They even ridiculed me because my father was the priest of Ulu, asking me whether you have seen the new moon now and can authorize the eating of the new yam. When they gang up against me like that, they won’t call me by my baptism name, Paul, again, but would prefer to call me Oduche. “Oduche!” “Oduche!” Yes, I am Oduche and will always be. I am no longer anxious to be addressed as “Paul.” I am Oduche the son of Ezeulu! Not that I cannot withstand njakiri, but using it constantly to attack my person as a convert is not acceptable at all. If I had known that I would meet that kind of politics in the new religion, I would not have joined in the first place. I blame myself. Father, is it not the person that Imo sees his feet that it carries away?

I know you were not pleased with the way I treated that sacred python I put inside a box. I was meaning to apologize for it. It was Enoch that persuaded me to do it to prove my conversion and seriousness to other converts. The same person has turned back to say that there is a curse in my family and it is because of that that we do strange things! I am sorry that I listened to him; it was an act of extreme zeal. Please, forgive me for doing that and almost causing the family to be ostracized.

This other message would infuriate you. I hear the white people plan to stay in our land and to rule us for a long time. I don’t like that at all. I thought they just brought education and a new religion to help us to become better human beings. Now, they are talking about ruling us for a long time as if we are their slaves. I thought they would just show us the way and allow those of us who have embraced their ways to rule our land. How can strangers become the landlords? Does the stranger know or understand the ways of our people? They just used the religion to deceive us and rule our land.

Father, I want to be your eyes and your ears in a meaningful way. I now realize that I am not just there to listen and observe the white man’s ways and the white man’s plans. I am there also to say something and to do something about what I see. Isn’t that a better way to be your eyes and your ears, to be you, actually?

Eze Eziokwu, Ezeulu! Eze Gadagwom! I greet you! Now that you are not here physically, I long for your noble presence greatly. Sometimes, I wish I could see you and share my feelings of anger and disappointment with you. I need your wise counsel now. If you can get this letter, I would really be very happy. I have to end the letter here. I don’t want it to be a long one. If you get it, talk to me in my dream, please.
Thank you very much.

Your loving son,

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Myth of akwụkwọ anaghi atụ asị in Igbo Discourse


Obododimma Oha

Arising from the awe with which the early Igbo who first encountered Western written communication held the book, and indeed, all written texts, is the myth of Akwụkwọ anaghị atụ asị (The book does not lie, or the written text does not lie). The early Igbo were amazed that what someone said could be recorded in marks made on a surface and retrieved afterwards, even several years later, just exactly what that person said. For them, it was some kind of new magic or superior art that bore witness against an attempt to falsify the true situation or that exposed situations. This was reinforced by the fact that the art could be employed to convey what one wanted to tell his relative that lived in a faraway land; the written text would reproduce one’s message to that relative, just like that! Those who mastered that art of writing, that white man’s magic, was venerated as special people. Thus, early Igbo education in the White man’s ways was principally devoted to the mastery of that art of recording messages and happenings and being able to interpret same when the need arose. In a word, the book or written text came to be trusted mainly because of the errand it ran. An errand person that does what he or she is is sent to do or is expected to do is normally liked.

Early Igbo persons that acquired a bit of Western education (in English) reinforced the written textual errand in various community contexts that required the recording of messages and events: minutes of community meetings, land sale agreements, tax payment receipting, and so on. These, of course, were in addition to the writing of letters for non-literate members of the community who wanted to communicate with relatives in other locations. Unlike oral messages, the written message hid there in those signs, pretending to be asleep, but would wake up any time and say the same thing. In serving as the memory of the group in a meeting, a group like the age-grade, it would record that Okeke Okolie paid ten shillings owed as dues when the group held a meeting at Okonkwo Unoka’s house on 23rd October, 1923. And the members would agree that that was exactly what happened! It would also remember that Nwoye the son of Okonkwo was fined one penny for coming late and that his excuse that he was delayed in his Whiteman’s house was not considered genuine. Truly, akwụkwọ anaghị atụ asi, they would nod their heads in agreement.

The early Igbo did not understand that that same art of writing could be maniputed to falsify situations, to tell lies. Gradually, that myth of akwụkwọ anaghị atụ asị matured on the lips of the people and joined the ranks of “wise” unquestionable sayings in Igbo public discourse. Once in a while, one hears an Igbo person utter that “wise” saying as proof or backing in an argument involving what has been recorded in writing in a community meeting, sometimes in an attempt to rest the matter. Once that wisdom and power of the book is invoked, the force in contrary arguments about the factuality of what is recorded is demobilised. If akwụkwọ anaghị atụ asị and many accept this, then the individual further pushing the case to the contrary is viewed as a trouble maker or liar.

