Hmmmmmmm… Nigeria and absurdity! What can I possibly say? My anguished bemusement and anger as a young man have since given way to a jaded acceptance of the reality of Nigeria as it is..not as it ought to be. Nigeria is beyond satire. Even Franz Kafka would strain to write about Nigeria. This two-part series was my young rational mind trying to make sense of Nigeria. These days, I now know that you cannot make sense out of nonsense.
I selected a random Kafka quote ‘As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.’ Yawn!…everyday occurrence in Nigeria. Enjoy
A while ago, a colleague (and a friend) of mine walked into the office, let off a huge sigh, and shook his head in utter exasperation.
“Gordon”, I inquired, “What is the matter?” Since he had just come from the heat, stench, and madness of a Lagos traffic jam, I half-expected him to complain about the ‘go slow’. As expected, he did complain about the traffic, but the reason for his discomfiture, though related to traffic, was not the perennial ‘go slow’, but something else.
He went on to narrate how, when driving correctly through a clearly designated one-way road, a huge truck had come hurtling down, horns blaring… the opposite way.
All the motorists along that road, according to him, “swerved for dear life” in the face this trundling behemoth. And after it had “whooshed” past, everybody went on their respective ways… as if nothing had happened. A traffic law had been broken, but who cares?
To me, a pachydermatous veteran of Lagos (and Nigeria), the whole episode seemed so prosaic. But to poor Gordon, a veritable J.J.C. (Johnny Just Come) used to the orderliness and courtesies of London, that impromptu drama (to say the least) rattled his sensibilities.
Countless times in Lagos, I have seen motorists locked bonnet to bonnet, in a ridiculous ‘Mexican stand-off ’. Like two obdurate mountain goats, squaring off face-to-face on a narrow mountain ledge, each would refuse to budge or step aside, so that ultimately, both would peacefully go their respective ways. And typically, it is the motorist who obviously is in the wrong that would argue more vehemently.
To the typical Nigerian’s (and specifically Lagosian’s) mind, the ‘punch line’ of this anecdote would be entirely lost. The story would inevitably be reduced to needless verbiage on a commonplace and ‘normal’ happening … but is it normal? In these parts … Yes! Our sensibilities have been vitiated by a joy-ride from the sublime to the sheer absurd. Our judgmental perception (of good and bad) of life around us has been anaesthetised and overwhelmed by the relentlessness of waves of incidents (in our national life), ranging in spectrum from the insane to the decidedly insane. What would ordinarily be absurd or at least improper, in other balanced societies, is accepted with a banal shrug of the shoulders, in ours.
Nothing is too preposterous in this country, and the absurd, when written (as Gordon found out) is taken quite literally. The norm has become the exception, and the exception to the rule, the rule itself.
I suppose it would be exceptional in other countries, for instance, as a motorist, to be grappling for the right of the road with an ambling herd of belligerent bovines. But in Lagos, Nigeria, the cows are the uncrowned Kings of the Road; here, cows always have the right of the road… always!
A grown man or woman urinating in full view of the disinterested public is a common enough sight, anywhere in Nigeria. So is the sight of an adult male or female (as the case may be) squatting by the roadside half-naked, with his/her posterior exploding in the sludge of ordure.
Defecating in Nigeria, on the road, in the full view of the public, is not an act of impropriety it is an act of nature. After all, the man has got to shit (pardon me) somewhere … so why not on the road? And I have actually seen a molue conductor, precariously perched on the running-board of a speeding molue, sluicing the road, and nearby motorists, with his urine! Nobody around seemed unduly alarmed, after all, “na piss catch am”.
Lagos is also a necrophiliac’s treasure trove. “Bodies, bodies everywhere and not one fit to see”. Why? Because they are either mangled beyond recognition or both. Nigerians have no respect for the dead, not to talk of the living! Unveiled death has become a way of life (no pun intended).
But moving away from the mundane and morbid absurdities of city life, to the weighty absurdities of national issues, the stories become even more ludicrous.
You tell me: where else in the world would a nationwide electricity blackout be caused by a cobra? A Daily Times story read: “A big cobra, which miraculously found its way into the Kainji Dam power house, caused the current nationwide blackout”, the Federal Ministry of Mines and Power has been told, “There had been a similar incident when a rat entered the power house”. In Nigeria, such an incident is not miraculous or extra-ordinary … it’s quite normal. That snakes are partially to blame for NEPA’s gross incompetence is a fact that is plausible in Nigeria.
It is also quite normal for senior officials of the Nigeria Airways to fly 6,000 miles to America to collect newly-purchased aircraft on behalf of the airline and to forget the documents necessary to effect possession.
There is nothing unusual about the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) purchasing derelict tugboats at a million naira a piece, after spending a fortune on a long term lease, on the same boats.
The economy is in a bad shape; a fact we are all too aware of. And so, according to official reports, it is quite normal for our foreign debt figure to jump from a paltry 2 billion naira to10 billion naira, almost overnight. And the reason why there is not enough food on our tables is because of the machinations of our Western oil buyers.
And for our peripatetic legislators, it is quite normal to go off on a jaunt to craggy, inscrutable Switzerland, to learn about new ways of combating armed robbers … especially the ones at the Mile Two bus stop. And our ‘Honourables’ are not beyond breaking the mace during a free-for-all… after it’s all in a day’s sitting.
In our politics, decamping between two diametrically opposed political parties and ideologies is not unusual; in fact, these days, it’s in vogue. And so is a swing from say, the ultra-leftist wing, and way across the moderates, to the rabidly right-wing, without as much as a raised eyebrow from the electorate.
During the primary elections of one political party, a would-be voter was apprehended by the police for keeping or wearing a mascot. He is reported to have had a live tortoise, slung across his neck, and “crawling on his chest”. That is not unusual, for in Nigeria, people wear live reptiles as ‘lucky charms’.
It is not unusual either for a self-avowed socialist to be seen cruising around, amidst squalor, in a limousine as long as a street, or to be known to have considerable landed properties. In Nigeria, it’s a normal political gambit to preach ‘ethics’ and moral reforms without setting examples.
FEDECO has recently released their compilations of registered voters in the country. Predictably, the whole exercise is fraught with ridiculous mistakes. Governors Sam Mbakwe and Solomon Lar were omitted in their respective states … even the veritable “Zik of Africa” was not left out, or should I say, left in.
And so, if during the current exercise, you are listed as a hermaphrodite… spare a thought for Governor Bola Ige’s bruised ago … he was listed as a woman!
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
Saturday, April 2, 1983