By Bolanle Bolawole
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Who ever imagined that we can all be treated as equal and same-same, as they say? Philosophers of all ages propounded the theory; wars and revolutions were made to actualize it; and the law, in fact, espouses it but, in real terms it is the views of Jean Jacqueline Rousseau in “The Social Contract” that have always prevailed. Says Rousseau: “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains” George Orwell in “Animal Farm” pushed the argument further when he said “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others”
But they reckoned without any knowledge of COVID-19, which last year stole in on mankind surreptitiously and like a thief in the night! But may it also blow out like a candle in the wind! Coronavirus as a leveller means no one can travel abroad for treatment in the best medical facilities ever; all must stay here and be treated here. If our leaders knew this, they would have paid better attention to our health facilities rather than run them down and leave them moribund. Jimmy Cliff bears us out in “House of Exile”: they were warned but they won’t take heed. Now, we all sit here in limbo, like Jimmy Cliff also sang. We live here or we die here. Many have died already and more are on the way, like Bob Marley sang in his “Natural Mystic” song that has gained currency since corona broke.
More than that, it means that even the First World countries are as flustered by coronavirus as the backwater-countries in Africa and Asia that do not even have the facilities to test for the virus, let alone treat sufferers! All are helpless but some are more helpless than the others. Poor, third world countries are more helpless that their richer and better prepared First and Second world neighbours. And within the Third World countries themselves are first, second and third world “countries” as the late Cote d’Ivoire President Felix Houphouet-Boigny described it.
According to Houphouet-Boigny, we have our own nouveau-riche and those that Frantz Fanon described as the “wretched of the earth” because of two levels of injustice that have been meted upon the poor and hapless majority: “the injustice and selfishness of others” (i.e. the metropolitan/capitalist countries) and “our own injustices and selfishness”(as the lackeys and errand boys of international capitalism) Which is why those who gloat that our leaders cannot travel must understand that even here, they still have the advantage. They will crowd the poor and hapless out and get the best of the worst facilities available while the poor will get the worst of the worst or nothing at all. Drink “agbo”! So, head or tail, they win; and head or tail, we lose.
But after this time out, it is likely our leaders will pay some attention to the health sector. The Nigeria Medical Association’s task is done for it, thanks to coronavirus! They don’t anymore need countless strike actions to get government’s attention and necessary action. I think university lecturers should pray for a similar miracle. Otherwise, they can go on indefinite strike till thy kingdom come and the authorities will not bate an eyelid – until, somehow and however, the children of the rich and powerful are unable to pursue their studies abroad.
Suddenly, Nigerians are pretending to be bothered about hygiene – sanitizers, face masks; name it! We must be one of the dirtiest countries in the world! Penultimate week as I returned my children to school at OAU, Ife – before I had to ferry them back again as the school got shut down owing to coronavirus outbreak – I marvelled at the unimaginable slum that this country is – from the entire stretch of my home at the Agege area of Lagos through Ibafo, Mowe and, wait for it, Ibadan! Oh, my! It was garbage and stench all the way. And we, as a people, live with and merry in such rubbish day-in, day-out!
Getting to Ibadan, I decided I would do a piece on the city’s dirt. I ruminated on Ibadan as I coursed my way from the Ibadan end of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway through town to make a detour and connect the Old Ife Road before linking the Ibadan-Ife expressway. I remembered John Pepper Clark’s “Ibadan, running splash of rust and gold…” I also remembered Kudeti. The story is told of a colonial officer who visited that area of town and, astounded by the pyramids of garbage that confronted him, exclaimed “Too dirty!” which became corrupted into “Kudeti”; the same way politician Adelabu Adegoke’s “peculiar mess” was reportedly corrupted into “Penkelemesi”
I decided I would find out what Kudeti was called before “Too Dirty” became its name. My NYSC was at Ibadan; my M.Sc. class, too. I worked there. In fact, I cut my journalism teeth there and would want to retire there someday soon. I pencilled down the names of a few people (mostly Ibadan indigenes) that I know could help me with the research on Kudeti. It is work in progress.
Our hygiene level as a people is poor, very poor. It is God’s benevolence that plagues and epidemics have not been common occurrences here, like they have typhoons, tsunamis and earthquakes abroad. Should we not bring back the monthly environmental sanitation exercise? It needs re-visiting. In Lagos especially, it bears repeating that the template of PSP, past and present, has not worked, just like the Visionscape that ex-Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode replaced it with. It bears repeating that until everyone can be made to pay for the disposal of the garbage they generate, and this garbage can be trapped and collected right at source, the system will not work.
After coronavirus, what next: Shall we return to our squalor as well as relapse into our fire brigade approach? Our careless, irresponsible, and care-free attitude to serious issues shone like a million stars during this coronavirus debacle. Big men and women who refused to be tested or quarantined; government agencies that cannot enforce the rules; leaders who allowed selfish interests to delay the prompt actions they should have taken, thus endangering us all; monkey games they play with tests, rigging it as they rig INEC-conducted elections, ad nauseam. None of the developed countries got to their dizzying heights behaving the way we do.