But it so happened once that I attended an Igbo community meeting where issues about the indebtedness of members was being tackled. Once or twice, the akwukwọ anaghị atụ asị wisdom was invoked to settle the doubts about the person not paying the dues at previous meetings. With so much grumbling, the fellow accepted the judgment that, according to the book, he had not paid. Then, came another interesting situation. The financial secretary was asked to read out names of members who were not regular at meetings for them to pay fines for their absence. The financial secretary read out the names and the fines were collected as required. But when he said that he had concluded the task, the chairman said NO, that he had skipped some names, an allegation he denied, claiming that all other people not mentioned were regularly present. Many other members of the executive committee supported the chairman, arguing that the name of a particular person present at that meeting (who, they knew, had been absent without apologies) was not called. They clearly alleged that the financial secretary was probably trying to exclude that person and probably had received an egbu-eri-akụ, a bribe! At that point, the person sitting beside me (who had invoked the akwụkwọ anaghi atụ asi narrative in a previous situation at the same meeting) also muttered that probably the book had started telling lies! And those close by laughed at the joke.

The Igbo who created the myth of akwụkwọ anaghị atụ asị have also started interrogating it in various discourses. Just like all other myths that once in a while reign in the lives of a people, only to be exploded as they make their journey through life’s experiences.

As someone attached to books, surrounded by books, nourished by books, I have come to love and trust books. But I know that the magical power of the book, of written things, is not greater that the power of human memory. It is such a wonderful thing to be able to remember. As we remember, we re-member, and remain members of a thinking community. What the book has recorded may be skipped; in fact, people may decide not to record certain things in a book (OFF RECORD, as they say), but human memory can never decide not to remember what it has recorded. To decide to forget is to remember what one has decided to forget.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Is Your Photograph You?


Obododimma Oha

A friend shared the following joke on a WhatsApp group platform:

Abeg anybody with 1000 Naira mtn should snap and send to me. I am in a remote village no recharge card … I will snap the 1000 note and send to you, please ….

That bore the signature of Nigerian 419 fraudsters who would break into someone’s email account and send an email to the person’s contacts claiming he or she (the owner of the account) is stranded in Istanbul, New York or London on account of being robbed or loss of his or her wallet and credit card, and is in urgent need of some cash to pay some bills. The mail usually evokes a lot of pathos and strikes a note of urgency. Who would not want to help a friend sending an SOS, what more when the supposed sender of the mail is an important public figure whose credibility is not in doubt? The stealing of the person’s email account is clearly the theft of the person’s identity, the image of the person, the credibility and all the person stands for. The 419 criminal who must have studied the mails in the folders could even refer to a previous mail to erase doubts.

Small-time Nigerian 419 criminals copy this pattern (thieves steal ideas from thieves!) and ask for recharge cards, claiming that they are stranded in remote villages and cannot recharge their airtime on the network. Again, as in the earlier case, they could be using a phone that they have stolen, pretending to be that person. Who would not want to help a friend stranded in a remote village, after all it is just a few Naira on recharge of airtime?

But it gets more ridiculous and unbelievable (for people who can think deeply or who are given to playing the doubting Thomas like me) when the 419 criminal in copying and stealing patterns takes the targets reasoning ability for granted and reproduces the deceptive text in an illogical fashion. Of course, 419 criminals capitalise on people’s orientation to gullibility and poor reasoning. The small-time 419 criminal in the case cited at the beginning of this piece hopes to benefit from the following, among others:

1. A group sense of solidarity, demonstrated in assisting a colleague. The criminal must have broken into the phone owner’s access to a social media platform, like a WhatsApp group, and now sends the message with the stolen identity, hoping to get MTN recharge cards, after which he would discard the SIM. Who would not want to assist a colleague, maybe a professional colleague, in a social media forum, especially when the person (impersonated) is highly admired and/or respected within the group?
2. The ubiquitous nature of camera phones and the growing skill in using the camera in recording and transmitting texts or situations.
3. The somewhat pervasive orientation towards not examining issues/situations very critically, especially given the growing religiosity in some societies, plus the tendency to pretend to be a good person (through giving).

