By Lasisi Olagunju.
Nigeria is in deep trouble because it is a fierce battleground of civilizations. The Yoruba would say ‘ìrònú ò papò’ – our thoughts are not the same; neither are our priorities. You watched Hon Alhassan Ado Garba Doguwa, Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, with his street-show last week. The 21st century lawmaker’s main leadership thrust was his super groin and its fertile fire. He made a show of his four wives and 27 children right in the chambers of the House and broke the Internet. He announced to his colleagues that his nest of four layers was brimming with many children and he was “still counting…” I feel like sending him a complete set of the Alawiye series – Yoruba books of timeless poems and stories – especially the one containing a poem on “omo beere, òsì beere…” He may not understand what the poet means by that title just as Tanko Yakasai agonized over what ‘Amotekun’ meant and why that Yoruba word. ‘Omo beere, òsì beere’ means “Lots of children, lots of misery.” To be in misery is to live in want. But the powerful man from the North will snigger at any thought of him lacking money because of the innumerable kids he is siring. The real meaning of misery is lack of peace, to be unwell. Where I come from, the people moved away from number to substance over 100 years ago. It was our great grandparents who spoke the way Doguwa bragged. They were the ones who numbered their years with the number of their wives and kids. Unfortunately, the value spot my great grandfather left over a century ago is where Doguwa stands. And we are supposed to be in the same country.
On the streets of Kano which Doguwa represents are millions of unsmiling children, possible products of uncontrolled breeding. We call them Almajirai. They wander from street to street in search of, not love, not hope; they are in search of leftovers. They grow up angry and hungry. They soon move to Lagos to ride okada and are soon dazed there with a ban from major streets. They respond loading their motorcycles into trucks back to the North. They get home broke and broken and become bandits. They link up with deviants across the border and form terror cells. And the borders up there have no doors while our immigration system lacks credible platforms to sieve the chaff off the grains. The world then looks at our country and freezes at what we offer: insecurity. The result is what President Donald Trump did to us on Friday – a visa ban.
Around the time President Trump was writing his visa ban statement in Washington, some widows of soldiers slain by Boko Haram terrorists were in Abuja crying for justice. They were shouting that the state had been granting ‘amnesty’ to the murderers of their husbands. We are a country of inexplicable misbehaviour. There is nothing unthinkable that we cannot dip our hands into. What was that thing that sat in our hearts when we dressed mass murderers in immaculate robes of repentance and set them free? And when you let them loose, they go get uncontrolled passports to fly their virus around the world. At home, we may be used to bad manners and bad behaviours but the world does not share in our unwellness. There are consequences for every act of evil condoned or activated by the state. That visa ban was one of the consequences. You also remember an African International Television (AIT) journalist, Ohimai Amaize of ‘Kakaaki Social’ fame who fled Nigeria in June 2019 because the state said the content of his programme was treasonable? He recently got an asylum in the United States. And you know America grants asylum only to individuals with proven claims of persecution in their home country on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or because they belong to a particular social group. The last time we read about journalists seeking asylum abroad was under General Sani Abacha. We were a pariah state then. Things have again become very bad and may really deteriorate and get pretty bad, going forward.
Ignore that statement from our government which tried to play down President Trump’s visa ban on Nigerians. Everything that happened was about terrorism and state failure; about lack of control and lack of verifiable records on who is truly Nigerian and crime-free among us. You cannot become a nation of bandits without borders and expect a welcome from sane nations. Someone said it was a shame that Nigeria appeared in same diplomatic sentence with terror vectors – Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania. I would say what happened was a tragedy – the English language has no redeeming adjective to temper its blight. The immigrant visa ban effectively made every Nigerian a suspected terrorist. And it is tragic that the terror tag is on the neck of all just because we are citizens of a country without control. Before someone accuses me of exaggerating, of wailing and flailing without reason, can we please read the Trump statement slowly and carefully again. Trump said “Nigeria presents a high risk, relative to other countries in the world, of terrorist travel to the United States,” and proceeded to slam immigrant visa ban on “all nationals of Nigeria.” He has proofs for the step he has taken. Or are we denying the existence of terror videos everywhere online which are too gory for even Nigerians to watch?
There won’t be peace until (and unless) we get rid of trouble. The insecurity we feel all around our country may never disappear. It won’t because it has morphed from a reprehensible blight of culture to a thriving business of darkness. You saw viral photographs of business-like okada riders in the forests of Katsina with kegs of bullets. We said we are shocked because our president was ‘surprised’ that Nigeria’s insecurity has defied his tentative touch. The truth is that the country is reeling in the throes of something beyond the competence of its doctors. And, unfortunately, in this matter, there is no provision for referral in our books. I discussed the collapse of the state with a friend on Saturday. He struggled to drop a message of surrender and hopelessness: “I don’t even know how to describe Nigeria’s complex problems.” I told him he knew the problem and should attempt a description. He might not know the solution – like all of us. He ignored me. Another, a professor in the United States, told me he was giving up on Nigeria. I told him the feeling was everywhere. We discussed where the problem is and the sad reality of the ailment looking increasingly terminal. But when things get out of hand, as in this case, we look for unusual solutions. When George Orwell was dying of tuberculosis and there was no known cure for TB in 1947, his desperate doctors gave him an experimental drug, streptomycin. The side effects were almost catastrophic. Orwell did a review of how it worked – and wrote: “It is rather like sinking the ship to get rid of the rats, but it is worth it if it works.” In our own case, our doctors are the rats. They won’t, therefore, experiment with any drug that would eliminate them.
A nation without control is a home sold to misery. And this takes me back to the “omo beere, òsI beere” poet in Alawiye. He tells us to harvest the stars above and scorn the crickets of the earth. That is what America did which made it the preferred destination for migrants. I attempt a translation here:
Kàkà kí n bí egbàá òbùn – (Instead of me siring ten thousand loafers)
Ma kúkú bí òkansoso ògá – (I’d rather birth one lone champion)
Ma r’óun yán aráyé l’ójú – (So, I have something to tease and taunt the world with)
Ma r’óun gbé’raga – (So I’ll have something to be proud of)
Sé òkansoso àràbà kìí s’egbé egbàá òsúnsún – (One mighty kapok tree is no mate of ten thousand sticks)
Omo t’ó já fáfá kansoso, kìí s’egbé igba irúnbí omo – (A single smart child is more than 200 failures)
Àkúkúùbí sànsé ràdàràda…
Uncontrolled breeding must necessarily ignite the kind of fires burning the North from its east to its west. And when a village hatches bandits and nourishes them, self-preservation will make other communities shut their gates. That was the message from the United States. Trump imposed that visa ban on all of us because of our tragic North of unsolvable insecurity. The North needs a new set of leaders if we will retain this country on a path of peace and progress. The new leaders of the North must cuddle education and downplay inanities. They must join in breaking down this decrepit structure that is breeding destructive rats. The alternative is the Orwellian option of sinking the leaky ship “to get rid of the rats…”