By Chris Anyokwu
When the police officer, in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, harangues and hectors the defenceless civilian, thus: “If I kill you, I kill a dog!”, he evidently speaks the Nigerian’s worth (or is it worthlessness?) into literary immortality. In a more mundane quotidian context, Martin Tyler, British sport commentator, commentating on an international friendly played between England’s Three Lions and Nigeria’s Super Eagles, a crunch fixture played shortly before the Russia World Cup in 2018, had declared in his signature tart and cynical manner: “The only thing Bright about Nigeria’s Super Eagles is their jersey!.” Implicit in Tyler’s faux pas is the long history of Western colonial denigration of peoples of colour, notably, the Nigerian. Majority of Nigerians, right from birth, have never known the worth of human life, even theirs. Those born under the British colonial rule at the time were treated a little better than galley slaves – British-administered subjects, as they were called – and those born after the attainment of flag independence, from 1960s to date, tend to regard their older compatriots with mingled feelings of envy and muted resentment arising from the fact that the children of freedom unaccountably feel shackled by myriad forms of impedimenta deriving principally from mass deprivation, disempowerment and disillusionment, while the survivors of the colonial conquest strut around with an air of we-have-seen-better-days under the Union Jack.
But there’s no point in crying over spilt milk. We have got to get on with it, regardless. For the Nigerian living-dead, life has been interminable obsequies of sorts, an endless cortege of botched dreams, shattered hopes and amputated ambitions. Happiness for them has always been the Biblical hope deferred … Year on year, it’s been an unprepossessing avalanche of tragic events, horrendous national disasters and socio-economic fiascos. As soon as you start remonstrating over one mind-bending existential tremor, another one, more bone-chilling in its apocalyptic proportions, hits you between the eyes, ad nauseam. It, thus, matters pretty little who is at the helm or in what habit of privilege and power he’s clad-khaki or brocade, or whether his imperial feet are encased in jackboots or designer Italian leather shoes. The outcome is always unvarying. It’s always sorrow, tears and blood. Just barely three months and a few days into the New Year 2022, it has not just been “raining”, it is been pouring pure tragedy. A low-down of the many tragic occurrences which have befallen the nation would only serve to remind us of the people’s collective mishaps and reopen their cicatrix of horrendous existence.
On March 30, 2022, the BBC News reported: “Abuja-Kaduna train attack: passengers killed after Nigeria gang hits rail link”. The report, in part, reads: “The gang mined the track forcing the train, carrying 970 passengers, to a stop on Monday evening. Gunmen subsequently surrounded the carriages and opened fire, one passenger told the BBC.
*Watch video of a survivor narrating what happened HERE
*Watch the terrorists with the kidnapped Bank of Agric MD HERE
An unknown number of passengers were abducted from the train, considered the safest way to get between the cities”. Continuing, the BBC News report states: “Over the last few years this [kidnapping] has pushed many to avoid the 150km (93-mile) journey by road instead opting for the rail link, which opened in 2016. Prior to the tragic rail incident, there had been a terrorist attack at the Kaduna International Airport, which had claimed human life before the bad guys were repelled by Nigerian security forces. Train travel elsewhere in other parts of the world is about the safest means of transportation. Yet anything that works elsewhere, whenever it is introduced to Nigeria, all hell would break loose, all the Benevolent Spirits would flee, abandoning the hapless people to their own devices. By the same token, therefore, oftentimes, Malevolent Spirits and their acolytes would go to work, wreaking havoc, taking life and destroying property.
