Analysis & Opinion: Na True Say We Don See 99?


By Sunny Awhefeada

An encounter in a bus ride from Ughelli to Warri provided the title for today’s intervention. As usual, hardly had the rickety bus coughed, jerked and hit the road that lamentations about the present condition of our beloved Nigeria began.

The occupants of the bus, packed sardine-like, wore disillusioned and angry looks. They appeared jaded, but aggressive and each word they uttered was indicative of their countenance which must have been bitterer than gall.

Their words were vituperative. And if words could really act like missiles those who brought Nigeria to her knees should have been felled that moment. The twenty-five minute drive birthed a panoply of opinions; some correct, some wrong and some exaggerated, that could sustain several doctoral theses on the Nigerian condition.

The bus became an ad hoc classroom conducting a seminar on “the trouble with Nigeria” (apologies to Chinua Achebe whose 1983 monograph bears that title.) Scathing comments on corruption, insecurity, anarchy, election rigging, poverty, inflation, and looming hopelessness dominated the session. As the passengers prepared for disembarkation, an elderly woman consoled us saying “my children make una no worry we no go die”.

Then one of the passengers, a woman sounding rather defiant, interjected “we don see 99 so we no dey fear 100”. Another passenger, this time a man, turned to her and asked, “Na true say we don see 99?” The consolation in the elderly woman’s admonition, the defiance in the response to it and the rhetorical logic of the last utterance, all got me thinking for days.

One of the beautiful sides to Warri and her environs is the use of pidgin. The area is reputed as home to the richest variety of pidgin in the world. Warri pidgin is dynamic in its reflection of our fast changing world. There is hardly any local or global phenomenon that has not been captured in Warri pidgin. Pidgin has assumed the status of an unofficial lingua franca in this part, as it comes alive wherever two or more people are gathered.

From buses to limousines, shacks to mansions, canoes to aircraft, homes to schools, shrines to churches, the pidgin animates conversation with soul lifting rhythm and vibrancy. The last three submissions from the passengers define the character of Nigeria and Nigerians. The elderly woman who says “my children make una no worry we no go die” speaks for an older generation that often throws its hands in the air in resignation and self-consolation hoping that things will shape up.

The woman whose defiance produced “we don see 99 so we no dey fear 100” carries the banner of defiance for a generation that felt pushed to the wall and convinced that nothing worse could befall it. The last submission remains pessimistic and feels that we are in for more shocks hence his query, “Na true say we don see 99?” interpreted to mean “is it true that we have seen the worst of Nigeria?”

Certainly, we haven’t seen the worst of Nigeria. Since independence in 1960, Nigeria had always tottered to the brink and just when it is about to tip over, a hand pulls her back. She experiences a false respite for a short season and the gravitation towards danger begins again.

This has become a vicious cycle because the people have not come to a consensus to put a stop to the destructive tendency. Ken Saro-Wiwa, the slain writer and environmentalist, titled his account of the Nigerian Civil War On a Darkling Plain.

The account gave a near armageddonian perspective of the crises that almost consumed Nigeria in her first decade of independence. The book’s title was excerpted from Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” in which the lines, “And we are here as on a darkling plain/Swept with confused alarm of struggle and flight/Where ignorant armies clash by night” portray a grim if not existential struggle where humanity is the helpless victim of strife. The forces and factors that, since the First Republic, turned Nigeria into “a darkling plain” have always been at work. They have always thought only about themselves at the expense of Nigeria. Time has neither attenuated nor converted them into embracing the ideal for Nigeria.

Nigeria has always been at war. The years leading to independence were moments of tension during which a section of the country said it was not ready for independence. Two of the three regions then became self-governing in 1957. The mutual suspicion escalated after independence. From 1962, when Obafemi Awolowo and company were arrested and charged for treasonable felony, to 1964 of the Western region and Tiv riots, to the two coups of 1966 and to the Civil War of 1967 to 1970, Nigeria was at the mercy of barons of crisis.

They again held sway in pretentious peace time from 1970 to 1993 before putting the country again on the road to Golgotha through the consequences of the June 12 presidential election in 1993. The horrible years spanning 1993 to 1998 terminated in 1999 and another season of pretentious peace followed from 1999 to 2012. In the aftermath of the 2011 election, a chronic bigot-irredentist boasted that “the baboon and the dog will be soaked in blood”.

What now terrifies Nigeria today is the grim sum of the manipulations of those who desired “the baboon and the dog” to be soaked in blood. These forces put fairness, justice and equity to flight and enthroned injustice and inequity. What they wished for Nigeria has come full cycle and the nation has become a vast killing field.

The proponent of “the baboon and dog” getting soaked in blood not too long ago nursed the idea of fleeing to Niger leaving behind the house he set on fire. Yes, those who brought Nigeria to where it is now never knew that the pregnant snake was going to give birth to something long.

Their homesteads like many other places have been laid to waste. Their strongholds are daily being threatened as the forces they unleashed on the nation have tasted blood and can no longer differentiate between them and the rest of us. Nigeria is under siege. There are no more safe havens or sanctuaries. Nobody is safe anymore, not even army generals.

The dogs of war in the name of terrorists, bandits and kidnappers are everywhere, including Abuja, the nation’s seat of power. If we were a nation with the right information and statistics we would have discovered that at least somebody gets kidnapped every hour every day in all the thirty-six states and Abuja.

The abduction and murder of two kings in Ekiti State shows that we are in for bigger troubles. The state known for its premium on education also recorded the kidnapping of school children and teachers the same week the revered kings were killed. Is this not darkness?

And have we really seen 99? The more frightening angle to the already disturbing scenario is the helplessness and collusion by the security forces many of whom have been arrested for armed robbery and kidnapping. A recent video of an arrested kidnapper threatening a policeman circulated in the social media.

The kidnapper in handcuffs told the policeman that this was Nigeria and that his boss would pay for his release after which he would come after him (the policeman). What does this tell us about the security system? We are where we are because the people have chosen to be so led.

It is likely that the present insecurity, death, hunger, poverty, inflation and other ills that now afflict us will pass away temporarily. Yes, temporarily, if the people do not deliberately rise to the occasion to alter the trajectory. No nation gets built on wishes and mere submissions.

Nations are built on the people’s deliberate actions. Inactivity will strengthen our shackles. And we will then realize that we have not seen 99.

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