By Lasisi Olagunju
Singer and songwriter, Bukola Elemide, is better known as Asa. She was paid by the Nigerian state to perform on Tuesday last week in Abuja at the launch of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited. Buhari was seated; many others who mis-run Nigeria with him were there too. They expected a Baba-has-done-well song because they were in the Villa tucked away from the groans of the grumpy, hungry babble. But black-clad Asa chose to ‘tickle’ them all with her song of rebuke: “There is fire on the mountain/ And nobody seems to be on the run/ Oh, there is fire on the mountaintop/ And no one is a-runnin’…” She sang and danced and sang and stopped. There was an applause. I am not sure it was as loud as it was supposed to be. Not all who had palms in that room clapped for the songstress. They were not sure which could be more seditious between their clapping and Asa’s song of fire. I won’t blame them. You never could tell, the president might understand the message! And why that particular song for that oily occasion? I watched the event and the song and the protest in the singer’s eyes. She appeared echoing Bob Dylan’s defiant explanation on a dark situation as that of Asa: “The song is a sort of striking out, a reaction to the last straw, a feeling of what can you do?”
Bob Dylan spoke about his song reacting to “the last straw.” The last straw would appear to be yesterday’s threat by Kaduna train attack terrorists to abduct our president and a state governor and others and sell off their captives. We’ve all watched the distressing video released by the terrorists. After thoroughly beating the unfortunate captives, they made an announcement; this: “Just as the Chibok girls that were sold off, we will equally sell these ones as slaves. If you don’t accede to our demands, we will kill the ones we need to kill and sell the remaining. By God’s grace, El-Rufai, Buhari, we will bring you here…” Scary. I wanted to say we should beg these fellows to leave our president alone because his freedom is our collective freedom, but then I remembered that the Villa is the safest house in Nigeria. And that is where the president lives.
I was in Accra, Ghana, two weeks ago. The very first night there, at some minutes past 10pm, I felt an alien presence by my hotel room door. Some people may be in deep sleep, yet they are awake. I think I belong to that group. William Shakespeare in Macbeth describes sleep as “death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, chief nourisher in life’s feast…” Mahatma Ghandi, father of India, had his own version of what sleep is. He told his country: “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.” That is sleep. My people say sleep is that thief that snatches whatever a child holds. But they also add that what is inside a child, sleep cannot take away. I was drifting deep into sleep; then that invasive feeling of strangeness by my door, then a knock and a hello.
Not every hello is from a friend. I knew that fact before I was born. I checked the time; it was 10.22pm. Who could that be? I used the peephole – some call it spyhole. A man in uniform, a security officer knocking at my door – at night, in a foreign country! I should open the door; after all, I entered Ghana fulfilling every demand of the law. But, you know, not everyone in security dress is a security man. We saw that fact at an APC event in Abuja last week where the roue were dressed in costumes of the puritan. My Latin-speaking friend would say “cucullus non facit monachum (The cowl does not make the monk).” Wearing a cassock does not make a man a bishop – not in Abuja, not anywhere. Whether home or abroad, never judge anyone by their external appearance. So, I froze the push to reply the ‘hello’ and open the door. Then I made to answer the knock; then the man in uniform started moving away. He left. I went back to bed. But on that floor of the hotel, I could hear doors loudly opening and closing, followed by human voices. I slept.
The next morning I was at the reception.
“What happened last night,” I asked the front office lady.
“We are sorry for what happened last night. It was the Immigration people,” she told me.
“Immigration in hotel rooms? What were they looking for.” I asked because it was strange to me.
“They do that randomly. Searching for illegal aliens. Sometimes they come at 2a.m. Catch them in bed, sort of. They want to be sure that the documentations we did on our guests correspond with what the guests hold. It is all for our country to be safe from unwanted guests.”
The receptionist noticed surprise in my eyes and asked: “Don’t your own Immigration people do that in Nigeria?”
While all that was going on, a private security man at the hotel gate was also saying ‘sorry’ to another guest, also a Nigerian. He explained that the Kuje jailbreak in Nigeria triggered the visit and several other visits to other hotels. The Kuje incident, you remember, unleashed 64 terror suspects on humanity. The fire on Nigeria’s mountaintop is noticed in Ghana and everyone there is running. No one wants deadly terrorists inside their bedroom. I reminded myself that my country is a very unusual country. Our security people are also unusual – things like enforcing rules against unwanted aliens hardly excite them; it is not profitable. Going after illegal aliens is apparently not part of the training my country gives its immigration men. It would be done only if it would fetch good fortune – like what they do with issuance of passports to Nigerians. Possession or renewal of a Nigerian passport by Nigerians is as difficult as entering the Kingdom of God; you hold the document only if you are strong and your breast plate is made of steel of diamond.