The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) is the state-owned enterprise with exclusive rights to operate railways in Nigeria. The NRC traces its history to the year 1898, when the first railroad in Nigeria was constructed by the British colonial government. On October 3, 1912, the Lagos Government Railway and the Baro-Kano Railway were amalgamated, starting a nationwide rail service under the name Government Department of Railways (see Wikipedia.com). With the passing of the Nigerian Railway Corporation Act of 1955, the company gained its current name as well as the exclusive legal right to construct and operate rail service in Nigeria (Wikipedia). The Corporation has suffered a progressive decline due to inept management and a complete lack of maintenance of rail and locomotive assets. In 1988, the NRC declared bankruptcy, and all rail traffic stopped for 6 months. After that, trains resumed, where the tracks were usable. By 2002, passenger service was again discontinued altogether. Starting in 2006, plans were made to restore the rail lines and add new locomotives with foreign assistance. In December 2012, regular, scheduled passenger service was restored on the Lagos-to-Kano one. However, after about 20 years of dormancy, it took off again. The Abuja – Kaduna train started, the first part of the network was commissioned on July 12, 2018, three stations opened in this first phase (Wikipedia.com).
Time required to travel between Abuja and Kaduna is between 2 hours, 30 minutes and 2 hours, 45 minutes. It is heartening to report that, besides the Abuja-Kaduna route, there are few other routes in operation in the country, especially the ultra-modern Lagos – Ibadan rail link. But, painfully, days after the terror attack, families and friends of the ill-fated passengers were still at sea trying to wrap their heads around the incident, unable to have any sense of closure, as no credible and coherent information regarding the dead, the injured, the abducted and those in hiding came through from official sources. Thus many questions abound begging for answers: where are the missing passengers? How many are dead? Kidnapped? Recuperating in the 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospitals in Kaduna? This state of confusion and consternation showed a nation historically shorthanded and always ill-prepared when misfortune visits the land. Both ruler and ruled love to stay glued to satellite cable TV stations such as CNN, BBC, Sky News and Al Jazeera in order to regale themselves with the sights and sounds of excellence; of scientific efficiency all exquisitely presented in cinematographic Technicolor.
We are overawed and bowled over by this and yet do absolutely nothing to change our antiquated ways of doing things; hardly ever do we do our level best to walk out of the Stone-Age forest of a million demons into the dazzling sunshine of modernity. Rather than work individually or collectively to change our abject situation, we prefer to lord it over one another. Examples abound in this regard. The doctor in a general hospital would not move a finger to rescue a patient in distress not until s/he pays his/her bills. Even as an outpatient, you are left to spend hours on end, sitting on a bug-infested bench, waiting for a doctor who loves to wear a scowl and snort at those at his mercy. You try to get your passport, the story is the same. At the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) offices, you are confronted by belly-aching display of insouciant langurousness, plain brusqueness and downright snobbishness on the part of NIS officials. They pay scant attention to your age, status, position and sometimes, state of health. They carry on as though their uniform entitles them to being hoity-toity and disrespectful. What’s worse, try to get your driver’s licence, or visit a bank, or an office in a school, a Local Government Secretariat or a police station, everybody you meet who’s in charge in that space tends to attend to your enquiries on their own terms, at their own time – taking a most denigratory tone with you as if you were a piece of faecal matter.
“The cumulative effect of all of this is the feeling of worthlessness engendered in the individual, who, invariably, feels like an ant in the society. Most feel worse: they regard themselves as flotsam and jetsam in their communities, or the Fanonian ‘wretched of the earth’,”
Having never been accorded respect themselves, these groups of Nigerians feel entitled to look down on their compatriots in distress. Also, our rulers set a bad example. They carry on as though they have no inkling of leadership or what it really entails. The attitude is “We are lords of Manor; the people are expendable cannon-fodder.” They are the “grass” on which these pachyderms of power play and fight as the mood take them. Furthermore, a life of poverty, deprivation and pauperisation caused by bad leadership is also responsible for our people’s low self-esteem and self-loathing. Everyone is keen to fob off those less-privileged; those at their mercy. This is what is known as abuse of platform. Again, absence of social amenities such as good road networks, well-stocked hospitals and clinics, constant power supply, affordable and decent accommodation and a good job impact negatively on the psyche of our beleaguered people. They suffer from transferred aggression – anybody within their sphere of influence becomes a fall guy.