The 419 text reproduced as a joke throws up some interesting philosophical issues. As I responded jokingly when I read the text, if you take a photograph of the money and send to your helper (who sent a shot of the MTN card), can he or she spend the photo? Is the photo of the money the same as the money? Is your photograph you? I think it raises an important ontological issue about a thing and its representation, a signifier (the form taken by a sign) and the signified (the concept or material object represented by the form). Is the signified the signifier?

Long ago, the Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure, in seeking to systematise Semiotics, the study of signs and signifying systems, made a distinction between the signifier and the signified. A photograph, which is an example of what Charles Sanders Peirce, another semiotician, classified as an iconic sign, signifies something or someone which is not the same thing as that person, even though by definition iconic signs reveal some resemblance of the signifier to the signified. But resemblance does not mean sameness. And that is where the deceptive act of the conman lies. Deceptions, as acts of falsehood meant to mislead, present resemblance as sameness, hoping the target being deceived would accept the blurred lines of distinction.

Your photograph is NOT you; it only resembles you through visual features and excites recognition through a kind of cognitive analogy: the viewer compares the mental image of someone with the photographic reproduction of that image. There could, of course, be other reproductions by other media. In fact, the photographic image may be close to reality but it is always removed from it, even twice removed, to echo Plato.
What is particularly amazing about the 419 recharge card text is that it eventually succeeds it getting a victim, however ridiculous and illogical it looks. Doesn’t it show that some people do not reason deeply at all? Is it the same weakness of the populations which “clever” politicians capitalise upon, making promises they have no plans of fulfilling, and even later denying that they made such promises? First, they deceive people into believing that they would fulfil the promises once they get voted into power and the people believe them. Then, when they cannot fulfil those promises, they claim that they never made them, that they were misinterpreted. The people, again, believe them. They create problems and blame their opponents. The people yet believe that they did not cause the problems but that the opposition did. They could pretend to be solving the problems they blamed on the opposition, and the people would again believe that they are doing what they claim to be doing. When they run out of denials and blames and excuses, they could create a problem as a distraction, to be seen to be busy solving a situation that arose inevitably. They people, yet, believe them!

All 419 fraud, whether in ruling gullible populations or making them part with their money (as a practice of the survival of the most clever in our time) assume that not many people could make use of their heads, and that one proof of this is thinking that your photograph is the real you hanging up there on the wall.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

On the Question of Nigeria’s Sovereign Existence Being Non-negotiable


Obododimma Oha

Everything in human existence is negotiable, experts on negotiation tell us. Everything. Ask Herb Cohen, for instance. His great and influential book, You Can Negotiate Anything, says it very well in its title. We even negotiate with death, and may succeed in getting an extra-time. Social scientists that theorise on identity also tell us that forming identities such as nations involves a negotiation. Nations are products of negotiation and consent by its constituent groups. After many years of encounter with such liberal ideas in one’s formal education, ideas that suggest that we can agree to come together as well as agree to go our separate ways (and seeing this practised in the politics of many countries around the globe), why wouldn’t one be shocked to hear the president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, proclaim that Nigeria’s existence as one and undivided nation-state is non-negotiable? After studying democratic systems and making public presentations on the protection of democratic rights, wouldn’t it be absurd for one to remain silent when a democratically elected president of a country makes such a proclamation? What is the attitude of a scholar to such negation of what is considered normal in a civilized practice of democracy? Should a Nigerian scholar proclaim democratic freedom as if it is something meant for other countries other than their own?

When I learnt about Buhari’s proclamation, I was, indeed, worried. Worried because he was in danger of slipping into dictatorship and introducing a ruling style that was designed to frighten people of conscience and enlightenment into silence. Of course, the worry that many Nigerians had when Buhari was campaigning to become Nigeria’s president was that he once ruled as an unbending military dictator and that they were not sure that he had changed, even though he was retired from the army. That fear could have been rekindled by that proclamation, which suggested clearly that discourse over Nigeria’s existence was a no-go area, or that it was beyond the power of Nigerians to create and dismantle the nation-state, if they so desire. In other words, Nigerians become some kind of prisoners of the nation-state. I have always thought that people create nations, not the other way round!
Nigeria was created by foreign invaders from Britain who fought the different indigenous groups, destroyed their systems of self-government, and imposed a colonial rule. But this invasion was first of all an economic adventure very much describable as a thievery of the economic resources of African peoples. African groups were not colonized because the colonial invaders liked the colonized. No, sir! The colonizers were not sent by God to conquer, exploit and rule Africans. Britain invaded Nigeria because it saw that it was the easiest way of getting hold of the economic resources of the different African groups and using them in enriching the hub of the British Empire. It was a clear case of a big fish wanting to swallow another in order to grow bigger and stronger.