In and out of Ghana, the security men (and even cab drivers) I encountered at the decorous airport in Accra were well-dressed and courteous and businesslike. I arrived into the suffocation called Lagos airport and took more than a passing interest in how my country’s airport people handled their work. A very smart female superior officer was in charge of immigration procedures. Her men were in their cubicle attending to passengers’ passports the way they should. But the officer who attended to me was more on the phone than on duty. Perhaps, it was because it was a Friday. I should be forgiven for saying that. Here, Fridays are not for serious work. And I saw men in our airport doing security work in mufti. Should a uniformed force go to work without uniform – even if it was a Friday? James Hain Friswell (1825-1878) says dress has an effect upon character: “An ill-dressed man will never be so much at ease as one who is well-dressed…A mean and shabby appearance gives a man mean and shabby ways…”
Ghana appears to have better security sense than Africa’s most populous country. Wisdom is not assigned by number or by size We are a country of 200 million people badly managed and wrecked by collusion with the unthinkable. My own country does not mind being overrun by the fires of unwanted guests – from Niger, from Sudan, from Mali, from Chad, from Libya, from etc. They come and get grafted onto our stem. They are everywhere as I write, top to bottom. One day, aliens will rule over us – that is if it has not happened already. The cost for bad behaviour is very high. In December 1980, Nigeria experienced what history describes as the first major religious crisis in post-colonial Kano – the Maitatsine riots. It was led by one Mohammed Marwa, an illegal alien from Cameroun, whose entry was enabled by Nigeria’s unguarded openings and whose excesses were accommodated by the country’s complicit law – all because he was a preacher. That the riots officially killed 4,179 people is not the major tragedy from that war. The real tragedy is that Maitatsine riots deflowered Nigeria and prepared the ground for Boko Haram which has wrecked the North and its people and has murdered the peace of our country.
A train was going to Kaduna from Abuja 119 days ago, it was attacked by terrorists. Of the unknown number of passengers in that train, the terrorists killed some, they abducted many. There are 43 of the abducted still in captivity. A video of their horrific flogging by their abductors trended yesterday. Bulama Bukarti, a fellow at the Tony Blair Institute who watched the video and understood the language tweeted on Sunday that one of the terrorists said in the clip that “he was among those who escaped from Kuje Prison.” I saw frightened women, young and old; I saw terrorised children and infants in the video. And that scene is a Nigerian spot. Who is in charge here?
Nigeria is a huge mountain on fire and the whole world, except Nigeria, has noted that fact. That is what Ghana’s close attention to visitors from Nigeria means. Nothing saddens elders more than being told that an illness has no medicine, no corrective ritual. The creator of Nigeria gave it congenital deformity in manners and conduct that stultify its growth and the bloom of its flowers. Nothing will resolve the problem – not a 2023 continuation of APC/Buhari’s reign through Tinubu/èmi l’ókàn presidency; not a second coming of PDP/Atiku presidency; not Peter Obi and his ‘obidient’ warriors. Nothing. And you know what modern medicine prescribes as remedies for being born with defects: surgery, maybe, but compulsorily, long-term support. That is a little short of saying this country is an invalid that may go to its grave with its unresolved and unresolvable malformations. You may also want to ask: Those being paid to make things not to go bad, where are they? They are sleeping on duty while the nation burns in every part – from economy to politics to security to everything. The late Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, in one of his many deep interventions, called our attention to what the palace drummer told the king every morning: “Get up, no one sends his child to the toilet to poo on his behalf.” A king-size job should be a king’s job. It is not so with Nigeria and its drivers. No one takes responsibility for nursing the invalid nation. Every delegate delegates here, leaving the job fatally undone – and without consequences. There was an attack on a prison very close to where the president calls official residence. A common slap on the wrist no one has received. A mass murderer, Adamu Aleru, was sensationally made a chief in Zamfara State days ago. The turbanning ceremony was not sprung as a surprise on Nigeria and its security agencies; it did not take place at night. The bandit gave enough notice of his public ceremony to all and it held with a bang. Big bandits bearing big names were reportedly in attendance. Nothing happened to the terrorist and his guests and nothing will happen to them. That is the dictionary definition of privilege. Aleru has even granted a press interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) which is coming out today, 25 July, 2022, in a documentary entitled ‘The Bandit Warlords of Zamfara.’ In that documentary, you will hear this terrorist as he boasts, in cold blood, that while his men kidnap people, he kills people: “My men do that (kidnapping); I just go and kill them (people).” The world has come to an end in Nigeria.
Plato saw music as “a moral law” which “gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything. It is the essence of order; it lends to all that is good, just, and beautiful.” The president listened to Asa and her song of tears on Tuesday. The train terrorists spoke their threats on Sunday. If Asa’s words were too arcane for the king’s septuagenarian ear, his courtiers should do us a favour. Let them bring out the lines in giant print for the palace to gaze at and chew on. All of us, elitist complicit enablers of bad, in government, outside government, should pay attention to Asa’s ‘Fire on the Mountain’ – particularly the last stanza:
“One day the river will overflow
And there’ll be nowhere for us to go
And we will run, run
Wishing we had put out the fire.”
(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, July 25, 2022)