The cumulative effect of all of this is the feeling of worthlessness engendered in the individual, who, invariably, feels like an ant in the society. Most feel worse: they regard themselves as flotsam and jetsam in their communities, or the Fanonian “wretched of the earth”. Given the skyrocketing inflation in the land, many have been reduced, literally, to mere hewers of wood and drawers of water, barely hanging in there. Now everyone wants out! The new (?) vogue in town is to “japa”, i.e., to “Andrew” out of the country! Go to NIS offices across the nation, in Lagos alone, in Ikeja, Festac Town, and Ikoyi, you would encounter a raging sea of Nigerians, both old and young, eager and desperate to get their passport and, as they say street parlance, “japa” (emigrate overseas). Ola Rotimi proverbialises this universal plague of restlessness and wanderlust when he quips thus: “The frog likes water but not when it’s hot.”
Nigerians love their country dearly (“I love Nigeria, I no go lie…”), but not when home has become an asphyxiating exile and foreign lands hold out safe and sane alternatives. In civilised countries, citizens are treated with respect and honour. Yours sincerely once witnessed this first-hand. An English lady had slipped and fallen, dislocating her ankle on a wet December afternoon in front of Westminster Abbey, London. Within minutes, help had come in the shape of police officers and, thereafter, paramedics. It was a touching sight. Thus in the UK, any citizen in distress gets help in 15 minutes, maximum. An ambulance must arrive to attend to the person on the spot, before s/he is driven to a nearby hospital. The infirm, old and retirees have domestic staff attending to them at government’s expense. From the age of 60, you become government’s “pikin” across Europe and elsewhere. Never in these parts. If anything, your pension is stolen from you in broad daylight by government officials. (Ask a certain Alhaji Maina of pension-fund misappropriation fame!).
I’m sure many of us still recall the daring rescue of an American missionary by US Navy Seals in Nigeria in 2020. On October 27, 2020, a missionary named Phillip Walton was at his home in the town of Birnin Konni, Niger. This town is near the border with Nigeria. He was there with his family when gunmen entered his home early that morning and eventually abducted him. The kidnappers finally released a ransom request of one million dollars and said that if the ransom was not paid, they would turn him over to one of the extremist groups operating in northern Nigeria. On Saturday October 31, 2020, the US navy Seals were sent to rescue Phillip from the abductors. He was safely rescued by the American forces (Wikipedia.com). These kinds of rescue missions and operations are standard practice both in the US and other civilised nations. Sadly, many Nigerians in foreign countries routinely suffer xenophobia or worse and yet nothing happens. They are left to paddle their own canoes. Years ago, yours sincerely watched a 1991 Drama/Docudrama captioned “Not Without My Daughter”. It was a film based on a book of the same title: It depicted the escape of American citizen, Betty Mahmoody and her daughter from her abusive husband in Ayatollah-Iran
She and her daughter were rescued just as Phillip Walton was. The nuclear arms race between the US and Russia is at bottom meant to protect the citizen against foreign aggression as well as guarantee global peace.
As they say, if you want peace, prepare for war. It is this country-citizen rapport that had made JFK declare to Americans: “Do not think of what America can do for you, but rather think of what you can do for America!” Any wonder, then, why some Nigerians are now voting with their feet, heading off to the borders, ready to abandon home and trek through the Sahara and risk drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, just to enter Europe? For these Boat People, it’s anywhere but Nigeria! Many athletes have changed nationalities, athletes such as Kemi Adekoya (Bahrain), Femi Ogunode (Qatar), Morolake Akinosun (USA), Ezinne Okpaereba (Norway), Ayomide Folorunsho (Italy), Abubakar Abass (Bahrain) and Francis Obilekwu. Obilekwu is a sprinter who got injured representing Nigeria at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, but did not get any support from the government for his surgery in Canada. However, he went on to represent Portugal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and won a silver medal for his adopted country. Sadly, even Nigeria’s green passport attracts instant opprobrium and odium at foreign borders. Why? Why are we so blest? Are Nigerians really the scum of the earth? Are we so worthless as our rulers and power-holders make us feel? Will Nigeria and her citizens one day be accorded the respect they richly deserve? Oh, may such glorious days come, soonest!
Chris Anyokwu writes from University of Lagos