A Nation on Pause

Dr. Chris Anyokwu


I’m always overwhelmed with an indescribable feeling of impotent rage, of maddening helplessness when I find myself sitting in my living-room watching TV and seeing on the screen the rest of the world seemingly sprinting into the blooming future.

Whether it is a sport programme you are watching or a news bulletin, a documentary or a TV drama series, it is the same feeling of left-behind that’s evoked in you. You see people fired up with a competitiveness for success; an ardent desire to push the envelop and, for females, in the true spirit of Affirmative Action, break the glass ceiling. It’s as though these people with the fire of daring blazing in their eyes want to simply re-invent the wheel – if it were possible to do so. You look at where they’re operating from, everywhere is beautiful, paradisiacal even.

The streets are free of clogged gutters frothing with fetid offal and unbearably offensive sludge. Instead, they are well-paved; the roads, expansive and pitch-perfect, stretch mesmerisingly into infinity. The city is a place fully built-up with architectural masterpieces, ancient-looking buildings reeking with history and sundry monuments clad with loric grandeur. It is a concrete-and-steel world of wonder, dazzling by day and gleaming with a million neon-lights by night. Here, I mean overseas, life is unrushed and when it appears rushed and hurried, there’s a salutary feel of accustomed predictability about it all.

The eternal verities are in place enjoying the sacrosanctity of time – the sun rises punctually in the morning in the East and sets in the West and in between life simply goes on as normal – or, under coronavirus pandemic, as new normal. Nothing untoward or earthshakingly destabilising happens; nothing at all resulting in loss of life and property. This is not to rule out, of course, the odd, once-in-a-while criminal activities, giving the Devil his due. Even so, the law enforcement is on top of the situation. Always.

This, in brief, is the meaning of security, the raison de tre of government. Barring the coronavirus pandemic, the stadiums would have been filled to capacity with spectators screaming their heads off in child-like excitement. Just living the life, lapping up the joy of being alive. By the same token, the taken-for-granted security makes each and everyone pursue their bent – children go to school, workers go to their workplaces and all the productive forces do their bit to guarantee sustainability. You get to the train station or the airport, for instance, you see a sea of humanity hurrying on to keep their appointments. The happy hubbub of human activity everywhere. The sights and sounds of normality everywhere. And that’s when it suddenly occurs to you that the god we all serve is TIME. Yes, what a mighty god we serve! The god of time.

From the dawn of memory through eons to this very moment, people have always regulated their lives, their earthly peregrinations around the unseen chronometer measured by the movement of the sun. On a personal note, I remember when I was growing up in the sleepy village of Abudu in Edo State (formerly Bendel State), we didn’t have any wrist-watches. No clock, the Grandfather type or whatever. The sun was our clock. Its position in the sky determined every activity of ours. From waking up from bed to dashing pell-mell to the village stream for a quick dip; to wolfing down our breakfast of overnight leftovers and going to either school or farm, among other things. When on the farm, we had one eye fixed on the sun and also listened to the twittering or warbling of birds to know whether or not it’s time to go home for the day. Now the day’s over, Night is drawing nigh…. Remember the popular song? As a matter of fact, the over-head sun was for us, bucolic folk, the barometer of self-appraisal.

It told you whether or not you were a late starter, a lazy-bones or an early bird. A success! It was such a pleasant surprise for me to realise that Time is the underlying and overarching problematique of all literature. Whether you are reading Western literature or American or Asian or even our own African literature, you’d notice that TIME is the dominant trope in fictive mimesis. To be certain, in English Renaissance literature, the preeminent theme of Time is called Carpe Diem (Latin for the English admonition “Seize the Day”). As we all know, Western Europe and North America (and, to varying degrees of success, other nations outside Africa) developed in leaps and bounds due to their strict adherence to the Protestant ethic or the Calvinist ethos of punctuality, thrift, delayed gratification, hard work and enterprise.

