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COLUMNIST, Omnipossibilities

Nigeria: The Story Of A Time Traveller

Posted: Oct 2, 2015 at 12:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Banji 0jewale

It is as reasonable to represent one kind of imprisonment by another, as it is to represent any thing that really exists by that which exists not!

–Daniel Defoe (1660 – 1731)

Last week, I came across an elderly man (real name withheld) who told me he fled Nigeria in 1960 following the attainment of Independence that year.  He claimed he feared we might not be able to govern ourselves in what he described as a “cobbled union”.  He saw only a future of crisis in the land of incompatibles being put together as compatibles by a departing imperial power.  He, a 23-year-old, did not want to be part of the cataclysm his oracle was presenting as the tomorrow of newly Independent country.

From the way he put it, the crystal ball literally landed him in that future.  In a word, he time-travelled into that era.  It was not a salubrious trip, he said.  He did not wish to experience the reality of the years ahead.

So one cold and windy day in October 1960, while the festivities of self-governance were yet on all over Nigeria, Citizen Citoyen (let’s stay with that name and its initials CC) left the shores of his fatherland for one of the land-locked nations of Europe, vowing not to return until the traumatic and violent ambush and agenda the future planned became a past without “uncobbling” the cobbled.

In Europe, CC stayed away from his compatriots in the diaspora.  He rejected contacts with anything Nigeria. He refused to listen to the news on the radio or watch the television.  Newspapers were a no-go-area; he was apprehensive the media would not hesitate to dish out bad news from Nigeria which the future he had seen had foretold.  And so for decades, CC was dead to Nigeria.  Nigeria too was dead as far as he was concerned.

Then suddenly, one evening in early September 2015, as Old Man CC sat alone to enjoy a vegetarian’s meal at a table distant from a noisy crowd of white men and women in the hinterland of Europe, a middle-aged African approached him, introducing himself as a Nigerian lately come to Europe from Abuja, the capital of the federation.  He told CC he was an official of the Nigerian Government whose leaders had sent emissaries worldwide to inform the global Community of elaborate plans to celebrate the 55th Independence Anniversary of Nigeria. 

CC received this news with mixed reaction.  What he heard contradicted what the entrails of the future of Nigeria unfolded in 1960.  How did the country or those who governed it abort the programmed uncobbling?  Still more: how did Lagos cede its prestigious status as the nation’s capital without a bloody war?  How come the son of a tiny minority once on the threshold of the jaws of the gargantuan palate of the majority tribes became a President? How did he outsmart those born to rule?  What happened to a baby called Biafra which CC said he saw in the womb of the future far back in October 1960?  What did happen? 

The envoy of the Nigerian government did not know what to offer this ancient man from the past.  So he posed his own questions:  What do you say to a citizen who did not know when tumultuous and momentous events were taking place in his country for 54 years?  Was he not lucky the velocity of history did not sweep him away as he re-enacted the story of Rip van Winkle?  Why did he shut his eyes to the evil to come while the good came and overtook him? 

Finally, CC broke this labyrinth of questions that had no room for answers.  He decided to visit Nigeria for a two-month stay.  He arrived in Lagos late last week, heading for the residence of Citizen Adams (CA), the contact the Nigerian envoy gave him back in his Europe hideout.

CC told his story and asked if what he had seen so far in the land and heard on the radio and watched on the television and read in the magazines and encountered on the social media was what 1960 gave birth to.  CC told CA that what he saw of the distant post-independent age was somewhat different from what this present reality was showing him.  What was missing?  Are the gods playing optical tricks beyond the understanding of mere mortals?  Whereupon, the taciturn octogenarian CA opted to play back the recording of the history of Nigeria from 1960-2015.  As the footage rolled, CC did identify the disasters and tragedies his vision presaged.  He saw the Civil War all over again.  He also saw what caused it.  He beheld the perfidy and the spirit of corruption that controlled the country’s leaders.  And as these leaders at the center, in the regions, in the states, in the local governments, in the private sector, in the religious domain, in the home, and in a word, in all segments of the society, were replaced by those who challenged their treachery and corrupting influence and their desecration of the mandate to rule, the faithful recording revealed the same treachery at work in the life of the critics who had stepped into the mantle of leadership.  The characters and faces in the film gave way rapidly to different sets of characters as in a play; but something in those personalities never changed:  the trait to outwit a predecessor, to surpass him in corruption, avarice and treachery.  It was a destructive and unsparing spirit that took over the whole society.  It left a countable few unstained.

CC told CA that when he witnessed this stage of the country’s development after 1960, he despaired of being part of that volcanic age the future held in store.  He said he knew those tendencies would arrest the Nigerian project and place it on an edge overlooking a bottomless abyss, a point of no return.  Now, he looked at CA and asked: “Who or what pulled us back from that path of perdition?  Or is that future still to come?”

I met a distraught Citizen Citoyen on his way to Abuja as he sought answers to his questions.

Postscript: I will conclude this article when I find answers to CC’s questions.

This is a slightly altered version of a previously published article.