By Promise Adiele
The Igbo word ‘Ozoemene’ means a lot. When people use the word, it instinctively evokes different unpleasant memories of the past, immediately eliciting rejection of a possible repeat. I have retained the word in its Igbo form in the title of this essay because the English versions are deficient to adequately capture the nuanced province of its semantic potential. Simply put, Ozoemene in English means ‘never again’. It could also mean a prayer or supplication to divine powers to ensure that a bad event of a calamitous hue does not happen again. Depending on the Igbo dialect, the word could become Odoemene which basically means the same thing. I am aware that many people bear this name in Igbo land either as first names or as surnames. A typical Igbo person would wave a hand across the head and strike two fingers together to repudiate the ominous possibility of a repeat of a nightmarish event, then followed by a loud pronouncement – tufiakwa, may this not happen again, never again, Ozoemene. Although the name Ozoemene existed many years ago in Igbo land, it became more popular immediately after the civil war in 1970 when many children born during the period were given the name as a rejection of a repeat of the internecine, searing crucible of the war. ‘May war and such carnage not be unleashed on humanity again’, the parents may have thought.
As the New Year 2022 is decorated in glory, many people across the world have made different New Year resolutions. In Nigeria, people are looking forward to the New Year with much hope and optimism. In looking forward to the New Year, many tragic events that happened in the past year or years are rejected and we pray solemnly that they do not happen again, Ozoemene. Individually and collectively, we experienced one violation or another no matter how infinitesimal it may be. We pray it never happens again – Ozoemene. Individually, those who lost loved ones, jobs, money, suffered one calamity or another will utter the same prayer. Collectively, many things have happened in Nigeria requiring us to bow our heads and echo Ozoemene. It must resonate beyond the physical realm into the spiritual realm to underscore our hopeless situation and the desire for urgent help. Our Ozoemene echo must transcend this New Year, into 2023 and beyond.
Our first echo of Ozoemene must necessarily be directed towards the office of the president and Nigeria’s political superstructure. The Ozoemene prayer directed to the president must take into account the country’s unhindered descent to hopelessness in all areas since the current government came to power. It is quite easy for some people to delude themselves with a misleading list of inchoate, negligible achievements by the present government but Nigerians know the obvious truth. During a recent interview, Channels Television Seun Okinbaloye, while asking Mr. President some questions, churned out the tragic indices of the present administration since 2015. According to Seun – “when you took over in 2015, our debt stock at that time was 12 trillion, now it is about 32 trillion. Inflation rate was about 9%, it is now sitting at about 15%, unemployment rate was about 9.2%, and it’s now about 32.2%. Exchange rate was about 197 naira to a dollar, now it is way over 400 naira to a dollar. Now, people would look back and say before you took over, some of these indicators were fair, and now the figures are not friendly at all”. Responding, Mr. President said “Well, I am not sure how correct your calculations are, but all I know is that we have to allow people to have access to the farms. We just have to go back to the land”.
Many Nigerians have averred that Mr. President’s response to the questions was a demonstration of acute impaired cognitive abilities. For some others, it showed a man who is far removed from the socio-economic realities in his country. Yet, some people have submitted that he performed well within the limits of his academic background and competence. Many more commentators have attributed dementia as the only explainable reason for the obvious disconnection between question and answer. It grieves the heart as a citizen to watch your president continually demonstrate an abysmal lack of knowledge about indicators of development and sustainability in the country. For this reason, we must all come together and echo Ozoemene in 2023. We must fervently pray to God Almighty never to allow a sickly aged statesman, no matter how astute, to become our president in 2023. In all honesty, the Nigerian ship of state does not deserve a sterile leadership in 2023, never again, Ozoemene.
Insecurity in Nigeria deserves a collective echo of Ozoemene as do other significations of backwardness in the country. Never again in the New Year and beyond shall Nigerians be hounded and killed in the open like cockroaches. Never again shall marauding bandits and terrorists invade our schools to kidnap students and pupils, then turn around to ask for huge ransoms which are of course paid. The kid gloves with which security issues have been handled in the past years have emboldened other splinter groups to emerge with more murderous intent. The composite abuse of amnesty in the country where certified terrorists are admitted into society and treated as heroes has become a reference point for criminals and diverse terrorist groups to blossom, never again – Ozoemene. Never again shall Nigerian youths be summarily murdered in Lekki or any part of the country because they were simply protesting police brutality and insensitivity of the government. Protest is a legitimate practice and must be seen as such at all times around the country. Never again shall Nigerians be murdered when they participate in protests – Ozoemene. Never again shall the Supreme Court supersede INEC and overturn the wishes of the people through spurious judgment. May this never happen again as Imo State continues to bleed – Ozoemene. In the New Year and beyond, never again shall Nigeria’s education sector witness such a level of hiatus through strikes as seen in the past years. Never again shall our hospitals continue to be degraded with doctors fleeing the country in droves in search of greener pastures. Never again shall government officials expend colossal amounts of taxpayers’ money for medical tourism abroad. Never again shall the electorate close their eyes and allow themselves to be used to enthrone a rule of conquering due to crumbs from the table of a demagogue. Never again shall our borders be shut down to make way for criminal elements to hike the prices of locally produced rice and other essential commodities all for the sake of political patronage. We must collectively reject these issues in the New Year and beyond with a resounding, earth-shaking Ozoemene, never again.
At the global level, the past two years have witnessed the greatest catastrophe to ravage mankind in recent years. At the centre of it all is the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic. Many lives have been lost, businesses shut down, travels cancelled, schools shut down, and many more. The pandemic has redefined human interaction and lifestyle across the world. Many families were thrown into hardship because their breadwinners lost their jobs. Many families became homeless and desolate because they could not pay house rents. Different people experienced one form of misfortune or another and to this, we say, never again – Ozoemene. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed our different leadership structures as desperately wicked and insensitive. While governments and agencies across the world provided palliatives that reached the people, ameliorating the brutal effects of the pandemic, our leaders here, governors, legislators, local government chairmen, and sundry leadership outlets exposed their wickedness by hoarding the palliatives meant for the masses. May we never witness such heights of insensate leadership in Nigeria, never again – Ozoemene.
It may be impossible to wish away all the inhibiting tendencies that circumscribe our lives by echoing – never again, Ozoemene. But at least, by so doing, we convey our earnest wishes and readiness for a new beginning. As they say “New Year is a new beginning”. Never again shall whatever that ailed us in the last years recur in the New Year and beyond, Ozoemene. May we march our Ozoemene echo with action and be definite in our resolutions for a new beginning. Let God answer our individual and collective prayers in the New Year and beyond, breaking the cycle of obnoxious repetitions in our lives. Ozoemene.
Promise Adiele PhD
Mountain Top University