Capitalism as is commonly understood is based on this Protestant weltershauung. Thus, the aforementioned collective sense of duty, of the desire for self-surpassing achievement prevalent among Westerners and the rest of the world derives in the main from this almost reverential attitude towards Time. Time is money. Time is life. And, sadly, time is SHORT! It’s this ephermerality of time that impels people to work really hard in order to succeed; to beat deadlines and to achieve fulfilment. The result in this regard is man’s persistent effort to replicate heaven on earth, to, in short, deploy mythic fabulations of heaven (e.g. heaven as portrayed in the Book of Revelation) as template for temporal nirvana. Ever heard of the clause: “See Paris and die”? For those who have been to London, you’d see the proud sign near the British Museum, close to St. Pancras International (the speed-train terminal) “LONDON: THE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD”. Everyone knows that New York City is the financial capital of the world. But the question is: What do we do when the civilised denizens of the earth follow the money from Shanghai to Tokyo, London to New York? What do we do when others are busy finessing modern life and living by building huge ocean-going vessels, boats, jet-planes and supersonic trains? How about the development of pleasure spots such as beaches, game reserves, hotels, showbiz, etc? Is anyone still wondering why our sybaritic politicians and epicurean elite cannot stand their country, Nigeria?

Why every weekend, they are junketing around the globe in search of pleasure like bees looking for nectar? Doesn’t everybody know why Dubai, Abu Dhabi and London are their second home? Evidently our ruling elite are fancy-free and footloose, fleeing responsibility. Running from guilt. You ask: Who created the mess in the first place? This peculiar mess! Right now it doesn’t bear repeating the litany of our woe. Nigeria, effectively, is on pause. I don’t care which god you salaam to; and no one should ever blame God or fate for our present predicament. Everywhere you hear Nigerians crazed and apoplectic with fear of the unknown, crying: “Take me back to 2015, and leave me there!” Our lives have been set back by “Change” and “The Next Level”. Cost of living has gone out of the reach of the average Nigerian citizen. Commodity items such as groceries (rice, beans garri and tomato) are now only affordable for the rich. Like it happened in the Old Testament, we’ve learnt of cases of parents selling their children for food, just as able-bodied men and women are involved in “baby-boom” business.

Never in human history has prostitution been more lucrative, both for spinsters and married women. Sadly, the only source of livelihood for our young girls, notably in secondary school and tertiary institutions, is active prostitution. The home has collapsed and parents are missing in action. There’s nowhere to turn for moral redemption and rehabilitation, not even the church. In all of this, the most worrisome is what many people, especially columnists and opinion leaders have described as the deafening silence from official quarters. Sam Omatseye, Chairman Editorial Board of the Nation newspapers once wrote an Op-Ed entitled “When silence means Contempt”. In more ways than one, this article aligns with that piece’s deductions. Never in our chequered history have Nigerians felt so hopeless! Now it is impossible to be happy in Nigeria. How can you be when you hear daily of mass killings across the land? Insurgency in the northeast; banditry in the northwest, banditry and allied crimes in northcentral; unrest, kidnapping, rape, armed robbery and killings in the southeast; suspected herdsmen wreaking havoc in south-south – killing innocent villagers, ransacking villages, destroying farmlands, maiming and raping at will. In the southwest, it is a roiling maelstrom of social pathologies – abductions, rape, cultism, and banditry.

All over the nation, farmers can no longer go to farm for fear of being hacked to death by criminals. Schools are off and on. Sporting activities are in a comatose state. The bureaucracy is all but dead, just awaiting burial by instalment. Indeed, there is a palpable atmosphere of suspended animation everywhere. Like people waiting frantically for the commencement of hostilities. In the meantime, clandestine meetings are being held by ethnic nationalists over the taut and fraught state of the nation. And the sole agenda of these parleys seems to be the urgency of self-preservation. So far, the omens are contrary, the auguries portentous.

And, also, everyone is asking, where on earth are our security forces? Where is the army, the navy, the air force, the police, etc.? Are they no longer being paid from tax-payers’ money? Did they not swear to defend us? Isn’t their overriding allegiance to the Constitution? Are the people now the enemy? If yes, what is their offence? Is being born a Nigerian now a crime deserving of capital punishment? Children are now cursing their parents for bringing them into this world, into Nigeria; for their part, parents are wringing their hands in agonised helplessness, begging understanding from their distraught and hapless children. To people of faith, one thing is sure: storms do not alarm them; for these storms must cease. It’s the law. This, too, shall pass as others like them in the past did. Scripture and history are replete with world-historic occasions of divine intervention in the affairs of humanity.

Thomas Hardy in The Mayor of Casterbridge writes: “We plan this, but we do that”. Don’t rule out the cunning of history to undo and torpedo human shenanigans. The clock is ticking and Nigerians for now are on tenterhooks, watching, waiting, praying… Will it be ‘Good night’ soon or ‘Good morning’, the day after? Time shall tell.


-Chris Anyokwu, PhD.Associate Professor of English,University of Lagos.