Nigeria came into existence as a business enterprise – and, indeed, its history so far indicates the defence of this business idea it acquired from its origin. It was first started as Royal Niger Company, which, in need of protection, had to obtain military security from Britain, with the support of the imperial majesty. Gradually, the idea of expanding and colonizing the entire area was muted and actualized. Obaro Ikime’s book, The Fall of Nigeria, carefully details the process of the British military expansionism, showing that what is today Northern Nigeria was forcefully brought into this union with the southern part. The British colonizers could not sustain the myth that colonizing Nigeria was for the interest of the colonized groups, even though it presented British systems as superior in the process of brainwashing African elites to continue this mentality and to oppress their peoples.
With the exit of Britain from Nigeria or what was falsely represented as Nigeria’s independence, the elite that inherited the British colonial property called Nigeria needed to demonstrate that they would not endanger this British (business) interest. Britain always stood by to make sure that this business interest was protected, helping to install overseers they thought were cooperative, providing military aid whenever necessary (as in the civil war) and providing the kind of advice that served to sustain the kind of government it wanted.
But there is also something very interesting: rulers of Nigeria over the years were not just mere overseers of a British economic satellite, but also gangsters on a business adventure or those found ready to protect the sharing of the economic interests seceded by Britain. These rulers were mainly army generals who fought “to keep Nigeria one” only as an excuse for sharing Nigeria’s resources among themselves and their supportive friends. When they talk about Nigeria’s indivisibility, it is only because any alternative arrangement or the disbandment of Nigeria would mean the loss of the booty. These people could be said to have re-conquered Nigeria and would unjustly keep its resources to themselves while fooling the entire population with their false statements about their patriotism.

In the configuration of Nigeria as a business venture, why, you would ask, would any privileged cattle entrepreneur not think that the entire country is their cattle grazing field and insist that their cattle hands could take the cattle anywhere they like in the country, while hiring and keeping a militia to massacre communities that resist this free grazing? Viewing the self as part-owner of the business enterprise called Nigeria, the owners of free-ranging cattle and oil blocs would support any inflexible approach to the question of Nigeria’s existence as an undivided entity.

When people proclaim that Nigeria’s existence is not negotiable, study them and their proclamation closely. You would find something other than patriotism there. Patriotism towards Nigeria ought to recognize that there can be no Nigeria without Nigerians. It is, indeed, criminal, not just paradoxical, to think that one can protect Nigeria by slaughtering many Nigerians.

I proceed to ask crucial questions: is Nigeria made in Heaven? Was it God that created the country called Nigeria? What makes anyone think that Nigeria’s existence cannot be negotiated by Nigerians? Was it a holy message someone received from God? Recently, Bishop Oyedepo, the General Overseer of Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) was quoted as stating during his sermon that if it was God’s will that Nigeria should break up, God should please let that happen without delay. The Bishop obviously spoke in the context of the growing frustration among ordinary Nigerians occasioned by declining economy, injustice, insecurity and massacre of communities by Fulani militia, with the Federal Government being unable to protect these populations. His prayer implicitly conveyed an earnest sense of urgency and a plea for God to help to prevent further bloodshed. It is shocking that some Nigerians, probably pursued by the overzealousness to please those insisting the Nigeria’s oneness is non-negotiable, called for the arrest of the bishop, that he was “inciting” people to ask for the division of Nigeria! Has the bishop, as a citizen, not got any rights, within democratic principles, to suggest that Nigeria be divided? Who put Nigeria together in the first place? Was it these people seeking to protect the oneness of Nigeria and their inflexible rulers? Right, if God decides to answer the bishop’s prayer, are these over-zealous and falsely politically chauvinistic Nigerians going to arrest God? Doesn’t this indicate that the opposition to the discourse on the re-negotiation of Nigeria’s existence is fast moving into greater absurdity and that the totalitarian system may already be a powerful system of terror ravaging Nigeria?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Farewell to Ajambene


Obododimma Oha

A philosophy for everyone, in my opinion, is that earthly life is a mission. That mission may differ from one person to the other, but the convergence is that we have to try to realise or discover that mission, work towards accomplishing it, and not squander our time (on other matters) undermining it. Of course, there have to be other matters! But they do not have to be such distractions that derail us entirely, making us lose focus. There are many of such distractions, some which we partly create for ourselves and some which other people create for us and sometimes deliberately use in getting us off our mission.

