Let us Return to Olden Times

By Sunny Awhefeada,

Time does fly and circumstances for good or bad contribute to how swiftly time runs. Growing up, our parents and grandparents spoke in Urhobo about oke awanre which in its literal sense meant “olden days” and we would be so enraptured listening to them and wanting to know what happened in the olden days they so much idealized. The olden days for them constituted an ideal era when everything was perfectly in order in a way that looked like utopia. In fact, our grandparents’ idea of the past made Thomas More’s 1516 Utopia look like an inter-text influenced by Urhobo lore.

The past configured by our grandparents was long ago and nostalgic picturing a time when everyone was happy and things happened when they should. Some of our grandparents who lived long and survived into the 1980s were to be witnesses to dystopia. They saw and shuddered at the horror that was the fate and bane of Nigeria beginning from the internecine Nigerian civil war.

The dastardly consequences of that war cascaded down many years and decades and swiftly caught up with my generation, with each decade getting infernally worse than the former, as we now look back to also talk about olden times. It appears that the swiftness of time arising from the quicksilver nature of the horrors assailing us made my generation to come to the threshold of old age in no time. We suddenly discovered that we became old before our time.

The reality of our becoming old before our time is playing out right away. At a recent gathering of friends, some of us were referring to things that happened between 1982 and 1985 as things that happened in oke awanre! To make matters worse, or better put frightening, one of the interlocutors vividly and convincingly recreated a scenario in 1983 and compared it to the present moment. The scenario he configured was that of a location which was and still a staff quarters in one of the secondary schools in the Niger Delta. The place was more or less a haven from the 1970s till the mid-1980s. It was serene with lawns and flowerbeds.

The roads, although not tarred, were well paved. The houses were solid and European-like. It was an ideal place to live in then. The quarters was secure and inhabitants walked around till midnight without incidents. Things seemed perfect then. Sadly, about forty years when logically the place ought to have evolved into a better and more livable environment, a visit to the place by those who grew up there drew tears and sighs of pain. While recounting that visit and contrasting it with the experience of yore, my friend emphasized olden times in framing the period of her childhood which wasn’t more than three decades ago.

Some readers of this column have called or sent me messages querying the propriety of Nigeria’s forced return to the old national anthem “Nigeria we hail thee”. Nearly all those who called or sent messages also ascribed the return to our predilection to looking back to the past for therapy. One caller argued that the return was the Federal Government’s psychological palliative that was capable of soothing the populace and offering them a measure of succor that was largely envisaged as they look back to that moment when “Nigeria will hail thee” rented the air.

Another described it as a nation’s attempt at self-mockery. Yet, another said it was the handiwork of idle and lazy brains who could neither think nor offer alternative routes out of the present national debacle. It was therefore appropriate for the ruling class to throw that placebo at the governed to make them relish a sense of relief even if it was unreal. So, our rulers harked back to olden times and exhumed a national anthem that was jettisoned nearly fifty years ago.

The reversion to the old national anthem reflects an acute deficiency of creative and critical thought from the chambers and corridors that conjured and endorsed the idea. What is the essence of a national anthem? What has a national anthem got to do with the welfare of the people? What is in a national anthem? How does a change of national anthem contribute to nation building?

Those who re-invented the national anthem either didn’t think about these or they as usual took us for granted. It has been all folly and phony seeing public officials and security personnel struggling to sing the old, but now new anthem.

Nigeria’s hyper-creative social media space has also devoted substantial texts in mocking the reversion to the old anthem. Many of the commentaries think that it was not just proper to revert to an old song without the nation also reverting to how things were in 1978 when the readopted old anthem was discarded.

The call to return Nigeria to how or what it was in 1978 would have been unthinkable if only Nigeria had made the desired progress. Painfully, that has not been so.

Rather, the grand vision of yore has become a nightmare as we daily watch, helplessly, how everything good got eroded from our land and clime. We have wished again and again for the erosion to stop, but to no avail. It was this wish that those who rule us discovered that made them to reinvent an anthem of olden times. As we bemoan the asphyxiation of the dreams of old one is reminded of George Orwell’s Animal Farm as it clearly finds a correlate in the Nigerian experience.

The criminal exploitation and oppression that necessitated the revolt in Animal Farm can be likened to crisis that rocked Nigeria in the 1990s. Just like the inheritors of political power became cold and unfeeling dictators in Animal Farm so have those who pretended to be messiahs during the Nigerian struggle took power and have now become totalitarian. In place of bliss is now disillusionment. In place of life more abundant is now the snuffing out of life per minute across the length and breadth of Nigeria.

The foregoing frightening scenario was not the lot of Nigeria in olden times. Yes, Nigeria has always been a study in contradiction and self-subversion, but never in her history has the nation been so subjugated.

The citizens have been crushed physically, psychologically and spiritually. The Nigerian spirit is in flight and this reflects in the number of people fleeing the country on a daily basis. Nigeria has become an anguished reality and life matters no more.

Those who rule us still manage to pretend that there is governance. But the truth is that there has been no governance here since 2015. What passes for governance is a circus by men who wear agbada to negotiate with labour unions when the country is tottering on the brink of disaster.

Those who insist that government can only pay sixty thousand naira as minimum wage, an amount that cannot buy a bag of rice, continue to point us backward to the past when life was not a brutal experience as it is right now. They daily make us to realize that to look back in Nigeria is to be utopian.

They should stop tantalizing us with the past. Let us return to it. If they can legislate the old anthem to become new let them also legislate Nigeria to become what it was in the 1970s. Although, that period had its imperfections, it was a golden era compared to the present Armageddon.

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