Houphouet-Boigny, justifying his classification of himself as French, once said: “Home is where, when you go there, they take you in” No more! Dino Melaye and all those Nigerian big-cats who have houses in Dubai, London, America and those funny islands all over the globe should attempt going there now! Ironically, home is here in Nigeria and not outside there where they starched all the riches they looted from here. Incidentally, home also is where the hatred is, as Gil Scott-Heron crooned! Home “is filled with pain” Ask Kyari. Ask Buhari. Ask Adesina. Imagine the many death wishes Nigerians had sent the way of Chief of Staff Abba Kyari and many other Nigerian leaders who tested positive to coronavirus!
Although he is said to have tested negative, which many suspect even without verifiable evidence, General Muhammadu Buhari himself has not been spared, forcing Femi Adesina, the president’s spin doctor, to wail ceaselessly over what he termed bad press. They are lucky, very lucky, that all they have to contend with is bad press; the majority of Nigerians are at a loss how they will contend with this “stay at home” order without knowing where their next meal will come from. Adesina’s harangue and diatribe did not address that very important issue. That is the crap they call leadership! Inept! Clueless! Colourless! Ineffectual! Ineffective! Inefficient! Worse still, bombastic!
I wouldn’t know why many think the Jamaican reggae king, Bob Marley’s “Natural Mystics” have anything to do with the on-going coronavirus pandemic but it has ruled the waves on social media nonetheless. The lyrics seem prophetic in some areas, though:
“There’s a natural mystic/Blowing through the air/If you listen carefully now you will hear/This could be the first trumpet/Might as well be the last/Many more will have to suffer/Many more will have to die/Don’t ask me why/Things are not the way they used to be/I won’t tell no lie/One and all got to face reality now/Though I try to find the answer/To all the questions they ask/Though I know it’s impossible/To go living through the past/Don’t tell no lie.
There’s a natural mystic/Blowing through the air/Can’t keep them down/If you listen carefully now you will hear/Such a natural mystic/Blowing through the air/This could be the…”
These days, so many posts on social media purport to have seen, even captured, “mystical” objects in the air; like Marley, scientists of many countries are yet to find answers to the many questions posed by coronavirus; and, for Christians expecting rapture any time-T, godless and Jah Rastaman Marley (can you imagine that!) struck the right cord with his “This could be the first trumpet, might as well be the last” How many times have we been told of revelations where the angel with the big trumpet was about to sound the end of the world before tear-filled Jesus Christ prevailed on His Father, our Father, to tarry a while? Many have suffered; many are suffering; many more will suffer; many have died; many are dying; and many more will still die. For as long as coronavirus does not let go or lose steam or relent. Save, O Lord!
I have, however, found Jimmy Cliff’s “House of Exile” and “Sitting in limbo” more didactic in this hour. “House of Exile” says: “There’s a day of feasting and a day of famine/
Day of sadness and a day of joy/You could see in the day of feasting/Life isn’t just a little play-like toy/So the day arrived when you least expected/Cos you always thought you were well protected/Now you feel like a fish out of water/So now you’re wondering what’s the matter.
Oh remember you said it wouldn’t happen to you/Now you’re thinking how to start a new/A drowning man will catch at a straw/You were warned but you wouldn’t take heed/Everything in creation must obey a law/It’s true in words as it is in deed/You were so puffed up in your pomps and pride/You’re exposed you got none to hide/Yes, you used to look down on the folks beside you/Never they think you would have come down too/Remember they said you got to reap what you sow/Simple truth everybody know…”
It speaks life and direct to the Nigerian situation. Those big and mighty who went to birthday bash in London and reportedly reaped coronavirus (and death by some); those who carried on as if the DSS could give them cover against coronavirus but are now in hiding. The feasting is over! The day of reckoning is here! Coronavirus is no respecter of persons!
How about this: “Sitting here in limbo/But I know it won’t be long/Sitting here in limbo/Like a bird without a song/Well, they’re/Putting up resistance/But I know that my faith/Will lead me on/Sitting here in limbo/Waiting for the dice to roll/Sitting here in limbo/Got some time to search my soul/Well, they’re/Putting up resistance/But I know that my faith/Will lead me on.
“I don’t know where life will lead me/But I know where I’ve been/I can’t say what life will show me/But I know what I’ve seen/Tried my hand/At love and friendship/But all that is passed and gone/This little boy is moving on/Sitting here in limbo/Waiting for the tide to flow/Sitting here in limbo/Knowing that I have to go/ Well, they’re/Putting up resistance/But I know that my faith/Will lead me on/I can’t say what life…”
The whole world sits in limbo, President Trump and Queen Elizabeth inclusive”! Putin may sign a law allowing him to bear rule over Russia forever – but only if coronavirus permits! Nigerians, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, young and old – we all sit here, in this shithole, in limbo. Those who made it shithole and those of us who let him – we all sit here together, like a bird without a song! This is uncertainty personified! I join my faith with Cliff’s and say, may it not be long! The scientists, valiant men and women, are putting up resistance to coronavirus; other than that – and our faith – nothing is certain.
Tell Thomas Paine: These are not just times that try men’s souls –they are also times that are vacuous and empty. Solomon was right: Life is but vapour and grasping of wind – no more, no less!