Things that happen in our environment or the condition of things in our environment may invade our minds and seek to destroy our stability. Indeed, our minds, as our fortresses, are perpetually under siege. It is our primary responsibility to protect our minds and prevent them from being captured and enslaved. Governments may come up with their policies that create disorientation and keep citizens always worrying about their welfare and the welfare of their family members. Employers may impose work conditions that place pressure on one’s already crowded mental life. Employers and governments and bosses may pretend to forget that they are dealing with human beings, not machines, and so may not care a damn about your mind and the fact that you have to try to protect it from external invasions, including the ones they launch. When they owe you wages and other entitlements and still harass you to keep coming to work or be dismissed, do they still see you as a human being with a duty to his or her mind? When governments come up with harsh policies that strangle the economy and still try to justify their actions, do they still regard you, the ordinary citizen who feels the negative impact, as a human being who needs a fairly stable condition (both social and mental) in order to pursue and accomplish your mission in life, as well as to support the noble missions of others? When they imprison or kill you for asking for better conditions to be able to pursue your mission in life or for others to be able to pursue theirs, does that not suggest that your mission is not their concern at all?

For institutions that try to cripple people and make their noble life’s missions impossible do not accept that those people’s missions are not less important than those imagined for the institutions. Institutional mission has to be reconciled with the missions of individuals in life. It does not necessarily have to be antagonistic to individual missions (or vice versa). Some authoritarian personalities that society are the curse of their societies or institutions commit the terrible blunder of thinking that they, as individuals, know and can actualise the collective institutional mission. The collective mission has to be negotiated, has always been, and could change somewhere along the line; that, still, as part of the negotiated mission.

Our attitudes to our individual and collective missions matter a lot. There will always be those actions and conditions that work against missions. The long story that is life has us as both its audience and its internal fictive characters. We are the tortoise and the other talking animals in the long, thrilling tale. The plot of that tale is made from our twists and turns, from our noble actions and duplicity, from our cowardice and our bravery.

Even in the tale, we need to be able to distinguish between the straight narration and other stylistic devices that beef up involvement and make the tale lively. There is the phase of the speech and there is the phase of the song. There is a moment when we have to sing our speech, too. There is a moment of the narrated action and there is the moment of the ajambene chorus. We cannot get stuck in the ajambene, at the expense of the unfolding action.

Mbe e jebe,
Mbe e jebe,
Jee jee jee jee,
Jee jee jee jee,
O tulaa mma ya elu.
O tudala ya ala,
O jebe ije dike,

Yes, the call-and-response unites us. There is a bond between the opening assertion in the story-song and the ajambene chorus. Actually, it is one utterance, shared by raconteur and audience. The journey of the tortoise is the flipside of the journey of our mission(s). We will throw up the machetes of our determination like the tortoise and walk the walk of the hero like him. We appreciate every ajambene as we dance our missions, dance to our missions beyond the ajambene chorus!

After uttering ajambene, we must allow the tortoise in the tale to go on with its mission. We must say farewell to ajambene to move on with the story of our missions! Those that stay on the ajambene when the story has moved on and has branched off at abanaano the crossroad would be perplexed about direction.

One has been listening to the tale featuring many talking animals in one’s village (physical and virtual), one’s country, one’s continent, one’s planet. One has been enjoying the ajambene of the individual and the collective. But it is time for one to move on with the tale within the tale, one’s tale inside the collective tale, one’s mission within the collective mission. Ajambene is good, makes the tale more refreshing, quite animating. But it could be a terrible distraction from the mission within the mission. Just as there is a point when ajambene is an important animation of the tale, there is also the point at which it becomes the shame and the shit. Dwelling on shitty ajambene makes one an ofoogeri who does not understand how to navigate the tale of life. That ofoogeri would keep dancing around ajamnene and would not know when others have shared nkụ ụkwa, the treasured fuelwood, in a biting harmattan.

One must say farewell to ajambene. One has not merely been on this journey as a mere companion to others who have the mission. One is not just here on earth to enjoy the fruit of that other person’s effort in making the mission a success. One is not a mere onyeburu the porter carrying luggage for the real braves travelling to success. One has not come to this ilo only for ajambene. One has a noble mission and must move on with it.